Permaculture Design Course at Spiral Ridge; Sept 30-Oct 11, 2013– Day 1

Day One was driving and getting there and first impressions…

Spiral Ridge

I left home about 8:30 am with car packed with 2 weeks worth of Jeans, shirts, socks, underwear- ran back in and stuffed in my down coat–a good move- also took a sturdy plastic box of books (14) notebooks, drawing pencils, tape, scissors, guitar, piano, music, smart phone, computer(which I didn’t use because I had the smart phone), snacks, coffee cup and water bottle. Also boots and sneakers. Atlas and Magellan (which they said would not find them, and didn’t work well even to go home…the smart phone might have worked, forgot to try it.) I signed up to stay at the “Farm” instead of camping out at Spiral Ridge,Tenn so I didn’t have to bring tent etc.

The “Farm” proved to be an experience in itself.
The Farm
When I told my daughter Michelle I was staying at the Farm- she said “THE FARM”? and she verified that yes it is “THE FARM” made famous recently by Ina Mae Gaskin and her book Spiritual Midwifery, which Michelle had read. It was founded in 1970 by a bunch of Hippies who formed a community which traveled the country in Yellow School buses before landing in rural Tennessee to found a commune, which went totally broke in 1977 and they reformed themselves in a less communistic community which now seems seriously stuck in the 70’s. All the School buses are still there rusting away. People at the Farm do not farm, but they have other business such as Soy Milk, something  to do with nuclear-maybe detector badges, and some mushroom growing.  Anyway, I  made my way to the farm and found my room at the Eco hostel, which served an occasional other visitor during my 12 days. It had a queen size bed and a kitchen with coffee I could make. No maid service, and I brought my own towels. There was a washer and dryer, but the sign said to “Use only in emergencies”, So clean dry clothes did not happen till I got home.

After dumping my stuff off at the Farm, I made my way to Spiral Ridge which was 10 minutes up the hill by car from the Farm. The first thing you see is a very small Amish cabin with 3 rooms and a very nice porch that did not face the road. I came to understand that it all had a purpose… And then the other students arrived and our coordinator apologized, they had an unexpected shipment that they had to pick up, so we started an hour late. I wandered around while we waited and  saw lots of interesting things. Cliff and Jens children ages 12 and age 9 entertained us while we waited. Their daughter brought out a colored handout with the schedule.

Then We started. We had a large Canopy with tables and chairs outside the Cabin which was our Classroom. It turned out we were always late, but that just meant we stopped later.  There was solar power for the electronics and a light bulb for the tent at night.

The course was billed as 72 hours, but in the 11 days we must have had closer to 100 hours of time spent, I’d say, not counting campfires. I am counting chores when we did gardening and animal care, etc. There were 12 students- 6 from Alabama, 1 from Georgia, 3 from Tennessee, and 1 from Chicago, 1 from New York City. I was the oldest, Oliver from New York was 23 as was Benford, also from Alabama. Lindsey, his friend was also about that age, from Huntsville area. All white, all smart, most had college degrees. Kelly (a girl) was from Huntsville also and had worked for 2 years for Michael Reynolds the Architect from Taos who builds Earthship houses. Tracey is a landscape Designer from Thorsby and also works for Petals from the Past where I have bought trees. Miriam is a College Instructor at Samford College in Birmingham. Mike and Chris live in Nashville, and Logan is a traveler, currently living in Johnson City, Tenn.

<Our instructors were Cliff Davis and Jen Albenese, owners and parents 3 children, the youngest is 3. They bought Spiral Ridge after it was clear cut for paper pulp, Tennessee does not require replanting, so it was cheap as denuded land with just stubble on it. That was 4 years ago. They got the well at the top of the land by going in with the neighbor who has land at the bottom of the hill. Then they planted gardens with herbs and added a giant vegetable garden and a pond for ducks, attached to a chicken yard. Water flows through the landscape through 3 ponds. Below the Duck pond is a giant swale that was cleared by Machetes, pigs and goats. On this swale Cliff is gradually planting food and product trees- nuts, fruits, and bamboo. Next year they hope to break ground on a house that will be much more comfortable than the 3 room cabin. He is selectively keeping the wild trees that are coming back from the clear cut. Everywhere he plants trees, he plants herb guilds that are beneficial to the trees. We learned how he plants the trees, and had several planting sessions when we planted 30 or more trees. We joked about paying to work on the farm, but it is good to learn what he does- each tree gets a sprinkling of mycorrhizial powder (a mushroom powder) to help the roots grow. They also had a very capable assistant/Course coordinator who helped us with registration, course info and medical issues such as poison ivy and chigger bites. Her name is Jessie. She also taught some of the sessions, as did Tyler, an intern.

Our first educational session was about the history and definition of Permaculture…It was rediscovered and named that by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia the early 1970’s…Permaculture principals were definitely used by aboriginal peoples in Australia and in North and South America. The basic idea is to work with nature, not against it as we do in modern agriculture. So as many different plants as you can grow in a natural order- not rows, so that good bugs have food to eat and will flourish and eat the pests.Use animals for their talents, one of the best being manure. The Permaculture ethics are Care for the Earth, care for People and share the surplus. I was amazed by the abundance of the food in and out of their gardens–tomatoes, squash and melons growing in tons of places where they were not planted (at least by humans).

Mollison had 34 principles, Holmgren only 12; 1. Observe and Interact, 2. Catch and Store energy, 3. Obtain a yield, 4. Apply self-regulation and accept feed-back, 5. Use and value renewable resources and services, 6. Produce no waste 7. Design from patterns to details 8. Integrate rather than segregate 9. Use small and slow solutions, 10. Use and value diversity, 11. Use edges and value the marginal. 12. Creatively use and respond to change.

10 of Mollison’s Principles 1. Redundancy- create synergies. 2. Stacking functions. 3. Succession. 4. Edge Effects and Ecotones 5. Work with nature not against it. 6.Problems can be solutions 7.The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited 8. The principle of Disorder 9. The principle of Entropy- in complex systems, disorder is a increasing result. 9. Metastability- For a complex system to remain stable, there must be pockets of disorder. 10. Observation; Protracted and thoughtful observation, rather than protracted and thoughtless labor.