Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Winter Farm/Garden Design Exercise

The "MAXIMUM PRODUCTIVITY OR GTFO!!!!!!!" mantra you see in a lot of gardening/farming discussions, for me, is like so much of the "bigger is better" American silliness that we see: more explosions, more flash, more glitter, more money, bigger houses, bigger cars, big muscles, bigger skyscrapers and WHO CARES about whether or not it makes any sense otherwise. A lot of the time, in fact, MOST of the time, this leads us to poor solutions that don't actually work, but hey - they're BIG FAST EXTREME AWESOME!

So we have BIG CARS that hardly drive, cost too much, waste gas and money, and break down all the time. "AWESOME!"

And we have BIG HOMES that waste fuel, are hard to heat, hard to keep clean, expensive to furnish and break down all the time. "AWESOME!"

And we have big BANK ACCOUNTS that cost us our happiness, our connection to people in our communities, and don't correlate well to satisfaction. "AWESOME!"

Even in Permaculture some assume that the goal must be BIG PRODUCTIVITY per acre or square foot. 

But that doesn't even make sense on big farm fields, where it wastes soil, water and fossil fuels, and due to the law of diminishing marginal utility, dramatically increases food waste as it increases processing and transport costs. While BIG AG claims BIG PRODUCTIVITY is the only way to "feed the world" it's common sense that more efficient return on investment and lower yields per unit would actually leave less food wasted and get more people fed and employed. This is especially true when one considers "total people fed over the system life" - the ONLY measure that means anything. A BIG PRODUCTIVE field may feed 4 times the people over the short term (in an ideal season,) but burns out its soil productivity in a short time, whereas a sustainaby productive system will feed a quarter of the people but if it lasts 100 times (or more) as long, it will feed 25 times (or more) people!             

And MAX PRODUCTIVITY makes even less sense on the small farm or homestead, where it may not help the land stewards meet their personal goals, create good lives, serve their society well, or steward the land at all!

(Late November harvests of fennel bulbs, parsnips, carrots, squash, tomatoes, potatoes...)

For me, the goal of the ideal Permaculture system is to optimally meet our needs now, and in the future, even if those needs might change a little. Which means for me, the goal is maximum flexibility while allowing us to invest in Permanent infrastructure, especially: "Flexible Adaptability of Input to Output." Meaning if we want to save money and time, it can go into "low input mode" being largely self-maintaining and still giving us a well-rounded diversity of production: plants, seed, nuts, fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, craft materials, fuel, etc. But if I want to, I can quickly adapt the system to respond to more inputs and more energy with greater productivity - of whatever market crop I want. 

While I was out working the garden today, I did a little design exercise that I found very helpful. I imagined what some of my potential goals would be for this system at Lillie House, and how I could adapt the system to meet those goals (and how quickly.) 

(Another late-season dinner harvest)

I realized that the more flexible our system is, the more likely our work is to last into the future!

Right now, our system is maximized for:
A BEAUTIFUL home living space that enhances our lives
almost 0 off-site inputs
low maintenance
relatively high yields of plant material, seeds and cuttings as our main income crop,
emphasize perennial vegetables and fruit crops,
well-rounded yields of daily salads, fruit, vegetables, flowers, craft materials, herbs, medicines, calories and protein - IN AMOUNTS WHERE WE CAN EASILY HARVEST, PROCESS, AND USE THEM with no waste. 

(soap-making with home-grown herbs and fragrances)
But I could imagine various scenarios where any of the following might become practical goals for the people living here. 

Here's the thought exercise: For each of these goals, how would you adapt your system? Could you get there in 1 season? 

1. Maximize productivity of vegetables while maintaining well-rounded diversity. 
2. Maximize productivity of calorie crops while maintaining diversity of yields. 
3. Maximize productivity of fruit while maintaining diversity. 
4. Maximize production of annual vegetables while maintaining sustainability, not importing fertility and maintaining a diversity of yields. 
5. Maximize production of herbs or medicines, etc. 

(small batch of lavendar-calendula soap.)

6. Create a beautiful, stable, extremely low-input/low-maintenance home landscape for the non-agricultural family, that maximizes ease and beauty, but still gives the family access to healthy food, herbs, fruit, flowers, etc. 
7. Maximize learning, education, or cultural opportunities on site while maintaining diverse yields, etc. 
8. Integrate appropriate animal systems, chickens, etc. while maintaining diversity, etc. 
For me, the "win" was that I could easily imagine steps I could take to quickly meet any of those goals in one season, without dramatically changing our design, infrastructure or earthworks! To me, that's a good design! 

(Fruits from earlier in the season)

Of these, there are 3 goals the most useful seemed to be our current goal, #5 (most profitable for product sales) and #6 (for sale or property transfer) with an honorable mention to #7. None of those deal with maximizing productivity. The least useful is #4 as it is the least profitable and least health/life enhancing. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bringing Animals Back into the Forest

(Wild aurochs, the ancestor of modern cattle, depicted in its woodland habitat, wikimedia)

"Cattle are forest animals. They are not pasture animals. You have to chase them out on to pastures. Really, cattle belong in cool forest swamplands. They love it. In summer, they spend all their time up to their bellies out in swamps, eating the swamp grasses. In winter they will come back into the forest edges. 

That is where we got them from. That was their habit--the white ox of the forests of northern Europe." - 

Bill Mollison 

Because of our romantic notions of the American farm, the cowboys of the arid west, and the buffulo of the Great Plains, it seems impossible to us that the cow was a forest animal, but Bill Mollison was yet again (mostly) correct! (Modern genetic evidence indicates that all cattle were domesticated in Turkey, and that Europeans never domesticated their local aurochs.)

(Forest in Poland, the last wild habitat of the aurochs, wikipedia.)

