Category Archives: Permaculture Blogs

Preserving and Building our Collective Commons for current and future Generations

So its time to recognize where we are and what’s been going on over the last 40 years. First off, we need to stop seeing a growing economy as a “Healthy Eocnomy” and transition to Gross National Happiness rather than GDP…. I could write pages about this and will at some point, but currently you can check out organizations like CASSE (Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economies).

A landscape that has been exploited beyond its production capacity. It will either take permaculture, or time for nature to heal it or energy (Which currently comes from unsustainable souces) to get a yield out of it.

A landscape that has been exploited beyond its production capacity. It will either take permaculture, or time for nature to heal it or energy (Which currently comes from unsustainable souces) to get a yield out of it.

So since the US hit Peak Oil in 1973 we have been struggling to manage the harsh reality of the direct correlation of Fossil Fuel discovery and consumption and the reality of “Growing” economies. This has resulted in questionable and ultimately unstable growth over the last 40 years. This has been primarily achieved through deregulation and/or privatization of public entities, be it the public utilities, mail delivery systems, Military contracting or you name it. (Passive and aggressive Imperialistic wars of expansion be it the wars in the middle east or through organizations like the WTO, and agreements like NAFTA that achieve growth through exploitation of weaker or less ethical countries until their wages get too high to turn a profit) This has allowed the illusion of growth over these 40 years, which is really only liquidating Ecological, personal and community capital. The only way to manage this is through strong government and cooperatively owned businesses that are of and by all the people. This requires the media to acknowledge and understand this reality and stop its leaning towards market liberalization which results in unethical business men thinking of only their own wealth and thus pilfering our ecological, personal and community capital.

Let me explain this a bit further. Every time a corporation posts profits one must look at where is that “growth” coming from. Is it from the ecological exploitation through using unsustainable practices that future generations are paying for and will be left to heal and reclaim, i.e.: polluting or taking more than the ecosystem can sustain (nature can only produce so much based on available sunlight and climate limitations- i.e.: winter stops most biological production, or i.e.: soil erosion results in production losses as well). Or is it coming from exploiting our personal capital through driving down wages by breaking unions or non-unionized people, which results in perceived “growth” which is really just robbing the workers or the working poor to make it look like “growth”. The other way to make it look like they posted profits is by privatizing our publicly held wealth, i.e.: making the US Postal Service unproductive by forcing them to pre-fund the next 75 year of pensions. This has been making them cut corners to cover those costs and making them uncompetitive to the privately run and much more expensive Fed-Ex, UPS or DHL, thus giving those companies and “hand out” of growth, which is at the cost of one of the most successful government and collectively owned services, which used to provide a good living for its employees and pretty good service to its customers, especially given its size, and doesn’t have to worry about “growth” for its stock holders. Another example of this is privatization of publicly owned water and energy services, which will now need to turn a profit at the expense of the community. The privatization of these entities results in lower wages, wealth being filtered off to stock holders and the bankrupting of our communities.

Its these actions that have given us the perceived idea of “growth” over the last 40 years, yet seen the decline of real wages at the same time. You can read more about this in David Holmgren’s book “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability”, of whom I thank for first shedding light on this phenomenon.

It is time to invest in our communities, both human and ecological to build the resources for our children, rather than sending that wealth to a few cunning and sly Business men who learned how to manipulate people and the media to fill their own pockets. Its also time to call out those exceptionally competitive individuals through the ethics of a sustainable planet, of which Churches and Religions should be doing, yet have forgotten that that is their roll (protecting all current and future generations ability to live a good harmonious life on earth through implementation of Ethics), due to centuries or millennia of political corruption clouding their judgment. Its time to own the place you live, develop businesses dedicated to the bioregions well being and the well being of the inhabitants and then teaching other communities around the globe how to do the same thing, all in alignment of creating a sustainable planet for the next millennia. This is critical for a peaceful future whether or not we have a low energy future due to depleting fossil fuel or a high energy future due to a magic sustainable energy source that can replace our current level of fossil fuel consumption.

Its time to stop selling our future and start investing in truly “sustainable systems” modeled after natures 2 billion years of success and the fundamentals of physics to give ourselves and our children an abundant future that comes from within the planets abilities to provide it.


Part 2: Intro to Permaculture in Edible Ohio Valley

This is the second half of the Introduction to Permaculture that I wrote for Edible Ohio Valley for their summer issue. This has just come out and is still on stands around the Cincinnati Area. So go on out and get a copy and support a wonderful magazine.

This article explores application and broadacre approaches to permaculture, both globally and locally. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it!

