Feeding People in Hard Times

What does permaculture have to offer?
By : 
Michael Pilarski
Original Publication Date: 
December 26, 2007

This article is intended for a number of readerships:
1. The staff and volunteers of hunger organizations. I
would like to make you aware of some possible ways to
increase food security for your constituencies. You may
be aware of many of the social policies included here, but
less familiar with the gardening methods promoted by permaculture.
2. The permaculture movement. Permaculture has three
main ethics: a) care of people; b) care of land; c) dispersal
of surplus. Permaculturists in general are well aware of
the gardening techniques listed here, but many do not
know of the range of social programs outlined here. This
article hopes to stimulate more permaculture involvement
in serving food at-risk populations.
3. The general gardening public. All gardeners will be
well served to increase their social-justice awareness and
gardening skills. This article aims to do both.

Part I discusses some of the food crises facing the general
public and food at-risk populations in the US.
Part II lists some of the popular movements arising out of
the public to address the food crisis. Resources and examples
tend to be from the Pacific Northwest.
Part III briefly introduces permaculture and lists some
practical, on-the-ground techniques to increase local food
production. Where and how do we grow local food.
Permaculture is a design science for creating sustainable
human habitats and societies. Working with nature to
create beautiful, productive, healthy ecosystems. Building
symbiotic relationships between flora and fauna as well as
within human societies.
"All people deserve recognition and respect for their unique
value." Growing Gardens, Portland, Oregon.
“Solutions to hunger and poverty can be found at the grassroots
level and the communities have the ability to provide
for themselves if equipped with the proper resources.”
National Hunger Clearinghouse.
"Social justice requires that all the peoples of the earth have
an equal right and access to the resources of the earth; permanence
requires that all future generations - an indefinite
number of them - have the same rights too.” Winin Pereira
from the 1993 edition of his book “From Western Science
to Liberation Technology”. Earthcare Books, Bombay.
Ask any person who runs a food bank in the US and they
will tell you that the handwriting is on the wall. There was a
large surge in people showing up at food banks in 2007 and
at the same time there was a reduction in food donations. 35
million people in the USA were on food aid in 2007. To
paraphrase one writer: 'It isn't just the poor who are hungry,
now it is working people too'. We know there is going to be
a continuing wave of foreclosures in the next several years.
Most financial institutions are predicting recession while
other insiders in the financial industry are predicting another
"Great Depression" or worse. Chances are we are going to
see a lot more poor people in the USA soon. How are they
going to eat in a society with escalating food costs and a reduction
in food bank assistance? Overall food prices rose
20% in 2007 and some items even doubled in price. Bush's
administration has reduced food aid and related programs.
Even if the government decided to change its ways and provide
sufficient funds to feed everybody, what kind of food
would it provide them?
Urgency: Even more worrisome is that international food
prices went up an unprecedented 40% in 2007 after a 9% increase
in 2006. This is information from the UN FAO.
Whole nations, such as Bengladesh, are now finding themselves
in a food shortage. Food rioting is starting to happen
in Mexico and other countries. Make no mistake. This is a
deepening crisis which is likely to get much worse. 1 to 2
billion people could be facing starvation if this continues.
A world where people starve to death is no longer acceptable.
Current world food production is enough to feed everyone.
People starve to death not because there is no food
available. People starve to death because they can't afford
the food or it is withheld from them. This article outlines
some of the steps that need to be taken to decentralize food
production and make food production ecologically sound.
Heathy food grown on healthy land by healthy people in a
healthy society. Permaculture is in some ways the antithesis
of globalization. Under globalization the markets are filled
with food and things from all around the world with a mi-
Feeding People in Hard Times:
What does permaculture have to offer?
nority being produced locally. In permaculture the markets
are filled with food and things produced locally with
a minority being imported from elsewhere in the world.
Local resources used for local production, local consumption,
and, dare we say it, locally-owned. Democratic
production of the food supply is one of the requirements
for a truly free citizenry. Almost everywhere has
the capacity to be a garden of Eden with abundant
healthy food produced by local gardeners and farmers.
This article is generally addressed to the situation of
low-income, marginalized, minority, and oppressed populations.
People who are currently food at-risk. Many
people involved in the local food security movement are
motivated by a concern for future food supplies. This article
is addressed to people who are concerned about current
food supplies - eating today, this week, next month.
They may be as much as 10% of the people in the US
and between one and two billion people in the world as a
whole. Hunger has a big constituency.
Today, many low-income people live in what are called
"food deserts". A food desert has a lack of high-quality
food. Food sources are often convenience stores and gas
stations. The supermarkets there have limited choice,
poor-quality food and high prices. Food deserts are located
in inner-city areas and in numerous small towns
and rural areas around the country. No wonder that most
low-income people don't eat healthy food.
Food banks and other emergency food systems are an
important part of the food supply for many people. Food
banks give out varying qualities of food. Some of the
quality is good but lots of it is not. Still, they have to do
the best they can with what they have. The proportion of
fresh fruits and vegetables at food banks has grown a lot
in recent years as the food banks have been forging new
alliances with local farmers. Another big source of food
for the food banks are the cast-offs from the grocery industry,
mostly out-of-date and damaged cans and processed
food. This stream of supply has been greatly reduced
in recent years because now much of it is sold
through remainder grocery outlets. Another source in decline
is the USDA food commodities program which
buys excess production from farmers as part of its farm
support program and gives it to the food bank networks.
The value of the foods donated from this federal program
has dropped from around $250 millon to $150 million
in the last two years because the market for farm
products is robust and there is little surplus. In fact, the
world's grain surplus recently hit its lowest point in 40
years. The recent development of using farm crops
(corn, soybeans) to produce energy (methyl alcohol, biodiesel)
is bidding the price of food out of the range of
poor people. Since the energy crops are international
commodities this has international as well as national repercussions.
Consider that the Montana WIC (Women and Infants)
program has just decided that WIC food coupons cannot
be used to buy organic food. Mothers are required to buy
the cheapest, non-organic brand available. WIC's explanation
is that they have to stretch limited funds and organic
food is too expensive. Community hunger activists
fought for years to get WIC to allow organic food. How
far is our society going to get in solving poverty if we feed
people poor-quality, de-vitalized food? Unfortunately poorquality,
de-vitalized food is consumed by almost everyone,
rich and poor alike. There are growing numbers of health
food enthusiasts but cost and availability combined with relentless,
agribusiness advertizing means most people continue
to eat low-quality food. The vast majority of food
consumed in the USA is highly processed, grown by industrial
agriculture in de-mineralized soil and much of it carries
a burden of pesticides, herbicides, additives and various
other accumulative poisons. There is no doubt that the food
supply is one of the main causes of our country's high rates
of cancer, obesity and ill health.
Most people in the US are incredibly dependent on the system
for their food supply. Never before have people been so
alienated from their food's production. Current food production,
processing and distribution is dependent on massive
fossil fuel inputs. The food system is largely under the control
of profit-minded, giant agribusiness corporations and
dependent on a complex web of communications infrastructure.
We have very little control of our food supply and
most people only have several weeks of food on hand. This
lack of local food production is dangerous for the populace.
Food production itself is becoming increasingly disrupted
by climate changes, floods, droughts, etc. Centralized food
systems also give authoritarian governments leverage in
controlling their populations. No wonder more people are
getting concerned about local food security - and well they
should. Our current food system is a recipe for disaster. In
the face of all this, people are beginning to create solutions.
Growing food locally is obviously a patriotic thing to do as
well as for the personal benefits. This article lists some of
the many ways communities are re-building local food systems
and also hints at what permaculture has to offer.
Peak Food.
In October, 2006 I wrote an article on Peak Food and it is
posted in a pdf format on my website. It contains 20 reasons
why global food production has probably already
peaked under current agricultural policies. It believe it may
have peaked in 2004. If peak food is true and we are on the
downward slope that means more people will be joining the
food at-risk category. www.friendsofthetrees.net/
Fortunately there are solutions to our food problems.
Permaculture offers the principles, methodology, strategies,
techniques and knowledge of plant species which can help
implement sustainable systems using local resources whereby
poor people can feed themselves a diet far superior to
what is offered them today. This article focuses on how permaculture
can help feed the low-income amd marginalized
parts of the population, but what is proposed here will help
all of society. It is in the interests of all sectors of society to
create socially-just, sustainable, local systems of food.
Many grass-roots movements are arising to meet the interwoven
set of food crises. Food banks, community hunger
organizations, emergency food systems and related movements
such as the urban gardening movement and community
gardens. Remember the old saying that it is better to
teach a person to fish than to give them a fish. Same with
vegetables and gardening
Permaculture can be useful to all these movements because
of its expertise in growing food and site-specific
design. Permaculture can be practiced by anyone - poor,
middle-class or rich and will improve the quality of life
for all of them. Permaculture design can be applied at all
scales including: yard, neighborhood, city and county
levels; as well as small and large farms.
social movements:
[Please note that the popular social movements (loosely
defined) listed here often have little or nothing to do
with permaculture per se though individual permaculturists
may be involved.
