EARTH REPAIR CORPS
Our PDC Grad Interview Series is back!

Our hope is to convey what a life-changing opportunity the Permaculture Design Course can be, while learning more about what first attracted these former students to sustainable design and how they have applied those principles since taking a PDC. 

Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and check out our upcoming Fall 2019 PDC.

We’re continuing this series with small-business owner Michael Wolfert of Symbiosis Regenerative Systems – read more below.

1)  How did you become interested in sustainable design?  Please describe to us any moments in your life that piqued your interest in sustainable, regenerative, and holistic systems.  

I had a deep feeling of despair in my late teenage years and early twenties. At the time I was mostly seeking ways to reduce my footprint and be an activist for policy change and reform. One day a friend of mine, Joshua Adair, called me up and said that there was a potential scholarship for a permaculture design course. I said, “what the heck is permaculture.” He said “It’s like gardening, natural building, community building and learning to live more sustainably!” and proceeded to give the details of the event. I said I would have to think about it. We hung up. I thought about it for literally 1 minute, called him back and let him know I was really excited to learn about this and incredibly grateful that there was a scholarship because I would not have been able to afford it at the time. I started to do some research and prepare for the PDC, though I still had no idea the rabbit hole I was about to enter. 

2) What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a permaculture design course?

I didn’t have many expectations, having just stumbled upon the concept with very little time to consider the implications and the impact they could have on my outlook and life. 

All Images © Symbiosis Regenerative Systems 2019

3) Who taught your permaculture design course and when?  What did you appreciate about that course, and what would you have liked to have learned more about?   

Kirby Fry, Gary Freeborg, Jenny Nazak and Ted Norris.

This course was a real turning point for me. Kirby led the majority of class time and he did a great job introducing me to the idea that we might actually strive to have a positive footprint instead of just trying to eliminate our negative footprint, and that in this practice we could aim to set up positive feedback loops, modeling our designs after ecosystems. 

From that point forward, I knew what my driving focus would be. I would try my best to become a mutually beneficial symbiote with my ecosystem. An agent for making connections between the correlating outputs and needed inputs of the systems around me. Nudging ecological succession forward. Taking more responsibility for my family’s needs, consumption, and outputs. Striving to leave a legacy of regeneration in my wake. It’s a lifelong pursuit that I hope future generations will be able to carry forward. 

“This site is a 7,000 square foot lot in an urban environment. In this picture you can see one of the main swales we installed – using earthworks and rain water catchment we’ve managed to catch about 95% of the water falling onto the site as well as from the 3 neighboring lots up hill.”

4) What other courses, if any, have you participated in that have helped you to learn more about and implement sustainable design systems?

Working at Morning Glory Farm with Gracie Brousard and Richard Lindley was my first real-world continuing education. These folks were real eco-pioneers and all-around fantastic mentors. I was very lucky to find them and to be allowed to study farming with them. I worked there for nearly 2 years as a farmhand. During this time I lived primarily in a school bus with no running water or power. The meals Gracey would make from the produce they grew and goods they traded other farmers for really opened my eyes to what eating fresh and seasonal produce would be like. they were both extremely patient and kind. I learned a ton about gardening, farming, community building, and being a mentee.

Cypress Valley Farms was my second continuing education course where I worked as a co-farm manager in an attempt to start a profitable regenerative farm. I learned so much from this experience and the property owners that it’s hard to summarize. Some of the main takeaways were to focus equally on the business and marketing of your farm as you do on the growing of produce. Make clear agreements with all decision-makers – 1 hour of energy input here on the front end could easily save 10 + hours of confusion on the back end. Establish a healthy work-life balance and don’t let being a business owner consume and burn you out. 

Hill Country Natives was my third continued education course. Here, I worked with Mitch Mitchamore to cultivate an intensive food forest in Leander, Texas starting with 6 inches of topsoil sitting on hundreds of feet of rock shelf. Mitch runs a fantastic nursery for natives and fruiting adapted plants but often says the main yield of his business is education, conversation, and connection. He takes as much time as needed to work with each client personally. He gave me a lot of freedom and trust to come up with experiments and implement them on the grounds at Hill Country Natives. Some days, we would be working at the potting trailer for many hours having wide-ranging discussions and being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I learned a lot about leadership and problem solving from Mitch and a lot about food forests and native plants from the work we did together.

I worked for Paige Hill-Oliverio of Urban Patchwork as I was just getting my business started, doing landscaping installation and maintenance gigs in Austin. I learned about being a contractor, spreadsheets, and integrating art into a functional design. Paige does great work and I still enjoy collaborating with her on projects to this day. 

