By Graham Towerton
What is the difference between organic and permaculture?
Permaculture can be considered a form of organic agriculture, but not all organic agriculture uses permaculture methods and principles.
What is Organic Agriculture?
Organic agriculture (farming or gardening) is a method of growing fruits, vegetables, herbs or agricultural crops using no synthetic chemicals (pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers) and instead opting for the use of naturally available inputs and other methods that do not require synthetic chemicals. So, instead of using chemical fertilizers, an organic grower might choose to use cover cropping (green manure), compost, mined mineral powders and animal manures to provide the fertilizer needs of the crops. Instead of using chemical insecticides, the grower might choose to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which might include the use of insect traps or predatory insects for control of insect pests. Instead of using chemical herbicides, the grower might choose to use mulching for weed suppression, flame burn down of weeds, solarization using plastic covers or other non-chemical methods. Organic agriculture also avoids the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for crop production.
What is Certified Organic?
A producer’s system of agriculture is considered Certified Organic if it goes through a formal certification process to audit the farm or garden and confirm that the producer is only using approved Certified Organic inputs (which excludes GMOs) and that all farming and processing practices conform to standards established by the certifying agency. Once certified, a producer may use the certifying agency’s marketing symbol for Certified Organic goods and must go through certification audits and renewals periodically.
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), now known as Organics International, was established 50 years ago in 1972 as an international body for establishing and managing country-based organic agriculture standards. Not all country-based standards are recognized by Organics International. Organics International establishes four principles of organic agriculture:
Principle of Health
Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.
Principle of Ecology
Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
Principle of Fairness
Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.
Principle of Care
Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.
These four principles seem to align very well with the Three Ethics of Permaculture and the Twelve Principles of Permaculture.
Is Permaculture a form of Organic Agriculture?
Within permaculture there is no specific mandate that synthetic chemicals or GMOs cannot be used. However, the use of these would tend to go against the Earth Care ethic and several of the Twelve Principles. Given the known impacts of synthetic herbicides and pesticides on soil life, aquatic species and marine environments, the use of these within permaculture is certainly inconsistent with the intent, ethics and principles. Like organic agriculture, permaculture strives to use all available alternative methods for pest and weed control.
So, yes, permaculture can be considered a form of organic agriculture and permaculture producers can also strive to achieve organic certification for their producer or crops if they go through the registration and audit process.
But not all organic agriculture can be considered permaculture. There are many crops, such as corn, soybeans, wheat, dairy products and other produce which are grown using organic methods and are certified organic, but which do not apply any permaculture principles to the design of the farm, the various systems and methods of production. A farm using organic agriculture that is still large scale mono-cropping of annual crops, which fails to manage water resources efficiently, and which uses energy intensively could not ever be considered permaculture.
So, not all organic agriculture can be considered permaculture; and permaculture can generally be considered a form of organic agriculture and can also be certified organic.