1) Urban gardening movement.
2) Community gardens.
3) Youth gardens.
4) Conversion of vacant land to food production.
5) Food security and hunger organizations
6) Small farmer proliferation and organization.
7) CSA farms.
8) Farmland preservation.
9) Farmette rentals.
10) Farm internship programs.
11) Training programs in permaculture, organic, biointensive
and other sustainable gardening and farming
12) Farmers markets.
13) Eat local movement.
14) Gleaning programs.
15) Wildcrafting.
16) Food banks
17) Plant an Extra Row programs.
18) Cost-sharing programs for permaculture design.
19) Community education about healthy diets.
20) Return to traditional diets.
21) Food co-ops.
22) Food buying clubs.
23) Barter Fairs.
24) Farm to cafeteria programs.
25) School gardens.
26) Community food processing.
27) Food storage facilities in homes and neighborhoods.
28) Training in conflict resolution, mediation and other
skills that enable people to cooperate better.
Each of these will be briefly addressed in Part II of this
These programs and movements are coming out of the
general public. A movement involves large amounts of
people, evolves simultaneously in many places, and is
usually decentralized. There are community organizers
and public support bases already growing in most of
these fields. These solutions are already in progress and
there are many models to learn from, internationally as
well as nationally.
All of these movements are not linked up consciously
yet, but the connections are growing. My feeling is that
these movements will strengthen and coalesce and be
able to create a better world. The obstacles are huge and
include the military/industrial/financial complex, their government
lackeys, their control of mass media, drugs (pharmaceutical
and illegal), and societal ignorance, apathy, selfishness,
etc. However, I am optimistic because I feel there
is a new force afoot in humanity. It is a force that is opening
more and more hearts to make decisions based on love
and intuition. One could say that the divine feminine principle
is expanding people's hearts. If enough people open
their hearts then wars, dictators and totalitarian governments
will become impossible.
There is little doubt that hard times lie ahead. There is little
doubt that the system will try to repress and stop popular
movements and trends. Yet, the forces of common sense,
self-preservation and a sense of justice are strong and growing.
Society has seen a lot of inoculation of sustainable ideas
in the past 40 years. There are millions of people in the
US and around the world who are devoting their lives to
creating alternatives in every facet of life; health, food, education,
housing, energy, social systems, spirituality and so
forth. The world wide internet is increasingly linking us up
and making our positive solutions more known.
Three sources that indicate the size and breadth
of the world's popular movements are:
Resource - Organization
World Social Forum
The World Social Forum is the most developed manifestation
thus far of the global, social justice movement. The
World Social Forum was founded in Porto Allegro, Brazil
in 2001 and has become the world's largest international
gathering of people's movements and NGOs. The 2007
WSF in Nairobi involved 75,000 people. It is the awakening
of a new, decentralized society that could replace current,
centralized, power structures. The World Social Forum
is an open meeting place for reflective thinking,
formulation of proposals, and interlinking for effective action,
by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed
to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by
capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to
building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships
among Humankind and between it and the Earth.
Resource - Book:
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement In the World
Came Into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming. Paul
Hawkens. 2007. Viking Press New York. 352 pages. A
leading environmentalist and social activist's examination
of the worldwide movement for social and environmental
Resource - Website:
WiserEarth serves the people who are transforming the
world. It is a community directory and networking forum
that maps and connects non-governmental organizations
and individuals addressing the central issues of our day: climate
change, poverty, the environment, peace, water, hunger,
social justice, conservation, human rights and more.
Their website lists 107,934 Organizations.
Popular Movements
for Food Sovereignty
Here are introductions to a few popular movements
(there are many more) which contibute to local food production
systems that are socially just and ecologically
“What is Food Sovereignty? Food Sovereignty is the
RIGHT of peoples, communities, and countries to define
their own agricultural, labor, fishing, food and land policies
which are ecologically, socially, economically and
culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It
includes the true right to food and to produce food,
which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious
and culturally appropriate food and to foodproducing
resources and the ability to sustain themselves
and their societies.” Food First.
The proportion of Americans who grow vegetable gardens
is smaller then it used to be, but is still significant.
35% of US households (40 million households) have
some sort of garden. Food gardening, fruit tree planting
and edible landscaping should be encouraged and greatly
expanded. Urban gardening movements are huge at the
international level in both developed and developing
countries and they provide us with many examples, models
and lessons.
One of the more recent, and most famous, urban gardening
booms was in Havanna, Cuba after the Soviet
Union fell in 1990, and the US embargo intensified. A
lot of people were hungry. A large-scale gardening
movement was launched and was very successful. What
a lot of people don't know is that permaculture played a
significant role. This was the result of a permaculture
group, PGAN (Permaculture Global Assistance Network)
based in Melbourne, Australia sending teams of
instructors to Cuba in the beginning period of the gardening
movement. PGAN established permaculture gardens,
trained people and there was a significant technology
transfer which was then implemented on a large
scale. Today, Havanna produces up to 50% of its food
requirements from within the city limits, all of it is organic
and produced by people in their homes, gardens
and in municipal spaces. Read more about how and why
the Cubans made this happen at The Power of Community
website. They also have a popular film with that title.
Another large-scale example is the former Soviet Union
when the government, economy and agriculture all
but collapsed. The already large extent of private gardens
expanded and produced over half of total food supplies
and is what kept many people from starving to
Permaculture has had an affect here in the Northwest
but is very limited compared with the possibilities. Most
people have never heard the term permaculture, although
many organic gardeners have some understanding of the
term. The common garden practice of sheet mulching largely
came from the permaculture movement.
We should also mention that suburban gardening also has
great potential. Permaculture founder, Bill Mollison, has
stated that the suburbs are the next agricultural frontier in
the US because people, fuel, land, water and inputs are already
concentrated there. US suburbs have similar population
density to high-intensive subsistence farming areas in
other parts of the world.
Once you start looking for resources on urban gardening an
ever-growing plethora emerges. Below are listed a few.
They will in turn lead you to hundreds more.
Northwest Resource:
City Farmer
2043 Trafalgar Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada
(604) 685-5832
City Farmer has been focusing on urban agriculture for almost
30 years and their web site is a main portal into the diverse
world of growing food in a city.
Northwest Example:
Backyard Farmer. Portland, Oregon.
Donna Smith and her partner, Robyn Streeter started a business
in Portland, Oregon to plant and maintain gardens in
customer's yards. In their first year they took on 25 gardens
and did all the work themselves. 2007 was their second year
and their goal of 50 farms was easily achieved. Initially,
they set up an agreement between the member and themselves
as to what size plot will be planted and what food
will be grown. Members choose from a list of vegetables
and herbs they want on their mini-farm. Donna and Robyn
then set up a time to prepare the farm space as per the
agreement and visit on a weekly basis to plant, weed, and
harvest. Farm size is determined by the amount of people
they are growing for. Some are for single families and others
are for groups of neighbors coming together.
National Resource:
Journey to Forever.
Great list of books and resources for urban gardening and
alternatives in general.
Global Resource:
Urban Agriculture Worldwide
Urban agriculture is any form of food and flora production
that occurs anywhere in cities, towns and villages including
that which occurs on their perimeter. A recent study by the
South Australian Department of Primary Industries suggests
that this agriculture represents up to 25% of Australia's
total food production.
Global Resource:
City Farmer, Worldwide organization
"Urban Agriculture Notes" is the world's most comprehensive
news service on city farming from old books to the latest
films about inner city food gardens, photo collections,
reports and theses, just about anything you can imagine
related to growing food in the city.
Global Resource:
Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food
Security (RUAF)
One of the larger international networks. Their Urban
Agriculture Magazine can be read on the internet.
There are an estimated 18,000 Community Gardens
throughout the United States and Canada. Seattle's Ppatch
program administered by the Department of
Neighborhoods is one of the countries most renowned
community garden programs. Imagine it 10 times
bigger! Almost every neighborhood can benefit from
community gardens, especially low-income neighborhoods.
Community gardens typically lease small plots of
land to individual people. There might be from as few as
ten garden plots at one site up to several hundred.
Northwest Example:
Seattle P-Patch Program
Seattle Department of Neighborhoods' P-Patch Program
provides organic community garden space for residents
of 70 Seattle neighborhoods. These programs serve all
citizens of Seattle with an emphasis on low-income and
immigrant populations and youth. Our community gardens
offer 2500 plots and serve more than 6000 urban
gardeners on 23 acres of land.
