Living By Design – Not Default

“We can either live life through design or through default” Say Dr Charlie Brennan and Bridget O’Brien of Garden Juju Collective.  In our interview, Charlie discusses ethics in Permaculture and his involvement in group projects to help us design a better future’.

Design or Default – The Choice to be Active or Passive

Charlie came from Dartmoor, UK to Australia as a young man. His family also lived in Singapore during his teens. “One of the things I studied in my doctorate was eco-psychology. I feel like a sense of place became a big thing”. Because of the moves in his youth “which were both very exciting but also kind of dislocating”. In his research Charlie uncovered eugenic narratives by Joseph Campbell. “we need to understand the stories we’re living or the stories will live us”

One the things that came out of Charlie’s study was that the importance of a critical approach. That doesn’t mean criticizing it means looking at the arrangements we enter ourselves into. And learning from practice.

Permaculture Design is a Practice Not a Doctrine

“it’s very much about practice. It’s not about some doctrine. Permaculture isn’t a doctrine. It’s a set of practices which are exciting and fantastic. And they need to be evolving all the time… Anything can be treated as a doctrine. Permaculture can be, so can football training…but that’s not necessarily useful. It’s useful to keep things as an active set of practices.

Photo by ALEXANDRE DINAUT on Unsplash

Ethical Framework of Permaculture

“Permaculture is fantastic. It also is problematic sometimes. But it’s probably the only framework to address everything that’s going on. So it’s incredibly valuable. And it’s fantastic especially for holistic systemic thinking. It’s fantastic for engaging with the organic world and as a practical guide to getting things done. It’s for people who want to do something different, sustainable, regenerative and healing.”

“Ethics drives permaculture and what we’re all trying to do. Because we’re always evaluating the you know how effective or good or better this action is over that action.

Permaculture has Ethics but isn’t an Ethical System

The three ethics of permaculture (Care of Planet, Care of People and Fair Share) are more an ethic rather than a set of ethics, But they’re not ethical systems. Ethical systems offer a way of evaluating complex dilemmas that are incredibly hard to work out. For instance, we might ask: ‘do these trees stay in or do these trees come out? Do we involve these people or not? What do we do with the produce? Where do we share it? Where do we put boundaries around our knowledge versus sharing?’ All these things incredibly complicated.

Ethical Systems

Ethical systems include utilitarianism, care ethics or deontology. Charlie thinks these traditional forms of ethical approach are still really important. “We ask is it your sacred duty to live your life as close to your values as you can?

It’s challenging. But it’s also very exciting. We can suggest systems that people get a chance to explore for themselves. We ask people to look at Carol Gilligan’s care ethics. This is about 30 years old. It is sometimes seen as a feminist approach to ethics. It is unlike a bunch of old white men being quite abstract (which has its place)”. Ethics by Carol Gilligan questions the qualities of the relationship around you. And of course, there are many valuable “ethical systems from indigenous values and practices”.

Design Wisdom of Our Elders

Sometimes permaculture would challenge traditional methods. But Charlie has talked with a lot of older farmers. “They all have a set of ethics. They all have ethical aims to be the best farmer you can. Or to produce the best produce or the best soil… It involves ethical decisions on an ongoing basis. So you’re evaluating whether you use one weed method of removal or another. Or whether you even leave the weeds or not. Whether you employ certain labour. Or whether people can walk through your land. If it’s private or not. There is a constant set of ethical evaluations

adapt card game

ADAPT Card Game for Design

Charlie and Bridget O’Brien are keen for permaculture to be applied to everything. In fact, that’s how Bridget came up with the adapt game. It is now available and for sale. It is permaculture design boiled down to a design process. Adapt helps adapt without being narcissistic and selfish. “We’re doing things as a collective. And we’re doing things in service. We’re asking the question ‘what are we in service of? we’re in the service of the planet or really important causes”. To be ethical, creative and positive.

We can either live life through design
or through default.

Charlie Brennan

Life presents us with values. And we adopt these. Often we’re “scared to change from them. We live by not designing anything. Some are scared to design things. Also, what a lot of people do is design by impulse. They say !#$% it: ‘I’m doing my own thing now. And they make choices which are impulsive.

