Permaculture, a compound of the words permanent and agriculture, is about melding sustainable production with sustainable consumption. Environmentalists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren created the concept in their 1978 book “Permaculture One,” as an alternative approach to agriculture and community design in Tasmania, Australia and this idea is taking root here in New York’s rural and urban centers. Its roots lie in the early environmental movement, one spawned by the 1960s counterculture movement, which challenged many societal norms, including attitudes about how to use natural resources, as well as the 1970s energy crisis.
Permaculture is inherently artisanal. It is not designed for mass farming with big equipment. It leverages the power of nature with practices such as planting multiple crops in the same field. A classic example: planting corn, beans and squash together. The corn helps the beans grow, the beans replace nutrients that the corn uses and the squash provides shade for the other two as they grow. The plants aren’t tilled, allowing the natural ecosystem in the dirt to flourish. No-till farming increases the amount of water that penetrates the soil, helps the soil retain organic matter and can reduce erosion.
Communities around the world have adopted permaculture principles to design sustainable human settlement. One expert, New-York-City-based Monica Ibacache, describes permaculture as a way humans can meet their needs without trashing the planet. Its principles can be used everywhere, not just on farms or villages, but in cities as well.
One New York example of human and animal powered farming is Root ’n Roost Farm in White Sulphur Springs in Sullivan County, NY. Owners Sean and Cheyenne Zigmund have raised pigs, chickens, turkeys, and bees over the years. No two years are the same because they focus on different areas of growth every season. This year they have no livestock because they’re focusing more on establishing perennial crops.
To illustrate how permaculture makes the world greener, consider the fact that it uses food scraps for fertilizer. Food waste takes up 14% of landfill space, which means that using composted foods to fertilize permaculture gardens reduces food waste and means less goes into landfills.
Additionally, soil from organic farms is 26% better at retaining carbon — and retaining it for longer periods of time — than soil that’s farmed with conventional methods and synthetic fertilizers. Storing carbon in the soil instead of the atmosphere reduces greenhouse gas and fights global warming.
Permaculture isn’t limited to rural areas. Urban Rooftop farmers are hard at work in New York City at sites like Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, a 6,000-square foot organic vegetable farm atop a warehouse in Greenpoint, and Brooklyn Grange Farms, which produces 50,000 pounds of organically cultivated produce per year on two rooftop gardens in the city. These producers all sell locally—eliminating the need to transport (burning carbon-carbon-producing fossil fuels in the process) their produce to distant customers.
They provide other environmental benefits. The Eagle Street Rooftop Farm’s roof can hold over 1.5” of rain, which significantly reduces in stormwater runoff. The captured water, in turn, helps to cool the warehouse below, reducing cooling costs.
NYLCV will continue to advocate for sustainable farming practices including permaculture.