Studies on the aurochs, the predecssor of modern cattle, have found it was a forest dweller with a special relationship to swamps, marshes, riversides and grassy wetlands:

"Evidence which has never been used in this discussion before consists of data from the last Central European wilderness, the Great Wilderness in former East Prussia (NE Poland). During the middle ages, a wilderness situation existed in this area for several centuries, nearly untouched by man (Mager 1960, Mortensen & Mortensen 1938). All original indigenous herbivores (including the aurochs) and predators were present at the time and human settlements and agricultural fields were absent. Descriptions of that area, by eyewitnesses, show the widespread presence of extensive forests and marshes. Just like the Romans in Germania, here army units also had great difficulties to penetrate the wilderness forests. A large number of route descriptions through this area have been handed down (Hirsch 1863); from these we can learn about the density of the forests and the problems people had in cutting and clearing paths through them. Medieval people did not like these wild woods and saw it as their task to order and cultivate this ‘highly inhospitable’ landscape."    

Such was the natural habitat of the aurochs, from which we domesticated modern cattle! And its diet was much like the diet of domesticated escapees, or those left to their own devices: wetland and open woodland grasses, some leaves and twigs, especially in winter, and acorns in fall. 

And for most domesticated cattle the world over, this "mosaic landscape" of grassy woodland edge has continued to be their main habitat, as part of the tropical home garden, the "homestead pattern of humanity." The Zebu (Bos Indicus) has long been at home in the tropical home gardens of South Asia, and its European cousin has long been housed in similar homestead conditions. Those systems evolved out of an economic necessity to cooperate with nature, and it turns out they may convey many advantages to modern homesteaders, farmers, and the society that relies on them. 

(Edward Neale, Malay Red Jungle Fowl, wikipedia) 

And the same holds true of our other common domesticated companions, we found our friends in the forests! Chickens were domesticated from the Malay jungle fowl, turkeys are a bird of the Eastern Woodland, sheep were derived from the mouflon of steep forested mountains, and pigs - like their wild boar ancestors - are naturals to mixed, shrubby woodland. 

And why not? The forest is also where we primates evolved, with us humans gravitating towards the same forest edges that all these animals called home! And when we spread around the world, recreating this ideal habitat of forest edge wherever we went (the home-garden pattern) we were also creating the ideal habitat for our animal associates. 

So now Permaculturists are learning from these age-old, proven, evolved homestead systems and bringing our animals back into the forest. From a purely economic perspective, this has a lot of benefits, since these animals evolved to depend upon the services of the forest ecosystem, when we remove the forest, we have to provide those services ourselves.

An even more important economic benefit is that by integrating our animals back into the homestead, they become partners, sharing our farm labor and helping contribute to ecosystem function. They can fertilize our crops, aid in pest and disease control, help keep lawns mown, and brush cleared, and so on. In an era where it's difficult for small farms to raise meat profitably, getting these animals to help on our more profitable farm endeavors is extremely important! 

And finally, in an age of unthinking industrial animal cruelty, I believe that these Permaculturists are re-kindling a more sane relationship to our age-old companions by rebuilding these old systems. It is kind to allow animals to live out their lives as freely as possible in an environment similar to their Environment of Evoutionary Adaptation (EEA.) And the more personal relationship makes a big difference on how these Permaculture animals get treated.

So here is a collection of inspiring Permaculture patterns that bring us, and our faunal associates, back into the forest:

Permaculture Patterns for Integrated Animal Systems:

Of course, there's no reason why you HAVE to have animals to have a completely functioning Permaculture system. It's entirely possible to get the benefits of ecosystem function by recruiting the help of wild animals in our systems, without having to use domesticated ones. But for those who want to raise animals, these systems might be of some help.

Cattle pattern 1: Rotational Silvopasture Alley grazing = rotational grazing for Michigan's climate



My favorite cattle system: http://permaculturenews.org/2013/07/16/advanced-cell-grazing-permaculture-livestock-systems-at-zaytuna-farm/

Cattle Pattern 2: Trees for cattle fodder. 


Siberian pea shrub

Cattle Pattern 3: Clean runoff. 
Forests and hedgerows can be used to catch and infiltrate contaminated water, reducing contamination of waterways. 

Livestock Pattern 4: Sheep Fodder Pasture Plants, etc

Chickens Pattern 5: Chicken Forage Forests and Hedgerows
Plants for chicken forage hedgerows:
wild grapes and hardy kiwi
siberian pea shrub
Turkish rocket

Chickens Pattern 6: Chickens and Compost

Preserving the Savannas


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Introduction to Permaculture Workshop in Kalamazoo Michigan

Hello Permaculture enthusiasts!

Normally we try to keep this site just for free content and avoid advertising on it, but I wanted to let Lillie House readers know about this workshop we'll be holding on December 3rd. 

Though it's an "introduction" we'll be going WELL beyond the basics, stuff like hugelkulture and swales, to cover a wide variety of inspiring tools and patterns that can be used in the garden, the home, the neighborhood, and beyond. 

Folks attending the class will also get my super huge annotated list of Top
Permaculture resources to explore online. 

Practical Permaculture Patterns Introduced: 
Permaculture life design and right livelihoods beyond farming – real-world examples that work.
Successful Permaculture farm and market-garden models, what really works?
Best Permaculture patterns for easier, more regenerative gardening
Examples of Natural Building and smart home construction for Michigan
Practical Agriforest applications: home forest gardens, hedgerows, systems for livestock feed.
Best perennial herbs and vegetables to start with. 
Water collection that works for cold temperate climates.
Energy investments that pay for themselves. 
Real-world examples of transformative Permaculture community organizing. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Permaculture Ideas for Positive Action

(Text version below:) 

"There is no instance of a people benefitting from prolonged conflict."

“Of your enemies... If of high morale, depress them.... If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them." 

"Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.” 

- Sun Tsu

If you're frustrated with the world right now, feel worn down by all the negative energy, and looking for a positive and meaningful way to recharge while taking action, the perspective of Permaculture has been a real help for me, and it might be useful to you, too. 

I've seen a few terrific action lists that focus on partisan politics and protest, and I think those are important. But political action is necessarily about opposition and for most of us it feels negative and draining, and I haven't seen any lists that focus on positive energy and positive action, or non-partisan action. And Permaculture is a great place to start, since it was created by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who were themselves disillusioned and burned out on political activis, and looking for a non-political, positive means to create a better, more just and sustainable society that respected and honored the natural world. 

A lot of people feel pretty burned out from a long election cycle, and they need to recharge, but they're also conflicted because they don't want to "give up." In an outrageous world it feels uncaring, privileged or downright apathetic to allow oneself to stop being outraged.  

