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A New Home for Creative Educational Ecosystems–Sol Terra!

I am so grateful for the perfect timing of the grand opening of Sol Terra–conveniently located right downtown Old Palm Harbor, a bicycle ride away, I could not have asked for a more perfect place!

Dem Bones

King James

We begin this weekend with our ‘on demand’ Permaculture Workshop series: “Design Your Home Foodscape”, which is a PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) qualified course, with a twist! Normally, this course is 72 hours–often onsite for a 12 day intensive, which is simply out of reach for many who work or have family obligations. So, we designed this course with you in mind–it happens two weekends per month, 8 hours per weekend, and if you can’t make it one of the weekend days, we are also adding one weekday evening to cover the material missed in that session. Accessibility is the key, so you can pay for this course by the day, the weekend, or save a bunch of dough by pre-paying the entire course upfront.

Bee Happytat

So, what are you waiting for? This is the lowest cost and most flexible certifiable course out there! Oh, and did I mention–no long boring lectures, either–we cater to all learning types, and each weekend will have onsite analyses, hands-on activities, and fun, creative learning games!  Pre-Register on Meetup, or come a little early on Saturday (Class starts at 10AM each Saturday) to register before class.  I look forward to sharing your journey through sustainability into resilience and regeneration!

Let’s Get Durty!


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Use and Value Diversity

Category            Permaculture Principles

‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’

There is no such thing as a monoculture in nature.  Nowhere on earth, except in places where man has intervened, will you find a single species which is independent of others.  Therefore, my choice for the quote on this one would be, instead:  “No man is an island.”

2014 Class in TN

Photo credit:  Conrad Goulet “Designing Educational Ecosystems”, 2014

My most recent immersion experience in permaculture is the best example I can possibly think of to illustrate this concept, in terms of human interactions, a class with Dave Jacke, Cliff Davis, and thirty or so permaculturists from, literally, around the world.  These are the kinds of experiences leading to the levels of bonding required to create real change, both inner and outer landscape.  Human connection is essential—this is where many efforts get it wrong.  Not only is connection essential, so is diversity—and the more, the better.  The entire philosophy of permaculture is based around the idea that natural systems do not produce mono-crops, and that lack of diversity can and does lead to weakness and ultimately disease of the system and its components.

So, I ask you—if you were a plant, what kind would you be?  There are dynamic accumulators, nitrogen fixers, mycelium, and nectaries.  There are overstory and understory, climbers and ground cover.  Consider carefully, think of what others may or may not have to say about you, in all of your dealings with others…would you be considered a ‘weed’, or ‘invasive’?  Alleleopathic even, carbon sequestering, or are you a pioneer species?  Do you encourage connections, help create diversity in your surroundings, or discourage them?  Are you highly critical of others, or helpful and supportive?   Do you take responsibility for your own welfare and that of others, or do you expect someone else to do ‘the dirty work’?

Read the following, consider the design of a food forest type of garden–take a few moments to really think about it—identify with not just what you want to be, but what history would show, from an impersonal, ego-free perspective.  Please comment, and let me know what part of your social ‘guild’ you feel best suited for.

How to maximize omega diversity in your forest garden.

You may find yourself torn in several directions while selecting species. On the one hand, it is desirable to maximize compositional diversity at the omega level. On the other hand, certain important uses and functions are limited to certain families. Nitrogen fixation is mostly limited to the legumes (Fabales) and certain orders within the rose (Rosales) and beech (Fagales) orders . Specialist nectary plants are generally limited to the Apiaceae, Araliaceae, Saxifragaceae, and portions of the Asteraceae. The great majority of fruit and nut species that can grow in cold climates are in the rose order (Rosales) – in fact, almost a quarter of all species in the Plant Species Matrix are in that order! Thus there is little avoiding the fact that your garden is likely to have heavy representation from these groups of plants.

