There are many approaches to farming that implement natural practices to encourage the growth of fresh, healthy produce without the need for synthetic inputs. Such methods have been popular with farmers and urban gardeners for quite some time now.
But there’s one holistic approach that also considers the benefit of the environment through sustainable and regenerative living. Known as permaculture, this concept is an ecological design framework.
“More than just a collection of tools, methods, and techniques for agriculture, permaculture is also a holistic worldview that guides your decision-making process and whatever it is you do…organic agriculture, green architecture, community organizing, educational curriculum development, etc,” said Jabez Joshua M. Flores, a research assistant at the Faculty of Education at the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU).
Flores is also a Ph. D. candidate in Environmental Science who is graduating this June 2021 at UP Los Baños.
He says that permaculture emphasizes what we can do with what we have right now. It challenges you to observe, think, and interact with your environment, thus setting it apart from other approaches in terms of agriculture.
Some tips on how to practice permaculture at home
As a home gardener himself, Flores always encourages those interested in permaculture to start with what they have at the moment or with what is abundant in their area.
“Try your best not to buy supplies immediately because it will defeat the purpose of observing and interacting with your environment,” he said.
For instance, Flores started with planting kamote tops because that was what he had when he was starting. He planted that first on his bare front yard. When it rained, he observed the yard would become very muddy. To solve that problem, he planted kamote tops all over the yard.
Within a few months, the front yard was covered with a green blanket, solving the muddy yard problem while at the same time providing their household with food.
“The next step for a permaculture designer is to establish strong connections between components in a design. If my kamote garden is one component, my kitchen is another component,” Flores said.
He added that when he starts cooking and eating kamote, that’s when he strengthens the connections in his design.
Seeing that his simple design is effective and beneficial, he adds another crop like malunggay which is very easy to propagate.
“I even added a social component to my design by giving away surplus kamote tops and malunggay to our neighbors. Our front yard looks like a forest now,” Flores said.
But aside from being beneficial to the environment, another advantage of this approach is it’s not high maintenance because it lets nature take over, with only minimal management from the farmer or gardener.
“Most of my garden chores involve just watering the plants using our rainwater catchment system. And also trimming and pruning branches, and cutting the grass when it gets too tall. I just maintain a certain density of plants so we could still walk across the garden,” Flores shared.
Learning about permaculture
Back in 2012, Flores took an organic agriculture nonformal course at UPOU. It was at that time when his classmate and friend, Edu Foronda, introduced him to permaculture by sharing a video of Geoff Lawton, a British-born Australian permaculture consultant, designer, teacher, and speaker.
“It made so much sense to me–the design aspect, the planning, the observing. I started applying permaculture in my organic vegetable garden immediately. Everything is interconnected, the garden or the farm is an ecosystem in itself. We just need to make sense of these connections already found in nature,” he said.
Flores added that permaculture was able to communicate this message to him effectively, later inspiring him to pursue graduate studies and begin his research on permaculture.
Two years after watching the video, Edu found a permaculture school in Nueva Ecija called Cabiokid. Together, they took the one-week Basic Permaculture Design Certificate course where Bert Peeters, a product developer from Belgium, was one of the teachers together with agriculturists, Angelito Agustin and Luzviminda Lopez.
“Much of what I know about permaculture today came from these people. For almost a decade, I’ve been researching permaculture by meeting practitioners, visiting sites all over the country, and reading books, journal articles, and articles online,” Flores said.
As he gained more knowledge about permaculture, Flores started a research team in 2015 while I was taking my Master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resources Management at UPOU. This team is now known as Permaculture Research PH.
The small team composed of UP students, staff, and alumni work with Flores to help promote permaculture online by jumpstarting academic interest in the topic and learn more about the approach, particularly in the Philippine context.
When used in agriculture, permaculture reimagines the way we grow food. It prompts gardeners, farmers, and agriculturists alike on how they can give back to the environment who is also responsible for growing the produce we enjoy today. Through this approach, agriculture becomes a regenerative and healing process that could benefit all.
Learn more about permaculture at Permaculture Research PH.
Photos courtesy of Jabez Flores