Visiting a local alpaca farm!

While trying to figure out holiday gifts for friends and family, I noticed a friend from a gardening class that I took a few years ago, Linda Clark, was advertising her homemade wool products made from her own pet alpacas.  I was initially interested in her alpaca wool and catnip mouse cat toys, but when I stopped by her open house, I was able to cross a few more people off my gift list.  Linda had alpaca and sheep’s wool felted scarves and cat toys, and she had some friends over who had made knitted scarves and felted soaps with the alpaca wool as well.  I picked out a few gifts, and then Linda gave me a quick demonstration of how she turns the alpaca wool into felt, and then takes that felt and molds it into felt hats.  Check it out!


Hand felting demonstration:


How Linda makes her felt hats:


Mayor’s Office announces Climate Adaption Plan

On Tuesday December 1st, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Philadelphia Climate Adaptation Working Group invited the public to an event centered around the release of “Growing Stronger: Toward a Climate-Ready Philadelphia,” the City’s first climate adaptation plan. I wasn’t able to attend the event, but I was curious to hear what the Mayor has in store for ensuring the future resilience of our city.  Thankfully, Paul Glover was able to attend, and was able to report on his thoughts about the meeting:

“[The] meeting offered a buffet of insights from local bureaucrats tasked with considering the impacts of pending ocean rise and urban heat. There were no bold proposals, altough one person suggested that the airport would have to be relocated when it submerges.

Two hundred years from now, people might look back at the nice middle class audience and say, ‘ Did you rebuild your houses so they needed no fossil fuel, did you quit driving cars, did you quit eating meat, did you quit shopping for novelties, did you quit shitting into clean water, did you replace parking lots with orchards, did you do anything inconvenient on behalf of the human future?’

It would have been rude of me to disturb the polite discussion.”

December Movie Screening – Ta Nehisi Coates book excerpt


This month, we’re watching an episode of Democracy Now featuring author Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ta-Nehisi reads an excerpt from his book “Between the World and Me.” We’re focusing this month’s screening on Social Justice, and specifically about being black in America.

Permaculture is often criticized as a movement because of the lack of racial diversity. Most of the well-known permaculture teachers are white men. However, there are countless other people of all races, genders, and backgrounds who are working toward our shared vision of a fair, regenerative future. Addressing issues of social and racial justice are just as critical as ecological action to a positive vision of a sustainable, regenerative future.

Today we spend the hour with Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the explosive book about white supremacy and being black in America. Titled “Between the World and Me,” it is written as a letter to his teenage son, Samori. In July, Ta-Nehisi Coates launched the book in his hometown of Baltimore. He spoke at the historic Union Baptist Church. “It seems like there’s a kind of national conversation going on right now about those who are paid to protect us, who sometimes end up inflicting lethal harm upon us,” Coates said. “But for me, this conversation is old, and I’m sure for many of you the conversation is quite old. It’s the cameras that are new. It’s not the violence that’s new.”

Bring food to share, if you’d like. Also, bring your own plates and utencils so that we can continue trying to make this a no-waste event (if you forget, we have extra for you).

When: Wednesday December 16, 7-9PM

Where: Repair the World, 4029 Market St Philadelphia, PA

Facebook event:


Interview with Jim Maransky, builder of the Ice House Condos, a Sustainable Development in Fishtown


In late October, I had the chance to speak with Jim Maransky, the president of E-Built, the construction firm behind the new green development project, Ice House Condominiums in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. The website for the Ice House lists it’s green construction aspects as:

  • A large, common area, “Green Roof,” centered between the Condo Units
  • A Rainwater recycling system
  • Recycling / Reuse of building materials from buildings that are being demolished
  • Solar Power System for running common- area electric
  • High Efficiency HVAC systems
  • High Efficiency Appliances
  • Tankless Hot Water Heaters
  • Dual Flush Toilets
  • Hybrid Car Hookups
  • Sustainable Hardwood Flooring

I was interested to find out more about the project, and how green development projects are changing our city, and transforming our neighborhoods.  The Ice House is a prime example of how permaculture design can be profitable. When I spoke with Jim, he wasn’t very familiar with permaculture design principles and ethics, but I think the design of the Ice House has many aspects that are in line with the goals and methods of permaculture.  The holistic design of this development creates a living space for people who want to live a low-impact lifestyle in the heart of the city.  This exemplifies how permaculture design, and systems analysis can create opportunities to live sustainable lives in large cities.

Without intentionally following the permaculture principles, Jim described how he observed and interacted with the community to identify opportunities and threats.  Jim worked to obtain a yield for his business, and for the community by creating a low-impact living opportunity that was not previously available.  The project takes advantage of renewable resources through rain-water catchment and integrates the community through common areas like a rooftop dog park, and an outdoor lounge / kitchen area.  Jim also describes how he creatively responded to changes in the construction industry and took advantage of market opportunities.  Permaculture, and regenerative design are not exclusive to farming or landscaping, and this example proves that business aligned with permaculture principles can be profitable if market niches are identified, and opportunities are seized.  Read on, and find out more about this project.

