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E-M:/ Permaculture--where Lansing needs to go
- Subject: E-M:/ Permaculture--where Lansing needs to go
- From: jmgear <email@example.com>
- Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2006 19:55:03 -0400
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- List-name: Enviro-Mich
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Enviro-Mich message from jmgear <email@example.com>
This is from some friends in the Pacific NW (near Bellingham, WA, pretty
far up toward the Canadian border). Although this area has more folks,
we also have a richer growing season (and colder winters!). This report
about permaculture installations in the Northwest is inspiring.
This is what Lansing will need to do--all this stupid grass has to go,
to be replaced with edible crops, and we all need to learn to put food
by again. Michigan as a whole is blessed with a great climate for
growing a great abundance and variety of things. What we need is to be
teaching Michigan kids useful skills in schools---like how to grow food,
and how to preserve it---so that they can live independently of oil
Here's the report on permaculture:
This week on Thursday I wangled a visit to a local Bellingham
permaculture home. The guy was a younger person, friend of someone I
know at the college, and he agreed to show my friend and me around the
place after he got done with work.
He bought an old small house 8 years ago, and it had the usual gravel
drive and grassy lawn, just like most of the neighbors still
have---totally boring American landscape needing constant mowing and
trimming to fit into the surroundings.
Not this guy's place - it was a jungle on a nice-sized city lot. The
grass in the pathways he simply tramples down as he walks through. The
rest is raised beds with perennials or re-seeded plants. Surrounding is
fruit and nut trees, with berry bushes underneath - with no spacing
between, totally thick and very productive. Probably dozens of species
He has very little of the standard high-maintenance veggie
garden---stuff just grows each year and he harvests and pulls out
invasive weeds and occasionally makes changes to an area. I liked his
model for how to replace grassy areas with food in a city lot. He even
has chickens in an enclosure with lots of trees and shrubs - and they
absolutely control weeds on the ground around the plants. He still has
to feed them. When he bought the place, no birds at all - now it's a
little bird haven surrounded by human devastation (lawns, driveways, and
On Friday, we visited another permaculture site on a much larger
scale---10 acres plus. The Bullock brothers bought 10 acres of forest
(doug fir, cedar) on Orcas Island back around 1980---they had studied
permaculture with Bill Mollison and Holmgren and came from Hawaii.
At the lower boundary of their property was an old valley swamp without
the water. Somehow they re-flooded the swamp as their first action and
it's still a productive bog with permanent water. Then they took out
forest trees in a scalloped pattern in the lower half of the property to
develop as a food-growing and nursery area, adjacent to the swamp. They
built structures on the upper ridge, probably 100 feet above the swamp.
At the mid-levels, above the intensive growing area, is where interns
(maybe a dozen?) live and work. The interns pay something like $100 a
month to stay there and work under guidance (aka slaves, but with the
twist that the slaves want to be there and pay for it and have freedom
Spotted around the property are 10 composting toilets, very crudely
built with locally available materials - but highly effective. The
little outhouse structures have handles on them, and when needed they
pick them up and move them on, leaving the composted waste in situ.
That's then a great place to put a new tree.
Water management is where they've put in a lot of work - solar PV cells
(used, previously fried, very cheap, still working fine) drive DC pumps
that move water from the swamp area to holding tanks up the ridge, which
then gravity (& also other-pump-pressurized) feeds the highly complex
watering system. Orcas gets half the precip that B'ham does, and they
have a south-west facing slope that makes it quite warm, even hot when
we were there.
They have numerous greenhouses without active controls for propagating
plants and have some semi-tropical varieties in the warmer spots. They
have fruit/berry bushes from all over the world, plus some they've
managed to invent. For fruit trees, they have a system of keeping grass
away and nutrients in by planting day lilies right near the tree, then a
ring of comfrey in about a 6-8 foot circle around the tree. The lilies
and comfrey come up each year on their own and bring nutrients to the
surface, and the dead comfrey is mulch to keep out the grass. Very low
maintenance and good for the tree.
We're gonna do that very soon this summer with our fruit and nut trees.
I also want to learn to graft like Doug (tour guide) Bullock does so we
can grow different varieties of fruit on tree-stock that has good roots
but is presently non-productive---he's done that on many, many trees at
the site. I'm also going to be propagating the bushes like mad and make
the areas I'm developing bush factories galore to help keep down grass
and make food. Gooseberries, currants (big on them), aronia, sea
buckthorn, goumi, thornless blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and
The only animals are chickens, which they use for eggs and as chook
tractors (chickens in a movable cylindrically-shaped cage---they totally
eliminate weeds wherever the cage is) and ducks that they use for slug
patrol during the non-growing season (I don't know where they go in the
spring - didn't see them). Also didn't see any slugs or mosquitoes,
amazing enough for this area.
They are now developing another 8 acres of leased land adjacent to
theirs. It was hard to figure out the business model - I think the
interns are one source of income, and the nursery another---they sell
plants you just can't get anywhere else in No. America. They also sell
design/development services in other countries---Nicaragua was one that
kept popping up in conversation. . . .
The next step up in complexity for permaculture is likely the top
level---applying permaculture philosophy to a town or region such as a
county. Unfortunately, there is no model for that to my knowledge.
Some wannabes (S.F., Portland, ...) just starting down the road, yeah,
but nothing in place. It may be possible for a town like Bellingham (a
little over 100,000 folks) that's still not totally packed with
people---but we're infilling as fast as possible still and housing
prices are way beyond reasonable now & probably not sustainable.
Bellingham is perhaps small enough that, if we can preserve the good
growing land surrounding the city, enough food might be grown there to
support the town and be close enough to the population to get it to them
even after oil shortages become endemic.
The city will also need to educate people on the model of the first
place I visited so as many as possible grow as much of their own food as
possible and have some joy in the process of doing it. That would
inevitably stimulate much better neighborhood relationships as people
learn to know each other and share ideas that work well. My big
question is whether the city, or any city, can get through that
multi-decade process peacefully enough to actually survive. If we start
right now, possibly. If we wait until the actual gasoline shortages hit
and prices skyrocket, perhaps not. I fear we'll soon find out what
lengths people will go to (even neighbors) when the feeling of panic
occurs when we can't afford to buy (or cannot even find in stores) the
food we need.
I have no idea how society will survive on the larger, more dense scale
of cities with millions of people; how can Japan feed the inhabitants of
Tokyo without oil to grow and deliver food to their 37 million mouths?
Here's a link to the Bullock bro. farm website so you can read a bit
about permaculture and see some photos of their stuff:
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