The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Why Permaculture? Part I

Why Permaculture? Part I

The Food Journal

May 28, 2015

by guest columnist, Debbie Hermele

To have a sustainable life, you have to be innovative, hard working and patient. Everything you do should fit in the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” model and should and can be applied to social, environmental and economic aspects of your life. Taking responsibility for your food intake, health, spirituality, waste, and so on is a big commitment and can sometimes feel very intimidating. Most people, including myself, have felt that they don’t have enough skills to succeed with a fully sustainable lifestyle and end up changing nothing. 

When the permaculture principles first were introduced to me, I started to see that there are many ways to be more sustainable, and the different skills and ideas I would learn when studying permaculture would affect and empower how I valued my resources. I attended a five-month educational permaculture program at the ecological farm Hava & Adam located outside of the city of Modiin in central Israel where I studied agriculture, sustainability and ecological design. 

During my course study, I learned that permaculture is not limited to organic gardening skills, or even to the landscape you are using for sustainable farming, but rather it can be used to improve, design or even manage these and all other efforts made by individuals in households and communities that are working toward a sustainable future globally.

Bill Mollison and David Holmgren created the term permaculture in the mid-1970’s, and they define it as, “Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for provision of local needs.” In other words, it is a creative design process that uses nature’s patterns and relationships and can be applied to many aspects of your every day life as well as to agriculture and sustainable architecture. It’s about looking to nature for inspiration and using the resources we already have instead of trying to create new ones. The design recognizes the necessity to create never-ending cycles that work towards no waste. Once you have learned the strategies and techniques that apply to permaculture principles, you can adjust your methods but always keep the holistic thinking. To be holistic means considering the entire structure, which also includes your mind and body. 

Permaculture builds on 12 design principles (Click here for a graphic reprinted with permission from permacultureprinciples.comthat make it possible to create and redesign one’s behavior and environment while using less energy and fewer resources. There are many things that we take for granted today, but by studying these principles we can see how permaculture can be applied to our lives in every possible way. Permaculture provides options to the farming arrangements we have today and teaches us how to think in cycles instead of the linear mindset we are used to. The design principles also value your health and spiritual well being. By reconnecting your spiritual and cultural values, you will automatically take more personal responsibility for your own well-being. 

A phrase that stuck with me from my program in Israel was “the problem is the solution,” a philosophy that permaculture builds on and something my teacher liked to say. You may live in a small apartment without a balcony and in the middle of the city, a problem many people (including myself) experience and use as an excuse not to change. But the permaculture principles tell you to simply use your resources! Can you grow herbs in your kitchen or maybe start a tiny compost under your sink? Do you have friendly neighbors that would allow you to plant a small vegetable garden outside? Could you try walking to work one day? What about caring for your health and spirituality by doing mediation? The answer to these questions, most likely, is yes.

Even though some permaculture principles sound like common sense (value renewable resources, produce no waste, apply self-regulation, integrate rather than segregate, use small and slow solutions, etc.), sometimes knowing how to start is the hardest. I recommend starting by observing your everyday routine and recognizing where you can make small changes to live a more sustainable life. You don’t need a big budget or a lot of space, but you do need a creative and innovative mind when responding to change. 

Permaculture is not supposed to substitute technology or practical experience, but it can be used as a framework for problem solving, and it helps develop an understanding of how culture and nature are interconnected. Do one thing at a time and begin by evaluating what principle is applicable to your life. Then decide what area to work on first. Start today by making one single habit in your life more sustainable, and you will see how easy it is to apply this same mindset to all situations! 


Debbie Hermele is a frequent contributor to and

Click here for Part II of our exploration of permaculture.