Permaculture - Integrate rather than segregate

by Liz Beavis

In his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability (affiliate link), David Holmgren, one of the founders of permaculture, has written about 12 design principles.  The eighth permaculture principle is Integrate Rather than Segregate.  In this post I summarise this chapter and give examples from my own experience.


an established food forest that we visited,
complete with several beautiful Australorp roosters


Integration is so important to permaculture

This principle reinforces the idea that we are designing a system and a system consists of parts that interact.  The two key ideas in this principle, which were first articulated by David Holmgren and Bill Molison in "Permaculture One", are:

  • Each element of a system performs many functions
  • Each function is supported by many elements

What is Functional Analysis in Permaculture?

The typical method to analyse and design a resilient system is "functional analysis of elements" (great example here).  This is done by listing all the elements in a system (or proposed system) and considering their functions.  For example, the functions of chickens might be:
  • producing eggs
  • production meat
  • scratching the garden (this could be used for good or evil, but listing it lets consider how to harness this for turning the soil and how to prevent unwanted scratching)
  • eating bugs
  • producing manure (again, this could be an annoying waste, or a useful fertiliser)
Another example is the worm farm, its functions are:
  • accepting food waste
  • producing manure
  • worms to feed the chickens and aquaponics fish
  • worm wee fertiliser
This is then followed by considering desirable functions and ensuring that they are covered in a number of elements, for example production of meat could be achieved by chickens, other poultry, wild game, beef, goats, sheep etc.  Production of compost can be achieved by the worm farm, or by the compost heap.  The chickens can eat the worm farm worms or meal worms that I grow too.  And then considering how undesirable functions, such as chicken manure, may be used as an input to a system, for example by using a chicken tractor the manure can be spread over the garden or pasture.  Here is a wonderful example of a complex interaction of elements and functions on a food producing farm.

Integration is not always appropriate

David also points out the integration is not always appropriate, for example, its a good idea to separate chickens from your vegetable garden when you're trying to grow vegetables (but they might be used in the garden at times when the crop is finished). Appropriate separations must also be considered as part of the overall design, and may change over time.

Plant Guilds and Food Forests as an example of Integration

This principle of integration is also represented by the permaculture concept of plant guilds and food forests.  Guilds are groups of plants that grow well together, and food forests are a mix of trees, herbs and vegetables grown together.  The idea of an orchard full of herbs, vegetables and even small animals (chickens, rabbits, sheep) is a perfect example of integration.
This chapter also discussed integration in community, which I found very interesting.  David encourages self-sufficient communities, rather than individual self-sufficiency.  That means that we don't all have to be doing everything ourselves, but by working together we achieve what we need.  Of course this is more difficult to design!  I feel that by blogging we are contributing to a global community too.  On that subject, I think its important not to rely too strongly on the internet to supply all our information, I also buy books, new and secondhand, that cover topics we might need to know about, in case we can't use the internet one day, this is an example of having several elements provide the same function.
How do you integrate elements and functions at your place?  And what do you separate?

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