Having taught twice already at Maharishi University of Management, this course offered the first chance for Doug, me, to work hand in hand with Permaculture/ Energy all star Lonnie Gamble who is permanent Faculty there at MUM. He helped to generate the Sustainable Living program at the University, is a part of another non-profit focused on sustainability, and was the successful developer of Abundance Eco-Village on the outskirts of town (Fairfield, Iowa, USA). Team-teaching Permaculture courses allows students to get refreshed from different speakers while the teachers also get a rest. This course proved to be a very symbiotic relationship with both of us focusing on our specialties- me plants and soil and design, Lonnie- energy, building and invisible structures.
31 students graduated from this course and also received college credit towards their sustainable living (B.S) degree or Sustainable Business degree (MBA). It was nice to have the mix of new students with some grad students who are focused on sustainability but the business side of it. As always at the university we had a mixed demographic, old young, American and Europeans. The highlight for me was the design at the end, 7 excellent designs that really showed how hard students worked at acquiring this knowledge as the course unfolded.
The first weekend featured our first hands-on session as students go to school for half-a-day on Saturday morning. Since nobody really wants to be there for that, we mix it up by putting in hands-on or field trips to inspire people to get out of bed. So we did a split exercise of hot composting on one side with me and on the other side sheet mulching and nursery establishment with Brian Robbins who is a local permaculture/ micro enterprise guy who also works full time as staff. Since we are at a University that Dr. Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web Inc also teaches at, composting doubles up as material for her and her students to analyze in the spring.
So we built a big pile, 3 X 5 X 4 ft, with 31 students you can go big as they were keen to turn it as well. After its completion we began monitoring and you can see its rise and fall of temperatures with turning the pile and it also running out of food sources as the green, more nitrogen, material broke down. We mostly used comfrey for the green material and failed to put anything in that was high nitrogen just to try to see how good of a compost activator comfrey was. The pile got hot, almost up to the 160 F mark and then turned it and it stayed above 130 degrees F for long enough to kill some pathogens and seeds. Monitoring compost with temperature, moisture content, and then under the microscope is the sure fire way to know that we are adding a high quality inoculant to our soils. When done properly, in an aerobic way, this compost will help add the microorganisms which make nutrients available and build humus into the soil.
During the next week Bill McKibben of 350.org was speaking in Iowa City and its was my first trip to the liberal college town. On the way we stopped by a small-scale bio-diesel production site and got a little run down of his operation. Once in town we also stopped by a small-scale intensive urban site with greenhouses and a beautiful time stacking operation going on with the veggies. His plot had young winter greens growing in amongst the summer crops of tomatoes and peppers. After a nice dinner we caught last half of Bill McKibben’s speech which was a thoughtful look into how we can take action on many different levels.
That weekend we had our first official field trip going to Abundance ecovillage to look at housing design, water systems on a community scale, and small scale energy production with solar and wind. Lonnie, being the developer, of course had some great insights into the eco-village development over time. We then went out to Vedic City greenhouses, which is a massive operation that is done all organically. We wanted to show students projects of a few different scales. Dean, the owner-operator, gave us some of his viewpoints on the issues surrounding local food production. His main message, please don’t buy food from Whole Foods, great that it is Organic, but small scale Organic farmers never will compete in price with those producing for Whole Foods south of the Border. Dean does grow a huge amount of food and was able to offer the first winter CSA in Fairfield last winter.
As the course snaked along the group really came together and I really formed some nice bonds. We were having fun monitoring compost after school and putting some beds to rest for the winter from time to time. Since it is a university course the students were of course kept busy with different assignments. One that we did again this time was the plant species research assignment and I thought I would just share this one with you because it is a beautiful representation of the Hardy Kiwi by Kimber O’brien.
The last weekend of the course featured one of the delightful highlights of the course for the students, which was the sustainability bike tour around town. We headed out to the local cultured kitchen, which is a great local buying club for food that has tremendous potential to heal our burdened guts. We then rode around doing drive bys of various yards that had gardens or bamboo. We stopped at one, which is a copy-cat of Brian and Kelly’s yard. The lady came out from her house as she was curious why 30 people were looking at various aspects of her urban jungle. Lots of veggies still around even thought the season was late, sightings of perennial vegetables like Asparagus, and the parking strip in strawberries which the students just loved. We eventually moved onto a local shop called Bob’s Barn where I ate my first Black Walnut and enjoyed Pecans from Missouri. It’s almost like an Old General store buying produce and crafts from locals to highlight the regions abundance. We of course finished with Brian and Kelly’s yard, which we got a feed of some different produce that was around. Many of us enjoyed or first Jujube, or Chinese date, as they were strewn about under the tree in the parking strip. The longer they were on the ground the ripper they were and it was our final treat of the day.
As said before the course ended with some great designs and we were really pleased with overall performance of all of the groups. The designs ranged from department member Diana Krysotfiak’s local country homestead to the square in the middle of the town. They had a chance to work with clients which is a great feature of the courses here sense they really get an impression of what consulting and designing is like for the real world.
The final part of the course is of course the no-talent show. We did it a bit different this time to make it feel more like a regular PDC. We started teh course with a pizza party and a movie and we ended the course with a pizza party and the fun and silliness of the talent show that Bill Mollison believed so much in. Seeing peoples hidden talents come out is a great way to entertain ourselves. Some even got to witness “Miss Permacutlure 2010”. What a show!!! Thanks to all who made this happen and your were a beautiful group and a pleasure to learn with.