Permaculture and Christian Faith (Part 1)

What does permaculture have in common with Christian faith? More than you think.

What does permaculture have in common with Christian faith? More than you think.

You need permaculture. If you aren’t familiar with the term, you may be surprised by how intuitively sensible it is. You may be surprised how much permaculture you already practice without even knowing it.

I was really surprised by how many sites came up for a basic search on “christian permaculture.” When, a few years ago, I read through a summary of David Holmgren‘s “Permaculture Principals,” it had struck me how well it fit into the kind of pursuit of Jesus that is aligned with a pursuit of the kingdom of heaven. All this time, I guess I sort of thought I might be the only one who had made that connection. It turns out that there are actually a lot of christian organizations that are involved with aspects of permaculture, including feeding impoverished communities abroad and teaching biblical principals in the states.

What I wanted to do today was give a really brief overview of permaculture theory. The term “permaculture” was coined in the 1970s (as much of our ecolingo was) by Bill Mollison, who explains the importance of permanence in agriculture, and in culture in general. In a society enamored of turning resources into trash, living in light of the future is unusual, set apart, and holy. For the sake of proper credit, you should know I am referencing Holmgren’s principals as titled in Permaculture: Principals and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. The explanatory language is, of course, my own.

There are twelve principals of permaculture, and the first six principals are:

1. Observe and Interact

While the Bible contains a lot of explicit direction, God also provides a lot of instruction in the design of our bodies and environments, about how to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion.” We can discover and pursue his intentions, instead of enforcing our own intentions.

2. Catch and Store Energy

Instead of relying on our invented units (dollars, watts, barrels), to determine value, let’s be aware of how energy moves through systems: plants, animals, and their products are all valuable forms of energy and are part of God’s provision.

3. Obtain a Yield

Where humans alter a natural environment, we should be improving on God’s original design. To me, this principle covers a lot of ground. The original intention of this principle is to use edible or productive plants and components instead of decorative landscape and box hedges. I believe it also applies to building development: we must be really sure that the value of what we are putting in is more than what we are displacing. For instance, the social and ecological value of forest is probably higher than the social and ecological value of cheaply built houses, or box stores.

4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback

This means when we design systems, we should design them to require little maintenance.  In creation we have lots of examples of systems that did not originally need human assistance: forests, oceans, freshwater ecosystems, etc. When a system we have designed turns out to need a lot of assistance, that may be an indicator the system could be improved.

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services

God has already provided a lot of resources for us to use in glorifying him- instead of trying to upstage his design, inventing machines and substances that do the same things faster and dirtier. Describing this principal, Rob Hopkins says “Where nature can take some work off our hands we should let it.”

6. Produce No Waste

This one, for me, may as well refer directly to the creation account where God says the whole creation is good. He doesn’t have some cosmic trash island the size of Jupiter spiraling in space; all the things He made in the act of creation were good. Permaculture insists that “waste is a reflection of poor design.” As image bearers, I think we can get closer to God’s example when we design our systems.

(Source: Every Plenty)