Permaculture Design

Book Review: The Bio-Integrated Farm

The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Revolutionary Permaculture-Based System Using Greenhouses, Ponds, Compost Piles, Aquaponics, Chickens, and More by Shawn Jadrnicek

Full Disclosure:
I was given a copy of this book by Chelsea Green Publishing in exchange for writing an honest review on my website.

Bottom Line Up Front:
I was really impressed with this book.

Shawn and

Shawn and Stephanie Jadrnicek

Full Review:
I’ll be honest. I went into evaluating this book with a pretty pessimistic attitude. I think my attitude was due to a few things. First, while I know there have been a number of very good Permaculture books published in the last few years, there have also been a number of redundant Permaculture books hitting the market at the same time… meaning, authors with little experience have tried to cash-in on the Permaculture wave and have written very basic books filled with information already found in other (better) books.  When I read the title, “The Bio-Integrated Farm”, I felt like this was just another repackage of the Permaculture basics in an attempt to sell another book.

Second, before accepting the book, and the subsequent writing assignment, I clearly told the publisher that I would only agree if I could write whatever I wanted… no strings attached. They told me that I could write an entirely honest review, and they felt I would “find Shawn’s work, though perhaps not unassailable, at least accessible and very innovative.” I know this was not meant as a challenge to find something wrong with the book, but I think I took it as such.

So, in all honesty, I started reading this book with a bad attitude and some pretty harsh pre-conceived ideas.

I did a quick skim of this book, and I begrudgingly thought I may have to change my mind. Then I read every page, cover to cover, and indeed, Shawn Jadrnicek won me over.

This book is not a rehash of basic Permaculture.
This book is not written by an inexperienced author.
This book is not written just to sell another book.

Shawn Jadrnicek has worked, according to the publisher’s website, “as an organic farmer, nursery grower, extension agent, arborist, and landscaper, and now as the manager of Clemson University’s Student Organic Farm.” He is not new to the world of Permaculture or sustainable agriculture.

Shawn states in the introduction, “I continuously run into an underlying rule or directive that, if done properly, accomplishes most of the other Permaculture principles. I believe it’s a unifying principle that underlies the heart of Permaculture and all good ecological designs. In the Permaculture community it’s known as stacking functions.”

This strongly resonated with my own thoughts and findings. Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren stated it as “Integrate rather than segregate.” And Permaculture’s other co-founder, Bill Mollison, stated it in two parts “Each element performs many functions” and “Each important function is supported by many elements.” Shawn Jadrnicek’s goal is to have each design to have at least seven useful functions. He states, “Once the magic odd number of seven is breached, the design takes on a life of its own. For a component to perform seven functions it must be so connected with the surrounding environment that it takes on a new autonomous, lifelike quality. I refer to this quality as bio-integration.”

Now, this is the point where most books would give a few examples of “stacking functions” and then move on, but not Shawn Jadrnicek.

Shawn's construction of a new greenhouse with a reflecting pond in the foreground.

Shawn’s construction of a new greenhouse with a reflecting pond in the foreground.

The Bio-Integrated Farm really surpasses many Permaculture books by not just sharing a lot of theory and ideas, but it actually provides tested example after tested example of those ideas put into practice. And not only did it have a lot of examples, but it had a lot of details as well. I have been frustrated many times in the past with numerous books and authors who share a brilliant idea, but then fail to explain it fully so that it can be reproduced. Shawn not only gives you the great idea (one that has been tested, redesigned, and perfected), but then he gives the details (sometimes a lot of them), so that anyone can reproduce what he has done.

Let me give you two examples:

In the chapter titled A Pool of Resources, The Bio-Integrated Pond, there is 1 table, 5 formulas, 9 diagrams, and 32 photographs. Shawn dives into pond construction covering functions, determining the best location based on distance to buildings and sun angles, evaporation, construction, size, shape, elevation in the landscape, excavation, proper slope angles and berm size, drainage and overflow (including installation of drainpipes), pumps, siphons, the use of pond liners, filling the pond, pond covers, stocking with fish, using and harvesting minnows, tadpoles, pond predators, details on 13 aquatic/wetland plants, floating transplant trays, and more.

One of the many photos giving details for rainwater collection.

One of the many photos giving details for rainwater collection.

In the chapter titled The Big Flush, Bio-Integrated Rainwater Harvesting, there is 1 diagram, 10 formulas, 11 photographs, and 15 tables/charts. Shawn goes through dry and wet systems, roof collection, sizing gutters and downspouts, filtration, storage ponds, storage tanks, tank foundation, burying tanks, installing the fittings on the tank, pond and tank safety, calculating and harvesting rainwater, water pressure and flow, gravity-flow toilets, using drip irrigation, installing and using pumps, calculating water usage, and planning for multiyear water storage.

Seriously, this is not a superficial read!

This book is a how-to guide for taking Permaculture principles and concepts and implementing them with practical and useful applications.
This book is written by a seasoned veteran of trials and failures and trials and successes.
This book truly offers something new to the Permaculture library.

I highly recommend this book!


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Who needs a plow when you have animals?

We are in the midst of preparing one of our fields for an edible forest garden (aka food forest). The pasture is mostly in grass, but not in great condition. We need to deal with this grass, and there are a few ways to do it. Many people spray with herbicides such as Round-Up (glyphosate), but that’s not what we do. Some will use a tractor and plow it all up, till it up, rototill it, or whatever implement and term you may use… but we don’t own a tractor or any tractor implements. Some people use sheet mulching or some other form of occlusive mulching. We may actually use this method some, but not yet.

For now, we are going to let our animals do as much of the work as possible. They are good at it. They enjoy it. They fertilize as they go. They eat pest at the same time (grubs, flies, etc.). They give us a product while they are working (eggs and/or meat). And they are a lot cheaper to maintain than a tractor!

This is what we are doing:

Our sheep and pigs did the initial clearing of the land. They ate and knocked the big stuff down.

Our sheep and pigs did the initial clearing of the land. They ate and knocked down the big stuff.


This is how we initially rotated the animals: Sheep and pigs then chicken tractors.

Our Pasture-Raised Chickens

These were the Salatin-style chicken tractors we used to raise broilers.

Our chickens came next. We used Salatin-style chicken tractors to disperse the sheep and pig manure. They also ate more grass and gave their own fertilizer.

Once we were done with the broilers, we run laying hens in their place.

Our EggMobile!

The laying hens sleep in the mobile chicken coop, the EggMobile!

We pulse the geese and ducks through this area as well. They get

We pulse the geese and ducks through this area as well. They get some more grass, and they love to root around in the wet dirt making holes all over the place!

After the chickens come the pigs again. The sheep have moved onto another part of the farm with fresh pasture.

After the chickens, geese, and ducks, come the pigs again. The sheep have moved onto another part of the farm with fresh pasture.

The pigs do a fantastic job of really tearing up the grass.

The pigs do a fantastic job of really tearing up the grass.

We are left

While the area still has some grass left, the area is significantly denuded.

We will pulse the chickens through once more to spread the pig manure again and eat any pests trying to rise up. We also may do some mulching in areas that still have some grass hanging on. But we will see.

I much prefer this method than sitting on a tractor all day!


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Time to start a Forest Garden!

It has begun! We have owned our land for just over a year, and have lived here for almost 9 months. We have experienced all four seasons. We are significantly more tuned in to our land. We are finally ready to start designing our food forest.

A food forest, also known as an edible forest garden, was one of the first unique ideas that introduced me to Permaculture about 15 years ago. While forest gardens are not the sole domain of Permaculture, an affinity exists between the two. And this concept, a small forest containing plants which provide for our needs (the 7 F’s: food, fuel, fodder (feed for our animals), fiber, fertilizer, farmaceuticals (plant derived medicines), fun), was so intriguing to me that I soon became a bit obsessed with Permaculture.

