Process of Permaculture Design

The basic stages in the design process are research, creating ideas, creating the design, and presenting it. But this is not a linear process. The process is more like a spiral. Deeper understanding and more ideas come as you dive in. Each time we take a step back we build a better design.

Research, Ideate, Create, Present – Four stages of Design Process

To be honest, one of the biggest sections of your design process will be the research. In the research phase, we collect the goals of the clients and ourselves and the ethics. And then we look at the data. Like: all the different types of maps and the permissions that you need to apply for. And the sectors of natural energies that are reaching the site. And then we look at the capability of this site and the people that are going to be involved in changing that site.

identifying elements (component) of the design is an important part of the process

So, we have goals, your objectives and the client’s objectives. We have ethics and sometimes, there can be a conflict of ethics. And we have dreams.

Process Starts Boring, Gets Exciting

In the data we’re going to be looking for permissions required. And different types of maps. To be honest, we will need to do some mapping it ourselves to get the finer details. From this, we will identify the sectors: all the different natural energies that come to the site. When we’re looking at the social aspects of a design, we’re going to look at the historical use of that site. And then, the community values.

By listening to the community, we connect with them. The capability assessment of a site will look at the different assets that are on the site: the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And the risks. And then the skills and the interests of the people involved.

stages of design process - research, ideate, create, present

IDEATE – Understand Components

When we get to the ideation stage (where we put ideas onto paper), we’re going to look at the different elements that we can use (or the different components in the design). We identify the different components wanted by the client. And those needed. And we analyze them. Then we look at the function.

Look at Functions

And we look at different functions from each element. And different elements or components that will meet those functions. ‘Sort of like having safeguards. Then we put this all together in an array a pattern or a shape.

So getting to the elements: we list them. And we analyze them for how useful they are going to be. And how useful connections. There’s a whole bunch of elements you can use in a design. But let’s just take one. For instance the bee. We know what its needs are. We identify the level of expertise

required. And we know it produces or what its function can be. And the main function of the bee is to actually pollinate crops. Not just give us honey.

analyse components such as bees as part of the process

Process of Functional Connections

We use three factors to work out the best placement for an element these three factors are the sectors, zoning and the integration with other elements. So, let’s take an example of the worm farm. The worm farm benefits from shade. It also benefits from being in a nearby zone.

So, it’s not difficult for the user to carry waste food waste from the kitchen to that worm farm. Then, we integrated them. We ask: “What other elements can benefit from the worm farm? The castings and the water from the worm farm is fertilizer for delicate plants in the nursery. So, we position it between the kitchen and the nursery and in the shade.”

integration of worm farm and kitchen and plant nursery is part of the process

The Design Creation

Then we move on to that stage of creating the design. We’ve got some ideas for the strategies that we can use to achieve the function. Remember, that strategy of using and cycling the waste by using chickens? But, we know we can also use worms and compost piles. Our strategy is to cycle the nutrients. But, the different ways to do that with chickens or compost pile are the techniques. The third thing within the creation stage is looking at patterns – where things will flow.

finding resources, different techniques and strategies is part of the process

Feedback Enriches Process

In the discussion stage you’ll be talking to your client about the concepts. And you’ll be setting about to make a staging plan: what should come now, what can wait until later. And finally, you want to think about how you can accept feedback. How it can improve your work every stage in this process. We can have little feedback loops. Oh! that’s a good idea. I’m going to put that into my next plan!

The ultimate goal of your design is to empower the client. Maybe the client is yourself. By finding ways to empower the client you will find a way to bring the design to life. And by having that design implemented you get to assess how good it is.

Finding joy in the creation process

Living By Design – Not Default

“We can either live life through design or through default” Say Dr Charlie Brennan and Bridget O’Brien of Garden Juju Collective.  In our interview, Charlie discusses ethics in Permaculture and his involvement in group projects to help us design a better future’.

