Agriculture vs. permaculture gardening principles: Can permaculture save the world?

It’s said that change starts with the individual. Well, we need to wake up every day and decide what kind of world we want to create. Today, we’re going to plant a seed, “Can permaculture save the world?”.

There are many things we could focus on:

  • Food waste is an overlooked driver of climate change
  • Greenhouse gas emissions produced by factory animal farming
  • Deforestation of the Amazon for beef production
  • Mass pollution of waterways from the farm runoff
  • The amount of grain and water required to feed all of these farm creatures
  • Cruel fishing methods
  • Mass marine extinction
  • and on and on.

If we focus on that all the time and nothing else, it’s extremely overwhelming.

Focusing on the problems is important for us to understand them, to see how we’ve created the mess we have, but if we stare for too long and do nothing, we just make ourselves depressed and never create anything new.

If we can shift our mindset and focus to a solutions-based approach to these challenges, we can shift our behaviour and produce beautiful change with rapid speed.

This is exactly what happened in Australia many years ago.

What is permaculture farming?

In Australia in the late 1960’s, 2 pioneering academics in the world of agriculture, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, came together. 

They were to develop a new way of looking at how we live on the earth, with the requirement of building the relationships of:

  • Healthy food
  • Safe shelter
  • Clean water
  • Appropriate sun
  • Fresh air
  • Strong communities
  • Happy lives

By 1978, they had published on of the first permaculture books, “Permaculture One”, and made it available to the public.

This evolved into the final permaculture design course manual, presented to the world by Bill Mollison in 1988, entitled “Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual”.

It is from these permaculture books that the world has been effectively changed for good, and we are seeing the effects still today.

Permaculture is the modern world’s first approach to a truly integrated set of practises that takes into consideration all aspects of the ecology in any given region, and allows for human populations to thrive alongside them.  

Not at the expense of the ecology, but rather because of it.

Permaculture gardening principles in modern day

In 2009, Jeff Lawton, who is the protégé of Bill Mollison, established a project in the Dead Sea valley of Jordan, the driest and most desolate place on the earth.

There is now a living food forest there, which contains

  • Self-enclosed running water
  • Fruiting trees
  • Vegetable and herb gardens
  • Thriving animals

Plus a whole series of other miracles that would not have been possible without these incredible practises!

It shows how powerful the living earth actually is when her principles are used in very specific ways.

When we can get the paradigm correct, the question “Can permaculture save the world?”, becomes clearer and more concise.

How can we get there?

The actions we need to take become Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.  These are referred to as SMART goals.

permaculture save the world SMART goals specific measurable achievable realistic timely

These may have been introduced as a way for people to be more productive in the workplace, but they are applicable across anything that we have a clear sailing objective towards. 

In the case of permaculture, we have been able to achieve not just a clear objective but also very specific results across the globe. 

Even in desert regions that nobody believed would be able to grow anything!

We know very well today that all living beings live as a part of a larger ecological framework:

  • If forests are destroyed, the soil cannot thrive.
  • If the soil is devoid of the biodiversity it requires to sustain life, plants cannot thrive.
  • If plants are nutritionally poor, insects and animals suffer.
  • If these systems suffer, so does the ability for all of life to maintain the ecosystems.

Permaculture vs. Agriculture

As one article on this subject writes:

“Our research suggests that people who live in areas that have more and/or larger trees on the streets report better health perception, after controlling for demographic factors such as income, age and education.

This same increase in health perception is also on average, equivalent to being seven years younger.

Results suggest that people who live in areas that have more and/or larger trees on the streets, report significantly fewer cardio metabolic conditions.”.

Although humans have developed systems of agriculture that appears to be separate from this cycle of life, this is only an illusion.

We are just as intimately connected to ecology‘s around us as any other creature on this living planet. 

The reason why permaculture vs agriculture is so important right now, and possibly the most important subject we can attend to in this day and age, is because it is a practice which brings back the biodiversity of a living planet once again.

A biodiversity and ecology that we can participate with and thrive in. 

Permaculture itself is like a social spiritual farming revolution, bringing us back to the age of farming, but in a new techno savvy way that doesn’t require the same amount of land or equipment, encouraging creativity in how you approach your practice.

Permaculture is available to everyone!

It’s not very expensive to invest in some basic materials and/or permaculture books to get yourself started. 

And due to the demand for healthy food, there are many people now bringing permaculture to the marketplace in their own unique ways. 

Where we invest our energy, focus, time and resources is what we will continue or discontinue to create in the world. 

Even if you are not called to start your own permaculture garden, you can support your local permaculture farmers.

The point is to invite you to do your best to live in alignment with the principles of the earth, and maybe even discover just how powerful your daily micro commitments can be towards creating a more harmonious world, one small act of love at a time.

Your increased health, wellness and longevity will be its own reward for your efforts. 

What can a closed-loop system do?

In our example, we are going to look at how food waste is an often overlooked driver of climate change.

Every year worldwide, about 30% of food produce (fruits and vegetables) for human consumption is going to waste. That’s almost 1.3 billion tons!