Northwest example:
St. Johns Woods Garden Project
Village Gardens includes the 7,000 square foot St. Johns
Woods Garden Project which enables 30 families living
200% below federal poverty guidelines to grow their
own food by providing seeds, tools, fertile land, water,
and technical support. Housing Authority of Portland
property managers at St. Johns Woods credit the project
with reducing vandalism and increasing collaborative
problem solving among residents.
National Resource:
American Community Gardening Association
1777 East Broad Street. Columbus OH 43203
1-877-ASK-ACGA, 1-877-275-2242
This organization exists to serve community gardens and
broaden community greening projects in general.
Community gardens specifically for at-risk youth and
street people. Training for eventual employment is an
important facet of some programs.
Northwest Example:
Seattle Youth Garden Works
5700 Sixth Avenue South, Suite 207
Seattle, WA 98108
Phone: 206-632-0352
Seattle Youth Garden Works empowers homeless and under-
served youth through garden-based education and employment.
We are a market gardening program for youth
ages 14-22 in the University District and South Park neighborhoods.
Our goals are to connect youth to housing, health
care, education, jobs and community.
Northwest Example:
Food Works
A youth employment program, Food Works engages 14-21
year olds in all aspects of planning and running an entrepreneurial
farm business located on an acre of METRO land
on Sauvie Island, a 70-member community give-away garden
and the Big Apple Garden Club. Working side by side
with Village Gardens' staff, community residents, local
farmers, business owners and non-profit leaders, Food
Works' Crew Members learn business, leadership, organic
agriculture and other work skills. Crew Members also receive
school credit for their work and are supported to transition
into other employment opportunities and post secondary
Northwest Example:
Youth Farm
Established in 1998 in Springfield, Oregon, the Youth Farm
is an innovative program combining hunger relief with
youth services and education. The three-acre farm provides
paying work, job training and education to at-risk teenagers
throughout the spring and summer, and serves as an educational
work site for local alternative schools and programs
serving at-risk youth throughout the year.
Every locality has vacant lots, unused right-of ways, derelict
land, brownfields, gullies, hillsides, edges, alleyways,
parking strips, highway verges, and so forth. The amounts
and proportions of these areas will vary in different localities.
The US tends to have large amounts of un-used lands
compared to densely populated countries like China and Japan
where almost all tiny bits of land are under cultivation
or management. Some of these places are better suited to
native plant restoration or public space, but many can be
turned into food production areas by the application of permaculture.
Some of the more polluted areas need detoxification
treatments first or may be confined to producing
resources that are not ingested. There are many programs
already doing these sorts of conversions, but they are
a drop in the bucket of what is possible. Finding land for
poor people to garden is not an easy task given current, private
property attitudes but there is gradual progress. Various
ways of implementing land reform are needed. If people
are desperate enough various kinds of squatting arise.
Northwest Example:
Seattle Streetside Garden Contest
www.seattle.gov/trasnportation/planting strip.htm
The city of Seattle in 2008 is expanding it's policy of encouraging
gardening on the city's planting strips. Seattle
Transportation and P-Patch Program are involved. Seattle
Transportion runs an annual Streetside Garden Contest
for the best gardens in parking strips and garden
There are a wide diversity of organizations addressing
hunger and food security issues. Here are some of the
larger networks.
Northwest Example:
Portland/Multnomah Food Policy Council
The Food Policy Council is a citizen-based advisory
council to the City of Portland and Multnomah County.
The Council brings citizens and professionals together
from the region to address issues regarding food access,
land use planning issues, local food purchasing plans and
many other policy initiatives in the current regional food
system. A very active and well-respected regional example.
Northwest Example:
Growing Gardens
Growing Gardens is a Portland-based organization that
provides assistance to low-income people who want to
grow their own food. It began in the mid-1980s. Since
1996, they've installed 485 home gardens in Portland. 40
to 50 a year with the options of traditional gardens,
raised garden beds and container gardens. They support
low income households for three years with seeds,
plants, classes, mentors and more. Their Youth Grow after
school garden clubs grows the next generation of
veggie eaters and growers.
North American Resource:
Community Food Security Coalition
PO Box 209, Venice, CA 90294
(310) 822-5410
The Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) is a
North American organization of social and economic
justice, environmental, nutrition, sustainable agriculture,
community development, labor, anti-poverty, antihunger,
and other groups. The Coalition has 325 organizational
members in 41 states, 4 Canadian provinces and
the District of Columbia.
National Resource:
National Hunger Clearinghouse
Facilitating the exchange of information, resources, and
ideas among organizations fighting hunger and poverty.
The NHC believes solutions to hunger and poverty can
be found at the grassroots level and that communities
have the ability to provide for themselves if equipped
with the proper resources.
Global Example:
Global Food Sovereignty Forum
Nyéléni, Mali, February, 2007
The beginning of their declaration starts: “We, more than
500 representatives from more than 80 countries, of organizations
of peasants/family farmers, artisanal fisherfolk, indigenous
peoples, landless peoples, rural workers, migrants,
pastoralists, forest communities, women, youth, consumers
and environmental and urban movements have gathered together
in the village of Nyéléni in Sélingué, Mali to
strengthen a global movement for food sovereignty.”
Venezuela example:
A Vision of Food Sovereignty for Venezuela.
An article on food security initiatives in Venezuela
Ever since the introduction of the tractor the number of US
farmers has steadily declined. Until recently that is. The last
several decaddes has seen growth in the numbers of small
farmers. At the same time there has been a continued erosion
in the number of medium-size farmers; while largesize
farms have continued to consolidate, grow in size and
increase their domination of the land base. There has been a
huge growth in organic, biodynamic and other ecological
systems of farming over the past 40 years. This constituency
has become increasingly organized. We need an even
larger increase in the numbers of small farmers. More startup
help for new farmers. Tax breaks for small farms and
not for big farms. More help with direct marketing. How
many ways can society come up with to support and increase
the numbers of small farmers? A new surge of young
farmers is currently underway.
Northwest Resource:
Washington Tilth Producers
Washington Tilth is the main network of organic farmers in
the state. They publish an annual directory/resource guide.
Northwest Resource:
Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network
A grassroots, statewide advocacy organization based in Bellingham.
Their website includes a large Links section.
Northwest Resource:
Oregon Tilth
Oregon Tilth began the very first organic certification program
in the US and is still an international leader in certification
systems. Great monthly newsletter including a Spanish
language section.
Northwest Resource:
The US is seeing the development of programs which link
up retiring farmers with new farmers who can't afford to
buy land and equipment through conventional channels.
FarmLink is a Washington State program run by Cascadia
Harvest Coalition.
7) CSA FARMS. Community Supported Agriculture.
CSA farms is a new direct marketing tool for farmers
which has seen rapid growth in the last decade. There are
many types of CSA farms. A CSA is a way for the food
buying public to create a relationship with a farm and to
receive a weekly basket of produce. By making a financial
commitment to a farm, people become "members"
(or "shareholders," or "subscribers") of the CSA. Most
CSA farmers prefer that members pay for the season upfront,
but some farmers will accept weekly or monthly
payments. Some CSAs also require that members work a
small number of hours on the farm during the growing
season. A CSA season typically runs from late spring
through early fall. The number of CSAs in the United
States was estimated at 50 in 1990. North America now
has at least 1,300 CSA farms, with estimates ranging as
high as 3,000. CSA farms (called Teikei) were first
started in Japan in 1965 by mothers concerned about the
rise of imported food and the loss of arable land. Today,
millions of Japanese consumers participate in Teikei systems
that account for a major share of fresh produce consumption
in Japan.
Northwest Example:
Portland Area CSA Coalition (PACSAC). A CSA
farmer support network. www.pacsac.org/
National Resource:
Good links for CSA info.
The growth of suburbs and development have resulted in
significant losses of farmland near urban areas and increasingly
even in remoter agricultural areas. Farmland
preservation is one of the prerequisites for local food security.
Farmland trusts, conservation easements and other
private and public policies are preserving some farmland
from development but annual loss is still high. Most
regions have a group working for farmland preservation.
They can always use more support.
Northwest Example:
The Farmbank Project
186 Tingle Road, Winlock, WA 98596
360-785-4927. winlockmeadowsfarm1@yahoo.com
Farmland preservation in Southwest Washington.
National Resource:
Farmland Information Center
The FIC is a clearinghouse for information about farmland
protection and stewardship. It is a partnership between
the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
and American Farmland Trust.
Preservation without production doesn't feed many people.
Some of this trust farmland can be leased out to
landless individuals to do intensive production for market.
This is similar to community gardens where people
rent a small plot to garden for personal consumption, just
at a larger scale. I would propose quarter-acre, half-acre,
one-acre, and two-acre farmettes. Small by industrial agriculture
standards but plenty big for high-intensity production.