Design or Default – The Choice to be Active or Passive

Charlie came from Dartmoor, UK to Australia as a young man. His family also lived in Singapore during his teens. “One of the things I studied in my doctorate was eco-psychology. I feel like a sense of place became a big thing”. Because of the moves in his youth “which were both very exciting but also kind of dislocating”. In his research Charlie uncovered eugenic narratives by Joseph Campbell. “we need to understand the stories we’re living or the stories will live us”

One the things that came out of Charlie’s study was that the importance of a critical approach. That doesn’t mean criticizing it means looking at the arrangements we enter ourselves into. And learning from practice.

Permaculture Design is a Practice Not a Doctrine

“it’s very much about practice. It’s not about some doctrine. Permaculture isn’t a doctrine. It’s a set of practices which are exciting and fantastic. And they need to be evolving all the time… Anything can be treated as a doctrine. Permaculture can be, so can football training…but that’s not necessarily useful. It’s useful to keep things as an active set of practices.

Photo by ALEXANDRE DINAUT on Unsplash

Ethical Framework of Permaculture

“Permaculture is fantastic. It also is problematic sometimes. But it’s probably the only framework to address everything that’s going on. So it’s incredibly valuable. And it’s fantastic especially for holistic systemic thinking. It’s fantastic for engaging with the organic world and as a practical guide to getting things done. It’s for people who want to do something different, sustainable, regenerative and healing.”

“Ethics drives permaculture and what we’re all trying to do. Because we’re always evaluating the you know how effective or good or better this action is over that action.

Permaculture has Ethics but isn’t an Ethical System

The three ethics of permaculture (Care of Planet, Care of People and Fair Share) are more an ethic rather than a set of ethics, But they’re not ethical systems. Ethical systems offer a way of evaluating complex dilemmas that are incredibly hard to work out. For instance, we might ask: ‘do these trees stay in or do these trees come out? Do we involve these people or not? What do we do with the produce? Where do we share it? Where do we put boundaries around our knowledge versus sharing?’ All these things incredibly complicated.

Ethical Systems

Ethical systems include utilitarianism, care ethics or deontology. Charlie thinks these traditional forms of ethical approach are still really important. “We ask is it your sacred duty to live your life as close to your values as you can?

It’s challenging. But it’s also very exciting. We can suggest systems that people get a chance to explore for themselves. We ask people to look at Carol Gilligan’s care ethics. This is about 30 years old. It is sometimes seen as a feminist approach to ethics. It is unlike a bunch of old white men being quite abstract (which has its place)”. Ethics by Carol Gilligan questions the qualities of the relationship around you. And of course, there are many valuable “ethical systems from indigenous values and practices”.

Design Wisdom of Our Elders

Sometimes permaculture would challenge traditional methods. But Charlie has talked with a lot of older farmers. “They all have a set of ethics. They all have ethical aims to be the best farmer you can. Or to produce the best produce or the best soil… It involves ethical decisions on an ongoing basis. So you’re evaluating whether you use one weed method of removal or another. Or whether you even leave the weeds or not. Whether you employ certain labour. Or whether people can walk through your land. If it’s private or not. There is a constant set of ethical evaluations

adapt card game

ADAPT Card Game for Design

Charlie and Bridget O’Brien are keen for permaculture to be applied to everything. In fact, that’s how Bridget came up with the adapt game. It is now available and for sale. It is permaculture design boiled down to a design process. Adapt helps adapt without being narcissistic and selfish. “We’re doing things as a collective. And we’re doing things in service. We’re asking the question ‘what are we in service of? we’re in the service of the planet or really important causes”. To be ethical, creative and positive.

We can either live life through design
or through default.

Charlie Brennan

Life presents us with values. And we adopt these. Often we’re “scared to change from them. We live by not designing anything. Some are scared to design things. Also, what a lot of people do is design by impulse. They say !#$% it: ‘I’m doing my own thing now. And they make choices which are impulsive.

Our Adapt game is a holistic systemic approach to the design. It supports and encourages you to explore other options. It asks you to answer some difficult questions. Because a card will come up and say ‘what are the ethics of this? Or, how are you going to put this into action?