Teaching a food forest workshop with Caroline Riley-Carberry, Food Forests For All, three years in a row was a powerful learning experience. We taught people the basics of food forest design and the underlying principles, lead them through a design process, and implemented the design over the course of three days. Some of the results are on display at the Whole Life Learning Center, where a field has been transformed into a thriving food forest that is managed by Caroline with help from the whole life-learners. Seeing the iterations and receiving critical feedback from the systems this course worked to design and install furthered my understanding of food forestry and permaculture in general. Caroline taught me a lot about facilitation and design. I believe some of the initial collaborators that started the permablitzes and eventually Earth Repair Corps first began putting heads together at FFFA 1.  I love seeing a ripple effect of positive actions after good people get together and get inspired by a common goal. 

I traveled to Michigan to learn from Mark Shepard with Pete VanDyck. I learned from Mark that the economics of large scale permaculture farming are tricky and that you have to be creative and strategic to make your way in this space. I learned that small farmers can leverage their power as co-ops to compete against big ag and revitalize agricultural communities. I learned about designing systems that can be managed by machines at scale in order to compete against big ag without compromising the regenerative metrics of success we strive to meet. I also hosted Mark to teach a workshop at our homestead when we had just started renovating the place and learned not to host workshops until your infrastructure is in good shape. The workshop was a success and I learned more from Mark about his philosophy, and made wonderful connections with local like-minded folks. 

I was a participant in TexRex with Darren Doherty, where we learned the Regrarians method of property design. This was Darren’s adaptation of the Keyline Scale of Permanence, based on years of experience designing large scale regenerative properties. This method has been a huge help in systematizing my design process and presenting information to my clients in a clear, digestible package. I learned a lot about rotational grazing, mapping, keyline design and much much more. This is one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended in that I took home more practical advice and methodology than any other, had a lot of fun between classes, and the food was delicious! I gained a ton of inspiration from Darren, Lisa, and the other participants.

I’ve learned from the Permablitzes, and seeing the updates from those systems installed has helped me to have more iterative feedback to improve the designs that I create.

I’ve been running my own permaculture/regenerative design and installation business for nearly 6 years now. We have worked on over 100 individual projects, and being able to monitor these systems gives me even more data to draw on for improving the design, installation, and maintenance methods we use for all things regenerative. 

I’ve been living on my own homestead for nearly 4 years and am constantly learning from observing ecosystem succession in outer zones as well as the inner zone experiments and systems we’re running out here. One standard question I have to ask myself when installing a new system is: will I be able to maintain this with my 3 kids in tow or even better get them to help me with it? How can I make this accessible and fun for our family flow? That’s a pretty fun design lense to look through.

5) Have you been able to apply what you learned from a permaculture design course to your life, and business endeavors?  If so, please elaborate.

Yes! As you can probably tell from my list above, I dove in headfirst and never looked back. 

I’ve been doing permaculture professionally for nearly 6 years. We have 8 full-time employees including myself and a great network of independent contractors we can call on for collaboration. We’ve continued to gain momentum and improve our methods each year. Although it is a marathon of hard work, I love it. The projects we work on, the team we work with and the clients who have chosen to lead the charge in this effort keep me constantly inspired, learning, and growing. 

For the last 4 years, I’ve been living on a 25-acre homestead with my family. Even though I grew up in cities and suburbs, as I got older I never really felt like I could relax when I lived in the city. The frenetic energy, constant background noise, light pollution, air pollution, the heat island effect, it all just got under my skin and made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to raise my kids in a place where we were so reliant on seemingly fragile systems. I wanted them to grow up with the freedom to roam in the woods, get muddy, grow food and see the magic of nature unfold over many years. I don’t know if they’ll thank me for it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way and the turning point was my PDC. Each year we are more self-sufficient as we find our place within this context and ecosystem. 

6) Have you had the opportunity to teach, mentor, and/or pass on information about sustainable design to friends, family, or employees?

Yes, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients, taught at least 100 students in workshops, have taught some co-workers, and worn out my mom with my ecovangelism. I’ve also learned a lot from these interactions and continue to meet really cool folks from all walks of life who all agree that sustainable design is a good idea.


Interested in obtaining your certification? Learn more about our upcoming Permaculture Design Course here.

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Earth Repair Corps Teaches 2nd PDC at Texastopia Farm in Blanco, Texas
January through June, 2019
Written by: Kirby Fry
All Images © Woody Welch 2019

This past winter and spring of 2019 Earth Repair Corps had the privilege and honor to teach its second permaculture design course at Texastopia near the headwaters of the Blanco River.  The design course consists of 72 hours of classroom instruction, group activities after lunch, individual and group design projects which are presented to the class, and a talent show on the last evening of class.

View overlooking the main house and classroom facility of Texastopia Farm.

