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  • Penny Livingston

Designing for a Healthy Future



Can we create more healthy and resilient lives,

develop a close relationship with nature,

and address our ecological crisis at the same time?


Permaculture offers a practical approach to achieving this. It is a set of ecological design principles, strategies and methods that can be applied to our homes, businesses and communities at the individual, community, or watershed scale. Permaculture encourages ways of thinking that help us create highly productive environments that meet our needs for food, water, energy, shelter, economy and more. These principles, based on careful observation of natural patterns, can be applied in any climate and culture. Here on Whidbey, our County code requires new developments to observe "Low Impact Development" practices, but this is merely "less bad." Permaculture provides the possibility of developing our lives as humans to not just be “less bad”,  but to regenerate and heal ecosystems while providing for our needs. 


Permaculture Ethics


Permaculture ethics are based on four overlapping principles: 


  • Earth Care: Ensuring that all life systems can continue and thrive, providing the resources necessary for their existence. 

  • People Care: Supporting and improving the well being of individuals and communities. 

  • Fair Share: Redistribution of surplus resources to promote equity. 

  • Future Care: Planning and acting with the future in mind to ensure sustainability. 


Permaculture ethics emphasize cooperation and the value of each individual's unique contribution. A key maxim is “reinvesting surplus,” recognizing that cooperative species and self-supporting communities are healthier and more resilient.


The Concept of Permaculture


Permaculture emerged from an awareness of ecological crisis. It envisions us breaking free from unsustainable systems and using the land around our homes more intensively to meet our basic needs. This solution-based design system requires less labor over time, freeing us to engage in more creative projects and develop more socially responsible work. By making areas near our homes more productive, permaculture helps preserve natural forests and wild lands from destruction. Especially on an island, where wild lands are limited and threatened by development at every turn, permaculture offers a healing way forward.


An example of a permacultural approach on Whidbey Island is the Goosefoot Organization. My teacher Bill Mollison once said “The quickest way to impoverish a community is to ship all of its resources out”. The beauty of Goosefoot is that it has businesses like the Goose Market where the profits go back into the community. This is a perfect example of having multiple victories in a system.


Permaculture Benefits


Permaculture is not about gardening tips. It is a whole system design approach with the following benefits:


  1. Self Sufficiency and Community Efficiency. Permaculture encourages growing our own food which can lead to greater self sufficiency and independence from commercial food systems. It also promotes buy local and supporting family farms. 

  2. Resilience: By creating diverse and resilient ecosystems, permaculture helps communities, families and individuals better withstand environmental and economic shocks. 

  3. Environmental Stewardship: Permaculture principles prioritize care for the earth, helping restore and maintain healthy ecosystems, improve soil health and increase biodiversity. 

  4. Health and Nutrition: Growing our own organic food ensures access to fresh nutritious produce which can lead to better health and well being. 

  5. Community Building: Permaculture projects often involve community collaboration, fostering a sense of community, cooperation and shared purpose. 

  6. Education and Skill Development: Learning about Permaculture provides valuable skills in gardens, agriculture, energy development, ecological design, resource management and regenerative living. It inspires ways for us to develop livelihoods that speak to our values. 

  7. Ethical Living: Permaculture is based on ethical principles guiding us toward a more ethical and conscious way of living. 

  8. Creative Expression: Designing and implementing permaculture systems can be a creative and fulfilling process, allowing for personal expression in the natural world.

  9. Connection to Nature: Practicing permaculture deepens our understanding of biological processes thus enhancing appreciation for nature's complexity and beauty. 

  10. Climate Change Mitigation: Permaculture practices such as soil carbon sequestration through grazing practices, soil management and reforestation contribute to mitigating climate change. 

  11. Waste Reduction: Permaculture promotes efficient use of resources by doing more than just recycling by reducing the overall waste footprint. 

  12. Economic Opportunities: There is a growing demand for people holding the permaculture vision and set of skills. Currently professional permaculturists providing quality service have more work than they can do. 


By embracing permaculture, we can make a positive impact on our own lives, our communities and the planet. 


If you would like to take a deep dive into Permaculture on Whidbey, please join Penny Livingston and a host of highly regarded instructors at the Whidbey Institute June 20-July 4, 2024 for an intensive Permaculture Design Certification course. 


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