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Food Sovereignty as a step toward community resilience

Overview

When we want to support local agriculture we think first to plant a garden or organize a farmers market. But rarely do we take the next logical step, which is to use local law to protect that sustainable agriculture system that we’re trying to build. When we don’t take that step, agribusiness corporations step into the vacuum that’s created to monopolize food access. As our farming practices return to decentralized production, so too must the decision-making about that food.

La Via Campesina, an international peasant and indigenous farmers movement, coined the term “Food Sovereignty” in 1996 which they defined as the “right of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to market forces.” Unlike the food security movement, aimed at ensuring that people have enough to eat, food sovereignty focuses on the question of who controls local food and agriculture policy. Who holds the power to determine those policies? Who sets goals and designs policy? Politicians? Corporations? Or the people directly affected by such policies?

As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said, “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.” Let’s remember some examples of corporate attempts at control over food systems:

  • Genetic engineering and forms of biopiracy like seed patenting
  • Financial instruments preying on farmers like the revolving wheel of debt
  • Encouraging dependence on high-energy inputs (fertilizers, pesticides) often leveraging influence over university and extension agency experts to promote their use
  • Collusion with government to regulate out of existence the small family farm by insisting on a “level playing field” (that is industrial in scale). The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the latest example of this.
  • Crafting a narrative of food safety that implies all food producers are producing for national and global markets, and that all operations therefore require bureaucratic oversight and expensive equipment to ensure food safety.
  • The well-known revolving door between agribusiness and regulatory agencies that write, implement and enforce food system policy

Big solutions to big problems often recreate the problem in a new form. Small scale solutions have the advantage of being site- and situation-specific and being more amenable to incremental organic adaptation with less risk of failure causing higher order systemic failures. For example, a local raw milk Community Supported Agriculture system has some real (very low) risk of causing illness but large scale corporate supply systems of industrial milk have created problems where large numbers of people spread across countries become sick before corrective responses can be enacted. A vision of small-scale site-specific corrective action is offered by the political project of food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is based on the right of peoples to define their own food systems and to develop policies on how food is produced, distributed and consumed. It is above all a political call for action that it is based on empowerment processes and the generation of critical knowledge in support of the collective and popular construction of alternatives.

Food Sovereignty as it has emerged in Maine is the concept that people who eat and those who grow food should be at the heart of designing food systems policy instead of large-scale industrial “food commodity” manufacturers or government bureaucracies. Food sovereignty as a political movement asserts the right of people in a geographic place to grow food, save seed and exchange products of the home economy free from government interference as long as sales are direct from producer to patron. All other food production regulations apply if you are selling to retail venues like restaurants and grocery stores.

In this Friday, April 15, 2016 photo, a sign gives notice to customers at the Quill’s End Farm, a small family run operation in Penobscot, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

This concept has yielded a strategy asserting a legal space usually within a municipality where residents have the guaranteed right to save seeds, grow their own food, and exchange it with each other in face-to-face venues (like roadside stands, church potlucks, and farmer’s markets). The strategy was borne out of resisting corporate control of our food systems in our home towns using locally binding law, which is much more accessible than state or federal levels of legislation. In Maine it takes the form of municipal ordinances. These ordinances are rights-based rather than regulatory in nature.

Instead of regulating what you can and can’t do, a rights-based ordinance leverages language usually found in state constitutions that declare the inherent right of the people of a state to self-governance. Rights-based ordinances declare and secure rights in a positive and guaranteed way. In the United States, authority is often delegated throughout the varying levels of government. In home rule states, authority in matters of self-governance are decentralized to the local level, and people within a municipality can create governance as they see fit so long as it doesn’t conflict with or frustrate the purpose of higher state or federal legislation. On matters of food and water, it is sometimes unclear who has the ultimate jurisdiction to make these sorts of policy decisions. We assert that if there is any uncertainty about what polity has the decision-making authority regarding matters of food and water, that authority should devolve to the local level. Rights-based ordinances (RBOs) secure these rights over the supposed rights of corporations and claimed authority of regulatory agencies, which are often not legitimate and dominated by corporate influence. RBOs reinforce the civil and political rights of people in their communities and allow them to make determinations about the health, safety and welfare of their town.

Food sovereignty has enjoyed a good deal of success in Maine because of a number of factors. Culturally, Mainers are an independent lot and maintain traditions of homesteading, self-reliance and self-governance. Many towns practice direct democracy at the municipal level. The process for getting on the agenda before a select board or city council is straightforward, accessible and often welcome. In both statute and constitution, the state of Maine grants authority to towns to pass ordinances that deal with matters “local in nature” that affect health, safety and welfare. It would seem that there are no matters more local in nature than the procurement of food and water for general welfare. When it comes to designing food policy, the idea here is to privilege the voices of consumers and primary small-scale producers that directly feed local patrons, rather than corporate agribusiness or entrenched government bureaucracies. Many farms are small-scale family owned operations, and Maine enjoys a relatively youthful farmer demographic that is actually getting younger, bucking the national trend. There are even cases of people relocating to Maine specifically to begin an agricultural enterprise because their town has passed a food sovereignty ordinance.

