Wayne Weiseman of the Permaculture Project LLC is co-founder and lead instructor at Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture. A founding board member of Permaculture Institute of North America, he is co-author of Integrated Forest Gardening, available from Chelsea Green later this year. In this episode of GLPPodcast, Wayne talks about design and how permaculture has progressed over the years. A partial transcription and video appear below.
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In the sixties we had a big movement, a back to the land movement. We started to experimenting with natural building styles, growing our own food, wildcrafting, going out in the woods and finding what we need. That more or less hit its peak around the mid 70s.
I know that a lot of my friends that shared in this experience with me ended up going into the corporate world. Or just into business, or whatever it was. I don’t think there was as much of the inspiration behind it to keep doing that work. A lot of the folks came out of the urban environment and moved into these rural environments and didn’t have the skills and didn’t have the training.
With the advent of permaculture in the seventies, when Mollison and David Holmgren wrote their first book. That skill level has started to rise, and these ideas have expanded into the general population now.
When I first started teaching, especially in the midwest, there really wasn’t a whole lot of understanding about what permaculture is. As a matter of fact, I would say that the majority of the population had never heard the word.
For those of us who started teaching here in the late 90s and early thousands, we were like the leading edge. And it was new, and it was fresh, and these ideas were just coming into their own here. In some ways, we had to pioneer this whole thing here. We were responsible for being responsible about what we were putting out there…
The whole organic farming scene grows by up to 10% a year and the whole organic food business is also growing by 10-20% a year. So it’s an incredibly dense movement right now, and there’s a lot of people that are looking for it and shopping for it, and making the relationships necessary to find that kind of food including growing their own, so that’s changed a lot, and we can all see that all over the place…
As far as design work goes, when we first started doing a lot of these designs, it was great to sit down, really assess a property, get in there, get at the guts of the property and what needed to happen. Do beautiful drawings, but a lot of these were not being implemented. What’s happened now, lets say my last 5 or 6 clients, these are all being implemented, and people are really working at it.
The other thing is they are getting more and more involved in the implementation process. Which is one of the things I’m adamant about. I will not work with a client that’s not also involved in the implementation of the project. From growing their food, etc., etc, etc. I think that is key to this work, and as permaculture practitioners, of course, that’s the essence of what we’re doing.
When we do a permaculture design there’s several different areas that we’re looking at. It’s not just strictly agriculture and gardening, but we’re also looking at the built environment, the waste stream and how we deal with that. How we use energy in a land base, etc. etc. It’s a complete lifestyle, and it’s a comprehensive plan, and I feel that one of the central goals of all of these plans is to simplify. Eliminate a lot of the gadgetry, and also create what we might call a “zero waste” environment. In order to do that we have to use the biological intelligence of the property…
I always bring somebody else along with me in the design. Either I hire another very experienced designer, or I will bring students that live in the area that I’m going to. It’s very important to have at least one more set of eyes on these properties so that we can see more of a complete picture, and look at all the facets of the property.
I feel it’s very important that we’re developing a comprehensive, lets call it a more holistic, picture of what a property and what a person’s or family’s or business’s lifestyle can be. I don’t take contracts to, lets say, install just simply a photovoltaic system, although a photovoltaic system can be part of a comprehensive design.
So we’re always looking at the entire land base, and even beyond that, beyond the perimeter of the property. To really understand a local bio-region, and also to know that there are many other utility and edible and medicinal plants, all over that bio-region and we can take a harvest from that. There are materials that we can explore that are local…
It’s very difficult, in these designs, to please all of the clients wishes. We have a set of goals that we work with and a vision for the property and a holistic goal. What we’re really looking at is, “what are the real needs,” and “what are the real necessities.” In our discussions with clients, that probably sits at the forefront.
We also base our designs on the ethics of permaculture, care of earth and care of people, etc., and everything we are going to place in the landscape has to refer back to those. If it doesn’t, we basically boot it out. We believe in those intrinsically, and we want to make sure that any of these systems that we are putting on the ground reflect that.
In summary, my personal design work is all about those ethics. It’s about setting up a farm or a land, community of beings that are working together in relationship and creating balance and harmony on a piece of property in a very sound ecology.
A little addendum to that is that: we say a sound ecology, but we’re also looking for economic viability, and how we can find sustenance on our property, and find sustenance even if its in a public project.
We want to make that if we build it they will come, and they will come see something miraculous.