What is Permaculture Part 1 – History and Ethics of Permaculture

I like to define Permaculture as a philosophy that follows three core ethics and systems designed based on twelve principles. Permaculture combines natural systems that mimic nature while incorporating modern technology. Permaculture aims for a more sustainable future by each of us producing more, consuming less and working together.


This Article was my April edition of my monthly Gardening and Permaculture column in Central Portugal Connects Magazine


History of Permaculture

Permaculture was conceived and developed in the 1970s by co-workers Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia. The word permaculture originally was the joining of the words Permanent Agriculture, but to address the social and more general application of permaculture, we now say it is the joining of Permanent Culture. 

Their first books were `permaculture One´ by David Holmgren & Bill Mollison and the Permaculture a Designers Manual by Bill Mollison. Both are still applicable and worth buying today. 

Over the 1980s, the number of permaculture students that they had rapidly increased, as well as a steady flow of Permaculture around the world. 

There are now small-scale permaculture homesteads and larger-scale farms that follow permaculture principles and practices worldwide.

Every corner of the globe now has its own Permaculture Association that helps to spread the word about permaculture and create groups, integrations with society and certify teachers to teach permaculture (I am certified to teach Permaculture Design Courses by the Permaculture Association UK.

I believe this due to the principle of cooperation from Bill Mollison (“Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of existing life systems and future survival.”) and the ethics and values that we all share. Permaculture spreads extremely fast, and to this day, there are 1000s of new PDC holders yearly.

Permaculture Ethics

What is Permaculture
What is Permaculture wheel from https://permacultureprinciples.com/

For a system, practice or establishment to come under the Permaculture umbrella, it should consider all three ethics. As with most people, we always want to achieve a lot in a short time frame, but time and money run out, meaning we have to prioritise. I like to use these ethics as a prioritisation tool for the many new projects on our list to help me select the most critical projects to move forward on our homestead and drop any projects that do not meet all the ethics.

  1. People Care

´If people’s needs are met in compassionate and simple ways, the environment surrounding them will prosper.

This may sound very selfish, but for me, people care starts with caring for myself or those I live with. Everything around me will improve if my needs are met and continuously improved. When prioritising, I always ask myself if this project or system makes our life easier, more automated or more enjoyable. If yes, then it meets people’s needs, as the easier, my life is, the more earth care and yield-producing projects I can work on in the future. This is a far cry from before we started our permaculture project. I used to spend 4 or 5 hours a week on myself attending the gym, improving my home or growing some herbs. Now I spend 30 to 40 hours a week on myself.

When an aeroplane loses pressure, you first put the oxygen mask on yourself; without oxygen, you can’t help others. Once our needs are met, we can meet the needs of others and the environment.

However, it is also essential for us to be part of a community and consider the needs of those around us as well as our family. This is a critical part of permaculture. At Keela, we mostly do this through regular work days where we go and work on other people’s farms for free for a day when needed. It is nice to create a group in your community that goes around helping people for a day performing what we call ´A permablitz´

  1. Earth Care

Swales at Keela Yoga Farm
Swales at keela yoga Farm catch water, Spread it and sink it. Improving the soil humidity and landscape

´The Earth is a living, breathing entity. Without ongoing care and nurturing, there will be consequences too big to ignore.´

Are we producing a product or system that does something positive for the earth? Usually, any action is either degenerative or regenerative for the planet. Whether you produce a vegetable, make a handmade purse or build a wooden bat house. You either produce it in a way that regenerates or degenerates our planet. Your system should aim to regenerate the land. Some regeneration methods include offsetting carbon by managing pasture properly, building soil by increasing organic matter, and increasing biodiversity by creating natural forest systems that feed you.

Another aspect of Earth Care is where we consider animals, including wildlife, insects and especially our livestock or pets. If I build livestock systems that have good people care, which means they are easy to use, automated and enjoyable, as a direct consequence, my animals will be well looked after.

If you are new to sustainability, I would like to give you an example. If you buy and drink organic wine from the Sumemparket and are not recycling the bottles. Starting to recycle the bottles isn’t considered earth care, in my opinion. Stopping drinking wine altogether also is not doing something positive for the planet. However, planting your own vineyard in a regenerative way that integrates other elements and offsets carbon and improves the soil’s fertility may be the answer. Here at Keela we run a collective where people bring their grapes to us to make wine together. There may be something similar near you. 

  1. Fair Share / Future Care

Our daily harvest suplimens our food in the kitchen, there is nothing better than picking your own food and then cooking it

´We are provided with times of abundance which enables us to share with others. We need to learn to take only what we need and share the surplus whilst recognising that there are limits to how much we can give and how much we can take.´

There are many ways to exchange with people. The first is to swap your product for money. The second is swapping your product for someone else’s product or service at an agreed time (barter). The best method, in my opinion, is giving your surplus to those in your community without expecting anything in return. Giving is a natural way of bartering as maybe the person you give to doesn’t have what you need. I am sure they will share what they have with other people, and somehow, it will come back to you down the chain. Giving also seems to be the way for the older generation in the Portuguese villages. It is part of the culture here. We should also give our spare time, energy or produce to others. Usually, what goes around comes around.

Future care is part of the Permaculture fair share. Shall I plant apple trees for a yield in 5 years? Olive trees for the next generation? Or should I plant carob and cork trees for two generations time? 

Our land has had a lot of work done over 1000 years ago, including an old well, terracing and irrigation channels by the Moors, and more recent stone buildings. I thank them every day for what they left me, and I want to be sure that I add to this with my 1000-year project, which includes new terracing, soil building, carbon offsetting and planting trees for the future—a bit of fun now with many benefits for whoever stewards our 18 hectares in 1000 years.

Application of Ethics

I invite you to list your main projects and tasks that you have planned for this year, and next to each one, mark down which permaculture ethics it meets. Cross off the ones that do not satisfy all three ethics and put that list on your wall somewhere you will see it daily.

Permaculture Principles

I use Permaculture ethics to help me prioritise work on the homestead or farm. Then I have to use design tools to make a permaculture design based on 12 Permaculture principles. Next month we will write about these 12 principles of permaculture.

Permaculture Design Course Portugal

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