Livelihoods and production diversity on U.S. permaculture farms

Rafter Sass Ferguson, Sarah Taylor Lovell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Permaculture is an international grassroots movement with a focus on diversified farming systems (DFS). We visited 36 self-identified permaculture farms in the continental United States and gathered multidimensional data on the distribution of labor and income across enterprises and seasons, along with sociodemographic information and farm characteristics. Using this data we assessed livelihood diversity and performed a cluster analysis to develop a preliminary typology of U.S. permaculture farms. Farms were predominantly small in scale, with a high proportion of young farmers, new farmers, and new farms, when compared with national figures. Diversity of farm-based income was high for enterprises and across seasons. Cluster analysis based on sources of income produced a preliminary typology with five categories: small mixed annual and perennial cropping (N = 10), integrated production (perennial and animal crops, N = 5), a mix of production and services (N = 9), animal base (N = 5), and service base (cultural services and material products and services, N = 5). Our research suggests that permaculture farms fit well within the emerging framework of DFS, and are using a familiar set of strategies, including non-production enterprises, in order to develop and maintain diversified agroecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)588-613
Number of pages26
JournalAgroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 3 2017


  • Diversification
  • diversified farming systems
  • livelihoods
  • permaculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Development
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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