permaculture_flowerI need to share this link to “the first totally free online permaculture design class” offered through the Regenerative Leadership Institute.   I haven’t reviewed  the materials myself, but be sure to supplement the class with some field trips and hands on activities to maximize your learning experience.

Welcome to the World’s First Free Online Permaculture Design Course

The complete 72+ hour curriculum is now available completely without charge together with some amazing interviews on sustainable living and intentional community design from some of the world’s greatest educators. There is no catch here — the course is completely free. Just enter your name and e-mail address above, and click start course button. Start watching the lectures, and be sure to post an introduction in the student forum… more


Two Quick Links and a Plug (or two)

The first plug is for the Linked In Permaculture Group. If you are already part of Linked In, you might enjoy participating in this group.

In their group digest, I ran across links to two organizations that I want to share, Tree Yo Permaculture and Earthmetrics

First Tree Yo Permaculture  (from their home page):

Tree Yo - Swale building in Singapore

Tree Yo – Swale building in Singapore

Tree Yo is a co-creative collective of people engaged and connected in the Permaculture Community. They  design for resiliency, they teach environmental literacy, they build with the earth beneath or feet, they use technology that is appropriate, and they travel the world to spread the word!

I’m not sure where the authors are based, but they sure do travel the world.  Their upcoming permaculture design classes  will take place in Portugal, the Dominican Republic and Cincinnati, Ohio. That’s some real diversity!   Take a look at these shared resources. These are links to several PowerPoint presentations they’ve compiled as part of the PDC they offer.  These are accessible through Slideshare and include such topics as patterns, aquaculture, tropical permaculture and mapping. Also bookmark their EDU webpage that is an open source communal education resource.

Speaking of mapping, the second link I wanted to share was to Ecometrics, specifically to their online course in Digital Mapping and GIS for Small Landowners and Permaculture Design. (From the Course Summary): marina view drive parcels

This self-paced course introduces digital mapping tools and techniques (Geographic Information Systems or GIS), and how small landowners and permaculture designers can use these tools with freely available data for site planning.

This seems like a valuable course, particularly if one intends to be engaged in permaculture design.  I first used public GIS maps available to residents of my county in my first permaculture design project. I fumbled through the GIS software but was able to manage the basics of locating the parcel, printing out the map and obtaining basic dimensions and areas. Having a resource that can walk you through the basics seems useful.

The second plug is for WordPress.  Both of these websites are driven by WordPress.WCBadge2013-Attending

And finally, if you live in the Atlanta area, be sure to get your ticket for the WordCamp Atlanta that is coming up on March 15th and 16th.  The event sold out last year and organizers expect the event to do so again this year. Come expecting to be inspired by all that you can do with WordPress from blogging to  developing websites in general.  See you there!

The Path of Least Resistance

I just finished reading The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz. Robert is a systems thinker whose work was profiled in the blog Leverage Points as one of the path of least resistance10 best systems thinking books of the past 10 years (or so).  He presents systems concepts in a very non-technical way demonstrating them as an artist-like way of creation.

Anyway, after reading the path of Least Resistance I am really struck with the frequency with which we in general see things as problems, such as:

  • the problem of global warming
  • the problem of ecological disconnection
  • The problem of unhealthy food
  • The problem of ineffective action.

Fritz argues that an orientation that tries to attack and eliminate the “problem”  leads to system oscillation. One takes action for a little while and once the pain becomes less intense, one relaxes and the problem returns.  This is happening because while you attack the problem, you really haven’t done anything to change the system underlying the problem.

He suggests that creating a totally new vision independent of the constraints of the existing system is a much more effective approach.

This reminds me of Donella Meadows’ work, Places to intervene in a System where she ranks 12 ways to bring about change in a system be it a life activity, group, organization or business from least to most effective.  Most of the problem solving efforts that we take fall into the least effective categories, typically throwing money and resources at the “problem” or “repairing the physical infrastructure”.  Fritz’s approach falls into one of the more effective categories, changing the fundamental goal of the system.Thinking in Systems

When one sets the permaculture goal, one creates a fundamental goal of the system that engages the values of earth care, people care and resource share.

