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Does Permaculture Work (Can It Save or Feed the World)?

Permaculture seems like a magic pill for many of the worlds issues. Its focus on sustainable land use along with minimizing inputs and maximizing outputs makes it almost too good to be true. But is it? Here’s what I’ve found over the past several years of studying permaculture.

If properly implemented, permaculture can be a highly sustainable approach to agriculture and land use. It’s based on a set of design principles that mimic natural ecosystems. Permaculture focuses on reducing waste, maximizing the use of resources, and creating closed-loop systems. The main challenge is proper scaling.

So, while permaculture seems fairly promising. Is it actually sustainable, and what are some arguments for and against permaculture? Let’s take a closer look.

Is Permaculture Actually Sustainable?

a polyculture garden with fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs

While no system is entirely impact-free, permaculture offers a holistic and regenerative approach to food production that can help to reduce the negative impacts of industrial agriculture.

Permaculture employs sustainable systems such as agroforestry, soil conservation, and natural pest control. It also aims to use local resources and minimizes waste to create self-sustaining and resilient systems.

More specifically, several studies have shown the sustainability of permaculture systems.

For example, a 2013 study published in the journal Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems found that permaculture practices can increase soil organic matter, improve soil structure, and enhance soil fertility.

Another study published in the journal Sustainability in 2016 found that permaculture systems can support biodiversity and ecological function, and reduce the use of external inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.

Additionally, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production found that permaculture can provide long-term economic and social benefits for communities by supporting local food systems and promoting sustainable livelihoods.

Overall, these studies suggest that permaculture can offer a sustainable and regenerative approach to food production and land management.

However, there are still arguments both for and against permaculture. Let’s take a look at both.

Arguments for Permaculture

Renewable Resources

a rain barrel collecting water from a roof

Permaculture emphasizes the use of renewable resources, such as solar energy and rainwater harvesting.

With the goal of harnessing these resources, permaculture gardens and farms can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, making them more sustainable over the long term.

Closed-Loop Systems

a compost bin filled with plants

Permaculture seeks to create closed-loop systems, in which waste products from one part of the system become resources for another part of the system.

For example, composting food scraps and yard waste can produce nutrient-rich soil that can be used to fertilize plants. Overall, by minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency, permaculture gardens and farms can reduce their environmental impact.

Emphasizes Biodiversity

a backyard food forest with companion plants

Permaculture gardens and farms emphasize biodiversity, which promotes ecological resilience and can help to prevent the spread of pests and diseases.

By planting a variety of crops and creating habitats for wildlife, permaculture systems can support a wide range of species and create a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

Connection and Responsibility

a keyhole garden

Permaculture fosters a sense of connection and responsibility to the environment and the community. With the goal of working with nature and creating regenerative systems, permaculture practitioners can contribute to the health and well-being of the planet and its life.

Permaculture gardens and farms can also provide a source of fresh, healthy food for local communities, which can help to improve public health and reduce food insecurity.

Overall, permaculture offers a range of benefits that make it an attractive option for anyone interested in sustainable, regenerative gardening and farming.

an organic companion planting guide ebook square

    Arguments Against Permaculture

    It’s Too Complicated and Difficult to Implement

    onions, strawberries, carrots, and marigolds growing together as companion plants

    While permaculture can involve a lot of planning and design work upfront, it is ultimately about working with nature instead of against it.

    Permaculture principles can be applied at any scale, from a small backyard garden to a large-scale farm. And the beauty of permaculture is that it can be adapted to suit the needs and resources of any individual or community.

    It’s Too Time-Consuming

    Permaculture does require some initial investment of time and effort to design and implement a system, but once established, it can actually save time and effort in the long run. By creating a self-sustaining system, permaculture gardens and farms require less maintenance and input over time.

    It’s Not Profitable

    growing microgreens
    Microgreens are one of the most profitable crops as they can be grown in small spaces and sell for $50 per pound or more​. This makes them an ideal crop for small farms and urban growers.

    Permaculture can actually be a profitable venture, particularly for small-scale farmers who adopt regenerative practices that reduce input costs and increase yields. Additionally, permaculture principles can be applied to urban settings and can help communities save money on energy, water, and waste disposal.

    It’s Too Idealistic

    While it’s true that permaculture principles are grounded in a vision of a more sustainable and resilient future, this doesn’t mean that permaculture is unrealistic or impractical.

    Many people and communities around the world are already successfully implementing permaculture practices and seeing positive results.

