Category Archives: Global Travels & Site Visits

Truly Green Homes: Earthships; a Permaculture Architecture

Kicking off my truly green career with the earthships almost 9 years ago (after a very educational internship stint as an Green Education Exhibit Designer at the New England Aquarium) I envisioned a world filled with Earthship style homes with endless fields of Organic Agriculture ending somewhere we deemed fit to allow for natural preserves. This being once we stabilized our population growth through personal responsibility of course. Having heard a little bit about permaculture around the same time from my future teaching accomplice, “Ande the Elf” Schewe I envisioned a small sliver of perennial ag. to minimize work and soil erosion (which I still couldn’t calculate how we would over come that one) .

Picture of My old house (far right) and my neighbors in the high density part of the community

It wasn’t until I did my first full Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) nearly 5 years later (after the sale of my Earthship) at the Ecoversity in Santa Fe, NM with Scott Pittman that I realized the full potential of Permaculture. It was then that that imaginary line that kept us separate from nature dissolved and helped me recognize that “We are nature, working” as Penny Livingston Stark coined so many years ago.

My good friend & former neighbor, Ted's house (he was Mike's right hand man and one of the best natural builder's I've known, which he built out of pocket over many years. He has done a great job of reclaiming the desert with no knowledge of Permaculture methods

It was also at this point that I began to recognize that all that I had recognized as fundamental and foundational in the Earthships for a sustainable future fell within the Permaculture Methods & Principles. After having studied Green building extensively for years I had also come to recognize that there was no single package of green housing that lived up to the standards of the Earthships, be it LEED or any other type of natural built home… and that was simply due to Mike Reynolds ability to cobble together and replicate such a successful fully off grid building style over and over again.

Ted, Ethan, Anna & Eli work on the Double Green House of the Phoenix, soon to house tillapia and Edible Plants

Building a Sloped Green house with Ken & an Intern

The Earthships  are unique in that Mike & crew (which are all exceptionally talented guys and gals that make it possible for Mike to do his work, Whether its Ted Elsasser, Phil Basehart, Damian & Seth, Rory, or any others of his past or present crew of multi-talented workers) have figured out how to cobble together a house that takes care of the inhabitants needs (through various building methods, Mike & crew’s creativity or most importantly trial and error). Fundamentally it was Mike & crew’s unending determination & drive to find ways to live sustainably on this planet that made this possible.

So why are Earthships so harmonized with Permaculture? Well one must dissect the homes themselves to understand how they integrated Permaculture principles. We will examine them from the viewpoint of both Mollison’s & Holmgren’s  Principle’s since both integrate fundamental realities of Permaculture.

To begin, the shell of the building utilizes the Principles of “Produce No Waste” (the reuse of Tires, Cans & Bottles), “Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services” is witnessed  (the use of minimal timber and Adobe -albeit not really a “renewable resource per se), and “Catch & Store Energy” (passive solar design combined with capturing the ambient temp of the earth). From Mollison’s Principles Mike unknowingly uses: “Every Element Should Serve many Functions” by having the shell of the building not just serve as a structure to protect us from the elements but also to harness the elements, be it solar heating, cooling from the earth, or harnessing rain water off the roof. It also plays into the principle of pollution being an unused resource by reusing the “pollution” of tires, cans & bottles and turning them into a resource, just as nature would.

Utilizing the principle’s of “Redundancy” and “Capturing & Storing Energy” primarily, Mike heats the home via the sun’s heat, the earth’s ambient temperature, super insulation, and via the renewable resource of wood heat (of which I would love to see Masonry stoves in there to minimize the use of wood and maximize its heat capture.)