In Australia, the emissions of CO2 and methane for food waste actually account for more than the steel and iron ore industries combined, about 8%.

So what can we do?

Through educating yourself with a permaculture design course, you are now ready to take on the challenge!

Imagine you run a permaculture farm.  

You grow vegetables, and sell them to local restaurants.

You collect the food waste from the restaurants, and the leftovers are separated and taken back to the farm.  

Meat scraps are fed to the dogs. 

Vegetable scraps taken to the compost pile, where they are turned over and processed by the chickens.

When food scraps are sent to the dump with the other general waste, it often ends up anaerobically rotting, and producing the unwanted byproducts of the emissions.

When the food scraps are used correctly in a compost, the emissions are retained and returned back into beautiful humus rich soil, turning it back into a valuable resource!

As it is said in permaculture design course, “There’s no such thing as Waste.”.

This is why composting is so important. It’s the most sustainable way for you to create your own fertilizer, while getting your own backyard garden pumping.

How can a closed-loop system save the world?

On our farm, the chickens will pick through the compost and feed on it.  They will then lay some of the yellowest, healthiest eggs you’ve ever seen. 

All the other animals are all free range, and they integrate together. 

The eggs are eaten by farm volunteers, who in turn take their energy and put it back into the garden, planting even more seeds.

This cycle shows how we can capture and store energy, then reuse it many times.  

permaculture save the world composting closed loop systems diagram

We’re actually creating a never ending loop of energy, which feeds itself. This is known as a closed loop system.  

This system produces no waste, and has added byproducts along the way: little nuggets of phosphorus left behind by the chickens and calcium from the leftover egg shells are used to nourish the garden and eliminate the need for fertilizers from outside the system. 

The compost actually sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and returns it to the earth through the process of humification.  

permaculture save the world humus rich soil from composting closed loop systems

It’s a simple solution!!

When we first begin to learn about permaculture, many people are surprised to find out that it isn’t just about growing veggies.

Permaculture is a framework that we can use to make equitable decisions for a better world. These principles can be used to guide the way we run our home, our businesses, the way that we educate our kids, even the way that we run our countries.

We need to consider the implications of what this could look like in a completely self-sustaining community, which utilizes the principles of the sharing economy and of closed-loops to reduce its waste.

By integrating these systems into the way that we interact with the outside world, we can become more self-sufficient.  

This means we can reduce the amount of resources that we need to consume from outside the system.

Once the energy comes into our community in the form of money, we can share that energy around and recycle it by making sure that that money stays within that community.

Permaculture gardening principles and closed-loop economies offer one of the only viable solutions for creating the greatest amount of change as an individual.


Can permaculture feed the world?

Yes it can. Permaculture has two massive benefits over industrial farming:

1. It can be done in cities – small plots and backyards bring the food to where it is being consumed. In terms of the energy input needed run it, this makes it very efficient.

2. Much less negative impact – compared to industrial farming, the impact on the land is far more positive, making it much more sustainable over the long term.

How to permaculture your life?

Permaculture is a goal. It is something that you can manifest primarily inside yourself, then secondarily outside on the land.

If you adopt this concept, that starts with the cultivation of your character, out of that will grow the will to work for the good of others, physically, mentally and spiritually.

Permaculture and its care for the environment, including the production of healthy food, is the way of the future, a holistic change in perspective.

It is the role of the perma-culturist to be the caretaker of nature, while at the same time providing food for mankind in a holistic way, looking at one’s own physical, mental and spiritual being first, and then integrating this being into a universally compatible way of life.

Why modern agriculture is not sustainable?

The damage to the soil and natural ecosystems from modern agriculture is so much that farming gets dependent on the artificial inputs into the process, such as fertilizers and pesticides, and not dependent on the land itself to sustain on its own.

As we kill pest species, we also kill related species that may be beneficial. We kill predators that could assist our efforts.

We reduce the ecosystem’s ability to recover due to reduced diversity, and we interfere with the organisms that affect the biogeochemical processes that maintain the soils in which the plants grow.

What is the most sustainable source of food?

Currently, cattle would be considered the most sustainable food source, however they are being managed in ways that destroy soils instead of building soils up.

If managed properly, beef on pasture are a net benefit to the earth.

Cattle have replaced migratory ruminants in our ecosystems, and they are now the most important keystone species on land. More important than honey bees.

Historically, they lived symbiotically with other ecological systems on the planet. Herds built soil, created fertility, sequestered carbon and greenhouse gasses through grasses and forests they kept healthy, and they added more to environmental health than they took. The herds and the lushness they created were so powerful that they caused the very weather to form in ways that benefited them and the prairies they lived on.

Are small farms more sustainable?

It all depends on land and resources are being managed.

If they follow regenerative techniques and practices, they are sustainable.

If industrial techniques and practices are being followed, they are not sustainable, either economically or ecologically. Ecologically, they are destroying the soil biome which reduces the nutrient, water, and carbon storage capacity. Economically, they cannot compete with the bigger farms who are taking “advantage” of economies of scale.