Oct 2009: University PDC in Fairfield, USA

Maharishi University of Management 3 1/2 week PDC- Fairfield, Iowa, U.S.A., October, 2009

Through the Permaculture network at the Carbon Farming course in Tennessee, Doug was connected to Diana Krystofiak and Lonnie Gamble at the University through Marisha Aurebach.  After some discussions and logistics, Doug was hired and knew that at the end of the Financial Permaculture course, he would be quickly off to Fairfield.

Maharishi university of Management
Taylor Ross and the University Logo

Upon arrival at the airport, he met his Teaching Assistant, Taylor Ross, who ended up being a great help and good friend.  When dropping me off at my dorm room and waiting for the key, we managed to throw frisbee and identify trees as she was wanting to learn.  For the next four weeks after that, Doug was living on-campus at a University for the first time.

That evening his friend and colleague, Marisha Aurebach, arrived from her journey across the mountains from Washington to plains of Iowa.  She traveled with lots of companions, first her dog Nesta, but then a box full of silk worms!!  So Doug got to watch silk worms grow the whole time and went on many forays for Mulberry leaves or last resort Osage Orange leaves (they both are in the same family).

Silk worms and mulberry leaves in iowa
Marisha’s Silk Worms having a feed on some Mulberry leaves

So the reason Doug and Marisha were brought in was that the University has a Sustainable Living Program that is growing very quickly.  To make things flow better within the university and so that students have a permaculture eye the whole time they are there, Lonnie and others decided to push the PDC to the first class they take when they get to University.  This meant all new students were taking the course plus others who had been at the University but never had taken it yet.  65 students in all, so they decided to split the course up into three different PDC’s happening all at the same time yet one as whole.  Class began and Doug’s first Shirt and Tie gig began.

Doug in a tie
Professor Doug

Doug had 21 students in his course representing three different continents- N. America, Africa, and Oceania.  The first week was pretty typical week of seeing people light up in response to the principles and the associated games that go with them.  The students, both new and old, responded well to this information.  It’s great to see when people start to get it.  It’s recognizable when each student does as there faces light up, a smile encroaches, and their energy opens.

Ashley explaining their design that included dealing with Monsanto run-off

On occasion we got together as a group of 65 to hear one of the facilitators present.  In the first week, Doug delivered his compelling Powerpoint  entitled the following: Pattern Recognition: Observation and Application.  This topic of patterns is really what defines Permaculture from  other forms of design or organic agriculture.  It’s this awareness of how Nature creates form that leads to creative pursuit of a true Permaculture.  Because we were at a conscious based university, the message of this talk really went over well and was deeply profound for many as it makes the connection between humans, nature, and the unseen energetic world.

von karman trail
The complex and diverse pattern of the Von Karman Trail recently seen in a freshly dug swale

The second week began with our first hands on session which was a station approach so that students could rotate through different learning areas to keep the group sizes small and more manageable for the instructors.

Students Kevin Tulley in Mid air trying to compact stick layer for the Juggle-culture bed

The stations were juggleculture and grafting with Brian , double digging with Alex, and sheet mulching with Nick.  This demonstration focused mainly on bed prep or establishment at the MUM student farm.  It highlighted different styles and approaches to why you would use these techniques in varying situations.  Because of Doug’s learning with Sepp Holzer he relayed to Brian to make the sides of the juggle-culture beds steeper, 80 degrees says Sepp so it is hard for grass to germinate and colonize the beds.  It also gave us a chance to explore the horticultural skill of grafting.  Students tried this approach as Brian is a proponent of small-scale nurseries to help make communities more resilient.

The mid part of the second week featured Scott Pittman coming into teach the next seven days worth of class.  Scott was brought in to bring his elder based knowledge and experience of travelling with Bill Mollison to the students.  Scott Pittman Maharishi University of ManagementHe lectured mostly in a big auditorium and had some classic stories with Bill from Russia where they spent most of their time together.  Scott runs the website permaculture.org and has been involved with Permaculture a long time.  He spoke quite a bit about his homestead and the design he did for the Seeds of Change seed company.  They were bought our by the Mars corporation a few years back and he did an extensive multi-year plan to make their operation much more sustainable.  Lots of their inputs were coming from the outside, while they had the space and resources to close those loops on-site.  The design is in the slow process of being implemented as they have had trouble with finding a manager for the project that understands the permaculture design.  Most of whom they have hired are chemical farmers tasked with running an organic seed company in an arid area.  So when working with corporations and designs,  help them find a manager that will be able to interpret and implement the plan.  Permaculture designers will be tasked more and more to do this very thing so it is important to realize.  We did go for a walk and talk with Scott when he was there to the Abundance Ecovillage which was designed in part by Lonnie Gamble.  We saw the energy, water, and housing systems that make this site a dynamic approach to suburbia.

Scott, Lonnie and the group hearing about the heating system and local timbers used by homeowner during construction

After Scott left we had more hands on and a special filed trip.  We split into groups and headed to local grower Ernie Heinkel’s place and then to Vedic City farm.  Ernie is an 85-year-old farmer who loves to tell stories of when Fairfield had lots of orchards and grazing areas before it was all turned into corn or soybean monoculture.  He sells at the farmers market still and amazingly its just him and his wife who do the work.  He has a one acre garden and an orchard of mixed species which includes the following: apples, pears, plums, peaches, hardy kiwi, heartnut, and Northern Hardy pecans.  It was a special site for students as he does things really simply and has some antique machines to increase crop value.  One is an old cider press and the other an apple shiner and grader.

Hardy Kiwi vine and fruit in the fall
Aliye, foreground, enjoying a hardy kiwi from grower Ernie Heinkel, background

The next hands-on/ interactive experience students engaged in was building a cob house model from cob.  This got students familiar with the consistency of cob in a more subtle way than saying percentages and mix recipes.  Rather it was an exercise in design of what you want your ideal house to be.  Students really got into it with the mud and sticks as roofing and making some very creative designs that reflected the patterns slide show.

cob modeling
Kabuika putting the roof on her round earthen structure

Our last hands on was great to see and be a part of.  We dug a swale right at the entrance of the Big Green Summer campus where Lonnie Gamble runs his summer PDC’s.  We also had a demo by Nick about how to make a small rocket stove from coffee cans and soup cans.  Both were enjoyed by the students and give them some necessary practical skills for embarking into permaculture design and management.  Hands-on really gives students the confidence to go out and do something as with all the theory one can walk away not knowing where to start.  There is a hurdle of fear we all go through when trying something new, but if we can make that hurdle very short because of prior exposure then more projects will be started and finished.

Along the way students were engaged in Academic assignments that made this near four-week course an academic challenge.  One assignment was to write a 5 page paper on somebody from the field of design.  There was much consternation over this assignment but in the end people got to delve into the lives and contributions of people like P.A. Yeomans and Alice Waters.   Bringing up the academic rigor of the university is a goal right now at MUM.  Doug also enjoys seeing this as training professionals who will engage public officials or be hired by corporations is much-needed for permaculture to move forward.

As the leaves grew brighter in fall color, the silk worms grew bigger and approached their time for making their silk cocoons.  By the end of the course their appetites had grown as the mulberry trees were starting to lose their leaves.  They had grown to be a beautiful micro-fiber enterprise that Marisha was very dedicated to seeing to fruition.

The design projects reflected that this courses content was absorbed and able to be transformed into professional designs.  It’s just the beginning for these students but many will go onto use this design technique in whatever form of sustainable living directs them towards.  Each one of them has now gone through a metamorphosis, they have their permaculture eyes now.

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