The water system in the earthships is some of the most impressive, developed by Mike and his former partner in crime/plumber, Joe Hoar, and constantly evolving system of maximizing water use in a place of scarce rainfall, a minimal 8″ of rain a year. They have developed a rain catch system that is first stored in Cisterns (admittedly they can be undersized, I always recommend about 10K gallons no matter where you are this day in age of extreme droughts & floods). The water is then pumped (which could be a simple gravity feed if properly designed with enough drop and head thus minimizing the need for mechanical parts) through filters. This becomes the drinking, shower and sink water. From there it heads to the grease & particle filter (which are always evolving in every house -at least when I lived out there) before heading to the grey water holding cell. It is here that as the water travels through the system of large rocks below and soil above that plants grow their roots to access the water stored in this system before being pumped out at the other end to fill the toilet. Ideally these plants are producing food as well. Once the toilet is flushed it heads to a septic tank where the solids are separated to let settle and decompose. The liquids overflow into a leach field where more plants (ideally food producing) turn those resources into useful resources that we can use. One can witness the principles of “redundancy”, “Everything is connected to everything else”, “Every Element serves many functions”, “Obtain a Yield” & “Produce No Waste” to name a few that are exemplified here. By Implementing these principles, albeit unknowing yet logically, they manage to turn a mere 8″ of rain into enough water to support a family, slowing the water as it heads from source to sink (another PC Principle) and capturing many resources along the way.

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By designing the home to capture natural resources and recycling them many times to serve and fulfill our needs, Mike has been able to design down the need for Energy, be it Fossil or renewable.  Fossil Fuel (propane to be exact) are only used to support propane powered fridges, stoves & Hot water tanks. These are typically a low budget option for Homeowners, as Solar Hot water heaters are more expensive initially but cheaper in the long run. When Using a Solar Hot water heater its good to have a gas on demand back up for long stretches of cloudy days. One could also have the hot water tied into a Masonry stove or wood burner as a back up, this can also serve to replace a Gas stove. As far as refrigeration goes, one can design a Cool Cubard, as the Holmgren’s did, that allows air to cool to the earths temp of 55 and uses convection to keep that cool air moving (this can be seen on the Cool Climate episode of Mollison’s Global Gardener) through the cubard. This minimizes the size of refrigeration space required. This could then be provided by a small Sun Frost Fridge, (which runs off of DC power, the type of power generated by solar panels and micro Wind turbines). There are also many other ways for food storage that can be found through many great books. Ultimately by designing down the electrical needs one can then live off of small alternative power systems, which is easier to fit within most people’s budgets. Mike has been able to power homes off of small $10K solar systems which are about the same cost of a typical HVAC system (which through appropriate natural design  from the get go has been elminated). This is how Mike keeps his homes relatively price competitive with your typical new suburban build home. If one is able to design appropriately from the start then we can ultimately design more efficient homes, which Nature is the master of and Permaculture seeks to replicate. This is the future of our planet and the sooner we learn live with Nature’s Efficient Principles the sooner we’ll have an abundant regenerative future.

There is a lot to learn from all forms of Green/Natural building, but it always comes back to 1 thing, Efficient fulfillment of Needs of the user, of which Nature is the master of that efficiency, so learn how nature works and work from there…. this is what Permaculture teaches us.

To learn More about the Earthships please visit Earthship.com

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Film Review: 2012: Time For Change

Following the San Francisco Green Festival on Sunday, We found our way to the Lumiere Theater in the heart of San Fran for the Premier of the film “2012: Time for Change” (2012timeforchange.com). As the crowd shuffled in I found the excitement about the film palpable (at least from my perspective) as this was the first film that had not just big names on the bill like Sting, David Lynch (the film director),  and Barbara Marx Hubbard, but also very pivotal names in the Permaculture scene like Penny Livingston Stark (one of the early Permaculturalists still carrying the message forward in Cali), Paul Stamets (Planetary/ecological Mushroom Guru), Buckminster Fuller (of course archival footage) and the young Oscar Nominated Actress and recently Certified Permaculturalist, Ellen Page (star of the film “Juno”). This, I found very intriguing to say the least…. the synergy begins.

The Film follows Daniel Pinchbeck, the Author of the very popular book”2012: The Return of Quetzacoatl” that explores the potential happenings of 2012 through his journey of awakening. It follows him through psychedelic journeys that led him to awaken to the answers regarding the planets perils and the shift that is happening right now among us leading into and well after 2012. He makes the case for psychedelic awakening for the first portion of the film and then gets into the nitty gritty solutions like Permaculture, Design, Mycellium for healing toxins, and Hydrogen fuel break throughs just to name a few. Primarily it is learning to design with the planet in mind.

