Gardening & Homesteading Green Living

You Can Fix All the World’s Problems in a Garden

This extremely inspiring, 5-minute video demonstrates how Permaculture gardening practices can be used to desalinate soils just a mile away from the Dead Sea in the Jordanian desertrestoring the very desert to life and food productivity without the use of chemical fertilizers, heavy irrigation or tilling.

If we can heal the land and bring life back to a desert that has been dead for centuries—and do it without fossil fuels, chemicals, genetic engineering or other high-tech, resource-intensive methods—then we already have all the tools we need to feed the world and repair our environment today.

How exciting!

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimics the relationships found in natural ecosystems. It was first developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications detailing a series of methods for sustainably producing food and fodder in the hot, dry center of Australia.

Permaculture comes from “permanent culture” or “permanent agriculture.” The practical goal is the “creation of sustainable biosystems that provide for their own needs and recycle their own waste.” In other words, to have a genuinely self-sustaining homestead, village, city or culture, you have to design it to be so.

Permaculture, when practiced, is a design philosophy and set of tools and principles that encompass the inter-related fields of organic gardening and agroforestry, architecture, ecology, community design, renewable energy, and systems theory.

From trees, gardens, ponds and other natural elements to buildings, solar panels, and roads, Permaculture is about arranging the right elements together in a system so that they naturally sustain and support each other for long-term productive living.

And anyone can learn to do it…

Why Permaculture?

Mollison and Holmgren felt very strongly that we must reduce society’s reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution because they are fundamentally and systematically destroying Earth’s ecosystems, and our communities along with them.

In an industrial model dependent on growth for success, our finite planet is visibly faltering under the strain of our insatiable and wasteful demand for natural resources. Even 25 years ago, Mollison could see global catastrophe in our future if we keep to our current path, and sought to provide a powerful alternative.

Mollison and Holmgren created Permaculture in order to rapidly train individuals in a core set of sustainable design principles, so that those individuals could go home and design their own homesteads and villages, teach their neighbors, and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements.

This is not as hard as it sounds—nature is very powerful and within a few years, even people living in apartments in the city can create remarkably productive local food systems using permaculture principles.

Growing Power in Detroit is one of the most famous examples of urban permaculture in the U.S. and produces 87,000 pounds of food every year (including fish, honey, eggs and milk) on less than 2 acres in the heart of Detroit!

But Permaculture does involve giving up a lot of modern ways of thinking and behaving. As Mollison puts it, Permaculture is about “not shitting in your bed.” But since this is mostly how modern life functions, doing otherwise represents a radical departure in thinking.

But once a permaculture system is established, the main danger, according to Mollison, is from falling food!

Permaculture has spawned widespread and enthusiastic interest around the world because the design principles—which are culled from the best  ancient farming wisdom and modern biomimicry and agroecology science—produce amazingly self-sustaining, abundant food-producing ecosystems.

A few permaculture systems have been providing food and livelihood to their villages in perpetuity for centuries (Vietnam) or even thousands of years (Morocco), and stand as living models to us all of how to design a truly self-sustaining food forest.

Once a system is established, Permaculture yields are the highest per hectare of any agriculture system in the world, require the least inputs, and, by design, provide the most diverse diet as well.

Permaculture design works so well, in fact, the Vietnamese government has adopted the principles into their national agricultural policy and distributed translated copies of the Permaculture Designer’s Manual to all their farmers. The Jordanian government is considering a similar measure, based on the success of the desert re-greening project in the video above.

According to renowned environmental activist David Suzuki,

“What permaculturists are doing is the most important activity that any group is doing on the planet.”

Permaculture for Everyone!

You can do Permaculture too, starting right outside your front door. Gaia’s Garden is my favorite, and will get you started designing your own sustainable food system wherever you live. There are even more books on Permaculture available in my Sustainability Shop.

There are also Permaculture Design Certification courses available in most regions of the United States and around the world. These week-long learning retreats are deeply rewarding and useful experiences, and give you an exciting glimpse of how the world could be—one homestead, one community, at a time.

Please watch the video and spread the word about Permaculture!

Image: Permaculture Science

About the author

Dawn Gifford

Dawn is the creator of Small Footprint Family, and the author of the critically acclaimed Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. After a 20-year career in green building and environmental sustainability, chronic illness forced her to shift her expertise and passion from the public sphere to home and hearth. Get the whole story behind SFF here.


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