Permaculture — Peace with Creation

An act of war brought me to permaculture. On September 11, 2001, I had been a mother for little more than three weeks. I was immersed in the care and feeding of my tiny, vulnerable, perfect baby girl. There was milk dripping from my breasts and I was tender in all ways.

As I sat and watched the towers fall, holding my baby in my arms, I knew that the world was going to change, and probably get worse. Motherhood being what it was, my central concern was with the health and safety of my baby, her care and feeding and continuity. What was it going to be?

The answer didn’t come immediately, but the war following the fall of the towers, and a move out of our city, led me circuitously back to the garden, back to re-skilling in the kitchen, back to worms and compost and the joy of co-creation with the earth.

A few years later, I trained in permaculture at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas. Penny Livingston-Stark, Lydia Neilsen and James Stark were my teachers. During the year I studied, the problems I saw all around me start shifting and morphing into solutions. Not enough water? Tap your greywater and divert it to the landscape. No food security? Grow it yourself. Fossil fuel energy ruining the globe? Tap into the power of the sun. And so many other practical, logical and accessible skills were revealed.

I found myself easily able to learn, master and apply these skills in the place where I live. Now these many years later, the permaculture way is just how I live. I feel that permaculture is a beautiful, evolving design science that teaches us peace with creation. Rather than thinking of the world as a resource base for my use and deployment, I am a steward of the land where I live (rented), the waters that I use (diminishing), the food that I grow (abundant), and the connection to earth energy (all around me.)

My daughter is 13 now, and I work as a permaculture educator and advocate, as well as a somatic psychotherapist. I see these paths as being the same—healing the multiple traumas of our violent and disconnected culture, on both the inner and outer levels. Permaculture has brought us a way of living in place, sharing our values and dreams with the people we care about, and a way of educating our daughter into a life in the earth. This has brought us a delightful posse of earth-loving creators, artists, farmers, and free folk we now call friends. We consider ourselves blessed by the bees and beets and buckets of water that surround us.

Permaculture creates peace because it is a hands-on, appropriate technology; an adaptable and flexible way to live within the limits and opportunities of our place. It teaches us, through ecological principles, to observe and interact with our world, and to take actions rooted in reality, not in some fantasy of domination or control.

Permaculture creates peace because it teaches us that we are both small and powerful, that our daily actions make a difference in changing the world where we live. Permaculture creates peace because it gives us a template for living in respectful relationship, not only with the animals and plants the surround us, but with the people with whom we share our home place.

I have found, paradoxically, that it is simpler to grow carrots than it is to get along with my neighbors. I don’t think I am alone in practices of polarization and projection that make it hard for us to view one another as allies. Permaculture has taught me how to do the right thing—use less, share more, slow down and listen, design from patterns to details. If peace is the pattern, the details must rest in how we act every day—with an open heart, or a closed mind. When operating from within the permaculture ethos, where we hold earth care, people care, and fair share as our guiding ethics, the open heart leads the way.

Permaculture helps us cultivate abundance where we live. This makes it possible to extend into the world in a spirit of enough-ness, offering generously and with gratitude. This cultivates inner peace, and the ripple effects of peace with all creation.

While it is true that world continues to turn to war, no matter how many times I turn my compost bin, I’ve also learned from permaculture to get right-sized—some of what is happening in our world is in my hands, but mostly, it’s in bigger hands than mine. Knowing that, I embody the permaculture maxim: “If the world is going to end tomorrow, I am going to plant a tree today.” This helps me live through some of the hardest passages of human aggression and cruelty, while cultivating a soil where something else can grow.

This fall I am honored to be offering a year-long permaculture design course with three other women than we call Permaculture from the Inside Out. My co-teaching team is called the 13Moon Collaborative, and we are Kyra Auerbach, Rachel Kaplan, Delia Carroll, and Cassandra Ferrera. Our course is an offering of the classical permaculture curriculum with the addition of a deep focus on the inner environments we inhabit. It is time that we compost consciousness toward peace, as readily as we compost our kitchen scraps. It is the mission of the 13Moon Collaborative to bring the body back into the center of the conversation about sustainability and community resilience. It is our contention that tending to the inner garden, while we tend to the outer landscapes we inhabit, will help us make wiser, more grounded and more appropriate choices with positive and peaceful effects in our world.