Tell us about what makes the Ice House special?

The first two phases both earned LEED Platinum Certification, so the project already met those qualifiers. It’s the first LEED Platinum Multi-Family Low-Rise in Philadelphia History. Low Rise is four stories or less.

What is E-Built, your company?

E-Built is a construction management firm.

Where did the idea of this project come from? Was it from E-Built, or did someone approach you with the idea?

No, E-Built grew out of this complex actually. I started doing smaller residential projects, re-habbing houses, doing flips, doing all the construction in-house, back in 2003-2004. In 2005-2006, I started to pick up some of the properties that are now part of phase 3 of the project. Over a 3-year span, I assembled all 14 properties that now make up the Ice House. Building phase 1, I used an outside GC firm, which is difficult when you’re trying to build things that are LEED or “Green”. You know, now it’s a bit easier, but back then, LEED Platinum, or building to a high LEED level, or any LEED certification at all, a lot of contractors and subcontractors didn’t understand any of it. So, there was a big learning curve. There was something that we called the “Green Markup,” as soon as you told someone it was a green project or LEED project, they instantly added like 15-20% on their price for the job just for unknowns. It became evident that if we were going to continue to build this way, we were going to have to build our own GC firm to handle it. We did the first phase with another company, but self-performed quite a bit. And the second and third phase we did with our GC company. Starting back in 2007, I formed E-Built, and it started out as a 3-4 man team, and now we’re 20+ employees. So now we build our own projects. We’re doing the Icehouse Project, we’re doing the townhome project across the street, that was my own development project, and we also do construction all around the city. So, we work with other developers and other parties as well. [We’ve got] a couple of restaurants going on right now, 2 other multi-family projects. We build single-families… We found a niche where guys with a mid-size project that are too big and complicated for a standard small-time contractor, like a sole-proprietor working with a couple guys. It jumps from there, up to the next level of firms out there, which are larger construction firms that do 5-10 million dollar jobs. There’s a very small number of GC’s / construction managements that handle projects that are in our sweet spot which is anywhere from a million to ten million dollars. Really, a million to five million dollar range, that’s really our area of expertise, and there’s a shortage in the market for those types of contracts. Especially after the crash, with the crash a ton of people jumped out of the business. And now the building boom is back and there’s a shortage of qualified guys. So I employ four guys in this company with masters degrees, two masters in sustainable design, I have an MBA, and the other guy has a masters in engineering. So, we’re a pretty educated group for builders. We also take on other projects, complicated projects, we have a division of the company that just does rooftop work. So we do big green roofs, roof decks, kind of like a rooftop makeover. Guys that are building, even for other GCs, that are building large projects, and they get up to the roof, then we take it from there. We do the coatings, we do the green roofs, we do the roof decks, we do outdoor kitchens.

IMG_8784   Greenroof-final

 Why did you want to work on sustainable development projects?

I got out of college, and my first job was working for an energy company. I worked for Atlantic Electric, outside of Atlantic City, which is now Connectiv Power. My specialty, or what I did, was bulk power marketing and best-case scenario analysis on the most efficient way to run power plants. Energy companies can buy bulk power from one another instead of running their own plants. All the companies have all these different power plants that run off on different fuels, so there’s gas plants, coal plants, different plants, and they all have different costs to operate. So if you have a high load energy day, like say it’s a 100 degree day in the summer, and everyone’s running their AC, well almost every power plant that they have is running, and they gotta go into emergency power, nuclear plants, other high cost plants… So my job was to analyze these days and figure out the most efficient way, and take that as a learning tool, and when it came up again and we were going to have another high load day, then we’d go and buy bulk power through another group, like through an Enron, or something like that, so we could buy bulk power instead of producing our own.
So, I started out as an employee working for them, and then I left for grad school, and stayed on as a consultant, and eventually they outsourced the department to me. But the work was deadline-based, so I would have really intensive work weeks, and then there’d be a lull for 2-3 weeks, you know, it was deadline based every month. And so I had to start filling in the gaps, so I started filling in the gaps with buying real estate, flipping houses, and things like that. The two just kind of intertwined when I started learning more about developing, and doing bigger projects I was really intrigued by the energy efficiency aspects, the LEED certification, the green roofs, and it was just a natural fit.
Then it came to the first phase, we said we were just going to make it a green project. It started as a regular project with some green attributes, and then it grew into the green roofs, and getting in the stormwater management. And then we were looking at it, we pulled the permit, and we were ready to get going, and the GC I hired, one of the guys said, “This is really close, you could probably get this LEED certified just with what you have it in now.” So then we hired a consultant, and we looked at it, and we were right there at the LEED Silver level, and then as we went on, we kept adding more and more amenities and green features, which built up our points, and at the end we ended up with LEED Platinum, which became the goal for the following phases. So this phase got all LEED Platinum, and now we’re on the third phase and the goal is to hit platinum on that as well. We’ll be somewhere in Gold-Platinum, we’re right on the borderline.

