The permaculture life that is. Most of my thoughts this past year have been centered on permaculture and how I can use it in my life here. I’ve read through various permie books and am working through the Designer’s Manual now. Next on the list would be the two volume Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. I’ve also spent a good many hours watching permie related video and browsing through ooddles of permie websites and many beautiful flickr sets. All of these have been very inspiring and full of useful information. I don’t have a PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) and am not sure if I ever will though I certainly would like to. Actually let me come back to this subject in a minute.

I’ve been acquiring the information and have been working to put to use. I’ve got a long way to go but I’m pretty happy with what we have done thus far. As I commented in the last post the food forests are steadily coming together though I’m still experimenting, learning and thinking about guild design as well as arrangement around buildings and a variety of permaculture design principles. I suppose that is to be expected as this is, no doubt, a never ending process.

The newest additions arrived this past Wednesday and are all in the ground. Two paw paws and three juneberries right around my cabin to fill in the fairly large sunny spots on the north, east and southwest side of the cabin providing me with food and eventually a good bit of summertime shade. They won’t actually shade much of the building itself as it is already mostly shaded, but they will shade the area all around and should provide a good bit of overall cooling. They’ll also get the benefit of a small swale system fed by the hill and my rain barrel run-off.

For those that my not be familiar, pawpaws are in the custard apple family and have an oblong yellowish banana flavored fruit with the consistency of custard. I have yet to meet a fruit I don’t like and I’m sure I’ll love these. Very pretty too. The juneberry is one of the earliest to bloom in the spring and apparently has fantastic fall color. Most importantly these large bushes (one of the two varieties I’ve got is 12-15 feet tall, the other 8-10 feet) have berries very similar to blueberries. I don’t know how much fruit they get but if is as much as a standard blueberry that will make me happy. I did get three more blueberries which will be planted in the blueberry patch in the main food forest and brings us up to 8. Between those and the Juneberries think we’ve got a good start on that particular flavor of berry!

One other note about this new area of food forest around my cabin. I made a simple a-frame level and have marked off the contour for a swale to collect water from the rain barrel overflow. Right now it is just a single barrel but I now have six barrels and will be picking up the pvc I need to plumb it all together soon. The overflow will go to this swale on the north side of the cabin and will take the water away from the house and slowly down the hill towards the juneberries. I’ll also be putting in a swale 10 or so feet higher up on the hill to collect water before it gets to the pawpaws.

Now, back to the PDC. I have mixed feelings about this. Essentially it is a certificate that requires a course of 10-15 days. I thought about doing it 10 or so years ago but didn’t. I’m thinking about it again. But I can’t quite justify the cost. I have little doubt that I’d learn something in the experience as a good teacher will very likely offer insights that are not always clear in the text. But I don’t know that I’d ever actually use the PDC in the sense of charging someone for a consultation or garden design. Maybe I would but that is not my primary interest. My primary interest is in learning for the development of our site as well as to share the information in my community. In my view permaculture is something that may prove essential not only to the survival of our species, but also to our ability to begin undoing the damage we have done. Charging people to help them implement or use permaculture isn’t something I’d feel comfortable doing.

Sharon Astyk, one of my favorites, wrote an excellent article regarding permaculture, specifically the presentation of it to the public. There are many pages of responses of folks that are also thinking about how permaculture is shared (or sold) with (to) the public. Until now it has been an “alternative” to what is mainstream, both in terms of content as well as the culture of those practicing and advocating. But if it is to become the new way of designing and organizing our homes and communities there are a few barriers that will likely need to be addressed by the current permie movement.

The question Sharon asks (I’m paraphrasing) is, is permaculture to remain largely in the domain of alternative subcultures? I’m pretty sure that she is speaking of the historical tendency of practitioners seeming to be hippy-punk-green-anarcho leftish, dreadlocked, barefooted, vegans. There are a variety of ways that the folks practicing and advocating permaculture might be perceived as being different from the mainstream and for some that perception of alternative identity might be an impediment to acceptance. Although it does seem silly, or even a bit bizarre, I suppose that in the context of a workshop or class, if one were surrounded by folks that seemed noticeably “different” it might be a barrier.

Another barrier that I would add (not one of Sharon’s points but brought up as a point in several of the comments to her article) concerns the high priced PDCs. While I see the value of the PDC to ensure that those specifically selling design services are indeed qualified, I do think anyone should be able to use the word to describe what they are doing if they are not specifically selling their time as permaculture designers. I don’t think anyone making a real effort to follow the practices in their personal work or even those coming together to share in larger community projects should hesitate to use the term. I’ve been writing a series of articles for the Madison County Crier about permaculture and how we are using it at our homestead as a specific example of how the design principles translate in real life application. (Actually I’ve been meaning to post those here for quite some time and will start today.)

The basic point is that there is a bit of confusion about who and how the word “Permaculture” may be used by those that don’t have a PDC but who practice it and would like to share it with others. I suppose what it comes down to is common sense communication. In addition to the above mentioned articles, later this summer or early fall I plan to do a series of workshops for interested local folk. I’ll be having them out to our site so that I can discuss, share and illustrate (teach) permaculture using what we’ve done as an example. I won’t be charging anyone nor will I be presenting myself as a “certified” permaculturist. Rather, I’ll make a book list available as well as recommended websites. We’ll probably watch a few videos and then spend a few hours relating the books to the implementation they can see.

The times we are in require that folks learn and transition to a new reality. Permaculture, whether it is called ecological gardening or forest gardening or whatever is an important part of this transition and should be available to anyone. If I can help spread the word I will.

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