To fill some of you in on things, for some time, I have been deeply interested in Permaculture, and hoping to pursue a situation in which I could surround myself with like-minded people who could teach me how to grow food. Specifically I want to learn how to propagate and care for fruit trees, learn about rain-water catchment systems, bee and chicken husbandry, sheet mulching, how to design edible landscapes, incorporate our own hand/home-grown produce into a seasonally appropriate diet, cultivate mushrooms, and learn about natural herbs and remedies. In addition, I was looking for non-commercial farms who were more focused on homesteading, or education, so the days would not be as stressful, and more could be learned.
A few months ago I joined the WWOOF program which had a wonderful directory of over 1000 farms in the USA who are open to people like myself for a work / trade setup. Of those, just over 30 really seemed to be a good fit. After writing to those, I visited 7 of the highlights that were located reasonably close to where I would be traveling. Meeting so many people, all living so close to the land was encouraging, to say the least. There is so much I could say about each of these places, but I will save you the time and share with you a few pictures and highlights about some of the places I saw.
ZocaLo – Winter Harbor, ME
Just two folks were living on the narrow 40-acre plot, with ocean frontage leading back deep into the woods. This place was truly DIY – Do It Yourself. Heavily into reusing materials and using as little energy as possible was the name of the game. Highlights included the numerous structures on-site that were built with materials and energy harvested from the property including the clay / mud / straw house with cedar timbers, milled on-site with electricity from salvaged batteries and solar panels.
Underground passive-solar greenhouse.
Home-made earthen home with sod roof.
Kitchen in the earthen-home.
Newforest Institute – Brooks, ME [website]
Young folks, a non-profit, a wonderful couple managing the grounds, fruit trees, permaculture, swales, herbs, gorgeous salad greens, communal cooking and living, a quaint town, and a 12 mile bike ride to Belfast.
Sky Meadow Retreat – Greensboro Bend, VT [website]
This spiritual retreat center is truly unique. A warm family of five lives on site full time, while ‘residents’ come to live in the superiorly cozy cabins or other rooms on the property to share with managing retreat cooking, maintaining buildings, and growing all of the center’s vegetables for the year during the short growing season. With a focus on communication and stillness, the warmth of this spot seeped deeply into my skin.
Laughing Dog Farm – Gill, MA [website]
Daniel Botkin kicks ass. He works hard and continues to put his knowledge and love into his little property, consistently. His fruit trees are young but productive, and his greenhouse and terraced garden was full of lush soil and young seedlings, reaching up to the sun. The meal we ate comprised his own sun-dried tomatoes, greens from the garden, and chestnuts from his own trees, amongst other delectables. Daniel is also in-the-know about saving the lower back – many thanks for the advice.
Restoration Farm – Ashland, OR [website]
Ashland is a small community in southern Oregon, very unlike the surrounding cities. It is an oasis of Permaculture teachers, hippies and other progressives. On this 10-acre plot sat a u-pick blueberry farm, acres of young food forest, and some gorgeous new buildings along with a pair of greenhouses and some perennial vegetables and herbs. Chuck had massive rainwater catchment systems along with some sun-tracking solar panels. Thank you for the food and showing me around town, sir.
Note the massive, green, rainwater catchment tank.
Chicken tractor on the left - young food forest and mountains behind.
Permaculture library - massive! Way to go, Chuck!
Tryon Community Farm – Portland, OR [website]
One of the most unique setups I have ever imagined. Tryon is set in the south of the city of Portland, bordering Lewis & Clark college, and the suburbs. Just 5 miles south of downtown, abutting national forest, these 7 acres feel so far from the city. 16 people live here in the community, including families with children. Tryon is also the home to the nation’s only outdoor kindergarten. Their outdoor kitchen, sauna, and wide variety of edibles are also quite wonderful. The meal we ate with the community was hearty and delicious, and I appreciate how welcoming they were to me. Many thanks.
Feral Farm – Rockport, WA
I met Matt through an internet forum – deeply engaged by his writings about Permaculture, I wrote him. His farm is not listed in the WWOOF or any other directory. He does not advertise or request volunteers or interns. He is just doing his thing. It was a surprise to hear that he was only 90 miles from my sister’s place. This was far and away the place I visited that held most closely to the true ideals of Permaculture. The focus was aimed at developing what could be most closely modeled as a forest aiming towards sustainability that could also support human life. The few people on the property live without electricity and running water. The shallow but effective wells were created with pulleys and weights and raw human power. Wild edibles and a tremendous number of perennial edible vegetables were scattered all over the 23 acres. Various areas of the forest were strategically being modified to incorporate fruit and nut trees that would over the next 35 years, develop to have a diverse forest ecosystem. Species were selected for their edible production for humans as well as to attract animals onto the property to provide more food for the humans on the land. Modeling certain patterns after those of the Native Americans, Matt had truly a deep grasp of the land, it’s animal and plant life at the present, and his vision for the future was becoming a reality.
While he was living in what most Americans would see as being quite primitive, Matt impressed me deeply. While he lived in a very cozy yurt, he had constructed by hand, numerous cabins below 200 square feet. They were built to a very high level of construction quality, and their size permitted them to be legally built on the property without any building permits. One of them was almost exclusively a library, in which he kept his most impressive collection of books – all which were highly practical and focused on topics from mushroom and wild edible identification to Native American land and animal management strategies to Permaculture and spirituality. Matt was completely self-educated and has a work ethic that I have never seen anything like, ever.
There is going to be a Permaculture Design Course on the property this summer, which if you are in the Pacific Northwest, I would recommend you check out. PDC link.