Edited by James Turner
Throughout 2014, our permaculture experience at the social-farm therapeutic community allowed all kinds of new patterns in our daily lives. We started to identify natures’ knowledge around us as we got deeper and deeper into the permaculture lectures. For instance, the community’s pathways got a new meaning, becoming niches of opportunity for life, yield, beauty and productivity. Now our walks are between flowers, medicinal plants, spices and food.
The most valuable material in class were the lessons we could achieve in a practical way and that eventually would come back to us through the kitchen as healthy meals. During a carbon cycle class we decided our next challenge would be Mushrooms!
We were already fascinated by the power of fungi, Paul Stamets’ book Mycelium Running: how mushrooms can help save the world was a major proponent of our pre-existing interest.
Originally, mushrooms didn’t play a role in the community menu, being unknown for most of our students. So, after a delicious tasting event, where most of us tried fresh mushrooms for the first time, we decided that we would grow our own at the edge of our little agroforestry system.
We invited the permaculturist Vivian F. Franco to give us a workshop about Shitake cultivation. It was a profound experience to say the least. To produce life and food, on a log that apparently had no other use other than to be burned, was a metaphor of the journey of rehabilitation. The way that just a few tiny spores could transform a hard log into an explosion of new life was inspiring.
Obeying the motto, “Let’s be ethic and aesthetic”, we managed to build the most beautiful shadow house possible with the left over wood from a neighbor.
An icosahedral whose edges were linked with bamboo rings and cramps.
Eggs and meat were the next step of our design. We watched a free movie available on the PRI website about chickens in permaculture and began to think about designing something similar to their resilient chicken coop.
Made with reused wood-pallets, we suspended our coop to protect it from flooding and nocturnal predator attacks as well as keep a constant air flow under it. After we built it, some students wanted to bring in hammocks and live on the coop, acting as chicken guardians. The students confessed that the house of the chickens was actually quite cozy, much better in comparison to the places they lived while using heavy drugs. Yet again, permaculture lead us to new possibilities and perspectives. We talked about how a nice and healthy home for our chickens would enable them to provide healthier eggs and meat in the future.
The nests were designed on the east side to receive the morning sun, the most mild of the day, making it the most comfortable place during the day for the hens to lay their eggs. With external openings, collecting eggs has become a quick and easy task.
The chicken coop has a small patio that leads to three paddocks. The first one is for grazing. The second is covered with straw. In addition, we discard of excess “kitchen’s scraps” there, where larvae and worms grow in abundance. Chickens come through these two paddocks daily to consume their protein, the food they like the most. In the third paddock, grains are planted as the food supply we feed them. Every 3 months we rotate the paddocks. Obeying this rotating dynamic, different fruit trees were planted around the perimeter of the paddocks, allowing the open paddock to receive dropped fruits as an extra feed for the chickens.
To meet the chicken’s food needs and improve the Community energy dynamic, the second paddock was organized in an optimal way to receive our surplus food; seven boxes were laid out to collect the kitchen’s food scraps once a week. After one day, the fresh food held in our bay then heads to one of those boxes. After one week the filled box is turned. The worms and larvae that grow or came to live there become a feast for our chickens. After the feast, whatever is left is sent to be composted. After three months, the paddocks rotate and a crop is planted on this now nutrient rich area.
We’ve discovered that rabbits can be a great companion for chickens. They appear to eat the same food from the garden and kitchen. Once chickens have scratched around on all sides, rabbits love to dig burrows and roll straw, helping to prepare the area for the seasonal crop. Both also reproduce quite fast, making them each a useful protein source.
Chicken and rabbit water is supplied by rain collection, received through the roof into a 250L vat. The water is mineralized for consumption by rocks. A screen filter protects the mini-tank from bugs and leafs. The cistern filled up in the first rain event, and the feeling of self-sustainability was amazing. All the students were excited to tell their families how to do it so they would be able to provide to their homes with a better quality water. We’ve also started to make plans for a much larger cistern in order to supply the entire community with high quality drinking water.
Once everything was ready, we started the maintenance and observation. The straw from the central paddock, and the chicken coop’s floor were both replaced every two weeks. The old straw was sent to the compost piles. Access and maintenance of the chicken coop was carried out through the side door. The boxes that provided the worms and larvae daily were “cleaned” in the stream. We realized that by leaving the box with scraps inside the stream, several little fish would perform the “cleaning’ service for us. When we took the box from the water, a few little fish would be captured inside of it. We would take them to the lake where they would serve as food for bigger fish.
That was a lesson for us. By observing, we could find patterns and integrate them it into the design. With that in mind we started to look for others small changes that could be done to increase complexity and efficiency. We found an opportunity at our “meditative bench”. By moving the light pole that illuminated the bench a couple of meters, we were able to open a new niche of opportunity. Instead of being just up on our heads, now the light was just above the water. Once it was on, it attracted many insects. These insects would fall in water by mistake or by seeking the reflection of light, triggering a veritable feast for the fish.
Each new feature that was implemented in our design allowed us to re-think it and discover new possibilities. Once we started permaculture methods with a non-poisonous agriculture, we became an island in the middle of our neighborhood, surrounded by conventional poison cultures. With the help of the NGO SOS Rescue Sting-less Bees (https://www.sosabelhassemferrao.com.br/), we started to provide new niches for the native bees. The IscasPET is a temporary hive that receives the swarms of native sting-less bees who are seeking a new location for their new hive, such as the Jataís or Mandaçaias. From there, we would put the IscasPET temporary hive on a wood box and place it on the garden.
The ethics of permaculture were the perfect guide line to plan and re-think our therapeutic community. In fact, as a place of love and care, the “permaculture look” has been shown as a pathway for a more harmonic life in and with our planet. With the help of the permaculture community, we have begun to change to a more systemic comprehension, becoming more resilient. Each day is another step into the healing of our own life and the healing of our relations with the nature.
That’s the third and last part of our permaculture 2014 experience. We hope that in reading our “trilogy” you will be inspired to take a step further into your sustainable dreams. Best regards for all.