The first goal on our farm was to start producing food for ourselves. We started with animals as they have a fast turn around and could be started on our land as it was. We are finally really getting into a rhythm with their care and maintenance. Any overages (chickens and eggs) are sold for a small profit – well, more of decreasing a small bit of our costs at this point. The next stage is to start our plant production systems. Trees are going to stay put for a long, long time, and so we wanted to make sure we knew the right place to put them. This is why we took a full year before we even started the design process of our food forest. Of course, there are many plant systems other than a food forest, and we plan on incorporating many of these onto our farm.  But we are going to start with the food forest.

We chose a location that was close to our house. It is a southeast facing slope (we are in the northern hemisphere). It is one of our more flat (i.e. less steep!) areas on the farm, so managing it for decades to come will not be as taxing as other locations. There is also an area of lower elevation that holds a lot of water and is just begging to become a wetland/marsh. This will allow us to grow plants that like drier roots up top and water-loving plants down low. Diversity is king… and it’s a whole lot more fun!

A view of the future forest garden.

The site of the future forest garden.

We are currently pulsing our animals through this area. Of course they will be adding a fair amount of manure to the soil, and this is great. Another reason we will be using the animals is to remove the grass in this pasture. The geese and sheep primarily will go after the grass, but the chickens, ducks, and pigs will also eat their share. After this is done, the geese and sheep will be moved off. The pigs will rotate with the chickens and ducks to remove as much of any grass and other plants in this pasture. We will of course be supplementing the feed for these animals at this time. But the goal is to let the animals do the plowing and rototilling for us. I know that there are some folks who do not want to use animals to do this kind of work. I understand. I love to give my animals fresh, green pasture as often as possible. But this is not a permanent set-up. They will get in, do their thing, and we’ll get them out. The pigs will especially enjoy it.

The area of the future forest garden as defined by

The area of the future forest garden as defined by

I highly recommend when you are working on design plans. This is a free site that allows you to measure area and distances. I use it frequently, and it is very user friendly. As you can see, our future forest garden is right at 2 acres (0.81 hectares). This is not small! It will take a lot of work and many years to “complete”, but we are so excited to get started!

This is a google map's image of the area of interest.

This is a google map’s image of the area of interest.

You can see we’ve already been improving the soil with our sheep and pigs (far left) and our chicken tractors (center). The patchwork appearance is due to the daily, or sometimes twice daily, moves of the tractors. As mentioned above, this rotation will become more intense as we near the time of planting.

The area drawn to scale.

The area drawn to scale.

It’s important to have a basic scale drawing of the land we are designing. This drawing will be used over and over again as the master template that all mock-ups and samples and ideas are based on. This particular drawing is very simple. It took me about 5 minutes to make. It was made by shooting the google map image onto a wall with a projector. I simply traced the important features onto a piece of paper. The only slightly difficult part was zooming in and out until the scale matched a usable distance on my architect scale.

Some major features of this area.

Some major features of this area.

These are the main features on this drawing:

  1. House
  2. Garage
  3. Fence – The entire property has a nice, tight woven fence of about 5-6 feet (152-182 cm). This fence was put up by the original owners to keep coyotes IN. They ran a coyote hunting farm. The bottom of the fence rolls toward the interior of the property (see the photo below). This worked for a hunting property, but causes some trouble when we want to grow something (or clear weeds!) next to the fence line. We are still trying to decide what we want to do about it, but it does work to keep rabbits and other unwanted creatures out of the forest garden area.
  4. Gate
  5. Main road
  6. Bottom of the valley – This is where water collects and flows during the rain. The closer you get to the lower portion of the property border (bottom left), the more water there is and the longer it stays after a rain.
The fence

The fence rolled under at the bottom – like a letter “L”. Lots of plants have grown through, including some trees. This really needs to be dealt with so that we can avoid “weed” problems in the future.


Basic topography on this site.

Basic topography on this site.

This is a basic topographic map (not drawn to scale by any means). I made this just to show the general lay of the land. #1 by the house and the #1 on the far upper left represent hills. The land slopes down and then back up at #3 toward the back of the house. If you keep going along that interior road, the land would continue to rise. But that is out of our area of interest for this project. #2 represents the start of the valley floor. A line connecting from #2 to #4 represents the run of this valley. When it rains, there is water in this location running from #2 to #4. After the rains stop, there will be standing water at #4 for 1-2 weeks, sometimes longer.

Soil in this area.

Soil in this area.

  1. The soil around the house is decent. Much of this soil was either placed back after excavation for the house or it was trucked in. All of the area from #1 down the long, steep driveway to #7 is currently planted to lawn. The soil here ranges is depth from a few feet deep before hitting rock around the house, to fairly shallow toward the lower and northeastern (right side) of the drive.
  2. The slope is steep in this area. The soil in this area is poor. It is only about 1/2 – 1 inch deep before hitting a lot of rocks. There is space and soil between the rocks, but not much. This is a difficult area to regenerate, but not impossible.
  3. As the slope is a bit gentler here, and we are a bit further downhill, the soil is deeper. I can dig 6-12 inches before hitting rock. And the rock is spaced farther apart.
  4. Toward the lowest end of the field, the soil is the deepest. I can dig to 24 inches before hitting rock. This area has no standing water after a rain, so the drainage is still good.
  5. This is toward the highest part of the valley floor. This has running water during rains.
  6. This is the lowest part of the valley floor. This has standing water after the rains.
  7. These are areas that were planted to grass (just like #1 above). These areas have fairly deep soils.

The soil on this property is generally poor. It has a very high, reddish-brown clay content. Little organic matter. All areas that are currently pasture have been compacted to some degree by tractors and continuous, open-grazing of cattle. It would be wonderful if the soil was great, but that’s not how it is. We deal with what we have, and fortunately, with good management, there is a lot that can be improved. Our animal rotation is one way we are going to improve the soil. The second is with cover crops. We will take about a year to grow cover crops  with a variety of functions. Here are a few plants we will be using, for example: buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) for biomass; clover (Trifolium species) for biomass and nitrogen fixation; borage (Borago officinalis), chicory (Cichorium intybus), and radish (Raphanus sativus) as deep-rooted/tap-rooted plants to break up the deep layers of the soil. Also, these plants are ones I don’t mind growing in the established forest garden if any of their seeds survive and reseed. We are still toying with the idea of spreading rolls of old/less-than-prime hay over the area to further suffocate/mulch the existing pasture. Of course, these rolls of hay will come with their own seeds, but we will use the chickens to de-seed as much as possible as well. These are just a few of our strategies for improving the soil of our forest garden before ever place a permanent plant.

Next week, we will be taking the next step. We will be collecting soil samples to be sent off to a few labs for analysis. Fun stuff!

Don’t say the “P” word

“I wish we could avoid the “P” word.”

“I practice Permaculture, but I never use the word.”

“If you mention sustainable agriculture, agroforestry, ecology, and so on, you are fine. But as soon as you say ‘Permaculture’, they will ask you to leave, shut the door, or hang up the phone.”

I have heard variations of these statements for years. The people who make these statements are typically individuals who are working closely with those in mainstream agriculture. They may be conventional farmers or ranchers who have discovered the science of Permaculture and have converted their operations. They may be first-generation Permaculture farmers/ranchers who are positively involved with their community. They may be consultants who help well-established or brand new farmers/ranchers develop more holistic, sustainable, and regenerative management systems. The bottom line, though, is that these people are speaking from experience. They have had the door slammed in their face when the land owner hears the word “Permaculture”.

