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Permaculture and community gardens

The word "Permaculture" was developed in the mid 1970's by Australian ecologist David Holmgren and Associate Professor Bill Mollison. They defined Permaculture as a design system that aims to provide truly sustainable human settlements. The main focus is the design of ecological landscapes that produce food. Permaculture entails much more than just food production. Other important factors include energy-efficient buildings, waste water treatment, recycling, landscape design and management.

Why is permaculture necessary in community garden?

"Think Globally, Act Locally" is at the core of permaculture. A community garden movement is a good example of this principal in action. The three core ethics of permaculture are ‘Care of Earth’, ‘Care of People’ and ‘Fare Shares’. A community garden has a huge possibility to satisfy these ethics. Therefore a community garden must be a key function to create a sustainable community living system such as using short supply chains, alternative networks, local farming systems, and exchange systems. We believe that a well designed community garden will not only contribute to local society via food systems but will also impact on social networks and environment systems over the long term.

How does a community garden contribute to Care of Earth?

Since the development of industrial agriculture food systems people have become more concerned about their health. This has caused a movement to connect people to organic food sources and locally grown foods.

Now we need to avoid “putting the cart before the horse” by using more energy to grow one crop in order to harvest organic produce. Energy consumption must be minimized in good design. A poorly designed garden will waste more water, electricity, fuel, and garden materials than necessary. This may lead to soil degradation and unhealthy food.

Let’s think about the energy used to create a garden bed. This will include labor and fuel consumption for the delivery, and also garden bed sustainability. Permaculture design may use an old bath tub, bricks, pallet or anything obtained locally rather than better quality materials delivered from a distant farm or forest. On the other hand using recycled materials may use more energy in the renewal process. Therefore when one element is added to a garden all aspects of the garden need to be considered.

How does Permaculture design strategy contribute to 'Care of Earth'?

Until recently agriculture could be divided into two forms: Traditional agriculture which is labor-intensive and Industrial agriculture which is energy-intensive. Permaculture may be considered design and information intensive agriculture. Permaculture gardens incorporate a comprehensive plan that takes into account the home, other buildings, the outside living space and landscape.

Therefore permaculture design emphasizes observation skills to find the most efficient interactions. For example, when you install elements into your garden or home these elements must be selected and placed properly in order to preform multiple functions. The same principles can be used when planting to create multiple positive interactions between plants and the other elements such as wind breaks, privacy protection, fire proofing, mulch, food, fodder, fuel, micro climate, insect and animal habitat, soil conditioner and more. This requires careful observation and the skills to pick up the most beneficial and correct information. A design with these well considered interactions will create many environment friendly virtuous circles in the future.

What can we grow in a permaculture garden for ‘Care of earth’?

Permaculture design encourages perennial plant varieties rather than growing an annual crop that has to be sown and nurtured year after year requiring more time and energy. Moreover permaculture encourages dietary changes to reduce energy consumption. For example rice and wheat are an annual crop and consume enormous energy whereas chestnuts contain similar nutrient values yet are easier to grow, live longer and consume less water. This does not mean that we cannot plant tomatoes anymore or that we have to change dietary habits completely. We simply encourage more variety of diet patterns by growing a wider variety of plants, in permaculture this is called a guild. Other features of ‘guild planting’ include mutual benefits such as efficient water systems, pest control, and soil care.

Permaculture is built on 3 ethics and 12 principles. I will talk more about these principles of permaculture next time. This this is my own permaculture based on these ethics and principles plus my own studies and experiences. I can say that my permaculture is based on middle class Japanese, Australian city/ town environment. I believe that everyone must have their own permaculture concerns towards care of earth and people. Our community garden will be a great place to share these experiences and information to create more efficient energy use of community garden design, and provide abundant surplus (which is not money but more valuables such as soil, plants, trees and a well-designed system). Most preferably this surplus will be shared not only among our community but also our future generations!!


David Holmgren, 2002, PERMACULTURE –Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability-

Mollison Bill, 1988, Introduction to Permaculture

Morrow Rosemary, 2006, Earth Users Guide to Permaculture 2nd Ed


"Care of the Earth" An original drawing by Shotaro Kanetaka

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