The world has plenty of current and past examples of
highly productive farming on small acreages. Have you
ever visited a Hmong or other Laotian market garden in
Seattle? Industrial agriculture cannot compete with laborintensive
farming when it comes to productivity as well as
sustainability. For instance, a 100-acre dairy farm could be
coverted to 100 farmette rentals of 1 acre each. If a particular
farmette site was paired with a particular neighborhood
then suitable applicants can be selected from that neighborhood
to rent the farmland at a reasonable rate with the provisio
that the production is sold back in their neighborhood.
In Seattle, it could be neighborhoods like Capital Hill,
Rainier Valley, Central District, Beacon Hill, etc. Create a
bus system to get the new farmers and community volunteers
from neighborhood to farmettes. Fresh food grown by
community members goes directly back to their neighborhoods
with marketing support from grass-roots organizations.
Some services have to be supplied by the overall farmette
enterprise. For instance, a co-op tractor can do soil
tillage at the beginning and end of the season for all the farmettes.
Irrigation water can be supplied to the site as needed.
An on-farm extension agent skilled in permaculture and
high-intensity farming can assist renters in making informed
decisions. A tool library and a book library on site
would be helpful. Income to meet these costs would come
from farmette rental fees as well as grants/donations from
neighborhood or government sources.
Northwest Example:
Cloud View Ecofarm
A new project located in the Columbia Basin near Ephrata,
Washington. The property includes 120 irrigated acres under
cultivation. They offer leases on small plots of a halfacre
to two acres for people to farm. Leases are open to
Ecofarm members as well as people in the area. Cloud
View Ecofarm is west of Moses Lake within 20 minutes of
I-90. The land comes all tilled up, fertilized with composted
manure, and irrigation. The farm is using permaculture in
their planning. Contact Jim Baird. jimmbaird@aol.com
Many people get their start in farming by interning. Most
participating farms are small and use organic or sustainable
methods. There are many types of arrangements but generally
includes room and board in exchange for labor. The
first program of the sort was started in England in the early
1970s. It was called WWOOF which initially stood for
Working Weekends on Organic Farms. Now it usually
stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms. There are
wwoof programs in dozens of countries now. Australia and
New Zealand are both famous for their large, successful
Northwest Resource:
Tilth Producers' Apprenticeship Placement Service
This page lists organic farms in Washington State that host
apprentices or interns or have openings for farm workers.
National Resource:
Willing Workers On Organic Farms and World Wide Opportunities
on Organic Farms.
A website-based wwoof program, mainly USA but some
international as well. Over 1,000 listings. 483 of their
host farms include permaculture as a key word.
National Resource:
PO Box 432, Occidental, CA 95465
831-425-FARM (3276) (voicemail)
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Many of
the arrangements are for short-term stays. They publish a
hard copy and online directory that lists hundreds of organic
farms and gardens across the country in which
each host describes their farm, location, crops, and general
North American Resource:
Over 600 farm hosts, mostly in Canada but some in the
USA. Their links page lists wwoof programs from
around the world.
There are numerous individuals and organizations offering
classes and training throughout the country. The
Northwest is especially well-represented in this aspect.
Seattle Tilth is a good regional model. The Master Gardener
programs are probably the largest gardening training
program. Permaculture design courses offer a way to
get a firm grounding in permaculture.
Northwest Resource:
Seattle Tilth
[See also the resources in section 6) Small farmers organizations,
and the permaculture resources at the end of
the article.]
Farmers markets are one of the best ways to get food
from the growers to the consumers. We all know about
the huge growth in farmers markets over the past several
decades. According to the USDA, the number of farmers
markets in the US grew from 1,755 in 1994 to 4,385 in
2006 with a total sales volume of $1 billion in 2005. Imagine
it growing ten times larger! That would really
make a difference.
Northwest Resource:
Washington State Farmers Markets Association
National Resource:
Nationwide list of farmers markets.
Many parts of the US now have buy local campaigns and
programs. Most help link up farmers and consumers and
publish farm guides. We now have such things as the 100-
mile diet, locavores and slow food movement.
Northwest Example:
Puget Sound Fresh
Northwest example:
Buy Fresh, Buy Local Idaho Inland Northwest
Northwest Example:
Edible Portland
A quarterly magazine celebrating the abundance of local
foods season by season. Winter 2008 is Issue Number 9. 58
pages. This magazine shows that the local food movement
in Portland, Oregon is already big and is really taking off.
Interesting articles and lots of advertising. What is amazing
to me is that it is just one of a network of 40 different EdibleCity
magazines around the USA including Seattle and
Vancouver, BC.
Northwest Example:
Gorge Grown Food Network
This area includes the Washington and Oregon sides of the
Columbia River where it cuts through the Cascade mountains
east of Portland. Gorge Grown Food Network is a vibrant
citizen group that works towards regional food selfsufficiency
by connecting local farmers, food producers
and consumers.
National Resource:
Hundred mile diet
A local eating experiment you can do yourself. For one
month (or one year) you only eat food that is produced
within 100 miles of where you live.
National Resource:
www.locavores.com/how/links.php Their great links page.
Locavores was first started in San Francisco with a goal of
eating food from within 100 miles. The idea is rapidly
spreading with various degrees of strictness on the idea of
local. From 100 miles down to one mile or less. Speaking
of strict locavores I personally know a Seattle man who
went for a whole year only eating food from his yard. There
was a large garden, fruit trees and a big blackberry tangle.
He ate insects and trapped rodents. He was quite healthy at
the end of the year. What was amazing to me is that he
lived in an intentional community house and all the other
residents helped themselves to the garden and fruit as well!
National Resource:
Serving over 40 “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” organizations in
the US.
National Resource:
Slow Food - USA
Slow Food USA envisions a future food system that is
based on the principles of high quality and taste, environmental
sustainability, and social justice - in essence, a
food system that is good, clean and fair. We seek to catalyze
a broad cultural shift away from the destructive effects
of an industrial food system and fast life; toward
the regenerative cultural, social and economic benefits of
a sustainable food system, regional food traditions, the
pleasures of the table, and a slower and more harmonious
rhythm of life.
International Resource:
Slow Food - International
A variety of gleaning programs have popped up around
the US in recent years. Usually it involves urban volunteers
gleaning farm fields after the farmer has stopped
picking for market. The produce is usually donated to
food banks. A new study from the University of Arizona
in Tucson indicates that a shocking forty to fifty per cent
of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten! There are
large amounts of food waste and fruit which falls on the
ground even in city limits. Urban gleaning is done by
children and others on an informal basis. I know of people
who have set up urban gleaning routes where they
harvest fruit trees in people's yards (with permission).
Formal programs would obtain greater utilization of the
current resource.
Northwest Example:
Portland Fruit Tree Project
The Portland Fruit Tree Project organizes people in the
Portland community to gather fruit before it falls, and
make it available to those who need it most. We register
fruit trees around the city, coordinate harvesting parties,
and offer workshops in pruning & fruit preservation.
Northwest Example:
The Small Potatoes Gleaning Project
Recovering Local Surplus Produce for Hungry People in
Whatcom County. Bellingham is the largest city in
Whatcom County in northwest Washington. 200,000
pounds of food gleaned in their first 5 years.
Northwest Resource:
Oregon gleaning network
Oregon has one of the most developed gleaning programs
in the US. A list of 28 food gleaning groups from
around the state and contact information.
Wildcrafting is the collecting of wild foods. The two
food items which are most often wildcrafted are wild
berries and mushrooms.Almost everyone in the maritime
Northwest wildcrafts at least a few blackberries every year.
A good half of our common weeds are edible. Many are delicious
and as a rule they are much more nutrient dense then
store-bought food. Abandoned fruit trees are common in
many places. There are many books available on edible
wild plants.
Northwest Resource:
The Flavors of Home: A Guide to Wild Edible Plants of
the San Francisco Bay Area. Margit Roos-Collins. 1990.
Heyday Books, Berkeley. 221 pages. Lots of native and
non-native plants are covered. Most of them are found
north all the way into British Columbia.
Northwest Resource:
Wild Food Adventures
4125 N Colonial Ave, Portland, OR 97217-3338
(503) 775-3828. mail@wildfoodadventures.com
John Kallas is one of the most active teachers about wild
foods in the Northwest. Informative website.
National Resource:
A great edible wild foods website with links to many people
and organizations
There a wide diversity of types of food banks, hot meal programs
and other food relief agencies. Food banks not only
distribute food to those in need, they often have some sort
of educational component. They provide friendship and
support networks for many people.
