By Hugh Wallace


In the late 1980’s, agricultural scientist Lester Peraden described permaculture as “a whole system and process of living on natural organic material that makes use of a whole range of long-standing indigenous knowledge.” Since then, Peraden’s description has been interpreted as one of an elaborate, holistic approach to food production that includes an array of disciplines and aspects of agriculture. During the 1980’s, Peraden did pioneer a wide variety of green field permaculture projects throughout New Zealand. Although there was a glut of technical information available in the early decades, the beginning of the agricultural revolution spurred a critical need for practitioners to access top-level agricultural education. It was the need for land that prompted a number of universities to hold courses for permaculture educators and consultants. As permaculture in New Zealand grew, it also attracted the attention of visitors from around the world, and this facilitated the sharing of knowledge. By the mid-1990’s, Peraden and his colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, with the assistance of Victoria University, had established the Permaculture Institute of New Zealand (PIANZ) in Wellington. Since the late 1990’s, PIANZ has operated as a college and a research institute, supported by industry partners and industry grants.


The Permaculture Institute of New Zealand is one of only three colleges in New Zealand to offer a degree in permaculture. At the college, approximately 600 students are enrolled, comprising a cross-section of aspiring professionals and active community members. They are seeking to obtain undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in courses of specialty. Permaculture courses range from technical courses to community education courses, and, as a result, PIANZ offers the largest permaculture education program in New Zealand, to students at the university and community levels. From 1997 to 2001, PIANZ received a full grant from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Employment (MCEE), providing additional resources to maintain the college’s infrastructure, develop courses, and provide adequate administrative support.


Further, PIANZ has received $2.6 million from MCEE to cover the renewal of facilities for students and research facilities. This renewed funding has allowed for a comprehensive remodeling of the campus. At the foundation, the foundation floor was removed, providing more usable space, a new semi-permanent concrete floor, a raised platform, and walkways. A number of classrooms have been altered to fit more students, and the former music room has been converted into a lecture theatre. At the entrance of the college, the greenhouses have been updated and converted into teaching and meeting spaces. Outbuildings have been renovated or replaced, and the large solar and storage shed has been removed. Outbuildings have also been improved with equipment to support the use of perrenial plants.

How do you explain permaculture?

So much of what the permaculture designers do is to improve soil health by altering its structure and management. Permaculture is about choosing the ecosystem you live in and optimizing its productivity. It is, as the name suggests, about sustainability. That is, you don’t need to dig deeper, and you don’t need to alter the original system in order to stay on that system.
The analogy that comes to mind when describing permaculture is gardening. In permaculture there are three kinds of gardens: the staple garden, the permaculture garden and the perennial garden. And even though in the states we call it gardening, that doesn’t really help us to conceptualize permaculture, because it’s really not about gardening. It’s about building a system to meet your environment’s needs. And you can go to great lengths to produce your staple foods and produce what you need, but if you plant anything in the permaculture garden, it should be permanent and long-lasting.
In the permaculture garden, it’s not only about producing a large quantity of food that you can eat, it’s also about creating an entire ecosystem that will provide you with an endless supply of healthy, nutritious soil for you and your family.
Not only that, it’s about improving your land and enabling you to produce more food for your family. So in permaculture, the system you’re living in is a garden.
An example of an area in permaculture where you’d have a garden is a large enclosed patio. An area where you can put up a wood shed. You’d have a large container garden. A place where you would have a raised garden bed and you could grow a variety of vegetables and herbs. That’s the permaculture garden. In that case, it’s permanent. A permanent ecosystem that serves as a structure for all your plant material. And you can put plants in that garden bed that will naturally fix nitrogen. There are plants that take nitrogen out of the air and put it back into the soil. So you can grow food and vegetation that is completely dependent on the fertility of the soil.
A well-managed permaculture garden can sustain itself completely without the aid of a lawn mower. You would be able to produce your food without disturbing the soil.

What are the benefits of permaculture?

The main benefits of permaculture were identified as improved human health and safety, reduced dependency on mineral goods, increased resilience to crisis and lower environmental impact. More interestingly, the goals of permaculture are to develop those products and practices that support rural community development, as opposed to developing products and practices which only benefit large-scale agricultural production.

The Permaculture Design Course. The MBA Behind Permaculture Inc

Permaculture is a set of principles and techniques designed to increase the sustainability and productivity of both land and people. Permaculture derives from the words permaculture and organic agriculture, a blending of agriculture and agricultureics. The modern definition of permaculture is an approach to improving agricultural production in a sustainable manner. Permaculture focuses on supporting self-sufficiency and the flourishing of livelihoods in a biotic community. Permaculture is a kind of applied ecological design in which land is integrated and managed to enhance and protect its natural processes. Organic agriculture is a system of farming and land management to nurture natural processes and nature’s balance with the use of methods of crop rotation, the formation of beneficial microclimates, the use of water-efficient farming techniques and the integration of organic systems with non-agricultural land.

How is permaculture different from organic gardening?


Permaculture, like organic farming, aims to minimize our impact on the environment.

But organic gardening and permaculture are not alike. A garden is set up to produce food — specifically, plant food. Food grows in a short season, and the food can be grown year-round by seedlings, baby trees, or cuttings. Although some permaculture practitioners plant young trees and greens on the same plot of land to accomplish the same purpose, permaculture gardens, unlike organic gardens, do not provide pasture for animals.
Permaculture, as in organic gardening, relies on good soil. Good soil not only produces nutritious foods, it conserves water. Producing food with good soil can reduce the need for irrigation or water pumped to a plant or soil, or, because of the greater depth of soil in organic gardening, can result in more water reaching plants.
Permaculture is also different from organic agriculture in the type of crops cultivated. Permaculture aims to create food from farmlands, as well as to live within a region in the long term. Organic farmers, instead, take their crops to markets, and produce only enough food for a single harvest per year.
Permaculture does not typically include permaculture vegetables, such as  spinach, which typically do not grow well when grown in organic garden soil, unless they are grown in a crop rotator, or in compost.
Permaculture encourages a wide variety of food crops grown in a permaculture garden, even if they can’t survive organic soil. Many organic farmers think these crops are beneath them and do not grow them. However, organic farming advocates often fail to consider the type of soil needed to grow these vegetables. Organic soils are generally made of sand or gravel. They must have very good water retention. Organic produce does not usually survive well in perlite. Orchard soil, for example, is usually soft and sometimes poor in nutrients.
Yet permaculture advocates often mention that food plants should only be grown on land with good soil. Organic farming advocates feel that farmers who grow vegetables in organic soils are committing a sin against organic farming.
In contrast, permaculture advocates are careful to mention that organic agriculture should not be used to grow food. Because organic agriculture does not use fertilizers, pesticides, or large-scale irrigations, organic farmers produce much less food. This is because of a greater reliance on conservation agriculture. Organic farmers are also more likely to build or buy on-farm storage and distribution facilities.

The Permaculture Plan

Of course, the permaculture plan for a large farm must take into account the land being used for organic agriculture. But the permaculture plan should also take into account the land of the large farm that is not used for organic farming. The plan would recommend the same food production and production practices for organic farms. Because farmers have limited control over the land on their land, such organic farmers would be most likely to grow the most food and reap the greatest financial rewards.
The plan would also recommend using organic farming practices to raise livestock in areas not needed for organic production. For example, organic farmers usually grow pasture for their livestock, and some permaculture advocates believe that cattle would be better grown on land that has not been converted to organic production. Cattle are much better at feeding on perlite or compost and are generally more resistant to pests.

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