My Day as a Designer

by Michelle McDonald | Jan 18th, 2016 | Leave a comment

A Discovery| I noticed the flier while perfecting my Joe at a coffee shop. Attend an introductory permaculture design course! With The Resilience HUB from Portland ME. This is it, I thought, this is my chance! Maybe I’ll design something… like a rain garden!  So, for two November Saturdays in Eliot, ME at a Bed & Breakfast and private residence, I eagerly waited to draw a beautiful design

The class met in a cozy, rustic house, equipped with a wood stove. Here, our class absorbed permaculture history, like how in the 1970’s, Permanent-Agriculture “Permaculture” concepts developed. And how, amazingly enough, the permaculture methodology was being created simultaneously yet separately  by Australians Bill Mollison & David Holmgren and Japanese Masanubo Fukuoka. Permaculture embraces ecology and is grounded by its ethics – Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.

Permaculture involves using existing assets shared among people, plants, animals and non-living things. It inspires you to recognize patterns found in nature, and encourages you to mimic the beneficial ones. Permaculture aims to harvest a yield from the efficient, mutually beneficial interactions. All of this should occur while using resources most efficiently and increasing the benefit for the entire system.

The Class| 

Regardless of the subject, our class celebrated one theme continuously: diversity. The B&B owners (clients of the HUB and pupils of the class) demonstrated their diversity love-affair with their enchanting 5 acre property. They guided us through the site, introducing us to their goats and chickens, cats and dogs. We meandered below white pines, along hillside gardens and among a congregation of oaks. We handled herbs and rejoiced in the soothing smell of lavender.

The owners not only envision their home being a B&B. They dream of a community gathering space filled with eager families learning how to forage in an edible forest. They imagine the renovated barn, busy with neighbors enjoying homemade pizza at community movie night.

The owners recognized the need to design the property to best use its bounty and beauty, while saving them energy and time in caring for it. Here is where we came in.

Our class assessed which spaces had present and anticipated human activity for the growth of the B&B. We reenacted daily walks from the main house to the chicken coop then to compost pile. And, the occasional strolls into the patch of woods. We learned where the last snow melted and where the sun travels both during summer and winter. We observed and pondered these spots. We considered how patterns— the sun, microclimates and wind among many others—do and could affect these spots.

Zone mapping from a Resilience HUB project, courtesy of HUB

On personal maps we transcribed all activity into zones. Zone 0 being self/house, Zone 1 visited every day and so on until wild, barely visited Zone 5 which may not appear on every property. Permaculture designers pay particular attention to zones to carefully consider where travel occurs on a site   – and why. “Permaculture focuses less on the objects themselves than on the careful design and the relationships among them —interconnections—that will create a healthy, sustainable whole” (Gaia’s Garden, T. Hemmingway). My experience in November, ended with our class of novice permaculturalisits (very good ones, I might add) giving design suggestions to the B&B owners. No matter the novelty, our suggestions were valid, useful and creative.

Among many the lessons I took from the course, one has stuck with me; if we start with what we have and integrate, rather than segregate our resources, we build capacity. We can build capacity with the relationships between all moving parts– of an ecosystem or a community or anything, really.

We can extend this lesson far beyond the garden gate. Perhaps this is why the meaning of permaculture has been transforming from “permanent-agriculture” to “permanent-culture.” Maybe we can all be permaculture designers, if we look at our yards, homes, communities and even ourselves, holistically.

A Lesson| By the end, I understood that I wasn’t going to design a pretty picture. Permaculture is not about drawing or planning a specific thing. Permaculture is a toolbox, a lens through which you can look at a combination of relationships and discover ways to make everything self-sustaining… and better.

Isn’t this what we want for community development and planning? We don’t plan for one building, even if it is a marvel, to remedy economic challenges or mitigate storm water run-off. Likewise we don’t expect one thing, whether a building or garden, to improve the well-being of people. We are continually affected by a combination of factors and relationships among people, place, plants and more. All from which comes the opportunity to learn, adapt and appreciate.

PS. I think you should check out during your coffee break.

Interested in the B&B? Search for them on AirBnb.