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Permaculture Principle 3: Obtain a Yield

By Tim Sonder, Education Chair

"You can’t work on an empty stomach"

This principle can be seen as a directive to always make sure a system is providing definitive benefits. It’s like the difference between doing work and doing useful work.

Bill Mollison says: "The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited (or only limited by the information and imagination of the designer)." So 'obtain a yield' is not something we do once, but is a design approach to how we farm, garden, run our homes and communities. Again, the possible number of uses of a resource within a system is mostly limited by the knowledge and imagination of the designer. You will see how this principle is similar, and different, to others concerning waste and energy.

Think of yields broadly. A yield does not have to be edible and does not even have to be tangible. Therefore, observing and recognizing potential yields is key. A chicken does not yield just eggs (and meat), but fertilizer and insulation, perhaps CO2 for plants, and even companionship, warmth, and love. Compost does not just yield fertile organic matter; it can also yield heat for a hot bed or a greenhouse.

The roof of a building—or an education shelter or tool shed—can provide a yield of rainwater. The building can also yield wind protection or reflected heat or light for tender plants if one designs and sites it properly.

If we design wisely and observe, we can get a yield where it otherwise may be wasted.

Fruit trees yield fruit, but all trees yield shade, oxygen, transpired humidity, organic matter, habitat for birds and insects, a carbon sink, plant stakes, wood—and beauty. Permaculture stresses the use of plants that are functional for things like food and fiber, but functional plants can also be beautiful, and beauty should be consider a yield, (which is why it’s included as a “use” in our guilds).

Building community can yield friendship. Growing your own food can yield happiness.

“Starhawk” posted on the Fellowship for Intentional Community: “’Obtain a yield’ is a good principle for activists and communitarians to remember when we fall into the trap of exploiting ourselves out of our altruistic desires to serve a greater good. We also need to get something back, to sustain ourselves economically, emotionally, and physically with food and rest and beauty and yes, also money, if we are not to burn out and become nonfunctional.

Sources include: and Toby Hemeway's The Permaculture City (Chelsea Green)