Northwest Example:
The Mother Earth Farm
Formed in May of 2000, the Mother Earth Farm is an eightacre
organic farm located in the lush Puyallup Valley. The
Farm produces approximately 125,000 pounds of fresh
fruit, vegetables, herbs and honey each growing season-all
of which is distributed directly to local food banks and hot
meal programs. Produce from the Farm is in the hands of
food bank clients within eight hours of being harvested. It is
a working farm that relies primarily on volunteers from a
cross-section of the community to operate. The Mother
Earth Farm incorporates an educational component for area
youth and adults. Six local school districts and three universities
incorporate Farm experiences into their curricula.
Oregon Resource:
919 Food relief agencies are part of this network.
Washington Resource:
Northwest Harvest collects and distributes food to approximately
300 hunger programs in Washington State. Includes
food bank information, volunteer opportunities, etc.
A nationwide grassroots effort encouraging gardeners to
plant an extra row of produce to donate to local food banks.
Northwest Resource:
Oregon's "Grow an Extra Row" program
Oregon's "Grow an Extra Row" program is an offshoot
of the national "Plant a Row" program begun by the Garden
Writers of America. It started with the efforts of
Master Gardeners in Oregon's Jackson and Josephine
Counties and has grown statewide since 1998. 4-H clubs
have grown special gardens to supplement food boxes
around the state. For information about the nearest location
of a food distribution facility, call the local Master
Gardener program at your local county office of the
OSU Extension Service, or the Oregon Food Bank in
Portland, 503-282-0555, or toll free at 1-800-777-7427.
National Resource:
Plant A Row for the Hungry Program
A source for planting information and other resources.
Cities and local governments should create cost-share
programs to finance permaculture designs for homeowners
and land-owners. This would be a cost-effective
program such as exists for insulating houses and installing
double-pane windows and energy conserving lights.
There is also some smilarities to cost-share, forest management
plans. Permaculture design would help families
make their land more productive and reduce their draw
on cities' services. Installation of systems would also
provide meaningful employment opportunities. This is a
program idea that hasn't been put into practice yet that I
am aware of. Anyone interested in pursuing this idea is
invited to contact Michael Pilarski.
Whole foods, grown in healthy, mineral-rich soil lead to
good health. Processed foods and foods with low nutrition
levels lead to ill-health. Information on healthy diets
is available but there is lots of competing information on
what constitutes a good diet. There are different body
types and blood types to consider. There is no one perfect
diet, but anyone who makes a serious study of diet
and nutrition shudders at what most people are eating.
Raw foods and fermented foods are positive dietary
trends which should be promoted. The trick is making a
healthy diet affordable to people on the low end of the
income spectrum. Home food production, bulk buying
and direct farmer-to-consumer sales are all parts of what
can make a healthy diet affordable to the poor.
National Resource:
The Weston A. Price Foundation
The Foundation is dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense
foods to the human diet through education, research and
activism. It supports a number of movements that contribute
to this objective including accurate nutrition instruction,
organic and biodynamic farming, pasturefeeding
of livestock, community-supported farms, honest
and informative labeling, prepared parenting and nurturing
In the last ten years there have been a growing number of
programs and initiatives by Native American, Hawaiian and
other ethnic communities to return to traditional foods. This
is done in response to a perception that the modern diet is
bad for the health of the people and that a return to more
traditional foods and diet will improve their health. More
and more people are seeking historic roots in healthier cuisines.
Northwest Resource:
Renewing Salmon Nation's Food Traditions.
Gary Paul Nabhan. 2006. RAFT. 66 pages. $5.95
This book introduces a RAFT list of food species and heirloom
varieties with traditions at risk and in need of recovery
in the Greater Pacific Northwest. This book is the result
of a meeting of food activists, chefs, ethnobotanists, farmers,
fisherfolk, food historians, orchardists, conservation activitists
and nutrition educators. It covers domesticated
crops, sea foods and wild foods. If you want to eat local,
this is a great book because it details food that is unique to
salmon nations, including heirloom varieties that orginated
here. Value our local foods and keep them alive. As Nabhan
says, "Eat it, to save it".
National Resource:
RAFT, Renewing America's Food Traditions
Center for Sustainable Environments
Northern Arizona University,
PO Box 5765, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5765
928-523-6726. Gary Nabhan,
The food coop movement grew and thrived during the
1970s and 80s. Some went out of business in the 1990s, but
many are still alive and thriving and new ones are starting.
Most of them harbor a strong community network. Most of
them give preference to buying from local farmers. We
need more coops and less supermarkets.
National Resource:
Coop Directory Service
1254 Etna Street, St. Paul, MN 55106
651-774-9189. thegang@coopdirectory.org
Food buying clubs are one of the best ways for consumers
to lower food prices by combining ordering power and buying
in bulk. Buying clubs usually buy from the same distribution
networks that supply natural food stores. Buying
clubs could also make bulk buys from farmers. Sort of like
a neighborhood CSA, but instead of the farmer dropping off
a box (or a bag) for each individual person/family, the
farmer can deliver a large quantity at one dropoff spot
which the buying club splits up into the personal orders.
This is a very attractive proposition for small farmers. This
can offer a wholesale price to the consumer and still be a
good return to the farmer. For instance, this past fall I had
500 pounds of winter squash I wanted to sell and was driving
to Seattle, I wished I could call a Seattle buying club
switchboard and find a buying club to purchase the squash.
By shopping wisely and buying in bulk it is possible
to feed yourself a healthy diet for much less money then
shopping in retail stores. Personally I buy many of my
basic foods in bulk. For instance I buy oatmeal in 50-
pound sacks. When I had a family I purchased honey by
the 5-gallon bucket. Bulk buying enables low-cost
Northwest Resource:
Azure Standard
79709 Dufur Valley Road, Dufur, OR 97021
Azure Standard is a wholesale food company supplying
buying clubs around the Northwest. They have a $400
minimum order per dropoff if within 3 miles of their regular
delivery route.
National Resource:
Starting a Buying Club
Information on how to start a buying club.
Barter fairs are like a giant farmers market, craft fair and
flea market all rolled into one. They generally serve a ruraal
areas. They are direct marketing, weekend campout
events. they are fun, community-building events which
bring many people together year after year. There are
currently about ten barter fairs, all in the rural Northwest:
north-central and northeast Washington, Montana
and southwest Oregon.
Northwest Example:
Okanogan Family Faire
Near Tonasket in north-central Washington. The oldest
(started in 1974) and largest barter fair. Attendance in recent
years has been as high as 10,000 people. Their website
is currently under reconstruction as of late 2007.
Northwest Resource:
Barter Faire Online Community
This site has dates and information on most of the barter
Northwest Example:
Hope Mountain Barter Faire
Southwest Oregon location.
Local farms supplying schools, senior centers, and other
public facilities. This concept is spreading in public
schools. The city of Rome, Italy, recently overhauled the
school meal service for its 140,000 students. Ingredients
for all school meals are now seasonal, organic, regionally
and/or fair trade-produced, and cooked from scratch in
school kitchens. Wow!
National Resource:
Community Food Security Coalition.
CFSC organizes the National Farm to Cafeteria Program.
National Resource:
Many farm-to-cafeteria resources can be found here.
25) School gardens.
Almost every school should have a garden where the students
learn about gardening and growing food. There are
tens of thousands of school gardens around the world, but
not anywhere enough of them. The US had hardly any
school gardens until recently, but now it is a rapidly growing
movement. Permaculturists have started school gardens
in many countries. In some cases the school gardens provide
an important part of the students' diet.
Northwest Example:
Permaculture Classroom Project, Hood River, Oregon
A Northwest example of a permaculture school garden is
that of Michael Becker who teaches sixth grade in Hood
River, Oregon. He directs the Permaculture Classroom Project,
a hands-on approach to teaching math and science using
Permaculture and sustainability science concepts. With
his students, they have developed extensive habitat gardens
and food systems on the schoolyard.
National Resource:
There are many methods of home-scale, food processing,
but there is also a need to establish neighborhood, foodprocessing
facilities. Community commercial kitchens have
been set up in dozens of US cities in the last decade, sometimes
as part of "business incubator" programs.
A historic example is the now-extinct "custom canneries".
In 1973 and 1974, I worked at one of the last custom
canneries left in Washington state, the Toppenish Custom
Cannery in the Yakima valley. Each day during the growing
season, the cannery was filled with a bedlam of hundreds
of people peeling, slicing, dicing and pureeing all
kinds of fruits and vegetables they had grown, gathered or
bought locally. They filled cans with their own products
and recipes. Our small cannery crew heated the cans (and
contents), ran them through the lidding machine and then
pressure cooked the cans for specified times depending on
the contents. Some things like salmon and meats were
cooked longer. The customers picked their cans up the next
day when the cans had cooled down.
The noise was deafening and the languages were many.