Class Overview

The classroom provided to Earth Repair Corps by Texastopia offers a great learning environment for both teachers and students.  There’s comfortable seating and tables, a 4’ tall by 16’ wide dry erase board, a “close throw” projector with a pull down movie screen, surround sound, dimmable lights, and a fabulous air conditioning system.  ERC couldn’t ask for more.

The course curricula covers the first 9 chapters of Bill Mollison’s book, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, and then goes over specific design systems for the home moving outward from there to the areas closest to the house and then out into the broader landscape.  

One distinction of this spring PDC is that we have been making an effort to emphasize the difference between design methodologies and design systems, and so along with methods of permaculture design, Earth Repair Corps has also been teaching Yeomans’ Scale of Permanence 1 and Savory’s Holistic Decision Making Process 2 .

This spring, thanks to the speaking and recruitment efforts of Pete VanDyck, we had 3 members of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) attend the PDC.  Carol Patterson, Mark Hamilton, and Thomas Marsalia all attended representing EAA’s board, upper management, and field technicians. EAA has tens of thousands of acres on the Edwards Plateau in conservation easements that it oversees and is looking to implement soil and water conservation methods that were discussed during class on a model site.  Their design project was phenomenal.

Along with many other great students were two of ERC’s partners, Randie Piscitello with Goodwater Montessori Public Charter School, and Jennifer Goode with Texastopia and ERC attended the course and earned their PDC certification.

Class Curriculum & Activities 

Our guest teachers included Shelley Belinko who taught about design principles and methods of design, Heather King who taught about annual vegetable gardening, Travis Krause who taught about running a family farm and animal systems, and Peggy Sechrist who taught about Holistic Management and intensive cell grazing.

One of the activities that the class participated in was using the radial laser level to layout two conservation terraces and a level sill spillway above Texastopia’s road leading to the Blanco River.  Then, by the time the class resumed the following month, Pete VanDyck and Texastopia had installed the terraces, planted them with native trees, and mulched them with straw. It was a great design process for the class to be a part of.

About a quarter of the way through the course, day 3 or so, the students begin their design projects.  This spring PDC we allowed a wide range of projects including group and individual projects, as well as onsite and offsite projects.  This gives students the opportunity to work on designs for their own properties, and or work together as a team on site if they do not have land of their own.  I was especially impressed with the design project that the EAA team presented for a piece of land that may soon become a lab and working model for soil and water conservation methods on the Edwards Plateau.  All students are encouraged to make use of Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence and Google Earth Pro for their presentations.

Students trace a sitemap of Texastopia before conducting an energy flow activity.
Students present their energy flow maps.

The evening before the last day of class we held a talent show.  Bill Mollison always had a talent show during his PDC’s and joked that if you don’t perform in the talent show you wouldn’t graduate.  What I usually experience is students being surprised and a little uncomfortable before the talent show, but really opening up and having a fantastic time during the talent show.  Not only did we have several musical performances, but people sharing with us what they are good at, and giving us “how to” demonstrations.

The spring 2019 PDC covered a wide range of topics and hopefully opened doors for its graduates to further pursue those topics.  One of the main objectives of the course is that the graduates become better designers and hopefully better teachers of sustainable design.  Those of us teaching the class get to make new friends, and support others in their efforts to create abundance through good design.

If you’re interested in learning more about our Permaculture Design Certification and obtaining one yourself, please read more here.

References:

  1. Using the Scale of Permanence as a Tool for Land Evaluation
  2. An Overview of Holistic Management and Holistic Decision Making
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Earth Repair Corps is publishing a series of interviews with Permaculture Design Course graduates who have used the education & resources they gained from the course to further their careers in the world of sustainability.

Our hope is to convey what a life-changing opportunity the Permaculture Design Course can be, while learning more about what first attracted these former students to sustainable design and how they have applied those principles since taking a PDC. Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and check out our upcoming Fall 2019 PDC.

We’re continuing this series with Jim O’Donnell of The City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division – read more below.


About Jim

My degree is in education from The University of Texas. I was a teacher in Dripping Springs for 28 years. During the summer, I worked monitoring endangered species for different contractors. The Vireo Preserve in the 1980’s was home to the largest breeding population of Black-capped Vireos in Travis County. I was able to get the 214 acres of the Preserve set aside in 1989. So, we manage Vireo as endangered species habitat that also includes the addition of rare and unusual plant species.

For the past 10 years, I have been working for the city’s Wildland Conservation Division which manages 13,000+ acres to protect habitat for endangered species. I continue to monitor endangered species, but now with the addition of lots of restoration work. Volunteers are the key to our work and success. I love working with people who come out to Vireo to learn how to manage their land in a more regenerative way!