I want to dive into this issue. I am sure there will be people who disagree, in whole or in part, with my take on this topic, but I believe we need to be talking more openly about this issue. Because it is an issue in the Permaculture world. Ignoring it will not make it go away. Talking about it, working through the issues, and being open and honest about it are the only ways to resolve it. So let’s start…

I believe, as I have said, that the people who make these statements are telling the truth. I do believe they have had positive experiences with certain individuals until the word Permaculture is used. Then they are shut down. It is important that I am clear. This does happen. However…

I believe that these experiences occur way less, and are often significantly less dramatic, than it appears. It is human nature to remember, and tell the story of, negative experiences. These are the stories that stick with people. They have a big impact on the person who experienced it and on the person who hears the retelling. This is true in any industry from restaurants to cell phones to medicine. It takes dozens, or more, positive experiences to undo the damage of one, single, negative experience. I have been studying and talking about Permaculture for over a decade, and I have never had one of these experiences. I have spoken with many, many farmers and ranchers about Permaculture. While they don’t always agree with my assessment, we at least have a decent conversation about it, and some have been very interested. To be fair and honest, I am not a consultant, and I have yet to practice Permaculture on a broad scale (which is a significant issue I will talk about next), so I am not in the same position as some of those who have had these negative experiences. However, I would love to know, from these individuals who have had these negative experiences, how many times they have had a negative experience versus how many times they have had a positive one. I think this is a very important part of the equation.

We need to address why these negative experiences do occur. I believe, based on the stories people tell, that these negative experiences are a direct result of prior Permaculturists who are, to be honest, complete idiots. Every field of study, every area of interest, has their share of idiots, and Permaculture is no different. Imagine this scenario…

Imagine you are a conventional farmer. You truly believe you are helping to feed the world. Yes, you do think there are some significant issues that should be dealt with, but you are doing what father and your grandfather have done for decades, and it works. You provide “food for the world”, and you provide an income to care for your family. Then one day, someone shows up at your farm or at the farm store or randomly on the street in a chance conversation. They tell you that you are destroying the world. They tell you that you are the cause for climate change (which you are not really sure you believe is occurring anyway)… oh, and you should become a vegetarian, too. They tell you that you need to change what your family has been doing for generations, and do it now, to save the planet. They tell you that you can actually make more money with only a fraction of the work. They tell you that you can create Utopia on Earth, and Gaia will reward you for it. They tell you to embrace Permaculture. Then, if the conversation hasn’t been too confrontational yet, you ask about their experience history. They look a little confused for a moment, a little unsure of themselves, and then they tell you they have never actually farmed. They tell you they have only just started a garden this year for the first time, but they have a lot of great tomatoes. They tell you they have no idea how to transition from a farm with a steady cash flow to a Permaculture paradise while still being able to provide for your family and not lose the farm. But they did take a 72-hour course that involved mud baths and drum circles, and they are confident that it will work.

Yes, I took a little liberty in making this a worst case scenario… sort of, because this is not that far from the stories I have heard. It appears that most of the time it is the well-meaning, but inexperienced, new Permaculturist who is motivated to change the world that is causing these problems. In this scenario, other than making other Permaculturists look bad, no true harm was done. The real damage is done when an inexperienced Permaculturist convinces a farmer to make significant changes… and things fail.

But we need to be level headed about this. This occurs in mainstream, conventional agriculture all the time, but because the recommendations were given by an agricultural extension agent or a university, all is forgivable or at least accepted. And let us not forget that these mistakes have been made by the best Permaculturists as well. I vaguely recall a story Bill Mollison told where he is compared to public enemy number one in a certain town. He recommended, and implemented, the large-scale planting of a tree with large thorns (if I remember correctly) that ended up being the bane of any wheeled vehicle in the entire area. He relates how they curse his name to this day!


The Permaculture Wardrobe

The Permaculture Wardrobe – this is how Permaculture fits into my worldview.

Permaculture is not just an alternative approach. I have heard people say, “I use Permaculture when it fits, and I use other methods when they are more appropriate.” This is fundamentally different than my view. Permaculture is a filter that all methods, interventions, and actions pass through before being implemented. The specific parts of the filter are Permaculture’s Prime Directive (The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for own existence and that of our children.) and Permaculture’s Three Ethics (Earth Care, People Care, and Return of the Surplus). As a physician, I have the privilege to practice the only other ethical science that I know, medicine. The ethics of medicine (Hippocrates’ charge: First do no harm) guides how medical providers should approach every decision with their patient. Permaculture is the same. We may use any method or action as long as it passes through Permaculture’s ethical filter. There is not a specific “Permaculture” method or system. I created the image above, based on Geoff Lawton’s description of the Permaculture Wardrobe, to illustrate how all methods, actions, and fields of study or design fits within Permaculture.

Avoiding the word Permaculture is the wrong approach. I also don’t think we need to use it excessively either. However, if what we are doing is, indeed, Permaculture, then don’t be afraid to use the word. Permaculture is a science, a design science. Engineers do not avoid using the word Mathematics. Astronauts don’t avoid using the word Astronomy. Why should we, as Permaculturists, as planet regenerators, avoid using the word Permaculture? Because some people don’t like it? Really? We need a unified approach in my opinion. How about we use the word, use it often, use it appropriately, and then implement it with excellence!



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The illustration above is mine. Feel free to share it, but please don’t change it. If you would like to use it for a publication or project, please let me know!


New Permaculture Design Project!

I have just added another Permaculture Design to my page: Permaculture Design Projects

I want to remind all of my readers, both old and new, that I am always looking for more Permaculture designs.

I invite you to share your designs with me, and I will in turn post them on this page. I will remove any personal information if you would like. Some people will have amazing designs and fantastic illustrations or drawings. Others will have very basic pen and ink sketches. It doesn’t matter. Permaculture is not about presentation. It is about design! If you have photos of your design put into reality, I would love those as well. Please share your designs with the world. You may be the inspiration for another Bill Mollison or Geoff Lawton. You may have the design element someone was looking for. Please contribute to the Permaculture community!

If you are interested in contributing, please contact me!


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The Problem with Intervention

Humans want to intervene. It is in our nature. We see a problem, real or imagined, and we want to help. There are many perversions of this tendancy (e.g. “if I help out, I’ll be making myself look really good…”), but deep down, most people are trying to do the right thing. But any intervention has consequences. Often, that is exactly why we are intervening. If we see a child fall in a lake, we intervene so that the child may live. That is a good thing. If we are placing ourselves at risk, then it is a heroic action as well.

I intervene as a physician on a daily basis. Personally, I actively try not to intervene as much as possible. The human body is amazingly adapted to heal itself, but unfortunately, as a whole and not considering accidental injury, we humans make so many unhealthy choices and live such unhealthy lives, that we are severely limiting our body’s chances of healing itself. Sometimes I end up having to choose the lesser of two evils in deciding how to manage a medical problem. That is not by my choice. It is the patient who ultimately decides to do, or not do, something that will improve their health. Their history of action, or inaction, is often what brings them to my office. The course of action has consequences. Hopefully there are only good consequences, but sometimes there are negative consequences. And sometimes, there are consequences we never even considered. This is what I want to delve more into today. Let me start with a few examples:

Example 1: C-sections
I have delivered my share of babies (actually, the mother delivered the baby. I was just there to catch!), and I have assisted in many cesarean section deliveries. Most of these C-section deliveries were needed… the baby was doing very poorly, the mother had medical problems and she could not have a vaginal delivery, the mother was in labor for days (literally) and could push no more, the baby was too big to fit through the birth canal… these are all legitimate reasons. Yes, there are way too many c-sections in general. I saw one report which stated that most unplanned C-sections are done on Fridays, indicating that the doctor didn’t want to ruin their weekend (I am still trying to verify this). Many physicians would rather deliver a healthy baby via c-section than risk the chance of something really bad happening to the baby or mother. This may be out of fear for their patients or fear of lawsuits, but the result is the same. Additionally, we have also lost many of the skilled midwives who would/could spend hours and hours with one patient for a vaginal delivery; many of the patients who could potentially have delivered with a midwife years ago now have c-sections. When I lived in Turkey, one Turkish obstetrician told me that about 80% of insured women have c-sections; it was a sign of status (there were a few other reasons that I will not get into today). That is incredible.

