Permaculture, in my own words

Our final activity at the Spiral Ridge Fall Permaculture Design Course was to define Permaculture for ourselves. My thoughts: What is Permaculture? At it’s most basic, it’s a way to provide for your needs. When you get into it, though, it turns out to me much more.
It is a way of thinking, designing, and creating abundance that encompasses the sum total of responsible and regenerative farming, cradle-to-cradle living, and ethical decision making. It incorporates old school knowledge and cutting edge techniques to feed, shelter, and care for people. When people are talking about how to fix the world, permaculture is the solution that most people have never heard of.

5 Related goals:

1. Plan to facitste a PDC in 2016.
2. Write more instructional posts from here out.
3. Improve/create network with reliable and organized Permaculturists.
4. Experiment/implement key line design (more on this later)
5. Create full on designs for every property I can affect.

A quick thought before bed

Being a better man starts with seeing yourself as you are. Sometimes that means seeing yourself lying in a dirt road laughing your ass off at the night sky during a blood moon lunar eclipse, because of the absurdity of it all. See, you stayed up even though you were exhausted to see this once in 32 years event, and now it’s completely cloudy and dark, and you haven’t set up camp. This is a silly place to start, but it’s as good a starting place as any.

The habits you have make up your character. Fortunately, this is not something you do too often, else people might think you were too much of a maniac to be near. The habits that make you less effective become clear from an external perspective. Touching the fat on your belly, your are reminded to eat healthy things, generally in moderation. A general malaise and lack of energy is impetus to get more exercise, and keep your body free of junk or toxins. Feeling cold and alone, you are reminded of those who make you feel comfort, so you call your wife and child, who badly need your support, especially because you must be away at the moment. Living your life apart no longer seems simply inconvenient, it seems unnatural. You should live with your family. This is the right way to love, and to nurture them, which is what wives and children (and anybody) generally need the most.

This makes sense. Now you have to make it work. You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.

You are grateful to have a borrowed hammock, and moreover, friends and family who care for you as you go to sleep. Good night.

Blood moon breaking through
Blood moon breaking through

This Is What Happens When You Do a Permaculture Design Course…*

A notional design for Spiral Ridge Swales, walipini, and arterial paths.
A notional design for Spiral Ridge Swales, walipini, and arterial paths running through a new food forest. 

I’m writing this from Spiral Ridge, a sustainable, permaculture homestead outside of Summertown, Tennessee. I’m here for 12 days to get a Permaculture Design Certification. The folks who are teaching it are a married couple who have been here for six years. When they arrived, they had almost nothing, except a lifetime of knowledge and useful skill building. They built a cabin, powered by 400W of solar panels, heated by passive solar, and supplied water from a well. They transformed the landscape from a barren, just logged hilltop to a lush and densely packed edible forest and food production hub, while raising four children. Pretty awesome and dedicated people.

What is Permaculture? Everybody who practices it gets asked this question at some point, and there are plenty of different answers. The word is often interpreted to be a mashup of “permanent agriculture.” That’s only one aspect, though. At its core, Permaculture is a discipline to care for the Earth and to care for people, in a responsible and fair way. Permaculturists interact with and support their local ecosystems, strengthening the productivity of landscapes with care create more value than they will harvest, thus improving the land. They build great empires of biodiversity using small and slow solutions, which eventually produce yields which are magnitudes of order above that of “traditional” farming. I get to experience this first hand because the Air Force has seen fit to pay for and send me out here for this class. It may be surprising, but this is where my Intelligence career has led me.

In the style of so many other listicles, here are 10 things that happen when you go to a PDC.

  1. You realize that you are not alone in trying to save the world for future generations with your neurotic recycling and composting habits. Actually, you are falling short.
  2. You share your intimate life goals with strangers. These strangers share their life goals with you. These strangers become your friends.
  3. You make friends with skills. Like, real skills that are useful. Building skills, bow hunting skills, tracking skills, planting skills, negotiation skills, food preservation skills…
  4. Because of all those skills, you suddenly feel like you have a pretty good chance to survive any impending apocalypse, including the arrival of zombies.
  5. You realize how much you don’t know, and you become intensely curious about matters of microbial soil life, what pigs like to eat, how to sculpt turtles from clay, and where water goes when it lands on the ground after a rain.
  6. You get excited when your new friends can answer your questions.
  7. You develop the ability to design lifescapes, where land and life intersect in a way that is beneficial to both. This feels awesome.
  8. You feel so awesome, you believe you can do things that you have no business doing what-so-ever, like DJing karaoke in a country bar (maybe called “The Rebel.”) You do it, and it actually works.
  9. You spontaneously burst into dance/clapping fits/chanting “nematode”/laughter, because you trust the people around you like you trust your childhood friends.
  10. You develop the urge to share this experience with other people, and you form your own plans to host a permaculture design course, so that others can experience what you have just gone through, and enjoyed so much.

