NW Permaculture Institute

Earth Care, People Care, Future Care

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Forest Garden Design Intensive with David Jacke in Montana, Oct 2-11 – Scholarships Available!


Don’t delay! This will be the first time in three years that Dave Jacke’s Design Intensive will be taught in the U.S. Scholarships available, see below.

Edible Ecosystems Emerging:
Food Forestry for the 21st Century

A 9-Day Forest Garden Design Intensive with Dave Jacke
October 2 – 11, 2015 Feathered Pipe Ranch, Montana

Forest ecosystems exhibit many beneficial properties we humans would be wise to emulate in our culture, agriculture and horticulture:

  • They maintain, renew, fertilize, and propagate themselves without human inputs.
  • They build, store, and conserve clean air, clean water, nutrients, soil quality, and biodiversity.
  • They exhibit stability, resilience, and adaptability.

These qualities emerge from the dynamics of the forest as a whole system, not from any one or more of the elements that comprise the forest alone.  To design productive edible ecosystems that express these same qualities, we must understand forest structures, functions, patterns, and processes, and use this knowledge wisely.

In this nine-day intensive course, you will dive deeply into the vision, theory, and practice of designing wholesome, dynamic, and resilient edible ecosystems using temperate deciduous forests as models. Dave Jacke and his teaching team will offer lectures, site walks, and experiential exercises to help you understand how the architecture, social structure, underground economics, and successional processes of natural forests apply to the design of edible ecosystems of all kinds. You’ll learn a variety of ecological design processes while designing a range of food-producing ecologies at the Feathered Pipe Ranch, while also providing detailed polyculture designs for an actual Public Edible Forest Garden Park, currently in the installation phase in Helena, MT. We’ll also engage with issues of garden management, economics, and the deep paradigmatic shifts required to succeed at co-creating “humanatural” landscapes and cultures. You will leave inspired and empowered to design food forests at home for yourself, and your friends, neighbors and clients.



Dave Jacke is the lead author of the award winning two-volume book Edible Forest Gardens. Dave has been a student of ecology and design since the 1970s, and has run his own ecological design firm –Dynamics Ecological Design in Greenfield, MA – since 1984. Dave is an engaging and passionate teacher of ecological design and permaculture, and a meticulous designer. In addition to extensive teaching, he has consulted on, designed, built, and planted landscapes, homes, farms, and communities in the many parts of the United States, as well as overseas. A cofounder of Land Trust at Gap Mountain in Jaffrey, NH, he homesteaded there for a number of years. He holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Simon’s Rock College (1980) and a M.A. in Landscape Design from the Conway School of Landscape Design (1984). Read more at http://www.edibleforestgardens.com/.

Juliette Olshock, M.S., M.Ed., studied sustainable agriculture and permaculture design at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and completed a permaculture apprenticeship at the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute. She is an adjunct professor with Chatham University’s Food Studies program, teaching about sustainable agriculture, permaculture and forest garden design.  She was instrumental in designing and implementing the Hazelwood Food Forest.  She co-founded Pittsburgh Permaculture, LLC, an ecological design and education firm. Read more at http://pittsburghpermaculture.org/.
Jessica Peterson and Caroline Wallace founded Inside Edge Design, LLC, based in Helena, Montana. Together with Dave Jacke, Inside Edge Design co-created the design for the 6th Ward Garden Park, the first public forest garden to utilize Dave’s design framework. They continue to work on the Park’s planning and implementation while offering a range of professional ecological and social design services. Read more about Inside Edge Design at www.insideedgedesign.com.
Accommodations include three organic, locally-sourced meals a day and use of all amenities – bathhouse, sauna, hot tub, as well as the Feathered Pipe Ranch facilities and grounds
OUR EDUCATION SITE: FEATHERED PIPE RANCH – Our education site is one of the oldest centers for conscious living and yoga retreats in the country. Surrounded by millions of acres of forest and mountains, your intensive experience delving into edible forest design systems will be complemented by the ability to “lounge, stretch, laugh, stroll, and savor the gift of releasing everything you don’t need…” as the Feathered Pipe Ranch’s website so aptly describes.
There are numerous private or shared lodging options, from luxurious, chalet-style rooms to tents, tipis and yurts nestled in the surrounding forest. After course registration, we will contact you to confirm your lodging preference.
Fall is one of the most spectacular times to visit Montana. Days that are still warm and very cool nights are the norm. The fall colors, and the crisp clean air will be something you remember!

