Written by Tyler Doucette, 2013 Verge Intern
Social externalities are the unintended positive and negative side effects of our incidental interactions with one another and our environment. As our world becomes increasingly more interconnected the effects of our behavior travel outwards as in a root system or mycelial network, a sort of ontological ‘internet’ with a bewildering complexity.
I had a few years of gardening/farming experience before I wandered off to South America in 2011. Serendipity found me volunteering at a sustainability project in Ecuador later that year, I had heard the word ‘Permaculture’ and was content in my vague understanding of the idea, but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a hidden library containing, among other golden texts, Mollison’s “Permaculture: A Designers Manual”. That was it, in the nights after the batteries in the household had long since exhausted their solar energy, I sat by candlelight with the fervor of a scholar absorbing and recording the ethics and principles of which I was certain would guide me and my peers into a positive future for ourselves and our descendants.
I came to and left my 2012 PDC full of constructive idea’s, concepts and designs but have never forgotten what Rob told us 15 minutes into our first class: “Information is only as good as your ability to put it into practice” So it goes, and here I find myself after various diversions, as a Verge intern in 2013. So far I must say that the experience has been humbling, I tend to digest as much information on a topic as the mind will allow, but now stepping into the practice of the theories I have spent much time entertaining I feel like I’m taking the very first step into my education.
We have been working in a variety of area’s around Rob and Michelle’s wonderful homestead, mostly preparing for the growing season and improving on already existing infrastructure. I have also been using my newly acquired skills in photography to generate a time lapse of the annual garden in hopes of animating the scope of what really goes on here.
I’ve been quite interested in the evolution of the worm composting systems here, coming from an apartment ‘Vermi-Pod‘ set up to the multi-layered worm box here was really fascinating. So imagine my excitement when Rob rolls in with a state of the art commercial vermiculture system. We set that up one afternoon and every chance I get I like to go see what’s going on in there. Maybe it’s my interest in the art of balance that attracts me to composting, and so it is with worm systems. First you want to lay some bedding down (we used recycled cardboard), and wet it, but not too wet! We poured in the castings and worms from the smaller worm bins. This served two purposes: obviously to start a worm population as the old bins contained all sorts of red wrigglers and their cocoons, but also to inoculate the new bin with beneficial fungi and bacteria. We then layered in food scraps for consumption (no more than three days worth to prevent fly infestations) more bedding and covered it all with burlap sacs to retain moisture levels. We’re still working the kinks out and there is some anaerobic activity occurring but all things take a little time and attention to find their balance.
I’ve also been participating in some activities with Rob outside of the internship that have furthered my practice. I was once a technician so Rob’s technical approach to Permaculture design and construction is easy for me to relate to and learn buckets from. I was able to attend a consultancy which gave me some experience in that process. I was also able to assist in the construction of a large wicking bed which nicely paralleled the wicking bed project I had going on in my own yard. I appreciate the time I get to spend building with Rob, he is a patient teacher and has a knack for shooting the shit, something I miss from my old days in the shop.
Michelle is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to gardening and food production and from her I have learned too many things to list here. If one thing stands out it is her method which is just the right balance between strictly scheduled and disorderly. She introduced me to square foot gardening, a method I am trying in my garden this season. She has also taught me some regenerative gardening practices. Her artful and functional arrangements of plants are not only pleasing to the eye and regenerative for the soils but already promise massive abundance come harvest time!
I must say also that I was particularly satisfied with our timing in connecting the rainwater harvesting systems prior to the most epic rains I’ve ever witnessed in this city. There are currently two 1000L tanks on the property harvesting water from the house and garage roofs. Rob and Jordan are currently in the design phase for an underground water storage design near the outdoor kitchen.
Most recently there has been an academic component to the internship where we dig through piles of books on a particular topic for 30 minutes then share our findings with each other. To me it has been interesting to note the variance in information due to differences in school, bioregion, opinion etc…It reminds me that what we are doing in our region is relatively new and that it is all an experiment!
Since arriving home after my trip in 2011 I began to see things through different eyes. All of a sudden Permaculture was everywhere! Whether this was due to my new found awareness of it or due to a larger recent social movement I am unsure, but it inspires me to see that an internet of Permaculture ethics and action is reinforcing itself in our little prairie city. People are becoming conscious of the effects their actions have on their social and biological environment, and realizing that they yield more than they need! An abundance model is flourishing, these idea’s are rippling outwards and it shows no sign of losing momentum.
I want to thank Verge Permaculture for the opportunity to contribute to this year’s internship.
All photos courtesy of Tyler Doucette