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Permaculture is a system of ecological design aimed at meeting our human needs while regenerating and healing the environment around us. The word ‘permaculture’ was coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s, from ‘permanent agriculture’. But it’s not just gardening or ranching — permaculture principles also work for economics, urban planning, building, organizational development and social organization — because they come from our observations of how nature works.
Permaculture is not one technique—rather, it’s an approach to almost any problem or project that draws on a set of ethics and principles.
Permaculture has three core ethics: Care for the earth, care for the people, care for the future (sometimes framed as sharing the surplus and reducing consumption.)
In The Fifth Sacred Thing, we show permaculture in action in the design of the city in 2048, the systems of gardens and local food growing, the concern for harvesting, conserving and re-using water and other resources, the renewable power systems and transport systems and many other ways. We’ve already held three permaculture visioning sessions to gather ideas from some of the most creative designers and teachers on the West Coast, and we plan to involve permaculture designers in creating sets and gardens for the production.
We are also using permaculture principles to help us make the film. For example, perhaps the overriding principle in permaculture is that abundance springs from relationships. True wealth is not about stuff, but about connections. In a design, we’re not so much looking at each separate element, but about how they fit together.
Starting this project, we had very little money. Mouse, (Philip Wood) financed the beginning steps from his own paycheck. Starhawk and Paradox deferred payment for their work. But though poor in cash, we were rich in relationships—from Starhawk’s networks of readers, Pagans, activists and permaculturalists, through Paradox and Mouse’s connections in the film, art and music worlds. Drawing on those relationships, and reaching out and building more and more connections to community groups, civic organizations, green businesses and creative people gives us a strong network that will allow the money to manifest, as we’ve seen already in our Kickstarter campaign!
Another permaculture principle is “Catch and store energy.” You can do that with solar panels—I have them on my house! But we are also harvesting the amazing creative energy of so many people who want to support this project. You can sign up on our website and become part of our database of people who may have specific skills, art or music to offer, or just want to be on our call list for extras, when we get to that point.
One more principle—“stacking functions”—making sure that every piece of a system serves more than one function. All of the things we are doing to build support for the project and connect people help us build our case to investors that there’s a groundswell of popular support and interest for the film. It will help strengthen our argument for all the non-traditional ecological and social justice aspects of the production. When the film comes out, it will have a built-in base to help launch it. And of course, our ultimate function-stack is that the things we put in place to make the movie are actually part of building the kind of future the movie depicts.
See our companion piece: “Starhawk’s Common-Sense Permaculture Principles” to learn about more of the principles.
Permaculture is also a global movement and network. Permaculture practitioners are involved in projects all over the world—we have more on-the-ground projects in the third world than the U.N. Vietnam adopted permaculture as its core agricultural system, and increased production over 15%. Cuba turned to permaculture after the Soviet Union collapsed, taking with it their major oil supplies and markets, and now feeds its people with organic crops, many of which are grown in and around cities.
Permaculture is a set of tools for shifting our thinking—from separation to connection, isolation to interdependence.
To Learn More About Permaculture:
Earth Activist Training
These are the courses and programs Starhawk teaches. A two-week residential Earth Activist Training includes the 72-hour, globally recognized permaculture design certificate course, but we also have a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism. Our next course is in northern California, January 7-21.
Permaculture: The Growing Edge is a documentary made by Starhawk and Donna Read that is a great introduction to permaculture. Find it at and watch the trailer at http://www.belili.org/
There are courses offered now in many, many areas—for the US and Canada, a great overall resource is Permaculture Activist Magazine, who have an online calendar:
For England and globally, there’s Permaculture Magazine, which is also linked to Permanent Publications, who produce some vitally important books on permaculture.
The Permaculture Research Institute in Australia is Bill Mollison’s direct inheritors and do much global organizing as well as producing videos and publishing:
David Holmgren (permaculture’s cofounder) has a website at:
Penny Livingston-Stark, a cofounder of Earth Activist Training, and her partner James Stark run some of the best long-term training programs through their Regenerative Design Institute:
City Repair, which does transformative urban permaculture and natural building projects in Portland, Oregon, can be found at http://cityrepair.org/
Earth Action Mentor is a membership website providing articles, webinars, classes and mentoring online:
A Few Good Books:
There are thousands—but these will get you started!
Toby Hemenway. Gaia’s Garden. (maybe the best overall intro!)
David Holmgren. Permaculture Principles: Pathways Beyond Sustainability
Bill Mollison. Introduction to Permaculture.
Bill Mollison. Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual (the classic text for designers!)
Starhawk. The Earth Path. (Earth-based spirituality informed by permaculture.)
Patrick Whitefield. The Earth Care Manual.
And finally, here are links to some short permaculture videos made by Starhawk:
Permaculture Principles at Work:
An introduction to permaculture principles, featuring the work of Erik Ohlsen of Permaculture Artisans and Earth Activist Training. This version features one of Erik Ohlsen’s projects.
A longer version, featuring two amazing projects, can be found here.
Tabor Tilth: Permaculture in the City
Connie Van Dyke’s inspirational urban garden in Portland, Oregon.
Inner City Permaculture:
Earth Activist Training’s project in the inner city neighborhood of Bayview Hunters Point:
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