What is the unintended consequence of increased C-section rates?
If we would go back 100 years only, many of these mothers and babies would have died. My wife is one of these women (that is my daughter in the photo above!). She has a narrow birth canal, and our big-headed babies are just not going to be delivered without a C-section. Due to the advancement of obstetrics and surgery, the doctors were able to intervene and save the life of my wife and our children. But the result is that my daughters are much more likely to need a C-section if and when they have a baby of their own, and my sons are more likely to have daughters that will have narrow birth canals and require C-sections as well. All my children are more likely to have children with big heads! While I am insurmountably thankful for my wife and children’s health and well-being, I have to acknowledge that fact that we have bypassed natural selection. We cheated, so to speak. The more people do this, the more dependant humans, as a whole, will become on C-sections. While it is unlikely that women will ever stop having vaginal deliveries, I firmly believe that the percentage of childen born via cesarean section is going to steadily increase as time goes on.


HIV virus in a scanning electron microscopy image.

HIV virus in a scanning electron microscopy image.

Example 2: HIV treatment
I spent a month working in Nigeria at a free HIV mission hospital a number of years ago. I was able to meet an amazing group of people who are saving and changing lives on a daily basis, and for a short time, I was a part of that. I would meet someone on almost a daily basis who would tell me (usually through a Hausa-English translator) how they had wasted away and were days from death. Then the providers at this clinic gave medications that brought the patient back from the brink. Now these patients were living on “borrowed time”. Anyone who has been afflicted with this terrible disease knows that HIV has no qualms about infecting “good” people, or “innocent” people, or children. It is a disease, a fatal one at that. Treating HIV-positive patients is a good thing. Period. Don’t misunderstand my next paragraph. I think we should continue to treat HIV-positive patients, and we should never stop looking for a cure.

What is the unintended consequence of treating HIV-positive patients?
When a person has HIV, they are contagious. They can be careful. They can be “safe”. But the fact remains, they have the ability to spread this disease to another person. Despite what is occasionally reported in the media, this is almost never a malicious act. It is a sad reality. Before medications were invented to treat HIV, an infected patient had a much shorter life expectancy. HIV does not kill as fast as the flu and rarely as fast as most cancers, but the result is a significantly shorter life. But with modern HIV medications, an HIV-positive patient has the ability to live a drastically longer life. These medicines do decrease their contagiousness, but it doesn’t bring it down to zero. The result is that an HIV-positive person now has an increased ability to spread the disease, potentially for decades more than they would have if these medicines were not available. Again, this doesn’t mean we should not treat these patients, but it is an example of an intervention having an unforseen consequence.


American Chestnut Trees before the blight and government intervention.

American Chestnut Trees before the blight and government intervention.

Example 3: Chestnut blight
Before 1900, there were an estimated four billion Chestnut trees in North America. Some of these trees were over 100 feet (30 meters) tall and over 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter! Then a fungus arrived from Asia dubbed Chestnut Blight, Cryphonectria parasitica. The Asian Chestnut trees were able to live with the fungus, but the American trees were not. The U.S. acted as quickly as it could to try and eradicate the disease, but all attempts failed. Within 40 years the Chestnut population was devastated.

What was the unintended consequence of trying to eradicate Chestnut Blight?
Many people are unaware that in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease, millions and millions of uninfected trees were chopped down. Once one Chestnut tree in one area was found to have blight, all the surrounding trees were logged. There is a decent chance that one or more of these millions of healthy trees had a natural ability to live with the blight, i.e. they were naturally immune. But we chopped them all down, so we will never know. In addition, these trees (healthy and infected) were sawn into lumber and shipped all over the country spreading the disease even faster.

I’ll also add that the government did not learn their lesson. Not too long ago (January 2000), South Florida was introduced (again!) to Citrus Canker, a bacteria (Xanthomonas axonopodis) which significantly weakens citrus trees and greatly reduces fruit production. This scared the orange industry in Florida. The decision was made to eradicate all citrus trees within a certain distance of an infected tree. An untold number of citrus trees were lost due to this mandate, including the ones in my parent’s backyard… as a child, I probably spent the cumulative equivalent of well over a month straight in those orange, grapefruit, and tangelo trees, and now they are gone. Six years after the eradication campaign began, with no surprise to any student of history, the Florida Department of Agriculture deemed the eradication effort infeasible.


Artificial insemination of a virgin queen honeybee... not quite a natural process.

Artificial insemination of a virgin queen honeybee… not quite a natural process.

Example 4: Modern Bee Husbandry
Honeybees are amazing creatures. I can’t wait to get my first hive. Now, if I followed the modern commercial method, this is what I woud do (please excuse my generalities as I have never managed a commercial honey company). I would purchase all my hives and equipment first. I would receive my queens and initial bees via mail for each hive. The queens would already be mated and ready to lay eggs. Once the hives were established, I would move the hives to an area that had a lot of flowers blooming, like an apple orchard. Then, when the apple flowering started to slow down, I would load up the hives, and drive to another location of flowering. I would do this through the flowering season, moving many times all over the state and sometimes the country. At the end of the season, and maybe even during the season, I would take out some of the honey laden combs. The caps would be removed from the combs, and they would be spun to extract all the honey. The empty combs would be placed back in the hive. During the colder months, the bees would go into hibernation back at my base of operations. If I thought I took too much honey from them, or even as a matter of policy, I would provide some sugar water or fondant or high-fructose corn syrup for them to make it through the Winter. During the growing season, if one hive was not doing very well, I would combine it with another hive that was not doing to well, resulting in one stronger bee colony. I would probably replace my queens every year. I would get a lot of honey. I would do a lot of work.

What is the unintended consequence of raising honeybees in the modern method?
The modern method of beekeeping is far removed from how honeybees normally live. Commercially, a young, virgin queen bee is artificially inseminated with sperm from a number of crushed (i.e. killed) male bees, known as drones. In nature, a virgin queen would go on a mating flight; only the quickest drones would be able to mate with the queen – we’ve have a loss of optimal genetics with this method. Next, commercial bees are moved all over the place. In nature, bees don’t travel over the country. They stay in one spot, and occasionally the hive splits (swarms), but they really don’t travel very far.  By moving all over the place, we’ve lost adaptations to local conditions with this method. In addition, commercial bees are “fed” from the same type of flower for weeks at a time. In nature, bees forage from a wide variety of ever changing plants – we’ve probably lost nutrition quality for the bees with this method. Also, commercial bees are exposed to all the chemicals sprayed on the fields they have been moved to – there is growing evidence that some of these chemicals are causing colony colapse disorder. Modern-raised bees use combs that have been used over and over again for years – the wax accumulates toxins and pests and disease with this method. Modern-raised bees are robbed of their high-quality honey and given unhealthy alternatives – these can cause the bees to become sick, and they also likely result in a less healthy colony. Commercial colonies are combined when they are not doing well. In nature, if a colony is not doing well, it dies. There is probably a good reason for this; maybe they are infected or sick or not good foragers or any other number of problems. By combining weak colonies, we are propping up and propagating weak colonies resulting in weaker bees for the future. Modern-raised colonies are requeened every season. In nature, colonies requeen from within, when needed. Requeening the colony results in additional loss of adaptation to local conditions.