But if we want to be skillful and effective, instead of just being outraged, then it's important to have compassion for ourselves. If you look at the kind of state Sun Tsu wanted to create to weaken and defeat his enemies: stressed, tired, starved, divided, depressed: that's exactly the state many Americans are in right now - and we're the ones doing it to ourselves and our own allies!

We can find a balance that embraces righteous anger and legitimizes rational fear, but recognizes that a place of anger, fear and stress are not a conducive peak state for getting ANYTHING done, let alone creating a better society. And in the mean time, a society flooded with stress and negativity is good for no one, especially not populations that are already stressed, afraid and marginalized. 

So, in addition to political action, we can shift our focus and inject some positive energy into this turbulent time: something to regenerate and energize ourselves and our communities. That's actually a completely valid and beneficial way to respond. If we do that, studies show we'll actually be more productive and powerful when the time comes to fight!

I'm not saying that activism and politics are unimportant or that folks shouldn't bother voting. 

But from a Permaculture perspective, we can and should invest energy in building a better world outside the political system. In fact, if we want to build a better world, it will not be enough to simply engage in partisan politics! Consider that: 
- Analytical studies and statistical analysis have demonstrated for decades that the political activities of most voters have no measurable impact on policy! Only a very small percentage of high-earning Americans has a very large impact on policy. 
- Political struggle effects only the CURRENT systems we use to meet our needs. But many of these are already failing or they were unjust to begin with. Most are considered "unsustainable" by experts from within those systems, which doesn't mean they're bad for dolphins and Monarch butterfies, it means they literally cannot continue into the future. Instead of putting energy into controlling or "fixing" systems that are bound to end soon, we can work outside the political system to build new "parallel" systems that can better meet our needs. 
- Going back to Aristotle and continuing through our modern democracies, republican government is intended and designed to slow change, and prevent revolution - not facilitate it! The political processes of modern government, two-party systems, separation of powers and bicameral legislature (etc.) were intended to pacify the masses, siphon off revolutionary energy and bind it up into cogs of a system that is very slow to change. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republicanism
-Tug -o-war. One powerful, intended counter-revolutionary mechanism in our political system is that when we put all our energy into political struggle, it often causes a backlash, and in the next election the other guys come along and undo much of what was accomplished, our energy investment largely lost! 

So while we work through that slow system, we can and should also invest positive energy into durable, apolitical ways of building a better world, a more regenerative culture, stronger communities and more resilient lives for ourselves, so that we're stronger when it's time to fight for what we believe in!

Here are some positive, powerful, transformative actions you can take today. A huge benefit is that many of these reach beyond demographics and politics, helping to build influence and build alliances beyond partisan boundaries :

(Community Supported Forest Gardening Program Members at Lillie House)

1. Build a broad, diverse community based on needs. Communities that are truly dynamic and vibrant, such as folk communities, are so because they're interdependent: people rely on each other. They are interconnected. Each of us can mindfully build our own communities for ourselves. Ask: What do you need? Find the people in your community who can provide it! What are you dependent upon soul sucking corporations for? Find the people who can help you cut your corporate umbilicle cord! Invest in people right in your community. And if you can't find them, then consider starting a business yourself or encouraging someone else in your community to do so. 

2. Ask people for help! People often think that it's offering help that is the key to building social capital, but research has found that ASKING can actually be more powerful - especially when you're appreciative. 

3. Plant some shit. If Permaculturist Ron Finely can do it in land-starved and concrete-covered LA, then we can all do \it! According to the US Government, our food system is the #1 cause of climate change, the #1 user of oil, the #1 cause of soil loss, habitat destruction, and deforestation. Our unhealthy food system is a major cause of disease, malnutrition and starvation. But we can start withdrawing our support for this insane sociopathic system by growing some of our own food. And if you can't right now, then find someone to help: see #1! My  top recommendation for people who want to start a Permaculture garden is the book "Gaia's Garden." But we've got some articles on getting started at www.lilliehouse.blogspot.com. 

4. Home Energy Retrofit. Make your home more energy efficient and comfortable. If you're smart, you can actually plan these so that they even pay for themselves. Save yourself money. Then teach others in your community to do the same!

(Community members learning about sustainable building while helping Ben Brown build his Tiny House)

5. Learn something: a new practical skill that will make yourself or your community stronger. If you don't know what to do, try asking around and see what people in your community need. Everyone follows the trends, you can be the one who sets them. As Bill Mollison used to say: “The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone." 

6. Make some art:
"It is through art, music, dance, and poetry that ecological knowledge is passed from one generation to the next." You think you can change minds by bashing skulls? Think again. What we need is a change OF CULTURE. If we're going to make a Permanent culture, we actually need the culture part, as my buddy Permaculturist Josh Shultz has said. 

(Old field ecology at a VanKal Permaculture Event at Rustling Knapweed Forest Garden, Lawton Michigan.)

7. Connect with nature:  As Bill Mollison said: "Wealth is a deep understanding of the natural world." Go out and learn nature, and then share the wisdom she has taught. There is wealth here to fuel our fight. And many of our problems are caused by our disconnection from nature. 

8. Love. Ha ha! Not in some cheesy hippie dreamy sort of way. Sorry! If you haven't figured it out yet, real love is HARD! Sometimes it sucks. Like... at Thanksgiving. I've been sharing all the "Love Trumps Hate" memes on Facebook, but then I ask myself: have I tried to LOVE President Elect Trump, his voters and supporters? Hell no!  It feels way better to marginalize and dehumanize them in 1,000 different ways, confident that my liberal, inclusive values make me superior to them. Well, my values ARE superior, but I'm not. Thinking so just makes me an asshole. In general, we should try to learn about people and perspectives we tend to dismiss or be uncomfortable with. If that's people of color, then you might start here. If you'd like to try investing some energy into understanding the plight of rural, working class communities wh supported Trump,  this is a good place to start

(Open Garden day at Lillie House.)

