Sun One Organic Farm Site Assessment Version 0.1

This is the Site A&A I worked on this fall at Sun One Organic Farm in Bethlehem, CT.  The goals of creating this document centered around education and creating a structure for easier site A&A and better observation of patterns on site.  I wanted to be able to communicate what was happening effectively with someone who had never observed the land through a permaculture lens before.

Rather than treat this document as a normal first to last page book, it is better treated as a series of ponds that the reader can choose to wade in or not.  Links direct the reader to supplemental documentation concerning certain aspects of the A&A.

The site A&A was based almost entirely on the Scale of Permanence found in Edible Forest Gardens. Here is a shareable copy.(ODT) All files below are PDF.

Introduction

Climate

Landform

Water

Legal Issues & Illustration

Access and Circulation

Vegetation and Wildlife & Plant List

Microclimate

Buildings and Infrastructure

Zones of Use

Soil Fertility and Management

Aesthetics

 

 

 

Open-Source Permaculture

A group of college nerds came together collectively at the UC Berkley campus in the 70’s and ushered one of the most technologically important inventions of the modern age…fully functional personal computing.  Fueled by their desire to figure out problems and impress their friends, these students and enthusiasts worked hard and for long periods of time to crack the problems of computing.  Their club was called Homebrew, and the ethic was sharing and open-sourcing.

I am currently working on applying such an ethic and also provide some insights in how to apply open-source to permaculture design.  The sheer power and swiftness of computers makes them well-suited to creating scaled basemaps which can be easily traded, shared, and printed for various uses.

The roster of Open-Source programs and their uses are as follows:

LibreCAD- Scaled Basemapping

Inkscape – Vector Based Editing

GIMP – Pixel Based Editing

Scribus – Desktop Publishing

Krita – Digital Painting

There are other free but not open source programs available to the budding permaculture designer:

Google Earth Pro (Yeah buddy) – GIS and Geositing

Google Mytracks – GPS Tracking

Xmind – Mindmapping

SketchUp – 3d Modeling

Let me briefly explain which programs I am using so far and for what purposes:

Open-Source

LibreCAD – With this program I am trying above all to create a basemap that is scaled, and on which I can make visually appealing with other software.  This is done by typical low-cost surveying techniques like triangulation and offset/extension.  I build the basemap with my own personal measurements combined with any found measurements from existing maps.

Inkscape – Basically the mainframe of the operation.  Even though on the surface inkscape is basically an open-source version of Adobe Illustrator, it can support a large array of file types.  The most important file type it supports is .dxf which is integral to using and then improving upon work done in LibreCAD.

*Here is a link to an example of the first full basemap I created with the LibreCAD/Inkscape Combination.

GIMP – A photo editor.  I use it personally to edit digital photos that I’ve taken.  Right now I’m working with a Canon A2300 modded with CHDK.  Essentially CDHK makes certain point & shoot Canon cameras able to shoot in RAW format as opposed to jpeg, as well as other useful features like altering shutter speed and aperture.

Scribus – Really haven’t been able to sit down and figure out this one yet.  I have experience with InDesign, so I will have to learn the different interface.  From what I’ve seen and read it can get most jobs done.

Krita – A lot can be done with this digital painting program.  This program is for painting the basemaps that I finish in Inkscape.

Free to use

Google Earth Pro – Now the pro version is available, all one needs to do is download the pro version and use the code GEPFREE when logging in to it for the first time.  It is pretty powerful and I sometimes get lost in all that can be done with it.  It is perfect for getting a bird’s eye view of your site and the context of where you are doing design work.  There are topography maps available to put as overlays and there are soil maps that can be overlaid as well to find out what kind of soil types are existent on your site as well.  The soil types can be clicked on and then sent you to more information.

Google Mytracks – This app requires a GPS device via cell phone, so you’ll need a smart phone in order to use this.  It basically tracks the path that the phone moves in.  This can be used to find out how long it takes to travel certain paths, changes in elevation and other data.

Xmind – Just a mindmapping software.  Bubble diagrams and webs are created through topics and subtopics.  Can be used to organize ideas, plans, and projects.

SketchUp – Used for 3D modeling.  Any kind of architectural work and concepts can be hashed out on sketchup for the site.  I have used it briefly to model the garage and see what it would look like with a second floor.  The garage is right in a central location of the garden, so I imagined that with a second floor and large windows facing the garden (and simultaneously facing south as well) a nice space could be created up there that takes advantage of the solar gain during colder months.

Open-Source is an ethic I really like, and computing is important to design.  Things just move faster with open-sourcing, when many users can access the code and change it to improve the programs and offer more applications.  Companies tend to stop innovating when they become a certain size and opt instead to buy innovation from smaller groups or individuals.

But with more focus and time spent on the learning curve with the open-source programs, innovation can be occurring all the time, because individual coders and small groups can constantly be tweaking the source code in order to provide a tighter designed program.  This is what I’m after as a designer, tightest design possible.

So if you have the time, go for open-source, collaborate, and get more sites implemented.

Constraints before goals in early design stages

In Permaculture design there exists a chicken and the egg paradox concerning the early design stages. Of course it doesn’t matter which came first, merely that the chicken or egg existed in order to create the other. Goals & Assessment fit snug into this paradox, and it begs the question…which first?