In conclusion, I want to say that I know some intervention is needed. Whenever we develop a Permaculture site, intervention is required. But we need to open our eyes to the bigger picture. We need to understand that there are consequences to our actions. Sometimes the consequences are good. Sometimes they are bad. If we follow the Ethics of Permaculture, and if we use small and slow solutions when possible, we will greatly reduce the negative impact of our interventions.



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An Idealized Permaculture Story

I just had the 1,000th person sign up to my email list! I know, I know… for some of the larger sites this would be laughable, but for me, it is a big deal, and I am very happy! When I started this site, if someone asked me if I would have 1,000 people subscribed, to be honest, I would have said, “Yes! Of course.” I don’t think it because I am such an amazing writer. I do believe I do a good job, but I really think it is because of the subject. Permaculture is amazing! When I really began to understand Permaculture, I realized that there was a bit of a void within the subject of Permaculture. There was no central source for Permaculture information for a Temperate Climate. All I do now is share what I have been learning myself, and, as it turns out, there are a lot of other people hungry for this information, too.

With that said, I know there are a lot of new people coming to my site. It’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed with all the information available, especially between the Plant Index and the Article Index. So, I came up with an idea. What if I told a story? This story would follow a make-believe farm. We would follow its conversion from a neglected commercial farm into a thriving Permaculture system. Of course, this is not a real place, but it could be. This is a story that could happen over and over again all over the country and all over the world. Indeed, this type of story really is happening all over the world right now! That is what is so exciting to me about Permaculture.

Through this story, I will add a link to any topic that I have discussed in a prior article on this site. There are way too many articles for me to include all of them, so this story will just highlight the important concepts and popular articles I have written. You can read through it once to get the big picture and then take a break to read about a subject that interests you. This should be a great tool to introduce people to the ideas of Permaculture, so feel free to share this link with your friends.

Now, let us begin. Once upon a time…


… there was a small, traditional family farm. It was worked by the same family for four generations. About 40 years ago the original family died out. A neighboring farmer was able to buy this property in an auction, in addition to a few other neighboring properties, by going into a large amount of debt (he bought into the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz’s mantra of “Get big or get out” of farming from the 1970’s), so that he now owned close to 1,000 acres. This new farmer cleared most of the property and planted it to row crops of wheat, corn, and more recently genetically modified soy. None of the farmer’s children wanted to go into farming. His children live scattered across the country. They tried to bring the grandchildren to visit once a year, if they could, but since the farmer died two years ago, and his wife was moved into an assisted living home, no one has been to the property in quite some time. The children have been fighting over the land for the last two years, and finally, after they each got a lawyer, it was decided to subdivide the property and sell it off.

The property we bought is one of these subdivided blocks, and it is mostly the original family far. It is approximately 100 acres (40 hectares) of hills and gently sloping land. The land is almost all fields which were prior commercial annual crops, but now it is overgrown with thistle and weeds and a few woody shrubs. There are many bare patches of earth remaining and the soil is hard and compacted, with high red clay content, and very low organic matter. There is a ravine that splits the property running from north to south that used to be an all-season stream/creek years ago, but now only runs for a few days a year with heavy rains. This ravine does have quite a few mature willow trees, cottonwood, and a few oaks, as well as large stands of brambles and other weedy shrubs. The farmhouse had fallen into disrepair for the last 10 years, but has really become worse in the two years it has been empty. There are a few overgrown mature apple, European pear, and plum trees near the home and four large raised beds previously used for annual vegetables.

We started the restoration project with observation. We gathered as much information about the land and surrounding areas as we were able: slope, sun angle, wind direction, USDA Zone, AHA Heat Zone, average and maximum rainfall, etc. In an ideal scenario, we would observe the land for a year before doing any development. We considered all the information we had, and we identified the goals for the land (What do we want to do with the land?). Once we had the goals established, which were in line with Permaculture’s Prime Directive and Three Ethics, we could begin our initial framework design.  This consisted of our water systems (collection, harvesting, and slowing), our access (roads, trails, etc.), and our building areas (homes, green/glasshouses, garages, shops, etc.). We attempted to maximize edge between field and forest, road and vegetation, water and soil, etc. We then were able to identify our Permaculture Zones and Permaculture Sectors around our buildings.

With our framework design established, we could design the details (specific species and varieties of plants and seed, animal systems, energy systems, waste systems, etc.). The first major work we actually did on the property was the earthworks implementation. This involved bringing in a large excavator to perform “earth surgery”, as Geoff Lawton calls it.  If our budget or our property were small, we could do the earthworks by hand, but this would have been a lot of work and time for the size property we have. We placed swales and ponds on contour. Our design consisted of one large pond, that is almost five acres (2 hectares) in size, and eleven more ponds that are each one acre (0.4 hectares) or less in size. We planted the swales to cover crops and also planted the initial trees and shrubs for our perennial agriculture systems, including our food forests (all nine layers) and other tree crops (commercial nut and fruit crops, firewood, timber, etc.) some of which are being coppiced and pollarded. There was a focus on plants which have direct resources, but in order to create a vibrant and healthy ecosystem, we also added myriad other plants that were nitrogen fixing, pest confusing, dynamic accumulators, and attractors of beneficial insects. We also keyline plowed all the land between the swales to maximize water harvesting and soil building. We reseed as much as we could afford of the keylined pastures to a climate specific mix of pasture seed. We also create seed balls to reseed other areas of the property as time and conditions allowed. We managed our pseudo-primary succession to speed recovery and ecosystem regeneration. We also placed windbreak plants around our fields and buildings, and these plants also doubled as barriers to chemical overspray from the surrounding farmland.

We used moveable electric fencing to run about a dozen goats in the ravine that was overgrown with trees and shrubs; this was not old-growth forest. They ate down almost all the undergrowth in the first season. Most of these animals were processed on site and provide some income and a large part of our meat for that year. Other than the willows, oaks, a wild persimmon, and a few black cherry trees, most of the other trees were cut down. This opened the canopy and allowed us to plant some additional trees, shrubs, and understory plants (currants, gooseberries, elderberry, ramps, mint, ginseng, goldenseal, etc.). We obtained about ten cords of firewood (mostly ash trees but also a few box elder) that took a few years to burn through in this temperate Wintered location. We used a number of trees for growing oyster and shiitake mushrooms (delicious!), and we also set up a few mushroom patches (king stropharia, morels, etc.) in the moist conditions near the ravine.  The rest of the trees were used to build some traditional hugelkultur mounds.

After the first year, the ravine became a running stream for a few months in the Spring. After two years, the water flowed almost all the way through Summer. By the third year, the stream ran all year long (only the surface iced over in Winter). The riparian area (land along the stream) is now protected from our livestock, but the wildlife has returned to the area in force. There are deer and wild turkey that are very frequent visitors. We have also placed a number of bat houses in these trees and are continually placing mason bee homes all over the property as well. Over the years, we have had a massive increase in native bird, amphibian, reptile, and insect populations, included a few species that are threatened and endangered. The sterile, bare fields filled with corn stubble is just a memory.

