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Kristine Beck of Kinstone: Toward the Future by Connecting with the Past

sunrise at kinstone

Out of the morning mist in the driftless region rise a circle of monolithic stones. Who built them? How did they come to be here? Kristine Beck is the founder of Kinstone and directs the operations of Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture. Here she shares more about how this project was started and the development process.

GLPP: What is your background?

Kristine Beck of Kinstone and Kinstone AcademyKristine Beck: I grew up on the Kinstone property and worked the gardens, fields, and fences and more; I cared for hogs, chickens, calves, cows, dogs, and cats.  Milking cows was a regular chore from little on – all the way through college.  After studying chemistry and computer science I took jobs in the medical and energy industries – always in information technology. In 1994 I bought 30 acres of the farm I grew up on – something for the future. This is now Kinstone. Back in 2000, a couple of colleagues and I started a software company.  We started with just three and ended up with over 70 people working for us when we sold it in 2011. I moved back to the land in 2012 and now put my energy and resources into restoring the land and creating this place where we all can regenerate, relearn and revive.

GLPP: Tell us about Kinstone, what is the history of the site?

KB: Kinstone is 4th generation family dairy farmland. My great grandfather, my grandfather, my father, and now I have worked and walked this piece of earth. It is steep, north-facing land consisting of about 17 acres of woodland and 13 acres of open land that had lain fallow since 1986. Historically, the open portion was used for corn, hay and oat crops (rotation planting) and pasture.

Team building in front of monoliths

Team building exercise amongst the monoliths

GLPP: Where is Kinstone located? What is the history of the land?

KB: Kinstone and Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture are in rural Fountain City, Wisconsin. This land is part of the Driftless region – that portion of the upper Midwest that was untouched by glaciers. The Lakota and Dakota peoples lived in this area. My father even found arrowheads on this land!

Fountain City has a population of less than 1000. Further, it is in a rural county that in its entirety has less than 15,000 people. This is farm country. Environmental concerns are commonly expressed as this is part of the Driftless region and has spectacular natural beauty which residents want preserved.

We are also very near the Mississippi River that forms the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Winona, Minnesota is about 7 miles from Kinstone and is the closest town of reasonable size with a population of about 28,000.  Winona has two universities and a large retirement-age population. Education is a big focus and the universities are highly rated.

This area is a hub for road biking and mountain biking in this region as well as a place to launch many outdoor activities especially related to the river. The arts are important and seem to be gaining importance with many artist studios, two theater companies, music festivals as well as local museums. There is an outdoor farmers market here in the summer while in the winter it is held in the local mall.

GLPP: How were you Introduced to permaculture?

KB: I learned about Permaculture in 2010 from my nephew who had taken his PDC with Wayne Weiseman. I met Wayne in October of 2010 when he did an initial assessment of this property at my request. Many hours have been spent since then working closely together to create and maintain a master plan for Kinstone.

I took the Permaculture Design Certificate course in 2011 and began implementing portions of the master plan at Kinstone. The rejuvenation of myself throughout this process has been second only to the rejuvenation of the land. The ethics and principles of Permaculture offer such a framework to build on! I am committed to continue to learn more, help others to learn more, and do my best to live holistically.

Kinstone Chapel

Kinstone chapel, constructed using natural building techniques

GLPP: What parts of the master plan have you implemented on the site so far?

KB: The Kinstone master plan was initially created in 2011. There were many components outlined in the plan including key lining,  tree planting, placing access paths, building a stone circle, a labyrinth, a tower, small cabins of various natural building modalities, planting many gardens of various functions, and more.

One thing that I have learned deep down into my bones is that a Permaculture master plan is a tool. It is a guide to help you proceed forward. As you implement one thing, you then critically observe the impact of that thing to the overall plan. Then you determine next steps which may include modifications and new approaches. We have modified the plan several times already.

