Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Portland Permaculture Institute, October 02005-March 02006

Theressa and I moved into the Portland Permaculture Institute at the end of October, eager to learn from and live in a community working on sustainability, Peak Oil prep, and sharing knowledge and skills with the larger Portland community. The hope was that after a trial period, Theressa could "buy in", to co-own the property with Pam and Joe and maybe others, depending on the ownership model. I had a wonderful time getting to know the land and appreciating the scale of 1.6 acres...so much larger than a standard 5000 square foot lot, but not as overwhelming as 40 acres! 1.6 feels pretty manageable by the 8 people expected to eventually live in the community. (Whether or not it's enough land to feed all 8 people is another question!)

I spent a lot of time outdoors clearing blackberries and ivy, sheetmulching, and measuring and mapping out areas. Most of my time was spent indoors, helping to finalize the tree placements in the main food forest, designing an extension of the food forest under and around a giant 80' black walnut, and researching plants and designing polyculture patches as understories for the various orchard trees.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Theressa and I aren't a fit for the community, so we'll be moving out this month into a new house Theressa bought, half a mile away. Hopefully we can stay connected as part of the larger network of permaculturists and peak oil people in the neighborhood, still working together to do the research and knowledge dissemination to blunt the coming economic and energetic crashes. I'm very excited to see how this property continues to develop, and hope to watch the trees I've planted develop into fruit-producing, integrated elements in the whole site design!

I learned a lot here about living in community, as this was the first intentional community I've ever joined. I've lived with housemates in the past, but there's a huge difference between co-habitation where you all live your own lives, vs a community actively trying to work towards shared goals. Although the key to success in both situations is probably the same: communication. That's something our culture doesn't train us on very well...hopefully what I've learned will help in whatever future community situations I'm in, as I expect that whatever solutions arise for Peak Oil et al, response as and in community is going to be a necessity.

Mossback Farm internship, August-October 02005

I spent two months from the end of August to the end of October interning for Rich and Val at Mossback Farm, a 40 acre permaculture farm in Yamhill, Oregon, about 40 miles southwest of Portland. Their main product has been pastured chickens for broiling and for eggs, though they've now discontinued both as high feed prices and increasing energy costs make the business uneconomical. It was a wonderful experience, giving me the chance to experience country living, slow down and relax a bit, and learn a lot about permaculture and on-the-ground aspects of animal husbandry.

Besides the chickens, I helped care for their pigs, sheep, and young steers, which mostly involved daily feeding and watering, with once or twice weekly moves of the animals from one patch of pasture to the next, controlled via portable electric fencing. The most memorable moment of my internship was slaughter day for the lambs--not so much for the slaughter and skinning process itself (though that was a new and unique experience for me), but for the half hour we spent chasing escaped sheep across the pasture, sprinting in work boots to try to head them off and herd them back towards their pen, reading their eyes and faking with them as they juked and tried to slip past us...it reminded me of and made me miss playing ultimate frisbee!

I'm really glad I was involved in the fascinating project of ripping the soil along Mossback's three seasonal creek channels, staking out routes leading from the creek channel downstream, but looking like they go "up" the bank because the fall of our stakes was less than the fall of the creek itself. We then had a bulldozer guy come in and drive along the routes with two tines embedded two feet in the ground, creating deep gouges and breaking up the hard clay. The idea is that we've created massive drainage ditches for water to flow through during the heavy winter rains, pulling water out of the creek and onto more of the land than would normally absorb the rain. If all works as planned, Rich and Val will start noticing their seasonal pond and their creeks lasting longer, eventually becoming year-round water sources. I look forward to revisiting the farm in the future to see how things develop!

Rich and Val have a great library, including Permaculture Activist back issues, books by Joel Salatin about small-scale livestock keeping for direct marketing, books by Daniel Quinn, and a wide range of other agriculture and permaculture-oriented literature. I spent most of my spare time reading through their library, and didn't come close to exhausting it! On top of that, Rich is a huge storehouse of permaculture information, and it was wonderful to be able to pick his brain on all kinds of subjects.

I discovered that I could actually enjoy living in the country, something I'd never really contemplated before. The quiet and the space to manage a sizable landscape is wonderful, and I don't mind the isolation since I'm practically a hermit anyway. I could really see myself pursuing the self-sufficiency thing on a plot of land and enjoying the lifestyle, a path Theressa is interested in but which I've been hesitant to pursue. This realization doesn't change my immediate plan of staying in the city to help Portland through the changes coming down the line, but it opens up whole new possibilities if I decide in the future that I don't want to do the city thing...

All in all, the internship was a great experience. I'm really glad that I had the opportunity, and very grateful to Rich and Val for welcoming me onto their farm and sharing so much with me.