1. How did you become interested in sustainable design?

I grew up in the Bull Creek watershed in northwest Austin.  As a teenager, I was able to hunt, fish, and camp in our Ashe juniper-oak woodlands.  Even though the landscape had been dramatically altered by a history of clearcutting and overgrazing, there was still incredible beauty in this recovering system. 

Observing our Hill Country landscape for over 50 years now, it is clear that some areas are so degraded that only a thoughtful and knowledgeable design can bring them back.  Most land managers use fire and herbicide with the mistaken belief that the land requires such techniques. 

Our approach on the City of Austin’s Vireo Preserve is to demonstrate that real regeneration begins with soil health, rehydrating hillsides, and adding diversity at all levels of the system. 

We have been successful enough that we are beginning to apply our designs and techniques on to other properties within the City of Austin’s Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.

2. What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a permaculture design class?

Over the years, I have witnessed numerous re-vegetation projects that usually end in failure.  I was intrigued with the permaculture design system that incorporated a holistic approach to interacting with the landscape to promote sustainability.

3. Who taught you your permaculture design course and when?

I finished my permaculture design course in 2014 at the Whole Life Learning Center.  The instructors were Kirby Fry, Caroline Riley, and Taelor Monroe.  I was very impressed with the instructors’ knowledge and commitment to earth repair and sustainability. 

4. What other courses, if any, have you participated in to help you learn more about and implement sustainable design systems?

I have taken Elaine Ingham’s classes on soil biology.

5. Have you been able to apply what you have learned to your life and business?

I have been heavily influenced by the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham on how to build healthy soils.  I am also collaborating with colleagues Dr. Brian Pickles and Monika Gorzelak, former graduate students of Dr. Suzanne Simard (University of British Columbia), to investigate the role of fungal networks in distributing resources among plants within forest ecosystems (“world wood web”).  I am also supporting research by Dr. Moriah Sandy (University of Texas at Austin) on potential medicinal and ecological properties of endophytes on Ashe junipers.  All of this research supports further knowledge on how to build regenerative ecosystems. 

All Images © Woody Welch 2019

6. Have you had the opportunity to teach, mentor, or pass on information about sustainable design?

I have had the opportunity to work closely with several area Master Naturalist chapters to teach about design.  The Capital Area Master Naturalists have been extremely helpful in recruiting volunteers for our project and giving us a platform to speak at presentations.  I’ve also been a guest speaker at St. Edwards University and recently at the University of Texas.  I am very excited to be a speaker at the Global Earth Repair Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington, in May.  And finally, I want to express my deep appreciation to the local permaculture groups for all the knowledge that they impart, their good work, and dedication to community.

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If you missed our February newsletter, you can view it here.

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This month, we take a break from our regular programming to focus on the incredible & innovative community of environmental stewards that we have here in Central Texas.

 

Read more about their stories, learn about their work, and even get involved in some of the upcoming events.

 

The more we collaborate, the more opportunities we have to create abundance.

 

– Earth Repair Corps
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Earth Repair Corps is publishing a series of interviews with Permaculture Design Course graduates who have used the education & resources they gained from the course to further their careers in the world of sustainability.

Our hope is to convey what a life-changing opportunity the Permaculture Design Course can be, while learning more about what first attracted these former students to sustainable design and how they have applied those principles since taking a PDC.

Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and Register Today for our next class in 2019.

We’re continuing this series with Mandy Krause of Parker Creek Ranch – read more below.

1) How did you become interested in sustainable design/sustainable farming and ranching? Please describe to us any moments in your life that piqued your interest in sustainable, regenerative, and holistic systems.  

I always wanted to work in the field of natural resource conservation. I love the outdoors, wildlife, and people. I first became interested in sustainable design in college when I was taking ecological restoration courses. Seeing the positive and measurable impact on the land and communities as a result of good design and conservation efforts was exciting and captured my attention.

I come from a long line of farmers but never thought it would be my life. I wanted to spend my life trekking through the wilderness as a wildlife biologist. In 2010 I was working as a conservation education coordinator when I received a phone call from my then boyfriend (now husband) Travis. He had spent a year working in India studying parasitic protozoans and wanted to return to his family land to build a pastured poultry business (thanks to Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits). That one phone call and one book changed our lives forever. I agreed to move to the ranch with him and we started this journey together in 2010.

As I slowly began learning concepts of permaculture and regenerative agriculture, I realized they were the bridge between my dream of a career in nature teaching people about wild things and wild places and my new life as a farmer. I realized they could be one in the same. And that our business could be a model to help our local communities connect with where and how their food is produced and how our decisions as producers and consumers effect the ecosystem. Still apprehensive about leaving my planned and safe path, I was so excited for this challenging new opportunity.

2) What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a permaculture design course?

