In this post NOW’s Larch Maxey draws on a workshop he led at the recent South West Permaculture Convergence to consider the links between permaculture and wellbeing.

By Larch Maxey

The word ‘permaculture’ was coined in the mid-1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren to describe an “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating system of plant and animal species useful to man”. However, permaculture continues to evolve and can now be considered a holistic set of design principles, encompassing social and economic as well as agricultural systems. In the words of its cofounder David Holmgren, “…the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.”

Here at the Network of Wellbeing we see wellbeing as having personal, social and environmental aspects. Both permaculture and wellbeing can be used as frameworks to engage people on a personal level and connect them with wider positive changes in society and the natural world. As CEO of the Permaculture Association Andy Goldring says in our interview with him at the New Economy and Social Innovation Forum (NESI), we need to shift our “culture so that we can create activities where wellbeing is actually the purpose of what we are doing”.


A wider systemic view

Some academic research has begun to consider the role of permaculture gardening on nature based therapeutic practices. However, as noted above, permaculture is far more than a system for gardening. It is also a design approach which can be applied to all aspects of life, including social systems. Equally, wellbeing is far more than personal wellbeing and is, as respected researcher Nic Marks recently described, “the stuff of life”, deeply linked to our social systems and environmental health. When viewed from these broader perspectives the links between permaculture and wellbeing become more apparent.

Respecting nature

Nature provides an obvious point of connection between permaculture and wellbeing, too. A huge body of evidence shows that nature shapes wellbeing. For exampleaccess to nature increases longevity, improves healing, health, academic performance and many other wellbeing indicators! By drawing inspiration from natural systems and nature, permaculture embeds nature within all elements of its designs and seeks to enhance and enrich nature, whilst providing for human needs.

Permaculture has always advocated leaving space for wilderness and in some ways can be considered an early approach to rewilding, which itself has links to wellbeing. However, by drawing on nature throughout, permaculture offers potentially huge wellbeing benefits which remain to be fully explored.

Raising equality

Equality is another key connection between permaculture and wellbeing. Research proves that inequality diminishes wellbeing and equality improves it at all scales, from the household and within communities, to nationally and internationally. Equality is embedded within the heart of permaculture, in the ethical principle of Fair Shares.

Furthermore, the two other ethical principles of permacultureEarth Care and People Care, also have clear implications for personal and environmental wellbeing.

Future Conversations

Both permaculture and wellbeing offer radical, holistic approaches to fundamentally shift current patterns and systems. Both draw on decades of solid research and evidence, both are dynamic, evolving movements with local and global networks of practitioners. Both are inspired by the goal of a better world, in which people and planet thrive.

In this post, we can only begin to consider the potentially rich, diverse and dynamic ways that permaculture and wellbeing can speak to and support each other. It’s exciting to see that this conversation is beginning elsewhere as permaculture projects on the ground begin to engage with wellbeing and seek to use their permaculture designs to offer wellbeing retreats, training and therapy.

This post itself has come out of growing links and collaboration between NOW and the Permaculture Association. There is a huge scope for permaculture and wellbeing to inform, inspire and support each other and I look forward to continuing this conversation and work!

To learn more about permaculture, you can visit the Permaculture Association website

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To share your views about permaculture and wellbeing, please comment below or get in touch