9. Quietly invest in your own spiritual capital. Everyone can do this, even devout atheists. Spend time for quiet contemplation, to get to know yourself. Unplug, take a week-long media fast. Like "connecting with nature," this might seem froo froo, but it's actually the most effective way we can act to inject some thoughtful, tolerant, peaceful energy into a violent angsty world. Whether you have a spiritual tradition or not, everyone can set aside some quiet time to cultivate a quiet, relaxed happy mind, something that has always been key to effective action and warriorship. 

And if you feel inspired to learn more about Permaculture, you can check out our articles at Lilliehouse.blogspot.com, visit the forums or resources at Permaculture Global, permaculturenews.org. 
or learn the basics of Permaculture at Permacultureprinciples.com.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Whoops! Blame the Horrible Blogger App

Apologies, an infuriating feature on the nearly unusuable Blogger App published a quick sketch for a possible future post. The article will be on developing a non-religous "ritual" for calming down quickly and clearing the mind - for anyone, despite their beliefs. Unfortunately, I haven't started developing that article yet! Perhaps in the future.... 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Social Permaculture: Designing Change for a Better Life and a Better World

When people first visit an established Permaculture garden/system, it can be striking. Here is a style of food garden that's beautiful, life-enriching, highly productive, and low-maintenance - and it just works. 

Look deeper: this is not just a pretty place, it is transformational. It is a revolution on the personal level, a tangible way to build the kind of life you want to live and the kind of place you want to live in. And it is a revolution on the global scale, as well, that transforms our relationship with the earth and its ecosystems and the invisible structures that perpetuate social oppression. With our American food system being the number 1 use of fossil fuels, the #1 driver of climate change, the #1 cause of deforestation and soil loss, the #1 reason for the confiscation of tribal lands and displacement of tribal communities in the global south, the #1 cause of exposure to dangerous chemicals and toxins for marginalized communities... taking responsibility for your OWN food is powerful transformational action. 

It works because we rely on the help and energy of NATURAL SYSTEMS to maintain our gardens and produce our food, instead of exploiting people, oppression, fossil fuels, animal cruelty, poisons and non-renewable resources. And like natural ecosystems that naturally grow healthier and more fertile over time, these systems aren't just "sustainable," they're "regenerative," actively making the world a better place to be. 

And go further: the systems we use to meet our needs drive virtually ALL the injustice and environmental degradation we see in the world today. But we can work together, now, today - without waiting for other people or politics - to start building new, just, sustainable ways to meet our needs, and we can start changing all those problems - at home, in our own communities. 

Beyond the garden, Permaculture shows us patterns we can use to invest in regenerative systems for energy, housing, heating, food, water, transportation.... And like the gardens, because they emulate and work with nature, they just work.

And it helps us design communities for ourselves that support us in our lives and in building the kind of world we want to see. The reason ecosystems grow stronger over time, which scientists call natural succession and "negentropy," is that they catch and store energy into the various living beings and communities in the ecosystem. Like a natural energy bank. 

Like nature, we can actually think of investing our time and energy into our own productive assets, communities and ecosystems, so that we have resources to draw on when we advocate for change.

We call that "Social Permaculture." And just as we can start building our own gardens today, and taking responsible for our food, we can start creating our own Social Permaculture communities and networks. 

To get some ideas and inspiration here are some articles on Social Permaculture and community design that we've published here at Lillie House. If you have questions or want to learn more, please comment!

The basics from a perspective of social and ecological transformation. 

Can we learn to lead "wealthy" lives that aren't destructive or exploitive? That actually help us create a more just, sustainable world? 

Understanding and Addressing the Ecological Causes of our Problems: 

Healing Ourselves, Healing the World: More on how Permaculture can help us build better lives for ourselves while simultaneously being socially transformational. 

Social Permaculture: Designing the Relational Landscape. This three-part series applies the patterns of nature and folk communities to our modern communities, to help us think about our own relationships. 

Catching and Storing Energy for Financial and Social Permaculture: Two articles with thoughts on how to invest time, money and energy into assets that will build a stronger community. 

Articles on the Intersection of Social Permaculture and Forest Gardening:
2. Our Community Supported Forest Gardening Class, as a model for Community Design: http://lilliehouse.blogspot.com/2016/03/community-supported-forest-gardening.html
3. Social Patterns in a Food Forest:

Intersectionality and Permaculture: How do we create new, better systems for meeting our needs without recreating the same destructive patterns of oppression? 

Why our Best efforts fail. Avoid some common traps associated with organizing. This two-part series deals with common problems in social organizing:


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Designed to Fail: Avoiding Projects that are Doomed to Low Engagement

Hands down, this has got to be the #1 reason why most "ethical or "green" projects, businesses, farms, non-profit organizations and activism efforts fail: We start on a road trip with no gas in the car and no plan to get any. 

And that was exactly the path to failure that Lillie House Permaculture was on when we decided to use the design process to rework how we organized our efforts. In this article I'll tell you exactly where we were going wrong, and how Kim and I changed that to make our business and activism far more successful overnight. And without that change, I'm afraid Lillie House Permaculture would not have been long for this world. We had poor sales of our nursery stock, design services and produce (which mostly got composted,) and poor attendance of the classes we were offering for FREE. On multiple ocassions, we had a dozen or more people scheduled for a free class, which I would spend hours lesson planning and prepping materials for, and literally NO ONE would show up! We'd struggle long hours trying to organize people to implement a single Permaculture project or engage in some environmental cause and never seemed to get anywhere. Now, we have a supportive community and we feel proud that we're supporting them in return. We're supporting the creation of over a dozen forest garden projects just this year, and supplying them with thousands of dollars of plant stock and produce samples. We're making a decent living charging for our classes and programs, and many of them sell out! We're now offering our first few rounds of test-classes online, and so far, those have sold out, too. 


Last time, I discussed the Permaculture idea of "type 1 errors," endeavors designed to fail. 

So this time, I want to discuss the most common type 1 error invovled in project design, businesses, non-profits and activism efforts: the failure to engage that too often leaves us burned out and cynical, stuck blaiming others for not caring enough, showing up or helping out. This is exactly the error we made in our programs. 

But what if we can turn that blame around and accept the feedback that people didn't show up? Most of the time, people WANTED to show up, they cared about what we were doing, but when it came to prioritizing the time and resources, they simply had other priorities. 