Heather and Phil Retberg of Quill’s End Farm were instrumental in crafting Maine’s first food sovereignty ordinance

These food sovereignty ordinances in Maine are formally titled the Local Food and Community Self Governance Ordinance (LFCSGO). The LFCSGO used language from rights-based ordinances in Shapleigh and Newfield, Maine as a template. These RBOs prevented Nestle from taking water from their shared aquifer to bottle and sell back to them. These were ordinances drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which pioneered the use of RBOs in places as near as Pennsylvania and as far as Ecuador. Food freedom bill proposals from Wyoming and Florida also provided inspiration for the text of the LFCSGO. (source link)

First formulated in 2011 as a response to industrial scale food processing regulations applied to small-scale operations, the LFCSGO was first passed in Sedgwick, Penobscot and Blue Hill and quickly spread to other towns in a process called “horizontal diffusion.” A key feature is that the ordinance language is usually uniform across different towns because we all use the same ordinance template as a starting point. “Horizontal diffusion” occurs in the context of a “standard of uniformity.” When ordinances spread town-to-town across the state in a bottom-up fashion, it is helpful to selectmen, councilors, and legislators to see standardized and uniform language. If officials see a precedent from another municipality, they are more likely to adopt it.

These ordinances have always been about small scale and face-to-face sales directly to patrons of the farm. The idea of making exemptions from corporate and industrial style regulations struck a nerve with Mainers. The LFCSGO was adopted in many towns across the state as activists flooded the state capital to pass state-level legislation that mirrored the town ordinance in spirit and content. State-level bills were narrowly defeated in 2012 and 2014, and then finally in late 2017, the legislature passed what ultimately became The Maine Food Sovereignty Act. This process is called “vertical integration.” Unfortunately, it had to be amended in a special session to take some food out of “food sovereignty” because the USDA, a federal agency, claims jurisdiction over the regulations around animal slaughter. So while The Maine Food Sovereignty Act doesn’t pertain to meat sales, it does recognize and codify the long standing tradition of face-to-face sales at local venues of all other locally-produced food.

So we have a focus on local rules for local food grown by small-scale operators using bottom-up democracy in action by leveraging local, state and federal law. The exciting pattern that emerged was “horizontal policy diffusion” (influence on other localities facing similar situations) resulting in “vertical policy integration” (influence on policy design and implementation at upper political and administrative levels), largely made possible by a “standard of uniformity” (most food sovereignty ordinances use the same language set forth in the LFCSGO template). We think the time is right to spread these sorts legal strategies to help rebuild local economies, especially to other home rule states.

 

Why You Should Care (source link)

Industrial Agriculture Is Not Sustainable

Our current system of agriculture, which substitutes chemicals for living soil, is not sustainable. It is killing soil, creating dead zones in the oceans, pouring greenhouse gases into the environment, and destroying biodiversity. The earth is our only home, and we must learn to relate to it as a living system, not as an environment we can exploit for profit, while killing its ability to regenerate.

Corporate Agriculture Is Not Healthy

We are having epidemics of health problems created by modern agriculture, especially obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Many of these problems are the result of marketing unhealthy food directly to children. We need healthy soil to raise healthful food, both plant and animal. When food-borne pathogen outbreaks occur within our large-scale industrial system, it can make large numbers of people sick before recalls are issued.

Local Food Brings Local Prosperity

Our oligarchic food system sucks money out of our local communities and concentrates it in the hands of a few multi-national corporations. Eating locally-produced food circulates money locally and strengthens local economies. A thriving local food system means more jobs and a more vibrant and healthy economy. It also builds the resiliency needed when times get tough. Local food tastes good, too!

Food Strengthens Communities

Breaking bread together is a time-honored way of celebrating life in community. Church suppers, bake sales, Grange pig roasts, potlucks and other gatherings bring people together. It is hard to be disagreeable to people when you are all eating together! And when people care about food, they care about people and find ways to make sure that everyone gets to eat.

What you can do
Talk to your neighbors about this issue to get them interested. Rally a few friends and learn what it takes to bring legislation before your town government. Sometimes government officials will say that you can’t make these kind of policy changes. Do it anyway! Find allies both in town and in town government. Use the LFCSGO template as a starting point. If you live in Maine, you benefit by using this template because it has been passed in over 40 towns. Make sure your legislation protects sales at roadside stands, church potlucks, and farmer’s markets (all of which are allowed under the 2017 Maine Food Sovereignty Act). If you live outside of Maine, the language may largely apply, and you can customize it to make your own template to share across towns. Learn about your state’s laws and find leverage points in agricultural related statutes. Once you get familiar with the legal language, you can hone your arguments using various levels of law. After that, use the tools of rhetoric and debate to start conversations and build a local coalition to bring locally binding food sovereignty legislation to your town.

 

Here are a few ways to talk about food sovereignty with your neighbors

What it is

  • A rights-based ordinance, using locally binding law to secure rights for residents. It is not regulatory, does not add to responsibilities and services of government, and creates no bureaucracy. It has the force of law and goes beyond a municipal resolution or statement of support.
  • It is scale-dependent. It applies to products of the home economy. If you want to sell to restaurants or retail distributors like grocery stores, all other food production regulations can apply.
  • It is compliant with federal constitutional law, state constitutional law, and state statutes in Maine. It is a targeted application of the Home Rule law giving municipalities and counties the right to exempt direct farm-to-consumer sales, roadside farm stands, farmers markets and community potlucks from regulations designed for industrial-scale producers.
  • It is traditionalist. It protects our way of life, local culture, food sources, the right to grow and exchange food, and the right to a local food economy.

