The Benefits of “Permanent” Plants
What is true about “permaculture”?
This Lesson Plan is part the Sustainability and Gardening modules of SustainEd Farms' virtual programming.
Individually review the academic vocabulary and learning goals. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
Watch the video lesson individually.
Read the discussion information as a class. Please be ready to volunteer or be chosen to read.
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Students will be able to ...
Understand the overall importance of growing perennial crops
anthropogenic /ˌanTHrəpōˈjenik/ adjective. - deriving from the activity of human beings
permaculture /ˈpərməˌkəlCHər/ noun. - the combination of the words “permanent” and “agriculture” (or “culture”) that collectively describe ecosystem design concepts that supposedly lead to sustainable agricultural production
pseudoscience /ˌso͞odōˈsīəns/ noun. - attitudes, methods, and theories that do not meet the scientific standard (i.e. do not follow the scientific method)
Watch the following video that describes the benefits of having “permanent” plants.
The term “permaculture” comes with a great deal of idealistic connotations and promises, and the movement itself has lacked viability -- due, in part, to its failure to engage with the scientific community. Allegations of pseudoscience, inaccurate definitions, the failure of one-size-fits-all solutions, and impractical scalability have prevented permaculture practices from becoming the predominant form of sustainable agriculture. Yet, permaculturists’ broader claim, which is to use nature as a template for anthropogenic landscape design, has long been embraced by the agroecology community. Additionally, supporting scientific evidence has been gathered for each of the twelve classic principles of permaculture; though, not much research has been done to examine the effects of the principles functioning as a whole, and the discipline has been criticized for over-extrapolation of ecological theories.
In its simplest form, permaculture is a type of agriculture that employs the use of so-called “permanent” plants, which refers to plants that return year after year, known as perennials (as opposed to annuals, which die off each season and require sewing seed in order to grow again). With this operating definition alone, it is difficult to overlook -- and overstate -- the benefits of permaculture-inspired design. Incorporating plants that return year after year, such as fruit trees, berry bushes, shrubs, certain herbs, and certain grasses, can invigorate soil health and increase climate resiliency for a farming operation. For example, in dry climates, strategically placed permanent plants can help generate a stable microclimate for cropland by disrupting the moisture gradient between shielded annual crops and adjacent arid environments. Over the last several decades, increasing changes in land use and the subsequent destruction and fragmentation of natural landscapes have led to hikes in desertification and the urban heat island phenomenon. Therefore, the shielding effects of perennial tree and shrub barriers may prove to be vital for farming operations for years to come.
Perennial plants also function to build and maintain soil, especially when annuals are not present. Having living roots throughout the entire year -- even during fall and winter senescence -- can help drive soil microbiome functions throughout the entire year. During these colder periods, trees and bushes contribute a layer of organic matter to the soil when they drop their leaves, adding to the ground’s capacity to hold water and feed microorganisms. Permanent root structures will channel water deep into the ground all year long, building soil aggregates (clumps of soil) that help prevent erosion. Finally, with perennial plants in place, the farmer possesses a diverse operation, helping to ensure economic security by way of having a variety of products to offer at a market. In these ways, permanent agriculture demonstrates the wonderful possibilities of mimicking natural processes.
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