Sunday, March 29, 2009


As many of you know, for my permaculture class, I have been doing a design project. Permaculture has a whole design process to create spaces that are productive, beautiful, and regenerative.

The site I chose for my design is our new house site in the Quaker Intentional Village in Canaan, NY. (Interested? Check out

The permaculture design process is cyclical and goes like this:
1. Articulate Goals
2. Analyze and Assess the Site
3. Design
4. Implement
5. Evaluate
6. Start at the top again.

Below, I'll share with you the evolution of step 3-Design.

First, looking at our goals and what already exists on the site, I made a (very) rough sketch:

Next, my dad found a great simple areal map, which I copied and used as my Base Map. Using the Base Map, I did a series of Over-Lays using trace paper, to map out aspects like wind, water, animal, and human patterns. It was then time to brainstorm, so I did a series of totally different schematic designs with magic markers:

Then, in consultation with my dad, I picked out the best and most attractive aspects from those designs and began to sketch out a design we would actually use:

Taking these sketches, I started drawing out designs without the Base Map, working on perspective, using pencils this time.
Draft I:

Draft II:
Draft III:

Please excuse the blurriness of the pictures, I'm still learning to use my new (!) camera.

I am now working on my final design. I will post it when it's done.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Crocuses peeping up outside my friends' house

and tiny piglets at a nearby farm

It is an exciting time for gardeners and farmers right now. As the soil warms up, baby animals are born, and fields become tinged with green, it's exciting to hear the news from the White House. The Obamas are gardening too!
Check out this site:
A permaculture friend also passed along this:
which I also think is great.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Any pattern cannot be complete unless it's connected with other patterns

Our friend Paul is moving out of his house and doesn't want to leave some of his plants behind. Thinking that I could use some hands-on practice, I offered to build him some beds here at the land into which he could transplant in a week or so. Taking a walking tour around our house and the common house, I thought a spot on a the south-facing hill next to the laundry and the path would be good, and my dad pointed out that there were raspberries already right above that site, so we could integrate gardens. He also showed me how the water runs down the hill, so in my eventual design, though it is not neatly parallel to the path, the garden lies right above a swale. I suppose normally, a garden might benefit from being right below a swale, because all the water would have soaked down into the ground following gravity, but in this case there was not room. I believe the site will be saturated well enough even so.

Using my permaculture mindset, I was looking at Climate, Landform, Water, and Access and Circulation and considering Bill Mollison's Five Attitudinal Principles:

1. The problem is the solution: take the obstacle and turn it to productive opportunity

2. Everything gardens: everything has its effect on the environment (ask not what I can take or extract, ask what can I cooperate with)

3. Unlimited yield: theoretically, the yield of any system is infinite.

4. Make the least change for the greatest possible effect. (How can I do the greatest good for the largest number of beings for the longest time, with the least amount of work: leverage points.)

5. Work with nature not against. (We are nature working)

and then designed, making a rough sketch (below) to share:

My only experience making a garden on a slope was in southern Costa Rica, and the top soil was thick and rich. There, I was also making terraces , which I am not doing here. This soil is rocky (but not too bad) which made for a totally different digging experience. I decided I'd just mound the beds and sheet mulch it. I wouldn't do that if it were going to be an annual vegetable garden, but this garden is going to hold perennial flowers.
I was so excited, I wanted to start sheet mulching as soon as I had delineated the beds. I took my brand new shovel and headed for the cart full of manure that's been hanging out in the yard. It was frozen solid. Though the sunshine had me in short-sleeves, we are still in that weird limbo season where the air is warm and the breeze is sweet, but ice and snow still cling where they can. My dad laughingly pointed out, nothing keeps ice better than straw, sawdust, and manure. Not to be deterred, I scraped out about three buckets worth and spread it out on my new beds. I did the same today, and will tomorrow, until they have a good coat. I'll then cover them with all the cardboard in our basement, wet it down, and top it all off with leaves.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Garden Is My Classroom

My second-to-last permaculture conference at Camp Epworth was the most beautiful so far. It was warm (comparatively) and sunny all weekend. We covered Natural Building and Appropriate Technology, Seed Saving and Soil, Sheet Mulching and Compost, and finished up with Garden Planning and Presenting a Design.

I wish this photo was more flattering, but it's the only one I got of the "A building as an Ecosystem" chart. Kay was one of our two awesome facilitators this weekend, she was showing us here how a building is like a tree: it has many inhabitants, material cycling, feed-back loops, permeable boundaries, many microclimates, edges with other ecosystems, and energy flows.

This was part of our discussion on Natural Building, considering what we want in a building in contrast to what we need. Ideally, we want to tie the building into the landscape, aesthetically and functionally.

Question: How can we utilize a building to revitalize and regenerate a site, landscape, culture?

In our discussion of Appropriate Technology, we acknowledged that we live in a culture that ultimately is oriented toward technological salvation. In other words, the belief that the creation of more technology will solve the problems we face, with special emphasis on "no humans necessary" machines.

Kay asked us to consider a quote from Birth's Six Principles: "Our ability to change the face of the earth happens at a faster rate than our ability to foresee the consequence of change." Which brought forth the questions, At what scale is this technology appropriate? Does frequency or intensity of use change its characterization as appropriate?

