The practices of permaculture and agriculture are similar in definition, as both are practices used to grow food. However, there are a few key differences between the two and when they are used. Keep reading for the complete descriptions and our explanation of the differences between permaculture & agriculture.
What is Agriculture?
When most people think of growing food, they picture conventional agriculture. Agriculture is simply the practice of growing plants and raising animals for human consumption.
In most modern societies, conventional agriculture typically involves advanced machinery, monoculture crops, and chemical fertilizers. All of these technologies are created to boost productivity and resist harsh environmental conditions in the short term. In most cases, this way of growing food is profit-driven and aims for mass production – often at the expense of the environment and soil nearby.
What is Permaculture?
Permaculture is more than design philosophy, it’s a tool and a practice. It’s a way of thinking about growing food that is in harmony with nature rather than pushing against it.
It has three core principles:
Care for the earth. This means creating and maintaining a healthy ecosystem for the benefit of the environment and life that depends on it.
Care for people. In simple terms, this means seeking to provide people with the resources they need to thrive.
Take a fair share. This means taking only what you need. Any surplus production should be redistributed or left untouched, and waste should be returned to the soil to nourish future growth.
Although this way of growing food requires more thought and mindfulness, it doesn’t mean permaculture isn’t as productive as conventional agriculture. Permaculture has the potential for high yield and productivity. The difference is that it prioritizes natural systems over man-made ones.
How Are They Similar?
In our society, both permaculture and conventional agriculture have a role to play in our food system and how we manage our supply.
They both are viable strategies for food production, and they can both be practiced in environmentally-conscious ways when approached thoughtfully. In order to do so, however, it requires those practicing conventional agriculture to be mindful of their use of pesticides, chemicals, and environmentally damaging practices.
How Are They Different?
At its core, permaculture prioritizes the long-term health of people and the environment over productivity. In contrast, conventional agriculture often prioritizes short-term productivity and maximal profits.
While we can’t cover all the ways the two systems differ in practice, here are some primary areas of disagreement.
In a conventional agricultural system, waste is a common element. Whereas in a permaculture system, nothing goes to waste. Everything leftover is composted or turned into food for livestock. Even weeds can be used and often benefit the surrounding plant life. In conventional agriculture, only the target harvest is used and replenished.
Biodiversity v. Monoculture
In mimicking natural systems, permaculture promotes biodiversity. This means pests are eaten by natural predators, plants are better equipped to fight diseases, and weeds act to benefit their surroundings. In this system, plants are grown to complement each other, not compete.
In conventional agriculture, there is heavy use of pesticides and herbicides to replace the job of natural organisms. This pollutes the environment and makes it harder for things to grow naturally. As a result, fields become optimized for single crops, soil richness diminishes, and the environment’s overall biodiversity decreases.
Overall Time Spent
Natural systems can’t be rushed. Instead, they take time to develop and thrive. As a result, many permaculture solutions are slow and begin small in scale. In contrast, conventional agriculture is focused on maximizing outputs and speeding up processes. This is why we see conventional agriculture so prevalent in our food supply chains.
Creativity & Adaptability
Permaculture is all about observing the environment and responding to new challenges. Practitioners must learn to adapt and constantly learn more about their ecosystem.
On the other hand, conventional agriculture tries to apply general solutions that may not address the root cause of the issue. There are specific strategies farmers must follow, even if it’s not the best course of action for the environment or the people who live in those communities.
As information becomes more accessible, and people are more aware of what they are eating and how it is produced, the question arises;
Why aren’t more individuals choosing to grow their food?
Not only is it healthier, but it is also one of the best ways to fight climate change and benefit the planet on a personal scale. In removing yourself and your family from the cog of industrial farming you take a step towards health, sustainability, and a better lifestyle. Check out our food forest landscape blueprints and start your journey!
Interested in reading more? Click here for our blog on ‘Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle’.