The customer base included Hispanics, Indians (half the
Yakima valley is on the Yakama Reservation), Filipinos,
Japanese, African-Americans, Southerners and all kinds of
whites. It was a real melting pot of a crowd and it was all
focused on food. Local food for local people. There used to
be about 50 custom canneries around the state in the mid-
1900s. There is not a one left. Perhaps it is time to start
some new ones. Perhaps they can use glass canning jars as
well as metal. Perhaps they can include drying facilities as
Northwest Example:
The Cannery Project
Emergency Food Network
3318 92nd Street South, Lakewood, WA 98499
Tel: 253-584-1040.
The Cannery Project was begun in 1996. The purpose of
this project is to can and re-pack fresh and frozen foods.
This product is then distributed to local food banks, increasing
the shelf life of otherwise perishable goods and
reducing the need to purchase canned food. This project
relies heavily upon volunteers from local service clubs,
universities and businesses. By the end of 2005 this project
surpassed production of one million cans since its
National Resource:
The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
A source for current research-based recommendations
for most methods of home food preservation.
Every year I personally store hundreds of pounds of potatoes,
carrots, squash, beets, onions, garlic, apples,
pears, parsnips, etc. The ideal storage for onions, garlic
and squash is warm and dry. The ideal storage for roots
and fruits is cold and humid. Root vegetables and fruits
should be stored separately. Some of my residences have
had root cellars and pantries which provided the range of
desired storage conditions, but some did not. Those were
the times I wished there was some sort of community
food storage facility nearby.
We need a program to retrofit homes with storage places
to enable people to buy food in bulk and store it properly.
Apartment buildings and other group housing can
create food storage areas which tenants can use. In some
cases neighborhood food storage facilities can be built
(or existing structures remodeled) to enable people to
store food in proper conditions. This could be akin to
public freezer lockers where people rent small freezer
spaces and have a key. This concept can be extended to
separate root cellar lockers.
There are numerous organizations and private consultants
doing this kind of work. There are an increasing
number of good books available.
Northwest Resource
Sustainable Communities Network
Alternative dispute resolution is a tool for resolving conflicts
within a community, and mediation is used in the
workplace and in institutions to help individuals find
common ground and peaceful solutions to problems.
This website provides links to many resources that community
organizations can employ.
This list of 28 social movements and programs all contribute
to increased food security and food sovereignty. Dozens
more could be listed. This is not an attempt to make a thorough
list. 77 examples and resources are listed here with
contact information. Thousands more could be listed.
End of Part II.
Aspects of Permaculture
and some practical techniques.
The word 'Permaculture' was originally coined in Australia
by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid-
1970's. The word “permaculture” itself came from the
notion of establishing “permanent agriculture” or “permanent
culture. Over the last 30 years, permaculture has
grown to become a global grassroots movement involving
hundreds of thousands of people. Permaculture offers
a huge storehouse of solutions, strategies and practical
techniques. If permaculture was implemented on a
planetary-wide scale in cities, farms and homes the
world would become a garden of Eden.
Permaculture is a design science to establish sustainable
human settlements. Permaculture has a code of ethics,
a set of principles, a design methodology, and draws
on numerous strategies and techniques from around the
world and throughout history. Permaculture is the premier
design system for sustainable food production. In
addition to the plant landscape, permaculture also considers
transportation, energy, buildings, water supply,
community economics, and the social fabric of life. Every
type of habitat can be put to good use whether dry,
marshy, rocky, sandy, clay, riparian, seaside, urban, and
so forth. One of the goals in permaculture is to increase
the number of habitats on site to enable a wider range of
plants to thrive.
Permaculture teaches how to design productive and
beautiful yards, farms and properties at the individual
property scale. Permaculture principles and methodology
can be applied anywhere in the world. Each site is
unique and each client is unique, thus each permaculture
design will be different.
Intensive vegetable gardening techniques can quickly
produce large amounts of food in small spaces, but intensive
gardening is not for everybody or everywhere. Permaculture
emphacizes the creation of low-maintenance,
self-reproducing ecologies. The proportions of native
plants, non-native plants, long-lived perennials, fruit
trees, food plants, etc is determined by the client's goals
and nature's dictates.
Restoration of native habitats and native species is a
component of permaculture. We can assist nature to regenerate
healthy biospheres. This means soils get richer,
forests increase, trees get bigger, biodiversity increases,
the web of complexity of relationships increases, more
oxygen is produced and more carbon is stored. At the
same time, the productivity of the landscape to meet human
needs dramatically increases. Human landscapes
which have permaculture applied to them will look wilder,
be wilder, be more bio-diverse, be more productive,
be more beautiful and will run itself to a large extent. All
this for less work in the long run.
One of the key premises of permaculture design is to
minimize outside inputs. The inputs of one part of the
system are met by the outputs of other parts. More cycling
of nutrients, energy, water, etc. The site not only
uses less inputs but the outputs greatly increase including
food and other useful products, as well as fulfilling
environmental functions such as wind abatement and shade.
An additional goal is aesthetic beauty, color, fragrance and
outdoor living space. Permaculture emphacizes lowmaintenance,
perennial plants (less work); and, depending
on the client, varying amounts of intensive gardens. Individuals
and families achieve greater self-sufficiency and
collectively the region as a whole does.
A Few Strategies & Techniques
P-1) Composting & woody biomass.
P-2) Increase food plant diversity.
P-3) Rooftop gardens.
P-4) Utilization of walls and vertical spaces.
P-5) Sidewalk trellises.
P-6) Water harvesting, roof catchment systems.
P-7) Parking lot overstories.
P-8) Nitrogen-fixing plants.
P-9) Sheet-mulching.
P-10) Grow BioIntensive gardening.
P-11) Garbage pit gardens.
P-12) Bio-remediation.
P-13) Myco-remediation.
P-14) Integrating livestock.
P-15) Seed and plant propagation networks.
P-16) Native plant restoration.
P-17) Native plant restoration & wildcrafting.
P-18) Forest gardens.
This list of eighteen was made with urban gardeners in
mind. There are several hundred more which could be listed
such as beekeeping, double-dug beds, wind power, aquaculture,
mini-ponds, herb spirals, creating wildlife habit, container
gardening, winter gardening, agroforestry, grey water,
hedgerows, suntraps, etc, etc. These are just a few of
the strategies and techniques in permaculture's tool kit. Permaculture
is more then just the sum of the elements in the
system, it is also arranging them in proper relationship to
each other to maximize beneficial inter-relationships.
Permaculture calls for the full utilization of organic matter.
The percentage of organic matter generated in our cities
which ends up being productively used is small. This is
worse then throwing money away because money is losing
its value, but organic matter is becoming more valuable.
The recycling and composting of all organic matter should
be encouraged including grass clippings, prunings, leaves,
and kitchen waste. Seattle is a national leader in composting
but there is more to do, especially in regards to the
woody debris generated from storms, yard maintenance,
land clearing, etc. All wood is fertilizer to the ecosystem.
What is Biomass? Biomass is the sum total of all living
or once-living material. It includes all live plants from
grasses to trees plus dead plant material, snags, roots, duff,
humus, soil microorganisms and animals. Biomass is like
money in the bank. It pays back over time plus interest. Permaculture
and related disciplines have come up with lots of
productive ways to utilize woody biomass for gardening,
farming and ecological uses. Some involve chipping and
others do not, such as the hugelkultur systems developed in
Germany which create raised beds using large to small
woody debris. The recent discovery of Terra Preta soils in
the Amazon basin also show us a way to use charcoal as a
soil fertility input. The work of the Frenchman, Jean Pain,
shows us how to generate large amounts of hot water
(energy) by composting shredded, brushy material.
Northwest Example:
The Master Composter/Soil Builder Program
One of the leading programs in the US.
Jean Pain, energy from woody compost
An article from the Permaculture Activist which is a
great introduction to Jean Pain's work.
Terra Preta
Great rundown on Wikipedia of an Amazonian indigenous
technique to build fertile soils utilizing charred
plant material.
There are around 200,000 plant species in the world. The
number is going down rapidly. About 4,000 species are
native to the Maritime Northwest. About 1,500 species
have naturalized or gone weedy in our region. Northwest
gardeners have about 10,000 useful plant species to
choose from, of which at least 1,000 species are edible.
Increased food plant diversity means increased food
choices, a more diverse diet (produced locally) and
hedges our bets during climate changes. Permaculture
has lots of expertise in plant diversity, including perennial
food plants.
Global Resource:
Plants For A Future
Plants For A Future is a resource centre for rare and unusual
plants, particularly those which have edible, medicinal
or other uses. You can search their database of 7300
edible medicinal and useful plants.
Rooftops are a substantial part of urban landscapes and
are found wherever people live. Many of these rooftops
can be gardened either for the purposes of food production
or for the many other environmental and urban
greening benefits they provide. Vines especially lend
themselves to rooftop and wall gardening where soil
depth is adequate. Some rooves have a southern exposure.
