Permaculture has become something of a catchword in farming and homesteading circles, a grand concept — but one usually unfulfilled in hands-on practice — of layering one’s land with a variety of edible plants that will feed you or your animals.
Luckily, Sylva native and permaculture expert Zev Friedman is available to help sort the reality from fantasy. Friedman, who lives in Weaverville and runs Urban Paradise Gardening, will hold a two-day workshop this coming weekend, Dec. 3-4, on permaculture practices. The cost of the program is $75, with the workshop running from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. both days. Mountain BizWorks is sponsoring the program.
Friedman focuses on whole-system design of water savvy landscapes that yield valuable foods and medicines and provide for other human needs with a minimum of external inputs.
Friedman’s workshop will take place on a farm owned by Ron and Cathy Arps of Sylva. The couple is well known in the local agrarian community — the Arps pioneered the now popularly used Community Supported Agriculture plan in these westernmost counties. CSA’s are a means for farmers to exchange produce for purchased shares, in practice meaning those participating buy-into the farm by paying for produce at the beginning of the growing season. You then share in the risks and windfalls of that season through the CSA. The Arps have successfully fed families for more than a decade from their intensively managed small farm just off Cope Creek Road.
Friedman toured the farm recently with the couple, laying the framework for the upcoming workshop.
“This could be a pretty good workshop for getting some things done,” Friedman said, adding that it’s important that people who attend get “hands-on” experience with such work as removing invasive plants and so on. This, he explained, will translate to lessons for working their own properties.
The trio let the land help dictate the shape of the workshop, perhaps the first lesson those interested in permaculture must learn. Workshop attendees will learn about site assessment and design, information they can take back to their own properties and, hopefully, put into practice.
A stream beside an existing pasture seemed perfectly destined for a streamside forest garden, Friedman explained, perhaps with raspberry plantings or comfrey replacing the invasives dominating there now.
The existing forest area could transition to a nut, timber, craftwood and animal products system.
In addition to nitty-gritty work, Friedman views the workshop as an opportunity for local farmers, homesteaders and those generally interested in permaculture to discuss economic niches and various business opportunities. Not to mention, he said, the opportunity to network with like-minded people.
Use what works
Touring the Arps’ farm, Friedman quickly identifies what’s there now — along the stream beside the pasture and on up toward the garden, there is a heavy infiltration of walnut trees.
That leaves two choices: cut them out, or plant edibles that can co-exist with these native plants. Sure, walnut trees provide food for people and animals, but walnuts also exude a substance caused juglone, which inhibits other plant growth. Tomatoes and potatoes, particularly, suffer tremendously when grown anywhere near walnut trees — these members of the ultra-juglone sensitive nightshade family show “walnut wilt” just when the gardener believes they might just harvest a beautiful crop.
The Arps aren’t keen on cutting down trees, no matter how inhibiting they might be to other plants. Instead, the couple and Friedman decide co-existence is the way to go. That means that raspberries, elderberries or comfrey, are obvious choices. Raspberries and elderberries provide berries for people and wild creatures. Comfrey provides fodder for animals, plus is an excellent source of potassium in the soil if used for mulching. Both plants defy the presence of juglone.
“Plant big long rows of comfrey, and scythe it down,” Friedman said. “You could harvest it six times a year.”
And this is the type of information homeowners can get through Friedman’s workshop.
Say what? Explaining permaculture
Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that is modeled on the relationships found in nature. It is based on the ecology of how things interrelate rather than on the strictly biological concerns that form the foundation of modern agriculture. Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs; it’s a system of design where each element supports and feeds other elements, ultimately aiming at systems that are virtually self-sustaining and into which humans fit as an integral part.
Want to participate?
What: Two-day workshop on intensive forest farming.
When: Dec. 3-4 in Sylva, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.
Where: At Ron and Cathy Arps’ Vegnui Gardens farm.
Why: To learn how to put your land to work in a sustainable fashion.
How much: $75 for each participant. Food and beverages provided, but bring your own eating utensils, plates, and cups. Space is limited and pre-registration is required. Payment of workshop fee will reserve your space.