    Final Verdict

    While permaculture has been praised for its potential for sustainable living, it’s not a magic bullet that can solve all environmental problems.

    Permaculture is a tool that can be used to promote sustainability, but its effectiveness will depend on how it is used.

    For example, if a permaculture system is designed without considering the use of local resources, it may not be sustainable in the long term.

    There are also debates and criticisms around its effectiveness in achieving sustainability.

    For example, some argue that permaculture may not be scalable enough to meet the demands of a growing population and that it may not address wider structural issues related to global economic and political systems.

    On the other hand, there are many examples of people who adopt permaculture and have a profitable and healthy system with minimal inputs. For example, in most cases, you aren’t required to acquire loans for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars for warehouses, processing facilities, or large machinery.

    Ultimately, the sustainability of permaculture depends on various factors, such as the specific practices implemented, the local context and conditions, and the social and economic dynamics that influence its adoption and success.

    It’s important to approach the question of permaculture’s sustainability with a nuanced and critical perspective, and to consider multiple viewpoints and evidence before reaching a conclusion.

    Additionally, permaculture systems may not be appropriate in all situations, so consider the local conditions and resources before implementing a permaculture design.

    My Thoughts on Permaculture

    In my opinion, the pandemic and global issues have highlighted the need for self-sufficiency and growing one’s own food again.

    20 million Americans grew much of their own food with victory gardens during WWI and WWII, and we’ve been doing it for thousands of years before that.

    Combine that with the forgotten knowledge we once had of the land (including knowing which wild plants are edible, eating most if not all of an animal, and an emphasis on tribes and community), and I’d say permaculture sounds like a good bet.

    Does that mean that we’re all going to live like the Na’vi in James Cameron’s Avatar movie?

    It’d be pretty cool, but I think we’re past that point.

    I believe that with supply issues, the health crisis, and environmental concerns, a focus on permaculture and rural communities may be exactly what we need.


    Can Permaculture Increase Yields?

    growing beans to fix the nitrogen in the soil
    Beans take nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil. Since nitrogen is the primary nutrient for plants, this benefit is incredibly useful.

    Permaculture can increase yields while also improving soil health, preserving biodiversity, and reducing environmental impact. One example of how permaculture can increase yields is through companion planting. In my experience, planting complementary species together can lead to higher crop yields.

    For example, planting nitrogen-fixing plants like beans alongside fruiting plants like tomatoes can increase the availability of nutrients in the soil and result in larger, healthier tomato plants with more fruit.

    For example, in the drought of 2012, corn and soybean farmers reported a 9.6-11.6% yield increase when they used cover crops, likely due in part to the cover crop’s ability to add 50-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

    Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education

    Another way permaculture can increase yields is through the use of natural mulches. Rather than using synthetic fertilizers, I like to mulch my garden beds with organic matter like leaves or straw. This helps to retain moisture in the soil, suppress weeds, and add nutrients to the soil over time. As a result, I’ve seen higher yields and healthier plants.

    Permaculture principles also emphasize the importance of diversity in agriculture. By planting a variety of crops, we can reduce the risk of crop failure due to pests, disease, or weather events. Additionally, diverse plantings can support a range of beneficial insects and pollinators, which can help to boost yields by increasing pollination rates.

    Overall, while there is no guarantee that permaculture will always result in higher yields, it has certainly been effective for me and many others in improving yields while also promoting sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

    Can You Make a Living With Permaculture?

    a women with small saplings in a garden center

    You can make a living with permaculture, but like any job or business, it’s not necessarily easy.

    Permaculture is all about designing systems that work with nature and are regenerative, which often means taking a long-term approach. It may take several years to establish a productive permaculture system, and it requires ongoing maintenance and management.

    That being said, many people have successfully made a living with permaculture. By using permaculture principles to design their farms and gardens, they’re able to produce a wide variety of crops and products, including fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, honey, and more.

    They may also offer classes, workshops, and consulting services to help others learn about permaculture and how to implement it in their own lives.

    Of course, making a living with permaculture requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and business savvy. But for those who are willing to put in the effort, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling way to earn a living while also doing something positive for the environment and the community.

    To give you a head start, here’s a secretly profitable farm niche that only takes a few minutes per day. Check out the video below by Justin Rhodes (spoiler: it’s pastured pigs. They go for over $1000 per pig).

    Need More Help?

    You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.

    • Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. Check out this list to see your local services.
    • Permaculture Consultation: Need help with a bigger project? Send us a message.
    10-day food forest course