They have good frost drainage. Dogs and cats can't
get at them (but birds and squierrels can). Weeds and
slugs are less of a problem. Much of the experience on
this topic is currently from cities in Europe and the twothirds
world. Germany is the most advanced country in
the world in regards to rooftop gardening but only a
small amount of their publishing is translated. St. Petersburg,
Russia is one of the world's largest centers of rooftop
food culture (necessity being the mother of invention
in this case).
There are three major types of rooftop gardens.
1) The plants (usually vines) are rooted in the ground
and grow up the walls and onto the roofs.
2) The rooting medium is part of a layered system laid
on top of the roof.
3) Plants are grown in containers on the roof.
In the latter cases, care has to be taken not to overload the
building's structural support nor to cause leaks in the roof.
The deeper the rooting medium the bigger the plants that
can be grown and the more surface area they can cover.
Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls. Nigel Dunnet
and Noel Kingsbury. 2004. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
254 pages. International overview and historical development.
Food production is only a minor component of the
rooftops surveyed but many techniques are applicable.
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities
Attn: Steven Peck
406 King Street East
Toronto, Ontario, M5A 1M1, CANADA
416-971-4494. SPECK
speck@greenroofs.org www.greenroofs.org
The True Nature Foods 'Rooftop Victory Garden' for localized
agricultural production was begun as Phase I in
2006. This project received a 'City of Chicago Green Roof
Grants Program 2005: Residential and Small Commercial
Buildings' grant from the Department on the Environment
toward realization of the vegetated roof, and has become a
'poster project' of sorts for the grant program. Species planted
in fall 2006 include buckwheat, burdock, comfrey, Jerusalem
artichoke, and artichoke, which were selected for
their ability to provide food, fuel, fiber, encourage human
health, and help build healthy soil. Species planted in 2007
include herbs such as mints, rosemary, oregano, tomatoes,
potatoes, beans, and squash. The city of Chicago has set a
goal of being a national leader in city greening and rooftop
Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) is the first city in the
world to include both urban agriculture and green roofs in
an action plan to meet predicted global climate change challenges.
Further information:
Geoff Wilson, Green Roofs Australia Inc.
32 David Road,
Holland Park, 4121, Queensland, Australia.
www.greenroofs.wordpress.com will report on the vermiculture,
aquaponics and green roof research project being
conducted in Brisbane.
Walls of houses, garages, sheds, office buildings, and retaining
walls offer fruitful and fascinating spaces to grow
useful plants. This can include espaliering fruit trees along
walls, growing fastigiate (upright/narrow) trees & shrubs,
and by growing vines. Vines are generally grown up trellises
so that they don't negatively impact the building. The
longest vines such as wisteria, grapes and kiwifruit can
grow up to 90 feet long. Species exist for every exposure.
More light equals more food productivity. Permaculture
looks at every wall of every home carefully to assess it's potential
for improving the life of the inhabitants by providing
food, fragrance, beauty, oxygen, sound buffering, reduced
heating and cooling bills, etc.
On many urban properties the square footage of wall
surfaces is larger then square footage of soil surface
(lawns, etc). Wall area is typically 3 to 4 times the size
of roof area. Walls have an additional advatange over
rooftop gardens in that plants can usually be rooted in
the ground. Some walls do not have soil at their base and
containers can be used to grow the plants.
Build trellises over sidewalks and plant them to vines for
fruit, fragrance and color. Perennial fruit-bearing vines
for northern climates include grapes, hardy kiwifruit,
Chinese magnolia vine, Goji-berry, passionfruit, thornless
blackberries and thornless boysenberries. Annual
vines include pole beans, scarlet runner beans, peas, cantalope,
watermelons, squash, cucumbers and bitter melon.
Each piece of property, large or small, is a watershed.
Permaculture looks at how water can be kept on site and
infiltrated into the soil to grow food, water landscape
plants and recharge aquifers. This reduces urban and rural
runoff problems; and, when done on a broad scale, reduces
catastrophic floods. The Chehalis river flood of
December, 2007 is a current case in point for Washington
state where this would have helped.
Rainwater harvesting
Good introduction and links to further resources.
Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds
For Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency Use.
The best book on small-scale, water storage available
and it is written from a permaculture perspective. A doit-
yourself guide to designing, building, and maintaining
water tanks, cisterns and ponds, and managing groundwater
storage. It will help you with your independent
water system, fire protection, and disaster preparedness,
at low cost and using principles of ecological design. Includes
how to make ferrocement water tanks. Oasis Design
is also the source of the world's best information on
greywater systems.
When you look at satellite photos of cities the predominant
color is gray. A lot of that gray is parking area.
Shopping parking, street parking, industrial parking, and
individual parking lots. Not every parking area is appropriate
for trees, but careful selection of species and good
management plans could green up a lot of our parking
space. This becomes part of the urban forest, It's main
aim is amenity but permaculture chooses multi-purpose
trees to provide useful material including timber, food,
crafts, basketry material, medicine, etc. Widespread
parking lot reforestation would provide meaningful jobs
which have long-term payback and make neighborhoods
more pleasant places to live.
Parking lot trees info source.
Links to lots of information and websites about Parking Lot
Tree Installation.
Nitrogen is the most commonly applied fertilizer and usually
one of the most limiting factors to plant growth. There
are dozens of nitrogen-fixing plants for many kinds of situations.
These are planted in the system to help provide nitrogen
to the crop plants. Examples include clovers, alfalfa,
beans, peas, fava beans, buffaloberry, alders, and cascara.
Nitrogen fixing plants at Wikipedia
A short introduction to the topic. The site includes a large
list of nitrogen-fixing plants with a great deal of info on
Sheet mulching is a technique used to turn lawns into gardens.
It can also be used to establish gardens in rough,
weedy areas. There are many variations but the general idea
is to layer rich fertilizer materials on top of the lawn, followed
by multiple layers of cardboard or thick layers of
newspaper and a top layer of wood chips, ground bark or
suchlike. Desired plants are transplanted into the system
through all the layers.
Sheet Mulching:
Greater Plant and Soil Health for Less Work.
An article written for the tropics, but most of the information
is applicable to cold climates as well.
Sheet Mulching for Home Gardens
A good article on the topic.
This gardening method offers one of the highest-yielding
gardening systems available in the world. They research
how to grow a family's food supply on the smallest footprint
of land possible including growing soil-building,
green-manure crops. John Jeavons is the principal developer
of this technique. Jeavons claims that biointensive, vegan
agriculture at its extreme is capable of supplying total food
supply on 300 sq metres per person. This system was not
developed by permaculture but works in handily where intensive
garden production is desired.
“How To Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever
Thought Possible on Less Land Then You Can Imagine”.
John Jeavons. This book has sold more then 500,000
copies since its first edition in 1974. The 7th edition was
published in 2007 by Ten Speed Press, Berkeley. 268 pages.
Highly recommended!
Ecology Action. Grow Biointensive gardening.
Our mission is to train people worldwide to better feed
themselves while conserving resources. Since 1972 we
and our colleagues have been researching and developing
GROW BIOINTENSIVE®, a high-yielding, sustainable
agricultural system that emphasizes local food production
and is based on historically intensive gardening
Bill Mollison, the founder of permaculture, invented this
technique while working in garbage-strewn, aboriginal
settlements in Australia. This created a way to clean up
the area plus produce food. Both of which helped people's
morale. Three-foot diameter holes (three to four
feet deep) are dug in suitable locations. Set aside the topsoil
and spread the subsoil in a ring around the hole, then
put the topsoil on top of the subsoil. All organic garbage
and debris in the area is picked up and packed in the
holes. Try to layer in fresh and dry stems and leaves if
available. Weeds are great. What you are doing in effect
is making a pit compost. Water as you go if the material
is dry or it is the dry part of the year. Put the yuckiest
stuff in the bottom and save some of the nicest stuff for
the top. Throw some of the topsoil on before you put on
the final cosmetic layer of mulch. Put in a pound of live
red wiggler worms. There are also various compost activator
cultures which can be added. The mound around
the garbage pit is planted to useful plants including food
plants. The pit is watered during the growing season.
The plants surrounding the pit take up the nutrients and
water that spreads from the pit. Done well, this is an efficient
way to water plants in dry climates. Avoid toxic
garbage in the pit, but non-food plants can be used if in
doubt. Over time the material will settle as it digests and
more organic matter can be added. Pit-gardens are a
long-term gardening feature and become increasingly
fertile. Rock walls and/or small trellises can be built on
the north (or windward) side to provide an even more favored
Bioremediation can be defined as any process that uses
microorganisms, fungi, green plants or their enzymes to
return the environment altered by contaminants to its
original condition. Using plants and micro-organisms to
clean up pollution and toxins in soil and water. Basically
the more you stimulate life in the soil the faster they
break down pollutants. This includes human waste biological
treatment systems.
