Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 3.5 –

Options and Decisions Permaculture Design

as a selection of options or pathways based on decisions

For a specific site and specific occupants (or clients), a design is a sequence of options based on such things as:

  • Product or crop options.
  • Social investment options (capital available or created)
  • Skills and occupations (education available).
  • Processing opportunities on or off site.
  • Market availability, or specific market options.
  • Management skills.

That is, any design has many potential outcomes, and it is above all the stated aims, lifestyle, and resources of the client(s) that decide their options.

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Any sensible design gives a place to start. The evolution of the design is a matter for trial, following observation, and then acting on that information. I sometimes think that the only real purpose of an initial design is to evolve some sort of plan to get one started in an otherwise confusing and complex situation. If so, a design has a value for this reason alone, for as soon as we decide to start doing, we learn how to proceed. The sort of options open to people start with a general decision (a distant goal), which is often set by ethical considerations (e.g. “care of the earth“). This may lead directly to a second set of possible options, of which erosion control, minimal tillage, and perhaps re-vegetation of steep slopes are firmly indicated for a specific site in the light of this ethic. Thus, an option, once decided on, also indicates other options, priorities, and management decisions.   In practical terms, we may also have to consider costs, and perhaps decide to generate some short- or long­ term income. This, in turn, may depend on whether we maintain a part -time, non-farm income, or (taking the leap) gather up our retirement allowance and go to it. All of this can be plotted, rather like the decision pattern a tree makes as it branches upwards. Some options are impractical, or in conflict with other decisions and ethics, and are therefore unavailable. (See Figure 3.6).

Following through the options that arise from either our decisions, or the constraints of site and resources, we can see an apparently endless series of pathways.

The process itself is inevitable, in that it leads to a series of innovative and practical procedural pathways, some of which may be very promising, and all of which agree with the ethical, financial, cultural, and ground constraints decided by the site and/or its occupants. As a bonus, not one or two, but several dozen options may remain open, and this is always a secure position in which to be. In an uncertain world we need all possible doors open! Options open up or close down on readily available evidence or as decision-points are reached. All will affect the number and direction of future actions, hence the overall design. To a great extent, these approach covers the economic and legal constraints not dealt with by either of the preceding analytic or observational approaches. It is wise, however, to implement a limited range of options for trial, or we may incur stress and work as a result of taking too much on.