Travis and I started our pastured poultry business in 2010 with an open canvas and nearly empty pocket book. The little money I had in savings was spent on building a Texas licensed poultry processing facility – that is what I call love! The challenge of working towards our vision kept us motivated to move forward. Those early years of chaos on the farm with my mother in law working by our side were some of my favorite memories and most transformative moments. I grew up as a farm girl in the Rio Grande Valley but didn’t understand the reality until I worked on this ranch. I learned so much about being a woman on the ranch from my mother in law. We lost her almost two years ago to cancer, but I am forever grateful for the lessons she taught me.

All Images © Woody Welch 2018

Our vision was and still is to:

  • Create a business where we generated the majority of our income from the land that has been in Travis’ family for generations. This is where we wanted to live and raise a family. Our focus would be quality of life, but we wanted to make a financially viable farm business as well.
  • Work to find creative and effective ways to improve the land – including the soil, water, and habitat – for the benefit of wildlife, livestock, and people.
  • Grow relationships and community. Teach and learn always. Help people love and feel connected to the land.

I had a lot to learn about permaculture and believed a PDC would help me work towards our vision. I was excited to be a student and learn as much as possible from experienced designers and educators.

3) Who taught your permaculture design course and when?  What did you appreciate about that course, and what would you have liked to have learned more about?   

Kirby Fry, Caroline Riley, and Taelor Monroe were our instructors and it began on June 2, 2014. (I will always remember the date because I found out we were expecting our first baby the day before it began. A PDC is a wonderful way to begin a pregnancy!)

Our instructors were extremely knowledgeable, and I love that they each brought unique skills and wisdom to the course. I was so grateful for their hard work preparing such an awesome experience for us. They made the program what it was.

What I appreciated most about the course was the time dedicated for learning – especially now. Two weeks set aside for personal and professional growth and development was such a treasure!

The only thing I wish I could have done differently was spend time creating a design for our operation, so I could have had their feedback during the course. Just not enough time for everything.

“Poultry shelters: The egg-mobiles are a knock-off of the Polyface Farms design with a South Texas twist. They are all steel construction with mostly salvaged materials. The major difference is 1.5” expanded steel floors and the nest boxes are on the outside of the shelter. These shelters are designed for mobility, air flow and low labor. We rotate the hens across about 60 acres throughout the year.”

4) What other courses, if any, have you participated in that have helped you to learn more about and implement sustainable design systems?

I continue my education in many ways but the only formal course I’ve participated in since the PDC is Holistic Management International’s Financial Planning Course. Participating in that course has totally transformed our business. A strong financial management strategy is key to long term success of sustainable design systems. Designing and implementing design systems are exciting and fun, but the maintenance is the tricky part. It all has to be financially viable or no one will be able to maintain it for the long term. We want to encourage our children to work and love the land if they choose to do so and we certainly won’t be able to do that if our business and farm is a financial burden.

“This daikon radish is one of the plants in our winter cover crop mix and helps to loosen soils and builds organic matter. It also serves as a food source for poultry, cattle, and people.”

5) Have you been able to apply what you learned from a permaculture design course to your life, and business endeavors?  If so, please elaborate. 

Yes, I have applied what I learned from the course in many ways. The most valuable was the understanding of systems, stacking functions, and zones. I have created so many designs, but the hard part is compromising on design with my husband! Nothing we do out here happens quickly and we will work the rest of our lives working to improve our system. The opportunity for creative design is so fun! Most of our down time includes discussion about these topics.

“By this spring the 100 acre field that was plowed and planted in annuals for 150 years will be all be planted in a native grass and forb mix. The field on the right is the only 25 acres remaining that is planted in annuals for winter grazing and will be planted in natives in February 2019. We pay for all our restoration projects out of pocket so they happen slowly – careful to not acquire any debt. The field on the left was planted in natives in 2018 (note: plants are dormant). Our goal for planting the native mix is to improve wildlife habitat, create diversity, and improve grazing.”

6) Have you had the opportunity to teach, mentor, and or pass on information about sustainable design to friends, family, or employees?

Most definitely! While my niche is research and Travis’ is production (the only way our husband/wife team can stay civil and thrive is to divide and conquer), we both come together as a team on education efforts.  

We offer farm tours, youth and adult education programs, speak at conferences, use the farmers market as an opportunity for education, and use social media to increase awareness about what we do. We demonstrate what has worked and what hasn’t worked for us. Some of the most notable programs we’ve participated in were the “Armed to Farm” training through NCAT, Extension’s “Generative Next” online course, TOFGA, and the Women’s Land Studentship Conference.

We have worked with 6 WWOOFERS and several interns who have moved forward to create their own operations. We hired a new manager this spring who has been an incredible blessing to our operation. He will soon start raising his own herd of goats and sheep on this land.