Here are some definitions of appropriate technology:

a. Appropriate-All hands to work with simple machinery the ownership of which is decentralized (Fellow student, Charlie, paraphrasing Ghandi)
b. Technology that is renewable and regenerative
c. “Truly appropriate technology doesn’t make people or their communities dependent on systems over which they have no control. This means technologies that enhance the local capacity to meet local needs-in a lower energy world this is the foundation for security and sustainable communities…”-David Eisenbergn
d. Accepted by the culture in the location

Ken Green of the Hudson Valley Seed Library came to talk to us about Seed Saving on Saturday evening. I was so excited! I did a recent research project on saving pea seeds, and as a result am totally convinced that seed saving is a key component to saving the world. As Ken mentioned in his talk, seed saving is a part of sustainability and permaculture that is rarely mentioned. For example, he said, ask your local organic veggie growers where they get their seed. Were they grown organically? Where were they grown? By whom were they grown?

Above and below are soil samples from all around Camp Epworth. Putting soil in a mason jar with water, shaking it up, and then letting it settle is a simple easy way to see the different kinds and layers you have on your site.

Did you know that in a single teaspoon of soil there are:
4 thousand species of organisms, 99% unidentified by science
Over one billion bacteria
Several yards of mycorrhizal fungi
Thousands of protozoa
Dozens of nematodes and mites

Isn't that awesome?!
A Compost Recipe:

14 Day Compost-The Berkley Method!

Requires large volume, kills off weed seeds and parasites (slow compost doesn’t), and you can throw in everything (including meat, citrus, dairy…)!

1. Collect one cubic yard of compost, 50% carbon (dry: hulls, woodchips, leaves, straw) to nitrogen (wet: manure, vegetable waste, dead animal product) ratio. (If it smells acidic, you have too much nitrogen)

2. Mix well, water well, and cover with a tarp (weigh down with rocks) and let sit for four days

3. Day four, take off tarp, move the pile over, put the outside on the inside and the inside on the outside (flip it). If it’s too dry, the middle will turn white, and you need to add water and nitrogen. If it’s too wet, and you can squeeze more than a drop of water out of a handful, add carbon.

4. After this, flip it every other for fourteen days, and you should have beautiful compost.

One of the many great uses for compost is in the Sheet Mulching process:

Sheet Mulching is permaculture's preferred method for building beds. It is ideal to do so right before your growing season. For example, now is a good time in our area.

Here's the recipe:

1. Go through the soil with a broad fork or garden fork, put it into the ground up to the beginning of the spines and wiggle it, making holes every six-inches (allowing aeration).

2. Put down a layer of manure (fairly raw)-horse bedding is great (has a lot of carbon), compost (2-4”)

3. Put down a weed-block layer: brown paper, newspaper, cardboard (keeping it wet for two weeks)

4. Cover with straw, leaves, hulls, or woodchips on perennial beds, etc. (though you may want to save your pine needles for your blueberries)

5. Make a hole (pocket), put in a double fist of compost (especially for annuals), and plant into it.

Below are the beds (on contour!) that the group mulched. It was really empowering and fun to work with such an enthusiastic group and get so much done in very little time.
Below: Joan and Wilton's awesome compost pile. Behind it is a great chicken tractor.
In our discussion on Garden Planning, we talked about planning for crop rotation and companion planting. These are both good solutions for pest control problems and nutrient loss issues. We talked about using vertical space (like trellising legumes) and solutions to erosion (on-contour beds, swales, bed-lining plants, raised beds, etc.). It was all really helpful in terms of practical application, and it was really fun being outside so much.
We will be presenting our final designs at our next-and last-workshop in the beginning of April. I will try to post mine up for you, hopefully helping you get an idea of where this whole process is leading.

Friday, March 13, 2009

How do you know Spring is on the Way?

I went for a walk today around the land, getting different angles of our permaculture site, and wallowing in the bright sunlight. It was cold, but the air doesn't smell like winter anymore. I thought I'd share some of the things that show me spring is just around the corner.

