Updated: Aug 21, 2021
I never had a chance to attend camp as a child so I do not have anything to compare my adult experience to, but all I can say is that if summer camp was half as cool at Permaculture camp, I really missed out! I just came home from a 17 day INTENSIVE work study program at the amazing Pearlstone Retreat Center. My twelve cohorts and I instantly became a pop-up community; brought together by a love of the environment and 4 pretty amazing instructors. Our dynamic leader, Dave Boehnlein, likened my enthusiasm and energy to that of a soaked Labrador retriever running through a crowd of people. I am going to TRY to curb my fervor and will do my best not to sling muck all over you as I shake off and share tidbits from my adventure.
The majority of our days were spent in a comfy pavilion classroom donned with couches, cushions and lots of pillows. We had over 125 hours of lecture and hands-on work throughout our time together. The weeks were also sprinkled with field trips where we would visit various locations and experience concepts of permaculture in real world context. One of my favorite places we explored was Michael Judd's homestead.
Michael graciously invited us into his amazing home, gave us a tour of his property and imbibed homemade paw paw mead. This gorgeous house is made out of straw bales and clay. Check out that living roof! It was a very hot August day and his house was cool as a cucumber without any air conditioning. A lot of thought and planning went into the designing and layout of this structure so that very little energy would need to be spent on heating and cooling. Michael opens his space up to the public for many talks and lectures, including his famous Paw Paw festival, slated to run on September 11, 2021. If you are within a few hours drive of Fredrick, MD I highly suggest you stop by and get educated by this knowledgeable and very chill dude!
Michael used architect Sigi KoKo when turning his vision into a reality, she also helped with navigating the zoning and township. Imagine my surprise and absolute pleasure when I realized that our next field trip was to meet Sigi at another one of her gorgeous creations (Black Ankle Vineyard). Sigi was beyond nice, super informative and a very empowering woman. The cherry on top of this whole expedition is that she offers hands-on natural building workshops AND she is located in York, PA....only 20 minutes from me!!! I was left feeling completely inspired and my mind was swimming with natural build designs. I will not be surprised if I find myself in one of Sigi's courses in the near future. I mean look at these structures, swoon!
Dave, Greg, Joe and Perri, our fearless leaders, taught us many, many practical applications to apply to our everyday lives in the areas of community building, energy and resource conservation, gardening, wilderness survival and the concept of working WITH nature came up daily. Just because you WANT to plant a garden in a specific place, doesn't mean that it will provide the right sun and/or water drainage. Trying to force elements into a space that isn't conducive to its nature is likely to bring on unforeseen problems, setbacks and might leave you with feelings of failure. Your garden may not yield too many peppers or you may get cracks in your tomatoes if the chosen area has poor drainage or doesn't receive enough sunlight. Set yourself up for success and plan to place your elements in accordance to their needs, with your ease of access coming in second. Permaculture approach challenges you to take it a step further by creating a no-till garden system and implementing companion planting practices. Planting basil and/or chives between your pepper plants will not only give you more yield in the same amount of space, their presence gives weeds less places to emerge AND these pepper allies are known to deter pests, win, win, win!
Permaculture is also a huge proponent of biomimicry. The concept of biomimicry invites us to observe nature, see how she solves problems and then try to mimic her. A spider's web is one of the strongest in nature; engineers emulated this design when creating car windshields so that they crack on impact, but do not shatter. We model ducks and geese when we don down coats in the winter; using their feathers to insulate us from the cold. The Swiss engineer, Georges de Mestral, took his dog for a walk and became curious as to how the burs from burdock stuck to them so effectively. He looked at the burs under a microscope and observed lots of tiny hooks that allowed them to latch onto the fabric of his clothes. And just like that, velcro was invented! I invite you to find a comfortable place on your property, sit and discover what nature is up to....you will not only find yourself becoming relaxed, you will be pleasantly surprised and may even learn a thing or two from her.
Pre-2020 people were on the move more and spent less time at home. With a busy, on-the-go lifestyle our yards became just another chore and an unfortunately overlooked place to gather. COVID brought people back to the great outdoors; seeking solace in nature. Everyone started spending more time at home which led them to spruce up their yards and outdoor living spaces. Instead of wasting time and money applying fertilizer and weed suppressing chemicals on your green spaces, why not remove a piece of the lawn and plant a few Chestnuts or Paw Paw trees? Planting trees and groundcovers not only beautifies your space, it eliminates the need to maintain grass, provides habitat for wildlife and you with fresh fruit and/or nuts. Win, win, win, win! I do not know about you, but sitting under the shade of my tree enjoying sweet, delicious paw paws right from the branch sounds better than have to spend the day mowing.
I am not saying dig your whole yard up and start planting trees. But hell if you want to, just give me a call and I will gladly come help ya. We heard over and over during our course, "start small and build on success." Why not choose a corner of your property to experiment and play with by adding some edible landscaping? Start with one or two shrubs, some groundcovers and see how it goes; the wildlife will thank you and so will I. If you want some help with ideas, just reach out.....I am bursting at the seams to help inspire others.
In the meantime I will be here rewilding our neck of the woods; channeling my excitement into actionable steps and still trying not to talk about permaculture with everyone I meet;) Plant on my friends!
Working on projects around your house and in your yard? I would love to hear what you are up to and what ideas you are exploring for the future.