The weather was ideal yesterday as A. Laurel Green and Steve Crofter welcomed us to walk the land at Singing River Farm. Laurel, Steve and I met recently at a meeting of the Southern Vermont Permaculture Guild held in the community room of the Brattleboro Food Co-op, where they invited us to participate in a design charrette on their farm. The three of us decided it would be fun to work on the program for the charrette together.
Loosely defined, a design charrette is an opportunity for permaculture designers to learn about a specific piece of land, and then suggest ideas for incorporating permaculture principles into the landscape design. Laurel and Steve had completed their PDC online, and so had not had the chance to participate in a charrette before. They asked me to facilitate for them, which I was very happy to do. Landowners would benefit from input at any time in the implementation process, it’s really never too late to incorporate restorative measures into your design. Ideally, the earlier in the design process the charrette takes place, the better.
Coming into our planning session, Laurel was feeling an urgency to plant her edible forest garden in the coming Spring. She will be ordering trees quite soon and wanted to have a good idea of what she’ll be planting. After we’d had a chance to discuss the flow of the charrette, Laurel and Steve decided we might be rushing things. Permaculture is built on small and slow solutions. It might be best if we accepted that walking the land with our fellow permies, and then doing a sector analysis, might be the best use of our time. Nurturing our permie community could be the primary goal for the day, with design outcomes an added benefit.
Due to the charrette taking place over a holiday weekend, we offered a casual schedule and were happy to have 6 local homesteaders join us for the afternoon. We started the day with introductions built around an ice-breaker, then headed out to walk the land, making note of existing conditions.
A sector analysis is based on the first permaculture principle: observe and interact. Steve and Laurel had been observing the land for almost 3 years, and wanted help from fresh eyes. Where is water available? What are wildlife and human access patterns? Where are woody plants already thriving? How would existing conditions on abutting properties affect her design? Steve and Laurel were inviting us to listen to their land as it suggests a design that could be restorative. I asked each of the participants to spend some time walking by themselves, making note of anything that could be instructive, then we all returned to the house, and hot beverages.
Laurel had identified a great deal of information including historical uses of the land, the location of various existing gardens, weather patterns, micro-climates, etc. on her base map. We were able to expand on that, each making note of our observations in the appropriate sectors. Next, Laurel considered what our findings suggested. It helped to clarify for her that the entire farm is really an edible forest garden. She and Steve began identifying which sections would be suitable to develop production gardens such as blueberries, and how to make best use of wet areas, highlands and lowlands.
Laurel and Steve now have a clearer idea of what they projects will be over the next several seasons, and and are ready to decide which trees they will plant come Spring. Everyone agreed it would be nice to participate in charrettes at some of the other homesteads, which we’ll plan during the regional Permaculture Guild meetings. My hope is that I will be asked to help facilitate these charrettes for rural and urban/suburban landowners. ThIs was a very enjoyable way to spend a winter afternoon! My thanks to Laurel and Steve for inviting me to play with them!