Bricks that are warm to the touch and snow-melt streams

Pregnant sheep!
and snow-less hillsides

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Day at the UN

On Tuesday, I pulled my car into the last space in a large parking garage in Poughkeepsie and let myself be swallowed by the crowd of commuters pouring onto platform 1 to New York City. It was quiet in the packed train car, but I was too excited to sleep against the greasy window, looking out of it instead at the ice-littered Hudson river. I was on my way to the United Nations for the day, having been invited to a conference on the Status of Women just the night before.
Every time I go to New York City, my heart rate doubles and my eyes get sore from the constant stream of interesting things to watch. It is not a long walk from Grand Central Station to the UN buildings, but I felt like it was a grand adventure as I traversed the teaming cross-walks and chose a fruit juice from a wildly gesticulating man wearing a Little Mermaid apron.
I was fortunate to have recently visited the UN as a tourist not long ago, and so I knew where the visitor's entrance was and was prepared to hand over all my belongings for x-ray searching. I was early, so once inside, I had the chance to collect myself and take a look around. On the main floor, there is a pendulum near the door that swings to the movement of the earth, and the people who work in the coffee shop speak at minimum three languages. Right now, there is a moving and terribly sad Holocaust exhibit that speaks to the all the scientific atrocities that took place during Hitler's rule, and hordes of school groups pouring through every couple of minutes.
I met Dana Rafael and her small group near the information desk around 12:30pm. Dana is a family friend from our days in Connecticut, and it was she who invited me to this conference, and to lunch with the speakers of her workshop before-hand. I must add that I was incredibly flattered to be invited by her, as she is the woman who came up with the term "doula" (meaning a support person for women during pregnancy and birth), and is in general a very inspiring and awesome woman. She escorted the group through all sorts of security and up elevators operated by special elevator operators in smart hats, to the diplomat's dining room. This was to be, to date, my most expensive and interesting lunch.
Dana's workshop was entitled, How Men Can Act Against Violence Toward Women, and the blurb beneath the title read, "Five male panelists who actively work to stop violence against women will describe the nature of their professional jobs and their motivation for working on behalf of women." Lunch was with four of these five men and their accompanying aids, friends, and spouses. I'll give you short biographies so that you may understand the diversity and intensity of the conversation:
-James Randall "Randy" Noblitt is a clinical psychologist, author, and professor, who specializes in the treatment of ritual abuse survivors. (If you are interested in this topic, check out his book, Ritual Abuse in the 21st Century)
-Neil Brick is an activist and founder of S.M.A.R.T. (an organization assisting survivors of ritual abuse, torture, and mind control, if you are interested, their website is:
-Zeresenary "Zee" Mehari is an Ethiopian filmmaker working on a new film documenting the story of a young woman who was abducted into marriage. (If you are interested in learning more or supporting the film, check out
-Warren Eginton is the U.S. District Court judge in Bridgeport, CT, who handed down a landmark decision on behalf of children used in pornography.
The fifth speaker was not able to attend at the last minute, but his name is Randy Burton, and he is the founder of Justice for Children (an organization that believes every child is entitled to an advocate (legal) for their safety. To learn more, check out

I learned a lot a lunch, and more at the following workshop at 4pm. I was left with big questions to ponder, I'll share a couple:
1. The patterns in the lives of those who actively work to end violence against women and children suggest that it is experience or witness of violence that leads to action. How can (or should) those who have not directly been affected become motivated to act as well?
2. There are many root problems that lead to violence. If it is a cycle, where is the best place to intervene? (For example, at a young age, having received no schooling, a woman's father marries her to a man, and she has many children and many of them die. Her daughters receive little or no schooling, and are married off at a young age by her husband, their father...)

I caught the 6:45pm train home just as it began to rain. Dancing lights reflected on the dark water of the river along side. I reflected on my day, noting with interest how despite the depressing nature of the general conversation, I felt hopeful just because there was a dialog happening at all. I felt hopeful because there are people like Dana who are asking questions with kind eyes. I desperately want to pass that hope along.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I am now a full time student again! I spent last week in a marvelous state of enthusiasm, tucked away on a super cute campus in Plainsfield, VT, under a solid three feet of snow. Goddard College is a small liberal arts college, that offers low-residency semesters (one spends only eight days on campus, and the rest out in the world) and one on one professor-student support and engagement.
My first residency began with a day-long orientation on how Goddard works. We learned that the program is generally called the process and-as is often said in the Birth world-we should trust the process. Though one emerges from the college with a degree, the ultimate or real goal of the process and faculty is for one to emerge with a solid sense of oneself as an active participant in the human community as global citizen. This is reflected in the areas of study: Wide Knowledge (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, the arts, and mathematics/quantitative literacy), Positive Self-Development (personal and interpersonal growth that occurs during self-directed study and the responsible implementation of learning), Thoughtful Action (constructive application of new learning and critical thinking, bringing ideas to life in personal lives, communities, and the world), and Social and Ecological Context (articulation of your awareness of how your work fits into the larger social and ecological context). I am SO excited.
I am not exaggerating when I state that every person I met was talented, inspiring, and friendly. I absolutely loved going up to people and asking what brought them to Goddard, because every person had a great story. I was thrilled to find that it is truly possible to create a stimulating, joyful, comfortable community in just eight days.
The way a Goddard semester works is that it is broken up into five packets. Each packet is the cumulation of three weeks of work (75 hours)-like mini-block courses. For example, I started my first packet on Monday, and it is due on the 30th of March, three Mondays from now. My semester will end at the end of June, and my overall focuses are Earth Stewardship and Midwifery.
My first packet incorporates my on-going study of permaculture, including further research and writing, implementation of our (my dad's and my) site plan, and the last two weekends at Camp Epworth (the first of which is this coming weekend-that is to say, the second-to-last class of this six-month course).
I picked up my brother Lucas on the way back to New York from Goddard (he goes to Middlebury College, also in VT), and jumped right into a Circle of Young Friends conference. Already filled up with new friends and exciting prospects, a weekend with my amazing Quaker buddies and epic games of wink'em and Boggle put me right on top of the world.