[permaculture] Permaculture as "organic"?
pacedge at magna.com.au
Wed Jan 1 18:16:59 EST 2003
On Sunday, December 29, 2002, at 04:49 AM, Marshall Chrostowski wrote:
> On another web forum an argument has arisen over the differences
> organiculture and permaculture.
Some years back in Australia, Mollison stated that permaculture is
"organic gardening plus design".
I understand that he was referring to permaculture design such as the
zoned landuse system in which elements in design are placed according
to their need for attention, monitoring, harvest and visitation, a
process which gives to permaculture gardens a characteristic pattern
but a pattern also in evidence at times in organic gardens. I do not
know whether he was inferring that organic gardeners and farmers have
no concept of design and do not use design concepts in their
production. A little thought on the question shows that organic
producers must 'design' their production process in accordance with
local climatic, soil and market conditions.
Criticism of organic production practices by permaculturists - most
permaculturists are home gardeners, not commercial growers with their
need for a more disciplined process - and false beliefs about
permaculture among some organic growers, I believe, account for the
occasional animosity held by organic growers towards permaculture.
Interestingly, the practice of organic gardening in modern times
predates the development of permaculture by some years in this country
and, so far as I know in the US, even though both practices emerged
from the same social milieu in Australia in the late1960s.
An incident during the early history of Nunawading Community Garden,
the first community garden in Australian started around 20 years ago,
serves as an example of the misuderstandings that occur when people
trained in only one type of garden construction come up against organic
gardeners from a different tradition. A bunch of enthusiastic and
recently-trained permaculturists, knowing only the sheet mulch approach
to gardening, joined the garden and proceeded to cover the plots with
old carpet, presumably to suppress weed growth. This conflicted with
the aesthetics of the other gardeners who saw their pioneering
community garden becoming a visual blight. Disagreement resulted when
it might have been better had the permaculturists selected a different
approach to organic gardening, had they known any. Thus, permaculture
gained an erroneous reputation among the gardeners that has persisted
to this day. The point is that it may be better to train
permaculturists in different approaches to organic gardening, such as
double-digging, as well as sheet mulching.
> My contribution, much disputed BTW, was that
> permaculturists did not necessarily operate in a manner consistent with
> certified organic practices and use of materials.
In reference to Australian organic certification standards, I believe
that some materials used by permaculture gardeners might not be
acceptable to organic certifiers. The use of old vehicle tyres, for
instance, may exclude organic certification because they are believed
to leach cadmium over time. There is some folklore regarding the
leaching of compounds from tyres as they undergo a process of
weathering. I have been unable to discover any definitive work on this
question and pertinent facts such as the actual materials purported to
leach, the rate of leaching over time, the climatic and other
conditions under which leaching might take place, the volume of
material leached and whether its quantity constitutes a hazard to human
health remain unanswered.
Perhaps someone associated with a organic certification agency has
these answers, but the situation is one frequently encountered in
permaculture and elsewhere - notions become repeated as facts
(Australian politicians are adept at this) and enter the pool of common
knowledge even though there are no hard facts to support them.
There was an analogous issue with the use of newspaper as a weed
barrier in the construction of no-dig gardens in Australia not so many
years ago. Its persistence shows how such issues remain prevalent in
the form of folklore, rumour and erroneous assumprtion even though the
relevant technology has changed.
The concerns were over the leaching of lead from newsprint ink and the
presence of dioxin in the paper. Lead type has not been used in this
country since the early 1980s when the old lead typesetting process was
replaced by computer-based systems, so lead from that source is ruled
out. Modern inks, such as those used in newspaper production, are based
on carbon or soy. Some of the coloured inks used to print glossy papers
may contain other chemicals, however.
As for dioxin, my understanding is that most papers in Australia are
now chlorine bleached. Approximately 40% of newsprint is made from
recycled stock -- old newspapers - in a cooperative arrangement of
> I received a bit of
> bashing for writing that from an Aussie permaculturist who insisted
> Mollison held strongly to the organic ethic and practices.
Mollison did hold organic ethics and promotes organic practices as I
assume he continues to do so although he is largely silent these days
and remains aloof from listservs such as these. Many of his ideas were
derived from traditional systems of farming in developing countries and
can also be found in use by agricultural aid and development agencies
where they are part of the LEISA - Low External Input Sustainable
Agriculture - approach to food production. Here they have been
developed independently of permaculture and, I believe, were
permaculturists to study them then their approach would be more
diversified and adaptable.
These farming ideas are more developed and better articulated among aid
agencies because the need to increase the food supply encourages
continual innovation and, in part, because orthodoxies such as no-dig
gardening tend to become entrenched in permaculture although
alternatives such as double digging and biointensive offer faster
pathways to nutrients entering the soil profile and to working with
compacted soils. Permaculture's argument is that the alternative
methods are more labour intensive, which they are, and this is held to
be a negative even though there are benefits such as faster nutrient
availability and improved soil structure. Seems to be no agricultural
equivalent of cost/ benefit analysis.
Permaculture once received criticism for 'ripping-off' the traditional
farming methods of developing countries, however the accuser ignored
the design component of permaculture and the fact that identical or
similar farming techniques are found across a swath of developing
countries. The techniques found in LEISA are derived from many cultures
and packaged so that those most appropriate can be selected according
to circumstances and adapted. In doing this the processes evolve, are
picked up by other aid workers and transferred elsewhere. Thus, like
music, seeds and art styles, they are international.
The critic of permaculture cited above was not advocating cultural
property rights to farming technology, a move which would be ludicrous
as farming techniques have been spread since the dawn of the
agricultural revolution by diffusion as peoples migrated, invaded and
otherwise made contact and spread their ideas - that, however, is
So, in a similar way, permaculture has taken on board the practices of
organic gardeners and farmers and these are now common property. But
permaculture goes further to look at the integration, through design,
of the settlement, the economy, the selection of technologies and the
other elements of living.
Russ Grayson + Fiona Campbell
pacedge at magna.com.au
Phone/ fax: 02 9588 6931
PO Box 446 Kogarah NSW Australia 2217
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