I have been dabbling in growing food for many years. Our yard, which is about 1/3 of an acre, has been gradually converted into a motley collection of fruit and vegetables. There’s the ramps, fiddleheads, and mushrooms back in the “woods”; the bees under the flowering cherry; the strawberries, currants, apples, sour cherries, raspberries, blackberries, and grapes. From May to October, we can go out on most days and munch on some fruit or green. It’s fun and rewarding, but I know that our production is just a fraction of what it could be. Reading lots of books and experimenting have not turned me into a master gardener – I felt I needed to go back to class.
The fact is, farming, or more broadly growing food, is not so simple. To do it well, it just seems to me there are an overwhelming number of factors you have to keep track of – soil structure, Ph, different nutrients for different plants, plant companionship, handling an array of pests and diseases, prune, tie up, cut down. Have you ever spoken with the farmers at your farmer’s market? Have you noticed they are all really pretty smart? That’s because farming is quite complex and to do it well takes a lot of intelligence and knowledge. The more different plants you have, the more complex it gets. Some people seem to have a natural knack for this, and some people have grown up around a farm acquiring skills; I have neither. But, people like me can go to farm school.
For permaculture, that starts with a Permaculture Design Course, 100 hours of instruction, which gives you the basic principles, some design experience and a certification. I went to Village Roots in New Hampshire in Spring-Summer 2017. It was wonderful! The weekends there were a restorative tonic for me – I felt connected to the teachers and my fellow class-mates and our shared visions – and soaked up the information like a sponge (although a lot of it seeped back out again… so it goes!). We learned about ecology, soil structure, water management, niche analysis, pruning, herbalism, biochar; and design skills like basic site mapping and program development. In the end, we presented a preliminary design for a site of our choice. Below are three of my drawings.