A month ago my colleges Thea Fry, Diana Figueroa, Laura Valdes and I attended the Permaculture Design Course at the Accokeek Foundation in Accokeek, MD. What is permaculture you ask? Permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how to build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more. It helps you to live a more sustainable life by teaching you how to build a small-scale farm or garden the easy way.
Our teacher for our course was world-renowned permaculture specialist Wayne Weiseman. The Permaculture Institute of Australia and the World Wide Permaculture Network certified Mr. Weiseman. He has traveled to various countries all over the world teaching permaculture as well as being an elementary school teacher and taxi cab driver in New York City. He now owns The Permaculture Project LLC, & Permaculture Design-Collaborative LLC, which he does his entire course through. Some of the main principals of permaculture are care of earth and people. The founding father of permaculture is Bill Mollison with help from the co-founder David Holmgren.
This was an intensive weeklong course with lectures as well as outdoor learning. Having the course on the Ecosystem Farm at Accokeek was helpful as we were able to take what we were learning and apply it. During our time there we learned many different things from how to dig a swales to how to graft a tree. One of the first things we learned was how to make an A-frame and use a site level. We first learned how to build and use an A-frame to get the foundation down on how to measure the land then we learned the very simple way to measure using the site level.
We also learned that a swale is a dead leave ditch for water or a marshy area in a piece of land. Another important thing we learned about was clouds and how being able to tell the different clouds apart can be very helpful in the field. For example series clouds tell you about the weather. Now we learned about the different zones when doing our designs. Zone 0-1is the house or the main structure, which you will build your design around. Zone 2 is for the perianal plants, Zone 3 is for your main crops and Zone 4 is for your food forest for foraging and collecting wild food. Then Zone 5 is strictly for looks and observations of the natural ecosystem.
Another important topic we learned was about patterns. In permaculture your job is to find the naturally recurring patterns in nature when you do your design. Look with your minds eye and focus on where the patterns are in the land. One activity he had us do was pick 1-2 leaves from outside and then come back in and draw the details of the leaf. Then we left them on our table till the next day to see if we saw anything different from the day before.
On one of our days there we took a visit to a near by urban farm called Eco-City Farms. They are located in Hyattsville, MD. The farm grows a variety of organic produce in hoop houses, raises chickens for eggs and raises bees to pollinate the farm and for honey. The farm is an example of sustainable local farming and its produce may be found at farmer’s markets and restaurants. While we were there we learned about using worms in compost or vermicomposting. We also took tours of their hoop houses as well as helped them do a sight design for an out door learning space.
Another fun thing that I found enjoyable was taking a native plant walk around Accokeek. Learning how to identify different plants and herbs and whether they are food, medicine or dangerous plants. While we were on our walk we learned that growing all around Accokeek is some wild onions, which were my favorite as they were so tasty, some sorrel, which tasted like raspberry and the stem of sassafras, which tasted like root beer. One of our classmates was very into mushrooms; so one of the days he demonstrated how to make mushrooms out of cardboard and coffee grounds.
On our last day at class we learned all about bio-dynamics. Bio-dynamics is a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, food production and nutrition. Bio-dynamics was first developed in the early 1920s based on the spiritual insights and practical suggestions of the Austrian writer, educator and social activist Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), whose philosophy is called “anthroposophy.” Today, the biodynamic movement encompasses thousands of successful gardens, farms, vineyards and agricultural operations of all kinds and sizes on all continents, in a wide variety of ecological and economic settings.
Permaculture is a way of living. Indigenous cultures have been using permaculture for centuries. (even if it was not called that) Indigenous permaculture embraces and recognizes the contribution of indigenous communities and the vital role of traditional ecological knowledge and culture in creating and stewarding thriving healthy ecosystems. It is how people had survived on this plant before all the carbon emissions, fossil fuels, big name ag and oil came about. It’s a way to connect with the land and help the land to help you.
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