Using fungi to clean up pollution and toxins in soil and
water. The fungal mycelium grows through the soil and/
or medium and eventually produce mushrooms.
"Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can help
Save the World". 2005. Ten Speed Press.
www.fungiperfecti.com By Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti
in Olympia. The best book on the topic. Stamets incorporates
a permaculture perspective.
Chickens, ducks, rabbits and goats provide food while consuming
kitchen and garden waste. In permaculture animals
are utilized for their functions as well as their products.
This is currently one of weakest links to creating local food
systems. One of the world's worst scandals is that over the
last several decades a few large agribusiness companies
have gained control over most of the world's seed business.
In the process there has been a huge (and continuing) loss
of seed germplasm available. Many of the commercial varieties
are bred for quantity, shippability and cosmetic appearance
rather than hardiness or nutrition. GMO seeds and
"terminator" technology are scary new developments. The
need for locally-adapted, locally-grown vegetable seed
crops is obviously very important. There is a heritage variety
preservation movement represented by organizations
such as the Seed Savers Exchange and several dozen small,
independent seed companies.
Ideally there would be hundreds of people saving seed in
every city and region. Keeping old, useful varieties alive,
developing new varieties, and producing seed to meet local
needs. Locally-adapted varieties available everywhere
would mean the development of hundreds and thousands of
new seed companies and seed networks. Seed saving should
be covered in more detail in master gardener programs and
at the local garden club level.
Organic Seed Alliance
P.O. Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368
360-385-7192. info@seedalliance.org
A Northwest-based non-profit which serves the organic
seed industry and individuals. OSA offers workshops on
how to do seed production. Their 5th biannual conference
will be held February 14-15, 2008 in Corvallis, Oregon.
Seed Savers Exchange
Founded in 1975, this non-profit organization was a pioneer
in the heirloom seed movement. Huge catalog of seeds
available from gardeners around the country and internationally.
Native plant restoration, ecosystem restoration, erosion control,
daylighting streams, creating wildlife habitat, cleaning
up pollution, and so forth are worthwhile and necessary. A
healthier environment means better quality of life, more
productive environments, and better checks and balances in
our cultivated ecologies. It is well documented that agricultural
yields are higher and pest problems fewer where farm
fields border natural areas. A lot of restoration work is volunteer
but it can also offer meaningful work for people who
are not integrated into the current job economy. The native
plant restoration movement has grown larger and more experienced
over the past several decades.
I am proposing a sort of marriage between native plant
restoration, wildcrafting and Northwest tribal ethnoecology
practices. We can increase native edible plants in the
natural landscape as a human food source. This means
more people can wildcraft their own food. There is a
growing interest in wild foods by many people including
the primitive skills movement. Many cities and regions
have edible wild plant teachers. A growing interest in,
and knowledge of, wild foods combined with rising food
shortages could lead to overharvesting of some wild
foods. We need to increase wild foods, not decrease
them. Native plant restoration which deliberately includes
a generous portion of edible food plants can allow
more people to supplement their diet with wild foods.
Wild foods are gourmet eating and are generally more
nutrition-dense then cultivated plants. Planting and managing
stands of wild edible plants is what native tribes
practiced all over the Northwest prior to white settlement.
Wildcrafting has never died out even in the most modernized
cultures A lot of people still harvest wild foods
in the US especially in rural areas. Traditions continue in
most North American tribes and they are experiencing a
cultural resurgence for the last several decades. The
amount of land available for wildcrafting has been dwindling
due to loss of habitat to development and a continuing
"loss of the commons". An expanded native plant
restoration movement combined with edible native
plants can add to local food security and at the same time
achieve ecosystem restoration objectives.
"Keeping It Wild: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation
on the Northwest Coast of North America" by
Nancy Turner and Douglas Deur. 2005. University of
Washington Press. The best book on how Northwest native
tribes gardened the landscape.
Sustenance & Ecology on the Edge.
An article by Michael Pilarski on a permaculture view
of wildcrafting in an oceanside native plant community
on the Olympic Peninsula.
Complex and productive forest gardens have been developed
by many indigenous cultures in Asia, Africa, Central
America and the Pacific. Permaculture has been a
leader in developing contemporary forest gardens in all
kinds of climates. In fact, forest gardens are one of the
hallmarks of permaculture. The idea is to grow a lot of
fruit, food and other useful products in a multi-layered
system of trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, and ground covers.
Livestock are often integrated. These are long-term, productive
Edible Forest Gardens. 2 volumes. Ecological Design
and Practice for Temperate Climate Permaculture.
David Jacke. 2005. Chelsea Green Press. White River
Junction, VT. 378 and 654 pages.
The most in-depth book on the topic.
Agroforestry Research Trust,
Their website has limited information but they publish "Agroforestry
News", a quarterly newsletter, focusing on temperate
tree and shrub crops. Published in England, the best
journal on the topic. Available from the Permaculture Activist
in the USA.
Recipe for personal food production in the city.
As a permaculturist what would I do if I lived in the city
and wanted to produce my own food? Every situation is
unique but here are some things I am likely to do in order of
1) Learn how to recognize, harvest and process wild foods.
Where are the abandoned fruit trees? What weeds are edible?
2) Garden in my own yard (if I have one).
3) Garden in a nearby community garden. Start one if there
isn't one.
4) Set up a greenhouse to extend the growing season.
5) Integrate small livestock into my garden system if possible
such as chickens, ducks, rabbits and goats.
6) Grow useful plants up the walls and rooves of my house
and any outbuildings inasmuch as possible.
7) Guerilla gardening. Planting useful plants on other people's
property or public spaces for future harvest. This can
be with permission or sereptitiously.
8) Rent farmette land in the peri-urban fringe and commute
to my mini-farm.
9) Cooperate with my neighbors. Participate in social programs
and movements as outlined in Part II of this article.
I always have six to twelve months of food on hand because
of my gardening, bulk buying, food processing and barter
fairs. This is just my normal lifestyle. I don't think of it as
an emergency food supply, but it could be. I have the gardening
tools and know-how to grow productive gardens
with hand labor. This is personal food security. I'd like to
know I was surrounded by people who also had gardens
and full food pantries. This would be much safer than having
a full pantry surrounded by a sea of hungry people.
Creating socially-just and ecologically-sustainable local
food systems is an idea whose time has come. Permaculture
is one of many movements towards this end and has its particular
contributions to the whole. I hope this short article
has given you some insights. This article is a work in
progress and future installments may be issued.
Millions of us, working together
are co-creating the future.
Michael Pilarski, December 27, 2007
Friends of the Trees Society
Permaculture resources next page.
Permaculture Resources:
The two key books on temperate-climate, permaculture
gardening (both written by authors in Oregon) are:
Gaia's Garden.
Toby Hemenway. 2001. Chelsea Green Press, White
River Junction, VT.
Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden
and Your Neighborhood into a Community. Heather
Flores. 2006. Chelsea Green Press. White River Junction,
Major permaculture websites:
The Permaculture Activist
This is the best information source on North American
permaculture. The site includes a nation-wide list of permaculture
design courses and related trainings and a
Global Directory of permaculture groups.
Permaculture article on Wikipedia
Great introduction to permaculture at Wikipedia.
Great linking website for permaculture.
Great linking website and introduction to permaculture.
Northwest Permaculture Resources:
Eugene Permaculture Guild
Portland Permaculture Insitute
PMB #101, 3527 NE 15th Ave., Portland, OR 97212
503-293-8004. pam@portlandpermaculture.com
Vancouver Permaculture Network
#102 - 5698 Aberdeen St.,
Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V5R 4M6
Harold Waldock, cell :604-763-6984.
Seattle Permaculture Guild
The website for the Bullock's Brother Homestead on Orcas
Island. One of the best permaculture sites in the
country and an educational center.
Food Not Lawns
PO Box 42174, Eugene, OR 97404
(541) 343-4673. foodnotlawns@yahoo.com
Promoting peace and sustainability through permaculture,
organic living and community interaction.
Urban Permaculture Guild
6421 Hillegass Ave, Oakland, CA 94618
Katherine Steele. info@urbanpermacultureguild.org
Northwest Permaculture
Design Course
February 16-March 2, 2008.
Sahale Retreat Center,
Near Olympia, Washington
The course will be taught by Michael Pilarski, Laura Sweany
and guest presenters. An intensive, two-week residential
training. Some scholarships and work-trade fee reductions
are available. Further details are on my website:
I propose a permaculture design course for community
hunger and gardening organizations in the Northwest.
As a first step we would like to invite people from community
hunger organizations to take part in our 2008 permaculture
course at the Sahale Retreat Center near Olympia,
Washington. By the winter of 2008/2009 perhaps we will
have made enough connections with hunger groups to put
on a specific course tailored to them.