I’ve followed many a permaculture blog since starting this blog and completing the PDC. I’ve found myself being exposed to thousands of little “solutions;”  thousands of little elements that supposedly fit within a larger permaculture project.  I’m not sure if it”s the blogging or facebooking writing framework or the biases of our culture that encourages these little solution snippets but we seem to be stuck on describing these least effective ways of effecting the system rather than the higher level ones.

The model Fritz presents starts with the vision and current reality and then presents three stages of the creative cycle, germination, assimilation and completion. The PDC process I participated in emphasized vision and current reality and then presented a ton of information but really didn’t present the “how to” of the process of germination, assimilation or completion.  As this blog continues to explore permaculture beyond the garden I hope I can find more resources that focus on these creative stages.  Or maybe I can create them myself.

Have you seen other permaculture design resources that focus on these aspects?

See also Moving from Patterns to Details part 2

Permaculture: Leadership for Sustainable Futures

Photo of Cornucopia Community Garden Calgary Canada courtesy of ItzaFineDay

In entitling this blog, Explorations into Permaculture: Concepts beyond the Garden I’ve wanted to explore how permaculture could inform system design, changing the way that we interact with each other and our environment. I somehow got sidetracked from this mission while I completed the PDC. It seems that much of permaculture as presented in the web (and perhaps even in the PDC) is a recitation of techniques; an endless stream of techniques. Many permaculture websites seem to focus on these techniques and show how they have actually created them “at home.” Much less time is spent on the thinking that underlies permaculture design and allows its concepts to spread beyond the garden.

I haven’t been creating much new content for this website.   I am discovering that I’m not really interested in the techniques of permaculture but searching for a step forward in my attempt to take permaculture beyond the garden. I’m very interested in this recent You-Tube video I learned about through the Permaculture Linked In Group.  A link to the video appears below.

It’s long but worthwhile video. The speaker, Stuart Hill from the University of Western Sydney makes some great points that I thought were very interesting and that I want to follow-up on in a few subsequent posts. Specifically:

  • This culture has an emphasis on socializing, problem solving and an exclusionary institutional focus.  We want to shift to an enabling (I don’t like this term), redesign and a participatory institutional focus. (Watch the video for clarification.) [06:51]
  • Under the subject of resilience: Permaculture builds capital which enhances the capability of systems to survive disruptions. [34:50] In my grant writing life I’ve been engaged in a wealth creation project since last year. I’ve started two posts about this and its relationship to permaculture.  You will be seeing them soon.
  • Practices of rehabilitation and maintenance build natural capital and ecological integrity.  This is the basis for sustainable productivity.  Sustainability is the maintenance of healthy systems and the rehabilitation of existing systems so they become healthy. [37.45]
  • When you ask people to envision a new future, they are often unable to do so because their wounded selves censor their authentic self. A way that Professor Hill has overcome this is by giving people permission to lie instead of asking them to vision. For example, what is the most amazing change that you have seen in your garden?  He says that when he does this, the wounded self stop censoring the authentic self, allowing it to express itself, because the wounded self sees no risk in “lying”. Lying is not a reality. [1:15:42]. I would guess that children have less difficult creating a vision that wounded adults.

There is much more in this video. I’d urge you to watch it and tell me what you think.

Justice Begins with Seeds

I really enjoyed this post of  an interview with Katherine Zavala at  IDEX who will be a presenter at the upcoming Justice Begins with Seeds Conference in San Francisco on May 18th and 19th 2012. IDEX seems to be a non-profit worth supporting. Please read the entire post from Justice Begins with Seeds at Planetshifter (or attend the conference if you can easily access the San Francisco bay area.  I wish I could go.)

“The purpose of the upcoming Justice Begins with Seeds conference is to grow the food sovereignty movement by advancing learning and building coalitions between the GMO counter-movement in the US, and other movements thriving to develop sustainable food systems, alleviate climate change through soil practices, defend the rights of indigenous communities, reduce social inequalities and encourage citizen democracy against corporatocracy.

Does IDEX promote permaculture as a localization strategy? If so, how?

International Development Exchange (IDEX) identifies, evaluates, and grows the best ideas from local leaders and organizations to alleviate poverty and injustice around the world. IDEX supports community-led solutions that are making a huge difference for people living in extreme poverty. The initiatives come from people who want to create change for themselves. We provide the financial support.