English: Permaculture Course Welcome

Permaculture from the Inside Out, 13 Saturdays, once a month, starting October 2014 and running through October 2015. $1200 early bird registration fee through September 27 (mention the Shift Network when you register). For more information and to register, go to www.13MoonCollaborative.com, or heirloomskills@gmail.com. We welcome you in this co-creative journey of growing our sense of peace with creation.

 

S.F. property owners to get tax break from creating urban farms

A new law taking effect next week will mark another innovation for San Francisco: The city will be the first in the country to offer a financial incentive for urban farming.

Starting Sept. 8, owners of empty lots could save thousands of dollars a year in property taxes in exchange for allowing their land to be used for agriculture for five years or more.

It’s part of the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, a state law spearheaded by local sustainable land-use advocates and state Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. The law encourages would-be urban farmers to turn trash-covered empty parcels into gardens with the assurance they won’t be forced out after putting in a lot of time and money.

San Francisco will be the first to enact it because the Board of Supervisors has already passed the necessary local ordinance.

“It takes so much time to get a property in shape for farming, including building fertility in the soil and getting the infrastructure in place,” said Caitlyn Galloway, who has run Little City Gardens on a three-quarter-acre rented lot in Mission Terrace for four years. “That’s why this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

Little City Gardens supplies produce to local restaurants and Bi-Rite Market and is one of the only commercial farms in San Francisco, but educational farms can also take advantage of the law. Cities with much more open space, such as Los Angeles and Sacramento, are closely watching what happens in San Francisco.

The bill was conceived as a way to help cities reduce blight and give residents more opportunities to grow food, even to raise livestock where health codes allow it.

Long waiting lists
“I have heard from literally hundreds of residents who would like to have the opportunity to farm, but the waiting lists for a lot of our community gardens are over two years long,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who wrote the local legislation. “There is simply not enough space.”

This law could change that.

To qualify, a lot must be at least one-tenth of an acre with no permanent dwellings. The property would be reassessed at the average price for irrigated farmland, currently $12,500 per acre.

For a comparison, the double lot that houses the 18th and Rhode Island Garden has been valued at around $2 million – although its current assessed value is lower since Aaron Roland has owned it for 17 years. Still, after he applies for the tax reduction, his annual $6,000 tax bill will drop significantly.

Roland offered use of the property to permaculture gardeners Kevin Bayuk and David Cody in 2008, who turned it into a demonstration garden that offers permaculture certification courses and hosts school groups. The garden’s pathways and benches are open to the public, and volunteers harvest whatever food it produces for low-income residents.

Roland gets constant requests to sell the property, which has a view of downtown, but he wants to hold on to it partly in case his children want to build a house there one day.

“I also like what’s going on now with it. It’s this marvelous garden in the middle of the city that’s growing food,” he said. “Hopefully there are other people like me that eventually might want to do some development on their land but aren’t in a big rush, and meanwhile want to let it be used for this kind of public purpose.”

Karen Peteros hopes that Clear Channel, which owns the site of her educational bee farm, under a billboard in Visitacion Valley, decides to take advantage of the new tax break, which she estimates could reduce its current bill of around $21,000 a year to about $50.

A spot for bees created
San Francisco Bee Cause’s lease on the property is $1 per year for four small lots. In 2012, Peteros and her co-founders and volunteers removed two pickup trucks full of trash from the site, put down soil, planted fruit trees and other bee-friendly crops, and established a bee colony.

They teach beekeeping at the volunteer-run farm, and get funding from the sales of the honey. But about a year after they started, Clear Channel decided to take back half of the parcels to use as a parking lot.

“They swept the lot clean of all the great soil we had been building,” Peteros said. In the end, the company couldn’t get permits to finish the project.

Under the new law, the five-year contract stays with the property even if it’s sold, but if an owner wants to get out of it they can pay back taxes and interest. San Francisco’s ordinance limits the tax savings of individual property owners to $25,000 per year; if the savings are higher, an official review is necessary. City officials in Sacramento, Fresno, San Jose and San Diego have expressed interest, but haven’t yet passed the necessary local legislation.

Los Angeles is close to doing that, and Clare Fox of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council estimates there are 8,600 parcels within Los Angeles city limits that qualify.

“It’s about food security and food access, but it’s also about transforming blighted vacant places that are prone to illegal dumping into community places,” she said.

“It’s a way to beautify the neighborhood and stabilize real estate values. Plus, there are the environmental benefits. There’s a whole slew of reasons why urban agriculture makes sense.”