PS. There are still 3 more days of this course to go…

*Results typical under specific circumstances.

Taking Stock/Mindfulness Meditation

A slice of my life in time.
A slice of my life in time.

Warning: I reread this today before posting. Only read this if you want an exposure to the patterned chaos in my mind that creates my reality and spurs my life choices. You’ve been cautioned.

Before starting any project, design, life change, whatever – it is a good idea to take stock of what is around. You need to know where you are and what you have if you want to have any success improving your situation. You also have to know where you want to go – more on that later. The the military teaches SWOT analysis to budding strategic thinkers. This methodology asks planners to think through their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Permaculture teaches an “observe, then interact” methodology. A close friend of mine recently shared some of his company’s risk assessment techniques with me as we mulled over a joint project. There plenty of ways to think through projects and take stock of resources, so I probably don’t need to be creating a new one. But I have decided to riff on what I’ve learned, and experiment with an orienting tool that mirrors some of the mindfulness meditations I’ve been doing lately. By the end of this exercise, I believe I’ll have improved situational and self awareness, as well as some nascent options for what to do and what directions I might move.

This methodology will address three realms to help me think about my life:

  1. My physical situation (what things are around me that I notice, what can I use, what access I have right now)
  2. Mental state (how am I currently thinking about the world)
  3. Activities (where I am applying myself and expending energy on a regular basis)

I’m going to go through these in stream of consciousness style, listing what comes to mind, acknowledging it, and moving along. With no further ado:

Physical (nouns in my life that catch my attention)

  • A solar powered rain collecting greenhouse supporting utility trailer that I currently live in, and all systems associated with it. Right now my charge controller is broken. I should really get that fixed.
  • 40 foot diesel former school bus. Currently rented. Now thinking about vehicles.
  • Small car. In wife’s care. Not readily accessible to me, because I live across the country (for now).
  • Big Truck. Good for moving stuff.
  • Dog. She does not like to ride in the truck. Strange dog, but she is nice to my chickens now.
  • 20-60 chickens. Mostly for the eggs they lay. Some of them are geographically separated too. Going to focus on what is immediately around.
  • Unknown number of ducks. Also for eggs, and slug control.
  • Rest of the flock: guinea fowl, goose
  • Left over fencing
  • Plenty of lumber left over from various projects. Not so relevant right now. New direction.
  • Machete
  • 25 shovels. Should make a garden party a real possibility.
  • Wheelbarrows. Assorted other garden tools including vicious looking tiller. I’m more interested in no-till methods but I’ll happily experiment with tilling this spring.
  • Jewelry case/organizer full of heirloom seeds. I need to check germination rates.
  • Fermented foods in the fridge. I need to get some now. I’m hungry.
  • … and back
  • Smart watch. More useful than I thought it’d be. Keeps me on track. Probably the only reason I’m focused enough to do this journal entry now.
  • Computer. Very powerful tool. Very potent distractions abound from this devise as well.
  • Baby toys. Manufactured distractions meant to facilitate learning and separate parents from money. I will keep them around in anticipation of more babies wanting to use them.
  • Berkey Ceramic Water Filter. Just as shiny as baby toys, but probably way more useful. People of all ages need clean water.
  • Lots of  sweat pants. Good for doing work.
  • Collection of used diapers. Humanure experiment. I need to check on this and maybe turn it (stir it up to help the decomposition) soon.
  • 10,000 worms in various bins. I should make sure they have enough cardboard to eat, and pour water through my expermental worm tea making bin.
  • Inflatable swimming pool with gold fish. I haven’t fed them anything but they have grown. I also have no mosquito larva in the swimming pool, so this particular experiment is working. Grow bed is working OK.
  • Plants in pots. When will I need to put them in the Greencave?
  • Plastic sheeting. I should probably replace some of the Greencave’s roof with the sheeting.
  • Some houses. Very useful for people who want regular shelter. Easier to rent than the school bus.
  • Stuff that I need to ferment. I’d like to make kombucha again. I wonder if my cabbage has recovered from the cabbage moth larva that decimated it earlier this summer. The kale is coming back nicely.
  • Jambox. Time to listen to some music.

Now the gears are really turning. That list got me thinking about the multitude of stuff I need to do to maintain this… stuff, and I probably could have continued to list objects around me for practically ever.. Now, however, it is time to shift those gears: how am I thinking about the rest of the world, and how I fit into it? What thoughts, if any, seem to recur to me?

