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Ranch Uses Permaculture to Decrease Domestic Violence

By integrating therapy with farm work, Flip Flop Ranch works to lower the rates of domestic violence

Flip Flop Ranch is a 40 acre working ranch and a nonprofit in Lucerne Valley California that provides therapy to victims and even perpetrators of domestic violence (at different times of course). It is also a permaculture-based ranch, which means that the aim is to have all parts of the ranch integrated, intertwined and helping each other in a kind of symbiotic relationship.

When Serina Harvey, the ranch’s co-owner, decided to move from “modern” pesticide and high input methods of farming to permaculture methods, she realized she couldn’t just focus on the interrelationships between plants and animals. Like many permaculture-based farming operations, her chickens eat plants from the garden. Her Muscovy ducks eat flies. Along with what she calls a “chum bucket” (a hanging bucket full of meat that attracts flies and the fly babies drop out through holes in the bottom to feed the chickens), her fly population decreased to almost nothing this year without the use of chemicals. Endangered Nigerian Dwarf Goats wander her property pulling weeds, and rare Cotton Patch geese now mow her backyard instead of using a gas powered weed whacker and lawn mower or an herbicide. The ranch vegetable garden is also built in sunken garden beds to conserve water as the ranch gets an average of 3 inches of rain a year. “It’s not perfect,” says Serina, “but we’re trying to incorporate more and more permaculture principles. The next project is to put a worm bin underneath the chicken roosts to turn the droppings into beautiful dirt, which of course heads to the garden next.”

Serina, a Marital and Family Therapist, felt driven to incorporate more than just the expected permaculture principles into her ranch. “I didn’t think us humans could be excluded from the cycle of ranch life. It felt like something was missing. Sure we take care of the animals and we get food, but that’s a very limited interaction.” Instead, Serina decided to start bringing her domestic violence clients out to the ranch. The groups help to care for the animals and the garden, earn a little bit of money and healthy food for themselves, as well as improve their psychological health. “Research has shown that simply being on a farm, even excluding official therapy, can vastly improve a person’s mental health,” stated Serina. She also admits that this unique therapy benefits her and her family in a truly permaculture way. “The ranch is run by three women and we all have autoimmune diseases that wear us down. Having other people here to help takes a burden off our shoulders and has brought some wonderful people into our life. It’s a full circle.”

The programs at Flip Flop Ranch include couples therapy, couples retreats and a Husband University where men who are on the brink of divorce can come and have an intense course on how to save their relationships. She and her family are also renovating an old 5400 sq ft house on the property so they can bring women who are down on their luck to live on the ranch, receive therapy and get back on their feet.

Flip Flop Ranch is a nonprofit dedicated to building relationships between a person and their self, others and with nature. The ranch raises only endangered varieties of animals and provides services to those in danger either physically, emotionally or relationally.

Serina Harvey is a Marital and Family Therapist, MS, DMFT (abd) and a professor at Victor Valley College as well as the director of Flip Flop Ranch.

Contact: Serina Harvey (760) 680-6146, flipflopranch (at)

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  1. I am kind-of observing a pattern here: When setting up a Permaculture enterprise, it is very important to make this appear a good idea in the eyes of those who make decisions about planning permissions etc. Now, from their perspective, the question often is: why should you be permitted to play with a piece of land if it could be put to “more productive” economic use by just putting a toy factory / coal power plant / you-name-it on it instead? So, this essentially to them often is a question of “cost of opportunity”, with the big objective being to see that the land gets used to make as much money as possible, hence make society rich, for getting rich is what economics is all about.

    Personally, I find such an attitude very questionable, but this basically is what determines how projects get evaluated. So, that’s something to always keep in mind.

    Now, what other possible products of a permaculture enterprise that are of immediately recognizable value to a conservative mind can you think of? Remember that the conservative perspective usually is one that is strongly shaped by fear.

    Fear of crime is an important element in a conservative perspective on the world, so if you want (have?) to win over conservative minds, it is a very good idea to design your enterprise activities in such a way that they demonstrably contribute to reducing crime.

  2. “The new scientific discipline of Biophilia describes how we connect in an essential manner to living organisms. Introduced by the American biologist Edward O. Wilson, biophilic effects are increasingly well documented, and these include faster postoperative healing rates and lower use of pain-suppressing medicines when patients are in close contact with nature (Salingaros and Masden, 2008). Biophilia includes the therapeutic effect of contact with domestic animals.”

    “In the urban case, building cities according to a code that is neither evolved nor tested generates one of three situations: a) a dysfunctional region that is abandoned by its original inhabitants and may later be occupied and transformed by squatters; b) a dysfunctional region that cannot be abandoned (e.g. social housing blocks) whose brutal geometry generates rage, crime, and self-destructive behavior; or c) an urban region that is kept functional only via a tremendous expenditure of energy. Cities with an urban geometry poorly adapted to human activities can indeed be propped up by extending the normally requisite energy and transport networks that drive a city to function, but their geometry requires wasteful energy expenditure. Most cities today suffer from the imposition of such non-evolved urban typologies, misleadingly labeled as “modern”. Someone pays for showcasing the sculptural geometry of such non-evolved urban fabric.”


    “A handful of psychologists are starting to conclude that human consciousness has deep interconnections with nature—and that interfering with our sense of place and love of nature can cause severe emotional distress.”


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