Category Archives: Permaculture Principles

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!

Let’s take a look at those UN goals, shall we?

Now that we know the UN goals for world prosperity, it’s time to take action. As a permaculturalist, I was thrilled to see so many goals aligned with the core ethics of permaculture (aka, being good to the earth, your family, others) and feel like this is one more way for the philosophy to spill over into positive action on a global scale – by starting locally.

An important item to note is that these goals are not independent of one another; they are dynamic. Feeding the world without addressing the methodology of farming would ignore the second goal straight off. Instead, with the end of the growing season approaching, we’ll take a graduated look at all of the goals and set some goals of our own in pursuance of the broader objective: To create a better world for all who live here, whether plant, bird, insect, or mammal.

  • People We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

This is a sweeping goal that addresses not only access to food, affordable housing, and health care, but one could argue access to education, whole-system wellness (applied to where we live, how we live and interact within our environment, and what we eat), and ending violence against women and minorities. This is the first goal for an obvious reason – it’s our Utopian vision. And while some would argue it’s an impossible goal, I would suggest that it recognizes human potential for powerful change as long as we take action.

One thing to remember with this and any of these goals is that bringing about change will vary regionally, and might begin in areas of conflict, severe poverty, staggering inequality, etc. How these goals are addressed must follow an assessment of a region. Combing a few of the permaculture principles: Observe and interact, Value resources, and Slow and steady.

  • Planet We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.

For the permaculture folks and bio-dynamicists out there, this one is straight-forward. However, I think this is where our Utopian vision is clouded by ego and greed. Remember when the United States government protected the asbestos producers over the workers because shutting down the industry would devastate the economic well-being of the country? Yeah, that. I’m summing it up a bit rough, but it’s the most obvious barrier to reducing CO2 levels, reducing our eliminating the destruction of sensitive ecosystems, or stopping corporate giants from ravaging resources at will.

So the real question, is how can we overcome that barrier? This question can feel overwhelming. Start locally. Individuals on a local scale can promote big change, even if these changes seem small in the scheme of the larger issues. It’s a domino effect. You might inspire change through action or demonstration, or education on a local level. Or you might be the support person for someone else taking fervent action toward change. Remember the humming bird and the forest fire?

Consider the sharing of resources. Could one area that has a deficit share resources in a way that reduces waste or ecological devastation?

  • Prosperity We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

This is one where we may need to alter our concept of prosperity. In America, we seem obsessed with this notion of prosperity as it applies to our perceived success – getting the bigger house, the bigger yard, the bigger flat screen television – even the phones are starting to get bigger again.

When people ask us about how we make any money farming, I first explain that we’ve changed our concept of prosperity. We do not consider the amount of money made as an indicator toward our happiness, but instead look at the lives we live and how we spend our time together as true markers for progress and success. I think the same must happen on a global level. What does it mean to be successful, happy, prosperous? Having enough within a world where others also have what they need and suffering is hugely reduced?

What’s the obstacle in changing the mindset of success to reduce greed and consumption? Commercial media. We are bombarded with messages of what we “need” and “want” constantly, whether walking to the bus stop, on social media, even in schools, where corporate sponsors are now advertised. (UUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH – whew, nearly gave up!)

I don’t pretend to have the answers on how we’re going to initiate all of this change, but there are some simple practices that might inspire change. You can be the change and choose to live simply. In many cases, this can empower others to take similar steps forward. You can get behind or promote those organizations or media entities that share similar values. You can write a book or make a video that inspires many. Another effective strategy is to stop the madness and reduce consumption. They won’t be able to compete if we’re not feeding them cash-flow.

Of course cash-flow means jobs and jobs mean security. So job creation or a total overhaul of our monetary system is a subject that must be on the table. Personally, the dollar holds a little too much power in my mind. What about an economic system that looks at our gross national happiness, instead of our gross national product? Or a barter system? Or a hybrid of all three measures?

In the end, the UN is asking countries to get behind some core beliefs in order to effect real change. Waiting for those governments to enforce the change is not enough. We must individually work, whether on a small project or large, to initiate real world change. This doesn’t have to be a dream; the dream of a better world can become our reality. One small step at a time.