Read more about the Feathered Pipe Ranch at http://featheredpipe.com

PAYING FOR THE COURSE We have been able to reduce the cost of this course to $1,580-$1,880 on an income-based sliding scale and will still be able to offer scholarships.
SCHOLARSHIPS – Payments over $1,580 will be added to the existing scholarship fund! If you are in need of a scholarship, please submit a letter (as a .pdf, please) in which you answer the following questions to InsideEdgeDesignLLC@gmail.com:

  • Why do you want to take this course? What do you hope to get from it?
  • What do you plan to do with what you learn in this course? What are your hopes and dreams as a teacher of permaculture?
  • Are there specific areas on which you would like to focus your teaching, in terms of topic areas, audiences, regions of the country/world?

DEPOSIT AND PAYMENT IN FULL – A $500 deposit is required upon registration, with payment in full due by September 2, 2015. $250 of the deposit is non-refundable.

Scholarships available, see the website below for details.

More information and registration at www.insideedgedesign.com/upcoming-events
Note, This is not a NWPI event, but rather an exciting opportunity we believe might interest our audience.  All questions about the event should be directed to Inside Edge Design.

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Rebecca’s Wild Farm: A Farm for the Future, Free Film and Potluck in Salem, June 25th @ 6:30pm


Concerned about Oregon’s drought and the future of farming?

Rising fuel prices are a wake up call for filmmaker, Rebecca Hosking, as she investigates how to turn her family’s farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future. Going beyond mere alarm raising to present practical, ingenious solutions from pioneering farmers and gardeners, Rebecca shows that nature holds some surprising keys to abundance. Film 50 minutes.

After the film, Lichen June, Director of the NW Permaculture Institute, will speak and take questions about how permaculture saves energy, money, and time while growing nutrient dense food, dropping your water usage, reducing heating and cooling bills, and benefiting the environment around us rather than decreasing fertility and life in the landscape. Learn about the content taught in the local NW Permaculture Institute class, “Permaculture Essentials for the Pacific NW,” and how you can use that information to benefit your land and living space, or go on to become a permaculture designer.

Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share: Free Film and Lecture Series
Held in Salem every 4th Thursday @ 6:30pm (except November and December)

Salem 4th Thursday events include potluck & discussion
@ Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, 5090 Center Street. NE, Salem
For more information: 503-449-8077

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How To Save The World: One Man, One Cow, One Planet, Free Film and Potluck in Salem, April 23rd @ 6:30pm


What does an environmentally friendly biodynamic food system capable of feeding everyone actually look like? A biodynamic revolution is sweeping India. HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD tells the story of marginal farmers across India who are reviving an arcane form of agriculture through the teachings of an elderly New Zealander many are calling the new Gandhi. The outcome of the battle for agricultural control may dictate the future of the earth. Narrated by Peter Coyote, Film 103 mins.

After the film we will be joined by Adam McKinley, who will discuss his experience using biodynamics in the Willamette Valley and answer general questions on biodynamics.

Adam McKinley has worked as a land steward and farmer at historic GeerCrest Farm, a local Non-Profit educational homestead, for the past three years. More recently, he has become involved with the Oregon Biodynamics Group. Adam also has experience annual and perennial production, as well livestock management, in Colorado and Hawaii.

Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share: Free Film and Lecture Series
Held in Salem every 4th Thursday @ 6:30pm (except Nov & Dec)

Salem 4th Thursday events include potluck & discussion
@ Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, 5090 Center Street. NE, Salem
For more information: 503-449-8077

This event is made possible by support from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, Life Source Natural Foods, and private donations from people in our community.  Thank you for your support!

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Fresh – Join our Free Film and Potluck in Salem March 26th

Will Allen - Growing Power

Will Allen – Growing Power

March 26th @ 6:30pm, The NW Permaculture Institute presents, Fresh – film 70 mins

“Our current industrial method of food production is increasingly viewed as an unsustainable system, destructive to the environment and public health. But what is the alternative?