Let's face it, the modern world is tough, competitive, strapped for time and resources. 

So we realized that if we really want people to show up, we have to give them a good incentive, we have to make it so worth their while that they can't NOT show up. In Permaculture, we call this principle "obtain a yield." We're not the only ones who need to put gas in our tank to get where we're going. We have to design things so that volunteers and supporters can put gas in their tanks, too, because without that fuel, eventually they're going to stop showing up. 

When we get that right, we've super-fueled our project so that like the sun, or a wildfire, in burning it creates its own fuel. 


Now, back to those projects that are destined to run out of gas. Look at this chart:

As you can see, the hortizontal axis at the bottom is pretty simple, with small numbers of people on the left, moving towards increasingly large numbers on the right. The vertical axis is more interesting, Intensity of Interest, how much people want to support something. When it comes to supporting our projects, there are really just two meaningful types of support we're measuring here: volunteering and donating. Are people actually interested enough to give the project resources or volunteer time? How much they're willing to give will depend upon how passionate they are about the cause or product. Low levels might be a few dollars or a few hours. Large levels of interest might equate to thousands of dollars or more, or perhaps people who want to make a living out of supporting our work. 

Based on that axis, we can put any project or product into one of these four quadrants:

By the way, this is our Permaculture adaptation of a common tool in business, used to test the viability of a business or product. It's something that Kim and I have been discussing quite a bit, and it's equally useful for testing the viability of any project or non-profit endeavor that needs more support than one person alone can provide. 

Lets look first at the upper right hand box. This is the promised land, and very rare. This is where you'll have a large number of people willing to give a lot of time and support. For example: Houses. A very large number of people will actually work a significant portion of their lives for the priviliege of owning their own home. And in fact, most people in our society actually work providing goods or services in this category! Cars, refrigerators, washingmachines... if you have a project or product that falls into this category, congratuations, you're pretty much guaranteed support and success. Unfortuantely, endeavors that fit this bill are very rare. 

Next, check out the lower right box. If your project is here, people might not be super excited about it, but they're at least willing to give you a few bucks here in there. But luckily, there are many, many of them. For example, Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds, Starbucks. There are very few people who are passionate about giving their money or labor to these companies, but millions of people are passionate ENOUGH about their products to give them small amounts of money on a recurring basis. This quadrant also defines a large number of non-profit endeavors, especially the large aid organziations. 

Next, the upper left quadrant, where only small numbers of people are interested, but BOY ARE THEY EVER!!! In today's world this is the most interesting quadrant, and with the internet and globalization connecting people like never before, this is the quadrant that is radically changing how funding and marketing work, as has been pointed out by many critics. Innovative projects might not be able to find large numbers of people to support them, but if you want tap into a few very passionate people, then you can accomplish a lot! These people may be "angel investors" willing to contribute large amounts of money, volunteers who'll invest a lot of their time, or even folks who want to turn your cause into their own source of right livelihood. Often these are professional or career organizations, or passionate hobbies tied strongly to self-identity and personal development. The fact that they are so niche actually helps them build identify, since we define ourselves most strongly by these narrow interests. You know, things like homesteading or Permaculture....

And from a Permaculture perspective, efforts in all three of these quadrants USUALLY allow participants to "obtain a yield" - often fulfilling multiple needs. They may help people eat, find housing, meet potential mates or friends with similar values, find personal development, and search for identity. (Hint: people invest a great deal in their identity, and people associate their identity with niche lifestyles, compelling brands, and inspiring people.) 

 (Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs from Wikipedia.) 

And yet, most of our "good deed" efforts fall into the lower lefthand quadrant. This quadrant will have a small number of people with only a small amount of interest. Worse, we design our efforts to be one-directional in terms of support, with volunteers and doners doing all the giving and us doing all the taking. We don't even make an effort to connect with their needs! There are a few people who may show up for an ocassional meeting or donate a few bucks, but unless your project can survive on that level of support, your project isn't going to get far. 

But when you think about it, this makes perfect sense: we look around, we see something that seems important TO US, and notice that nobody is doing it, so we see an opening. Meanwhile, most of the stuff that would be in those other quadrants is already being done! There's a reason why this stuff - even if it's important - isn't getting done. There's just not enough interest. Which is why business start-up teacher Ramit Sethi calls this sector the "Labor of Love" sector, it only gets done with the love and sacrifice of one (or a few) individuals. 

This is even more common in the days of the internet! Why? Because on the internet we can find many people who share our passions, whether they're community gardening or local produce, or climate change, so we start to assume there's broader, deeper support in our own geographic area than there actually is. Everyone in our online community might think that community food forests are a great idea, but do the people in the neighborhood where we want to build one? Are they passionate enough (or have access to the resources) to chip in their time and money, or put up with maintenance or social problems that may occur? 

Most of the non-profits and community organizations I've ever been involved in or even personally organized myself have fallen into this lower left category! And in a lot of ways, this is exactly where Lillie House was a few years ago. 

"But this is important stuff! Somebody has to do it!" Well, maybe, maybe not. But is the answer to throw our hands up in the sky and curse humanity's apathy?

Or can we redesign our efforts to better connect with people's real needs and passions, provide real world opportunities that can motivate people to volunteer and contribute? 

So if you need support, you need to "sew your seed" in fertile ground to get it. I can say for sure that our success greatly improved when we started moving our efforts out of the "labor of love" box, and into other quadrants where we were more likely to get stuff done, and then designed a community around those efforts. 


Questions for your project:
1. Which category is your project in? 
2. How many potential supporters (customers) do you realistically have and how much do you expect them to contribute to your cause? 
3. Are you asking them to just give or just volunteer, or are they able to "obtain a yield" too? Is the project supporting them in a way they'll be able to maintain their commitment? 
4. What real direct needs is the project meeting for its supporters and contributors? (Hint: more is better!)
5. If the project is in the lower right corner, is there a way you can also tap into more passionate individuals and offer them inventive to support the project at a high level? 
6. If the project is in the upper left corner, is there a product or service you can offer to meet the needs of a more mass-market audience? This entry level could help build a pool of new "high level" supporters while tapping into broader support. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why Our Best Efforts Fail

You just want to do something good for your community, something that will help feed people and demonstrate what people can accomplish when they work together. So you apply for a grant and turn a dumpy old waste lot into a community garden! But if your community garden is like most, what you get is arguments, complaints of theft, untended, weedy pest-ridden plots that neighbors and city commissioners complain about, fist fights, racial tensions and 2 years later it's back to being an empty lot. No surprise, really, as some experts believe over 90% of community gardens fail in a few years time. And stories of theft and violence are common among experienced community gardeners and organizations alike.  

