Category Archives: Permaculture Design

Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

photo 5
Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

A Woman’s Work

I was just reading an excerpt from Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by E. Wayland Barber and was

Drop spindle demonstration at the farm. Photo by the lovely Holly Pharmer

struck that though weaving and spinning were developed over thousands of years by women, the mechanization of fiber processing was developed primarily by  men. Barber’s explanation of this is simple. In every culture world-wide, women are the principle child-rearers, meaning any co-existing work must be compatible with the act of raising children.

It reminded me of my frustrations with the lack of recognition of women in permaculture and resonated very closely with me as a mother of four. No matter how finely tuned your craft, it can be overshadowed by those with more time to experiment and labor on other tasks. Or maybe better put, it represents a kind of natural division of labor we see echoed throughout the human timeline.

There is also much discussion about the amount of labor that goes into producing a single product or garment, something we’ve seen shifted significantly since the introduction of mechanized processing. Whether tending to the livestock, waiting for a child to bathe, or as something to do imageas the day drew to an end, fiber flowed through the fingers of our foremothers at every tick of the clock. It was both necessity and something more.

Barber also describes locating twists in the fiber of woven artifacts dating back thousands of year, a sign of shared labor:

“We know… that women sometimes helped each other with their weaving projects… because we sometimes find the wefts in ancient cloth crossed in the middle of the textile. This can only have been caused by two people handing the spools of weft back and forth to each other as they wove simultaneously on different parts of the same cloth.”

Fiber work may have been one of the common threads holding together the social network of these ancient women as it does today. It was an art handed down from one generation of women to the other and remaining artifacts weave a story not only of the technical aspects of weaving and spinning, but of the cooperative aspects. And not to overshadow the menfolk- They did their part, in supplying materials for weaving and in aiding in animal husbandry and shearing.

So, while it isn’t fair that so much of women’s history, whether in fiber or in farming, is overshadowed by our male counterparts, it isn’t that the stories are lost to history. These stories exist in the small twists and vivid colors of an historical tapestry woven throughout time and beckoning our every sense-  as much tangible as an ethereal kind of whisper echoing throughout time.


More UN Goals Discussed

photo 3 (5) - CopyStill ruminating over those exciting world prosperity goals outlined by the United Nations. If you’re interested in permaculture and wondering why I’m talking about the UN, the newest goals have much in common with the permaculture systems design philosophy and core ethics. The first three were covered here. Below, you’ll find goals four thru six:

4. As we embark on this great collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind. Recognizing that the dignity of the human person is fundamental, we wish to see the Goals and targets met for all nations and peoples and for all segments of society. And we will endeavor to reach the furthest behind first.

  • Ah, those least likely to be represented by those in power. This will take some doing and is likely one of the most important tasks for those on the ground, so to speak. An individual at risk is likely someone out of touch with some of the social services provided, without a job, ailing and without medical care, youth, the elderly, or a minority/group/sect under persecution by others within the same country. Aiding these individuals is paramount, and I’m happy to see it mentioned on the list. However, while recognition of these groups may be critical (and in an ideal world, yes, priority), priority must also be given to gaining trust among these groups, leading by good example, and establishing some momentum.
  • Look at the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) approach to working with farmers at the height of the dust bowl era. Many farmers were reluctant to listen to government telling them what they could and could not do with their land, and the USDA recognized this mistrust. Rather than approaching farmers directly, they first established demonstration areas to highlight the success of specific recommendations they hoped to put in place. The NRCS became a resource for farmers, rather than another government agency telling them what to do and the program was a great success.
  • More recently, we saw the mistrust between those affected by the 2014 Ebola outbreak and aid groups, when aid workers were attacked and in some cases killed while trying to help those in need and contain the virus.
  • Identifying those most vulnerable will take networking with individuals outside of government, educating others on the goals outlined by the UN, and building trust through successful programs and efforts in conjunction with reaching these goals.

5. This is an Agenda of unprecedented scope and significance. It is accepted by all countries and is applicable to all, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities. These are universal goals and targets which involve the entire world, developed and developing countries alike. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development.

  • Yes! Well said. No two countries are exactly alike and each must develop strategies according to need within the context of their present state. What I would LOVE, love, love, to see here is some mention of shared resources, or measuring successes of projects and sharing these successes where applicable.

6. The Goals and targets are the result of over two years of intensive public consultation and engagement with civil society and other stakeholders around the world, which paid particular attention to the voices of the poorest and most vulnerable. This consultation included valuable work done by the General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and by the United Nations, whose Secretary-General provided a synthesis report in December 2014.

  • Not a goal, but good to know. It would behoove us to look at the specifics of this study to better understand the process by which the UN plans to initiate these larger, more intrinsic and idealistic goals. Feedback loop, people!

If you are interested in learning more about the United Nations Goals for World Prosperity, please have a look at the conversation we had earlier about the first three and click on the link at bottom to see the full UN report. We have some work to do. Let’s get started! Click here to register your initiative!

What is Permaculture?

IMG_0178What is permaculture? It’s good ecological design with a whole systems approach. This approach focuses not only growing food, but growing ethically and ecologically-minded households, communities, businesses, etc. The permaculture design philosophy models after solid ecological design, but approaches aspects of the design outside of the garden or food-growing spaces. When I was introduced to permaculture 10 years ago, it primarily served as methodology for growing food using bio-mimicry. We observed the natural world and mimicked the processes and patterns found in that system in creating our own food growing spaces.

Today that concept may be applied to our growing practices, something as simple as a kitchen remodel, or as complex as a business model. Some people talk of the concept of Zone 00, or the zone of self. While I really enjoyed Toby Hemmenway’s response to this labeling of the self evaluation process (and am guilty of using the label), self awareness, as any permaculturalist would agree, is a vital part of the initial and ongoing observation process. Whatever we call it, understanding the why and how of our approach to an environment can awaken a number of aspects of our personality that we may wish to enhance, change, or keep in check. If there is one enemy of the natural world, it isn’t the biocides or digging machines, it’s the human ego.

carebearsPermaculture today more than ever, focuses on three core ethics: Care for people, place, and sharing. (I feel like permaculture really deserves its own Care Bear with these three ethics represented on its belly. Anyone?) We must consider the impact we have not only on others, but on our environment. Further, we must recognize that we are not only individuals, but part of a larger natural community and that our surplus can help offset another’s deficit.

By modelling after natural systems, we create paths toward improved efficiency, smaller and smarter feedback loops that help us regularly improve on an initial design, and resource management practices that reduce our impact on the natural world. These three elements of permaculture design can reduce our system inputs significantly, all while improving yields or desired outputs.

Permaculture also values overlapping or stacking functions. In plant communities, greater yields are seen in places where stackingplants provide some element of protection, nutrient cycling, etc. for neighboring plants. In other words, these plants are not all expected to behave in the same manner; each provides something to the whole that enhances the growing environment. As an employer, this concept may be extended to employees. Rather than asking people to perform at equal levels, it would serve the organization to examine the strengths of each employee as these strengths pertain to the larger picture. Overlapping these talents or including some kind of redundancy in the system is another to stabilize the system and prevent collapse, should one aspect of the system fail.

In the employment setting, valuing the employee as part of the success of the whole company, brings about a better work environment. Imagine the impact this can have on the families of those employees!

Permaculture design has many facets that may be applied to every aspect of our lives. We’ll explore more of these in the coming weeks because the answer to What is permaculture? can be as simple or as complex an explanation as needed in the context of your exploration.