Local leaders and community members do the rest. The work or our grantees typically integrate two or more of our core themes:

• Women’s Empowerment
• Building local economies
• Caring for the environment

For many of the communities IDEX supports, land, water, and seeds are central to their survival, livelihoods and health. Permaculture is part of the agroecological practices our partner organizations value and promote to secure sustainability of their community livelihoods.

Together with these themes, our partners and grantees work in ways that honor the rights of women, indigenous communities and other minorities, reflect economic, social, cultural, and political realities, and create solutions that have commitment from the grassroots.

Please tell us what the key principles are in sustainable agriculture?

Thanks to the learnings of our South African partners: Biowatch and Surplus People’s Project based in Durban and Cape Town respectively, they’ve shared with us the core principles of agroecology, which is the model for sustainable agriculture. All the following text comes from a three-day agroecology conference workshop organized by Surplus People’s Project, African Center for Biosafety and the Right to Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign.

Agroecology (AE) came about with the convergence of two scientific disciplines: agronomy (the study of soil management and crop production) and ecology (the study of the relationships between organisms and the environment). As a science, AE is the application of ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agro-ecosystems.

As a set of agricultural practices, AE seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies between the components of the agro-ecosystem. It provides the most favorable soil conditions for plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and by raising soil biotic activity.

Agroecology has the following core principles – it:

• Recycles nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs;
• Integrates crops and livestock, because the one supports the other;
• Diversifies species and genetic resources in agro-ecosystems over time and space;
• Does not depend on a single crop;
• Does not use pesticides and fertilizers;
• Focuses on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system (every element, including soil, forest and livestock), rather than focusing on individual species; and
• Is highly knowledge-intensive, based on techniques that are developed from farmers’ knowledge and experimentation rather than delivered from the top down.

Agroecology as a basis for change – It is a counter movement to enable small-scale farmers and farm workers/ farm dwellers to take control of their natural resources and manage their environment in a sustainable way. It is viewed as an emancipatory political project based on social and economic justice, and rooted in ecologically sound practice.

Agroecology is not a one-size-fits-all approach – geographical and cultural diversity is important. Agroecology should be linked to broader social, political, cultural and economic transformation.”

Also see earlier post ……and the Echo Follows, Permaculture North and South

Plastic-Eating Fungi Found in the Amazon May Solve World’s Waste Problem

Degradation of polyurethane by fungi? Paul Stamets (Mycelium Running) will be glad to hear this. Lets hope this initial finding pans out after further investigation and field trials.

The Yoga Hub

Plastic-Eating Fungi Found In The Amazon

A group of students and professors from Yale University have found a fungi in the Amazon rainforest that can degrade and utilize the common plastic polyurethane (PUR). As part of the university’s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory educational program, designed to engage undergraduate students in discovery-based research, the group searched for plants and cultured the micro-organisms within their tissue.

Several active organisms were identified, including two distinct isolates of Pestalotiopsis microspora with the ability to efficiently degrade and utilize PUR as the sole carbon source when grown anaerobically, a unique observation among reported PUR biodegradation activities.

Polyurethane is a big part of our mounting waste problem and this is a new possible solution for managing it. The fungi can survive on polyurethane alone and is uniquely able to do so in an oxygen-free environment. The Yale University team has published its findings in the article ‘Biodegradation of Polyester Polyurethane by Endophytic…

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PDC Learnings – techniques

The last aspect of the element/pattern/technique triad is  the specific technique used to meet one’s overall goals. Permaculture techniques tend to involve low or appropriate technology solutions which maximize the use of natural, recycled or recyclable materials.  Some of the techniques we looked at were:

photo: Greenminds Ecological Design

  • sheet mulching – a technique to build soil
  • swale construction – a technique to prevent runoff)
  • composting – a technique to decompose and recycle organic matter
  • rainwater catchment – a technique to catch and store water
  • cobb construction – a building technique

Techniques abound and are well discussed on other websites. It’s not my intent to reinvent the wheel; just to complete the picture.  For more information see these resources:

  • This section of Heathcote Community’s Online Permaculture Course provides more suggestions.
  • Also see Appropedia, an appropriate technology wiki and
  • Natural Homes a website providing picture of the home with a short description and links to the owner’s or the builders website for over 400 homes constructed with natural building materials,