“Cattle genetics: The cattle are derived from Longhorn cows and Red Devon or South Poll Bulls. The select for 100% Iberico Longhorns, meaning they are direct descendants from the the Spanish Longhorns brought here 400 years ago. Red Devon and South Poll cattle are well-known for their grass-fed genetics. We specifically select for bulls derived from grass-fed breeders. The combination of the two breeds makes for a hardy, thrifty animal that is able to finish on grass in our harsh South Texas environment.”

I had the opportunity to partner with my good friend and colleague Dr. Megan Clayton with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She is the Extension Range Specialist and I value her knowledge and expertise greatly.

We partnered on a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program (PDP) grant called “Farming for the Future”.

Between 2014 and 2017 we designed and conducted 4 sustainable agriculture professional development trainings for producers, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents and Family Consumer Science Specialists, and Natural Resource Conservation Service Personnel. Our first training in 2014 consisted of a 4-day farm tour including a raw milk dairy, pasture raised poultry operation, grass fed beef operation, pastured pork and lamb operation, and bee operation.

We offered a “Farm & Ranch to Table Field Day” in spring 2016 where we highlighted food labeling and terminology, cooking and nutrition, production practices, and sustainable land management. We partnered with Cibolo Nature Center to offer our 3rd training where Mark Shepard led an “Introduction to Restoration Agriculture” in the fall of 2016. We were able to participate in his intensive workshop the following two days.

Our 4th and final training “Business Basics for Alternative Agriculture” took place in spring 2017 at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens where we covered topics such as business planning, financial planning, and marketing. All together we reached approximately 200 educators through the “Farming for the Future” PDP and are confident our reach has been much greater. It was very exciting to reach an audience unfamiliar with these ideas and opportunities.

I believe we have showed naysayers that what we do has real worth and merit by proving it’s economically viable. We know the real value of the ecosystem services this type of farming and ranching provide and we do our best to share that message as often as possible.

Scientific research helps to strengthen that message. I have been blessed with some unique opportunities to fulfill my passion for research. I received Southern SARE’s Producer Grant this spring to conduct research on the effect of sub-soiling (deep soiling ripping) on our landscape. We are measuring infiltration, compaction, vegetation and biomass on an improved pasture and native pasture. We are excited about some of our early data and plan to continue research efforts in the years to come.

7) Are there any other ways your PDC has influenced your life beyond applying the knowledge on your farm/ranch? 

My experience during the PDC reached far beyond the content taught and the experiences we had. It taught me to step out of my comfort zone and see things in a fresh new light. I learned how to find real balance between food production and ecological function and exciting ways to incorporate it in our own lives. I went into the course hoping to find ways to improve our business design and left with a great reminder of how to live simply and be healthy.

Now as parents of two, our priority is our boys. Permaculture concepts and a deep-rooted understanding of natural systems is so important to their upbringing. We want them to be healthy and strong physically, mentally and spiritually. We do our best to raise/grow all our own food and barter what we can’t produce. The best feeling is to hear my 3 year old say “Mom, I’m going outside to eat something!”.  So grateful for that connection and opportunity.

About Mandy Krause

Mandy is co-owner of Parker Creek Ranch and manages the education and research programs. She has over 10 years of experience designing and directing conservation-based programs for youth and adults across the state and works as a consultant for the Welder Wildlife Foundation and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  Mandy is trained as a wildlife biologist and is very involved in the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society which serves and represents wildlife professionals in all areas of conservation and resource management with the goal of promoting excellence in wildlife stewardship through science and education. She loves sharing her passion for nature and the outdoors with others – especially her husband Travis and two boys Jack and Max.

About Parker Creek Ranch

Family owned and operated since 1846, Parker Creek Ranch is a working ranch located 50 miles west of San Antonio. We are committed to regenerative agriculture production and creating healthy habitats for livestock, wildlife, and people. As stewards of the land, our goal is to produce nutritious products for our community while designing and managing systems that will benefit the environment and future generations.

The most effective land management tools we use include holistic management grazing (a mix of frequent rotations and mob grazing between 27 pastures), cover cropping, and sub-soiling (deep ripping). We have planted 75 acres in a native grass/forb mix, fenced off the creek from grazing, and increased soil organic matter substantially across the landscape. We strongly believe that regenerative, holistic agriculture practices have a large-scale impact on the conservation of our natural resources. We have seen our systems and efforts greatly improve the soil and forage quality, water catchment and infiltration, and wildlife habitat.