We began with key-lining the property. This was much needed on this old, fallow farmland. We then planted 210 trees including 120 evergreens along the road that will eventually be a privacy screen and 80 oaks of 9 varieties (mostly Bur Oak – the keystone species of the Oak Savanna in this area), plus some black cherry, sugar maple, and hickory trees.

Next we had a group of 26 volunteers work on the Labyrinth – which (not including excavation time) was miraculously created in less than 6 hours! Then we put in the Kinstone Stone Circle and the adjacent pond. Stones are my passion. Megalithic structure, both ancient and modern, hold a place in my heart. As we put these features in we felt the land change and we reviewed and made adjustments to the plan.

Since then we have put in the classroom / library / kitchen as well as a utility building with a wood shop and space for storing machinery and lumber. We also built a beautiful hexagonal building of cordwood with a thatched roof (we used Phragmites reeds from the Mississippi just 5 miles away) – this is the Kinstone Chapel. We have a straw-clay cabin that is nearly complete – just needs the plaster coats on the inside and out. Once complete, visitors and students may be able to stay in that cabin.

Kinstone Yurt and Tepee

Yurt and tipi installed as part of the masterplan

There is also a campground with tent platforms, a 16′ tipi, a 20′ yurt, solar showers, and a outdoor sawdust toilet for the use of students, interns and visitors. We have terraced the steepest sections of the land and also excavated a large swale that cuts across the entire hillside. These measures have greatly reduced erosion and also holds water higher up on the land so it can soak in.

We have much of our infrastructure in place now and can accommodate large groups for classes and events. We have many projects ongoing including planting hundreds of trees, annual gardens, perennial food forests, pollinator gardens and so much more. More natural building projects are on the docket for this year including a cordwood sauna near the campground and a cob/cobwood information building.

GLPP: How did Kinstone Academy get started?

KB: Wayne suggested we offer courses to share this place and all the experiential learning we have at hand. From this idea we developed Kinstone Academy. The combination of our backgrounds works well – my business experience and goals for Kinstone and his unique experience of teaching over 150 PDC’s & advanced Permaculture courses as well as his broad and deep experience with consulting on projects of all sizes and climates. We began in 2012 and have committed to offer learning at all levels with a huge emphasis on hands-on, applied Permaculture.

I run the business end of the school to ensure we have all the appropriate resources required for our coursework and offerings. Drawing on my entrepreneurial experience, I find myself once again wearing the many hats of the small business owner. In addition, I am devoted to regenerating the Kinstone property using the Permaculture principles and ethics as a guide. This includes my own commitment to regenerate myself by relearning to live in healthy, functional relationship with the land.

Kinstone Labyrinth

view over the labyrinth in fall

GLPP: What are the goals of Kinstone Academy?

KB: Our goal at Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture is to offer diverse Permaculture courses, Natural Building courses, workshops and events so that everyone, no matter their age or life situation, may gain skills and knowledge to help them regenerate their lives and the life of the Earth.

Kinstone Academy is a working example of living and learning with intention; the intention of regenerating the self while regenerating the earth. As we have begun and continue to implement the master plan for Kinstone, I, with the help of Wayne Weiseman, have been applying Permaculture ethics and principles to the land and all we are doing on the land. Others have seen what we are doing and have asked to join in and learn.

We have opportunities ongoing where students get in and engage with actual projects.  The students and teachers have a direct impact on the development of the Kinstone property with the underlying ethics of Permaculture guiding them at all times. Interacting beyond the boundary of the traditional classroom gives vital energy to enhance the coursework. Access to our entire property as an outdoor classroom offers opportunities for direct application of creative thinking and design. Diverse situations abound where analysis, observation and examination lead to critical thinking and development of solutions to be applied.

For more about Kinstone Academy, to view upcoming course offerings and to register for classes including the upcoming Three Epochs of Humanity PDC, visit www.kinstonecircle.com. Follow Kinstone Academy on Facebook or Pinterest.

all photos courtesy Kristine Beck, Kinstone, or Kinstone Academy

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