Mental

  • What should I be doing with my time right now? What is the best way for me to be most effective? How will this behavior benefit my family?
  • Is this a valuable way to spend my time? What is this gaining me? Money? Enjoyment? Learning?
  • Where are my keys? Phone? Wallet? Wits?
  • Am I remembering to fully breathe?
  • Why did I just read ____ on wikipedia for an extended period of time?
  • Am I missing something important that is happening in the world? I should check the News/Facebook/my email/the time/my calendar/the window
  • What’s the weather going to be like? Do I need to water my plants?
  • I like this song. I’d like to hear it again (currently, Kelis – Fourth of July Calvin Harris Remix.)
  • Don’t clench you jaw.
  • Did I get enough exercise today? This one is easy to answer- I have it outsourced to an app on my phone.
  • How can I stack the function of whatever I am thinking of doing next?
  • Is it too early to drink beer right now?

It seems a few things are missing from this list. I would have liked to have the thought “How is my wife doing?” be more on my mind. I am going to be sure to include that going forward in my life.

Activities/Energy

Apart from the energy spent responding to my endless mental dialogue, I am usually acutely aware of the ebb and flow of my daily energy levels, and where the energy goes. Here’s the list of things that consume me, or my time, on a nearly daily basis:

  • I respond to the challenges of my paid job, as a Flight Commander in the Air Force. This means preparing for lessons, grading papers, receiving and giving training to ensure a positive, and relatively seamless experience for my students. This is draining.
  • I communicate with my loved ones. It is not always easy to tear myself away from other pressing issues to sit and have a truly focused conversation, but it is essential to maintaining stability and happiness, upon which the rest of my life is and can be built. Depending on how the conversation goes, which is usually a rehash of whatever is going on in our respective lives, I leave these conversations either with more energy or less.
  • Daydreaming. Brainstorming ways to solve the myriad problems or issues I allow into my life with the various experiments I have going. I come away from the time I spend doing this usually rejuvenated.
  • I accomplish small tasks physical tasks. I feed the chickens, I water the plants, I do laundry (but I do not fold it). I clean stuff. I prepare meals. Accomplishing these maintenance activities makes me feel better about myself and give me satisfaction. I space these things out so I can feel a small bit of psychological reward whenever I am frustrated with something else. Sometimes these tasks also directly create value. I prefer tasks that incorporate
  • I address issues that have cropped up in my administrative role as landlord and/or human resources manger at Farmpound (an experimental, intentional community/homestead… more on that later). This means paying bills, reiterating expectations to people, checking in on project progress, or dealing with catastrophes of a domestic nature. This is the most sapping part of my daily life. I am working to reframe some of these activities as the most opportune learning points/practice points. This is where real leadership is needed, and it’s hard.
  • I work out. Yes, I do lift, bro. For the last 20 years of my life, I have been trying to get into running. I still haven’t, but I make myself do it anyway.

Conclusions:

Preliminarily, this feels like a beneficial exercise. I feel much more at peace, as I often do after mindfulness sessions. I also have the advantage of being able to revisit this in a week, possibly do the same thing, and track any changes. I’m not sure I should let my wife read this, but I doubt she has time to do it anyway. I’ll put it in an email to her and sneak it in to get feedback. I’m not really sure I should post this, either, but I’m going to because I do try to get outside my comfort zone on a daily basis. With the restored mental clarity and recognition of many things around me (which seem to be incredibly varied and random), I’m feeling like I can tackle just about anything.

A few things I’m feeling like I’ll do this year now:

-Learn how to pour concrete better this year.

-Find and propagate pawpaw trees

-Sell something using the internet (eggs?)

 

More goals next time.

Final note:

I tagged Leadership, Permaculture, Tech, and Wellness in this one because most of the stuff in this torrent of consciousness pertains to at least one, if not more of those. I’m pretty nervous to post this up.

Why Resilient Sustainability?

I tell all my students to write down their goals. This simple act is powerful – it puts a thought into the world in a way that can be observed, contemplated, and revisited later. I write goals because it makes me more likely to achieve them. The activity serves as a form of introspection and metacognition, allowing me to think through my planning process, and examine my beliefs motivating my action. I believe ensuring that goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-oriented) helps  So, I’ll enumerate some of my own goals for this site here.

I will…

-Capture and report quality insights from where leadership, permaculture, technology, and wellness intersect

-Provide a unique perspective, examining concepts and ideas from my multiple viewpoints (leader, father, entrepreneur, intelligence analyst, military, suburbanite, occasional maniac)

-Report lessons learned and real-time updates on what is working and what isn’t

-Explain how to those wanting to do some of the things I do

-Encourage others to act for the betterment of this world, and the world our children will inhabit

-Connect with both like-minded and contrary individuals

-Entertain, especially if you like slapstick and/or how chickens are really little dinosaurs

-Post weekly

Flower Tunnel of Love
Flower Tunnel of Love

OK. That’ll do it for now.

Resiliently,

Scott