As house-hunting newlyweds in 1994, Will Hooker and Jeana Myers had an unusual priority list. Their ideal property would be in a residential neighborhood, yet offer land suitable for food production. To reduce their dependence on an automobile, they wanted to be close enough to their work to either walk or bicycle. And the house should face south to benefit from passive solar energy.
At the heart of their plans was their desire to make their home a living classroom to demonstrate the principles of permaculture. Will, a landscape architect and horticulture professor at North Carolina State University, and Jeana, the Cooperative Extension horticulture agent for Wake County, North Carolina, wanted to showcase sustainability in action. This is how they came to purchase a 1,050-square-foot home located on a mere .18 acre in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Permaculture, a word that combines permanent and agriculture, describes a system of producing a diverse and useful harvest—usually food crops—while minimizing inputs and waste. Although permaculture incorporates many basic principles of organic gardening, such as species diversity and sustainability, it takes the concept a step further.
“Permaculture is more comprehensive in that it encompasses all of what it is to live in a place—food, water, shelter, energy, and how you handle the material stream and waste,” Will says. “Organic agriculture is certainly part of it.” In a home landscape designed with permaculture in mind, frequently harvested vegetables and herbs are sited closest to the house. Small fruits and occasionally harvested crops are planted a little farther away, with orchard fruits and nut trees growing at the edges of the property. This arrangement makes care, watering, and harvesting more efficient.