Or maybe you decide to start a small farm, because our food system is fubar and you want to make a difference while feeding people healthy food in your own community! You do a bit of math and see that with nearly perfect yields and boutique CSA prices you'll be able to make $5,000 in a summer - enough to pay your bills - what could go wrong? As it turns out? Everything: a few crops fail completely in the spring drought, insects and weeds move in, unhappy CSA customers start leaving so you're working 60+ hours a week trying to make up sales at the market and local restaurants, neighbors start complaining about the aesthetics of your over-run garden, you're not actually paying your bills so you have to decide between employment elsewhere and fulfilling your CSA obligations.... The end result? A failed farm and a whole harvest of burnout. 

Or you try to start a non-profit to do who-knows-what for the good of the community. Everybody LOVES who-knows-what!!! You're an immediate celebrity, with everyone congratuating you on doing the thing, and even the local news paper runs an article featuring you and your non-profit! So, you start looking for money and a board and all of a sudden, you find everyone's really busy and they're already giving their money to 4 other different organizations in town. You've only raised 1/10th of what you'll need to do who-knows-what and after creating a waiting-list of would-be participants nobody showed up for your first volunteer day. Without funding everyone's pointing fingers and the board members you do find hate each other in 6 months time. It takes 4 meetings to decide whether or not to use arabic or roman numerals in your bylaws and instead you end up going with friendly-looking icons of some sort, TBD later. With everyone facing burn-out meeting attendance lags and soon stops altogether.

Or maybe it was an important protest march that nobody showed up for. Or a boutique restaurant that never found patrons. Or a class nobody wanted to attend... Of couse things don't ALWAYS fail this way, but far too often I've seen friends, family, and community members get stuck with failure or burnout. And I've been through it myself, too.

And after all these go wrong, we have to pick up the pieces. We figure out some way to claim victory, declare "mission accomplished" and if we're lucky we even get a nice follow-up piece in the paper. 


It's easy to blame all those other lazy, incompetent, no-good people. They just don't care enough. Humans are just inherently bad. Rampant apathy in a crumbling society. I mean, that makes us feel better. We'd rather make the excuse of stereotyping a whole freakin' species as horrible monsters that deserve disaster than accept that just maybe the failure was our fault.  

But if we always put the blame off on other people, it means WE are powerless to fix it. Or rather, the only path to "fixing" the problem is through conflict with the people we're holding responsible. (Eg. American politics.) And it gives us a cynical, delusional view of the world corrupted by incompetent or unethical (or even sociopathic) people. If we accept feedback and apply self regulation, then we move that problem, that failure, into the sphere where we can actually do something about it: ourselves. 

Permaculture provides us with an alternative to the powerless perspective of the blame game: systems design.

As a form of applied ecology, Permaculture starts with the approach of recognizing system-level failures and the redesigning the system to naturally get the results we want. We can begin with the idea that the people involved are good, well-intentioned and competent people, but that the project was not designed to support them, or worse it was designed to ensure failure. 

Permaculture founder Bill Mollison called this a "type 1 error," an endeavor designed to fail. 

Take for example the farm project I wrote about earlier. At least they did a little math to assess feasibility. But they designed and launched a project on high hopes and the expectation that a best-case scenario would barely allow them to pay their bills, and with unrealistic goals for fulfilling customers' needs. They never had a chance. 

And with a well-known record of failures, struggle and conflict, anyone who starts a community garden, small business, or organization without accounting for their likely troubles has also begun with a type 1 error. 

I would guess that 80 - 90% of these endeavors were designed to fail, and if the only way they make it is with luck. 

And there's one type 1 error in businesses, community organizations, or activism efforts that is more common than all the rest. It's going on a road trip with no gas in the car: the project wasn't designed to connect to the resources it needs to launch and sustain itself. 

Next time, we'll discuss why this is so common and why we fall into this trap. For a quick teaser, check out this chart: 

We may think our effort is important, but does anybody else? Most efforts that fail were designed for that lower left-hand box. Our best efforts never had a chance to get any support.... 

Permaculture Design Certificate Course, Fall/Winter 2016

Growing a Regenerative S.W. Michigan

Since it was first created by Bill Mollison, the Permaculture Design Certificate Course (PDC) has always been a catalyst for transformational change. many of the nation's most forward thinking eco-villages, farms, and regenerative enterprises had their start at PDCs. 

And now we want to bring that transformational energy to S.W. Michigan in a special PDC that's focussed on the resources and opportunities available in our region and the greater Great Lakes biome. 

This PDC is being organized in cooperation with Van-Kal Permaculture and Lillie House, and will be held in downtown Kalamazoo, with a few field trips to other local Permaculture sites. 

For more information, dates, curriculum and instructor profiles, please visit: https://lilliehousekzoo.wordpress.com/permaculture-design-certificate-course/

Or check out these three ways to be involved:

1. Audit the PDC. For farmers, organizers and activists who don't want to be certified, but who would like to be involved in the organizing experience, we have an opportunity to audit the course for $400. 

2. Full PDC. This is the full certification, with the submission of an passing design project. The cost is $1,100. For our Community Supported Forest Gardening members the cost is $900. 

3. Complete Designers Membership, PDC plus 2017 Forest Gardening program. This takes the conceptual design knowledge of the PDC and combines it with the practical, applied knowledge to transform your project into a Permaculture oasis, including a start on the plant material. For new members, the PDC cost is $900, and the complete package cost is $2,000. 

You can reserve your spot, at: https://lilliehousekzoo.wordpress.com/permaculture-design-certificate-course/

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Social Permaculture - Designing the Relational Landscape 3: Buildingthe Regenerative Community you Deserve

Hey human! Your life is an ecosystem, whether you want to admit it or not. 

