Permaculture Workshop

After finishing installing the straw bales last Friday, it seemed like perfect timing to take a few days away from the build site this week for the permaculture workshop. It not only gave us a chance to finally get all of the straw out of our hair, but it was also a good point to pause, and spend some time reflecting on the building process.

‘Process’ is a big part of what we discussed over the four days that we spent with Joel Glanzberg and Brad Lancaster. Permaculture is an approach to designing human systems that are modeled on systems found in nature. All too often, when solving problems, people focus on the individual elements of a system. Both Brad and Joel focus their teaching on helping people to shift their thinking to see the bigger picture.

The class was made up of the Community Rebuilds interns and apprentices, students from Utah and Utah State Universities, and several members of the community. Each day began with a classroom session held at the Utah State University campus here in Moab. Between the two of them, Brad and Joel took us through the basics of permaculture, gave us some specific examples of whole-system design, and guided us through exercises to deepen our understanding of the principles. In the afternoons we went on guided hikes to tune our observation skills, and to reinforce what we had learned in the classroom by seeing some living systems in action.

Joel talks to us about where Moab's water comes from.

Joel talks to us about where Moab’s water comes from.

The hike on the afternoon of day one was particularly memorable. Mary O’Brien, a conservationist from the Grand Canyon Trust showed us a stretch of a local waterway where beavers have been making a comeback. It was incredible to see the dramatic positive effect that this keystone species has had on the fragile desert ecosystem, and a real reminder of how interconnected all the elements of a living system are.

In the evenings Brad and Joel gave lectures at Wake and Bake, a café here in Moab, that were open to the public. This seemed fitting, as one of the principles of permaculture is “Share the Surplus.” Instead of using their surplus time in the evening to enjoy a leisurely meal or get an early night, our instructors spent the evening sharing their knowledge and experience with others in the community.

The climax of the workshop was on Saturday, when all the course participants gathered at Eric and Nancy’s to build a rain garden designed by Brad. Eric and Nancy’s house was built by Community Rebuilds in the Spring 2012 semester, so it was perfect to end to the week by applying what we had learned during the workshop to their property. By planting a garden that utilizes rainwater harvested from the roof, the house is no longer just a building surrounded by a garden, but a building that is more fully integrated into that living system. The house will provide the water for the plants, which will grow to provide shade, food and enjoyment for the inhabitants.

All the course participants hard at work.

All the course participants hard at work.

Matching needs and yields in this way is a central focus of permaculture. It is also exactly what Community Rebuilds does. By combining the local need for affordable housing with the growing interest in learning about sustainable building, CR brings together people that need their homes built, with people who want to build them. Whether you want to regenerate a riparian area with the help of beavers, harvest rainwater to create an oasis in the desert, or build a straw bale house, permaculture design is a great skill to have. We are all feeling very lucky to have been able to take the workshop, and are on the lookout for opportunities to apply more of what we have learned as our internship continues.

A big thank you from all the interns to Brad and Joel for their time this week, and to Emily for organizing the event.

2 Responses to “Permaculture Workshop”
  1. Rebecca says:

    Reblogged this on Positively Permaculture and commented:

    A great week learning about permaculture as part of the Community Rebuilds sustainable building internship.

  2. Garrett says:

    Thanks for sharing, Rebecca 🙂 What a beautiful way to live…

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