Difference Between Organic Farming and Permaculture

Same Goals, Different Energy Flows

Yes, organic farming

  • seeks to nurture the farm and consumers
  • treasures soil health as the foundation for sustainable farming practices
  • promotes the use of natural fertilisers
  • makes good use of the natural carbon cycle so that waste from plants becomes the food (fertiliser) of another.
  • farmers may also integrate animals to help provide fertiliser and pest control

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. In permaculture the farmer is well-fed with a variety of produce grown right where she can reach it.


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

  • The homestead is built on keyline surrounded by orchard  and intensive gardens.
  • Windrows and bunding lie on contour to trap silt and water
  • Barns are on contour for ease of input & output transport
  • there are camping grounds for 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 during floods and into shade in the heat and into bogs and emergency access to rivers during fire
  • Windbreaks swales and row plantings on contour reduce erosion and shelter the stock.
  • Fodder and medicinal plants are grown for variety of pasture
  • 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 incomes stream with careful management.

When Is Permaculture Not Organic?

Permaculture farmers would not be accepted as organic farmers when they:

  • work on polluted sites with the view to rehabilitate the site as part of the total yield
  • use local materials that are not certified organic. We prefer organic supplies but would settle for non-certified or risky inputs if the purchase of organic input would incur high transport costs and there are social benefits to buying or receiving local inputs. Often the inputs are waste from local suppliers (Stud farms, lawn mowing contractors etc).  We use tested strategies such as thermal composting, filters or we contain the toxins. eg. (tyres used in Earth-Ship home walls).

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 marketcityfarms2-1024x802. 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-advice

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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