His Case for psychedelics is supported by many first hand testimonies from Sting, Tribal Elders & Shamans, Terrence McKenna and several others who have learned to use these sacred plants in Ceremonial settings for millenia. From Archival Footage Terence MeKenna makes the case that Psychedelics may be our only hope for the Human Species to wake up to its potential Blind Sided Ego Centric Demise. This could teach us to “sacrifice the Ego” for future generations of all forms life as psychedelics and their medicinal capability to cure that malady of seperateness can do.

Fortunately Daniel Begins to also delve into other spiritualities that are beginning to influence our Consciousness like Yoga and other Eastern Traditions to help us awaken to that oneness that exists all around us. He interviews the Film Director, David Lynch, about Transcendental Meditation, which leads into archival clips of the founder of TM, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Hosting Buckie Fuller in front of an Audience, talking about how conscious this western man is, because of his focus on making people’s lives better, Or as Maharishis says “Making people’s live’s…Fuller!” as the crowd breaks into laughter at his Pun.

This combined with a great interlude of surreal digital Cartoons (that permeate the film) lead us into the life of Buckminster Fuller, the mid 20th century evolutionarily oriented gentleman, who laid so many fabulous cases for for the logic of design to resolve the worlds problems. He uses design as the lynch pin to help us harmonize with the planet and ourselves. Buckie in fact laid many of the foundational natural Principles that would later go on to influence Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in their development of the Permaculture Principles.

It is this synergy that then leads us into the solutions that Permaculture and other concepts are bringing. As the description of the film indicates “Rather than breakdown and barberism, 2012 heralds the birth of a regenerative planetary culture where  collaboration replaces competition, where exploration of the psyche and spirit becomes the new cutting edge, replacing sterile materialism that has pushed our world to the brink.” This is the core of the film. That awakening to the synergy of man and nature using design, is the evolution that is occurring. This is the awakening that the planet is going through, one that diverts us from the potential disaster to one of a new birth of humanity on the planet.

It was this part that begins to get very inspirational (as it it wasn’t already yet….. but this is where the feet hit the ground). They had the long time Permaculturalist Penny Livingston Stark, the woman who coined the permaculture phrase ” We are Nature Working”  talk about this shift we are in the midst of as well as this returning we are a part of. They also had Ellen Page, (Starring actress and Oscar Nominee of the film “Juno” and recently Certified in Permaculturalist) talk about her journey into permaculture and finding solutions for the planet at this time. It was exceptionally motivating and exciting to see these concepts finally tapping into more “mainstream” media sources. Ultimately its inevitable if we are to survive on this planet .

The film winds out on very positive notes of solutions that are popping up all over the place in the face of this potential catastrophe. Solutions that utilize this harmonized way of thinking. Ways that will evolve us past this bottle neck in Planetary evolution, the return of the Human species to the planet to become what it has always been but has had slight amnesia…. a conscious co-creator.

After the film we had the great boon of a question and answer with Daniel,  Joao Amorim (the film maker), Paul Stamets (Mushroom Guru),  John Barlow (Lyricist for the Grateful Dead) and musicians Rob Garza (of Thievery Corporation) and Alex Theory. This was very inspirational as well hearing their thoughts about the movie, their visions and hopes for the future and seeing how we can bring this change to the world.

Overall it was a very inspirational evening and synchronistic as well, given the strong focus on Permaculture, an idea that is long over due in our dis-harmonized world

2010 San Francisco Green Festival

After flying into San Fran last week to help my girl friend move to Cincinnati I stumbled across a brochure for the San Francisco Green Festival.  Much to my joy it just so happened to be taking place the day I picked up the brochure. I also stumbled across a flyer for the premier of the film “2012: Time for Change” by Daniel Pinchbeck and starring interviews with Sting, David Lynch, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Paul Stamets and many other movers & shakers in Evolutionary Scene. This Premier was going to host a Q & A after the showing with the Film Makers Daniel Pinchbeck, Joao Amorim, as well as Paul Stamets (the Mushroom Guru of the planet and major Evolutionary), John Barlow (Grateful Dead Lyricist), and several others. Little did I know I would be stumbling into such major pivotal green events in my travels, since I tend to dedicate so much time these days to the local and demonstration….. course the spirit had a grander plan!

