[permaculture] Market Gardening is NOT Permaculture: Closing the loops

Jason Gerhardt jasongerhardt at gmail.com
Wed Jan 29 22:10:00 EST 2014

 The concept of "closed loop systems" bothers me. I see very few closed
loop systems in the natural world. I see more of the opposite--open systems.
As we learn more about the planet we are realizing it is a much more open
system than we thought, even as a whole. I think it's time to drop the
"closed loop systems" mantra.

I don't mean to quote the Designer's Manual like the official word, but
Bill addresses this topic very well in the chapter Concepts of Design (a
highly overlooked chapter in my opinion) in the section 2.3 and 2.6. Here's
just a taste "Although the material world can perhaps be predictably
measured, by applications of the laws of thermodynamics, these relate to
mainly non-living or experimentally 'closed systems'. The concept of
entropy is not necessarily applicable to those living, open earth systems
with which we are involved and in which we are immersed. Such laws are more
useful in finding an effective path through material technologies than
through a life-complexed world. The key word in open systems is 'exchange'".

In my practice of permaculture it's all about designing relationships, and
relationships, at least the good ones, are all about exchange. We're really
trying to design more complex open systems, therefore more relationships,
as I see it.

I like to design open systems that accept the waste of neighboring systems
that aren't recycling their energies. Once those energies get to my site I
want to cycle them as long as possible to maximize the use of those
energies and therefore increase yield, while knowing full well there will
still be a flow of nutrients or water or whatever that leaves the site, and
goes on to enrich another system. Practicing permaculture in cities for
example, I'll accept as much waste as is useful to the system I'm
designing. Why would I want to close the nutrient loop? I say keep it
coming if that material is going to do harm somewhere else. At this current
point in time I don't see any shortage of useful materials and energies of
all kinds on a city scale, so instead of closing my loops, I'm going to
accept the waste of other systems to enrich and grow my own by forming
relationships with those other systems.

This also gets to the concept of every permaculturist having to know how to
do everything. Instead more of us are coming to realize that we can form
relationships to meet many of our needs through exchange. The more
relationships and the more exchanges, the more resilient the system as it
often turns out. To me closed loop systems are for those who strive to be
self-sufficient and survivalists. As Larry Santoyo has said about
homesteaders interested in self-sufficiency and survivalism, "build your
doomstead now". Closed systems are boring, and eventually lead to doom, as
the law of entropy suggests. So can we drop the "closed loop systems"
mantra? I think it's misleading, and truth be told, I've never seen one in

Jason Gerhardt
PO Box 4355
Boulder, CO 80306

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