Trip Report

Yes, my PDC is one of the few, if any, which have been funded by the US Air Force. When we go TDY, it’s not acceptable to go galavanting about on taxpayer money, so the government wants to know what they’ve gotten by sending you. Here’s the official trip report I wrote about my trip, sans formatting.


1 Oct 2015



SUBJECT: Permaculture Design Certification Trip Report

1. PURPOSE: I attended this certification to attain a Permaculture Design Certification and acquire basic sustainability skills to be used in pursuit of Air University’s stated goal: innovation.

2. TRAVELER: Capt Scott Church, Intelligence Officer and Flight Commander 33 STUS.

3. ITINERARY: From 18 September – 30 September I attended class and workshops from 0900 to approximately 2200 at Spiral Ridge Permaculture, and had lodging at The Ecovillage at The Farm in Summertown, Tenn. The primary instructors were Cliff Davis and Jennifer Albanese, a pair of off-the-grid homesteaders who have spent most of the past two decades travelling the world to see and work on Permaculturally designed sites in various stages of development.

4. DISCUSSION: I came away from the course as a certified Permaculture Designer and with a good understanding of what the methodology makes possible, enabled by techniques that I observed and performed throughout the course. I learned that the overall goal of a permaculturist is to create or capture necessities for life, and to that end we practiced how to first recognize, then harness, and then enhance natural resources present in any given environment. We discussed Permaculture’s principles and structure, and the way that it centers humans, animals, and plants as clients in the system, and therefore seeks techniques that increase abundance of basic needs. The homestead where the class was held is an example of how, with strategic thought, basic technology, and minimal investment, a barren landscape can become productive for the people who live there. We studied sites throughout the world, which showed such efforts can be undertaken throughout a huge range of climates, and scaled anywhere from a yard to a city, or even a bioregion (a geographically related area defined by relevant natural boundaries, like mountains and rivers).

To achieve the natural abundance that Permaculture prescribes, we reviewed basic ecology, soil science, low tech surveying techniques, natural engineering, environmental planning, and relevant leadership techniques. Within the group, we had a great deal of expertise ranging from Investment Banking experience to Environmental Engineering, and my own Air Force experiences. We had engaging discussions on the interplay of environmental degradation and food security through the lenses of both decreasing poverty and decreasing radicalization in those regions. I was able to bring a unique perspective on the importance of organizing effective and well-resourced teams to first analyze what an area needs, and then bringing the full brunt of national apparatus to achieve political, food, and economic stability.

There were some techniques and theories that seemed to particularly well suited for military use because of their ability to clean up contamination, deal with large amounts of runoff, as off a tarmac or runway, or provide both earth sheltered security and temperature regulation. Mycoremediation is the use of fungus to clean contaminated soil of fuels, heavy metals, and other toxins. This technique is not widely known, although it seems to be gaining a foothold within the Federal Government, as they use it to clean up superfund sites. It would probably decrease costs at fuel depots and other hazardous waste storage areas. The creation of swales is a technique for slowing runoff and preventing erosion. This has the added benefit of creating space for beneficial tree plantings in areas that would otherwise be desert, which in turn cool the surrounding area and could provide local populations with important food, fuel, or fodder. Finally, earth building techniques, such as the creation of wallipinis, which are sunken greenhouses, provide not only powerful protection from incoming projectiles and bombardment, but use the mass of the earth and buried pipes to regulate temperature inside living or growing space. It seemed way better than a Hesco barrier to me.

5. RECOMMENDATIONS: Permaculture, as a discipline, should be a tool at the disposal of any expeditionary-minded commander. This is not to say that every Air Force Officer should receive Permaculture Design training, but simply being aware of the impact that Permacultural knowledge could have alleviate the pressure on logistics trains and build better relations with local nationals would be enough. The combination of the long-term thought that goes into Permaculture designs and low cost of many solutions will act as a force multiplier for any further expeditions into austere environments. Both low and large footprint forces could benefit significantly from utilizing permacultural techniques, and, unlike conventional methods, the larger the footprint, the lower the cost per Airman, because of increased access to areas that can be cultivated or utilized. It would probably make the most sense to send Civil Engineering personnel to practical Permaculture courses, but any Airman or Commander could benefit from the way the design methodology encourages practitioners to think strategically, stretch their minds in to the future, and value otherwise overlooked resources.

A Permaculturist’s Pledge

I, (Scott David Church)*, do hereby solemnly (and playfully) promise myself, and any others present, that I will care for the Earth, care for people, and take no more than my fair share for personal use. I understand my personal use, in fact, as working to to regenerate life in the land, in my communities, and in myself (my spirit, my soul, being, my Oneness). I will honor the efforts of my fellow Permaculturists in any form I find them. I will examine both intent and effect in my observation. I will give feedback lovingly, and accept the burden of working on myself. My network gives me strength, and I give back to it what I can, knowing that the stronger my network, the stronger I am. I take this obligation freely. I pledge to discharge these sacred duties faithfully, so help me (God/Goddess/me/nature/FSM). 

*Parentheses and words/other words intended to accommodate the  wide range of beliefs present  in my particular course. If you want to use this pledge, feel free to modify words as necessary.

I took an Oath of Office when I commissioned into the Air Force. I’ve always considered it a powerful statement, and it still gives me goosebumps when I hear people pledge themselves to a purpose. As I was about to receive my Permaculture Design Certificate last week, I realized there was no such pledge I’d be making in this capacity, although I consider the work just as (if not more) important. So, I wrote myself the above Promise. After showing off my clapping skills as a member of The Pink Flamincos of Colombia (Tennessee), I read it at our final group activity, the renowned PDC talent show.

It felt good to re-read that and transcribe it onto the Internet. It’s been a week since our last day at Spiral Ridge, and I am still having frequent revelations about how the world needs Permaculture, and seeing places that might have nice soil for gardens, with pleasant microclimates for experimental polycultures. I want to plant seeds everywhere, make compost, catch solar energy, dig holes… the whole shebang, but I am realizing that in addition to making my own yard a veritable paradise of edibles and medicinal herbs, I can have a bigger effect if I apply myself to social permaculture. This means helping to create systems that perpetuate the useful knowledge and and best practices that I just learned.

For now, I’m going to dry some molokhia that I can send to my wife. She’ll like that, and she’ll probably cook it for somebody. It grows really well in Alabama. 

I am still observing, though, and recording many thoughts on the best places to put my energy. Throughout my reflection, I have been feeling like I can have the greatest impact through practicing social permaculture. This means engaging more people around me, and helping them get on board with at least a few of the solutions that raise awareness, enhance personal wellness, and connect people to each other and the earth.