Fresh profiles the farmers, thinkers, and business people across the nation who are at the forefront of re-inventing food production in America. With a strong commitment to sustainability, they are changing how farms are run, how the land is cared for, and how food is distributed. Their success demonstrates that a new paradigm based on sustainable practices can be profitable and a model for our food system, if people choose to support it.

Fresh opens with a short summary of the problems and consequences of industrialized food production, then focuses primarily on the individuals who are creating new approaches to address environmental, health, and economic challenges throughout the food chain.

Joel Salatin is a world-famous sustainable farmer and entrepreneur who, by observing nature, devised a rotational grazing system for his animals that heals the land while making his operations many times more profitable than his conventional farming neighbors.

Will Allen, a former pro basketball player and recipient of a Macarthur “Genius Award”, is now one of the most influential leaders of the urban farming movement. He teaches people in the inner city the value of healthy food and how to grow their own.

David Ball saw his family-run supermarket and a once-thriving local farming community dying with the rise of Walmart and other big chains. So he reinvented his business, partnering with area farmers to sell locally-grown food at an affordable price. His plan has brought the local economy back to life.

Fresh also features a farmer in Iowa who illustrates the struggles family farmers face, a hog farmer in Missouri who stopped using antibiotics on his pigs, and commentary by noted food expert and author Michael Pollan.”

Film includes potluck and discussion at 5090 Center Street NE, Salem, Oregon 97317.  For more information: 503-449-8077.

This event is made possible by support from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, Life Source Natural Foods, and private donations from people in our community.  Thank you for your support!

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Two Free Films for February: Growing Cities and The Man Who Stopped the Desert


Growing Cities: A Film About Urban Farming In America
A documentary film that examines the role of urban farming in America and asks how much power it has to revitalize our cities and change the way we eat.  In their search for answers, filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette take a road trip and meet the men and women who are challenging the way this country grows and distributes its food, one vacant city lot, rooftop garden, and backyard chicken coop at a time.  Join them as they discover that good food isn’t the only crop these urban visionaries are harvesting. They’re producing stronger and more vibrant communities, too.

Febuary 17th @ 6:30 pm, Pringle Creek Community 3911 Village Center Drive, SE, Salem.  Made possible with support from the Pringle Creek Community.  For more info call Diana Cason  941-735-0452




The Man Who Stopped the Desert
“Yacouba Sawadogo, a peasant farmer from northern Burkina Faso in Africa, has succeeded where international agencies failed. Over the last twenty years he has become a pioneer in the fight against desertification and hunger. Yacouba’s struggle is pure, inspiring drama. It is about one man’s determined efforts that have the potential to benefit many thousands living in the Sahel region of Africa.
As early as the 1970′s, the Sahel became a bleak land as a result of severe drought combined with overgrazing, poor land management, and overpopulation. By the 1980′s the region, which once had a population of some 30 million, suffered from severe poverty and starvation. Yacouba remained undaunted. Through the combination of his vast reforestation project and the adaptation of an ancient agricultural ‘zai’ planting technique, his name is now synonymous with reversing the process of desertification and combating food shortages. Yacouba’s work over a quarter century has resulted in the successful rehabilitation of farmland, the regrowth of forests, and the return of many to their homeland, as well as praise from international organizations eager to learn more about his techniques.”

February 26th @ 6:30pm, Event includes finger food potluck and discussion, @ 5090 Center Street. NE, Salem.  Made possible with support from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem and Life Source Natural Foods.  More info call: 503-449-8077


UN declares 2015 “International Year of the Soils,” and NW Permaculture Institute offers new classes and free films!

Happy New Year!

Here at the NW Permaculture Institute we are wishing you an abundant 2015 in education, fertile soil, and healthy home grown foods.


Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share: Free Film and Lecture Series presents our first films of 2015

January 20th @ 6:30pm – The Agro Rebel: Permaculture in the Salzburg Alps, 45 mins.  How can Sepp Holzer farm fish, livestock, vegetables and herbs, a wide variety of fruits including lemons high in the Alps?  No weeding, no watering, no annual plowing.  The Agro Rebel explores the unusual, sustainable, energy and time saving, farming methods developed by Austrian farmer, Sepp Holzer.   Film showing at Pringle Creek Community, 3911Village Center Drive SE, Salem.  For more info call Diana Cason, 941-735-0452.  Presented by NWPI with help from Pringle Creek Community.


January 22nd @ 6:30pm – The Greenhorns, 50 minutes.  “Monoculture, monopoly, cheap food and poor diets – these are the consequences of an agricultural system gone awry, driven by policy and corporate control.  Here we are, unhealthy.  Re-orienting our food system is a project worth tackling, and these young farmers have chosen to become part of the solution, addressing the crisis they see by learning the skills needed, and starting the kinds of businesses that, one by one, can replace complicated, entrenched systems.  Today’s young farmers are dynamic entrepreneurs, stewards of place.  They are involved in local politics, partnering with others, inventing new social institutions, working with mentors, starting their careers as apprentices, borrowing money from the bank, putting in long hours, taking risks, innovating, experimenting.  Farming with horses, with hacked tractors, with forgotten urban lots and Appalachian coal country.  These young farmers have vision: a prosperous, satisfying, sustainable food system.  It is ambitious, it will take work, but it wont be boring.”

Event includes finger food potluck and discussion, @ 6:30 pm, Thursday January 22nd at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, 5090 Center Street NE, Salem.  For more info call 503-449-8077.  Presented by NWPI, with support from UUCS and Life Source Natural Foods.


In January we are starting a new section of our 36 hour class:

Permaculture Essentials for the Pacific NW 

Permaculture is “Earth Care, People Care, and Return of Surplus,” combining traditional and innovative methods that are sustainable and energy saving, enriching to the soil and all life. Design a system to feed your family, or complete additional short classes to earn your certificate and work as a consultant.

Permaculture Essentials for the Pacific NW covers permaculture history and ethics and goes into depth on the core concepts for creating sustainable systems by observing connections and capturing energy. Explore the energy transactions of trees, the roles of fungi, and the many functions of living soil. Learn pH, mineral availability, and enriching your soil with worm beds, weeds as repair tools, and compost fixing strategies. Study landscape effects on climate and temperate climate design for your home and landscape from balcony or kitchen gardens to main crops and food forests. This course prepares you to design a sustainable system for your yard or small farm in the Pacific NW.

Let’s build resilience, save money and energy, save water, and feed our communities now. Come join our latest class!

Classes will be three hours, 6:30-9:30 each Wednesday evening, held in Salem starting on January 28th.  $15 per class.  Space is limited, contact instructor, Diana Cason at 941-735-0452, to reserve your seat, or to ask for more information and location.


2015 – International Year of the Soils

There is little as important as the health and preservation of living soils.  To learn more about the importance of soil and the relationship between soil and carbon, we recommend the following books:

The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet, by Kristin Ohlson

Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country, by Courtney White


For more information on the UN declaration, 2015 the International Year of the Soils, visit;


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Free Film Event, Rebecca’s Wild Farm: A Farm For the Future, Oct 28th


Rising fuel prices are a wake up call for filmmaker, Rebecca Hosking, as she investigates how to turn her family’s farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future. Going beyond mere alarm raising to present practical, ingenious solutions from pioneering farmers and gardeners, Rebecca shows that nature holds some surprising keys to abundance.

October 28th @ 6:30 pm

Pringle Creek Community

3911Village Center Drive SE, Salem

For more info call

Diana Cason, 941-735-0452



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Permaculture Essentials for the Pacific NW, class schedule and make up opportunities

Welcome to all of our new and returning students!  We are glad to be sharing and supporting your learning journey.  Everyone currently registered gets a hard copy of the 36 hour, 12 class breakdown from their instructor, however, we post here too for those of you who need to make up a class, or who just want to repeat a class and deepen your understanding of the core concepts.  New students, if you have missed Class One, or any class session, call Instructor Diana Cason at 941-735-0452 to get details on how to attend a make up session.  (Note: the Saturday classes have been changed to independent study schedules to meet the needs of our out of town students and are no longer meeting on Saturdays in NE Salem.  We will be starting a new section of Permaculture Essentials for the Pacific NW in NE Salem in Early 2015.)


