Spring Beekeeping Workshop

Spring Beekeeping Workshop
Demonstration Hive

Monday, February 22, 2010

Our Permaculture Design Certification course kicked off over February 12, 13 and 14. Eleven students jumped in at the deep end for a rollicking, packed three-days that left our head spinning with new information and ideas for making change.

Over the three days, Andrew Faust, our teacher, presented a marathon class that started with the history of the world from the beginning of time! Yes, he covered several million years in a few hours to bring us up to the present time. A rush through prehistoric eras and the ascent of man combined with geological, climatological and anthropological sciences gave us a background to where we are as a human species and a planet today. That sets the stage for the rest of the course - now we move into applying scientific principles from all disciplines as we learn how to design sustainable human living environments and, most importantly, provide ourselves with food, fiber and shelter.

Permaculture presents a new way of seeing the world - using passive and biological work to provide human needs on a local scale. A bioregional scale. A culture of bioregionalism is what we need to overcome the problems that the global corporate culture has inflicted on the planet. Permaculture is not opposed to business or entrepreneurial activity, but not the out-of-control type we have witnessed.

We spent a lot of time discussing ways that a Permaculture approach can turn problems into solutions - designing new business models to use wastes from one industry as resources for other businesses.

After the general background information we switched gears and got into the specifics of designing with Permaculture practices in mind. First off, we covered site analysis, which in itself is a huge topic that includes water, trees, topography, geology and soil, and climates - both macro and micro.

We watched slides of agricultural practices around the world throughout history and discussed ancient civilizations that knew how to conserve their soil and water for sustainable agriculture and societies, and those civilizations that didn't. The latter resulting in complete loss of soil followed by climate change and societal failure. We then compared this to modern day events such as the Dust Bowl in the US which contributed to the suffering of the depression years in the early 20th century.

We went outside and looked at the site here at the Center for Sustainable Living and compared the different microenvironments, the trees, analyzed past uses of the land and the succession of forest and plant growth and what the impacts have been.

Exhausted and exhilerated, we parted company on Sunday afternoon with our heads buzzing and a reading list as long as our arms. We're ready for this weekend coming up for more training and learning with Andrew Faust and guest speakers, including yours truly for a session on soils.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Planning for our Descendants

Planning for the health and prosperity of our descendants is not something Western Civilization has been very good at. To say the least! We haven't listened to our native American fellow citizens who say actions should benefit at least the next seven generations. We won't be leaving much of benefit for even the next generation unless we make serious changes.

The Brundtland Commission of Norway puts it succinctly:

"Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

I've given a lot of thought to this subject for many years. I have tried, in my life, to make changes in how I live so as "to be the change I want to see". I am far from perfect yet. It is hard to watch friends, family and neighbors carrying on as if there were no tomorrow. Perhaps this is where that aphorism comes from - it looks as if there might not be a tomorrow that looks like anything what we've known in our privileged lives.

As if it isn't bad enough that the environment is changing so quickly and that every day brings news of scientific findings of looming disaster,such as the chemistry of the oceans changing, our government has become so ineffectual that they cannot mobilize on any action that could help. See Paul Krugman's column in the February 7, 2010, edition of the NY Times entitled "America is not yet lost" for what is happening in Washington, DC, and why the government is in a sort of logjam caused by procedural stalemate.

But, I'm an optimist. Along with all the doom and gloom we get bombarded with every day, there's a shift happening. Malcolm Gladwell calls it "The Tipping Point", the title of his fascinating book. I really do see a lot going on that seems the groundswell of a sea change. I'm hopeful that Paul Hawken is right that our country's (and world's) salvation will not come from our government but from ourselves. From people just like you and me taking matters into our own hands and making the change that is needed without directives from the top. The top is becoming irrelevant.

Exciting efforts that don't make it into the network news include community garden efforts and farmers' markets all around Connecticut, that connect people with fresh, organic, local food; groups like the Inter-Religious Eco-Justice network that work here in Connecticut and nationwide to connect religious communities of all faiths and creeds in efforts to reduce institutional carbon footprints, provide food for homeless people and the working poor; school gardens that teach children about nutrition and gardening and get them outside and working their bodies; business efforts like Pedal Pushers, in Massachusetts, that use local resources such as household food waste to create commercial compost that can be sold back to gardeners in the community; communities buying and saving farmland to protect it from development, like the Swendsen Farm here in Bethlehem where a group of volunteers steward the farm and also lease it to a local mixed produce and fruit farmer giving the farmer access to critical land vital for the successful operation of his farm; organizations like NOFA - the Northeast Organic Farming Association - that is teaching people how to care for land in a sustainable - forever - kind of way.

This weekend will see the start of the Permaculture Design Certification course that I have brought to Connecticut. Andrew Faust and guest lecturers, (including myself) will present this course to nine students coming from all over Connecticut and New Jersey over four three-day weekends during February and March. Permaculture addresses how we develop our homes, communities, and businesses in ways that are sustainable and cyclical rather than linear. By linear, I mean systems that take resources that are finite and create waste that has to be dealt with. By cyclical, I mean systems that use waste as resources within closed circuits so that the systems are sustainable and never-ending, like natural systems.

Permaculture was designed by an Australian, Bill Mollison who was a scientist with CSIRO Wildlife Survey Section and with the Tasmanian Inland Fisheries Department. He saw how man's actions were killing nature and withdrew from society. He developed a system of sustainable agriculture that did not pollute the waters or waste the soil. By combining all scientific and creative disciplines he, with his colleague David Holmgren, developed Permaculture as a system of looking at ecology, wherever you are in the world, and using ecological principles to develop human systems. This is what we will be studying over the 76 hour course.

This small group of students will become trained to consult and practice Permaculture. It is my hope that we will form a nucleus of trained consultants which will go on to teach others, consult with every level of government from towns to state level and work in collaboration with professionals from all disciplines to increase the speed at which positive, helpful changes in our human organizations occur.

I used to dream about being one of those people who change the world but I've realized that "thinking globally and working locally" is really the only way. I'm excited for the course to begin and will keep you posted - watch this space.