What it does

  • This reduces the regulatory burden for the small (or new) farmer. It would allow small-scale farmers to begin operating without the need to install costly commercial equipment or facilities for each separate operation.  It lowers the barrier to entry into the marketplace and allows new farmers easier access to direct-sales markets. This has tangible economic benefits by circulating money in the local economy.
  • It places emphasis on responsibility of producers and patrons. It is a push-back against the bureaucratization of everyday life, and enshrines the legitimacy of handshake deals and direct “me-to-thee” relationships.
  • “Me-to-thee” transactions are based on trust.  The local food movement is reconstituting a culture of independence, self-reliance, freedom of choice, and responsibility.  Producers are responsible for producing high-quality safe food. Consumers are responsible for the choices they make.
  • As an issue it can unite people across the political spectrum (after all, everyone has to eat!). The rhetoric of sustainability and resilience can appeal to liberals and leftists while the rhetoric of preserving tradition and independence and eliminating barriers to trade can appeal to libertarians and conservatives.
  • Localized food systems are resilient against economic, environmental, and other stressors. We don’t know what our climate, economy, or society will look like in 20 or 50 years, and we should build systems and structures (not just related to food) that will lead to prosperity in a variety of futures, some of which may involve the weakening of national and global supply lines.
  • A strong local food economy can attract people and new business to town. It will incentivize the growth of food-related business. It will reinforce your town’s position as a leader in local food culture.
  • We need more farmers and more food producers.  The food economy forms the bedrock foundation of any economy.  Without food, no one works. This ordinance would set the conditions for a much more resilient food system in Maine of small-scale distributed production and peer-to-peer sales.  This ordinance would set the conditions not only for a resilient food system, but also a more resilient localized economy.
  • It improves access to locally grown food too, by the way.

What it does not do

  • This does not apply to producers who wish to sell to a retailer or distributor like a restaurant or grocery store.  Again, it is a scale-dependent idea.
  • It does not exempt the municipality as a whole from state and federal food regulations. It only exempts small-scale growers making direct-to-patron transactions.
  • It is not without risks. We can’t protect people from everything.  The preferred yardstick in the discussion of risk analysis is raw vs. pasteurized milk. Your risk of being struck by lightning is greater than your risk of getting sick from raw milk. The risk you take every day driving in a car is greater. The risks to food safety are overblown by fear mongering, especially given the food pathogen outbreaks already common to our globalized, industrial food commodity system that can poison large numbers of people.

We’ve tried big, centralized food manufacturing, now let’s try local and decentralized food culture, as we have for most of human history! This sort of ordinance creates the legal space for products of the home economy to easily change hands between neighbors. Ultimately this ordinance that enshrines food sovereignty stems from a vision of how we can structure society to meet our basic needs. A broad sketch of this vision looks small in scale, localized, decentralized, with food production distributed throughout the landscape. The vision we find most attractive comes from agroecology and permaculture design that incorporates good landscape design with perennial food producing trees, shrubs and herbs. We imagine biologically diverse garden landscapes in every back yard with fruits, nuts and spices dripping from the branches and poultry or some other small livestock foraging in the understory. This vision integrates biological diversity with economic resilience and personal responsibility. The resources to help you pass an ordinance like this are ready to hand.

Please reach out and pass one in your town!

Further reading:
Templates and organizing resources for creating food sovereignty ordinances in your town

http://localfoodrules.org/

Deep back story of food sovereignty

https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Via_Campesina#Food_Sovereignty

This issue of Justice Rising is packed with information about the local food ordinance and some of the important issues that are related to it.

http://www.thealliancefordemocracy.org/html/eng/2602-AA.shtml

This article traces the history of how meat production, processing, and distribution was made possible by USDA regulation
https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/blog/2015/09/10/the-wholesome-meat-act-of-1967-disaster-for-small-slaughterhouses-from-the-start/
This article traces a longer history including the emergence of the supermarket, as well as the constitutional basis for food sovereignty as an inalienable right
http://inlandfoodwise.online/archive/september-1-2017/are-people-allowed-to-feed-each-other-food-sovereignty-in-the-inland

Home Rule in the United States

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_rule_in_the_United_States

List of New England Home Rule States:

Maine

Massachusetts

Rhode Island

Connecticut

-also-

New York

New Jersey

Pennsylvania

 

Notable absences

Vermont

New Hampshire

 

Jesse Watson is a permaculture designer, teacher and builder living and working in Rockland Maine, where we passed the LFCSGO in May 2018. He operates Midcoast Permaculture Design (midcoastpermaculture.com), serving residential, farm and institutional clients. He helps facilitate permaculture design certificate (PDC) courses with The Resilience Hub, based in Portland. He now serves on the board of directors of PAN, the Permaculture Association of the Northeast.

Who should control our food system?

By Nathan Davis and Jesse Labbe-Watson | Dec 01, 2016       Original link

This question is at the core of the movement for food sovereignty in Maine and around the world. Food sovereignty is the assertion of local control over our food system, and the assertion against control by big agribusiness and nonlocal corporate interests. Eighteen municipalities in Maine have passed food sovereignty ordinances, and food sovereignty is now before the Rockland City Council. Rockland would be the largest community in Maine to pass a food sovereignty ordinance, and the first city to do so. We strongly support food sovereignty, and we think that the proposed food sovereignty ordinance deserves the Council’s support.