Class One

Tuesday 10/7/14 @ 6:30pm at Pringle Creek, and Friday 10/10/14 @ 6pm at Silverton Grange
Class business and introductions, beginning Introduction to Permaculture Chapter, Key Problems, Permaculture Ethics, Definition, Sustainability, History

Class Two

Tuesday 10/21/14 @ 6:30pm at Pringle Creek, and Friday 10/31/14 @ 6pm at Silverton Grange
Permanent culture, urban, repair and aid work, Permaculture in society, Permaculture as holistic design, Introduction Concepts and Themes Chapter, Hierarchy of soil creation in natural systems

Class Three

Tuesday 11/4/14 @ 6:30pm at Pringle Creek, and Friday 11/7/14 @ 6pm at Silverton Grange
Elements – needs & products, The sun – source of energy, Characteristics of natural ecosystems, Weeds, Pioneers, Niches, Weeds – fast tracking recovery by design techniques, Diversity leads to stability, Connections between elements, Positioning elements, Use of natural resources, Energy, Edge opportunities, Capturing energy, Extending entropy

Class Four

Friday 11/14/14 @ 6pm at Silverton Grange, and Tuesday 11/18/14 @6;30pm at Pringle Creek
Categories of resources, Dispersal of yield over time, Diversity of plants, Perennial food advantages, Diversity and security, Yield and energy inputs, Niches, Introduction to Methods Chapter, Analysis: design by listing characteristics of components, Slope, orientation, Zone analysis, Sector analysis, Designing with zones, Zonal placement, Sectors, Outside energies effect on site

Class Five

Tuesday 12/2/14 @ 6:30 at Pringle Creek, and Friday 12/5/14 @ 6pm at Silverton Grange
Listing possibilities, selection of random assemblies, Connecting elements, Simple efficiencies, Observation, Introduction to Pattern Chapter, Patterns in nature, Pattern forms, Fibonacci sequence, Formation of pattern, Working with nature and patterns, Scale and order of size, Order and form, Edge areas

Class Six

Tuesday 12/16/14 @ 6:30pm at Pringle Creek, and Friday 12/19/14 @ 6pm at Silverton Grange
Edge effect, Working with pattern design events, Looking for existing patterns, Translating pattern form, Re-patterning a river, Wind patterns, Pattern used for passing on knowledge, Pattern for productive form, The herb spiral, Traditional use of pattern, Re-patterning society, The pit garden banana circle, Edge to space relationships

Class Seven

Tuesday 1/6/15 @ 6:30pm at Pringle Creek, and Friday 1/9/15 @ 6pm at Silverton Grange
Introduction to Climatic Factors Chapter, Using local knowledge, Temperate climate, Orographic effect, Maritime effect, Continental effect, Rain shadow, Micro climate, Landscape effects on climate, Climate analogues, Characteristics of temperate climate zone, Orographic features, Humid landscape profile, Flatlands, Wetlands, Water – stop, spread and soak

Class Eight

Tuesday 1/20/15 @ 6:30pm at Pringle Creek, and Friday 1/23/15 @ 6pm at Silverton Grange
Introduction to Trees Chapter, Temperature effects, How a tree interacts with rain, Fungi Relationships, Forests, Legumes as support species

Class Nine

Tuesday 2/3/15 @ 6:30pm at Pringle Creek, and Friday 2/6/15 @ 6pm at Silverton Grange
Fruit tree care, function and interaction, Collapsing soil fertility

Class Ten

Compost, Chemical agriculture, pH, acid vs. alkaline soils, pH of soil and mineral availability to plants, Role of weeds, Ants, Soil fertilizer

Class Eleven

Perfect compost, Fixing problems with compost, Introduction to Temperate Climate Design Chapter, House design, Energy use, Garden design

Class Twelve


Zone 2 food forest, Zone 2 main crop, Zone 3 design, Zone 4 farm forestry, Terraces and raised beds



