As the cold months of winter slogged along, the time we spent as a group will be remembered fondly as the transformative process of a Permaculture Design Course was completed. Patterns to details was our theme for this group of 14. We had a quite diverse group, young and old, students and professionals, travelers and leaders. This was also true of the teaching team as it really was a collaborative effort amongst the many Permaculture facilitators in the guild.
The course was anchored by Doug Crouch, Sam Dunlap, and Kathryn Grover with Mary Lu leggman , Suellyn Shupe, Ande Shewe, Patti Walker, Gretchen Vaughn, and Braden Trauth contributing mightily. While embracing the old adage of “each one, teach one” two of our students Michelle and Patrick Sherwin contributed teaching sessions in their fields of horticultural and renewable energy expertise. On top of the teachers and students we learned from many different sites as we had a diverse array of scales and contexts of the host sites. From urban eco-villages, to sub-urban demo sites to rural locales, the class was an ever-evolving rotation of learning and fun.
The course was really a fusion of distinct teaching styles and lineages with Sam and Doug coming from diverse backgrounds. Sam is anchored in the Dave Jacke, Design Process focus of the course, while Doug is more into the design principles that echoes his West Coast training. This however produced a fantastic contrast for all of us to learn from each otherAs a group, we managed to gel wonderfully and really challenge the students with a teaching environment that spurred many different learning styles and truly engaged them on learning a design process.
The beginning weekends were held at Parkwalk Permaculture Project in the suburbs near Mt Airy forest. We were enchanted with a lovely huge snowflake “downpour” when we began to do some of our observation which is of course what anchors our design process. Observe nature, analyze the land and correlate that with the visioning process which conjures a great design. On the second weekend we quickly broke the design groups out during this seven weekend course that took place in the winter of 2011. It was the beginning of an exhausting process but really great as the projects have real feasibility to be implemented.
We had suburban design projects and also a school project that is still continuing to be refined and tossed around at Dater Montessori so that the outdoor arena at the school can be a living laboratory. A handful of the students were DAAP students at University of Cincinnati so some really great designs happened. Many late nights and tireless effort was put in which is always so refreshing for me to see in this day in age.
The design process really consumes people and we had some really great designs, which culminated at the Speckled Bird Café. It is a great example of how powerful a community space can be in allowing people to come together.
Other highlights of the course were of course the hands on section. One day while at Suellyn Schupe’s down at the Enright Urban Eco-village. In one project day we split up into groups and helped to dig out some swales which had silted up and increase their water holding capacity. Another group of headed back into the forest and did some honeysuckle pruning and making contour brush piles. It was great because you really can embody the Permaculture philosophy of “the problem is the solution” any time you work with Honeysuckle. Energy cycling this carbon pathway into fungal foods is one of my favorite management techniques in the eastern deciduous forest of North America. We also worked on a cob bench up at OM valley Permaculture led by Kathryn Grover. It was a beautiful creation and the best part was one week later when we had a solstice gathering we got to see people actually sitting on it. It faces the garden and brings another PC element to this great urban site.
All epic Permaculture courses have great site visits and we definitely had a great one when heading down to Sam Dunlap’s folks place north of Cincinnati in Pleasant Plain. Sounds so quaint, eh. Well it’s the start of the Corn Belt that extends it detrimental grip for thousands of miles to the west. Fortunately Sam is slowly taking over the lawn and will eventually convert the corn and soil field that is being leased by his folks into an oasis of food, habitat, and water quality mitigation. We got to learn in a space that was attached and heated to a south-facing greenhouse. The building shows that old adage of each element should perform many different functions. The building is a barn on the north side and in the middle is the studio apartment that we used as a teaching space. The greenhouse uses thermal mass to store heat with rain barrels and a concrete wall on the backside. However the coolest feature is the compost-heated beds, Jean Pain style, which Sam designed and installed. It uses the thermal properties of composting and water circulation through black pipe to create a really great heat resource. Microbes are busy partying and we get the added benefit of energy all derived from the true one source, the sun and the decomposition process that comes along with it.
Overall the course was a lot of fun and a great learning experience for us all. It was new energy infused into the movement and we are really starting to make some real waves in the city. I feel that we can really make a difference in Cincinnati with so many levels of food security and social justice through this powerful design intention called Permaculture and uniting as a guild.