What’s the next step? Consider the following:

  • Organize a regular meeting in your community that examines the goals and makes an assessment based on regional needs, obvious areas that need improvement, and set local glas in alignment with the UN goals outlined.
  • Think of one way you, as an individual, could enact change in your own life that would be in alignment with these goals. This might mean getting help for an addiction to alcohol or drugs, helping someone who has no opportunity for college get a scholarship, or starting a food pantry for those in need of food in your area. You could even start a pay it forward, with random acts of kindness or generosity. There are many ways you can initiate positive change and they all matter.
  • Share the UN goals with others – even if it’s at the dinner table with your spouse or family. Getting people to think talk about these goals is one way to initiate change.
  • Become a leader in your community.
  • Ask your local government to enact a similar list of goals or to adopt the core principles of the goals outlined by the UN for their master plan.

Or maybe your contribution to world prosperity will involve spreading more ways to get the word out.

For the full report released by the UN, please visit:

RealEyes Podcast on Our Farm Story

Levi at RealEyes Homestead, which is a permaculture farm adjacent to our farm at DeYoung has just started doing podcasts. They’re great! And we’re particularly fond of the second ever, the story of our farm. Please take a listen and then sign up to receive additional podcasts from RealEyes.

UN World Prosperity Goals and Permaculture Core Ethics Align

580134_484834508195441_1410396379_nThe United Nations assembly met in New York this week to announce goals for world prosperity that include ending poverty, gender equality, and protection of biodiversity in our world’s oceans and other ecosystems. Reading through the preamble and the goals outlined in the report, it struck me that the UN is adopting a unifying stance echoing the core ethics of the permaculture design philosophy: Earth care, people care, and fair share.

  • People We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.
  • Planet We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.
  • Prosperity We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.
  • Peace We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.
  • Partnership We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.The inter-linkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of the new Agenda is realized. If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better.

Sustainable Development Goals

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Click HERE to view the full report.

The Principle of Kindness.

photo 2I feel like one of the pillars of ecological design or permaculture generally is kindness. Kindness to others, kindness to earth are the core ethics of permaculture philosophy. This doesn’t mean you’ll get the same kindness returned to you in equal parts. You might treat the land with every tenderness, only to lose a whole crop to some unseen failure. The same is true for your human counterparts. Humans are equally complex. Applying kindness in either context means doing so free from expectation. A bold kindness- one that reaches beyond the touch of ego to do the right thing despite the outcome.

Whether tending a garden, building community, or sharing the harvest, kindness, unlike the “obtain a yield” principle, must not be sewn for the effect it will have on us, but for the good it invites in others.

A Rose by any Other Name

There’s a kind of innocence with which we reconnect as adults studying ecological design. The design process emphasizes the importance of observation, a kind of observation free from agenda or assumptions. It’s not easy, but there are ways to practice observation to enhance your ability to see your environment without immediately interpreting and assigning value or reacting to what is being observed.

Observation, not Reactive Observation
Ba Gug at Healing Tree Farm
Gug at Healing Tree Farm

First, let’s explore the difference between observation and reactive observation. The example I use most often is that of the “invasive.” Consider a forest canopy in which there is a presence of tent caterpillar. They have eaten away the foliage on an old maple tree amid an otherwise dense canopy.

Reactive observation might lead to the immediate assignment of weighted words like “infestation,” “destruction,” “invasive,” “damage,” and “bad.” However, these words do little to describe the relationship of the tent caterpillar to the natural environment. Observing this same scene without reactivity means looking at the individual elements, first, then observing any relationship these elements may have with neighboring elements.

In this scenario, we might include notes like:

  • Presence of tent caterpillars
  • Maple canopy eaten by tent caterpillars
  • Maple tree old
  • Sunlight on forest floor
  • Presence of green foliage on forest floor
  • New forest edge forming
  • Presence of birds more so on maple, than other trees

These observations do not assign values to the individual elements, but allow us to make interpretations free from reactivity. Rather than a hyper focus on the “damage” done to the maple tree, we might be able to see how the presence of the tent caterpillars opened the canopy, thereby allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor, creating a new forest edge. The presence of anything that might feed off of the tent caterpillars indicates a natural response to a change in the bio-web.

Practicing Observation

Prior to practicing observation, it’s sometimes fun to test your observation skills. So often, those new to this process protect their ego, asserting that they are good observers and insisting they do not need practice to see. They then, inevitably, go on to do an initial site plan, forgetting major elements like large trees, sheds, or pathways – the brain simply takes these elements for granted.

