Permaculture is many different things to different people, according to our needs and capacities, but at its core are these three central ethics: Care of the Earth. Care of the People. Return of Surplus.
permaculture is washing the dirt off your carrots right before you eat them and tipping the wash water straight back on the garden 'cos water is too precious to waste, and that dirt is good stuff - it's taken you years to build it up with compost and green manures - why the heck would you send it to the septic or flush it out to sea mind you when the grey water system is finished it will all go out to the fruit trees via the canna beds you're growing for cut and drop mulch and the reeds you're using for basketry that are getting the bucketed bath water just now last year you wove a funky fruit basket you used to bring in the first apples and friends said it was fantastic could you make one for them too but then said why not trade - they'd make you a felt hat from their home grown alpaca fleece if you made them a cool basket perhaps when the kids are bigger they could make baskets too and you can have a little stall at the local market and make a bit of money 'cos the rates bills don't stop coming even though you're on grid connected solar and sometimes the energy company owes you money and the internet almost pays for itself because you write freelance articles telling everyone how great it is to be nearly penniless but eating your own carrots and you only travel as far as you can cycle 'cos who needs fuel anyway and why would you waste money on new clothes or shoes or holidays or even on newspapers when the neighbour happily gives you all of his and you can accidentally find out what happened three months ago while you're sheet mulching or lighting the wood stove that incidentally heats all your house via a nifty reticulated hot water system not that you really need too much extra warmth because your house is solar passive 'cos you designed it that way and used all recycled materials - lots from the tip shop and demolitions - except for the strawbale and render that was worth the cost to make the place so energy efficient and all organic and funky shaped with little moulded alcoves for the candles you make from your own beeswax after you've extracted that wonderful honey the bees make from your orchard and specially planted bee forage garden so you'd never have to buy sugar and everything would be properly pollinated and you could be sure of a good fruit set 'cos fresh fruit is the food of the gods and with clever planting and choice of varieties you have something fresh all year round mandarins in the greenhouse off the north wall and kiwi fruit and late apples in winter rhubarb in spring (so you have me there - rhubarb's a vegetable and doesn't need pollinating to produce) apricots apples plums cherries nectarines berries peaches just for a start in summer with pears quinces and grapes from the pergola too in autumn with the apples that are still going and that's not even mentioning the nuts thank god you have the kids at home to pick it all and help you dry preserve pickle and store all that food you'd never send them to school when they can learn everything they need at home for free besides which they were reading at four composing at seven and building their own computers from tip shop bits before they were nine and they know more about particle physics than you do plus they can chop the head off a chook when you want a little bit of meat something has to be done with all the roosters but mostly you eat vegetables and fruit - including some pretty exotic stuff you'd never find at the supermarket like cherry guavas and tamarillos and sweet root and oca they add a bit of variety to the diet but you still buy bulk grains from the co-op to grind your own flour for home baked sourdough hot from the cob oven it works really well you built it with a bunch of friends so now you share pizza nights picking fresh oregano and tomatoes straight from the garden to pizza top then soak in the firebath afterward watching the stars you grow all your own firewood too in fact you're planting more trees than you use and more every year even some fine timber ones future generations will thank you for of course they'll be wiser then and use them intelligently and you'll teach your kids to keep planting they can play in the shade now because grandfather planted walnuts and mulberries years ago when he was young and it sure is great for him to see the grandkids swinging from the limbs all covered in mulberry stains and laughing then come to think of it you hope you'll see your own grandchildren enjoying all the great wealth you're building for them and sharing it with the others they love while building a tribe as the fertility of the land grows and grows and grows... even the dirt under your nails is singing with laughter at the thought.
OK, so that's a very stereotypical back to nature type idyll. 'White Man's permaculture.' It requires either excess time or money to pursue. This is not the fault of permaculture, but the natural consequence of our socioeconomic order. This order imposes many penalties on those that won't be complicit in consuming the Earth to death, and makes it hard to pursue alternatives; hard to live an antidotal life. But if you want to restore sanity, and sanctity, then permaculture can provide the tools to open the door, even if you have to take it off at the hinges because mainstream culture has it firmly jammed, or build an alternative exit from scratch. Importantly, permaculture equips a person to build some place - a culture - to go to, when they want to leave this one behind.
Please see other articles under the "What is Permaculture" topic for more insight and perspectives on permaculture.