We focused on producing broilers and laying hens in the early years but have now expanded to turkeys and grass-fed beef.  We are a direct farm-to-market producer committed to the idea that local is better. All of our products are sold within a 150 miles radius to farmers markets, restaurants, and individuals/families. The relationships with the people of our local communities are of great importance to us. We are energized by sustainable agriculture design and love to teach others about what we do. We enjoy harvesting wild game, spend lots of time in our garden, plant an incredible amount of native and edible trees, all the while constantly brainstorming and implementing regenerative practices.

Parker Creek Ranch’s business and production models are always evolving. Our farm has overcome enormous obstacles by staying committed, focusing on our goals and the overall bigger picture. There is nowhere else we would rather be and nothing we want to do more.

© Mandy Krause 2018

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Earth Repair Corps will be publishing a series of interviews with Permaculture Design Course graduates who have used the education & resources they gained from the course to further their careers in the world of sustainability.

Our hope is to convey what a life-changing opportunity the Permaculture Design Course can be, while learning more about what first attracted these former students to sustainable design and how they have applied those principles since taking a PDC.

Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and Register Today for our next class in 2019.

We’re continuing this series with Thora Oneil Gray of the Austin Discovery School – read more below.

1) When did you initially become interested in sustainable design and why?  Please describe to us any moments in your life that piqued your interest in sustainable, regenerative, and holistic systems.

I started off as a young environmentalist/activist condemning corporations and big government. I was attending protests, speaking up against oppression, etc. This led me to the question: “how can we do this better?”. Standing up and being pissed at the powers that be is not enough, you have to mulch the path, sow the seeds to get the results you want. I was interested in community, alternative building styles, growing food, eating healthy etc. I didn’t hear the word ‘permaculture’ until I moved to Austin. It was like an exciting map of putting together all the basic fundamentals to live more harmoniously with the natural world. 

2) What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a Permaculture Design Course?

My first official course was 3 years ago now. My goal was three fold: 1) Take the official course/receive certificate to teach in the future; 2) Plan for the future development of the Austin Discovery School’s new campus; and 3) Invite the community to take stake by adding to the design fundamentals of the school. 

3) Who taught your Permaculture Design Course and when?  What did you appreciate about that course, and what would you have like to have learned more about?

I asked Kirby Fry (Earth Repair Corps), Caroline Riley (Whole Life Learning Center), and Taelor Monroe (Austin Permaculture Guild) to come to the Austin Discovery School to teach a PDC. Each teacher brought their own unique style of teaching and deep, specialized knowledge. I really appreciated the guest speakers they brought in like Gary Freeborg and Pliny Fisk, as well as any hands on activities i.e. cob construction, Permablitz, and working with the laser level. I wish we had more time to dive deep into soil (I really just need to take a full on college course on soil – I’m totally enthralled by it).

All Images © Woody Welch 2018

4) You’re in a unique position to have hosted a Permaculture Design Course at the Austin Discovery School, and then have had a Permablitz take place at the school.  What was that experience like for you, and how may it have helped your school to advance your gardening education program?  Please describe to us a little bit about the scope of that Permablitz.

If you want something done… do it! Our little school of now 13 years has grown considerably from 100 students to over 500. When the lease finally was up at our prior residence, our administration looked at buying the buildings in the back half of the property as our permanent address. These were the buildings of the old state school that sat for 30 years unattended and returning to nature. A major renovation took place with many unintended consequences. School was delayed due to the renovation and parents were starting to lose patience. Hosting our first Permablitz was a great way to boost the morale and sense of community allowing all to take stake in our public alternative school. We had over 200 people come out to help install the the food forest. Digging over 300 linear feet of berms and swales on a dramatic slope, as well as planting 30 fruit trees and herbs. Another major hurdle that effected my program at the Austin Discovery School, Ecowellness, was installing a septic system near the gardens.  Huge amounts of caliche soil were unearthed during this installation and then spread all over the soon to be annual food gardens!! Almost 2 feet thick in some areas. Ack! We resolved this by importing well over 10,000 bags of leaf debris (thank you Craigslist) and tilling it in before digging our southeast sloping garden beds on contour. Now we practice dry land cover cropping during the summer, and chop and drop a month before school starts to encourage the soil community to thrive without major disruption.  Community and gumption – that’s what it takes. We have accomplished so much in such a short period of time with biomass and sweat equity.

5) What other courses, if any, have you participated in that have helped you to learn more about and implement sustainable design systems?

I have attended a Intro to Holistic Management at Green Gate Farms, I’ve studied herbalism with Ginger Webb (Texas Medicinals), taken the Citizen Gardner’s Course at the Sustainable Food Center, bee-keeping classes, and attended teachings with Mycoalliance.

6) Have you been able to apply what you learned from a permaculture design course to your life, and business endeavors?  If so, please elaborate.

Without a doubt I use what I have learned with permaculture every day at my job as an educator at the Austin Discovery School. I’m doing my best to leave behind a thriving ecosystem which can also be viewed as a learning lab for students k-8. 