Our Adapt game is a holistic systemic approach to the design. It supports and encourages you to explore other options. It asks you to answer some difficult questions. Because a card will come up and say ‘what are the ethics of this? Or, how are you going to put this into action?

We don’t always like to go to the difficult places in designing approaches. Yet the difficult places are also often the fertile places. And so, by the end of a round of Adapt, you’ll come up with a much more involved plan. You will be putting your dream or desire or need into action.”

Live by design. Learn more with us.

Integrated Technology 7000 yrs+

a Chinese kang uses small twigs to cook food and heat the bed

Rocket Stove Powering On

Get Hot Chow With Low Costs

Rocket stoves are super efficient. All you need is a bundle of sticks or dried cobs to cook dinner for the whole family.  Best of all, this fuel is easy to find. There’s no need to chop down trees or burn fossil fuel.

Last month we went on a great adventure shaoying from shaoyingtours.comstaying in an ancient village in the Shandong province of north-eastern China. We went with fellow Australian, Shoaying. She grew up in rural China and has expertise in Permaculture and Environment Management.

Shoaying is patient, knowledgeable, well-organised and fun. We were keen to see early stove technology known as the Kang.  April and Shaoying on Mulberry Island - shaoyingtours.comOur Permaculture courses demonstrate the use of integrated technologies such as a hybrid Rocket stove.

According to research at Tongji University, “The Chinese Kang is an ancient integrated home system for cooking, sleeping, domestic heating and ventilation. It is still widely used today in nearly 85% of rural homes in northern China. In 2004, there were 67 million Kangs used by 175 million people.”

Archeologists have found Kangs from 7,000 years ago. The Kang is still cooking, heating, drying herbs and garments and ventilating millions of homes everyday.  Ingeniously, the flue of the stove fans out underneath the big family bed in the next room before rising up a chimney in the next wall.  The warmth must be a joy when it is snowing outside and fuel is low.

Unfortunately, the Chinese Kang is in slow decline due to intense urbanisation. Given that each household uses approximately 4kg of poor quality fuel, a small city of a million people would need to bring in 4,000 tonnes of fuel each day and dispose or reuse the ash. This would incur a transportation and network cost. Not to mention the need to redesign existing urban buildings to incorporate chimneys.

However, more efficient rocket-stoves are growing in popularity in other rural and sub-urban areas of the world.

Ancient Rocket Stove Technology hasn't changed much - shaoyingtours.com

What Is A Rocket Stove?

Essentially, a Rocket Stove has well-engineered air flow, there is a J bend to the chimney and  good insulation to increase combustion temperatures. The hottest spot in a rocket stove is not at the flame, it is a little further up where the gases get fully party. As a result, the gases burn off furiously, whipping around in circles before they go up the chimney. A modern rocket stove sounds like a primitive turbo. To get this effect, it has a very good air intake and an elbow in the chimney. The fuel sits on a grate letting the air rush up from underneath. The combustion chamber is underneath the cookplate. In many other wood stoves, a lot of the heat flies away up the chimney.  The rocket stove intensifies the burn then concentrates energy directly at the pan.

Today, science is building toward a standard for the term ‘Rocket’ stove.  Because there is a tiny-sized, yet big difference between a modern Rocket stove [or Rocket-mass heater] the ancient Kang.  The modern Rocket stove has an insulated post-combustion chamber (technical term for a space between the flametips and the cookplate). This chamber intensifies the burn and reduces potential pollutants.  In addition to this technical development, a moving cowl would increase the Venturi effect of the chimney.

Insulation Builds Intensification

Insulation in a firebox is vital for conserving energy. As a result, the outer area of the stove stays cool. Only the flue heats up. In well insulated stoves, the energy is concentrated on the cook-top.  In China, locally made mud-straw bricks surround their stoves.  Sand or ash in the mud-brick can ensure even higher insulation-rates.  The Kang utilises the residual chimney heat. The chimney gases travel from the cooktop through the wall and fan out along a set of tunnels under the bed in the next room, then up a chimney on the next wall. Unlike the insulated stove, the bed has plenty of thermal mass, and the mattress is thin. So, the bed is toasty warm up by the time the dishes are washed.

