A Permaculture Reflection: Our Second Gathering

Sixteen students gathered again last Saturday morning at the GALA Community Center, for the second installment of our Permaculture Design Course. At the end of our last meeting, we students had been assigned to look at the watersheds on the properties we were designing. Watersheds are a crucial component of Permaculture, because water is the creator and sustainer of life. Each of us presented our findings of the large and small watersheds within the land. Each presentation of findings was a bit different, some students with maps and visuals, some students painting a detailed picture with words, describing backyard watersheds to whole mountain range aquifers, all eventually flowing to the Atlantic ocean to the east.

Another vital piece in the Permaculture puzzle is the soil. Soil is what houses and cares for all plants, and is the base for a healthy Permaculture garden. We had a discussion on what components make up the soil and what makes it healthy and ideal for plants. We also discussed how to construct living, healthy soil quickly, without ever tilling. The beginning step is to sheet mulch. This is a process of layering compost, cardboard or newspaper and woodchips right on top of the existing grass. Over the course of a season, the grass breaks down, mixes with the compost, and the woodchips hold in moisture, creating a perfect space for growing plants, food and flowers. We also made a list of natural soil additives to add to the nutrition of the soil. Notice that all these materials have to possibility to be found near ones property, thus make the fertilization system much smaller, increasing its longevity, and keeping nutrients from the land, on the land.

Lunch on Saturday was a fantastic meal prepared by chef Nadine San Antonio. It was a perfect squash soup for the brisk fall day, a delicious crisp salad, and fantastic flat bread with veggies, apples, and goat cheese. Yum!

After filling our stomachs with food, GALA director Josh Arnold walked the group through the process of building a rain barrel and a proper rainwater catchment system. Following the building of the rain barrel, instructor Steve Whitman led a presentation detailing the use of water in human lives, and Permaculture ideas about water catchment, usage, storage, and revitalization of wastewater. We had a very interesting conversation about the different types of composting toilets, grey water treatment, and humanure. Having this conversation was thought provoking, in that grey water and sewage treatment consume colossal amounts of energy, but the truth of the matter is that these resources hold a great amount of energy themselves. When utilized in a correct, safe manner, these substances do not have to be detrimental to our environment, but can be put to work to strengthen our ecosystems.

Sunday morning started at our instructor Steve Whitman’s home in Plymouth. With just an acre of land, he and his family have created a beautiful, food-producing haven in the middle of the city. It was exciting to see the potential of Permaculture in an urban landscape. This garden fit right into the surrounding neighborhood, and strengthened it; creating a rich ecosystem, as well as a food supply right at Steve’s family’s backdoor.

From Steve’s home, we traveled a few short blocks to the campus of Plymouth State University, to the university Eco House. While in college I dreamed of living in such a place. The large home houses nine students, whom care for and design the property. There is an out building on the land built by the University’s Sustainable Building class. A student has recently created a Permaculture design for the backyard. It was inspiring to see positive, permanent, land alterations, and living situations being created on a college campus, a place of consistent transiency. The students are taking not only what they have learned and bringing it to reality, but they are utilizing the Eco House space to learn by doing. This is a powerful and dynamic way to learn.

Since moving to New Hampshire in July, I have been hearing about how amazing D Acres is. On this past Sunday, I got my chance to travel to, eat at, and tour this amazing organic Permaculture Farm in Dorchester, NH.D Acres is a jaw-dropping place. Many exciting things are happening on this piece of land; everything from the growing of potatoes, to the birth of pigs, to tree houses perched in oaks, to bustling community breakfasts, to puppet shows. We gathered in the D Acres Community Center building and enjoyed a hot breakfast (for lunch) created from D Acres grown ingredients. Then we met Josh Trought, the founding director. He took us on a two-hour journey across the land, explaining his story, his reasoning for action or inaction on the land, and his hopes for D Acres in the future. D Acres is a Permaculture farm, thus the utilization of the three ethics of care for the land; care for the people and fair share are very visible. I felt very welcome at D Acres and it is evident that Josh and the other staff and volunteers truly care for the land around them. A great anecdote that Josh gave us was about weeding. Sometimes, he said, he does not want to weed the gardens, because the task is seems too daunting, too boring, or too lonely. Nevertheless, that is the hardest step, the thinking about it before hand. Once Josh gets out in the garden, gets his hands in the dirty, and smells the fresh air, he says he realizes there is nowhere else on earth he would rather be. I thought this was a great lesson for Permaculture, as well as for life: you just have to get started!

Once again, this past weekend was a fascinating view into the world of Permaculture. On Saturday evening, right before dinner, we viewed a completed Permaculture Design. I am so excited to begin taking what I have learned in this course and from visiting inspiring Permaculture sites such as D Acres, Steve Whitman’s Home, The Eco House and Dalton’s Pasture, and start bringing my newly gained knowledge to life!

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