Back in April when lockdowns were in full swing in many parts of the world, statistics on Google searches showed an upsurge in interest in permaculture, notably in Europe and Australia. A method of cultivation that has been practiced for centuries, permaculture was sidelined for some time by the development of intensive agriculture. However, today it is being hailed as a panacea for the fragility of life and of society in general.
Permaculture is an approach to cultivation that focuses on existing ecosystems that have stood the test of time, and the inspiration that they can bring to make a kitchen garden thrive. As such it is a process that begins with the analysis of the area to be cultivated: type or types of soil, winds, insects, the amount of sunshine etc. Thereafter, the goal is to maximize diversity and take advantage of the synergy created by a wide range of living organisms, thus generating an optimal yield in the smallest possible space. It goes without saying that external inputs (chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides) are not allowed in permaculture.
Permaculture continues to win over a wider public...
Permaculture is accessible to all, regardless of gardening ability or experience. "You can start out with a micro-ecosystem like a window box. With a little time, you can gain quite a lot of understanding by observing how it grows and what works and what doesn't," explains Hugues Devries, who manages the market garden project at the Château de Menthon, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France. One of the goals of the Chaâteau de Menthon scheme is to bring permaculture to a wider public. "Everyone gets something out of it. People from generations with a very different understanding of agricultural practice are often surprised by what we do, but they quickly see its advantages. And everyone who comes here leaves with a desire to experiment themselves."
The internet, which offers an endless source for data, also plays a major role in the popularity of permaculture. "Using social networks, we can compile and share information on best practices from around the world," points out Devries.
However, the desire for a thriving garden is not the only reason for an interest in permaculture.
"There are several approaches to permaculture. On the level of the general public, I'd say that around 80% of people come to it via an interest in gardening, and 20% of people are interested by the principles of permaculture and its systematic aspect," explains Hugues Devries, who is actively seeking to bring permaculture principles to a wide variety of fields
... And also companies
The Château also organizes permaculture weeks for companies. For Hugues Devries, opening up to the corporate world was an obvious move. As he sees it, the basic principles of permaculture can be applied to all living ecosystems, not just to the organization of plant life, but also to animals and humans. "A garden or an allotment can inspire a fresh understanding of how human relations should be managed in companies."
A self-proclaimed pioneer of permacultural thinking, Devries, who spent 25 years as a corporate executive, was quick to understand the many parallels between the corporate world and permaculture. The seminars at the Château offer several workshops that encourage employees to take a step back and engage in a more critical understanding of their work environment and their approach to human relations.