The movement for food sovereignty in Maine began in 2009, when Heather Retberg at Quill’s End Farm in Penobscot wanted to sell raw milk directly to her neighbors. She became frustrated when state regulators required her to obtain a permit that would have demanded expensive investment far beyond what her small-scale sales could justify. It seemed ludicrous that regulations created for and by the factory farm industry would be applied to neighbor-to-neighbor transactions. So Heather and other like-minded farmers and consumers drafted what became the first food sovereignty ordinance in the state. This ordinance has become a model for ordinances in communities throughout Maine, including the one before our City Council.

The preamble to the ordinance begins as follows: “We the People of Rockland, Knox County, Maine have the right to grow, produce, process, sell, purchase and consume local foods thus promoting self-reliance, the preservation of our local food economy, family farms, and local food traditions.” It then continues with philosophical and legal justification (drawing upon the Maine Constitution and Maine Revised Statutes) before arriving at the core statements of law: “Producers or processors of local foods in the City of Rockland are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that the transaction is only between the producer or processor and a patron when the food is sold for home consumption”; and “Producers or processors of local foods in the City of Rockland are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that their products are prepared for, consumed, or sold at a community social event.” The ordinance thus covers only transactions in which there is little or no separation between producer and consumer. It applies to neither third-party distributors, grocery stores, nor restaurants. It relies on – and strengthens – the feedback loops and bonds of community that nourish local business and form the fabric of traditional Maine life.

Food sovereignty supports economic development, environmental sustainability, community resilience, food security, local control, and individual liberty:

  • It combats control of our food and our government by large unaccountable corporations. It’s no secret that big agribusiness drives government food policy. As President Obama stated in a recent interview, “For a long time, agribusiness has had obviously a prominent seat at the table in Congress. It’s bipartisan.” Food sovereignty aims to remove regulatory burdens appropriate to large industrial-scale food production from small farms and producers (and ONLY from small farms and producers).
  • Huge monoculture farms produce well-documented negative environmental effects. Food sovereignty encourages diverse, small crops rather than uniform, large ones. It promotes active and careful stewardship of our farmland and natural resources by encouraging tight feedback loops between patrons and farmers.
  • Localized food systems are resilient against economic, environmental, and other stressors. We don’t know what our climate, economy, or society will look like in 20 or 50 years, and we should build systems and structures (not just related to food) that will lead to prosperity in a variety of futures, some of which may involve the weakening of national and global supply lines.
  • A food sovereignty ordinance in Rockland would reinforce our position as a leader in local food culture, which attracts visitors, new residents, and investment to our community.
  • Food sovereignty preserves Maine’s traditional food heritage and folkways, which are among the reasons that Maine is a great place to live.
  • Food sovereignty guarantees in local law the right for people to choose where they obtain their food and how that food is produced. If you want to get your food from a big store, you can do that. If you want to support a young farmer in the startup phase of their business, you are free to do that as well. A food sovereignty ordinance reduces the capital-intensive barriers to entry that many small farmers struggle with and also codifies the right of farmers to be able to sell directly to patrons who willingly support them.
  • Local law is the next frontier and most powerful current tool for protecting a sustainable agriculture system made resilient by diversified small-scale producers exercising their own right to self-determination.
  • This ordinance supports local businesses in the growing agricultural sector of Maine’s economy. By extension, it supports all local businesses, because if people can’t eat nourishing food, they can’t work or live here.

You may have heard of the “Farmer Brown” case decided by the Maine Supreme Court in 2014 against a seller of raw milk in Blue Hill. Contrary to some accounts, the Court did NOT strike down the food sovereignty ordinance in Blue Hill, nor did it strike down any food sovereignty ordinance elsewhere. Rockland would not contravene the Court’s decision by passing this ordinance. Government regulations around food safety arose in the early 1900s in response to centralized industrial meatpacking plants and have never been designed for small-scale direct farm-to-patron sales. The original motivation for food safety regulations like the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1907 was for government to provide oversight in situations where the consumer could not do that for themselves. A food sovereignty ordinance clarifies where government oversight is needed and where it isn’t. Under this ordinance, direct patrons of local farms would essentially regulate how farms produce food by taking their business to farms they trust in a true free market.

Food is one of the most immediate and intimate aspects of human life. Let’s celebrate that immediacy rather than ceding it to structures and systems built to mitigate the worst aspects of the industrial food systems of the past. Small farms drive Maine’s economy and attract young people to our state, and their numbers are increasing. Let’s keep it that way.

Nathan Davis and Jesse Labbe-Watson both live in Rockland. Davis is a co-founder of Renew Rockland, which has proposed a food sovereignty ordinance for the city. Labbe-Watson is the founder of Midcoast Permaculture, current board president of the Permaculture Association of the Northeast, and an expert in designing and building regenerative food systems for home and farm clients.

 

Morgan Bay Zendo Applied Design course

Applied Permaculture Design for the Morgan Bay Zendo

This course is unique because:

  • It’s an exercise in applied permaculture design — learn by doing it!  The goals for this project are already clearly stated and we have a base map in hand.  This allow us to systematically work through a landscape analysis and design process using the Regrarians adaptation of the Scales of Permanence.
  • You will gain a systematic understanding for how to analyze the ecological context of your site, how to design, and what steps to take first during the installation phases
  • This is a home-scale application to a community center, incorporating multi-strata home gardening techniques to add resilience and perennial crops to the system.
  • Using Art of Hosting techniques, we will facilitate the design as it emerges out of the creativity of the group.
  • We will dive into a thorough treatment of the design process so that we can dispel the anxiety of not knowing where to start
  • 12 contact hours

The Zendo is located in the coastal town of Surry, Maine, and offers an opportunity for people to practice Buddhist meditation whatever their background or faith may be. Zendo practice includes elements from Zen, Ch’an and Vipassana schools of Buddhism.