Tara Duggan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/S-F-property-owners-to-get-tax-break-from-5725876.phphttp://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/S-F-property-owners-to-get-tax-break-from-5725876.php

the Buyerarchy of Needs

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Practice Makes Perfect.

Garden Planning and Book Review – Spring Has Sprung

Garden Planning: Crop rotation is the practice of moving crops around yearly or seasonally, rather than planting the same thing in the same place year in and year out. Rotating crops gives the soil a chance to cycle nutrients and minimizes build of of the pathogens to a particular plant in that area. For example, if you always plant tomatoes in the same spot, even with added compost, the tomatoes will tend to tap out the particular nutrients that tomatoes like. At the same time particular tomato pests and diseases will tend to gather in that spot The combination of diminishing nutrient and increasing potential for attack is a recipe for crop failure. Smart crop rotation alternates plants that build soil nutrients with those that are heavy feeders. A typical rotation would be to plant a soil builder every third rotation, with a heavy feeder and a light feeder in between. Soil building plants are all in the legume family, as they “fix nitrogen” from the air with the help of bacteria. Examples are fava beans, soy beans, pole beans and peas. A heavy feeder need extra nitrogen to perform. Examples of heavy feeders are basil, beets, corn, lettuce, squash and tomato. Examples of light feeders are carrots, leeks, onions, peppers and potatoes.

In a small garden it may not be possible to rotate everything in as grand a fashion as on a larger farm with copious sun. Perhaps you have only one sunny bed that tomatoes will work in for example. Still you can rotate your tomato planting with a winter crop of fava beans or other legume. To keep track of your rotations, create a small drawing of your garden each year and notate what went where.

Book Review The Vegetable Gardeners Guide to Permaculture by Christopher Shein with Julie Thompsen. The much anticipated new book by local permaculture hero Christopher Shein has hit the shelves. This is a gorgeous book filled with large full color pictures, diagrams and maps. The book is comprehensive, yet also spacious and easily digested. After a clear and simple introduction to the ethics and principles of permaculture, the book dives into how to design your garden using design elements from the permaculture vocabulary. Food forests, fruit tree guilds, zones, sectors, inputs and outputs are elegantly described along with easily understood diagrams and sample designs to put them into action–from a balcony garden to a large urban lot. The book goes on to offer techniques for soil building, a plant-by-plant compendium of perennial edibles, annual vegetables, edible flowers, herbs, seed starting and seed saving. The sections on animals for your backyard systems are slim and not well developed. But overall this is a lovely addition to your gardening library.

post by K. Ruby Blume, Institute for Urban Homesteading

 

Permaculture Principle #12: Creatively Use and Respond To Change

“Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be”

The image for this principle is the butterfly, which starts as the humble catepillar.  Change is inevitable.  Through careful observation and knowledge, we can intervene creatvely and have a positive impact on the outcome.  Some change is predictable, such as the changing of the seasons or the stages of growth in a small organization or the way we age.  By studying ourselves and the world around us we can peer into the future and make choices in the present that will influence a good outcome.

This principle can be applied in the planning of your annual garden for crop rotations to work well with the changing seasons.  It requires you to understand the changing seasons of your bioregion–perhaps through prior experience and good note-taking, or by speaking with others who have been gardening in the area longer. It can be applied in the way you site permanent features in your landscape.  You know a tree will grow and with a little research you can predict what it might look like in 10 years.  Use this information to place it  in a way that it will have enough space when mature and not interfere with other features in your design. You know as well that eventually you will age and want to retire–how can you creatively ensure that you will have your needs taken care of at that time? Something like this may seem daunting in today’s economy, but new and creative solutions are being developed all the time.

This principle does not ask you to predict the future, but to study the past and the world around you.

post by K. Ruby Blume

Principle # 6 – Produce No Waste

Permaculture principle #6 Produce No Waste   by Ruby

 

The Oil Eaters

The Oil Eaters (Photo credit: giveawayboy)

 

Waste is a concept foreign to nature; everything produced gets eaten, decomposed and reused. The earthworm consumes plant “wastes” turning them into enriched soil. Bacteria hang out on tree leaves protecting them until they fall, at which moment those same leaves become their food.

