"Permanent agriculture" was a concept developed in the 1960's and 70's by Mollison, and later with David Holmgren. It is often described as a design system that seeks to emulate the strength and resilience found in natural systems... A way for a humanity to work in harmony with nature, rather than struggle against it.
"I saw that Nature never has a single system. It never just grows pines or just grows anything [randomly] really."
-Mollison on Natural Systems.
OBSERVE AND INTERACT
Observation of the natural systems already in place is an important first step when designing a permaculture system, before forcing changes that may not have been needed.
WHAT PERMACULTURE MEANS TO US
Permaculture is one of many tools we have at our disposal to create a more healthy, vibrant, economically stable, and resilient community. It's design concepts can be applied on the municipal level (like Alan Day Garden's Food Forest), or in your own backyard garden. It's never too late to start learning! See resources and workshops below to see how you can become a part of the Permaculture Movement.
Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share
Permaculture Design Principles Courtesy of David Holmgren
(Permaculture Specific Events, click on the link for a list of all events)
2018 Events to come...
Portland maine permaculture
Click on the link below to checkout and sign up for the workshops available, keep in mind space is limited!
Post carbon designs
Check out the website below for current workshop dates
Third party links and logos used with permission. CEBE is not affiliated with these parties, nor responsible for the accuracy or content of third party site links.
Some of these are available to through your local library, or CEBE's library. These link to the book description on Amazon. This list is by no means extensive.
The Promise of Permaculture
Learning to Ask the Right Questions
Story and Photos By Scott Vlaun
Our construction industry increasingly relies on materials that are shipped from afar, or even made directly from petroleum, and the car culture has taken over our transportation infrastructure, while our most popular forms of entertainment involve looking at a screen in isolation.
On top of all this, our dependence on fossil fuel and the global industrial agriculture system has begun to destabilize the climate, and tip the planetary ecology out of balance. We like to think of our culture as continuously progressing, and of course in some ways, we have. It is, however, interesting to consider how a downtown such as Norway, Maine, which once featured a shiny trolley, an elegant opera house, and a bustling Main Street providing for local needs, is only recently beginning to reclaim its vitality as the heart of the community after years of decay and empty storefronts.
Pondering our Prospects
As the father of a nine year-old, and the director of a non-profit dedicated to re-localizing our economy within our ecological footprint, it has become increasingly clear to me that business as usual is untenable in the face of resource depletion and climate instability. And even if we are managing to be financially successful in these uncertain economic times, it is not always making us happy. Obviously, a return to the distant past is not the answer. But the question remains: How can we best apply the technology at our fingertips, and the vast knowledge that we’ve gained, to build a future that is not only more ecologically sustainable and resilient, but one that might help us and our children lead happier and more fulfilling lives?
The “West Coast” of Maine, with its forested, rolling foothills, diverse ecosystems, abundant water resources, and variable soils, coupled with a long tradition of ingenuity and innovation, presents both great opportunity and profound challenge. As many of us look to re-localize our economies and lifestyles, and especially our food system, a return to a largely deforested landscape with widespread tillage and grazing, and the resultant loss of topsoil and water quality, is not a viable option. Providing for our needs while working as closely as possible with our natural ecosystems to conserve and, even regenerate soils, while protecting water resources and biodiversity is a better solution… and a huge challenge. That’s where permaculture comes in.
Deep Roots in Practice
Australians David Holmgren and Bill Mollison developed the concept of permaculture in the 1970s. Since then, the fundamentals of permaculture as expressed in their original ethics of “Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share,” and a dozen or so basic principles have been taught in every country on the planet, and adapted to countless local conditions. Tens of thousands of “permies” have participated in various manifestations of the standard 72-hour Permaculture Designers Course (PDC), and have gone on to become practitioners, designers and teachers. The movement is especially strong here in Maine. The Portland Permaculture Meetup, an online group established in 2005, boasts over 2,300 members, and is one of the largest in the world. A more recently established Lake Region and Western Foothills Meetup has over 400 members. Between these groups and others, hundreds of hands- on workshops have been conducted. Along with introductory courses and the 72-hour PDC, these include everything from grafting and pruning fruit trees, to mushroom cultivation, from pond building and aqua- culture, to seed saving. Through this extensive sharing of information within the community, the permaculture knowledge base continues to grow and evolve.
