By Kay Cafasso
Permaculture principles are essentially design guidelines gathered from observing nature. As a permaculture designer, I apply these principles to professional design work with land care, the built environment, food systems, and management of resources. As a permaculture educator, I find that applying them when designing the educational program itself enhances the learning experience for people seeking a greater understanding of how to apply ecological practices in their lives.
One principle is to design for functional interconnection, where we align elements for a mutual benefit. We match needs of one element with yields of others, thus creating many beneficial relationships, whether in a garden or classroom. During our Permaculture Design Certification Courses, participants are immersed in life at a well-established ecovillage. This allows for functional interconnection and networks of mutual support to form. Our needs for a community experience are met onsite, which allows for the sharing of knowledge from all life stages, remembering skills of our ancestors, and learning from present pioneers about leadership and collaboration. Meanwhile, neighbors who need permaculture design services on their land benefit from the student design work guided by our teaching team.
Another principle that we incorporate is value feedback. When working with clients and landscapes, I am often reminded of this principle in the gardens. When I find myself cutting back a plant who has outgrown its allotted location, I realize that I am not just weeding but harvesting something medicinal or culinary. I gather the feedback that we have created a surplus and designed well for abundance!
I also experience value feedback hearing what students do a few months, or perhaps years, after graduating the course. We hear of a CSA farm featuring perennial crops in Hudson; an urban bee habitat project in LA; a straw-bale home in Saratoga; a thriving university dining services garden in Amherst; an edible, therapeutic garden for city schools in New Bedford; a woman constructing her own tiny house in Ithaca. Their stories are about how integrating numerous permaculture principles in their work enhanced their success.
In permaculture we strive to go beyond sustainability (which can be described as meeting needs of the present without compromising needs of the future). We focus on replenishing and yielding a surplus to create conditions for a possible ‘state of sustainability’. That state calls for great cultural shifts, relearning of practical and ecological life skills, and many other skills addressed in our design course. Designing this learning environment with permaculture principles in mind ensures that the educational experience is alive, diverse, and thriving.
Kay Cafasso is an ecological designer, permaculture educator, and Director of Sowing Solutions Permaculture Design & Education, based in Greenfield MA.