Two Tuesdays per month, Starting Oct 7th, 2014, 6:30-9:30pm, @ Pringle Creek Community, 3911Village Center Drive SE, Salem.  Instructor, Diana Cason, call 941-735-0452

Two Fridays per month, Starting Oct 10th, 2014, 6-9pm @ Silverton Grange #748, 201 Division Street, Silverton.  Instructor, Diana Cason, call 941-735-0452

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Free Event, Two Talking Wolves, Ted Turner and Conservation Tour, in Salem, Oregon – Oct 19th

How does capitalism need to necessarily change to save the world?  What is the role of young people and what obligation do companies and business people have to give back to society?  Throw in topics like rewilding the West with wolves and grizzly bears, support for the United Nations, and the dangers posed by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons and you’ve got a recipe for fascinating discussion. Anchored by the story of Ted Turner’s evolving connection to his own wild places in the West that shaped his views as an “eco-capitalist-humanitarian,” the Two Talking Wolves Tour promises to inspire audiences of young and old alike.  Come out and discover the pathfinding work of the original Captain Planet and how the Pacific Northwest figures at the center of many urgent environmental issues affecting America and the world.

Todd Wilkinson
Nationally-known environmental journalist Todd Wilkinson is author of the new critically-acclaimed book “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet” that has been spurring discussions about “eco-capitalism” across the country.   From Turner’s pioneering work in “rewilding the West” with wolves and grizzly bears to raising 50,000 bison, giving $1 billion to the UN and trying to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear weapons, he has been hailed as a path finding 21st century businessman.  Wilkinson, whose work has appeared in national newspapers and magazines, spent seven years going behind the scenes with Turner and tells the dramatic story of how nature not only saved the legendary “media mogul” but left him transformed.   Wilkinson’s slide show discussions have been delighting—and provoking— audiences across the country.
Bob Ferris
Known primarily for his groundbreaking work on wolf recovery in the West, Bob Ferris has been a leader in the conservation and sustainability communities for more than 30 years.  Ferris is a trained scientist and former businessman with a long history of working to dispel fear and myths about predators while developing mechanisms to overcome the legitimate barriers to coexistence.  He was part of the volunteer team that went north to Fort Saint John, BC in 1996 to capture wolves bound for Yellowstone and central Idaho during the government shutdown and has crossed back and forth between policy and practice ever since.  He is currently the executive director of Cascadia Wildlands headquartered in Eugene, Oregon.

– See more at: http://www.cascwild.org/two-talking-wolves-ted-turner-and-conservation-tour/#sthash.I8jEM5Gn.dpuf

October 19th
@ Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem
5090 Center Street NE
Salem, Oregon 97317

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How can we successfully continue to feed the world?

You cannot effectively discuss GMOs without discussing the “Green Revolution” and industrial agriculture. I teach people how to maintain and increase soil fertility, so the GMO issue, as well as debates about how to make nutrient rich food available to everyone on the planet, cross my desk many times daily. I was recently asked, “How can we successfully continue to feed the world?”

Gardens and Micro Farms are Cost Inefficient and Fail to Feed Society
by Lichen June

People keep telling me that gardens and micro farms are cost inefficient and fail to feed society. Sometimes this information is delivered loudly and firmly with great emphasis on profit, and great personal attachment to the idea of its being true. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about how modern chemical agriculture feeds the world. This is to be expected because so few people are even beginning to understand the complexity of the relationships between bacteria, fungi, and plants that create living soil. Less than 1% of the organisms in living soil have been identified and named let alone given any study for us to begin to grasp their roles. This frontier is just opening up in science right now. The reason it wasn’t studied earlier was the myth that NPK: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, were all that was needed to grow plants. Modern agriculture is balanced entirely on this myth. You can grow plants that way for a number of years, so long as you can afford the fossil fuels to do it and you don’t mind the lack of nutrients in your food, however, there are two catches.

The first catch is that the N, P, and K are stabilized in salt and watered into the soil. A normal plant in healthy soil chooses which nutrients it needs from a long, long list and does starch exchanges at the hair root level with the bacteria and fungi who are dealing in that necessary nutrient. Plants have no choice but to drink water. So, when NPK based fertilizers are applied to the big mono crops, the plants are force fed those fertilizers through salt and watering until they become so bloated (more pounds = more money) that they are like beacons for pests, fungus, and weeds.

