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Excerpts from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture:

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies. Permaculture is sustainable land use design. Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with its inhabitants. Within a Permaculture system, work is minimised, “wastes” become resources, productivity and yields increase, and environments are restored. Permaculture principles can be applied to any environment, at any scale from dense urban settlements to individual homes, from farms to entire regions.

Permaculture is a broad-based and holistic approach that has many applications to all aspects of life. At the heart of permaculture design and practice is a fundamental set of ‘core values’ or ethics which remain constant whatever a person's situation, whether they are creating systems for town planning or trade; whether the land they care for is only a windowbox or an entire forest. These 'ethics' are often summarized as;
  • Earthcare – recognising that Earth is the source of all life (and is possibly itself a living entity — seeGaia theory), that Earth is our valuable home, and that we are a part of Earth, not apart from it. Agriculturalists traditionally exploit soil, plants and animals so intensely that serious internal (e.g. diseases, soil erosion, decrease of production through the years) as well as external problems (e.g.pollution from fertilizers, human diseases originating from farm factories) occur. Permaculturalists have introduced new ways of practicing agriculture, based on moderate yet problem-free rates of production. These ways are fundamental in restoring a mutually beneficial (and healthy) relationship between people and the environmental factors indispensable to their survival.
  • Peoplecare – supporting and helping each other to change to ways of living that do not harm ourselves or the planet, and to develop healthy societies.
  • Fairshare (or placing limits on consumption) - ensuring that Earth's limited resources are used in ways that are equitable and wise.