Difference Between Organic Farming and Permaculture

Same Goals – Different Energy Flows

Permaculture Design and planning steps beyond organic farming. A permaculture design aims to close the energy cycle and support nature in its ability to provide abundance.

Organic farming nurtures both nature and us, the consumers. It also treasures soil health as the foundation for sustainable farming practices and it promotes the use of natural fertilisers. Organic farming optimises the natural carbon cycle. The waste from plants becomes the food (fertiliser) of another. Organic farmers also integrate animals to help provide fertiliser and pest control.

However, the single advantage of Permaculture thinking for organic farming is the conscious act of design to close the energy flows.

Darren Doherty, a world leader of Regenerative agriculture, talks candidly about the complex social and economic issues facing farmers as they move toward becoming regenerators.

Farming Can Be a Culture Of Design Thinking

Permaculture is a Design Science. In Permaculture, we look at how energy is captured, used and re-used in our efforts to feed, clothe, transport and educate our society.  We optimise the use of natural energies, engage and empower people to meet their own needs and ensure that the waste is well used and re-used. Essentially, we search for a way to close the system. Around the world, permaculture designers have been retrofitting farms. Darren Doherty, Rosemary Morrow and Mark Shepard have become world leaders in permaculture farming. The biggest permaculture farm in the world is the Chikukwa project. Their work on farming has enabled farms to be more efficient, put less pressure on existing forests, built soil health, enriched conservation efforts, sent less waste downstream and improved the health of their consumers.

Closed Cycle and Open Flow Production

In a truly closed system (one in vacuum or in space), energy is not lost it is simply transferred from one being or element to another. In a permaculture system, (which can never be fully closed), the design aims for energy and resources to effectively reused as much as possible before it leaves the system.

The main difference between permaculture and a farm is the energy cycle.
A farm is an energy source.  Whereas, a permaculture site creates an energy loop.

The farms nutrients are shipped off to market forever and so there is constant need to regenerate the soil through good soil-building practices and importing resources. although the world desperately needs good farming practices, we also need permaculture systems where people can help produce what they need, where they live and can feed the waste back into their permaculture sites.


Organic farming and permaculture complement one another. But culturally, they differ. In Permaculture we are compelled to consider the design above all else. A good permaculture design does a lot of the farm-work. We design to use natural energies (gravity) to move the water around, reduce water loss (windbreaks), gather and store nutrients (earthworks and strip farming), there are lots of strategies developed and well-tested. With the use of permaculture planning, the farmer enjoys a variety of produce grown right where she can reach it.

Each permaculture farm design will look different but in the design below we find:

The homestead is built on keyline water management principles, surrounded by an orchard  and intensive gardens for the farming family. Windrows and bunding lie on contour to trap silt and water. Barns are on contour for ease of input & output transport. Sometimes camping grounds provide alternative revenue sources and entertainment. Native species provide animal habitat and bush tucker as a potential income stream. Flood tolerant food and fodder plants edge the river.


Animals are given some self-determination being able to move to high ground in the event of a flood and into the shade in the heat and into the boggy ground to shelter in during a fire. Windbreaks swales and row plantings on contour reduce erosion and shelter the stock. Fodder and medicinal plants are grown for a variety of pastures. The riparian zone includes chinampas in slow-flowing shallows. Steep slopes and ridges are reforested to reduce erosion and rebuild native habitat they can provide another income stream with careful management.

When Is Permaculture Not Organic?

Permaculture farmers would not be accepted as organic farmers when they use non-organic materials. They may choose to recycle non-organically certified resources rather than ship in organic material from far afield.

Some permaculture designs are specifically for polluted sites with the view to rehabilitate the site as part of the total yield. This would not meet organic standards.

Often the use of local materials that are not certified organic. Naturally, we prefer organic supplies but to reduce energy costs, we might settle for non-certified or riskier inputs if the there are high transport costs and social benefits to buying or receiving local inputs.

Often the inputs are waste from local suppliers (Stud farms, lawn mowing contractors etc).  We can use processes such as thermal composting and filters to contain toxins.

Closed and open food-production systems


In organic farming however, as with ALL farming, minerals are being lost from the farm every time a truck load of produce is carted to market. Permaculture aims to close the nutrient cycle. Permaculture brings the people’s wastes back into the cycle.  How is that possible when farms are out on the fringes of civilisation? you may rightly argue. One strategy is to open the farms by investing in people rather than more machinery. Another strategy is to bring the farms back into the cities by growing food on wasted and abandoned land.

Ideally, Permaculture brings the farms back into the cities, streets, gardens, apartment balconies and the kitchens.  We can also reduce the enormous energy costs of transporting, storing and packaging foods when food grows where the people are.

Integrated Permaculture Lifestyle


In permaculture, the people contribute in their daily life toward the production of their food and other needs.  Instead of a culture of lawn, we build a culture of food production and outdoor living.

Permaculture is more holistic, it looks at the whole culture of food and exercise a healthy livelihood. See our popular page on difference between organic gardening and permaculture for more city-based permaculture ideas. The permaculture system aims to provide nutritious food and habitat for people AND native animals and birds.

Why does each Permaculture design look different?

* Each design looks different because it is shaped to fit the landscape. The elements such as home, paths, tanks, ponds, intensive gardens, food forest species in the design are chosen according to client needs.  The size of these elements depend on soil type and micro-climates available. The positioning of the elements depends on available natural energies (gravity, wind, silt, water) to make a productive connection.


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