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PERMACULTURE: The Ethics of Permaculture

By Diane Kennedy.

Photo credit: Diane Kennedy.
Author's daughter holding Strawberry Popcorn and Little Blue Popcorn kernels, grown at Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture in Fallbrook, CA that actually has a corn flavor when popped!

Bill Mollison and David Holmgren coined the term permaculture in the 1970’s, and with the term they defined the practice with three ethics.

The first ethic of permaculture is, Care for the Earth. As permaculture is based on the observation of natural phenomenon, insuring that land-use practices don’t deplete the earth seems logical. Unfortunately, care for the earth has not been the practice of most humans. Permaculture practices define methods of harvesting and sinking rainwater to recharge aquifers and bring waterways back to life. Permaculturalists are soil farmers first, and plants respond to the care taken to feed the soil food web. With better soil and better water comes better air, habitat, food quality and a reversal of the widespread extinction now upon us. Permaculture is regenerative, not just sustainable.

Photo credit: Diane Kennedy.
Lunar White carrots that have been allowed to go to bloom to feed the native insects.

The second ethic is, Care for People. Notice that this is the second ethic. We have been placing human needs ahead of any other creature’s, and we are killing our planet. Yet humans need adequate care as well. Permaculture labor is worthwhile because it isn’t a waste of time. You don’t devote your precious day off weeding; instead, you spend that time harvesting the nutrition in weeds to use as a fertilizer for other plants, or working towards a logical outcome that has value. Permaculture isn’t Man Versus Nature; it is man as a working partner with nature for the benefit of all concerned. There is food security and the confidence that no poisons have been used in or on the food, plants, soil or air.

Lastly is the ethic, Return of Surplus. This means that we invest in our community with our extra money. It means that we take our biodegradable waste out of the trash and compost it or bury it to build soil. This means that if we have free time we volunteer. If we have an abundance of food, we donate it to a local food pantry. We have enough, a little extra, and what is left can be shared. What more do you need than enough?

Permaculture isn’t just a chemical-free method of gardening; it is a regenerative practice of ethical land use that also shapes our interactions and habits. Even if permaculture can only be practiced in pots on a balcony, the ethics remain as the backbone of regenerative horticulture. These are ethics that make excellent sense.


Diane Kennedy has certificates in Permaculture Design, Irrigation, QWEL, and an AA in Landscape Architecture.

She has been designing, consulting, writing and lecturing about permaculture since 2011.

She and her daughter, Miranda, own and operate Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture, a food forest through which they give educational classes. They both volunteer with the Fallbrook Land Conservancy’s Native Plant Restoration Team.

Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture


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