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Permaculture Principles in Everyday Life: Part 3 – Principles 7, 8, & 9

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Welcome to Part 3 of this four-part series on the twelve principles of permaculture in everyday life. In Part 3, I’ll cover the seventh, eighth, and ninth principles of permaculture, which are ‘Design from Pattern to Detail,’ ‘Integrate Rather than Segregate,’ and ‘Use Small and Slow Solutions. I’ll go over each principle, giving a brief explanation, an example in permaculture landscape design, and then some more examples from everyday life.

If you haven’t already read the first two installments of this series then you might like to start at the beginning with Permaculture Principles Part 1, in which I discuss the first three principles, ‘Observe and Interact,’ ‘Catch and Store Energy,’ and ‘Obtain a Yield.’ Part 2 covers ‘Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback,’ ‘Produce No Waste,’ and ‘Use Renewable Resources and Services.’

Different permaculture teachers define the principles differently, but in this series, I’ll refer to the twelve Permaculture Principles laid out by David Holmgren in his book, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (amazon affiliate link). I’ve bolded the principles covered in this post.

Holmgren’s Twelve Permaculture Principles

  • Observe and Interact 
  • Catch and Store Energy
  • Obtain a Yield
  • Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  • Produce No Waste
  • Use Renewable Resources and Services
  • Design from Pattern to Detail
  • Integrate Rather than Segregate
  • Use Small and Slow Solutions
  • Use and Value Diversity
  • Use Edges and Value the Marginal
  • Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Design from Pattern to Detail

Designing from pattern to detail means starting with the big picture and designing progressively smaller details, not the other way around. After a period of observation, major existing patterns in the area become apparent. Make big-picture design decisions to fit logically with the existing natural patterns. Then, with the larger framework of the design in place, work out the details of each element.

Design from Pattern to Detail in Landscape Design

In landscape design, this means understanding the major patterns on the site such as sunlight, water, and noise patterns, and placing major elements, for example, swales, food forests, and vegetable gardens first. Then drill down into each element to work out the details.  

Design from Pattern to Detail in Daily Life

Routines

In everyday life, this could mean prioritizing the major elements that make up your daily routines first, then working out the details of each. For example, you might block out thirty minutes for exercise every morning, but the specific exercise might change based on the day of the week or how you’re feeling that day. The same goes for blocks of time devoted to work, meal prep, or relaxation. All of those time blocks form the big-picture pattern of your daily routine, and they are filled in with specific details as you go.

Meal Planning

With meal planning, the basic pattern might be a protein, a green vegetable, a red vegetable, and a grain. Within that framework, you can put together more detailed recipes to prepare. For example lentils, rice, broccoli, and sweet potato; or chicken curry with zucchini and red bell peppers over rice. 

Setting Goals

We can apply the principle to goal setting as well. The main goal is the big picture and we set more detailed goals along the way to help us reach the big goal. For example, the big goal could be to write a book, and smaller goals leading to it could include, research, premise or logline, outline, writing, editing, proofreading, etc. Within the process, the steps start wide with the overall vision for the book and an outline, then progress to a more detailed focus with writing and editing. The final steps are the most detail-oriented—proofreading and formatting. 

Integrate Rather than Segregate

This principle is linked to the permaculture concept of “stacking functions.” One item can and should serve multiple purposes, and each purpose should have multiple ways to be filled (redundancy).

Integrate Rather than Segregate in Landscape Design 

In a permaculture landscape, we’re always bringing elements together to support each other. One example of this is, instead of planting a single fruit tree in a sea of turf, plant a fruit tree guild with multiple plants growing around a fruit tree that support the tree and each other, adding biodiversity and multiple connections between species, strengthening the system. Monocropping is segregating, while polyculture is integrating.

Another example is integrating chickens into your permaculture backyard. Instead of sectioning them to a fixed coop in one area of the yard, let them move around the space for mutual benefit, in a controlled manner (on rotation or with limitations to protect young plants or annual beds). The chickens can help control insects and weeds, both of which provide them with nutrition, and they fertilize the ground they walk on. This is the opposite of segregation—integration. 

Integrate Rather than Segregate in Daily Life

Chores

In life, stacking functions is super useful. One form of this is stacking activities together to save time or make certain tasks more enjoyable, such as folding laundry while watching Netflix, or listening to a podcast while washing dishes.

Exercise

Or, think of it as designing your life to integrate multiple functions into one activity. For example, instead of going to the gym to work out, get exercise in the form of yardwork or a daily bicycle commute. Going to the gym only fills one need – exercise. But it also costs you money in the form of membership and transportation, not to mention the extra travel time to get there.

Consider this: Getting exercise by doing yard work also provides multiple benefits—exercise, completed yard work, and it’s free (excluding garden tools and materials). By integrating these functions into one, we save time, energy, and money. We segregate our exercise routines from the rest of our lives with gym memberships.

In this modern world, it can be difficult to integrate exercise into our lives, and going to the gym is better than getting no exercise, but what would happen if we could apply ‘Integrate Rather than Segregate’ here?  Why not take all of that effort and calories burned and feed it back into our own ecosystem? Integrating exercise in this way helps to close the loop, creating a more sustainable lifestyle system.

Household Types

Another way to think of ‘Integrate Rather Than Segregate’ in daily life is concerning household types. A family is typically a more integrated household unit than college roommates, who often live more segregated lives under the same roof.

An integrated household structure isn’t limited to nuclear family structures. It can include extended family, friends, or an intentional community or cohousing situation. No matter who shares a home, coming together for shared meals, chores, and fun activities builds relationships and strengthens the household community.

Use Small and Slow Solutions

This is one of my favorite of the twelve principles of permaculture (although I appreciate them all) because it makes life easier. Often, the simplest solution is the best solution. And small shifts can often yield significant results.

Small and Slow Solutions in the Garden

In the urban garden, small and slow is at work. Instead of relying on Big Ag, the permaculture homesteader gardens at a human scale, growing small polycultures of crops to feed the household. In permaculture landscapes slow growing perennials are favored over fast-growing, more labor-intensive annuals. (Although there are many fast-growing perennials that can help get a permaculture landscape established quickly. Check out my fast-growing plants series here.)

Small and Slow Solutions in Life

Transportation

In everyday life, we can apply ‘Small and Slow Solutions’ to transportation. By walking or cycling to our destinations, we experience city streets and neighborhoods very differently than when traveling by car. We notice more details, engage with the surroundings, interact with people, and develop a sense of belonging and care for the neighborhood.

The Slow Food Movement

Another example of Small and Slow Solutions at work is in the slow food movement, which is an international grassroots organization that advocates for a more responsible, sustainable, and local approach to food production and consumption. It was founded in 1986 by Carlo Petrini in Italy as a response to the growing popularity of fast food and the homogenization of food culture.

Conclusion

The principles of permaculture I covered today are ‘Design from Pattern to Detail,’ ‘Integrate Rather than Segregate,’ and ‘Use Small and Slow Solutions.’

I took a look at just a few of the ways we might use and understand this third set of three permaculture principles in our everyday lives. Do you see any of them applying in your life? Maybe you can think of different examples that apply to you.

We’re almost through the series, with only three more permaculture principles to cover. Keep a look out for the final installment in which we’ll look at ‘Use and Value Diversity,’ ‘Use Edges and Value the Marginal,’ and ‘Creatively Use and Respond to Change.’

Until then, once again, happy “permaculturing!”


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