Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Paul and Jocelyn and I took our tour North to the area around Bellingham, Washington.  We began with a visit to Delhi Wind Bamboo to see the bamboo nursery and ask questions of Jesse Copeland, an able hand in a bamboo grove or the deck of a ship.[ Full disclosure, Jesse is my nephew and Delhi Wind Bamboo is run by his Dad and Mom, who is my sister.] Delhi Bamboo supplies nurseries along the west coast states with decorative bamboo.  Bamboo, technically a grass, is an amazing plant with many uses.  There are thousands of varieties of bamboo and it can be found growing in almost every climate.

Here's an interesting game to play:  The Use of Bamboo.  Any number of players can play.  The first player names a use for bamboo and then each player in turn names a use until every player has named a use and then the players start over naming a use in turn.  Any player who cannot name a use for bamboo is out.  The last player to name a use wins. The game goes on much longer than you think it can!

After leaving Delhi Wind Bamboo, we went to Inspiration Farms to visit Brian and Alexandra.   Inspiration Farms is a great example of what permaculture practices can yield.  Brian is a thoughtful, patient,  intuitive individual who has developed a sensitivity for the plants and animals on his place and how they interact.  Both he and Alexandra understand that their work is a knitting together of organisms in a way that forms a farm operation that produces abundant, healthy, tasty food.  The basic layout of their farm begins with consideration of the contours of the land which allows Brian to take advantage of natural drainage paths to manage water and run-off from the animal pens.  He also extolled the virtues of brush piles, pointing out that in early years the piles create habitat for birds, snakes and other critters who are part of his pest control strategy.  Over the years as the piles break down, he is left with rich soil and new places to plant.  After sitting down with Paul to record a podcast (go over to in a week or so to hear it) Brian and Alexandra hosted us with a lovely lunch (dining al fresco on the farmhouse's patio) featuring the delicious food grown on their farm. Over the past 18 years Inspiration Farms has gone from a tired old farmstead to a ten acre fountain of vitality. 

Alexandra and Brian podcasting with Paul
I  believe  in her book, On Revolution, Hannah Arendt made the distinction between labor and work where (paraphrasing here) 'labor' is effort spent for wages on someone else's behalf, and 'work' is something we all must do both to survive and because it edifies and sustains us.  Brian(who is also a recognized glass artist) and Alexandra embody this work spirit on Inspiration Farms and the joy and satisfaction that comes from their attachment to their land and all it brings forth beams from their faces.

After leaving Inspiration Farms, we headed over to visit Christy.  Her home is a great example of mindful farming in an urban context.  I say "farming" because what Christy has going is more than just gardening.  In addition to beautiful flowers and vegetables, she keeps an impressive flock of chickens of several varieties who come running when she whistles.  She also showed us her gardening hugelkultur berm (see that was not only covered with a variety of healthy squash plants, but had a variety of flowers and other plants including some "free range" potatoes.  Christy claims she cannot raise potatoes on purpose but they have appeared in her hugelculture berm as volunteers and are thriving!  She also pointed out this wasp nest high in a tree near her gooseberry plants.  After years of trying to cope with berry bush worms--a form of caterpillar--she found this year that they were drastically reduced in number and she suspects the wasps have joined her permaculture operation as pest control drones.
Wasp Nest
Christy's efforts demonstrate that permaculture principles and techniques can be successfully used in an urban setting. The animals, trees, vegetables, flowers and other plants all seem to work together to create an  oasis of beauty and bounty. Her "in-town" operation is healthy and thriving because of the joy and enthusiasm she brings to her projects and should give every urban dweller hope for what they might accomplish with less yard and more permaculture.

Our last stop of the day was to a place called Pragtree Farm and its residents, Paul and Kara.  Pragtree Farm is a piece of agricultural property owned by the Evergreen Land Trust (ELT).  It was started initially, I understand, some 40 years ago as kind of a rural laboratory for farmers and artists where different ideas about living on the land could be tried.  Over the years different groups and individuals have lived at Pragtree and tried to make a go of it.  As often happens, the land and the demands of agricultural stewardship in a context of group dynamics become so fractious and weighty, the human systems break down.  That is what has happened at Pragtree.  After frustrated worn out people left the place, the land and orchards have been neglected, the operational systems have broken down, the buildings need work and, most of all, the farm community and vision need to be re-established.  Enter Paul and Kara who applied and were selected by the ELT to make a proposal to turn Pragtree around and head it toward something resembling its founding vision.

Sitting around their cozy kitchen table sipping tea, they talked with Paul about the challenges they faced, getting the farm's productivity back and negotiating the social and political mine fields that attend their circumstances being chief among them.  It was refreshing to see the hope and determination to succeed break through again and again past the clouds of apprehension.  This couple and their young family are returning to the land--not for the hard work and the many mistakes they will surely make--but to do something noble and good. They will work hard and their reaching out for knowledge and advice shows me they have a quality of humility and patience that seems consistent in the kind of farmers I am meeting.  They are going to heal the land and bring forth good food in a way that is healthy, and I wish them the very best.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful narrative. Thanks for dropping in the photos too; nice to see a pic of Paul's podcasting in action.