Permaculture on the Farm

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This page has been set up to document our weekly (Tues) lunch meetings to discuss application of the principles of permaculture to our Rooftop Farm.

Our working definition of permaculture is that it is a mimicry of natural systems.

Read about the Principles of Permaculture.

The "father of permaculture", Bill Mollison

Recommended reading: The One Straw Revolution (pdf download)

We need to apply each principle to these three perspectives: - The RoofTop Farm - Motor City Brewing Works - The Green Garage community

Week 1: Observe & Interact

This principle is the lens through which we look at all the others.

Observation and interaction bring awareness.

We need to practice observation and interaction constantly and dynamically over time for it to be helpful.

Yeomans scale of permanence

Samples of today's observations:

- It's very hot up there

- Water connects us to weather

- Access is challenging

Yeomans Scale as applied to the RoofTop Farm permaculture study

Week 2: Catch & Store Energy

We decided that the word "energy" should be changed to "resources" to more closely reflect our goals for the farm.

Since we are a zero-energy, no-city-water operation, we are interested in collecting and storing water, seeds, and biodiversity.

Samples of today's observations:

- We need more water storage capacity to expand the farm

- Learning and relationships are included in our definition of resources

- Materials, along with their embodied energy, are some of the resources we're interested in catching and storing

Week 3: Obtain a Yield

Yields can be more than just crops produced and the associated revenue. Yields also include healthy relationships developed, water storage goals met, wastes fed back into the ecosystem, and greater biodiversity established. Yields can be thought of as objectives, which are specific goals that can be quantified in some way.

Samples of today's observations:

- We need to work on the relationships yields

- The list of species already observed on the farm is long and growing

- The crop production capacity of the farm appears greater than originally forecast, meaning we can devote more space to pursuing biodiversity goals

- We need to consider access to water when planning for our biodiversity goals

Week 4: Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback

We decided to apply auto-regulation, rather than self-regulation, as that is a more passive approach. We'd like to establish and nurture an ecosystem that continuously re-balances itself, rather than actively intervening to meet every challenge. To do this, we need to pay attention when we receive feedback, which can take many forms.

Samples of today's observations:

- We need to establish a feedback loop between MCBW and the RoofTop Farm

- Feedback can be plant response to an input, or it can be a customer commenting on their salad

- We need to remember that we already have an ecosystem established on the farm, we just need to cultivate new members

Week 5: Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services

One of the most obvious examples of a renewable resource that we use on the farm is the sun's energy. We also take advantage of the existing rain water collection and storage system. Renewable services are provided by pollinators and beneficial insects, and we employ worms to eat plant debris. Permaculturists on the ground might use Hugelkulture, a way of shaping earth, to alter their microclimates to advantage.

Samples of today's observations:

- Shade could be considered a renewable resource

- Green manures could be used to build soil, rather than bringing in more fertilizer and compost

- Heat can come from more than just sun--we could try hot composting or manure under beds

Week 6: Produce No Waste

We tend to think of waste in terms of extra materials, but wasting time or money is also waste. Better to avoid thinking of waste as such and to think in terms of byproducts and co-benefits.

Samples of today's observations:

- We began with the intent of having a no waste farm, which makes this principle easier

- We learned from experience and from One Straw Revolution not to waste time on things that don't benefit anyone

- Low or no waste should begin with source reduction

Week 7: Design from Patterns to Details

To learn to understand the trees, first understand the patterns of the forest the trees are in. Since our farm is in a very artificial environment, we need to see how the idea of succession can be applied and encouraged. From Gaia's Garden we learn that patterns might include zones, sectors, and guilds. Zones are by proximity and distance, with the nearest and most accessible zones planted with the highest maintenance requirements. Sector patterns are those formed by sun, wind, water, heat, and other physical realities. Guild patterns are formed by growing things that are good for each other together.

Samples of today's observations:

- Cultural patterns will help determine what to grow by season

- Temporal patterns might be hard to establish or have to be created since the farm is not in a forest succession in the way that growing on the ground might be.

- The building constraints (weight limits, parapet walls, etc.) establish strong patterns