To begin, Saturday’s list of events included Hunter Lovins, (a wonderful consultant and visionary at the top of the Green Heap, working with the largest organizations in the world, whether corporate or Governmental), Amy Goodman (Host of the radical News show “Democracy Now”), Starhawk (a Fringe Permaculturalist pushing the boundary’s on many fronts including earth spirituality). Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts I missed these speakers. However We did make it in time to catch Barbara Marx Hubbard, a visionary and freedom thinker that is well known in many progressive circles. Her talk was, well, more self reflective about the budding human evolution occurring on the planet and about where it is going in the next several years. I found her talk insightful, yet not very useful for getting this green evolution onto the ground. After that We found ourselves at a talk by Paul Stamets, which was inspirational, directional and fruitful in terms of where we need to go and how we need to proceed along that path (how could it not be with a sub title of “How Mushrooms can save the World”, which is a pretty radical statement by any main stream standards, but the bottom line is that it is true! I’ve heard his talk before and have had several friends who were students and devotees of his work, as it is so evolutionary in its thinking and results, how could one not want to follow and learn from such a great visionary. I find this type of thinking and energy so common in Permaculture circles its no wonder when one comes across this stuff one cannot help but get inspired and motivated to join the scene and evolve out minds. It is a Sea Course Change for Humanity. Paul took us on the wonderment of how foundational Fungus is to all life on the planet, how it can solve so many of our pollution problems, how it evolves very quickly to solve problems like breaking down newly encountered pollution and turning it into food. In Short, Mycelium is Like the Neuro-network of the planet, evolving, networking, and supporting all of this natural beauty on this planet. After his inspirational talk and finding a new convert in my girl friend, we wondered around the convention floor to see the many varied and diverse exhibitors that numbered over 200. They were selling everything under the sky, from clothes, to food, to green building, to art. Much to my dismay Permaculture had a relatively dismal representation, although we at OM Valley Permaculture hope to shift that as it is so fundamental to helping people see through the green washing, and most importantly help us learn how to live on this planet for the next millenium. Many of these exhibitors miss this larger picture and thus I question their viability over the 20, 100, or 1000 years. These are the ones that will be the fad, that will come and go when peoples whimsy’s evolve and shift.  Coming from a Automobile/product design background, I’m very familiar with this cycle, one that must be broken if we are to be successful species on this planet.

Sunday brought several more fruits, of which some were useful and others, well, not so. I’ll share the high points in respect to your time. We unfortunately showed a little too late to catch Paul Stamets talk on Cultivating Mushrooms (fortunately there are books as well my Colleague Romain Picasso, a current resident of Cincy and student of Paul’s can help on that front), so we spent the afternoon wandering through many booths, observing, learning and evolving, catching some talks here and there that we meandered in to. The highlight for the Green Festival on Sunday was a Tribute to the recently passed Howard Zinn (Author of “A Peoples History of the United States” and professor). This Tribute included Actor Danny Glover, Writer Alice Walker (the Color Purple), a film maker who has made a film on Howard and a few others. It was very insightful and inspiritional as well. Although, I still must express my disappointment  with the lack awareness of permaculture and the fruits it can bring to this planet, Overall it was very inspirational yet…. missing the necessary foundation for the evolution that the green scene needs, that of inspiration, Vision and action that can be taken on the individual level. That of a Sea Course Change for Humanity. One of Evolving from Net Consumers of the planets bank account of soil and resources to one of Net Producers of the planets Resources…. as simple as that.

Wonka’s Garden of Eden! The Bullock’s-’06

September 2006:

After floating off the bliss of seeing HH Dalai Lama discuss with Western Scientists, including Depak Chopra, the scientific benefits of meditation in Vancouver I found myself landing in Eden. Somewhere in the Puget sound on the Island of Orcas were 17 paradisical acres of sooo many earthly delights one could only think it was a dream!  Fortunately there is evidence in the form of Photos to remind me that this was not just a dream but a dream manifest on earth after 28 years of human labor, ingenuity and creativity. This was one of the first Permaculture sites located on the great continent of North America which was the vision of the Bullock Brothers, Sam, Joe, & Doug.