First, analyze yourself.  Actually…do this for your own benefit anyway, often. How well do I work towards accomplishing tasks? Does it help to set goals? Do goals gear me into action to acquire the knowledge I need to start achieving my goals? or Do I need to understand more of the system before I make goals? Do I need to know my constraints to avoid error? Do I have trouble letting go of previously determined goals? What works best for me?

Once you’ve done questioned yourself thoroughly with those and similar questions the answer might be clear as to how you want to approach your goals and assessment. However, I have an argument to make here and this is it…constraints before goals in early design stages.

I have been spending some 4-5 hours a day here at Sun One Organic trying to understand what kinds of systems are here. I do this based on the Scale of Permanence, which is adapted from P.A. Yeomans. There are a couple different adaptations but David Jacke’s had lots of bullet points.  One may question where the information to fill in the blanks of the Scale comes from.  The answer is I don’t know, but I am trying to compile that together, because access is very important. Stay tuned for that post.

I haven’t set any goals yet, partly because I lack equity in this property and partly because I want to know my constraints.  If Permaculture is an ecological design science, then vetting constraints is like effort to disprove hypotheses. Science.

Constraints first is a psychological primer.  It puts imagination on hold and objective observation in pole position.  I focus solely on what is present, and that is where my attention is.  Imagination never stays quiet so that is present, but that is not the primary psychological mode.  Goals first is imagination.  Constraints first is observation.

Constraints are useful in the sense that they provide an absolute no.  ‘No’ is a great word, much better than ‘maybe’.  ‘No’ will discipline your mind, ‘maybe’ will clutter it.  ‘No’ will kiss you goodnight, ‘maybe’ will cause insomnia mixed with anxious love-hurt. Constraints tell me: no I cannot develop this conservation area, no I cannot manage the stony woodlands other than as forests, no I cannot put a permanent greenhouse in more than 2 places in the lower area…and one of those areas is likely to be  a parking lot.  So then what?

Once I have my ‘no’,  I’ll use that to develop goals.  Take the woodlands for example.  There are three separate wooded areas on the property.  These are situated on very stony soils and grade that is too steep for cultivation.  Assessment has provided me with proper constraints in this respect.  I shall keep the land wooded in perpetuity and then set goals as to what I want to accomplish in that particular setting.  Perhaps wildlife sanctuary, perhaps copses, perhaps lumber, perhaps mushrooming, perhaps all of these.  Chances are I’d arrive at this same conclusion regardless of when I set goals, but this is a generic example.

The constraints allow for the goal setting stages to be much more informed, and the direct experience that one is exposed to during the assessment stage leads one to understand the inherent change that accompanies goal setting.  The  inter relatedness one sees during assessment allows one to set goals that have complex flavor.

Essentially the choice is an individual one.  Both methods eventually coalesce into a goal/constraint hybrid.  If you have clients, goals probably come first.  But when it’s your time and your choice, take the time to get to know your constraints.  Even if it takes more than a year, take the time.  When we’re designing multi-decade systems, a year or two taken to understand the realities will prove useful.

“The dirt road in front of me is wide I take it.  But the choice is mine in the direction I pave it.”

-Colin

Don’t let your children grow up to be farmers and other drugs.

An article was published the other day in the New York Times in the Opinion section detailing the crumbling structure of small farming in the U.S.  It is titled “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers”.

You can find it here.

Being a recent college graduate myself, I enjoy the impending anxious conversations with my parents about making $500 a month as an apprentice. Our head spaces couldn’t be any different. I am trying to change the inequalities in our society through Permaculture; they are trying to impress financially secure qualities in me. I understand it of course, there is a monthly nut I need to be able to cover as I find myself in a more independent adulthood.

But I am too crazy for that.

The article suggests that there should be loan forgiveness for young farmers. This is a brilliant idea. If you can believe it, farmers are less valued than teachers. I mean hegemonically of course. Politicians will pine for votes on platforms of improving teachers salaries, but there is nothing about farmers. This is systemic. The truth is we’re in the same sinking boat, but farmers are slightly lower on the crow’s nest pole. The difference is teachers, in their relatively self sacrificing occupation, benefit from eventual loan forgiveness federally. This means that a teacher may find relief after a decade of service. Not too shabby if after a Master’s degree one finds oneself to be $35,000+ in debt on the basic principle, not to mention interest (or usury depending on your views).  Though honestly, what kind of loan is that?  Pay me more than I loan you to teach our populace.  Joke.

The question we have to ask ourselves is “do we want less educated farmers?” That is the implication I personally see here. This is inequality. We’re living in the wealthiest empire ever to exist (yes empire) and we cannot even provide policy for food growers to be savvy philosophers to boot, without crippling them in debt peonage.

I consider myself to be an educated small farmer. I want to do Permaculture design but it is tough without another source of income, one I wish to find when I go back to a community college for graphic design. But the fact of the matter is that an Anthropology B.A. shouldn’t cost as much as the business B.S. This is not to mention the asinine view of a critical thinking discipline as an art and business as a science, lacking any real body of theory about the natural world we live in. An anthropology degree is of lower market value than a business degree, but the critical thinking and writing skills are essential for everyone to have access to without indebtedness. Why is the price the same?

Provide legislation to give loan forgiveness to farmers. It will provide farmers like myself with the freedom to pursue valuable polyculture research and to bolster local economies. It will provide a more educated populace equipped with the tools to break down inequality. And quite honestly, I think we can afford to give 1% of the population providing a need we have every single day a way to better themselves without unsheathing a double-edged sword.

-Colin