In addition to the meditation hall itself, there is a complex of buildings, housing a meeting hall, kitchen, apartment, showers, and toilets. Four small cabins and a field for tent camping are located within a short distance of the main buildings and provide sleeping accommodations during retreats. A pond, moss garden, and wooded paths complement the facilities. Improvements are ongoing and are undertaken largely by volunteers.

The workshop will focus on design and implementation of edible perennial polycultures at the Zen center, using permaculture as the basis for our design. Permaculture is a design method and set of techniques for creating resilient human habitats while increasing ecosystem health. It is a synthesis of wise human behavior taken from both modern and ancient sources of inspiration.

Students often come away from our workshops with new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting in the world. We strive to give participants in our workshops a positive vision for the future and practical tools to make it so.

Topics to be covered include:

  • Designing for Resilience & Sustainability
  • Home/Garden/Farm Applications
  • Introduction to the food forest concept
  • Permaculture design methodology
  • Reading the landscape and data collection
  • Landscape analysis using the Scales of Permanence
  • Tree Crops & Perennial Food Systems
  • Installation and maintenance using instant succession
  • Dispel Feelings of Not Knowing ‘Where to Start’
  • Community engagement practices

This course is good for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike. Orchardists, nursery people, and gardeners interested in perennial crops will take a special interest in this alternative way of designing a perennial-based system.

Link to testimonials: http://resiliencehub.org/pdc-testimonials/

Registration and lodging information:

For tickets, click here.

The workshop will take place at the Morgan Bay Zendo located in the coastal town of Surry, Maine

Arrival is scheduled for Saturday morning June 23.  Class runs 9-5.

The course ends Sunday afternoon June 24.  Runs from 9-4.

The workshop fee of $250 per person includes tuition and one meal. Expected number of course participants: 10-15.

Regular Fee: $250

Intro to Permaculture on Hurricane Island

Learn the basics of Permaculture design on Hurricane Island–a Maine coast island retreat

Unique characteristics of this course:

  • Learn foundational practices of the design process including goal setting, observation exercises and base mapping considerations
  • Gain a systematic understanding for how to analyze the ecological context of your site, how to design, and what steps to take first during the installation phases
  • Retreat setting on an idyllic island on the coast of Midcoast Maine with meals catered for us.  Learn about off-grid electrical and composting waste systems.
  • Dive into a thorough treatment of the design process so that we can dispel the anxiety of not knowing where to start
  • Use the island camp as a thought experiment.  So we can be creative in our design ideas while we practice designing for resilience!
  • 12 contact hours

Spend 2 days on beautiful Hurricane Island gaining first-hand understanding of Permaculture design with Jesse Watson of Midcoast Permaculture Design. Participants will learn how to design their home gardens for resilience and sustainability.  Permaculture is a regenerative design system and set of techniques for creating resilient human habitats while increasing ecosystem health.  It is a synthesis of wise human behavior taken from both modern and ancient sources of inspiration.

Topics include:

  • Designing for Resilience & Sustainability
  • Permaculture Design Methodology
  • Goal Articulation
  • Analysis Techniques and Options
  • Tree Crops & Perennial Food Systems
  • Home/Garden/Farm Applications
  • Reading the Landscape and Data Collection
  • Real Life Examples and Strategies
  • Dispel Feelings of Not Knowing ‘Where to Start’

**Please plan to depart from Hurricane’s mainland office (19 Commercial St, Rockland, ME) for transport out to Hurricane Island on the first day of your program. The boat will depart from the mainland at 5pm on the June 8, 2018. Please plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure time. Your return transport will depart Hurricane Island at 3:30pm on the last day of the program, returning you to the mainland around 4:30pm. PLEASE PLAN ACCORDINGLY. More information is provided upon registration. Please reach out with questions to registration@hurricaneisland.net or 207 867 6050.**

Where & When: Weekend of June 8-10, 2018 on Hurricane Island

Cost: $425 for 3 days.  Includes all transportation to/from the island, food, housing, course materials, access to staff and facilities.  12 contact hours. Limited to 15 participants

Facilitated by Jesse Watson of Midcoast Permaculture Design, the Midcoast’s premier edible landscape design firm

Students often come away from our courses with new ways of seeing, thinking and acting in the world.  We strive to give participants in our courses a positive vision for the future and practical tools to make it so.  Register at the link below!

Co-sponsored by:  Midcoast Permaculture Design and Hurricane Island

Link to testimonials: http://resiliencehub.org/pdc-testimonials/

For more information please email programs@hurricaneisland.net or midcoastpermaculture@gmail.com

 

Food Forest Design Intensive with Maine Farmland Trust

This weekend workshop will be an exercise in applied permaculture design to a working farm called Rolling Acres in Jefferson.  We will host a workshop that facilitates the design of a food forest whose products will be used to help supply a food bank program called Veggies for All.