Beyond this limitation, however, you can make an effort to include as wide a sampling of diversity as possible. Groundcovers, dynamic accumulators, and shelter and nectary plants come from a great diversity of families, and you will find a remarkable range of edibles to choose from as well. When selecting species from the Plant Species Matrix, look up their families in the table below. Keep track of the families, orders, and superorders you are including. Wherever possible, make decisions that maximize diversity. Try to avoid over-dependence on the Rose family in particular, perhaps by substituting persimmons for apples, or one of the edible honeysuckle species for juneberries. We have made an effort to provide you with a diverse assemblage of species to choose from.  (Eric Toensmeier, Maximizing Omega-Level Diversity, 2012)  [“Omegalevel diversity looks at an ecosystem’s diversity at higher levels, measuring a deeper diversity. This ‘deep’ diversity is likely to be the most important contributor of the benefits of compositional diversity. Gardening for omega level diversity (‘kinship gardening’) was developed by Alan Kapular and Olafur Brentmar, and carried forward by David Theodoropoulos.”]



We had lots of Mycelium in my class—I consider myself one of those—“humacelium” I like to say.  But am I, really?  Sometimes the mere effort to create connections with people seems to lead to the dissolution of an entire system, after all.

I thought I was encouraging diversity in the random assemblage of persons in my ‘eCo-house’, Casa Seranita.  The important lesson taken from the current outcome, which leads to a dramatic re-design, is that agreement must be established first, along with an understanding of what role each person chooses or brings in by nature.  The inputs do not need to be the same, indeed they can be dramatically different—one person, for instance, may wish to provide only financial support, while others would prefer labor or caretaking.

The important component is that the understanding is there first.  The community cannot thrive or even survive if the components do not have both a full understanding and acceptance of each ones’ expected inputs and impacts on the system as a whole.  There are no islands in people systems—at least, not in sustainable, functional societies.

Rather than continuing to dance around the subject, speaking in vague generalities and using botanical metaphors—here’s what happened:

  • One man, one cat.
    • Two men, one cat.
      • Unknown quantities of undefined genders and one cat.
        • Cat herding.
          • Feral cat herding.
            • Code Violations (one woman).
  • One Cat.

“Casa Seranita is an eCo-housing permaculture demonstration site, now seeking residents (permaculture experience preferred).”

Read the Series:

Introduction:  ”Unplugging”

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

© Loretta Buckner, 2014, We Grow From Here

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Loretta Buckner and WeGrowFromHere.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Where the Meadow Meets the Woods

My yoga instructor would often speak of “edge play”—taking an asana just to the point of resistance, backing off slightly, and then holding it until there is a release. It is a practice which is useful in much more than a yoga practice, however. In permaculture we focus quite a lot on ‘edges’ as well—in fact, we also learn to play them, increase them, encourage them. Because, you see, the edge is where the greatest potential for growth is—the most diversity—it’s where the action is.

Growers of wine grapes will tell you that the best wine will come from the vines which have sustained the greatest stress—the more deprived, gnarled, and abused—the better the grape, and the better the wine. They do this, on purpose in fact, to the vines in order to create better product. This characteristic is seen throughout nature—when any plant ‘feels’ threatened, by drought, by cold or heat—the plant will react by attempting to propagate—thus the most stunning roses appear on the dying bush, as they make their final attempt to throw out their seed into the world, and attract the pollinators which will perpetuate the species. Bonsai is another example, of art created to mimic the beauty of trees which gained a precarious foothold on wind-swept rocky mountain faces.

People do this too—population surveys reveal that there is the greatest population growth in areas of deprivation—the “starving children in India” mantra many of us heard at the dinner table as children is one example of a culture with unchecked population growth when the lands’ ability to sustain it was depleted. The formula is the same whether it is people, animal or plants—if a species appears doomed, the only logical answer is to attempt to create as many as possible as quickly as possible in order to survive. Perhaps one of the more interesting observations in over-populated areas would be whether or not there is more competition for resources, or whether, in fact, a more cooperative atmosphere would develop over time.  From chaos comes order…so they say.