Intro Article on Permaculture in Edible Ohio Valley

For those of you who have not seen the current issue if Edible Ohio Valley, there is part 1 of a 2 part series introducing Permaculture and its foundations, that I wrote for them. They are fairly comprehensive and should give any reader a strong foundation as to what is permaculture and why it is so critical to a peaceful future for humanity. Here is a link to the first article:

Keep an eye out for the 2nd part in the fall issue of Edible Ohio Valley

Looking to go deeper into Permaculture? Check out the Carbon Farming Course 1/17/12 – 2/5/12

Well I just registered for the 2012 Carbon Farming course at the Pfeiffer Center in Spring Valley, NY, the place where Biodynamic Agriculture was first brought to  the US some 80 or 90 years ago. It is quite the perfect home for this course as agriculture seeks its next evolution in learning how to feed the world but now with the combined challenges of dwindling natural resources, growing populations, which has been enabled by fossil fuel, which has added the layer of   Global Climate change challenges into the mix, thus raising the bar that much higher… What challenging trinity! But I believe we can do it if we each step up to the challenge, similar to what our grandparents generation did during the Great Depression and the subsequent World War 2. Humanity has faced many complex challenges as it has grown exponentially on the Global petri dish, but this is the greatest one yet. Fortunately we have many resources that have simultaneously arisen in conjunction with these challenges, that if used properly, can help us overcome them. Things like the internet and the double edged sword of travel that can help us exchange ideas that help us implement evolutionary change that much quicker…. This Course is one of those events that will help us advance our understanding of the solutions as experimented by this wonderful line up of teachers that, combined, makes up well over a centuries worth of trial and tribulations on the forefront of Sustainable ag. Some of these challenges have followed us for millenia, like that of annual grain production which most often results in soil erosion and thus desertification. Fortunately through the work of many, if not all of these presenters, we are learning how to address this fundamental failure. Each one is such a heavy hitter in their field that it would require a much longer article to do each on justice… the easiest is to provide a link to their bios…

Anyways, if you are thinking about kickin up your ability to give back more than you’ve taken out then join this course and learn about how a stable, regenerative future is going to play out, beginning in our own back yards or farms… Its time to evolve

Introducing after a long Summer of silence

Well after a long summer of study, travel, work and growing, and now that the weather is starting to get a nip to it and the evenings are growing  longer I’m back at it on the Futurebox. To start, I’m excited to share with you, Cincinnati’s (and I think Ohio’s) First Permaculture Educational Non-Profit.

It is headed up by me, Braden Trauth, and my Mentor from College and now my Mentee in Permaculture, Dale Murray. Dale is the former Dean of the Design School at University of Cincinnati’s College of DAAP. He is a Professor of Industrial Design, which was very influential in Bill Mollison’s development of the Design Processes of Permaculture, as acknowledged in Permaculture Two (in his reference of the well known Industrial Designer, Victor Papinek). As for OM Valley, this will remain as my personal Permaculture website for blogging, educational articles from my experiences and the home of my Design & Consultancy services. Anyways, back to This-Land, we are very happy to share that we will very shortly be announcing our 2012 Class line up, starting with a Winter PDC that will consolidate the 72 hours into 3 weekends, to make it more accessible for folks, and will take place around the end of February and early March. After that we will be hosting some Natural/Green Building workshops with one of the best Natural Builders I know in the world, Ted Elsasser. We will host a summer intensive PDC followed by a Food Forest workshop and Earthworks workshop. We will also sprinkle in other courses throughout the year like a Cob Oven building workshop and a Passive Solar Dehydrator workshop just to name a few. Anyways stay tuned for more developments as we really start to sink our Tap Roots here in the Ohio and Miami Valley region.

City Beat Article: Don’t Panic its Organic

For those of you who missed our article in the March 16th 2011 edition of City Beat here’s a link:

Permaculture’s Principles

When Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed Permaculture over 32 years ago they had tapped into something new, unique and synergizing. When I was working at Holmgren’s Melliodora I had the good fortune to ask him where the idea came from (as he had the original idea and Bill developed and expanded it). David summed it up as the synergy of Ecology and Agriculture brought together using Design thinking. This is where the Principles came from, followed by Design Methods and Directives. Mollison developed many Principles based on this which are summed up below. Holmgren’s Principles, that he published in 2003 in “Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability” precede Mollison’s in this article as they are a bit more concise and to the point, yet Mollisons are much more in depth and require more time to contemplate and see the depth to them:

Reviewing Melliodora with David Holmgren

Holmgren’s Principles: Adapted from: Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability: 2003 by Holmgren