What are the different elements of the project have a focus on sustainability?

Stormwater management. We were under the 15,000 square foot threshold here that requires stormwater management, so everything that we’ve done, we’ve done voluntarily. So we have all the green roofs in the project, but even then, everything even after it drains out of the green roofs, it goes down, and we have 3 cisterns in the basement, and a whole rainwater recycling system, and it gets pumped back up. So, all these pipes that you can see are painted black and hidden around, they run all around so it runs an irrigation system up here, runs irrigation on the rest of the green roofs, re-fills the Koi ponds, it does all of the wash-down and stuff outside, all of our maintenance watering, cleaning sidewalks, cleaning the garage, all that stuff re-uses the rain water. So, we do a lot with the stormwater management and rain water recycling. Efficiency is huge. Everything we put in, we over-insulate. We require an R-factor of whatever is required by code plus 5%. We do all exposed spiral duct work, so any of the air leaking out of the ducts is already in the conditioned space. We use 98% efficient tankless water heaters, all EnergyStar appliances, EnergyStar lighting, recessed lights are EnergyStar, we use LED lights wherever we can, 95% efficient HVAC systems. So everything we do is really built from an efficiency position. Like, on a 90 degree day, you’ll go into a unit, and it’s 70 in the unit without the air on. Maybe the air is on for like 15 minutes in an hour, where in another house, the air would be on constantly. Everybody that’s lived here is pretty happy with the energy efficiency. Electric bills are low, gas bills are low.

How many units are filled and how many are open?

Everything is filled. Well, we have one unit for sale. In phase 1, there was 13 units, and we sold 10 out of the 13. I kept those 3 and rented them out. So, I still have those 3. We moved into the larger unit, for our office. Every unit in phase 2 sold, 9 out of 9. There were 14 in phase 3, and they’ll finish in January or February.


Why did you choose Fishtown for this project?

I moved to Philly right after college. I grew up in the middle of Pennsylvania, Lebanon. So Philly’s the big town, the big city. I grew up halfway between Hershey and Reading. I went to school and college in Reading. Then after college, I went down the shore, found a job for the summer, and the guys I lived with down there were coming back here, and I actually lived in Northern Liberties. So then, for a number of summers, I was back and forth, where I had that job down the shore. So I worked down there, and came up here to Philly, and was back and forth. Then I started buying flips and rehabs, I bought a couple in New Jersey, and a couple down in Delaware County, and then I started looking in Philly, to try to get into new construction and development. I was just riding all around town looking for places, and came through here. A friend of mine lived down around the corner and would talk highly of Fishtown. And we found the first one, which was this bar called the Ice House down on the corner. Dooley’s Ice house was an infamous bar back in the day. It was basically a bar, but it was mostly take-out. It was shut down for 10-15 years by the time I bought it. It was boarded up, there were 6 houses in a row that were all boarded up here. I thought the field was gorgeous, and the block was gorgeous, and I was like, “Wow, this is really a shame.” But it was 6 or 7 properties in a row with all individual owners, and all boarded up. You know, title issues, leans, taxes, defaulted mortgages.

09  07

So the bar shuddered, and the guy owned the bar and like 3 houses down. So he closed up the bar, and shuddered his house, and the next one fell into disrepair, and they shuddered it. So it was 140 feet, where you see the end of Phase 1 now, and it was just shuddered buildings. On the corner was Dooley’s Ice House. And back in the day, this field was all intermurals and leagues. This was, demographically, a Caucasian blue-collar neighborhood. And supposedly, the story was that they field went 7 days a week after work. They played softball, football, baseball, any type of intramural or league sports. The field was packed every night. They drank on the field, they’d come over to Dooley’s Ice House, get six packs to take out, and go back over to the field. You know, guys are coming in to play sports, and get their beer at the bar, and some guys were drinking at the bar, and some were taking it back to the field. And it was back and forth, back and forth.