We are now using mob grazing in paddock rotation with cattle, pigs, geese, and chickens in the pastures between the food forests and perennial crops. This is turning into a vibrant silvopasturing system where we will be able to feed our cattle and geese on pasture and tree forage, finish pigs on fallen nuts (chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, butternuts, etc.), and run our chickens (both broilers and egg layers) as well, but this is a multi-year process that develops as our pastures and trees mature. We are also experimenting with raising doves in dovecotes for ourselves and hope to increase the production in the next few years to start selling squab. There are six top-bar bee hives near the edge of the stream for now, and the honeybees are pollinating and producing good honey, some of which we are turning into mead.

We lived in a mobile home for a few years as we dismantled the original farmhouse that was falling apart. The basement was in good condition, so we built a hybrid straw-bale and cob home on that foundation. We are looking into constructing more alternative buildings, but we are still in the planning phase. All buildings will harvest rainwater from the roofs, and while this is just a fraction of water collected on the farm, and also just a fraction of water needed to support the farm, every little bit helps. The previous farmers’ raised beds have been removed, and we replaced them with woody annual garden beds on contour, a few planted compost circles, and a classic herb spiral. We were very fortunate (we were so excited about this!) to have found a melon living in the tangle under the overgrown plum trees. It was like nothing we had ever seen, but the flavor was sweet and fantastic. We think it had likely been an heirloom melon planted years ago that escaped, but we are not sure. We have been in contact with Seed Savers Exchange to determine if this is an already recognized variety or a brand new one. We have been growing it out for the last few seasons, and the kids love it.

Speaking of children, unlike the previous farm, our farm constantly has kids visiting. We run regular Permaculture courses and welcome families to stay as well. In addition, we have families stopping by to directly purchase meat and produce, and they often stay for an hour or more exploring the farm on trails we have established for visitors. We also have extended family living with us, which has worked out better than any of us expected. The variety of jobs we all have keep us from ever getting bored, but we have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the process of growing with the land, our family, and our friends. We are able to feel the sense of place we have here, and that is a beautiful part of this process.

We have built a thriving farm that continues to be profitable and supports many families. We are raising healthy food in a humane manner. We have restored ecosystems and native habitat. We have regenerated the land while providing for all its inhabitants. This is Permaculture!



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  • (the “after” photo is of New Forest Farm in Wisconsin. This permaculture farm is the product of Mark Shepard’s work. Learn more at: )


My Plan for an Intentional Community

“No one has to sell us about the pleasures of a small town. We know them well, if not from reality, then from the old Andy Griffith Show, or It’s a Wonderful Life. But the small town we all know best is the one deep in our heart, with its elm-shaded streets, little clapboard houses and picket fences, and gnarled fruit trees and run-amok vegetable gardens, where doors are never locked, and where shopkeepers stand in front of their shops and greet you, and the cop greets you, all by name, and you stop and chat with them because what else is life for, and when the bells toll at noon the shops all close up, and you all go home for lunch, a nap, then out to hoe the melons or to do a little fishing; and everyone you liked in fourth grade is still your friend, and it’s a swell place to be a kid and perfect to be a family, and it’s a humane place to grow old, and, when you have to go, it’s a good place to die.

If such a town doesn’t exist, the big question is “Why?” If we all dream about it, if we all long for it – and recent surveys found seven out of ten of us would love to live there if we could – then where in damnation is it? When all it takes is a few good-natured people; a few to teach school, a few to own the stores, a few to farm the land, some to mend the sick and a bar to tend the healthy, then why isn’t there such a town behind every tree? I mean only a few of us dream of having missiles, tanks, and bombers, and rockets to the moon, yet the world is littered with them; hardly anyone dreams of pesticides and freeways, yet they’re chocking us to death; no one dreams of junk mail, yet we’re drowning in the stuff; no one I know of dreams of stripmalls and fast food chains, yet there are a hundred to a mile! How the hell did it happen that the things hardly any of us want are burying us all, while the simple town we all dream of we can hardly find? What is all this? – Really!”

– Ferenc Máté


So, how do we create this town, this community? Over the past few weeks, as I spent a lot of time with my family and some old friends, I have been struck, obsessed maybe, with the idea of creating a community.

I have been doing a lot of research about intentional communities. There are websites devoted to the subject. I have been struck by a few things. First, many of these intentional communities are, well, just odd. It may be interesting to visit a nudist commune for a while, but there is no way I am raising a family there (no offense to any commune-living nudists… live how you want!). I don’t want to start my own religion. I don’t want to worship the goddess Earth. I don’t want to play with crystals. I don’t want to create an empire or a feudal kingdom. I don’t want to try and pretend to be a hippie from fifty years ago. And I don’t want to be shackled with debt to live a good life.

I just want to live a reasonable life with friends and family in a peaceful community where my kids are safe and nurtured. I want to live in a place like Ferenc Máté described above. Unfortunately, I can’t find a city or town that really fits the description above. The existing intentional communities are either full of odd folks or people with a rather extreme religious bent, or they are way too expensive to buy into. As Geoff Lawton says, what started as an eco-village is now an ego-village, since only the wealthy can afford to live there.

The second thing I have seen while researching intentional communities is that most of these communities do not last more than a few years. Most fall apart. There are a number of reasons for this: low numbers of people and in-fighting are the most common reasons I can find.

The third big issue with intentional communities is that if the community does last longer than a few years, it takes a decade or more for them to start doing anything substantial. This may also contribute to my second observation above; the group falls apart because nothing is happening. I think a big reason for this is that most of these groups have very convoluted decision making processes. It takes weeks or months to make simple decisions.

So, I’ll ask again, how do we create a reasonable community that is not composed of people on the fringe, that stands the test of time, and can build itself in a reasonable amount of time? I do not think I have the only answer, but I think I have one answer. I would love to take credit for this, but we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. My plan is built largely on a very similar project starting out in Texas and run by Jack Spirko. I have been reading a lot about other active and successful intentional communities from around the world, and Xavier Hawk in North Carolina has developed a key component for success which I will discuss below. I have also been reading a lot about the Transition Town projects around the world, and my plan was assisted from this. Finally, there is a wealth of good information in the Permaculture Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison. So, my plan is not all of my own creation. I am trying to take what makes sense and what has been shown to work in the real world.


“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose site of the shore for a very long time.”

– Andre Gide


I have spoken with a few friends and family members about this. I have received enthusiastic support and skeptical questions, both of which were, and continue to be, appreciated. I will be very honest though… I don’t care what 99.9% of the world thinks. I just need a fraction of 1% of the visionaries of the world to take action with me.


“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

– King Solomon


Goal: Create a sustainable, resilient, liberty-minded, ecologically-aware community that provides its members access to clean water and air, space to build an appropriate, low to no-debt home, land to raise healthy food, and a place where our children are safe to play, learn, and grow with their families and nature.

Initial Plan:

  • Create a corporation or land-trust entity.
  • Find investors to fund the purchase of 200-500 acres. I am currently searching in central to eastern Tennessee.
  • Using Permaculture principles, design major water harvesting/storage features and access (i.e. roads, trails, etc.).
  • Allot 100-200 single-acre plots which will be available to lease.
  • Allot common spaces for resident use.
  • Allot a “Main Street” area for commercial activity.
  • Allot 100-200 acres for farming activity.
  • Reserve a portion of the land for wilderness (Zone 5 for those familiar with Permaculture Zones).

*note that all dollar amounts are subject to change based on land purchase price… but this is close to what I think it will take.
I first heard of the lease concept for an intentional community from Xavier Hawk. The management of a community in a benevolent business plan solves much of the funding issues. It makes the community much more affordable to the residents, and it provides an ongoing cash flow for steady community improvement and maintenance. I think this is the key to making an intentional community a reality for many of us. Some of the people I have spoken with expressed skepticism about the lease fee, yet they pay more than that to belong to a homeowners association. The property tax alone in many developed areas is often well above $200/month.
For more on leasing land read my article on what I call the Myth of Land Ownership.