This course is unique because:

  • It’s an exercise in applied permaculture design — learn by doing it!  The goals for this project are already clearly stated and we have a base map in hand.  This allow us to systematically work through a landscape analysis and design process using the Regrarians adaptation of the Scales of Permanence.
  • This is a farm-scale application to an existing farming operation, incorporating agroforestry techniques to add resilience and perennial crops to the system.
  • Using Art of Hosting techniques, we will facilitate the design as it emerges out of the creativity of the group.
  •  We are considering permaculture as concept art applied to landscape design and land management planning to tie into the arts programming that also happens at the Fiore Arts Center. 
  • 12 contact hours

While many of us think of fields and forests as separate places, food forests are systems that combine the production goals of agriculture with the layered and dynamic patterns we see in the forest. Explore this concept and practice its applications with Maine Farmland Trust and Jesse Watson of Midcoast Permaculture Design during a weekend Food Forest Design Intensive, May 4-6, 2018 at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm in Jefferson.

The Fiore Art Center and Veggies For All, both programs of MFT, have been working together for the past two years to envision a collaboration which would bring back active farming to Rolling Acres Farm, while simultaneously allowing for possible diversification of Veggies For All.

The workshop will focus on design and implementation of a hypothetical “food bank food forest” at the art center, using permaculture as the basis for our design. Permaculture is a design method and set of techniques for creating resilient human habitats while increasing ecosystem health. It is a synthesis of wise human behavior taken from both modern and ancient sources of inspiration.

Students often come away from our workshops with new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting in the world.  We strive to give participants in our workshops a positive vision for the future and practical tools to make it so.

Topics to be covered include:

  • Introduction to the food forest concept
  • Permaculture design methodology
  • Reading the landscape and data collection
  • Landscape analysis using the Scales of Permanence
  • Perennial polyculture design
  • Agroforestry farm practices
  • Keyline patterning
  • Installation and maintenance using instant succession
  • Community engagement practices

This course is good for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike. Orchardists, nursery people, and farmers interested in perennial crops will take a special interest in this alternative way of designing a perennial-based system.

Link to testimonials: http://resiliencehub.org/pdc-testimonials/

Registration and lodging information:

The workshop will take place at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm, located at 152 Punk Point Rd. in Jefferson. For pictures of the location and rooms: https://www.mainefarmlandtrust.org/public-outreach-new/jaf-art-center/

Arrival is scheduled for Friday evening: 4-5:30 pm.

The course ends Sunday afternoon at 4 pm.

The workshop fee of $335 per person includes tuition, lodging in shared rooms, as well as all meals (except for our Friday evening potluck). Expected number of course participants: 10-18.

Regular Fee: $335

MFT members receive a 10% discount off the Regular Fee. 

The scholarship positions for this course have been filled. Please contact anna@mainefarmlandtrust.org to inquire about alternatives.

For more information, contact Anna Witholt Abaldo, co-director of the Fiore Art Center by e-mail at anna@mainefarmlandtrust.org or call  207-338-6575, ext. 112.

Permaculture at Camden Adult Ed Spring 2018

Beginning in March, we are returning to the Camden Adult Education program to offer an 8 hour lecture and discussion series introducing permaculture design.  This is a super affordable class to get an introduction to permaculture design and how to apply it in your life and garden!

Permaculture is a design system and set of techniques for creating resilient human habitats and healthy ecosystems. It is modeled on ecological principles and offers a design methodology for water, access, shelter, food production, culture and economics. In this abbreviated course students will gain a strong foundation for applying permaculture ethics and design principles. We will cover topics including: a permaculture design process, forest gardens and perennial polycultures, water management, earthworks, pattern literacy, and workflow management. We will also visit a local demonstration site in the spring to see permaculture in action! Registration $35. 4 weeks 6:00-8:00 p.m. Begins Tues 3/6 and runs through Tues 3/27.

Click here to register today!

Why set goals?

The first step in any good design process is to clearly define our goals for the project.  A clear grasp of goals helps us to hold a vision, make design and implementation decisions and strategically allocate limited resources.  The goal helps us orient our actions in the right direction.  This way we can distinguish between which elements are the right fit for the right place or which actions take us toward our goal versus away from it.  A good goal consists of a couple sentences that clearly articulate a statement of purpose.  This is different from an element or list of elements that might go into the system.

Here’s an example: if i ask you what your goal is and you say “i want to grow apples,” this is a good start but we’re not quite there yet.  Apples would be an element in the system and the system overall would be oriented to some larger goal.  So i might ask you “why do you want to grow apples?”  After you think about it you might say that apples are a good fruit crop for our climate and you like to eat apples.  Underneath the desire for apples we get closer to the goal, which is why i might ask “why?” a few times.  In this case you want to grow apples because you want to grow your own food in a manner that is a good fit for our climate.  So a couple goals we can infer are 1) to grow your own food and 2) to adapt to the existing climate.
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Goals can be summarized into a few sentences like in a holistic goal statement or they can be summarized in a list of bullet points.  If it’s in a list of bullet points it’s important to remain focused on the deeper desires for why we want to do a thing rather than list out a bunch of elements.  A wish list is also a useful exercise, but it’s best to separate that list from the goals.  A clear understanding of goals help us to decide whether an element on a wish list is really necessary or if we can come up with a different solution to some design challenge.

Another example might be where a client says to me that they really want hugelkultur beds.  Hugelkultur is a great way to turn rotting waste wood into viable garden beds, but it is a fairly significant construction project.  After a discussion about why they landed on the element of hugelkultur we discover that the underlying desire is to manage water, make use of waste wood and turn it into an asset like growing space.  Once we discover that the primary goal is to manage water, we may decide that it makes more sense to cut swales based on site conditions, soil types, volume of water and financial resources.