Doug was one of the integral players to bring Bill Mollison to the US for the first time, way back in 1980. They brought Bill to Hawaii to teach this new synergy called Permaculture that stood to reshape the planet for all sentient beings. Bill cranked out a handful of enthusiastic Permaculturalists that class that went on to carry this good news to many awaiting souls across the continent & planet. Many are still practicing today, most notably the Bullock’s. After 28 years they have quite the site to show for themselves, one that will continue to produce and regenerate not just food but believers that the vision is possible!

They have more species of useful & edible plants to humans than I’ve ever witnessed anywhere. Many that one may never have heard of, simply because they are not shelf stable for grocery stores and therefore not “worth” propagating. These earthly delights are so magnificent that it begs the question to be answered “why did we leave paradise for a world of corn syrup, artificial flavors & hydrogenated foods only to be left with type 2 diabetes to show for that processed indulgence?!” Well thank God we are waking up before it’s too late and these fabulous foods have gone extinct…. grant it many already have!

Well the story of their 17 acres is; well actually they own only 8 or 9 and lease 8 or nine from the neighbor; the 3 brothers bought it sometime around 1980 and started work. To begin they flooded a 1 or 2 acre field that was used for many years for till agriculture to return it back to its original state…. a wetlands. This was done simplyby removing the drain tiles (this little endeavor has created one of the most diverse bird habitats in Washington State!). After this they continued planting as many different  species as they could find on their Permaculture teaching expeditions from around the globe as would grow in their multiple microclimates found on this land. The microclimates vary from warm subtropical southerly exposed rock faces to cool, moist forested understories and literally everything in between. All this is located in the northern reaches of the lower 48, yet is regulated by the oceans warmth surrounding the island. This leaves a very mediterranean climate that rarely sees temps below 20. Similarly they have a very low 17 in. rainfall for the northwest, due to the rain shadow of the Olympic range a little west of them. All this works to create an exceptionally diverse piece of land that allows the creation of one of the top Permaculture sites in the world.

If there is one thing this site should be recognized for it is the diversity residing within these property boundaries. I wish I could recite all the species names I witnessed and experienced at this site but I don’t event think the Bullocks know all of them! Just to recite a few here we go! Pawpaws, Kiwis, Butternut trees, heart nut trees, mulberries, plums, monkey puzzle trees, rasperries, black berries, European & asian Pears…. and let me tell you about those asian Pears…. they’re amazing! And more types of apples than one could imagine! That’s just some of the edible types that I could remember!

Well here are some of the photos, which don’t do it justice….

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Holmgren’s Melliodora; Hepburn Springs, Victoria; Australia

10 Days at Melliodora: December 28th – January 7th 2007

In December & January of 06/07 I had the good fortune of working at David Holmgren & Su Dennet’s Homestead “Melliodora” in Hepburn Springs, Victoria, Australia. David is the Co-originator of the Permaculture Movement along with Bill Mollison. He is author of multiple books on Permaculture including the first publication “Permaculture One” published in 1978. After Publishing Permaculture One David chose to live the path of Permaculture to see if it was a real possibility. After years of getting it on the ground at Melliodora and “proving it” he has come back to be a prominent Permaculture contributer through authoring such excellent books as “Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability” or teaching Permaculture Design Courses or lecturing around the Globe.

Over my ten days at David & Su’s I worked in their orchards & Gardens, sometimes working one on one with David. We would have in depth Philosophical discussions over the implications of Permaculture, why we departed from food forests thousands of years back and why ultimately the ecological problem is in fact a spiritual problem. I also had the good fortune to share 3 meals a day, which most of the time were harvested right from their land, with just David & Su, getting to know them and his involvement & understanding of Permaculture. The most intriguing things I found about our discussions were how he came to “create” or synergize the concept of Permaculture which he quite succinctly described as his curiosity of what happens when you synergize Agriculture & Ecology using Landscape architecture as the unifying element. It was this simple vision that has created this Global movement, which Bill Mollison (the other Co-originator) has brought around the planet.

I also had joined David & Su for a trip to the Ecovillage that he helped establish, Fryer’s Forest. This was another great opportunity for education as well, more importantly witnessing the dream hit the ground…. which can be sobering at times. I’ll share more on my experiences while there in the near future.

The last highlight was spending New Years with David and some fellow friends on a dock watching some local fireworks, getting to see the casual side of such a great teacher and thinker….

What a life changing experience!

"Melliodora"

A view of their Zone 1, from the north side