You might notice the sun's path through the area or how water is leaking away from the site instead of being absorbed into it.
Besides ecological sustainability and environmental relationships, most permaculturists focus on creating social sustainability, recognizing cultural and bioregional identity, and building creative activist networks to implement "placemaking" and "paradigm reconstruction practices." Not surprisingly for such an interactive philosophy, permaculture has found a huge following on the Web — sites such as permaearth.org and permacultureactivist.net host lively online forums.
Permaculturists also believe that humans should not interfere with the wilderness and that our only interaction with it should be to observe and learn from its ecological systems. The permacultural interactivity of humans and the environment is usually organized and described graphically as a system of concentric zones, like a mandala, beginning with "home" and extending toward "community," so that the patterns of our social worlds can be put into balance.
Permaculture instructor Kat Steele of the Urban Permaculture Guild got into this kind of holistic approach because she wanted to combine her graphic design background with what she learned about sustainable living while traveling. She took a permaculture design course and started a landscaping business, then moved on to teaching certification courses. (In most cases, permaculture certification allows graduates to teach and participate in larger projects). The Urban Permaculture Guild uses "nonheirarchical decision-making" as one of its principles, and its members, in between contributing to the guild's operations, have been involved in such large-scale projects as working with Jordanians to green their heavily salted deserts and transforming water recycling policies in Australia.
Steele discussed the guild's training course with me while on a break from a six-week course conducted at the education facility of Golden Gate Park's botanical garden. (It's the first time the park has offered the course; the educational director hopes to develop the program further with Steele.) As in Vásquez's class, students learn about the principles and concepts of permaculture and put them into practice in gardens. They learn from guest lecturers about soil enrichment and gray water (any water except toilet water that's been used in the home). Both Vásquez's and Steele's classes follow the guidelines of the Permaculture Institute of Northern California and offer certification to students who successfully complete the course. They can be beneficial to yard gardeners like me, architects who wants to consider the best way to orient a building in order to make use of the sun and shade, and civil engineers looking for different approaches to water use and recycling.
During my conversation with Steele, she indicated how the concepts of permaculture could translate to social systems. "In our social landscape, we want to look at where energy is leaking. Typically in most businesses there is an organizational structure that is sort of top-down, and we can create feedback loops from energy or information that might be stored in areas that aren't being used, so that it all can come back to decision makers. So creating flows that mimic cycles in nature in our business structures can help that."
So learning from leaks is a key practice of permaculture design. Before we finished our interview, Steele got me thinking about how much I leak at home and that flushing isn't just a gross misuse of water, it's a waste to send all that pee down the drain. Turns out pee, when diluted in, say, a backyard pond fed by rain runoff from your roof, is excellent for your garden. SFBG
INDIGENOUS PERMACULTURE DESIGN COURSE