Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Permaculture Weekend (#4) at Camp Epworth

Once a month, for the past four months, I have made the gorgeous drive to High Falls, NY, to stay at Camp Epworth ( for the weekend and to learn a little more about Permaculture Design. Every weekend I come home totally jazzed.

This weekend, my classmates presented their research projects (I-thankfully-received an extension), which were all awesome, but I will share just a couple with you.

Below is Simon with his beautiful poster. I hope you can see it alright, but if you can't read it, it says, "How to eat shit & thrive" and it's about composting toilets.
And below is Yusuf explaining about aquaponics. He is building a great system in his community nearby, so he is filled with awesome first-hand knowledge.
We had a great weekend learning about all sorts of things; how diet effects children with behavioral issues, challenges involved with managing a refugee camp, the origin of apples, and how to build ponds/dams and swales, among other things.

Below, I've included a few pictures of our small-scale earthworks projects in the snow. Ethan (one of our teachers) took us out with spoons and using the humps made by the snow plow along the side of the road, showed us (using some good kinesthetic teaching) how to make a dam, using our knowledge of contour and slope.

WHY EARTH WORKS? Isn't it totally against all those tree-hugging, soil-munching ideals to use big machines (or not) to disrupt a lot of soil and change things around?

The idea here is that the energy input will not only be balanced by the amount of energy that is caught and stored by the changed system, it will be far surpassed. Find a leverage point and make the smallest change for the greatest result.

Swales and dams are great examples of this. Water is a form of energy and in our current global state, it is one of huge value and diminishing availability. Swales, or long ditches dug on contour (level), are used to catch and spread water out, allowing it to soak into the ground. It's an alternative to drainage ditches, which generally lie on a slope, directing flow down to a certain spot, bringing topsoil with it and continuing to leave the land above without water. Dams, which should never be used to block running water, can be built to create a basin in which it can be caught and stored.

Below: attaching a swale to a dam/pond, allows excess water to spill out, and spread out.
Below: The spoons represent trees. Planting into the mound on the downhill side of a swale helps with erosion and becomes a very fertile bed.
After we watched Ethan make some sweet swales and dams, we took our spoons out and did it ourselves...

I'll leave you with one of my favorite things I learned this weekend.

The Law of Two Feet: if you are engaged in an activity and are not learning or contributing anything, use your two feet to go somewhere else.

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