Do a quick Google search, and you’ll find as many definitions of permaculture as you will find practitioners and teachers, testifying to the broad scope it has taken. However, there are some unifying concepts. First and foremost is that permaculture is a design methodology that seeks to emulate the beauty and resilience of natural systems. There are many techniques that are often associated with permaculture, such as digging swales and terracing the landscape,sheet mulching the garden, creating herb spirals, and growing perennial food gardens. But it is the focus on the careful selection, and especially the placement of elements in a design, where permaculture finds its strength. Drawing as much on indigenous wisdom as on technological know-how, the seasoned permaculture designer acknowledges the dynamic nature of ecological systems, and creates living designs that can respond to changing conditions.
Originally conceived as “permanent agriculture,” permaculture is now thought of more as “permanent culture,” acknowledging a more overarching integration of human needs. The emphasis in permaculture design is less about the individual elements in the design, than it is in the relationships between them, with the goal of reducing external inputs to “the system,” and maximizing its productivity. These systems can be as small as a container garden on a balcony, or as large as a village, or even a city, but many permaculturalists tend to work on a backyard, homestead or intentional community scale.
Observe and Interact
Observation is key to intelligent permaculture design. Mollison said that good permaculture design is born of “… thoughtful and protracted observation, rather than protracted and thoughtless labor …” So often, when we develop a landscape, we impose our “ideas” about what a human settlement should look like, rather than responding to what the site and its future inhabitants might bring to the equation. Even though having clear goals and ends in mind is critical, spending at least a full cycle of seasons observing a site can reveal important natural features, including seasonal shifts in prevailing winds, solar exposure of potential building sites, how water moves across the land, and what plants and animals thrive in different areas. Getting to know a site as much as possible before we commit to heavy equipment and concrete, or even a lot of physical labor, can also teach us about other external factors. Does that access road become impassable in mud season? Does that quiet footpath in summer become a roaring snowmobile trail in winter? Are there neighbors with important information about local soils, water tables, pest issues, or foraging opportunities?
Careful observation will inform good design. Good design can save countless hours of labor, and vast quantities of energy over the long haul. Simply finding the best possible placement of dwellings and other structures is a huge first step. Finding efficient, low-input ways to produce food is a close second; it’s easier to move a garden than it is a house! Approaching a site, whether an existing home or uninhabited land with an open mind and a modicum of patience can yield big dividends in the long haul. Some permaculture training and/or support from an experienced designer can help, too.
A century or two ago, Western Maine was essentially a self-reliant region. We produced most of our food, built our dwellings with local materials, enjoyed public transportation in the form of trains, trollies and ferries, and mostly provided for our own entertainment. With the advent of cheap oil, most of our agriculture has moved west to better ground, or more recently, to other parts of the world, where land and labor are cheap.
Whether you are lucky enough to live in Western Maine, or reside elsewhere, finding help in developing a design for your situation, or just learning more about the discipline, shouldn’t be that hard. First, there are literally hundreds of books about permaculture, with more coming all the time. Chelsea Green Publishing in Vermont is a great source. A few classics for beginners are Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture, Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden, and Rosemary Morrow’s Earth User’s Guide. Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual is considered a bit of a bible of the movement by many, and is often used in teaching the PDC. The Center for an Ecology-Based Economy (CEBE) in Norway has an extensive permaculture library and also hosts many related workshops. Information about other workshops and events can be found via the online Meetups mentioned above. There are currently plans underway for a PDC in the Norway area for summer 2017, which will be promoted on the Lake Region Meetup, and through CEBE. Countless other online resources are also available. Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles is one of the best overall introductions, while permies.com is loaded with practical videos and forums on everything from butchering chickens, to building a rocket stove.
