Permaculture… Past, Present, & Future

by Dave Schroeder – Natural Living School Permaculture Instructor

The term Permaculture has been making some serious headway. While it is not a new concept, there is much to be relearned. For thousands of years ancient civilizations practiced the principles and ethics of what has now been defined as permaculture. They valued diversity in their plantings working with perennial plants and trees and utilizing animals and their various characteristics to complement their land management practices. They placed great importance on the health of their soil as a staple in continuing viable farming through the ages. They planned for future generations and ensured the youth would have land to continue thriving on.

 

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Yogoata Dairy, a perfect example of a complete loop system

 

Their practices maintained natural resources and promoted the preservation of species. As we move into our present day situation we bear witness to a lifestyle and landscape much different from our ancestors. Landscapes torn apart and natural resources mined at an alarming rate. Setting aside any plans for the future, our priority seems to be a continuation of the economy at any cost. Seemingly, cheap energy and global access to goods has turned, what the beloved Buckminister Fuller termed our planet “spaceship earth”, on a path of peril. We are the navigators and all of our choices steer the ship. But hope is far from lost and we are beginning to remember another way. There is great joy in this change of direction and will demonstrate the true resilience of human beings.

Oliver water the green house
Oliver water the green house

 

We are nature working, and intuition is our guide. As we have begun shifting our beliefs of what is important and are finding value in promoting healthy land stewardship. This re-emergence of conscious design being fostered by folks such as Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, Dave Jacke, P.A. Yeomans, Eric Toensmeier, Geoff Lawton and so many more! Permaculture design gives us the eyes and tools of our ancient family. Rooted in observation of the natural cycles that move through the landscape, we are able to develop a plan that requires little to no input from the outside, supports the community tending to the land, and makes for a healthier space all around. Promoting a healthy soil, conserving water, saving energy through efficient design, supplying nutritious food for ourselves and animals, growing our fuel, fiber, and fertilizer. By utilizing perennial based food systems and multi-layered gardens that stack functions all human needs can be met and the land’s health preserved. We have the technology, tools, task force to make all necessary changes. With a good plan to re-allocate these resources toward a way of life that leaves future generation an earth to thrive upon. Adopting the ethics of permaculture – land care, people care, and setting reasonable limits on consumption we can meet or exceed our current state of affairs and provide a healthy life for all Earth’s inhabitants.

Join us this year,  and learn how you can design, develop, and manifest your own garden for self sufficiency in these uncertain times.

 

Permaculture workshop- Saturday May 31st- Sunday June 1

Working With Water: Slowing, Sinking & Storing

Water is everywhere!! Inside our being, above our heads, below our feet and all around. Life depends on water to continue thriving. There are many ways one can work with water to preserve and effectively use this sacred resource. This workshop will cover a variety of techniques that can be employed throughout our landscapes and within our households to manage our water supply. Prepare for some hands-on action as we begin constructing swales to demonstrate one method of efficient water management.

 

 

An Apprentice’s Perspective

My name is Wesley Jobe, and I spent the summer of 2012 at Ananda Village to learn about natural building, and much more. This is a summary of my experience.

Wesley mixing some plaster for the cob classroom
Wesley mixing some plaster for the cob classroom

When I applied for the Natural Living School apprenticeship I knew very little of Ananda. Only the sheer drive to get some hands on experience with natural building fueled my decision. Before arriving in California, I had already been practicing yoga and meditation, and was keen to find out more, so this was a perfect fit for me. Turns out it was more than I imagined.

Never before had I been away from home that long, or alone, yet I did not feel nervous or uncomfortable. Since my pickup at the Sacremento airport I had begun an adventure I will never forget. Everyone I met at The Expanding Light where I camped was so welcoming and helpful, some even interested in what I was to be doing there. The following morning I met with Pablo and Miguel (the other apprentice) to go over some design plans for the project. We met like that for the first week or so, and I even got to help finalize the plan by making some architectural drawings and elevations. This was a perfect initiation time for me to get comfortable with the new surroundings, establish a solid yoga and meditation practice (daily classes made that easy), and settle into the peaceful feeling all around. Observing how the people there live, work, and interact with eachother was a heartwarming inspiration alone. Like one big family, not just selfish individuals. I felt for the first time in a while that there was hope for this world, and that I had found a place that is a shining example of how we can all work together to improve current issues in society.

community Blessing the site.
Community blessing the site.

