Saturday, November 21, 2009

Permaculture: Important Positive Change

I am excited to be stretching into some relatively unknown areas of my ability, by taking on the role of a bi-weekly columnist for a new free paper in Vancouver known as "The Agora." Look for it the next time you are out and about. Below is my submission for this weeks issue. As each article is produced I will continue to post here on Pursuing Permaculture. Since Tanya and I started this blogspot two years ago neither of us have been able to give it the attention it deserves, now that we are moving off of the orchard, we will be able to engage our permaculture activities full time and that includes this space. Please stay in touch and let us know how we are doing, share with you friends.

Regards Jesse

Permaculture: Important Positive Change

By Jesse Lemieux

Like most important activities on the planet, permaculture has very little recognition in the main stream media. Consequently, only a few people know what permaculture is and the role it is playing in the dramatically changing physical, political, cultural and social climates. Even fewer people understand or are aware of what impact permaculture is having locally. In actual fact, permaculture practitioners are active, and determined to be a positive and functioning part of the design overhaul that global society is presently undergoing.

I have been involved with the global permaculture community for a little longer than three years now. In late 2006 I went on a three month trip to Australia seeking an education in permaculture design. I really didn’t know what I was getting into. After my design class, for the first time in my life I felt empowered to make a difference on what ever scale I could. Rather than a world of scarcity I began seeing endless opportunities and abundance amongst all the chaos. I arrived home and immediately started to share with any one who would listen. In late 2007, my wife Tanya and I left Canada to build our practical permaculture experience Down-Under. Our journey lead all over eastern Australia to the Middle East and finally landed us on Denman Island, BC in September of 2008. We have settled here, managing an apple orchard and running our young permaculture education and consultancy, Pacific Permaculture. In this time we have encountered all edges of the permaculture movement, from the global to the local.

In the Beginning there was Bill Mollison, a disgruntled and brilliant academic. In the early 80‘s and the twilight of his life and career, he composed the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) curriculum and travelled the world teaching to all who wanted change. He knew that the only way to catalyze truly positive change was to teach more teachers. The message he taught was “earth care, people care and return of surplus.” During its first two decades permaculture was taken up by little more than a fringe few in the developed world and a handful of aid projects in less fortunate places. More recently, as the design system produces more and more credible results, permaculture has seen an explosion in popularity and growth. In Australia, Mollison’s country of origin, permaculture has entered the curriculum at all levels of institutional education and still maintains its strongest presence in the grassroots. Permaculture can not be brought under copy write and controlled by a central authority, as the term “permaculture” was gifted to all graduates of the (PDC), a clever strategic play by Mollison. This open source character has kept permaculture widely accessible and truly democratic. In this merit-based teaching system, good teachers have students and poor teachers don’t. Credibility can only be built upon ones results in the field, not locked up behind the walls of a large organization. Mollison’s efforts produced the first generation of permaculture educators and designers. That generation has done its job well, as it is not uncommon to come across a fifth or sixth generation PDC student. In 2006 I was lucky enough to have been trained by Mollison himself.

The average permaculturalist is just that: average. Permaculture is such a straightforward and practical approach to designing human habitat and settlement that anybody who is interested in positive action can easily understand the basic principles. The inherent simplicity and elegance of permaculture design, the common sense solutions and the lack of glamour makes permaculture the effective agent of change it has become. Boil down the movement and most permaculturalists, if any, have little interest in making a name for themselves. They measure success less by fame and reputation and more by the results they get in the field.

Permaculture designers relish a challenge, pitting their design skills against the most difficult of climates and landscapes. As a result, permaculture is most well known for its application in aid projects and grassroots development activities in the world’s most impoverished regions. The most well known example to date is Geoff Lawton’s hyper-arid design installation in the Dead Sea Valley of Jordan. A student of Mollison’s, Lawton used elegant earth shaping design to fully utilize all available rain water. With the help of hardy pioneering tree species Lawton transformed the dead and salted desert land into a permanent, self-watering and self-sustaining forestry and crop agricultural system. This seminal work has been well documented in video. Check out the following two websites: and, for a full synopsis.