David Homa of Otisfield is an active permaculture teacher. He is also the founder of Post Carbon Designs, and the local Meetup. His annual Applied Permaculture Skills Training brings together a diverse group of permaculture students for hands-on learning. Convening monthly from spring through summer, the course covers a broad range of topics related to regenerative, edible landscape design, including soil building, plant propagation, seed saving, mycology, and more with guest teachers covering many topics.
One collaborating teacher from the area who also hosts workshops on his Sweden farm is Jesse Stevens, a nurseryman and orchardist who grows hardy kiwis, elderberries and more for Fedco Trees. His expertise in tree grafting and pruning, as well as the integration of livestock into complex regenerative systems, is a valuable addition to the local permaculture knowledge base. Many of his varieties are featured in the Community Food Forest at the Alan Day Community Garden in Norway, which was planted in 2015 after a lengthy, community-driven design process. Yearly workshops at the garden also provide hands-on opportunities for those interested in forest gardening.
Nurturing Networks Permaculture teachers often refer to mycelial networks, or the way fungi can form vast organisms, interacting in complex ways within their ecosystem. As the technical and biological aspects of permaculture design begin to mature, especially around the built environment, some are looking to apply permaculture principles to nurturing complex cultural networks. In much the same way that plants and animals once interacted in balanced ecological systems, there is evidence in many human cultures of similar cooperation.
Rachel Lyn Rumson, of the Royal River Collective in Gray, is working hard to help permaculturists and others develop those innate networking skills that are critical to building community strength and resilience. Known widely in the area for her creative and energetic facilitation skills, Rachel now co-facilitates the Cooperative Design Lab, an intensive workshop geared toward developing leaders in the cooperative economy. In addition to client driven design work, Rachel also teaches permaculture to both children and adults, facilitates events, and trains others in participatory leadership models.
As more and more Mainers graduate from PDCs here and elsewhere, Western Maine is feeling the benefits as these new designers get to work developing productive, regenerative systems, and building the network of knowledge in the area.
Anna Sysko lives on a mountaintop near Bethel. Since her 2006 PDC, Anna has become widely known for both the quality and diversity of the food she produces for her community. Her unheated passive solar greenhouse is a model of low-impact, year-round production for cold climates. Anna is also a culinary arts professional, much appreciated for her creative cuisine and catering, utilizing food from a wide network of area growers whenever possible. She also shares her knowledge through cooking and season extension classes, helping to weave the fabric of a robust local food system.
In the Farmington/Industry area, Casey Brackett, a graduate of both the PDC and Post Carbon Design’s Applied Permaculture workshop, is putting her permaculture training to work on her own farm and within her community. Her Eversow Farm and Permaculture Design, while just getting off the ground (or in the ground as it were), features a wide selection of food and medicinal plants. Casey is currently working on starting a nursery for perennials, is organizing and teaching workshops in the area, and is available for design consulting to help others launch their own projects, and become more self reliant.
It’s the Journey, Not the Destination
No one in the permaculture movement will claim to have all the answers we will need to transition our communities away from fossil fuel dependence and towards long-term health and sustainability. To build resilience to climate and economic instability will take a broad range of approaches from across the political and economic spectrum. But while the “permies” might not have all the answers, many in the movement are learning to ask the right questions, while discovering a more healthy and joyful life along the way.
Designer and teacher, Rachel Lyn Rumson of Gray, with students at the Cooperative Design Lab.
The last of the strawberries coincide with early blueberries, juneberries, and “sour’ cherries in the author’s “food forest.”
Jesse Stevens of Sy’s Trees in Sweden with student at Post Carbon Designs’ annual Applied Permaculture Skills Training.
A lush “perennial polyculture” at the author’s homestead.
Shitake Mushroom flushing at the author's farm.
Mushroom Workshop taught by Dan Agro of AgroMycro.
Anna Sysko, of Anna’s Greenhouse and Gardens in Newry
David Homa of Post Carbon Designs in Otisfield in his forest garden.
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2018 Permaculture Design Certification Course July 27th - Aug 10th
Join us for a two week course in Permaculture Design!
“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain
Published with permission from West Coast Maine Magazine, Summer 2016. © All rights reserved
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