Permaculture. The “P” word.

It carries so much intrigue. Weight. Curiosity.

While I am young enough to have not been around when the word “organic” started floating about in the 70’s, I imagine it to be the same kinda of thing as the buzz around permaculture.

People ask what it is and you get a definition like this one from Wikipedia:

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.

Well, that kinda makes sense. But what does it REALLY mean, in practical life Another definition from Bill Mollison (one of the people often credited as being the “originator” of it) is:

Permaculture is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.

Sometimes you get a definition that starts out like:

“Permaculture is a design science…”

Eeerrrrrrttt! Hit the brakes. Don’t go there. 

Not that any of these are wrong, they are just an advanced and sometimes complicated way to explain something that is really simple.

All of these generally leave people asking – well how do I apply it? For some reason every answer tends to be garden or house centered. So, lets take a deeper look

Seventh Generation Principle

Let us sidetrack for just a minute, to give us some alternative context.

The Seventh Generation Principle is based on an ancient Iroquois philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

Pretty straight-forward right? I bring this up because this is exactly what permaculture boils down to, for me. Permaculture to me is defined as living, doing an being in a way that is of benefit to future generations – human, animal and plant.

If you are interested more in the relationship between permaculture and Native Americans, Tending The Wild, is a must read. It was the first time I read a book and thought “Now THIS is REAL permaculture”!

So how do I apply it?

Any action I take can be checked against questions like the ones below – if the answer is “no” then I know the action is not aligned with permaculture. If yes then I know it is aligned with permaculture.

For example:

Are the garden amendments you are using in alignment with permaculture principles? 


Is buying this packaged meat (wrapped in plastic and styrofoam) an action that will promote well-being for future generations?

What you will find is that this might take you down a giant wormhole.

At first glance it might seem that garden amendments, say organic ones, must be good to use. But if you dive into it further you might begin to ask:

Was this mined / sourced responsibly? Maybe. Was there fossil fuels used in transportation? Yes. Was this product supported by a petroleum based industry? Yes.

Hmmm, all of a sudden, this organic garden amendment doesn’t check out. All of those questions provide answers that are harmful for the livelihood of future generations.

Actually, it’s not so simple…

I hear you asking me “then doesn’t that mean EVERYTHING is bad for future generations“?!? Yup. I hear you saying “Bret isn’t that you on a tractor on your Instagram feed?!?” Yup.

It means I am a hypocrite. I believe that we should be only doing actions that are beneficial for future generations. Yet I am trapped in a world where nearly everything is bad for the future.

Tough place to be right?

The only complete solution I have recognized to rectify this hypocrisy is to change our lifestyle to hunter-gathers and live in the woods. But even that isn’t totally feasible. The animal populations are depleted. The water way are polluted. And if even a fraction of the first world population that has email did this there certainly would not be enough resources for all!

Why have I lead you down this rabbit hole? Because I think it is important to get people to recognize this issue with the organization of the worlds systems.

I look at my son and with every ounce of my heart I want him to have a healthy world to live in. Yet in my 35 years I have seen a dramatic decline in this world. The last 10 years the decline has been insane.  I fear for the world he may be left with, and my heart breaks. I have tears writing this.

How I am Making Permaculture A Daily Practice

Most days I look at my mistakes and see how to do it better going forward. That I think is the solution. Everyday do a little better than the last.

Recently. I put away all of my gas powered tools that I really don’t need. The ONLY gas powered hand tool I kept out was the Chainsaw. Next, I switched from using bar oil to canola oil.*

Maybe next I’ll put the Chainsaw away altogether and become a real man and fell my trees by hand.

*Bonus points for anyone who can identify at least 3 reasons why this still does’t cross check against permaculture

Most days I mess up and miss tons of opportunities to live more in alignment with my ideals. But many days I make small improvements to my life, home and business that do align with permaculture AND leave me feeling better and better about the way I lead my life.

What is an ocean? It is but a multitude of drops.  

All of these small changes in my life will add up to big change. If I influence even one person, who influences even one person – that could be a tidal wave  of change.

5 Day Challenge To You

So, I have a challenge for you. This is a favor I am asking on behalf of the next seven generations. On behalf our our little boy Sequoia.

I am not asking you to move off into the woods and wear a deer skin underwear.

But I am asking you to, for the next 5 days, ask yourself 1 time a day this question:

“How will this action impact 7 generations down the line from me?” 

But go deep. Don’t just say, there’s no impact because the bottle of water is recyclable.

Ask yourself: Is that bottle REALLY recyclable? (the answer is no, it’s only down-cyclable and will break apart into microscopic toxic particles…)

Ask yourself: Do corporations REALLY have the right to privatize and profit off clean water when the majority of the world doesn’t have access to it? (I’m holding my tongue on this one)

If you are still with me – thank you.

Truly from the bottom of my heart thank you for reading this. While I know this post was not a glamorous “How to design and build your dream 200 acre homestead oasis” article, the kind of post that gets tons of attention and shares, this is a post that is deeply meaningful to me and my family.

This is big stuff.  We aren’t just talking about gardening and rainwater harvesting here. We are talking about critically thinking and evaluating our lives in their entirety.

I know I said it was simple at the beginning and that is true. The definition is simple.

But the background behind each time you ask the question is not so simple. I know it is hard as hell to sift through the mess of information out there. Misinformation, corporate propaganda that is outright a lie to make you believe things (e.g. that plastic bags are good).

So, to that I say, take it one step at a time. Just like me and my chainsaw. 

(Plus, I think I need another 10” on my beard before I’ll be rad enough to fell all of our trees by hand. I’m working on it)

About Bret James

I am homesteader and permaculture practitioner farming on 30 acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with my fiancée and son. My experience comes from an education in permaculture and what I have ground truthed on the land.


  • Marc says:

    I gave up on all gas-powered lawn and garden tools. I use a hand push mower for the little bit of lawn I have left in my front yard, manual shears instead of a string trimmer and an old-fashioned broom to sweep up instead of a leaf blower. I also have an electric chainsaw that works okay (maybe not to fell a big tree but we don’t have any to fell) if I remember to sharpen the chain once in a while. And an electric leaf chipper to make mulch from my fruit tree trimmings.

    We are also buying an electric car. While there is an impact in manufacturing it, not burning fossil fuels anymore to get to the grocery store or bring my daughter to kindergarten will be better for her future.

    Definitely want to convert my garden to a more permaculture garden – but I need step-by-step guidance without spending a lot of money. Any suggestions, Bret?

    • Bret James says:

      Hey Marc! Sounds like you are making great progress and thanks for the question. It is a HUGE question that I would love to write about in further detail at some point but I can condense it down to the following.

      To permaculture your garden look for ways to take money, time or fossil fuels out of it. Making your garden all permaculture should’t take money in fact it should be quite the opposite. Look for natural ways to solve your needs, e.g. make your own compost instead of buying needed amendments.

      Start with one thing and dial it in, then move onto something else. Is there something specific that you are thinking of with your garden that you want some thoughts on?

  • Michelle says:

    Very engaging writing style, Bret. I enjoy your posts very much and commend you and your family for following your passion and living in alignment with your values.

    • Bret James says:

      Hey Michelle, thanks for saying so! We try but it’s constant work. I’m finding that there is always something that isn’t up to standard with my values and learning that this is apart of the journey.

  • danie Kuder says:

    Yes to all of this! It can be a hard change to make at first but life becomes so much more rewarding.

    • High Sierra Permaculture says:

      I agree. This morning I was thinking about how it was at first to save old egg shells instead of buying calcium supplements for our chickens. Just another of many small examples, that as you say, can make life more rewarding by permaculture.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.