This important work by Lawton has inspired thousands globally, myself included, to take up training in permaculture design and get active in their communities. An excellent local example is Permaculture Vancouver. Permaculture Vancouver is a local group that meets once per month to share experience and inspiration in permaculture design. Only 7 months old and 165 members strong, many have taken a permaculture design certificate but most haven’t. This group is fully open to all levels of understanding and interest. They are moving fast and have already been seen with a booth at the PNE and doing urban permaculture makeovers in yards throughout Vancouver. If you want to get hands on experience and learn more about permaculture I encourage you to head out to one of the monthly meetings. You can contact this group at:

Monolithic governments and universities, and those entrenched in such institutions, will still be talking about how to manipulate “sustainable consumer” behavior, long after permaculture teachers have empowered and educated society in the art and design of a local production culture. I do not understate the complexity and scale of the problems we face, some days it can feel daunting. The potential solutions can seem just as overwhelming. I do concede that the change required on a global scale is truly staggering. However that change is massive only for the the shear number of small scale and local initiatives required. I do not faithfully and blindly believe that “everything little thing is gona be alright.” I do, however, know that if we choose to, each and every one of us can initiate and sustain significant and positive change. The first step is to stop complaining about what we don’t want, and ask the question: What do we want? From that all important question we can take steps towards a different world. This is exactly what permaculture designers and educators are doing. They both empower with information and implement appropriate small scale solutions wherever they go.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What has happened to Tanya and Jesse?

So here we are...over five months and not a peep on this blog from either Tanya or my self.
What have we been up to?

In short...
Pacific Permaculture has wrapped up a most successful first season, as a permaculture education service. Our first season of teaching services have been immediately responsible for unleashing 60 new permaculture designers into the world. I doubt a virus would be so luck as to get as many subsequent infections from one host.

Here is hoping that we have "terminally infected" some of those bright students of ours with the permaculture bug. We are now re-grouping and planning for the 2010 season. It is going to be a big one with lots of exciting twist and turns.

Before we get into that I would like to do a quick recap on the past five months...

Permaculture Design Certificate number one Part time course, Vancouver BC, March 2009
Our first full length PDC. thank you to the 15 brave souls who attend. Your support, enthusiasm and continued good work in Vancouver, Permaculture Vancouver, is truly humbling keep it up. You make a "permaculture father and mother" proud.

I really enjoyed teaching this group of people. I learned more about permaculture than I ever though possible. My only hope is that they got as much from this experience as I did. We will surely be running another course like this in the not so distant future. The part time format is a great way to make permaculture accessible to urban dweller, whom does not have two weeks to spare for a residential course out in the boonies.

This course finished the last weekend of April and we used our time to prep for...

Permaculture Design Certificate number two, Full time Residential Course, Denman Island BC, July 2009

For two weeks Tanya and I hosted 24 people including ourselves. The end result being...19 new permaculturalists out into the world. While the part-time format is a great way to run a PDC, as it allows better access for time strapped people in cities, there are certain aspects of the 2 week residential format that can't be beat. The immersion of it all as well as access to out door labs, as shown above, really help to drive key concepts home. More and more we are finding that direct experience and reflection on lessons learned are a crucial part of the active learning process.

Permaculture Design Certificate number three, Full time Residential Course, Gull Lake Alberta, August 2009

Look out Oil Sands, here comes the Alberta permaculture movement. Rob and Michelle, of Ravis Sustainable, put together a fantastic PDC with field trips and outdoor hands projects to spare. I got it easy with this course, as all I had to do was teach and drink coffee. Since this course, local permaculture community groups are starting to pop up all over the prairies. I just can't get enough of Alberta and we are going to kick off our 2010 season with several Intro to Permaculture courses this coming January.

Stay tuned for more.
I promise!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Compost, Snakes and Dams

Spring has sprung and we are busy as the bees. Here on Denman there is plenty to do on the farm; and course and consultancy have us in Vancouver on a weekly basis.
It's compost mania and we are having a lot of fun putting together different composts with different combinations of material. First, on Denman we had our lovely guest Jill from Green Temple Design helped us gather seaweed, leaves and other compostable materials and put it together. It was heaps of hard work but we gathered enough to make a go of it. We mixed the compost by measuring in big buckets ratios of Carbon and Nitrogen. We then used a bit of blood and bone left over from the garden construction and of course the magic ingredient of urine. On top of all that we put some comfrey tea that we've been brewing for the last few months and it only added to the already powerful odor. We decided to put in a chimney because we were sure that it was going to get very hot. We've used this method before, it keeps the pile from getting too hot and it worked well by allowing some of the heat to escape. The next day Jill and Jesse headed back to Vancouver to make more compost and I prepared seedlings and worked on the orchard. In Vancouver the permaculture design group put together their own compost pile using different materials not the least of them being several dead pigeons. The loft in the barn where Jesse gathered some hay had dead pigeons and owls and well... why not? The pile was made in our friend Jared's back yard in east Vancouver. I was not there for the initial turning but didn't have to be to know that this was one spicy hot concoction. When given some time and flipping around by Jared this pile evened out nicely. No more pigeon evident.
Back on the Island things are doing very well. The weather is beautiful, although, it may be leaving us soon. That is fine with us as some very
vigorous planting has gone on and we would love to have it rain now. Only one of our gardens was ready and organized for a planting blitz but we took to it as soon as we had a chance. I went a little crazy and got a lot of my seeds started many weeks ago so it was definitely time to set some out. While planting we discovered a small colony of snakes living in our garden. At first I was concerned that there were so many but then I found out they eat slugs. I had not thought of snakes when it came to controlling those who wish to eat my greens. So we took a picture of one of the more friendly snakes and he/or she was very compliant and very beautiful. Off to the town of Mission now to put in preliminary markers for some dam and swale systems for two lovely part-time homesteaders. Maybe we'll do some composting there as well. The well turned compost pile will be our cairn. Rather than leaving behind a pile of ruble to mark our place we will leave a piled humus cairn.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Permaculture in the fast lane

