Monday, August 25, 2014

Resilient Farm

Ben Falk's book, The Resilient Farm and Homestead, has, like Darrell Frey's book (see Bioshelters, 8/15/14) and Sepp Holzer's (see Permaculture--Austrian Style, 8/5/14), a little bit of everything.  The subtitle hints at how much is in it: 'An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach'.  In fact the farm that Ben Falk runs is called the Whole Systems Research Farm.

If he has one focus to the book, it's to encourage others to be regenerative and resilient.  In the appendix to the book he includes a test to assess your own resiliency.

While the book covers the gamut of what he does on the farm, including extensive sections on food crops, animals, water, soil, fuel, shelter building, and the design process, one of the things he includes that I found particularly useful was that he listed 72 'Resiliency and Regeneration Principles'.  Some of my favorites include: "Biological Complexity, Technological Simplicity" ("Resilience is greatest when living aspects of a system are complex, diverse, and connected, while the nonliving aspects of the system are simple"), "Two is One, One is None" (things always fail, it's important to have backup systems), and "Solutions = Alignment" (solutions emerge when you are aligned with natural forces),   A lot of the principles seem obvious but are helpful reminders: "Simplest Solution Is the Best Solution", "Increase Diversity, Don't Reduce It", "Good Design Always Empowers", and "Storage Always Runs Out".

A good bit of why I find Ben Falk's book useful is that he's writing about doing permaculture in Vermont--and I've lived my life in New England and came close to being part of a farming community in nearby New York that would operate much like the Whole Systems Research Farm.  Permaculture started in Australia and, while I got the principles and how useful they were, many of the applications that I first saw were for hot or, especially, dry climates.  In New England, there is water everywhere.  If you leave a patch of land alone for more than a few years, a forest will grow out of it.

Falk's book (like Frey's and Holzer's) is permaculture adapted to a cooler, wetter climate.  As I said in my post on Holzer's book: "the application of permaculture be different in each place."  Almost everything in The Resilient Farm and Homestead is applicable to the land that I live in.

Quote of the Day:  "This book is not a rehashing of information found elsewhere but only of direct experience. ... It is written with the hope that people all over the world will find value in it as they take back control over some measure of their own lives, empowering themselves and their families in the pursuit of resilience and regeneration and revel in the health, freedom, and fulfillment that is a natural outgrowth of such a life."   - Ben Falk

Friday, August 15, 2014


The first half of the book, Bioshelter Market Garden, by Darrell Frey, is your standard tour around a permaculture farm.  (In fact, that's the subtitle, "A Permaculture Farm".)  It isn't that different from  Sepp Holzer's book (see my post, Permaculture--Austrian Style, 8/5/14) or the book by Ben Falk that I hope to review next, except that Sepp Holzer's farm is in Austria and Ben Falk's farm is in Vermont, USA.  Darrell Frey's farm (Three Sisters Farm named after the Native American and permaculture 'guild' of squash, beans, and corn growing together) is also in the US, in what he refers to as "northwestern Pennsylvania".  He seems reluctant to give a more exact address, probably to discourage unwelcome visitors.

But what makes this book stand out is what he focuses on in the middle of the book, the bioshelter of the title.  Bioshelters were developed at the New Alchemy Institute, which ran for twenty-one years on Cape Cod in Massachusetts (1971- 1992).  According to Frey, "A bioshelter is a greenhouse managed as an indoor ecosystem.  ... they represent a synthesis of energy-efficient architecture and ecological design."  The bioshelter is the centerpiece of the farm and book has two chapters devoted to 'Bioshelter Defined and Designed' and 'Bioshelter Management'.  It goes on to chapters on 'Compost and Biothermal Resources' (both within the bioshelter and outside of it) and 'Chickens in the Greenhouse' (a part of their bioshelter ecosystem).  He also includes an interesting chapter on 'Permaculture for Wetlands'. 

There's lots and lots of useful stuff in this book--especially if you want to learn about bioshelters and how they could be helpful for commercial farming.  I'd strongly recommend it.  About my only complaint about this book is that for some reason the author included the exact same picture that he took of the "Composting greenhouse at The New Alchemy Institute in 1988" three times in the book--twice with the exact same caption--something that's odd but doesn't negate anything in the book.