Clear vision and goals helps us make strategic decisions, allocate limited resources, and pivot to the most appropriate design solution.  A focus on goals allows us to remain somewhat non-attached to specific elements so that we can focus instead on solving design challenges with the most appropriate strategies based on site conditions and other constraints.
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Woodland terraces Fall 2016

This was an earthworks project in the back woods of Waldo county.  The design process for this project started with a concept sketch for the client whose goal is to develop this piece of land into an agroforestry farm with a focus on chestnuts.  The design challenge in this case was the topography and the process of transitioning the species composition of an existing forest.  We got called to consult on the project after the logging operation had been done.

DC design 02 smThe consult led to this cursory design sketch which we then used as the starting point for construction.  We began with a ridge access road to build the first few terraces at the height of land near the northern border of this parcel, highlighted in yellow.  In this case the client was keen to begin construction of water conserving earthworks on this hillside as they had already purchased the chestnuts and wanted to get them planted as soon as possible.  Another challenge to the project was that while the client lives nearby, it is not the current residence, but likely will be for the client’s “next act.”  So establishment of this system may involve challenges of periodic neglect because there are no permanent residents living on site yet.

IMG_7555 IMG_7558The recent logging operation left quite a bit of slash across the landscape which presented a challenge for us to work around.  The slash made layout of the terraces in the landscape especially hard because we couldn’t see the surface of the ground as readily as we would have liked.

IMG_7576We used a water level to find our contour lines and make adjustments for BFRs, BFSs and between-row tree spacing.  I’ve been assured that BFR stands for “Big Fat Rock” and that BFS stands for “Bid Fat Stump.”  The spacing of the terraces was based on the mature crown diameter of chestnuts which we assumed to be about 40 feet in diameter given the forested conditions.  Normally in a field or pasture setting, i would plan on a chestnut growing a canopy of 50 feet or more.  The client’s stated goal was for a closed canopy chestnut grove so that meant we could space our terraces somewhat close together.  The in-row spacing will also be tight to encourage a fast, upright growth habit.

IMG_7584The excavator moved earth, rocks, stumps and large logs while the hand crew arranged slash on contour and constructed our hugel berms.  The terrace itself will serve as vehicle access, pasture and grazing lanes.  The chestnut trees themselves will be planted on or below the hugel berms, functioning as tree planting beds.

IMG_7636For this landscape we laid out the terraces from the middle and worked our way outward toward the ridges.  Since we are working with contour, you can see that the middle of the terraces are the closest points together and then flare out toward the ridge.  Since the middle is the pinch point we had to space our terraces from one another starting from this middle point.  It was a balancing act: we wanted to space the terraces at least 35 feet to allow for full crown expression of the mature chestnuts, but since the excavator was on the small side for this job, we also had to avoid big stumps and great big rocks.  We pulled small to medium stumps, but we wanted to avoid the larger pine stumps.  The result was a between-row spacing of between 30-40 feet.  It was the best compromise given all the other obstacles in the landscape we were designing around.  IMG_7650We did a final grading of these terraces by hand, and so we needed to remove any prominent debris.  Once the grading and construction of the downhill berm was complete we mulched the beds heavily with old round bales of hay we got from the dairy farm down the road.  The seeds present in the hay will introduce pasture species of grasses and forbs into the forest soil seedbank.  We also recommended sowing a pasture mix of seed or something like a deer forage seed mix.

IMG_76522016 was a year of drought in Maine, and while that made it easy for us to do our earthworks it also suggested another issue regarding establishment: irrigation.  I had put an irrigation tank at height of land in the cursory design, but there was no plan just yet for installing it.  I emphasized to the client the need for an irrigation plan given the changing and variable climate.  Under normal climatic regimes you wouldn’t need supplemental irrigation to get the chestnuts established.  But since we’re off the map now regarding climate, it seems critical to provide irrigation to the investment of nut trees.  Fortunately, the client does have a plan now for a gravity feed irrigation tank at the top of the hill.  They will use two 250 gallon IBC tanks placed at height of land to provide irrigation water.  Periodically the tanks will be topped off with a sump pump placed in a nearby dug well.

In the meantime, the chestnut trees got heeled in a temporary garden bed for the winter.  They will get planted out in the spring into the berms on the downslope side of the terraces.  IMG_7690We learned that a concept sketch is good for small residential garden construction projects, however a farm is much more complicated and involves more planning between the concept, construction, establishment, maintenance and how all of that fits into the overall business plans for the farm.  We were able to make this project work because no matter the business plan or the ultimate composition of trees and livestock, this hillside will need access.  We were able to provide that with a ridge path leading to all the terraces we built.

The client learned that starting the design from the tree or vegetation layer can cause problems of retrofitting a landscape design around that vegetation element.  We usually recommend starting with goals first, then topography, water, and access before moving on to designing the vegetation layer, in alignment with the Regrarians platform.  Even though you may read on the internet that permaculture is focused on planting trees early in the establishment of a project, that only applies if your earthworks, access (roads) and irrigation plans are all sorted out first.  And while all of that might be easy for a home residence situation where you already have a residential structure, electricity and plumbing; when developing a site without those assets, the phases of construction should be carefully considered with close attention to goals.