  • 1-Acre plots are leased for 99 years
  • Lease is renewable, transferable, heritable, or able to be sold at market value
  • One time buy-in for $2,000
  • Monthly lease fee for $200/month (this can only be increased if property taxes increase)

Where does the money go?

  • The buy-in fee will go to initial infrastructure development.
  • A portion (to be determined) of the monthly lease fees will go to the investors who enabled the purchase of the land in the first place.
  • At the beginning (first 48-72 months depending on occupancy) the monthly lease fees will be used to quickly pay off the land debt.
  • Monthly lease fees will be used to pay for a community manager.
  • Monthly lease fees will be used to partially pay for a farm manager (remainder of farm manager salary will come from CSA – Community Supported Agriculture system).
  • After the debt is paid off, the lease fees will be used for continued community development and ongoing costs.
  • Ongoing costs will cover property taxes, insurance, legal fees, and ongoing land and infrastructure maintenance (i.e. roads, utilities, etc.)


  • Rules will be very minimal, but they will all be based on the Permaculture Prime Directive and Ethics:
    • Prime Directive: The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.
    • Ethics: Care of the Earth, Care of People, and Return of the Surplus.
  • The intention is to build a very free, liberty-minded community. If you are not harming another person or breaking the law, then you can do what you want.
  • There will be a “no complaint will be investigated until you go TALK to the person about it” clause… Jack Spirko has a great plan for this which we will be emulating.

One-Acre Plots

  • There will be as many 1-acre plots as possible on the land. This will be determined by the landscape itself, as we are building a sustainable community.
  • A person may be able to hold lease two plots, but likely no more than that. Our goal is to build a community. We can not do that if, for instance, five people lease all the plots.
  • A leasee can do what they want to on their land, so long as they do not violate the Prime Directive, the Ethics, or the lease holder agreement.
  • Water harvesting and food production will be encouraged on the plots. Permaculture consultation will be available to leasees (this may be free or may be at greatly reduced costs) to help those that have little to no experience.


  • A leasee can have any home they wish on their plot of land. If they want to live in a tent or build a 10,000 square foot mansion, it is up to them. However, I believe this community will not attract the mansion builders. There are “community garden lots” in Europe that are leased by individuals for 99 years, and the leasees build vacation and permanent homes there.
  • My goal is to provide a place where a family can build a home without going into debt for the 30 best years of their lives.
  • The intention is to focus on natural and appropriate home design and building, and I imagine that many straw-bale, cob, earth-bank, and earth-ship style homes will be built. I also think there will be many yurts and tiny-homes as well. RVs and mobile homes will also be welcomed.
  • One goal is to provide some small rental homes (tiny-homes?) which a leasee can rent while they are building their own home.
  • Many people may only use their land as a vacation spot and will build nothing or just a minimal place to spend a few weeks a year.
  • Options for housing are almost endless, but we will offer alternative home building workshops on a regular basis.
  • All housing will have to be legal according to the state and county code. This is possible even with alternative designs. The community will help a person navigate their way through this.


  • We will install utility mains (water and electric) to be available for the one-acre plots. Many will use them, but some leasees will chose to go entirely off-grid.
  • We will install high-speed internet at the site. This is a must as many of the initial community members will be telecommuters.
  • Waste will be managed as mandated by the county – this may be septic, but people will likely have the option for composting toilets as well.
  • As time goes on, we may be able to produce our own energy with wind, solar, hydro, or even geothermal depending on where we are located.

Community Development

  • Ponds, dams, swales, and other water collection and storage features.
  • Roads
  • Trails
  • Perimeter fences if needed
  • Common-use buildings (canning and preserving kitchens, tool loan shop, workshops, hacker/makerspaces, laundry mat, library, pavilions, etc.)
  • Teaching/Education Center (see below)
  • Shuttles to nearby cities/airports
  • Hopefully much more as time goes on

Community Supported Agriculture

  • The monthly fees will go, in part, to pay the salary of a farm manager. The remaining portion of the farm manager’s salary will come from farm production sales.
  • The farm manager will utilize the 100-200 acres allotted to food production.
  • The farm manager will ideally be a person who has experience running pastured livestock.
  • The farm manager will also manage a large market garden and main crop plots.
  • Leasees will have first right of refusal to buy CSA shares at cost – this price will be determined when we can
  • The goal will be to produce a minimum of four CSA shares per leased lot. Likely the land will provide more than that, and the excess shares will be sold at market price to people outside the community.
  • Figure an average of 4 people per lot, and there will be 100-200 lots, so that means 400-800 people. There are those that will say 100-200 acres is not enough land to feed a whole community. Well, that depends. It is all on how the land is managed. The Dervaes family in southern California is producing 3 tons of food on a fifth of an acre. This is a very intensively managed lot, but it shows what is possible with good design.
  • Finally, remember that the goal here is to be sustainable and resilient, not isolationist.

Commercial Enterprises

  • Indoor Market
  • Farmers Market area
  • Coffee Shop
  • Cafe/Restaurant – size will grow as needed
  • Brewery/Winery
  • Likely much more…

Teaching/Education Center

  • Permaculture courses
    • Full Permaculture Design Certificate courses
    • Topic specific courses (Earthworks, Urban Design, etc.)
    • Full-Time and Weekend only courses
  • Permaculture Internships
  • Gardening courses
  • Livestock courses
  • Alternative housing courses
  • Many more…

Local Community
It is very important for us to be part of the local community. This is not going to be an isolationist endeavor. We will go out of our way to connect with the local community, government, and education centers. We need to be working on research projects with the local or nearby universities. We will invite professors and teachers from local schools and leaders of local organizations to visit and possibly teach in our Education Center. We need to be a benefit and an asset to the local area in as many areas as we can.

Bioregional Community
We will help to assess and catalog the specifics of the bioregion in which we live. This is brilliantly outlines in Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison. In brief, we need to define and provide information on native and domesticated plants and animals suited to our bioregion, how to raise it, manage it, harvest/process it, and market it. We need to provide the similar information on appropriate building and energy technology suited to our bioregion. This documentation continues to include manufacturing, informatics, security and future trends/threats, social outlets, health services, transportation, and more. Some of this information may be available in whole or part and maintained by local organizations and education centers; however, there is still much to learn and document. As our community grows and learns, we need to share our knowledge for everyone’s benefit.

Religion and spirituality are vital parts of who we are as human beings. Personally, I am a very devout and rather conservative protestant Christian. Much of what I do is filtered through this worldview. I have stated before that I have very strong reasons for believing what I do, and I will gladly share it with you if you are interested. However, you do not have to believe what I do to be part of this community. Again, this will be a liberty-minded community. I am very good friends with Catholics, Muslims, Agnostics, and Universalists. I can agree to disagree with your spirituality and still live and work beside you as a fellow human being. This is my mindset as we begin this endeavor.

I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I am liberty and constitutionally minded. I will strongly encourage you to understand what and why you are voting, but I don’t care who you vote for.

Non-Profit Arm
As one way for the corporation to protect itself from excess taxation, and because it is just a quality thing to do, we will likely create a non-profit, Permaculture mission organization. I am still trying to organize my thoughts on this, but a small percentage of the monthly lease fees will be contributed to this non-profit organization whose goal is to help teach and implement Permaculture in developing countries. All leasees will be invited to participate in this organization and its trips to other parts of the world. I will share more information on this as I can.