In the past three months, every time I have tried to sit in front of this machine and tell a tale I find myself pulled away by other things. In order to catch up I will be light on words, and heavy on pictures. Do not mistake a lack of words, for little to say. More likely I have too much to say, I just wish to get up to speed and on to new things, as we have a lot happening this coming season.In January we taught two Introduction to Permaculture workshops. One was held in Calgary and the other in Canmore. We had a really great time and met some wonderful individuals, doing amazing things for the world. We made some new friends, Rob and Michelle Avis, and had a great exchange of information and ideas in regards to permaculture in BC and Alberta. We took the opportunity to visit some family and friends, while in Alberta, and were able to get to some pretty spots. When we arrived it was around -20 degrees in Calgary and two days later we went to Edmonton where it was -39 degrees. I have never been so cold before, but there is a special kind of beauty in a landscape so stark.
Permaculture is going wild and spreading across the province of Alberta at a blistering pace. With the energetic and dedicated contributions of Rob and Michelle, permaculture is gaining ground in the prairies. If you are interested in more courses being held there this summer check out Ravis Sustainable. While in Alberta, we had the honor of hosting our first children in an Intro class. Despite our hesitations, these to young eco-warriors exceeded expectations and added immensely to the experience.
We returned from Alberta at the beginning of February. Once back on the coast Jesse gave a series of talks and seminars in and around Vancouver. They all went very well and, while Jesse was a sharing our experiences with others, I was back on the farm pruning the apple orchard. In order to stay where we are and do what we do there is a certain amount of work that has to be done, on the farm. In between the work on the farm we surveyed our garden site to render a design and plan for the coming season.
At the end of February it was off to Kelowna, for the Building Sustainable Communities Conference put on by the Fresh Outlook Foundation. We were excited about this conference, as it was the very first invitation we received when our web site was launched in May of 2008. It was a great opportunity to share permaculture and our experience with members of the private, academic, and government sectors. The response was fantastic.
A day after the conference we were back on the coast to teach an Introduction to Permaculture workshop in Vancouver. With a full house and a lovely group of people it went very. Several of our students from that course have since enrolled in full length PDC course with us, it gives us a great sense of accomplishment to have such positive feed back. Hopefully we can assist some of these active and inspired people get on their feet, as teachers in the coming months. It is only through empowering local teachers and designers that we are going to turn the environmental boat around.
At the beginning of March we are back on Denman Island. For the next few days we worked hard to get our garden prepared for the coming growing season. We continued on from the surveying and planning phase into implementation. It took about one day of hard work to get most of the garden in place. This is the before picture, as we are trying to fix a gutter for rain water to flow into the garden off the roof.
We made on contour level pathways and used the rock that we pulled out of the site to help prop up three beds. We cover cropped and planted some mint and strawberry, both great crawling perennials, to help keep back the grass and weeds along the edges. This is to be an annual greens garden with a strong edge of perennials to help fill the space nature would otherwise fill for us. Below is a picture of the end product shaped, seeded and mulched.
I started my seedling early so that I can have nice strong plants to put in the garden this year. I was also a bit too excited and hopefully I am not too far ahead of the game. Gardening in a more northern area is going to be interesting but it is going very well so far.

And in our spare time...... well there is not much of it around but we do like to enjoy the island now and again. A few weeks ago we went out and dug a few dozen clams for Manhattan clam chowder. Even when we are playing we are working, we always try to come home with wild harvest food from our days off!!!
So here we are, garden planted, rain falling, seedlings growing, part time PDC starting on March 21st and now we have a crab trap out in Baynes Sound filling with food as I write. Busy, busy, busy and I haven't even mentioned what is on the horizon...another aid project?