Martha’s Vineyard PDC, Fall 2009

It was the historic 2nd Permaculture Design Course ever held on the small island of Martha’s Vineyard, MA., USA. The ever more historic first PDC was partly responsible for beckoning Kaila into the world of permaculture, and it seems only reasonable that she would return home and assist in the spreading of permaculture on her own island soil.

Herb Spiral, completed by students of MV PDC 2008

Led by permaculture designer from Austin, TX., Dick Pierce, and assisted by Martha’s Vineyard native Kaila Binney, the course began with a 2-day introductory course which dove into the ethics and principles, and such hands-on activities as building compost and creating mulch beds.

With both island natives and “off-island” visitors, the students were a diverse group of inspiring and aspiring gardeners, teachers, and designers. While the course followed the 14 chapter curriculum of Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, the uniqueness of the course came out of its embedded local focus.

Martha’s Vineyard is a small community of less than 15,000 year-round residents (compared to 150,000 residents in the summer season), and as a result, the island has turned to community resilience as its major goal in addressing the looming global crises surrounding us. With over 30 farms on its 80 square miles, the Vineyard is replete with knowledge of native species, animal husbandry, and sustainable agriculture, making it an ideal location for a permaculture course. During both PDC’s, students were taken on several field trips where they spoke with local farmers, fisherman, landscape designers, builders, and homeowners, all of whom had profound words regarding the path of the island’d development and how the community can guide its change to a sustainable system.

Anna Edey’s home in West Tisbury: south-facing greenhouse, attached to her house, with built-in passive solar ventilation system in roof

One such field trip was to Anna Edey’s home in West Tisbury, the site that is the focus of Edey’s well-known book, Solviva. Students walked around her passive solar “Solargreen” house, while Anna described the process of creating her home with a personally-designed ventilation system and indoor greenhouse, worm-based composting toilet, chicken coop, and her infamous greenhouse space that was able to yield $500,000 in one year.

Other field trips were to the Allen Sheep Farm in Chilmark, where co-owner Mitchell Posin is the first islander experimenting with biodynamics in his grass fields, and distributing home-brewed composting tea around the island.

The PDC crew
AMAZING ANNE: 85 years old and pounding tires just as good as Mike Reynolds himself
Using slightly moist dirt, Kristina pounded the tires with a sledgehammer, creating a solid brick of thermal mass

Apart from the field trips, students were engaged in several hands-on activities as they build compost piles, a composting toilet, vegetable beds, and helped to care for the pig and chickens on their host site. With Kaila’s background and passion in Earthships, the students also became a large part in the construction of her Earthship-inspired composting toilet system on her family’s land. The most tedious aspect of Earthship construction is often the tire pounding, and on those bright sunny days in September, the PDC crew took on the challenge.

The highlight of the course, as always, was the design presentations on our final day. Each student chose between their home site and the host site (The Youth Hostel, in West Tisbury), and completed several hours of observation and analysis throughout the course, including interviews with clients and stakeholders, before they began to lay out the designs on paper. Those who chose the host site as their design site were able to present their ideas to Jeff, the youth hostel manager, and may see some or all of their ideas come to fruition.  We are planning another course for May of 2010 and if you would like more information surrounding the course please feel free to contact Kaila at the following email address:

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