To practice the art of observation, sit in one spot for a period of 15 minutes. Spend the first 60 DSC_0101seconds writing down anything you observe in an area as small as a square foot, from visual to auditory to sensory to olfactory. Take a break, then observe the same space for another 60 seconds, noting anything new you can observe that you may have missed previously. Repeat this practice until you can no longer detect the individual elements. At this point, begin noting any relationships between the individual elements, again in one minute increments.

Consider a dandelion. Assume you knew nothing about the plant. Instead of asking “What’s it called?” examine and make note of its individual elements, from the broad leaves radiating out from the stem, to the flower, to the bee on the flower, to the deep taproot. What kinds of plants are growing next to the dandelion? Each of these characteristics and relationship-oriented elements can tell us loads of information more than a label. A dandelion, by any other name is still, after all, a dandelion.

Next, Work from Patterns to Details

The above practice helps you observe individual elements and their relationships in an environment. The next step is to make broad observations of an environment. Patterns in nature, whether spirals, branching, key-hole, or waves, are repeated on a grand scale, like the spiral galaxy, to something small like the structure of our DNA double helix. These patterns do not repeat because they are pretty, but because they are efficient.

Consider the Mississippi. It’s fed from multiple, smaller rivers and streams. The bulk of the transport of water is taking photo 1place where these rivers and streams merge and the path followed is that of least resistance to water. We can mimic this same pattern in the design of our garden beds, with the wider paths being accessible to tools or other resources, to the smaller pathways that allow enough space for the human element to harvest. Walking this space and observing where you feel naturally inclined to walk, can help aid you in the design of pathways for the space.

You may also observe a space from a distance and notice the types of plants growing in a space. Plants can indicate much about the health of a soil to the soil type and water accessibility. They can also indicate previous human presence or soil degradation. Taking the broad view, you might spot rows of spotted knapweed growing among carrot flower, indicating a space once occupied by an orchard or cornfield. This kind of broad observation can help you formulate a plan for revitalization of soil at the site.

Using that same example, work from the larger pattern and what it tells you, to smaller details, like proximity to resources that can provide nutrients, pathways of water-flow occurring naturally, to changes in the edge space between the field and the neighboring ecosystem.

Working within the Nature’s Envelope

Working within nature’s envelope, rather than forcing a design on a space will save time and energy in the long run. Running any system using this model can improve overall productivity and efficiency, whether it’s a working farm or a business. Practice may never make perfect, but it’ll certainly take you a step closer to where you’d like to be.


photo 4 (1)Ha! It rained and shorted the fan. My grandfather is probably rolling in his grave muttering his favorite: Prepared Planning
Prevents Poor Performance!

We don’t always get it right, do we? Neither do plants. In fact, there’s a lesson somewhere in this fiber fiasco, I’m sure. I’m thinking about my apple tree siblings. Apple trees are heterozygous, in the extreme sense of the word. This means a single apple tree produces significant genetic variations of itself in its seed. The seeds a single apple will each produce a unique variety, some quite different from the parent tree. Imagine how many unique varieties are born from a single apple tree?!

Most farmers don’t rely on apple seeds for propagation. Instead they graft the living wood or scion off of a variety that they like, onto root-stock from another apple variety. However, those incredible apple varieties that humans have propagated throughout the centuries were discovered often via chance seedlings that grew up along fence-lines, where farmers planted apple seeds with that twinkle of hope in their eyes.

I will refrain from diving into the why and how of the conventional mindset toward selecting varieties for market, and instead return to my poor planning. (There’s a point to this, I promise.)

Heterozygosity in apples makes apples extremely adaptable in a multitude of climate and soil types. One tree may be capable of producing annually in harsh cold and high elevation, while another may thrive, but produce only biennially in a warm Zone 7 with wet feet.

Shiawassee apple, a chance seedling of the Fameuse.
Shiawassee apple, a chance seedling of the Fameuse.

The lesson from our apple tree sisters is this: If you don’t know whether something will work, and it’s on a small enough scale to adjust and adapt, then it’s better to try and fail, than not to try. Even with a little failure comes the opportunity to learn. You might learn that your phone really is reliable for things like predicting weather, or that after throwing a handful of different seeds down at the driveway edge, you finally discovered one that will thrive in that location.

Apple trees broadcast their message out into the world, hoping it will take somewhere, somehow, even against some pretty tough odds. And in doing so, not only do they continue to thrive as a tree on this planet, but we have been gifted thousands of nutritious fruits in places as far away as Kazakhstan to those growing in Mexico. So eat up, drink up, and be thankful for the lessons and sweet rewards in all the experiences life affords us.

Blessings and balance.