 

In the garden we compost everything that is left over, use wood from pruning to stake plants or edge our garden beds or use egg shells as a natural snail control that then becomes available calcium for the plants. The next wave of limiting waste is to prioritize the use of natural compostable materials in other areas of our lives. Building materials such as earth, cob and wood, that can eventually return to the earth,. Clothing fibers like wool and cotton are similarly compostable. Who will be the first to produce a fully bio-degradable computer or mp3 player? That also produces no waste in it’s production? Don’t know where to get biodegradable products?

Here is one cool website for home products: http://lifewithoutplastic.com/

 

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Permaculture Principle #4: Self-Regulate; Accept Feedback

Principle #4 Self-Regulate, Accept Feedback

The next installation in Ruby’s meditations on the permaculture principles:
When we notice something isn’t working, we need to adjust to bring systems back into balance. In the garden it might be something as simple as noticing that your plants are getting under-watered and adjusting your watering schedule. If flies and smell are building up in your chicken coop, you may need to tweak the system to make it easier to maintain.

On a personal level, this principle invites us to apply self-criticism as well as to accept critical feedback from others with grace. To sit in the “hot seat” and consider the feedback others give us rather than defend ourselves, is a practice that requires fortitude and strength of character. The experience of making a mistake, being called on it, accepting responsibility and adjusting ones behavior builds a strong personal ecology and sense of self-worth. Conversely learning to give feedback in a manner that supports forward movement is a fine skill to develop.

A young couple and their baby sitting beside t...

Imagine a world in which political leaders and large corporations were able and willing to self-regulate and accept feedback!

For now, we’ll have to work on enhancing this essential and difficult human skill at personal scale,

Principle #1: Observe and Interact

K. Ruby Blume reflecting on the permaculture principles, one by one.

Permaculture principles

Principle #1 Observe and Interact

This is just about my favorite and most easy to remember permaculture principle. And although it seems obvious, it is so often the step that is left out of the equation when we start a project. We can see this especially when we look at larger developments, which haven’t taken into consideration important features in a landscape like passive solar gain, or rainwater flows, or wind, or the neighborhood in general.

When you take the time to slow down and simply observe something—a plot of land, a group dynamic in your office or in your chicken flock, it gives you time to reflect on what is actually happening right in front of you. This gives you information that can be useful as you move forward in creating better, more efficient, and abundant designs for living.

The classic exhortation in permaculture is to observe your land for ONE YEAR before placing any permanent features (such as fruit trees or hardscaping). This gives you time to observe microclimates, the path of the sun, different types of soil in your plot, rainfall, neighbor impacts, and so on. When every action is a response to what you are actively observing, your efforts become more effective and there is less need to undo mistakes.

Here’s an example from my own farm: The first year I was here I placed a beehive in the back end of the garden. It was a great spot for humans because the bees were out of the way. But these bees only got direct sun for a couple of hours in the late afternoon. They were always more aggressive when I managed them and they never thrived. It took me a while, but finally I saw it—this was simply a bad spot for the bees. I moved them to a sunny west fence line and they thrived. That shady spot in the back is where my rabbitry now sits—a much better use for that back corner.

And finally here’s a tip from John Muir Laws, an amazing California naturalist who published a wonderful field guide to the Sierra: When you observe, allow yourself to notice out loud. Start with “I notice…” Then as you get more curious, try starting with “I wonder….” Verbalizing what you are seeing can deepen your capacity to see and move you more easily from observation into problem solving.

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Huffington Post

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Santa Barbara where I got to teach at UC Santa Barbara, deliver a keynote speech at a fundraiser for the great, local Santa Barbara Food Bank and their Grown Your Own Way program, as well as teaching at Fairview Gardens, Michael Abelman’s former farm in Goleta, now continuing its suburban farming mission.

I met an interesting woman named Linda Buzzell who is a permaculturist and psychotherapist – one of the only people I’ve met who really shares a lot of my own skill set. She edited a book called “Ecotherapy: Healing with the Earth in Mind” with Craig Chalquist, which I have been reading slowly and savoring. It’s been like finding a whole bunch of brothers and sisters I didn’t know I had — healers who are acutely aware of our environmental condition and the precariousness of this time for humanity. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the connections between healing, deep ecology, grief work, and bringing the work of psychotherapy out of the small quiet clinical room, and into the world.

Linda kindly penned a short review of our book for the Huffington Post. Linked here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/linda-buzzell/going-green-in-the-city_b_1345709.html