Sure, you got the internet on your freakin' phone, but you still look at it with biological eyeballs, set in a biological body that's dependent upon a network of interconnected species for survival. 

In fact, there's more NON-HUMAN DNA in your body, than human. You yourself are an ecosystem of 1. 

So, is your life a healthy ecosystem, or an unhealthy, dysfunctional one? 

Healthy ecosystems are rich with diversity and interconnections, they're deeply mutualistic and interdependent, and they're continuously growing in diversity and connectivity. 

According to many social ecologists and researchers such as the Dunbar group, healthy relationship ecologies, the kinds of ecologies found in happy thriving communities and folk societies, might have those same features. People are brought together in their interdependence, their mutual reliance, so they feel responsible for each other, connected to each other's happiness and well-being. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

Others, such as Dimitri Orlov have pointed out that individuals in such diverse interconnected communities are much more resilient, weathering life's storms with greater happiness, grace and security. http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2013/07/communities-that-abidepart-i.html

The design tools of Permaculture are intended to turn poorly functioning systems into rich ecosystems, so they offer us an opportunity to mindfully evaluate our relationships, helping us create a life that is better for ourselves and everyone around us, both the ones who chose us and those who are stuck with us. 

As an observation exercise, let's look at some of those Permaculture tools in the context of our relationships. This is the same process many Permaculture Designers use to evaluate a landscape or organization, but let's use this as an opportunity to think about our relational landscapes.

Ecological network analysis - In Permaculture, we're always trying to take fragmented, poorly connected systems with lots of wasted opportunities, and redesign them into efficient networked ecosystems. In the modern world, we often have friends and family who provide certain services, and yet we miss the opportunity to support those friends with our business. Or perhaps two good friends share a passion for martial arts, yet miss the opportunity to practice together and learn from each other, while investing in their relationship. 

Do I have needs that could be met by people in my support network? 
Which of those needs are currently being fulfilled by distant, sociopathic corporations who don't care about me? 
Do my "peeps" have needs that I could be meeting through formal or informal interactions? 
Do I have interests/hobbies/needs that could provide a better interaction with my network? 

(A general diagram of social Permaculture zones)

Zones - In the landscape, zone analysis maximizes our time and energy by placing the elements that require the most attention and get the most use closest to the home. In the relational landscape, ordering our relationships by zones might help us mindfully ensure that we're investing our time and energy into the relationships that mean the most to us in a busy world where we all have less time and energy to spare. It also gives us an opportunity to make sure that we're investing in relationships that support our goals and worldview. 

In this case, I've ordered these hypothetical zones around the Dunbar Group's research, which documents human relational behavior in folk societies. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

Zone 1: (3 - 5 people) Close relationships, spouse, close friends and family. Dunbar's research suggests that single people typically have 5 close relationions and married people will each have 3 other close relations a piece (with some possible overlap.) When you think about it, who else would you rather support with your time, money and energy than these people? In most human societies the interests of these close friends would be deepy aligned and interdependent, yet, in our society, we often fail to invest in our closest and dearest friends. Oftentimes, we invest more time and money in grocery store clerks and daycare providers than we do with these best friends!

Zone 2: (Inner circle, "band" 30 - 50 people.) In Dunbar's research, people organize into "bands" of 30 - 50 people, typically to work together for mutual benefit. These are our friends and family. Again, these people would be natural alliles, yet we seldom think to ask for their support, or to support them in their endeavors. Do these folks have any under-met needs you could help fulfill? Do you have an unmet need that one of them could help you with? Can we kick Walmart to the curb and start giving our money to the people who really deserve it? 

Zone 3: (Dunbar's Village) Primates, like many animals seem to have a natural congitive limit to how many people they can really have a relationship with. Based on brain size and complexity, Dunbar guessed this number would be about 150 people. That number turned out to be a very good predictor of human village and community size. It also seems to be a good number for a self-supporting community, in that a village of 150 people can be quite specialized and easily meet everyone's needs within the community in an ecological network. Many Permaculturists are suggesting that we try to recreate our own villages (though not necessarily in a shared geographical place) based on this number. When we start thinking this way, we're no longer thinking about just making money. We're thinking about how we can use our life's energy to meet the needs of our community, and build richer, more rewarding connections. 

Zone 4: Beyond the village. Beyond Dunbar's number, we can no longer KNOW people, so we begin to think of them as stereotypes. This is important for us to appreciate, because this is when it gets very easy to justify exploiting people, or mistreating them for our benefit. How can we connect with broader communities in positive, mutually beneficial ways, meet their needs and bring resources into our "village?" At Lillie House, we often think of how we can offer tools for people in this "zone" to support their own villages. Most importantly, you should only do business with people you have a positive impression of. If you're doing business with "those people," (insert negative stereotype here) whoever they are, you're probably going to be a jerk to them. 

Zone 5, the world. Permaculturists often describe the ideal world as a tapestry of villages. At this zone, we're connecting to the broader network of villages around the world.... How can we support each and empower each to have its own autonomy and self-reliance? 

Perhaps the most important "take home" here, is that people in our inner zones will naturally be the most likely to want to support us and make sure our needs and desires are met, while relatioships in our outer zones will likely be more purely transactional. Your mom might buy your new Online Polyculture Design Course (ahem ) simply because she's your mom. But Tom Timbuktu who doesn't know you from Sam will think twice before buying your $50 watch for $20. 

So if you want to create a truly thriving community network of support for a project, farm, business or organization, this model of zones could be one of the most important things you can do. It was this model alone that allowed us to convert a poorly organized assembly of products and services nobody wanted into a tiered order of products specialized to a variety of "zones." And that transformed us into a successful business overnight. 

Sectors: In the landscape, sector analysis balances the energies that flow in and out of a space, welcoming life-enhancing energies and turning away negative energies. In our relational landscape, we can do the same, evaluating which energies we want more of and which are negative or unsustainable to us. Our relationships aren't always going to be "energy positive." Sometimes, rewarding relationships require investing in people in need or crisis. But in Permaculture one of our principles is to "obtain a yield," recognizing that you can't get where you want to go on an empty tank, and a mindful approach might suggest that we can better support friends in need if we are well-fulfilled and our needs are met. 