We don’t always like to go to the difficult places in designing approaches. Yet the difficult places are also often the fertile places. And so, by the end of a round of Adapt, you’ll come up with a much more involved plan. You will be putting your dream or desire or need into action.”

Live by design. Learn more with us.

This is How I want to Live – I Choose Hope

Spoof on the poster for Avatar the movie

Hope fuels our quest for more sustainable, resilient, and permanent culture. Permaculture leader with experience as a facilitator and spiritual coach. She takes us on a journey of questioning, observing and building gratitude and hope.

Bonita says “Trying to live my life in a good way, live my life with meaning and purpose. And for me that’s about taking care of the life around me.

‘Embers of Hope’ is for those who really care. And it takes some measure of courage and strength and some sort of faith. And that’s not about religion that’s just about
some sort of connection to something bigger and more powerful than ourselves. In the book I share a lot about my relationship with death. And also my perspective on ecological collapse, how I’m dealing with it emotionally. And how I’ve learnt to deal with it.”

Dead butterfly in spider’s larder

The Dying World

“One of the earlier pieces in the book is how much denial I was in around death. I didn’t really have much of a relationship with death. I didn’t grow up with the celebration of death.”

Bonita recalls “I learned about death in a very pragmatic and in a very spiritual way through the garden, through compost. And it was that experience of putting something into the compost. And then coming back a week later and it being transformed. Whether that was food scraps or a dead animal that we had found in the garden. What we perceive as the end transforms nourishment for the next cycle of life.

It wasn’t as a young person that I learnt about death until I really began to garden. And learned that, oh well plants do have their natural life cycles. And as we return nutrients to the compost. As we return nutrients to the soil, we’re being part of that natural cycle.

spoof on whistlers mother

Balance Through Understanding

What I bring through the book is this renewed relationship with death. My relationship with death now is it’s so much more balanced and so much more equanimous. Having spent few years raising animals and having worked on different farms. And connecting with friends who are traditional hunters or non-traditional hunters. Or finding an animal on the side of the road that was killed by a car. And trying to honour that animal.

I’ve learned through the natural world, the living world and the dying world that there is a sacredness. And a sense of harmony from accepting and learning to find some peace in that wholeness which includes life and it includes death.

It includes birthing and it includes loss and dying. Also how I try to live with the climate crisis. The ecological crisis that we are all facing. It’s easy to be in denial and I know that
in that part of my life when I really denied death and though that I was just invincible,
and I hadn’t lost anyone close to me yet and I didn’t have any pets except for goldfish. And it wasn’t a big deal to lose a goldfish. Because I couldn’t hold that gold fish, or cuddle it, or kiss it.

Hope Builds as Hearts Open

As my life opened up, my heart opened up to the reality that I will die at some point. That opened me in a whole other way giving me so much more depth and richness in my life.

So I started this book. And I thought that maybe it was going to be a book on social permaculture. And non-violent communication which I also practice and teach. I started the book a few times. I started the introduction, had a table of contents and the structure in it. It looked interesting. But it didn’t really come together, it didn’t gel, it didn’t grab me.

Then a very close friend was diagnosed with ALS with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Being with her through that process, in what she chose for herself, was a powerful, enlivening experience.

This chick is full of hope

Focus on Healing

She chose to focus on healing. She didn’t know if the diagnosis was correct…she didn’t know if she would have one year. Or five years or ten years. So she focused on her healing. Living each day to its fullest. And in trying to give back to all of the people in her life, her loved ones, her community. And at some point she also said, “Okay well just in case I’m wrong. Just in case I’m not going to have the outcome that I’m really hoping for, I’ve redone my will. Here is my power of attorney for health. And here are the papers and let’s not dwell on it because ‘I’m feeling well. I feel great. My life is still amazing’, and with so much vitality right up until the end.

Forest of Tranquility, NSW, Australia

Making Choices. Choosing Hope.

