Permaculture is a method of food production that models itself after natural ecosystems. In natural ecosystems, like a forest, marsh, or meadow, there is a high level of diversity that makes the system highly productive and self-reliant. In traditional agriculture, meanwhile, crops are planted in monocultures (a field of corn, for instance) that require regular maintenance: tilling the soil, planting new seeds every year, weeding, and controlling pests to name a few practices.
Permaculture systems require less maintenance and less space because they are designed to be integrated whole systems: the different elements serve different purposes that help the whole system flourish.
For instance, in a forest garden, fruit trees and bushes are planted above herbs and vegetables, so that the nutrients that the trees and bushes have collected from the soil can be easily made available to the plants below them, through the work of fungi and bacteria which convert dead organic material into a form which can be absorbed by roots. The green plants provide the fungi and bacteria with their energy needs.
Animals, like chickens and bees, can be introduced into the system, too. Bees feed off the flowers and pollinate them in return. Chickens eat food produced from the system and fertilize the soil.
Developed by Bill Mollison in Australia, permaculture began as “permanent agriculture.” Since then it has spread both throughout the world and in its scope of ideas: it is now thought of as “permanent culture” and includes not only food production systems but all aspects of human life — building, city planning, water supply, economic systems. Through permaculture we design not only sustainable food systems, but sustainable communities.