Inhabit Documentary Explores Permaculture in Principle and Practice (Review)

©. Inhabit

This Kickstarter-funded film delivers a beautiful portrait of permaculture's potential in both rural and urban settings.

I've been an informal student of permaculture for a number of years now, and have a great respect for the concepts in general, and for the design principles in particular, and I confess to drinking heavily from the electric Kool-aid early on.

I also had a bit of a reality check when it came to putting some of the specific techniques I admired into place on my own property, because at first I didn't fully understand that permaculture isn't a box of universal plug-n-play solutions that will work anywhere. It certainly sounds that way sometimes, and it's quite common to hear new permaculture converts proselytizing about swales and food forests and keyhole gardens as if those specific applications were the silver bullets of permaculture, instead of focusing on the underlying design principles, which is where the magic really happens.

For example, doing something like building a series of swales to catch and sink rainwater into the soil, and digging a pond to catch the overflow, might make a lot of sense in Vermont, say, but doing the exact same thing down here at my place in southern New Mexico is not necessarily the best solution. Swales, by their very nature, have a large surface area that quickly evaporates a lot of moisture in an arid region like mine, and storing water in an open pond under the desert sun is not very effective, for the same reasons. We also get most of our precipitation as rain during the monsoon season in late summer, and I can testify from personal experience that watching my little earthworks blow out after a normal monsoon storm, after putting in hours of labor building them, was kind of a rude awakening for me. I ended up learning a lot about appropriate design after that, so I guess I'd call it a win overall, but if I wasn't as stubborn, I could have just as easily said to myself "Permaculture doesn't work," and given up on it

What does that have to do with a permaculture documentary?

I've often thought that the weakest link in the permaculture movement is that it's challenging to communicate to the average person just exactly what it is, let alone why it can be a game-changer in so many different fields. Explaining a specific application of permaculture design is much easier to do, but it often misleads people into thinking they know all about permaculture, based on that single example, when what might help introduce it more effectively is a broader overview of the various approaches and applications of permaculture.

Which is where Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective comes in. I got to see a screening of the film recently, and this soon to be released documentary does a great job of making permaculture more accessible. Not only does it make a compelling case for why permaculture solutions are needed, but it also highlights a number of people involved in permaculture, as well as some of the solutions that are working for them. The film presents a range of permaculture practices implemented across a variety of locations, from rural to urban and suburban areas, and the interviews with 'boots on the ground' permaculture practitioners offer plenty of food for thought about its applications and potential impact.

Inhabit is a beautiful film, and has, for lack of a better word, an intimate feel to it. It's like taking a personal mini-tour of successful permaculture sites, with each of the 'tour guides' interviewed in the film sharing their own perspective and adding to the bigger permaculture picture. It's not a 'how to do permaculture' film, but rather more like a 'Why permaculture?' film, and I think it's an excellent introduction to the movement.

Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective will be released on Earth Day 2015 (April 22nd), but is also currently available for pre-order, either to rent ($3.99) or to buy ($7.99).


Humanity is more than ever threatened by its own actions; we hear a lot about the need to minimize footprints and to reduce our impact. But what if our footprints were beneficial? What if we could meet human needs while increasing the health and well-being of our planet? This is the premise behind permaculture: a design process based on the replication of patterns found in nature. INHABIT explores the many environmental issues facing us today and examines solutions that are being applied using the ecological design lens of permaculture. Focused mostly on the Northeastern and Midwestern regions of the United States, Inhabit provides an intimate look at permaculture peoples and practices ranging from rural, suburban, and urban landscapes.