Quote of the Day:  "Biodiversity and environmental quality are not just nice things to learn about on cable TV or in magazines.  The natural world is the foundation upon which we all depend.  Stewardship begins in our yards and gardens, and it extends to the choices  we make in what we consume.  The decade or two ahead are critical.  Humans have managed and impacted bioregions for tens of thousands of years.  But the choices we are making now have a stronger and longer-lasting impact on the planet than at any time in human existence." - Darrell Frey

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Different Kind of Blog

As of today, I am starting a second blog.  It's going to be quite different from this one.   In fact, it's less of a blog, and more like an humorous adventure serial that is being carried by a blog like thing.  What it shares with this blog is that it's all about community (and growing food).

With the demise of the community effort that I put my life into over the last year, I have been feeling adrift.  In addition to all the nonfiction stuff that I'm still reading, I've started reading fiction again, especially fantasy and comic fiction.  I've been watching Doctor Who clips on YouTube and reading an online webcomic.  I've been feeling a need for a little escapism.  And out of all that fiction and nonfiction reading and the stuff I've been watching, combined with my knowledge of community and other stuff, came an urge to write.  Like other people, I've been trying to write the sort of stuff that I've wanted to read. 

Thus, the wacky world of Lagoon Commune.  It's the story of a young woman who starts a commune in an unnamed state with Green Mountains and New Hampshire neighbors.  I intend to publish a new chapter every Wednesday.  (I know, today is Sunday, but all the rest of the chapters will be published on Wednesdays.)  It's, maybe, a very humorous, in fact, over the top, look at community building.  Hopefully, it has some insights into community as well--but snuck into the humor.

And I hope Beatles lovers will forgive me for completely massacring one (and maybe more in the future) of their songs.

Quote of the Day:  "You can get through very serious and sometimes horrible and sometimes embarrassing and very awkward situations with humor." - Janet Evanovich

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Permaculture--Austrian Style

Permaculture is from Australia.  Sepp Holzer is a farmer in Austria, halfway around the globe.  He inherited his farm in 1962 and began experimenting and doing his work his own way.  In 1995, he was told that what he was doing was permaculture.  Herr Holzer said that when he then read a bunch of books on permaculture, he agreed with all the principles.  He was surprised to find out that what he had been doing was basically the same as the methods of a world-wide movement, a movement officially begun in 1978, sixteen years after he had started his experiments.

Sepp Holzer's Permaculture is a useful addition to a permaculture library, focusing on how a farmer in Austria independently discovered the same principles that Bill Mollison and David Holmgren came up with.  What's important is that, as Patrick Whitefield points out in his foreward to the book, is that just as each place on Earth has its own ecology, so must the application of permaculture be different in each place.  Whitefield says that "An important part of permaculture is getting to know your own individual place.  Every patch of the Earth has its unique personality and character, just as each person has."

Sepp Holzer developed his own take on permaculture, a version adapted to the Alpine region he lives in.  And he came up with some methods different from what other permaculture farmers were doing.  One thing that he is known for is the development of Hugelkultur, a technique that uses the idea of burying branches or logs to fertilize the soil, add carbon, and retain water.  I found it interesting that the word hugelkultur is not used in the book--I suspect that this is a case of overtranslating the book. (Originally in German, of course.)  However, the concepts behind hugelkultur are clearly spelled out in the section of the book on raised bed gardening.

While the book concentrates on land design, alternative agriculture, and gardening (permaculture mainstays), Holzer devotes one chapter to fruit trees and another to cultivating mushrooms.  There's lots of useful information in this book, especially if you're doing permaculture in a temperate landscape.  It's interesting to me that Holzer's farm, Krameterhof, is another place not included in Birnbaum and Fox's Sustainable [R]evolution (see my last post). Holzer also devotes a chapter to other projects that he's working with in Scotland, Thailand, and in a section of Austria almost two hours north of his farm.  He also mentions consulting on projects in Brazil, Columbia, and Montana (USA), which he says that he talked more about in his previous book The Rebel Farmer.  I think this book is worth reading if you want one more version of what is possible.

Quote of the Day: "You must see and understand this technique as a whole, so that it can be used profitably.  Only those who practice permaculture can also understand it and pass it on to others.  This is why it makes no sense to simply create a permaculture system just like mine.  You must learn it for yourself like learning the alphabet at school." - Sepp Holzer

Friday, August 1, 2014

Worldwide [R]evolution

Charles Reich's The Greening of America was published in 1970.  Marilyn Ferguson's The Aquarian Conspiracy came out in 1980.  Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest was published in 2007. In my post in 2009 on The Great Turning (11/15/09), I critiqued all of them.  It's easy to see mass social movements--but what becomes of them?

