Alternative Agriculture: Permaculture Farming in Canada
Agriculture is a significant part of the foundation of Canada’s culture and economy, with large areas of the country devoted to agricultural practices, especially food production. While for over a century many agricultural methods have remained the same, with modern environmental movements and education, the agricultural industry in Canada is seeing new ideas and new methods taking hold–as well as old ideas made new again.
One of these is the concept of permaculture farming, which is an approach to farming at both the large scale and small scale that emphasizes designing agriculture to work with and alongside natural areas and patterns to enhance sustainability, rather than the industrialized monoculture method of commercial farming that is most common. Permaculture agriculture examines the farm as an entire system jointly with the natural world around it and the resources available, taking into account geography, climate, ecology, culture, and the economy of the area.
The three central concepts to permaculture farming include:
- Caring for the earth, by ensuring the natural life systems can both maintain and multiply so that people can flourish in a healthy world.
- Caring for the people, by ensuring that people have access to the resources they need to exist and thrive.
- Fair sharing, by managing our needs in order to provide resources for the first two concepts, and to recycle waste and reinvest surplus resources back into the system.
Permaculture is growing in popularity on small working farms in Canada, but it’s not just a new way of growing vegetables — it’s a new way of designing farms. Where most commercial monoculture farms are designed for convenience of chemical fertilization and mechanical planting and harvesting, permaculture farms are instead designed in a way that emphasizes diversity of crops and arrangements defined by where crops will perform best or where they are most conveniently maintained. For example, high-maintenance crops such as annual vegetables are planted close to the irrigation and human resources needed to care for them, while low-maintenance crops such as orchards are located further away.
Permanent crops are also popular for permaculture farms, such as fruit trees and nut trees, and other perennials such as berry bushes. Often these perennials are used as a base permanent crop, with diverse annual crops such as vegetables rotated in on a yearly basis. This can make for a much less effort-intensive way of farming, as the backbone of the farm is a permanent thing, with only part of the crops being planted and harvested on a seasonal cycle.
Having a diverse selection of crops sharing space also encourages sustainability and resilience, as yearly and seasonal variations in weather will see certain crops flourish at different times, and making it less likely a farm will suffer a catastrophic outcome from a bad season or disease.
Currently, permaculture is still a growing movement in Canada, somewhat hampered by the seasonal extremes across most of the country. Between hot summers and long, often very cold winters, permaculture farms can have difficulties maintaining a diverse set of crops that can withstand both ends of the temperature range. But the number of permaculture farms is growing, and while this is unlikely to replace commercial monoculture farming, it offers a unique alternative for smaller farms aiming for a more environmentally friendly and sustainable agricultural model.