I like to keep it short and simple as a first statement. I like "Design based on patterns of nature" (Larry said something similar in the PV podcast I think). I also like the "plant one, harvest forever" description.
I find a lot of descriptions are overly complicated like company mission statements. Nobody can digest that much in one sentence e.g. in an elevator or at a party. Sounds pretentions and nerdy and often rehearsed (which it is). And too hippie which puts lots of "mainstream people" off.
I also like to apply permaculture to more than gardening and farming. Again from Larry "we don't do permaculture, we use it to make decisions" and it would be a shame to limit PC.
If people are interested in hearing more I add more tidbits like "low input and maintance" or "why fight nature" etc.
I find "sustainable" gets overused and what are we "sustaining" anyways?
I love the "farming with style" though. I might need a T-Shirt
Thank you for starting this thread Peter, and thank you to everyone who has contributed. I've read & heard so many great definitions of permaculture over the years. It was only last summer that I started collecting them in a text document. That document has doubled now thanks to just this thread!!! I will contribute what I had saved before this thread:
"Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature to yield an abundance of food, fiber, and shelter for the provision of local needs." - David Holmgren
"A design science that seeks to create agriculturally productive systems with the diversity and sustainability of natural systems in order to provide food, water, shelter and all other needs in a sustainable way." - Geoff Lawton
"Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms. It seeks to provide a sustainable and secure place for [all] living things on this earth." - Bill Mollison
"Permaculture is the design and orchestration of natural systems to improve quality of life for all." - Theron Beaudreau
"...I regard permanent agriculture as a valid, safe, and sustainable, complete energy system. Permaculture, as defined here, claims to be designed agriculture, so that the species, composition, array and organisation of plants and animals are the central factor."
-Mollison, B. (1979). Permaculture 2: Practical Design for Town and Country in Permanent Agriculture
"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system."
-Mollison, B. (1991). Introduction to permaculture. Tasmania, Australia: Tagari
"Permaculture wants to copy the stability in the ecologically climaxed ecosystems that permaculturalists will design." -Bob Randall, author or Year Round Gardening
"A permaculture can accurately be said to be any system in which 'the whole function of each part is fully realized.'" - Tanya Srolovitz, quoted in The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk "...This often takes the form of a landscape in which fertile topsoil is being produced, water quality enhanced and wildlife promoted while humans also garden valuable yields of food, fuel, fiber or medicine from the system." p. 7 The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk
"Permanent Agriculture + Permanent Culture is the conscious design & maintenance of cultivated ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape, people & appropriate technologies, providing goods, shelter, energy & other needs in a sustainable way.
Permaculture is a philosophy & an approach to land use which works with natural rhythms & patterns, weaving together the elements of microclimate, annual & perennial plants, animals, water & soil management, & human needs into intricately connected & productive communities." -Bill Mollison & Scott Pittman, La Tierra Community CA PCD flyer
These are from the Social Permaculture class I took with Starhawk & Pandora Thomas:
"A design system based on ecology & indigenous knowledge that increases ecosystem health while meeting human social, ecological, & spiritual needs." - Rafter Sass Ferguson, Lisa De Piano, Pandora Thomas
"How to design happy, healthy communities powered by the sun." - Ben White
"Permaculture is the art of designing beneficial relationships." - Patrick Whitefield
"Observing nature's patterns and applying them to our lives." - can't remember if Starhawk or Pandora Thomas said this...
"It's a question of how you place the elements, what elements you placed, and what you placed them in relation to in the total system. That's what good design is about and in fact, that is what permaculture is about. It's the rightful placement of elements in relationship to the total system. I can't define permaculture and I think about it a lot. So I've tried about 10 definitions and none of them worked. It's a system of design, that's what it is. It has nothing to do with gardening, finance, taxation, or anything else. It is a system of design." -Bill Mollison, 1983
"Permaculture is design for function & functioning sustainable systems in which people are integral to design." -Bill Mollison, 1983
"Permaculture will help us design an adaptive culture. We have so many cultural tools to choose from. I've really come around to thinking of permaculture as a decision making process. It's a way to decide, out of all the tools you've got out there: all the processes you've got, all the different ways you have not just to garden, but to make decisions, to design communities, to design economies, to design businesses. Permaculture is a decision making protocol to help arrive at useful sustainable regenerative solutions.
I think of permaculture not a set of recipes; it helps us design recipes to deal with any situation (eg. The Transition Initiative – an energy descent action plan).
In permaculture we learn to recognize patterns. We learn that every situation has a set of patterns, and that these patterns guide us in designing. That a tree has its own patterns, a city has its own patterns, a food web has its own patterns, a relationship has its own patterns, a building has its own patterns. We learn to read what the relative patterns are for whatever we're working with. And we learn to design effective strategies for working with the beneficial parts of those patterns, and enhancing the parts that are beneficial and downplaying the parts that are doing us harm."
-Toby Hemenway, Liberation Permaculture (Permaculture Voices by Diego Footer)