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Permaculture Principle #10: Use and Value Diversity

By Tim Sonder, Education Chair (October, 2019)

Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

The proverb “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” reminds us that diversity offers insurance against the variations of our environment. The great diversity of forms, functions and interactions in nature and humanity are the source of evolved systemic complexity. The role and value of diversity in nature, culture and permaculture is itself complex, dynamic, and at times apparently contradictory. Diversity needs to be seen as a result of the balance and tension in nature between variety and possibility on the one hand, and productivity and power on the other.

It is now widely recognized that monoculture is a major cause of vulnerability to pests and diseases, and therefore of the widespread use of toxic chemicals and energy to control these. Polycultures are one of the most important and widely recognized applications of the use of diversity to reduce vulnerability to pests, adverse seasons and market fluctuations. Polyculture also reduces reliance on market systems, and bolsters household and community self-reliance by providing a wider range of goods and services.

Highly related to “Integrate rather than segregate,” principle 8

How we Use and Value Diversity at the Food Forest

  • We converted something close to a monoculture of two main types of fruit trees into a polyculture of diverse plants.
  • We value what many see as weeds as a part of the diversity of the system.
  • We would like a more diverse variety of apples (and ones better for an organic permaculture orchard)
  • We would like to introduce animals (more of the integrate rather than segregate nature!)
  • We have diverse source of plants and varieties: multiple types of comfrey, multiple types of strawberry, multiple cultivars of oregano, multiple types of oyster mushrooms, diversity on the pear trees, at least three types of basil instead of one, three types of raspberries; European and American hazelnuts and varieties within those.
  • We use and value the diverse skills and backgrounds of our volunteers.
  • Berries and small fruits are an example of diversity planted in part for their yield for humans: Aronia, goumi, goji, honeyberry, seaberry, serviceberry, current, gooseberry, blueberry, elderberry, raspberry, strawberry, mayapple, and soon a passion fruit called a maypop.
  • We plan to add many more annuals for 2020 to diversify the system and increase yield. We work to provide a diversity of food for pollinators all year and a diversity of pollinators to provide their “services” to give us fruit.

In general, when one thing fails, something else succeeds to provide a yield, so diversity equals resilience, which is all the more important in this age of climate change. Diverse species avoid diseases which plague monocrops, the feed wildlife and pollinators and provide us humans with a diverse set of nutrients and phytochemicals.