And so for me that became such a powerful metaphor for how I want to live in these times. We know that there is so much that is off balance in our world politically, economically, ecologically. And there is already so much change and there is already so much loss. We also don’ t know the outcome. We are all co-creating this as we go along. So my friend, Katherine’s, journey became such a powerful metaphor for me of how I can live in this time.

We can look towards the future and not know. Because as human beings we don’t know if we will if we’ll die tomorrow. If we’ll die in five years, if we’ll die of old age or if we’ll get struck by lightning. Or hit by a car.. We don’t know.

“Wisdom enables us to work with the unknown and known.” Prof. Stuart B Hill.

Embrace Not Knowing

For me the journey with this book has been learning to embrace this not knowing. And learning to live well while doing so. And for me that comes back to permaculture. Trying to live my life in a good way, live my life with meaning and purpose,

For me that’s about taking care of the life round me. That’s about making, creating more beauty around me. And that is in the garden, that is on the land and that is also in community as well.

To brave that painful life-threatening reality will fuel the fires of us taking the action that we need to take.

It’s not just about positive thinking. It’s about making peace with these painful realities, with this possibility of tremendous loss. And having that be what fuels us. Having that be what makes us choose intentionally.

Seedlings live in hope

Use Energy to Make a Better World

This is how I want to live the rest of my life. I want to use my life energy to make this garden, this land, this community healthier, stronger, more resilient.”

By intentionally choosing hope, we gather energy and find positive actions. Learn more about Permaculture with our personal mentor.

Bonita Ford’s excellent book Embers of Hope provides practical ideas on how to act for a better future.

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Set Your Goals Last

Build Values First

Stuart Hill urges us to be driven by our ethics and values, feelings and passions rather than particular goals or resolutions.  By revisiting our ethics and values at the end of the year we can keep the positive fire burning.

By listening to our feelings and passions we give ourselves the energy to create a better future. Though acknowledging our passion we formulate a vision, purpose. Once our passion is invested in our future, we can find energy to develop goals, and sustain the plans and activities.

  1. Self reliant eldersAwaken your ethics and values
  2. Acknowledge your feelings and passions
  3. Research your ideas, visions and design (doing this permaculture course is a critical tool in developing systems thinking and building your own design)
  4. Create action plans
  5. Finally start the regular activities that will help you realise your goals. At the end of each day, set goals that help achieve the actions you set in your plan.

Hill urges us to:  “Act from your core/essential self – empowered, aware, visionary, principled, passionate, loving, spontaneous, fully in the present (contextual) – vs. your patterned, fearful, compensatory, compromising, de-contextual selves”

Core Values for Social Permaculture Design

Every person is different. No two permaculture designers will have the same passions and goals. Here are two different applications of Hills suggestion to act from your core self:

  • Ana* knows her core self [empowered, aware, visionary, principled, passionate, loving, spontaneous, fully in the present] involves working with rare fruits and edible flowers. She builds skills in growing food plants. She also develops her catering projects, observing what drives people to try new foods. She searches for the best way to harvest and cook these unusual foods. Ana strives to find way to integrate rare foods into household gardens and onto the plate.   Finally, she aims to build community awareness.  Whenever Ana has a set-back (like the time vandals broke into the nursery to destroy plants) she listens to her core passion. This gives her energy to mend flaws in her action plan.
  • Zane* knows his core self [empowered, aware, visionary, principled, passionate, loving, spontaneous, fully in the present] loves working with people. He listens and helps them relieve their hunger by helping them to grow food, build water catchment and storage and make efficient stoves. There are more than a few daunting barriers in achieving the long-term goals of this project. The barriers include social perceptions, land access and resources (like seeds and access to water).  Over the years, Chris has some devastating set-backs.  Sadly, the setbacks include natural disasters. He knows these disasters will strike because the projects are on marginal land. Revisiting his core passion gives him some solace. Through re-visiting his core he recharges his passion. With renewed passion he strengthens his action plans.

[*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.]

Discover your core principles and enjoy the discovery.

Happy new year from us at Permaculture Visions.