7) Have you had the opportunity to teach, mentor, and or pass on information about sustainable design to friends, family, or employees?

I teach young folks currently. I feel confident teaching the basics to them. We do a lot of learning through doing/direct applications which is perfect for their busy bodies. Feeling the weight of a shovel, or the moving of mulch, the tasting of carrots. Kids thrive on this real-world activity with instant results they can see, touch, taste, smell, and feel. We are creating full bodied scientists. Kids who question and get over irrational fears. Because they can make observations and learn to be calm in nature. One day I would like to teach adults, right now I’m still learning by doing, experimenting, and discovering.

Thank you so much for your involvement and initiative, Thora!

 

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Earth Repair Corps will be publishing a series of interviews with Permaculture Design Course graduates who have used the education & resources they gained from the course to further their careers in the world of sustainability.

Our hope is to convey what a life-changing opportunity the Permaculture Design Course can be, while learning more about what first attracted these former students to sustainable design and how they have applied those principles since taking a PDC.

Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and Register Today for our next class in 2019.

Paul Oveisi, owner of Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden in South Austin, helps us kick off this series. Read more below.

1)    How did you become interested in sustainable design?  Please describe to us any moments in your life that piqued your interest in sustainable, regenerative, and holistic systems.

My interest was an evolution that likely happened over the course of my entire life but I can think of a few ”tipping point’ moments that led me to take sustainable design more seriously as a way of life. The first was an impromptu, almost accidental, visit to the Earthship Community near Taos, NM. I was awestruck that these experimental, sustainable, whole-system homes could be both so strikingly beautiful and functional. There was connection between design, science, and artful creativity that struck a chord with me that stuck with me for years. Years later, having left my lifelong home of Austin, TX to live in New York City, I couldn’t let go of what became an obsession. I read every book by Michael Reynolds which led me to other forms of sustainable architecture which led me to sustainable agriculture. I stumbled on some old videos of Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison and spent several years reading everything I could on permaculture, regenerative agriculture, and related fields. Working in hospitality I found a little community of like-minded chefs and farmers who were implementing some of these strategies. Moving back to Austin, I decided to drop everything, get my PDC and work on a plan to incorporate sustainable design into a new way of life. 

2)    What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a Permaculture Design Course?

Honestly, everything and anything. Having read dozens of books on the subject I wanted to get some hands on experience and meet like-minded folks. I was also hoping to find some work outside the PDC to further hone my skills and expand my knowledge.  

All Images © Woody Welch 2018

3)    Who taught your Permaculture Design Course and when?  What did you appreciate about that course, and what would you have like to have learned more about? 

My course was taught by Kirby Fry and Caroline Riley in the Fall of 2015. I thought it was a well-designed course, by dynamic and well-rounded instructors who were extremely knowledgeable and engaging.  I would have liked a bit more information on the architectural components but that’s splitting hairs – it was a fantastic course. 

4)    What other courses, if any, have you participated in that have helped you to learn more about and implement sustainable design systems?

I’ve taken a Grow Green course by the City of Austin which was informative. Notably, I enjoyed input from a meteorologist from LCRA and fire-wise design from a Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center representative. Informally, I’ve found particular interest in soil microbiology and have watched countless hours of advanced composting techniques and soil microbiology analysis – most notably by Karl Hammer and Dr. Elaine Ingham, respectively. 

5)    Have you been able to apply what you learned from the Permaculture Design Course to your life and business endeavors?  If so, please elaborate.

A resounding yes. After my PDC I spent a couple of years working in the field doing various landscaping and design related projects for both landscaping companies and non-profits. The knowledge I obtained from my PDC and beyond very much informed my decision to combine my experience in hospitality to create a permaculture inspired business model – but I wanted to spend some time getting my hands dirty first. 

6)    Have you had the opportunity to teach, mentor, and/or pass on information about sustainable design to friends, family, or employees?

Yes, too many to count. We do a formal training/walk-through of all employees of my organization on basic permaculture principles and I’ve had countless conversations turning many people onto the discipline – whether sharing books by Holmgren, Shephard or Fukuoka, or sharing Geoff Lawton videos. Again, too many to count.  

Thank you so much for your involvement and initiative.

It is my pleasure.  

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Kirby Fry, Earth Repair Corps’ Founder, gives an overview of Permaculture to a Permablitz group in San Antonio at Roots of Change Community Garden.

The first ten minutes is an explanation of the ethics and principles of Permaculture. The remainder of the video is specific to the pond installation that was underway at the ‘blitz.

If you are interested in learning more about Permaculture, consider taking a Design Course with Earth Repair Corps and/or joining us for the next Permablitz!

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