Posted by & filed under Community Projects, Demonstration Sites, Urban Projects.

Three years ago, here in California, we bought an asphalt/gravel lot with a satisfactory house and decided to call it home. We had hoped to purchase a property in the country, but that was too expensive and felt too isolated for our young family. The first place we looked at in town was a 1/3 acre lot right next door my best friend’s house. The property was covered with 50% asphalt and cement and 50% gravel. Aah, a permaculturists dream come true!

I come from the lineage and the notion that we as permaculture designers and land healers would better serve our global vision by settling on degraded, abused, destroyed landscapes. This notion for me goes back to an early mentor of mine, Alan Kapular (aka ‘Mushroom’, a co-founder of Seeds of Change). When I was 20 years old, and just getting into permaculture, I took a trip with friends to Mushroom’s place to learn about seed saving and organic gardening techniques. He was gracious enough to let us into his home, feed us dinner, give us access to his seed room and a place to sleep in his greenhouse. So much of this experience and mentorship from Mushroom was exceptional, but one conversation has always stuck with me more than anything. He explained his belief that permaculturists and people who seek to steward the land should look for the most degraded places to settle rather than look for pristine pieces of land which already have many ecological functions intact. Ever since then I have always reveled in the fact that through the design and application of permaculture we can regenerate the most degraded places on Earth. Hence my new asphalt parking lot had become my permaculture dream homestead… for the time being!

After removing 45 yards of asphalt (all material was recycled at the local quarry to be turned to road base) we set out to regenerate the soil and terrace our gently sloping yard. Now this suburban scale co-housing community is the site of the Permaculture Artisans showcase gardens. The property is 1/3 acre right in the heart of the town of Sebastopol, CA. In just over three years we have transformed this land into a budding small scale permaculture and ecological design training center.

Our showcase gardens include 400,000 gal of storm water harvesting, 4,500 gallons of roof water catchment and storage, two habitat ponds, 90+ fruit/nut trees, Espaliers, Belgian fences, dry stacked rock walls, sediment ponds, French drains, raised beds, flagstone patio, small scale off-the-grid solar, children-centered garden structures, microclimate moderation, edible mushroom cultivation, Earthen oven-bench-outdoor kitchen, grey water integration, perennial vegetables, rare and heirloom fruits, custom redwood arbors and gates and on and on.

Check out the video at top to learn more!

8 Responses to “The Permaculture Neighborhood Center, California”

  1. Jason Gerhardt

    Erik, this is an excellently produced video. Nice work! I found this video a month or two ago on Andy Millison’s website for OSU. I’m lusting after your grafted together belgian fences, but doubt I can pull it off in my dry climate. Cheers!

  2. Graham Rawlinson

    I like the combined use of creative thinking with very good reasoning. It is great to get a collection of these planned systems and understand how they might apply to different environments. A very different environment is one which has totally porous soils/rocks, like much of Spain, and there containment and distribution are a huge problem.
    It would be good to see Housing Authorities requiring new build to have to include a permaculture garden system, however small, and a support network to encourage people to learn how to maintain it.

  3. Eric Toensmeier

    I was fortunate to visit Eric’s garden as part of a course I was teaching in California last fall. It is incredibly impressive and inspiring. Well done!

    Certain patterns I am seeing repeated in this period of permaculture – among them are shared urban backyards and site repair of tortured urban spaces. Both are patterns represented in my own backyard, and popping up everywhere I travel.

  4. Donna

    Very inspiring!

    What was your budget for years 1, 2, & 3? Budget is a major factor for individuals or groups trying to make this happen. How does one set up a budget for a project such as this for, say, their own backyard?

  5. Geoff Lawton

    Great work Erik, what a great urban demonstration site, keep up the great work.

  6. Erik

    Thank you for all the support everyone! To respond to some of the inquiries here-

    We also have many areas in Northern California that have over drained soil and rocks. Our solution has been to use forest biomass(logs, brush etc.) and fill all of our swales and basins with this material(carbon sponges). in some cases building Hugelkulture systems and in some cases leaving the material to be used by wildlife. In all cases we get the woody material in ground contact and fungi populations take off. We have seen some really effective moisture holding capacity in these systems as they breakdown and the fungi and broken down carbon retains tons of water that is available to plants in the dry season. of course this is site specific as we have a lot of forest in desperate need of management out here.

    PNC budgeting- This is a good question and begs a deeper answer. This project was completed by
    1) volunteers coming for educational experiences
    2)My professional installation crew building out elements like the pond
    3) our co-housing community working together to make this all happen on the weekends when we had time.

    In total the project probably cost around 50k(us dollar) over three years. If I was doing this for a client it may be more like 75k(us dollar). That said much of what you see in the video are cheaper aspects of the total system we installed.

    I think the same outcome could happen in a much cheaper way but it would take more time. What is important to note about our approach to this is that these gardens were built as a showcase demonstration of what my company Permaculture Artisans does. With that in mind we expensed this out with the idea that
    1)We would generate clientele from tours of this place, And we have in a major way!
    2)We would write this off on our taxes as a marketing and educational expense. On that note we were audited by the IRS for this exact use of our space and how we wrote it off. After about 8 months of the audit process we appealed they’re final decision and pretty much won! We were able to write all labor and materials off and claim 30% of all costs related to our property (property taxes, electricity etc) in deduction! Now we get to write of that 30% off every year into the future.

    The best way to produce a budget for a project like this is to start by putting the design plan together. Then creating a phase development plan and then getting costs estimate for each phase. This is what we do on every project with every client and works wonders in staying within a reasonable budget while accomplishing the goals of the design plan.

    Hope that helps!

  7. J.E.

    Thank you for providing such an excellent example of permaculture design. I hope that many, many groups follow a similar model that fits well into their particular locations.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)