Stove Fuel Resourcefulness

dumplings on rocket stove - shaoyingtours.com

Fuel is easy to find for the stove. For instance, most people burn a bundle of prunings from local orchards or stalks from the corn and wheat fields. In addition to these, dried corncobs  (after the juicy kernels have been removed) combust very well.  Each house has a collection of little bundles of sticks at their door and sunning on the roof.   Corn husks (the papery outer layer) are a convenient, easy, biodegradable material. Perfect to wrap the dumplings.  Also, rinsing and drying the wrappers enables easy re-use. Finally, these used wrappers become great starter-fuel for the stove.

steamed buns from rocket stove - shaoyingtours.com

Northern Chinese Kang Stoves are very adaptable. You can cook fish or soup at the bottom of the giant wok and stick corn cakes to the sloping sides. Alternatively, you can use water in the base and insert a grid at half way up to steam foods like the dumplings. The video shows how to make glass noodles.  Rocket Stove cuisine of Northern China doesn’t bake or grill foods. In summary, closed cook-pans with quick cook times are more efficient.

At the end of the day, home-made Mooncakes taste wonderful when steam-baked on a kang stove, the traditional way.

By the way, we have a
Permaculture Design Weekend Course
– Nov17th and Nov18th
come and join us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set Your Goals Last

Build Values First

Stuart Hill urges us to be driven by our ethics and values, feelings and passions rather than particular goals or resolutions.  By revisiting our ethics and values at the end of the year we can keep the positive fire burning.

By listening to our feelings and passions we give ourselves the energy to create a better future. Though acknowledging our passion we formulate a vision, purpose. Once our passion is invested in our future, we can find energy to develop goals, and sustain the plans and activities.

  1. Self reliant eldersAwaken your ethics and values
  2. Acknowledge your feelings and passions
  3. Research your ideas, visions and design (doing this permaculture course is a critical tool in developing systems thinking and building your own design)
  4. Create action plans
  5. Finally start the regular activities that will help you realise your goals. At the end of each day, set goals that help achieve the actions you set in your plan.

Hill urges us to:  “Act from your core/essential self – empowered, aware, visionary, principled, passionate, loving, spontaneous, fully in the present (contextual) – vs. your patterned, fearful, compensatory, compromising, de-contextual selves”

Core Values for Social Permaculture Design

Every person is different. No two permaculture designers will have the same passions and goals. Here are two different applications of Hills suggestion to act from your core self:

  • Ana* knows her core self [empowered, aware, visionary, principled, passionate, loving, spontaneous, fully in the present] involves working with rare fruits and edible flowers. She builds skills in growing food plants. She also develops her catering projects, observing what drives people to try new foods. She searches for the best way to harvest and cook these unusual foods. Ana strives to find way to integrate rare foods into household gardens and onto the plate.   Finally, she aims to build community awareness.  Whenever Ana has a set-back (like the time vandals broke into the nursery to destroy plants) she listens to her core passion. This gives her energy to mend flaws in her action plan.
  • Zane* knows his core self [empowered, aware, visionary, principled, passionate, loving, spontaneous, fully in the present] loves working with people. He listens and helps them relieve their hunger by helping them to grow food, build water catchment and storage and make efficient stoves. There are more than a few daunting barriers in achieving the long-term goals of this project. The barriers include social perceptions, land access and resources (like seeds and access to water).  Over the years, Chris has some devastating set-backs.  Sadly, the setbacks include natural disasters. He knows these disasters will strike because the projects are on marginal land. Revisiting his core passion gives him some solace. Through re-visiting his core he recharges his passion. With renewed passion he strengthens his action plans.

[*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.]

Discover your core principles and enjoy the discovery.

Happy new year from us at Permaculture Visions.

Big Permaculture Design

One of our latest projects has been to produce a large-scale design for a yoga retreat.