Turned out the original plan we were discussing and fine tuning had more time consuming restraints due to obtaining the counties approval for building permits. Though the set back did not hinder our spirits and was a good learning experience. Because first of all, modern building codes are one of the major blocks holding back natural builders from full creative freedom, and thus, influence on a larger scale. Secondly, it was a good reminder that no matter how much planning has been done, sometimes things just don’t work the way you’d hoped, and that is where the creative changes are made. So it turned out to be a blessing for us. We scaled down the size of the building just enough to not require a permit. This was more appropriate for the time we had, then we were able to learn and practice all the techniques and problem solving from foundation to roof. Problem solving and being open to change are two of the most important skills I developed for natural building, coupled with the confidence to take ideas and turn them into reality.

Wesley working out the joinery for top plates
Wesley working out the joinery for top plates

After those kinks with design were massaged out, we got right to work. Starting with sustainably harvesting trees for the round-pole timber frame. As we went through each phase of the building, I see now that an analogy was taking place within me. I learned more about myself than I did about building, and I learned a lot about building! We searched the forest for just the right trees to fell, with the right size, shape, and location, so as not to harm the forest ecosystem but enhance the old growth already there. Simultaneously I was searching within myself to find strengths and positive qualities I had almost forgotten. 

Then we went on to begin the foundation. This begins with a whole lot of digging, but lucky for us, and with the magic of community, a wonderfully helpful man dug the hard part for us with a tractor. Stacking rocks for the stem-wall proved to be quite labor intensive as well, and very fun, like three-dimensional tetris. So I was learning the importance of making a solid foundation by taking the time to do it presicely and accurately, which was very gratifying later on, and at the same time looking inward once more. I wanted to change myself and the way I was living, so it was good to relate my physical task with a mental one. Looking for the right rock to fit with the others made me ask myself, “what is my foundation?”  I needed to find what made me strong, and who I was at the core, which all of my identifications were built off of. I must give thanks here also to Pablo, for inviting me there and encouraging me to do whatever I needed to do. Positive reinforcement is the basis of his teaching style, and it is completely sincere, and extremely effective.

Conner posts going up at the same time as the balecob walls go up.
Conner posts going up at the same time as the balecob walls go up.

Next we started the walls and the frame, at the same time, because with natural building you are free to do such things. Around this time a large group of campers came to experience Ananda for a three week program called, “Living With Spirit,” and stay up at the building site where some of the villagers set up an awesome outdoor kitchen and living space. Miguel and I got our first chance to teach a little, I prefer the term guide, because natural building techniques are very simple, and achievable by anyone. There help made a great impact on the progress of the structure, and it became very clear that working together is really what makes natural building practical and successful, and far more fun, too. If playing with mud and experimenting with friends can eventually turn into a beautiful home for perhaps some of those friends to live in, then modern construction has it all wrong. I have worked in construction in the city where I live, so I have seen both sides, and of this I am convinced.

We also spent some time each week helping out at the Ananda Permaculture Gardens. This is a whole other part of the apprenticeship that focuses on growing food, flowers, and herbs, where we learned a lot just by being there, and asking questions. It gave us a bit of a break from building, no break from the sun though, haha, and really piqued my growing interest for sustainable living.

The Expanding Light Yoga and Meditation Retreat
The Expanding Light Yoga and Meditation Retreat

Staying at the Expanding Light was a phenomenal contrast to the daily work. The food there was amazing, it was very nice to get well balanced, healthy meals whilst doing so much physical labor. Another of my favourite points of my stay there was the amount of wildlife I saw everyday. The gardens around The Expanding Light are very well kept, with many bright flowers surrounding the main temple and dining hall. Gorgeous mountain scenery with a symphony of birds to wake me each morning (far more peaceful than an alarm), and crickets and frogs to sing me to sleep at night. That really made me feel more connected to earth, and everything I was doing made perfect sense.

