A design system rooted in the thoughtful observation of living systems.
An Integrative Approach
Permaculture is an ecological design system that aims to mimic naturally occurring ecosystem functions through patterning and harness their potential for long term sustainable renewal. The term and practical fields of study were developed by Bill Mollison & David Holgrem in the 1970s. Since then, many diverse research, non-profit, homestead, commercial, and municipal projects have been implemented around the world demonstrating the effect and promise of widespread environmental regeneration and sustainable agricultural production.
A permaculture design system provides a framework for approaching disparate landscapes based on their individual characteristics, attributes, and limitations. The primary methodology involves initial and ongoing observation of ecological tendencies that inform the functional patterning of the site (slope, sun, wind, geological position, etc.). Information obtained during observation is thoughtfully synthesized into a design concept that maximizes function and productive yield, while building overall site and system health. Functional design is self-sustaining because it addresses the needs and yields of each element within the system while limiting auxiliary input and outbound pollution.
Fields Without Fences’ flagship small farm site is developed within a permaculture design framework to mitigate site limitations and initiate a process of restorative production that moves the land toward a healthy regenerative succession.
Fields Without Fences’ mixed orchard is organized in a forest garden design. Within the forest garden design schematic, plant species of varying size, composition, root structure, and function are positioned to mimic a naturalized, storied, forest architecture. The young orchard is home to a diverse population of open pollinated fruit, vegetable, and herb species growing side by side.
The native landscape of the northeast was once home to a myriad of fruit and nut species that populated the canopy of the old growth forests. The forest breaks and understory edges were home to ample berries and a changing succession of deeply regarded medicinal herbs and mushrooms. Many of these native species are being reestablished here as we combine cultivation and restoration.
Diverse medicinal herbs comprise the bulk of our understory plantings. Often the first plants that return to a disturbed area are of the medicinal variety. These species are at the forefront of a transition from depletion to abundance. These plants can likewise initiate healthy transitions within our own internal landscapes. Nearly every cultivar on our small farm has been selected based on medicinal and restorative potential.
Water collection can be an asset or peril. Due to excessive plowing and grazing, the soil on our site had compacted to a point that it was no longer capable of percolating water. With strategic regrading, and the installation of four ponds throughout the farm, we no longer have water stagnation, and are able to source all of our irrigation water from surface water catchment. Read more about this process in the timeline below.
Soil is the complex interaction of bacteria, algae, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, insects, minerals, plant matter, and beyond. The health and functionality of these diverse species, and species interactions, directly relate to the health of the plants, and the health of our bodies. We limit tilling to ensure this process remains active and robust. Plant matter is permitted to decay in place during dormant months resulting in the continued accumulation of biomass. In a short period of time, our once degraded subsoil, has begun to radically transform. Read more about this process in the timeline below.
The health and well being of the landscape is directly connected to the movements and contributions of a myriad of species. Providing for the needs of these species through the incorporation of plants, natural elements, water features, and pollinator forage, will ensure the integrity of a cohesive ecology.
Designing a cohesive and interactive system at the holistic level is exemplary of a familiar trope; “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”