Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: Regenerative Design Institute

This week we will be featuring the Regenerative Design Institute, a permaculture demonstration farm and experiential education center in Bolinas, CA. If you were paying attention to earlier posts (and we don't judge you if you were not), you would have noted that this is where Jason has trundled off to for a 6 month internship.

Founded in 2005 by Penny Livingston and James Stark on the property of Commonweal Garden, RDI is dedicated to showing people a better way to live on our planet. They believe that not only can people live sustainably, but they can improve the planet rather than keeping it as is. This is done through the principles of permaculture. For those of you who scratch your head every time we mention permaculture, let this be your basic primer. Permaculture is a design system for human interaction with the earth. This includes everything from agriculture to waste management, water systems to how humans relate to one another. In short, it is a way of life driven by an understanding of natural ecosystems that posits developing strong connectivity within a system makes it even stronger.

RDI offers a series of courses that include permaculture design, regenerative design and nature awareness, ecology of leadership, and reskilling (learning ancient and primitive technologies). They do this within the demonstrative context of their 7-acre farm which includes orchards, livestock, gardens, natural buildings, and a greenhouse. Participants in the courses are able to see first hand the principles of permaculture at work, while hearing lectures from some of the top permaculture experts in the world. For example, a lecture on livestock leads to observation of the ranging chickens providing pest control in the garden. This allows the chickens to gain nutrients for producing better eggs, while the plants are pest-free and get valuable nitrogen from chicken manure. Participants can watch the systems in action, and become inspired to create their own permaculture designs.

So where does Jason come in? As example of how permaculture stretches even into human interaction, RDI 'hires' groups of work traders (monikered 'farm homies') who offer farm labor in exchange for knowledge through permaculture immersion. In the short month that J has been at RDI he's milked goats, plastered buildings, hauled rocks, germinated seeds, planted crops, pruned trees, managed the gravity-fed water system, and learned to make cheese (whew!). He has found it a lot of fun with an amazing community, meaningful work, and great learning opportunities. He now understands how much it takes to run a farm, and the intricacies of permaculture require trial and error and a willingness to make mistakes. As Penny would say, "permaculture is not rocket science. It's a lot more complicated." One might argue this a fair assertion seeing as it's taken 3 billion years to develop natural ecosystems, and permaculture has been alive and kicking a short 30.

The next 5 months for J are full of promise, including remodeling the greenhouse, perfecting the composting systems, and waiting for the rains to cease so spring planting can commence (not to mention lots of yummy food to eat all summer). We hope to hear more about this great place and the things J is doing down on the farm with the homies.

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