  1. Observe & Interact
  2. Catch & Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self Regulation & Accept Feedback
  5. Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design from Patterns to Details
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
  9. Use Small & Slow Solutions
  10. Use & Value Diversity
  11. Use Edges & Value the Mariginal
  12. Creatively use and Respond to Change

for more please visit

Holmgren’s Graphic of his Principles

Mollison’s Principles (from “Permaculture: a Designers Manual” 1988):

Prime Directive of Permaculture: The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our Children’s

Principle of Cooperation: Cooperation, not competition, is the basis of future survival and of existing life systems

The Ethical Basis of Permaculture:

1. Earth Care: Provision for all life systems to continue and increase

2. People Care: Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence

3. Fair Share: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles

Mollison’s Principles (which are extensive)

1. Work with nature, rather than against the natural elements, forces, pressures, processes, agencies, and evolutions, so that we assist rather than impede natural developments

2. The problem is the solution; everything works both ways.  Everything is a positive resource; it is just up to us to work out how we may use it as such

3. Make the least Change for the greatest possible effect

4. The Yield of a system is Theoretically unlimited. The only limit on the number of uses of a resource possible within a system is in the limit of the information and the imagination of the designer

5. Everything gardens or has an effect on its environment

6. Policy of Resource Management

7. Principle of Disorder: If resources are added beyond the systems ability to absorb them the system will chaos and pollution results

8. The Role of Life in the Yield

9. Limits to Yield

Principle of Cyclic Opportunity

Types of Niches:

Principle of Stress & Harmony

Principle of Stability

Information as a Resource

Truly Green Homes: Earthships; a Permaculture Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a Sloped Green house with Ken & an Intern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn More about the Earthships please visit

Enhancing Nature’s Ability to Create

As we approach the highest heights that human population has known on this planet, created from exchanging nature’s capital for human growth and development, the time has come where the future expansion of human population (which, ultimately, each individual will need to learn to keep that in check based on respect for all humans), and more importantly consciousness, will only come from learning to enhance natures creative ability to lay the foundation of the source of life on this planet. This is what Permaculture seeks to do. It seeks to restore the source of nature’s stability via capturing natural energy (water, wind, sun, temperature, soil) and recycling it over and over again through biological processes, using the diversity of nature’s life, of which each individual plays an important roll in enhancing the stability of the system.

There are times when things get out of balance, as when one species is left unchecked and its population booms until something, a disease, a predator, or lack of resources draws the population of that species back in check. This is the importance of humans learning to develop resources in the likeness of nature, as we have wiped out diseases and predators (except for our own kind in wars) and thus the resources that we have learned to liquidate and turn into humans are running out. This is witnessed via population demand for more and more of the planets 2 billion year old savings account be it finite or renewable…. so much so that this current run on the Planet’s Bank account is threatening to undermine the bank itself, if you will. This is physically witnessed in dwindling finite resources like minerals and fossil fuel and in dwindling renewable resources via species extinction and ecosystem collapse.

So this leaves us with no choice but to learn how to enhance our local resource base and maximize our capacity to do so via Design thinking (aka creative problem solving) filtered through the lens of nature’s regenerative principles to create the world we want, a regenerative and resilient future for millenia to come.

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We can start this by enhancing biomass in our back yards, capturing and storing water in all capacities, and planting functional perennials outside of our kitchen gardens. Turning our yards into small scale, regenerative resource farms. We can replicate this model on a larger scale by using the same principles but acknowledging the ability to propagate larger slower growing resources, like nut trees, timber crops and integrating support plants (legumes, dynamic accumulators and the sort) along with livestock to enhance productivity and biomass recycling. We can also integrate earthworks to enhance water capture and thus increase biomass production. To reference David Holmgren, it is a functional use of Fossil Fuel to build earthworks as we replace fossil fuel (ancient super condensed biomass) with current regenerative cycles of biomass that will be enhanced by the water captured by the earthworks.

The acequia system in New Mexico is a great historical example of using earthworks to enhance biomass production. These are channel systems developed by the Spaniards in New Mexico hundreds of years ago. This allowed them to channel the Spring snow melt out into the desert and use it to grow grasses, (which would have been much better served if forests, especially food forests were grown as they prevent evaporation and enhance hydrological cycles, which is great out there, and enhance the slower release of the water through springs.)

Understanding nature’s ability to capture, store and recycle nutrients and resources throughout its system is priceless. Nature is amazingly and perfectly designed of which, we, a species with amazing capabilities to create and destroy, are just now learning to step into the roll and responsibility we have towards this planet and all its inhabitants, one of Enhancing every living beings ability to create more harmony, rather than destroying it all. So what are we waiting for?