Not quite a year later, I said something that I didn't see connected all of this at the time.  I ended my post entitled From the Ground Up (9/20/10), talking about how various social movements were "pointing us toward something. Something new and radical, something that guides us in an alternative direction, toward a different kind of world. A blueprint, if you will, for building a new way of living. From the ground up." 

For my Quote of the Day, I chose lines from Chellis Glendinning, including:  "This urge to wholeness is with us still; ... Many of the social and cultural movements of the twentieth century are expressions of it: Gandhian nonviolence, the worker's movement of the 1930's, the kibbutz, Martin Luther King, Jr., the anti-war efforts, the hippies and yippies, the women's movement, the human potential movement, back-to-the-land, natural foods, Earth Day, permaculture, bioregionalism, the men's movement, voluntary simplicity. So too is the vast arising of passion for spiritual pursuits: Tibetan Buddhism, drumming circles, wilderness quests. And then there are today's social and psychological uprisings: the call for democracy and environmental justice, ... the rising of indigenous identity and self-empowerment." 

Another way of looking at this is to see Reich's, and Ferguson's, and Hawken's work as ongoing documentation of what Chellis Glendinning is calling that 'urge to wholeness'.  There is something going on outside the mainstream press, with many failures, but continuing on.  I've been documenting some of it in my posts on communities. 

Recently, I've read a bunch of books that look at permaculture related things, some in the form of communities and some as farms or other projects.  My next few posts will review some of these books focusing on attempts to create permaculture stuff around the world.  I want to begin with a book that focuses on these projects all over the globe.  The book is called Sustainable [R]evolution by Juliana Birnbaum and Louis Fox.

It's subtitle is 'Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide'.  The most notable thing for me about this book, which covers sixty projects, is how many amazing communities and projects that I know of that it doesn't cover.  None of the projects covered in the next three books that I plan to post on are covered in this book.  Neither is any of the communities in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities  (see my posts on Egalitarian Communities, 10/22/08, and Communities of Communities, 6/9/12) listed.  Nor are what I think of as two of the top eco-villages in the US, Dancing Rabbit (also see my posts on First Week at Dancing Rabbit, 5/28/13, and Thoughts as I Leave Dancing Rabbit, 6/14/13) and Earthaven. And one of the most amazing places outside of the US as far as I'm concerned, Gaviotas  is also not mentioned, although another place in Columbia (the Atlantida Ecovillage) has a listing.    At first I was disgruntled about all that they didn't include, but on second thought, I'm excited.  They have sixty projects and don't even include all the ones I just mentioned.  Maybe there is a ground up, worldwide [r]evolution happening.

There are a bunch of projects that I know of listed, although I wouldn't think of some of them as top tier.  Some of the better known include The Farm (in Tennessee), the Lama Foundation (in New Mexico), the LA Ecovillage (in California), the Ecovillage at Ithaca, New York, Growing Power (in Wisconsin), Findhorn (in Scotland), Tamera (Portugal), Damanhur (Italy), the Dead Sea Valley Permaculture Project (Jordan), Auroville (India), the Ladakh Project (India), and Melliodora (Australia), which is the farm run by David Holmgren, one of the founders of Permaculture.  I had also heard of most of the other North American projects, which included OUR Ecovillage (in British Columbia), the Bullock Homestead (in Washington state), City Repair (in Oregon), the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (in California), and the Greater World Earthship Community (in New Mexico).  (Actually, I'd heard of the Earthships more than the community on that one.)  However, the entry that really surprised me was for The People's Grocery in California.    I've been there and blogged about it (see my post entitled Update 4: Eco-Oakland, Riveting Richmond, and Groovy SF, 10/18/12).  It's a great place and doing really important work, but I didn't think of it as being well known at all.

The book also includes a useful introductory section that goes into basic permaculture concepts and some points about how the book is organized.  I got it out of the library, but if you want to get a taste of what seems to be a growing worldwide movement, this is a good book to get.

Quote of the Day:  "At the time of this writing, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have completed permaculture design courses, and the network continues to expand on the original ideas through thousands of related trainings, publications, garden projects, and internet forums.  There are projects in at least seventy-five countries in the world, and during the period we were doing the research for and writing this book, the number of these projects grew exponentially.  The approach is being used to design new sites, both urban and rural.  It is being applied by individuals and communities in existing towns and cities on every scale.  Permaculture design initiatives have achieved inspiring results, restoring degraded landscapes, reversing desertification, and creating self-sustaining food systems.  It includes hundreds of strategies that together begin to mitigate climate change, some directly drawing carbon out of the atmosphere through healthy soil-building cycles, no-plow farming methods, and tree planting." - Juliana Birnbaum