The Who, What, Why & How of Permaculture


It started with two fellows in Tasmania.

Their names were Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. In the 1970s they constructed a new design system for agriculture; in 1978 they published a book called Permaculture One. Permaculture is geared towards going beyond sustainability and creating a closed, holistic system. The term is an amalgam of permanent culture or agriculture, and it’s typically applied to architecture, gardening/farming, ecosystems restoration and building communities. 

(If you want to learn more about the concept of permaculture, we suggest you start here or with this book.)

Permaculture is guided by three ethics and twelve principles. 

We particularly like the way David Holmgren lays them out:


The ethics include:

Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.

These three make up the foundation of permaculture. They interlock and overlap, and in the end make permaculture beneficial for everyone. Caring for the earth means caring for the people both in your life and outside of it. If you are caring for the earth – properly caring – then there should be enough to share. Hence, people care once again.

And then there are the principles, the lalapalooza.

When I was first playing with the idea of “permaculture cooking” I started with the principles, trying to apply the concepts involved in cooking to each of them. That’s what we’ve done here with gastronomic permaculture. I’ve also paired the principles with quotes from some of our favorite chefs, foodies, farmers, authors, environmentalists and other people of note.


You have to observe and interact while cooking, else fingers go missing and things get burned.

But it’s also necessary to keep your eyes peeled while sourcing your food: taking note of what is in season and interacting with local farmers. Once in the kitchen, taste the food (if it’s not meat or fish) before you begin cooking so you know what flavors and textures to pair it with. And take taste tests frequently while cooking. In terms of designing your kitchen, observe yourself in relation to your space. Are the things you use most placed so you can get your paws on them easily? How do you move around your kitchen when is just you cooking? What about when you have company?


Your kitchen is an ecosystem.

If you catch and store energy when it comes into your kitchen for the first time and/or when it’s in abundance, you will be thankful later, and you will be working towards making a closed system. Catching energy can include composting, grey water usage, biochar (you’ll be hearing more about that in another post), preserving fruits and vegetables, freezing berries and tomatoes, and drying herbs. It can also include utilizing the heat left over from baking, either by opening it to warm your house in the winter, or placing dough in it to rise or yoghurt to incubate. 


Obviously, when you cook you will probably get something you can eat out of it (unless something goes dastardly wrong).

But there are yields beyond the edible kind. From cooking you can get leftover bits and bob – some of it for compost, some of it that can be reused in the kitchen. You can also forge and foster relations: with farmers, purveyors, cooking partners and dinning companions.


In the ecosystem of your kitchen/cooking life, you are one small part.

Self regulation may mean not eating foods that are out of season (purchasing avocados around across the country doesn’t do much in the way of earth care) or not eating foods that upset the balance of your body (you’re part of people care too, you know). Therein lies the feedback. When you eat, pay attention to your body. Also when cooking, take into account feedback from your cooking partners and all the potential eaters.


Maybe this is kind of a no brainer. Lots of us have been told this since grade school.

Use renewable resources whenever possible.  


Lick the spoon! 

This is one of our favorite principles. For on, it gives are carte blanche to lick the spoon while baking (or when cooking quinoa, or soup, or…). It also means being aware of your “surplus”: what can be used again (for example, vegetable bits can be made into stock) and what can become compost. Also, take into account what kind of packaging the things you buy comes in. Start buying products in bulk, using reusable or brown paper (thus, compostable) bags. However, there will be some waste; it’s the nature of things. So calm down but be proactive.

My two favorite proponents of a “no waste” lifestyle are the No Trash Project and Zero Waste Home


Find the patterns.

If you like recipes, find ways that they can interlock. Do you make your own yoghurt and granola? Try incubating your yoghurt in your oven after you make granola. Do you roast veggies and make soup? Try using the leftover veggie “scarps” for stock. 

Look for the patterns in your kitchen. In permaculture, we identify zones and organize them in the most efficient way possible. The same idea can be applied to the kitchen. And shopping too. Consider where you travel to get your food; revaluate and find the most effective route.


A kitchen is not a conveyor belt. 

Integrate people: let them cook with you, even if they’re children, even if they know zilch about cooking. They have tasted buds -that is enough. Even if they refuse to help cook, let them taste what you’re cooking. Go back to principle four: get their feedback.

Integrate ingredients. Use cinnamon in curry, in enchiladas. Try vegetables that are foreign to you – maybe you’ll find that kohlrabi isn’t as scary as it seems (really, it isn’t).


This will take time. And that’s ok.

A change like this isn’t going to be made overnight. In terms of each of the three ethics, start doing them each a little more and keep adding. If you can’t afford to buy all of your most frequently used goods from earth friendly, people friendly sources start with one. When your blender breaks or you need new knives, consider purchasing more substantial models that will (fingers crossed) last longer. (And also: take care of your knives. That helps too.)

This principle can (and should) be applied to taking care of yourself too.


Diversity is a good thing.

Diversify where you get your food from: try that health food store on the corner. Diversify what you eat: again, kohlrabi. Or even just a simple ingredient, like nutmeg, that you seldom use. Diversify how you cook: making an entire meal outside is an amazing experience. In sourcing your food there are also other ways of going about getting the goods you cook with. Bartering and foraging might be two viable, yet often overlooked, options. Also, consider redundancy: multiple heating methods and multiple cooling methods (both a freezer and a root cellar).


Use everything.

Onion peels, sweet potato skins, beet greens, watermelon rind, chard stems, eggshells.


Sometimes things won’t go the way you plan. It’s not the end of the world.

Burnt things may be able to be reused, and if not, they can be compost. Over-salted foods can create new meals. If you make too many roasted vegetables, don’t throw them out – make curry. (Tamar Adler writes about this beautifully in An Everlasting Meal.) If you have a CSA share or garden, different vegetables will be plentiful at different times of year – you’ve got to roll with it. We also believe that this principles applies to nutrition. Your needs will change throughout the year and throughout your life. 



This entry was posted in Student Blog Project 2013 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.