These are all examples of ‘edge play’, because these are the situations which, whether developed over time on their own, or sought after to achieve a specific goal, are opportunities for growth, for expansion, for learning and observation. As Starhawk points out in a talk she gave earlier this year at Harvard Divinity School, deer don’t hang out in the middle of the forest—they lurk around the edges, “where the meadow meets the woods”—where there is the biggest mix of ‘stuff’ going on. The meadow is the light, the forest the dark in terms of ‘yin’ and yang’—the lines between them is not a straight one, either—it curves in a natural pattern. The ‘dark side’, often feared as the great unknown, like the yin/yang, always contains an element of light as well—even the thickest of canopies will have some openings to let the light in. Many cultures have more than just a deep respect for the woods, as a place of not just mystery, but also a place of deep knowledge. The druids revered the deer, or hind, as a creature which traveled between the worlds, like the hare which burrows underground, they saw these animals as being somewhat ‘otherworldly’ because of their willingness to cross these lines.

In psychology, this area would be considered the subconscious—the place which most of us only venture into in sleep states. One of the quickest ways to induce a psychosis is to deny a person access to those states for a given period of time, thus it is not only important it be there for balance, but also that we retain access to it. There is an interaction that happens in this space, whether we choose it or not.

In permaculture we refer to this area—’the dark side’ in our designs as “zone five”—the area where we may not often go to interact with whatever is there—it’s the woods, the wilderness—unbridled nature. Yet, it is an essential part of any design, whether that design be a landscape, a business, or an educational environment. In a landscape design, this area need not be a part of the property being designed, but it needs to be identified anyway. Perhaps one of the more difficult issues in urban planning incorporating permaculture principles is in how to re-incorporate greenspace and woods into the environment. It can be done, though—little by little, if people choose to be involved in local governmental policies, the development of densely populated areas can be done in a far more ‘friendly’ way—both environmentally as well as socially. Planned communities developed a generation ago are still thriving today, mainly because of the design features which were created from the start.

When I was growing up, my family lived in Reston, Virginia, and it wasn’t until recently I re-connected with the place and did a little research on its background. When we lived there in the mid-to-late 70’s, it was still relatively new and areas were in the process of being built. There was no middle or high school in the community yet, so we were bussed to nearby Herndon, VA—a typical small town. At the time I knew that our home was ‘nice’—I was allowed the freedom to roam at will, because there were bike paths which went from one end of the 7000+ acre property to the other. I now know that this was all by design:

The careful planning and zoning within Reston allows for common grounds, several parks, large swaths of wooded areas with picturesque runs (streams), wildflower meadows, two golf courses, nearly 20 public swimming pools, bridle paths, a bike path, four lakes, tennis courts, and extensive foot pathways. These pathways, combined with bridges and tunnels, help to separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic and increase safety at certain street crossings. Reston was built in wooded areas of oak, maple, sycamore, and Virginia pine.” (Wikipedia)

At the time I took these things for granted, and was not until my introduction to permaculture that I truly have an idea of the scope and scale of this community, which was ranked in 2012 as the 7th best place to live by CNN Money magazine. I have serious doubts that I would have the same mindset today that I began to develop out of this early experience, not only because of the beautiful place we lived—the woods and stream I had to play in, but also because it was not an insulated experience—at school, we interacted daily with kids from ‘town’ as well as our own community, and this was during a period rife with societal changes. Thus, there were many areas and levels of ‘edge’ to play with, at home and at school.

As our society has become more and more bent on consumerism, and mass-market of even our most precious commodity: food–I feel that we have stepped away from the woods—our cultural zone five has often moved so far away for many that they are fortunate to visit once or twice a year. Is it any wonder the anxiety and depression are so commonplace? My wish for the world is that every child have the opportunity to experience a community like the nearly-Utopian Reston—that we restore our balance on a countrywide and eventually on a global level with one simple step: a step back to nature—where the meadow meets the woods. ©2013 Loretta J. Buckner THANK YOU to Kris Haering Butler for the lovely deer photo! WeGrowFromHere.com To learn more about permaculture–join one of our upcoming classes with the New School!