I am still working on this. I can tell you that strict democracies in these communities are what often bring the whole project to a screeching halt. The management has to be lean and able to make quick and final decisions. There will be a CEO-type person (initially, this will likely be myself) who will work closely with a small board of directors composed of investors and elected members of the community. I do not want to build my own little empire. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I want a rich and reasonable life for myself and my children and my children’s children. I want this community to stand the test of time. I want this community to be alive and vibrant for my great-great-grandchildren and beyond. So, while I may be here to help start this community, I am planning for it to be resilient and sustaining when I am long gone. I am designing myself out of this community at the very beginning. Now I just have to work out the details.


So, there it is. This is my initial overview of how I plan to build an intentional community. I have tried to lay out my vision of how it could be. I have such a passion for this, and I hope I have shared that today. I hope you will consider joining me on this journey.


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

– Mary Oliver



Questions from Readers: Growing a young grape vine

Question from Elizabeth in South Carolina (Zone 8).
Humid Cool Temperate Climate (hot Summers, cool to light cold Winters).

I rescued a Muscadine (not really my favorite, but it was an experiment) and I bought a black table grape suited for this area last winter. I put both in pots as I wasn’t sure where or what I was going to do with them. The black grape has taken off. It’s center is still woody with no vertical growth, but there are two lateral shoots: one about five feet the other maybe nine feet. I’ve finally figured out a spot to put them in, and now I’m stuck. A few issues:

  • pruning – I’ve read you shouldn’t prune the first year. So far so good. Do I wait until after next year to do this or after this winter?
  • height – As I planted in pots, once I place them in the ground the lateral shoots will be quite near the ground….not ideal from what I’ve read up on. Not sure what to do….
  • vertical growth – Does one of the lateral shoots become the vertical growth? What encourages it to grow vertically up the support to then allow lateral shoots to grow out? Does this make sense?


My Answer:
Pruning grapes: You are mostly right. The vast majority of growers do not prune the first year, but some growers with a lot of experience will prune their first year. I wouldn’t prune the first year. If you (or I) had that much experience, than you wouldn’t be reading this!

Height and vertical growth: Don’t worry. It’s all about training the vine as I explain in the next section.


Click on the image for a brief, illustration guide to yearly pruning of grape vines.

Training Grape Vines (a terribly brief intro in just a few sentences): You will not get any vertical growth from the stump. That woody core will stay short and lumpy forever. All the vertical growth will come from the cane you select to be your main trunk. Over time, this cane will become thick and woody itself. Side shoots (cordons) will eventually grow from it and give you the lateral growth. This training will take a few years to get into full growth and production. Here is a nice page that explains it a bit more with photos, but I will repost one image:



Grape vines growing over a pergola on a rooftop in Gaziantep, Turkey (about 100 miles from where I used to live!)

Permaculture Twist: You didn’t think I would skip this? You can plant the grape vine in a traditional Vertical Positioning System, or you can use the grape vine’s innate characteristics for you to perform additional functions than food production:

  • Grape vines are, in fact, vines. They are good climbers.
  • They grow fast and far each season.
  • They are deciduous. Leaf growth/drop can give you seasonal shade and privacy.
  • They attract good and bad insects.
  • They produce tasty fruit that people and birds enjoy. Netting may be needed.
  • They have edible leaves.
  • They have vines that should be pruned each year to maximize quality production the next year, and these vines get a bit woody.
  • Grape vines have a high need for nutrients to sustain production.
  • These are just a few characteristics off the top of my head. I am sure there are a ton more.

A rooftop in the Turkish town where I used to live. You can just see the main grape vine trunk growing up the side of the house at the closest corner to the roof.

So instead of the traditional row of vines, what about:

  • Growing grape vines along a fence to provide privacy for an outdoor living space. You will only be out there when the vine is growing anyway (seasonal… Spring through Autumn).
  • Growing grape vines over a pergola or trellis system to cover an outdoor living space. This provides seasonal shade and cooling for that space and easy harvesting of grapes. I saw this numerous times in living in Turkey. Many people had blocky, flat roofed homes. The entire roof had a trellis system. The grape vine ran from the ground, up two stories, and then spread over the entire roof for the growing season. This cooled the house, provided a comfortable and private living area on the roof, and provided food in the form of grapes and leaves, while also providing stick fuel for cooking at the end of the growing season. The trunk was two stories high and probably took a few years to develop, but so worth it! Other homes had the grape vines growing in large tubs on the roof itself.
  • My favorite technique for a few grapes vines is for people who have chickens and seasonal Japanese Beetles… pretty common in South Carolina from what I recall. Grow the grape vine over the chicken coop! The vine provides seasonal shade to cool the birds in the hot summers. This reduces heat stress which also increases health and disease/pest resistance in the birds. This reduces watering requirements for the birds. Chickens like to eat any grapes that may fall. They also enjoy the occasional grape leaf. Japanese Beetles seem to enjoy grape leaves as well. They have a “tuck and roll” technique of evading predators when they get frightened… very difficult to control in a classic row crop. But, when growing over a chicken run… just shake the vines once or twice a day, and the chickens will be singing, “It’s raining food!” This reduces (not a lot) the feed bill for the birds. It manages a grape pest with no chemicals and requires only a few seconds per day. It is also entertaining! Finally, the grape vine roots will be growing under the chicken run soil, high in nitrogen. This reduces, and possibly eliminates, the need for fertilizing the grape vines. This is an ideal Permaculture system!

Good luck! Send photos if you can!


Grape vines growing up a wall in the city of Göreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. I was fortunate to visit this area many times while I lived in Turkey.


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    Permaculture Tips: Tree Identification Apps for Mobile Devices

Permaculture Tips: Tree Identification Apps for Mobile Devices

While watching a video lecture from Geoff Lawton, he referenced LeafSnap (see below). This got me thinking about appropriate technologies we can use in our Permaculture designs. I wanted to share a few tree identification guides. Unfortunately for my international readers, these are just for North America. There are a few available for England (TreeID and ForestXplorer are two I know of).


LeafSnap is a tree identification app for Iphones and Ipads. This is the product of a collaboration between Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian. They use the technology in facial recognition software to identify tree leaves. After doing a bit of research, I think this program has the most potential, but it is not quite there yet. You need connectivity to a network, and not all places in the wilderness have it all the time. Because, this is a new program, the data recognition database is still being built. So the more people use the app, the better it gets… it learns as it grows. You take a photo and submit it, then the app gives you a listing of the possible tree choices. You look through the choices (and description and photos) and you can identify the tree. It is a bit more work, but it should get better and easier with time. But it is free, and has pretty good photos of all aspects of the tree (leaves, fruit, trunk, etc.).



MyNature Tree Guide is an app you need to buy (it costs $6.99 USD). Instead of visual recognition software to identify the tree, the user needs to work through an algorithm… simple yes or no questions that guide you to the right tree. I have used these in booklet form as well, and I really like this system. It is easy. It requires no connectivity. I haven’t spent a lot of time with the app yet, but I like it quite a bit. This will likely be my go to app until LeafSnap improves.

There are a number of other online tree identification guides, but these two are the only apps worth looking into right now. I do think the best online identification guide is What Tree is That by the Arbor Day Foundation. This uses a similar algorithm of simple yes or no questions as well… in fact, I think they are the first ones to take it mainstream for trees. I have used their booklets many times and really like them. And, for that matter, you can buy the booklets themselves on the Arbor Day Foundation website.

Take a look at these. Load them on your mobile device. I think it is wise to use technology in appropriate ways to further our knowledge and aid in building sustainability.



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  • All other photos are from the referenced sites.