Our Design Process

  1. Conduct diagnosis of existing site features (including risks).
  2. Prepare guiding policy. The permaculture design offers a detailed plan to build wealth and empowerment to the residents and visitors.
  3. Set an action plan based on the fundamental ethics and ideals. These actions are driven by passion and feelings of the residents and result in self-reliance, abundance and greater harmony within the local community.yoga retreat permaculture design for GOVINDA in Otford

Diagnosis

watershed for permaulture design

Firstly, we examined the current land use and drew up a sector analysis. One of the aspects of the sector analysis was the narrow solar window. The yoga retreat sits in a narrow valley. This means the morning sun is late and the afternoon sun falls away early in the afternoon.

We looked at all the natural energies on the site. The analysis included the surface watershed to and from the property. We identified which risks were threatening property.  The risk diagnosis alone will save the client in substantial costs far greater than the cost of the design. There were expensive threats to key structures. One of the threats to the foundations of a building was by local deer.  Another structure was suffering erosion by surface water from a poorly directed drain.view of solar window to yoga retreat - permaculture design tool

Permaculture Zoning

deerAlthough the current practices on the site by staff and residents were fairly sensible, there were plenty of opportunities to increase efficiency.

Zoning enables the design to put groups of elements into an area based on their needs and products.  Put elements that require high levels of observation and attention close to the staff and resources.  When an element requires less attention, it is positioned further away.

Delicate sprouts and seedlings require daily observation and attention to keep them watered and pest-free.  Simply position needy elements near to the care-givers. Zone 0 contains the elements that demand the highest level of attention.

In contrast to the sprouts and seedlings, vegetable greens are harvested as they become ready.  These elements are slightly less needy. They belong in Zone 1.

A tree that bears fruit only once a year goes further away in Zone 2 or 3.  Crops that need lots of space include pumpkin vines, corn or choko. So these go in Zone 3.  Crops that are harvested only as required (e.g. tinder for winter fires) are positioned far away. But they sit along a track to make the harvest, storage and transportation easy.  Deer and other large animals are directed to outer zones only.

permaculture design large property zoning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun Trap Gardens

The sun-trap garden faces the morning sun. Plant deciduous trees on the north-east boundary. The winter sun will penetrate through the bare branches.  Whereas, evergreen trees sit on the southern and western boundaries to shelter the sun-trap from hot afternoon suns rays.

sun trap permaculture design

Water Management

Slow the water to consolidate your resources.  One can never argue with water.  Water knows gravity and follows. Slowing the water increases the chances for plants to absorb it.  Water falls gently to the plants below.

redress water flow permaculture design

Easy Tea Gardens

before and after improvements tea garden permaculture design

There were areas where expensive and thirsty lawns had died off to expose the dusty soil below. The design adds wicking beds of tea herbs. These structures are multi-functional. They include relaxing garden seats.

Making A Sacred Space

April under boulder at Wave rock WA

A Sacred space is positioned beside the riverbank. The focal point could be a very large rock or platform. Large rocks are abstract but majestic. Abstract creations are not easily damaged by passing travelers. Sculptures, one the other hand, are at higher risk.

An alternative focal point is a defined space. A space can hold reverence. Often a sunken area formed by mounds, a glade of trees or walled garden feels inviting and embracing.

Social Strategies

Residents will learn to eat what grows easily in their environment. This is easier than forcing the landscape to grow foods that we are in the habit of demanding. The notion of re-educating our palette helps us to adapt to climate uncertainty.

Connections with the broader local community are enriched by the allocation of space for a community garden. This design element is a win-win. The community garden would help maintain the neglected corner of the property whilst benefiting from ideas and better connections to the local community.

Key Activities in Staging Plan

  1.  Redress the risks
  2.  Build diversity and intensity within the existing gardens before building any new garden areas
  3. Use natural attrition plan to replace evergreen trees on northern side of structures with deciduous trees
  4. Start at Zone 0 and work outwards. For example: grow sprouts, seedlings and tea herbs. These provide a good yield for minimum cost and effort. Then add companion plants to the orchard.

Start small and build on the successes.

Build your own permaculture design skills. Study with us at Permaculture Visions.

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