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Permaculture Principle #8: Integrate Rather Than Segregate

David Holmgren’s Summary

In every aspect of nature, from the internal workings of organisms to whole ecosystems, we find the connections between things are as important as the things themselves. Thus the purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements in such a way that each serves the needs and accepts the products of other elements.

Our cultural bias toward focus on the complexity of details tends to ignore the complexity of relationships. We tend to opt for segregation of elements as a default design strategy for reducing relationship complexity. These solutions arise partly from our reductionist scientific method that separates elements to study them in isolation. Any consideration of how they work as parts of an integrated system is based on their nature in isolation.

This principle focuses more closely on the different types of relationships that draw elements together in more closely integrated systems, and on improved methods of designing communities of plants, animals and people to gain benefits from these relationships

Commentary by Tim Sonder, Edible Evanston Education Chair

This one seems easy when applied to permaculture-oriented agriculture, but it goes deeper, of course.

The basics:

  • ·         Plant in polycultures, intermixed groupings of plants, instead of in monocultures
  • ·         Include animals with plantings, like chickens, ducks, pigs, goats.
  • ·         Seek diversity


  • ·         Using all the layers
  • ·         Supporting multiple functions
  • ·         Leveraging symbiosis
  • ·         Increase resiliency of the system
  • ·         The system will be more dynamic in the face of stress
  • ·         Provide a yield over time instead of large concentrated surpluses
  • ·         Make system more resistant to diseases and less vulnerable to and attractive for pest invasions


Examples of the opposite problem

  • ·         The American Elm and then the ash tree as a street tree
  • ·         Our major commodity crops and their susceptibility to pests
  • ·         Orchard fruit and their susceptibility to pests


More subtle things in agriculture

  • ·         Pollinator diversity and diversity of plants for feeding pollinators
  • ·         Microbial and fungal diversity which keeps microbes in balance
  • ·         Diversity water sources, to limit dependency on any one system
  • ·         Diverse food sources for humans

Where else/what else can benefit by embracing diversity and integration?

  • ·         Economics
        • o   Serving a wide range of people with different needs makes an economic system more resilient.
        • ·         Housing
          • o   Less vulnerability to fire, earthquakes, etc., if housing built of different materials.
          • o   More able to accommodate different family styles if some houses are tiny, some medium, some large, some multifamily
      • Art
          • o   Artwork is more interesting if can contrast and compare different styles of the same theme
      • Work life
          • o   Mixing people of different skill set, different background, different knowledge base working on the same problem will broaden thinking and generate new ideas