While the work was physically challenging, occasionaly puzzling mentally, we never pushed too hard. Pablo definitely helped us make the most of our downtime also with stops to the market for ice-cream after a hot days work. One day that was especially hot we stopped work early to go for a swim in a nearby pond. It was more like being at summer camp, where you can just be yourself, and better yourself if you so desire. The lasting relationships I made there, with people from all over the world, was a remarkable enough experience to make it worth more than just money. Added on to that the massive amounts of knowledge I have gained and the confidence to make my dreams a reality have made that summer more than I could have hoped for. As my memory allows, it was the best summer of my life.

This is not a natural building apprenticeship, it’s a natural living school, true to every word, complete with laboratory and playground combined, and I hope that one day I too will inspire people to live in such a way.

What is Natural Living?

In a way, one of the most basic understandings in eastern philosophies has been lost in the “Age of Energy.”  As a result of all our technology, we spend more time on cell phones, the internet, watching TV, and in cars running around like high tech chickens with our heads cut off.  The art of slowing down, taking time to enjoy the moment, and being present is pushed aside in the name of efficiency.  Why?  One answer is; because we think this will lead to our happiness.

Sunset in Los Padres National Forest

Some of us think that if we are more efficient with our time, then we will have more time to do the things we enjoy.  But at the end of the day, with all the time that was saved, how many of us actually did something joyful, or self-fulfilling?  Yes, there are some exceptions, but over all many of us think that our joy will come from outside ourselves.  I used to think that I would find joy once I had a little more money, which would give me a little more time.  Not so.

The Cob Cottage where we stayed while we worked on natural building projects at Spirit Pine Sanctuary

Our experiences these past couple years have truly shown us what it means to have quality time.  For months at a time we were without cell phone, internet, television, or any basic communication with the outside world.  Our time was spent in nature, sourcing natural materials from the land, the forest, and neighbors in order to build natural buildings that would be enjoyed by all.

At community meals we all took turns cooking for each other, Thanksgiving 2010

When we were not building, or sourcing materials, we spent our time in community taking turns cooking for each other, having great conversations, and playing with our children.  It wasn’t that we weren’t busy, or that we had surplus time.  In fact we were easily as busy as when we lived in the city, working all the time, driving the kids around, and doing endless errands.  The difference was that we were busy doing something that was fulfilling to our spirits.

Community Cob Building at Spirit Pine where we shared meals, cleaned together, and hung out playing music

The idea of simple living doesn’t mean to give up all your possessions and move to the country, or to the wilderness, it simply means to evaluate your time and expenses so that you’re doing something that feeds your soul.   It helps to lower your expenses,  to grow some of your own food, and to have a low housing cost, but it’s not a requirement to be poor.  Some of the happiest people I know in South America are looked upon as poor, but in my eyes, they are rich in spirit, love, and joy.  They were always willing to share what little they had, with joyful abundance.

Thank you Betty, Tatacho, Levi and all the friends we made at Spirit Pine Sanctuary.  It was wonderful working, living, and playing with you all.

The Natural Living School

In this day and age, where the answer to many questions are just a click away, people are still having a hard time answering the age old question, “why do I feel so unhappy?”  Most of us, who have tried to answer this question, have come up with several logical answers.

“More money,” if I had more money than I would be happy. 

“Better job,” if I had a job I liked, or if I had a job that paid more, then I would be happy. 

“More time,” if I had more time to do what I wanted, then I would be happy. 

The list can go on, and on, but these are some of the most common answers.  At the Cob Cottage Company, as you walk up the trail to the main building, there is a sign that says, “There are two ways to get rich, you can make more money or you can require less.”  The truth to us is in the second statement, “to require less.” 

Oliver and Esme's Hands Making Natural Plasters

The Natural Living School is a place where people can come to explore how to live simply and require less, to gain experience so they can construct natural buildings that are affordable for themselves and their families, to learn how to grow their own food so they can lower their food costs, and to gain the confidence to change their lives forever.

"Joy is within" sign at Ananda Village entrance. Hansa Temple in the background

The Natural Living School is an organization, focused on examining and co-creating new and old methods of sustainable living and natural building. Come and study with us, the art of natural living and higher thinking.

The View from Sunset Ridge. I like to think of these trees as old friends holding hands