Which energies in your relational landscape most feed you? 
Which are draining? Is this the most effective place to be spending your energy? Could you possibly help/accomplish more by spending your energy in a different way? 
Which people want to invest in you? How to you make it easy and mutually rewarding for them to invest in you? 
Who do you want to invest your time, energy and money in? How do you make that process easy and natural? 
What kinds of energies and support are missing? (Such as support for your Permaculture goals.) How can we invite these into our lives? 

I could write (and I have indeed written) much more on this topic than would be useful in the context of this blog. 

For those who want to get the benefits of applying this kind of design to their lives, I hope you will look into our Fall-Winter Permaculture Design Certificate Course, as we'll be doing exercises in exactly this kind of life design. https://lilliehousekzoo.wordpress.com/permaculture-design-certificate-course/

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Social Permaculture - Designing the Relational Landscape Part 2

In part 1, we discussed how for social animals like humans, with limited time and resources to go around, the relationships we invest in have a huge impact on the kind of reality we create for ourselves. In balance, if your main goal for your relationships is to support some other goal, like making money, then you're probably a being a jerk. 

Unfortunately, for those of us interested in Permaculture, our goals aren't usually encouraged by most people in mainstream society. 

In fact, they're often mocked, marginalized, discouraged and even criminalized! 

That actually makes perfect sense, since our goals are often silly hippie dippie things like not destabilizing the climate, not flushing all our topsoil out into ocean dead zones, drinking water that isn't poisoned, eating truly good food that hasn't been drenched in poison, living with a deeper connection to nature, investing in healthy life ways, finding a more enriching relationship with work and consumption, building a connection to community, living simply instead of being "owned" by a growing pile of stuff - and those goals are a direct challenge to our insane, destructive mainstream system. In fact, when enough people begin to share our goals, that old ecocidal system will crumble away and collapse. 

For folks dependent on that system, our goals can seem like a threat. 

So, the default is that most of our relationships and interactions are going to go against the grain of our goals and values. Since Permaculture is all about holistically creating an environment conducive to success, how can we re-design the relationship landscape so that we're not swimming upstream, going agaist the herd? Can we at least surround ourselves with enough of a positive supporting network to offset the negative impact of living in an insane society? 


Whenever I see documentaries set in horticultural societies, or tribal cultures, such as the one I recently watched about life in rural Japanese villages, I'm always incredibly envious to see 80-year-old village elders sitting around together, sharing life-long friendships that have developed depth and resonance over the better part of a century, living among rich waves of life experience, generations of their kin. 

"Talk about true wealth," my partner Kimberly Willis says, that's a fundamental, beautiful human experience that even the wealthiest of us simply cannot buy in a fast-paced, transient world where we move and change jobs every 3 years. 

So it's important to understand that our society isn't just corrosive to the environment, jobs, health, etc. it often robs us of the normal, deep human relationships that have been a natural part of being human for as long as there have been humans. Relationships that develop and grow richer over lifetimes.

Could design also help us here, too? 


"In a longitudinal study that followed pairs of best friends over 19 years, a team led by Andrew Ledbetter, an associate professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, found that participants had moved an average of 5.8 times during that period.

“I think that’s just kind of a part of life in the very mobile and high-level transportation- and communication-technology society that we have,” Ledbetter says. “We don’t think about how that’s damaging the social fabric of our lives.”

- How Friendships Change in Adulthood, The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/how-friendships-change-over-time-in-adulthood/411466/


Of course, we get something in the tradeoff between folk societies and modern high-transportation society. 

Personally, there are a few people I'd simply prefer to avoid rather than having to do the hard work of getting along. Of course, these days there are more people who are hard to get along with - since it's a skill we don't have to learn anymore. 

And these days we have the ability to connect with people all over the world who share our particular passions and interests, we can learn from and mentor with ground-breaking leaders and exemplars of whatever it is that we want to do. I've had the opportunity to exchange ideas with some of the thought leaders of Permaculture and forest gardening from around the world, like Eric Toensmeier, Martin Crawford, and Angelo Eliades. 


An ideal life design in the modern world wouldn't romanticize the past and yearn to "go backwards" anymore than it would promote an ethnocentric idealization of our present. Instead, we should seek to have the best of both worlds, minimizing the downsides and maximizing the positives. It seems it would be wise to cultivate a balanced approach, with deep relationships as well as a broad community, with branches to the world-wide community but roots in the local biome. We can each act like the tree in this metaphor, a conduit of exchange between the sky of global world and the soil of our home. 


Many in the "life coaching" industry are quick to suggest we surround ourselves with people who are high-achievers. 

"Show me a man's friends and I'll show you his future." 

I've heard some  of these life coaches dismiss family and neighbors as meaningless accidents of birth. We should seek to maximize the value of our acquaintanceships by choosing who we surround ourselves with. Often, they go as far as to say that we should "cut out" people who aren't a positive influence on our goals, and for them, the main goal is usually cash riches. But even if you want more than fast cash, this approach leaves us impoverished in two very important ways: serendipity and synchronicity. 

Serendipity is being enriched by different perspectives, different values and different experiences. These life coaches would have us silo ourselves into very small worlds, with very narrow views of life. Ever wonder why too often the leaders of corporations seem blind to the plight of people that their businesses abuse? They've literally cut themselves off to the riches of outside perspectives and lives. They may be rich, but they've utterly impoverished themselves in what science tells us is one of the most important assets for human happiness: compassion. 

Synchronicity is the understanding that accidents and coincidences are themselves meaningful and significant. "Accidents" of birth and geography are no less meaningful than relationships we've chosen out of shared values and experiences. It seems to me that "accidents of family and geography" offer us a great gift. Sharing relationships with people who have very different views and values is absolutely vital for compassion and happiness, as well as for building a just and sustainable world - something that makes us all richer. 


The design tools of Permaculture offer us an opportunity to mindfully evaluate our relationships, helping us create a life that is better for ourselves and everyone around us, both the ones who chose us and those who are stuck with us. In part 3, we'll think aloud about some of those tools and what we can learn from them.