Then comes the second catch. The farmers must throw on massive amounts of pesticide, fungicide, and herbicide to try and help their very weak but large crops survive what would have been their natural demise. Think about that for a minute… The companies that are creating and profiting from crops that attract pests, fungus and weeds, are also profiting from the sale of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides to manage those problems that they exacerbate. All of these poisons kill the living organisms in the soil. Those living organisms were there ready to not only feed current plants, but also to continue doing the exchanges that would create the food for future plants. (Not to mention all that living soil does for us in carbon sequestration.) Nutrients in the soil are finite when the soil is dying/dead. In fact even with nutrient rich soil, if you don’t have the right pH and combination of living organisms to do the exchanges with the plants, those nutrients are as unavailable to the plants as if they were locked away in a safe. So, eventually, the only way to yield a crop is by moving to new ecosystems and fresh living soil somewhere else that hasn’t yet been depleted and killed. Well, that is the only way other than growing your crops in ways that encourage rather than kill that soil life, in ways that help plants grow strong, healthy, and nutrient dense year upon year.

Fossil fuel issues aside, modern farming can only move over to the next field so long before all the soil is dead. Game over. Big chemical agriculture and GMOs can only continue so long as more and more cash is thrown in and more and more soil is killed. So the problem is not that chemical agriculture is just unsustainable from an eco friendly perspective, it is literally unsustainable, and leaves us with soil unable to grow food without high inputs. It is magical thinking to assume that science even has the time to solve this collapse of billions upon billions of different living relationships in the soil that have barely begun to be studied.

When Cuba lost access to fossil fuels in the early 1990s people began to starve. In desperation, everyone, everywhere began growing food. They survived precisely because of the emergence of gardens and small farms. This story is detailed in the documentary film, “The Power of Community, How Cuba Survived Peak Oil,” directed by Faith Morgan. The reality is that gardening and small farms which build living soil are the only way humanity will be able to continue to feed themselves and the sooner we switch over, the more likely more people will survive when modern chemical agriculture reaches its end game.

The idea that third world people need the innovations of modern agriculture in order to eat is also a myth. First, there is more than enough food in the world, made unavailable by markets and profits, not scarcity. For more info on this read, “Hope’s Edge, the Next Diet for a Small Planet,” by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe. Second, a lot of those starving poor became so as western chemical agriculture and corporate interests colonized and pushed peoples off of their land where they were previously feeding themselves just fine from living soil ecosystems and home gardens. This shift was graphically documented in the book, “Ancient Futures, Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World,” by Helena Norberg-Hodge. Also, it is impossible to ignore the tens of thousands of third world farmers who have committed suicide because of the high costs and subsequent failures of GMO crops and other farming practices based on killing the soil. They often commit suicide by drinking the same poisons that killed their soil and destroyed their families ability to grow a diverse and nutritious diet. On the heels of these sort of tragedies, and deficiencies in access to nutrients, 1st world solutions like Golden Rice are an offensive and blind gesture. If their soil was still alive they could grow crops that were far more nutrient dense and available locally. But then that would cut out the corporate middle man, and point out that “The Green Revolution” of chemical agriculture and depleted soil is actually what is depriving people of nutrients in their food supply. But Westerners keep making themselves feel better offering poor people modified rice. Kind of like offering a crippled person a flimsy cane while continuing to kick them down hill.

Gardening and micro farming are only inefficient when your priority is profits for the few big agro corporations, rather than many local family farmers making profit off of many separate smaller acreages. Micro farms can make well over $1,000 per acre, while big chemical agriculture makes about $25 per acre. If you start to look at the pounds of food per square foot, and nutrient density in food grown in living soil, industrial agriculture comes up shamefully inefficient. Not only are big agro business and GMO farming inefficient at the amount of nutrient produced per acre, they are also the most inefficient of all at creating the soil life that will guaranty that we can eat next year and the year after that, etc. So, the question is which matters more, deficiency in profits for a few, or deficiency in life?

Lichen June is the Director of the Northwest Permaculture Institute in Oregon, USA