A tighter attention to goals rather than elements makes for an easier decision making process.  In this case most of our decisions were focused on keeping the chestnut trees alive because they had been purchased in the spring before the logging operation had been done.  The client jumped down the hierarchy of design and skipped to thinking about vegetation and trees without consideration of access, water or geography, all of which are higher in the hierarchy of design.  During the drought this year, water proved to be an especially important limiting factor for this design.

IMG_7691There is some distortion in this shot because it’s a panoramic photo, but on the right you can see the ridge road that provides access to all the terraces.  IMG_7701Here are the finished terraces showing the slope we were working with and the lay of the contour lines on the hillside.  The hugel berms are also visible and will provide the chestnut seedlings their planting beds.  Width, size, lineal distance.

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Invasive species or invasive culture?

Look, i clearly understand that there are invasive and noxious weeds that can have negative consequences on ecosystems, but we have to grok that this is a consequence of living in the Anthropocene. There are complex dynamics afoot in the “invasive” species debate that include ecology, economics, ethics and psychology. Our European ancestors are responsible for much of the introduced species. Some good, some bad. While purple loosestrife is problematic, can the same be said for the honeybee or apple tree or earthworm? And over a long enough time span, don’t ecosystems eventually find balance after a disturbance? Ecologically speaking it seems that the effects of “invasive species” are a mixed bag usually coming down to semantics and whether or not a new introduction is labeled with the epithet.

While ecological disturbance is a problem, we can’t blame it all on “invasive species.” How about this: if you want to blame ecosystem damage on one simplistic thing, blame it on “invasive culture” which is more to the point. You can’t demonize plants for reproducing themselves in the ways they evolved. They just happen to be in new places where (often) people of European descent introduced them by building their conception of society.

So while there is ecology involved with the disturbing effects of opportunistic and aggressive species, so too are economics. It’s big business to try and eradicate these plants and “restore” the “native” ecosystem. But the concept of restoring a native ecosystem is flawed because it starts at an arbitrary point in history (before Columbus) and then presumes that that “pristine” ecosystem was somehow static. But we all know that ecosystems are constantly changing and evolving and species move all over, sometimes with the help of humans and sometimes not.

In eradication efforts, while mechanical and hand removal labor costs add up over time, herbicides wind up looking like the cheaper option to land managers (government, conservation groups, land trusts, farmers, etc). So a beneficiary of the concept of invasive eradication is herbicide companies like Monsanto. That’s an economic consideration in this debate, which then yields a feedback loop to exaggerated ecological and economic damage in order to justify large orders of herbicides. The cozy relationships between big business and universities is no secret.

An ethical component comes down to the question of who controls ecosystems? Or what is our duty of care if we introduce species that disturb ecosystems? In order to answer those questions you have to ask the larger philosophical question of what is our role or place or position in nature? Should we be humble or authoritarian in our answers? Should we seek to control nature or find some other kind of balance?

As far as the psychological dimension, we would be foolish to overlook the grief and guilt associated with the disturbance that nuisance species create. In some ways i think we project the drama and tragedy of the process of colonization onto the ecological dynamics here. Where the demonized “invaders” are wiping out the preferred “natives.” In order to protect the natives we must wage war on the invaders, and the resulting efforts are somehow a sideways (if white savior) attempt at a collective reconciliation for the genocide of Native American peoples. While this might not be front and center for most people in the invasive species debate, i think it is a part of it.

Here is a book review that covers some of this nuance. It’s important to emphasize again that all of these dynamics are present in the debate with different amounts of weight behind them, depending on who is doing the talking.
http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016-07-11/beyond-the-war-on-invasive-species-review/

This article takes a deeper dive into the psychological dynamics of guilt, fear and disgust with invasive species and new introductions.  There is a short ideological bridge from invasive species to xenophobia and racism.
http://tobyhemenway.com/201-another-kind-of-genocide/

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Forest Garden tour this weekend!

This Saturday, April 29 we will be hosting a forest garden walk and talk.

We’ve been foraging in the forest garden just about every day this week!  This is a great time of year for perennial vegetables because they start yielding so early.  We’ll make a gluten free fritatta as a snack for the garden tour this Saturday with ingredients sourced from the garden.  One of my favorite spring greens is stinging nettles.  They’re a little challenging to harvest, but once you cook them up, they are positively gourmet!

Here’s a quick reminder about some upcoming events:

Spring Permaculture Garden tour – this Saturday April 29, 10-1.  Free to all.  You’re invited to a garden tour of our homestead where we’ll talk about the goals for our site, the design, some of the challenges and successes we’ve seen over the years.  Feel free to bring a gluten free snack to share, but not required.  Kids are welcome, dogs are not.  We’ve been dividing and potting up some of our plants and we’ll have a selection of perennial vegetables and ecosystem plants for sale.  It’s still on the early side for a garden tour, so we may repeat this event in a few weeks.  Send us an email if you’d like to come so we know how many to expect.

Intro to Permaculture on Hurricane Island.  May 13-14.  Don’t forget about the Intro to Permaculture course coming up on Hurricane Island in May!  It will be a great way to get an in-depth introduction to the permaculture design method in an off-grid setting for the weekend on a beautiful island in Penobscot Bay.  Check out this flyer for that as well, and you can register for that class here: http://www.hurricaneisland.net/permaculture/

Looking forward to it!

Excelsior!

Hurricane flyer-2017