s001  IMG_8788

Well, the field was owned by the school district. So at a certain point they shut it down and gave it back to the school. They shut down all the intramurals, and it basically killed the business for the bar. And the bar went out of business, and that started the chain reaction. I had the opportunity to buy the corner, and I was like, I can get the corner, and I can get the number three, but now I gotta track down these other guys. So I hired a private investigator to track these guys down. It took me 2 years to track everything down, and basically pay them to take the property with all the liens and everything in place. Then I had to go settle the taxes, and the defaulted mortgages. In one case, I bought the defaulted mortgage from the bank because I couldn’t find the guy. I went in the back way. But I was able to get the 140 feet of street frontage, which is valuable, and behind it was a Fishtown Auto Repair Facility, and the rear door was this alley way that came out the back. And I was able to get those, and the guy that owned a house right here, I agreed to trade him one of the finished condos for the house, and I put the whole thing together and started working on a comprehensive design. We turned this thing 100 ways from sideways. We tried to do single families along the street, but all those houses were only 30 feet deep, and bordering commercial properties, so then there wasn’t any rear windows in the houses, so that wasn’t comfortable. So things just kept growing out of necessity to try and make it a bigger kind of project. So that’s basically where we ended up.


Any plans for future projects?

Well, I’m looking. It’s tough now. It’s good that our name’s out there but there’s all of the large parcels in this area are taken and prices are high. It’s good for the neighborhood, it’s going to drive up sale prices. So, were finishing this last phase of The Icehouse and the townhomes across the street. And then we have other projects around the city. So the construction company’s really busy. I’m in constant search for something new.

Tiny Home Construction in Swarthmore, PA

One of the final projects in my Permaculture Design Certifcation class was for a local Tiny Home production business.  My classmate is an architect, and with her previous experience, they’ve made rapid progress on creating their first Tiny Home.  Recently, I had the opportunity to help out with a build day, and get a look a the tiny home resulting from the final project design.  I installed some light fixtures, and with some other tasks.  This project is a family effort, with all family members contributing to the design and build.  Check out some photos that I took!
IMG_8952IMG_8951 IMG_8945 IMG_8949
The design of the home aims to use as sustainable materials as possible.  The wood framing is slightly wider between vertical beams compared to normal construction, which allows more insulating spray foam for thermal efficiency, and less wood used.  Donated and repurposed materials are being utilized, and even the spray insulation is made from sugar beets.
It’s an awesome project that I’ll be following, and hopefully helping out with again.  Follow the progress for this project on their project blog.  Or, check out the facebook page.

Ecology-Derived Design Principles and Social Organization

By Dirk McGurk,

Whether considering an intentional community, a group of friends, an artist collective, or business and organizational structures – any collective of people can benefit from thoughtful design.  Permaculture seeks to identify patterns that are useful across all types of natural systems.  Practitioners should strive to adapt principles derived from observation of ecology and natural systems and apply them to social, financial, or any system design. This approach makes the assumption that human systems and structures, social systems and financial systems, are a part of nature, and not separate from it.

Much of the existing work on derivation, clarification, and application of permaculture principles has been applied towards endeavors that are directly interactive with ecology (gardening, agriculture, edible landscaping, livestock management, etc).  This is not surprising, as Permaculture principles are derived from the observation of nature, the most obvious place to apply these principles is to the interaction and design of natural systems.  In the following analysis, several ecologically-derived principles and concepts are viewed from a social perspective of the natural interaction between people, and communities.

What is a good social system design?

First, it is beneficial to have a common understanding of the goal of our design.  Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Design Manual defines The Design as “A beneficial assembly of components in their proper relationships.”  Mollison goes on to define the Principle of Self-Regulation as “The purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements or components in such a way that each serves the needs, and accepts the products of other elements.”  Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier expand this idea with the Principle of Stress and Harmony, writing “Stress is the prevention of natural function or the existence of unfulfilled needs or forced function.  Harmony is the permission of chosen and natural functions, the supply of essential needs, and the absence of forced unnatural functions.”(1)  So, as the organization of people is considered, the goal is to assemble individuals and social systems into relationships that serve the needs and accept the yields of one another in a self-regulating manner that promotes harmony and dissuades stress.

In the table below, two parties involved in an interaction may take on a variety of relationship types, benefiting one party, both parties, or no party.  Mutualism, or cooperation is the most favorable type of interaction, where both parties benefit.  Competition is the least desired, as both parties have a negative effect, or get less than they need from the interaction.  The goal is to structure relationships to be mutually beneficial, or at a minimum neutral or facilitative.


Jacke and Toensmeier also discuss the Principle of Community Functional Viability as “Community health, stability, and viability depend on the performance of a minimum set of functional roles within that community.” (3)  For example, in the context of a group of people living together, there are basic functions that must be fulfilled for the survival of each individual.  Toby Hemenway describes these basic human needs as food, shelter, water, energy, waste treatment, justice, spirituality, health, community, and livelihood. All those needs must be met at several levels, personally, locally, and regionally. (4)  Most organizations have basic functions that must be fulfilled in order for the organization to remain functional.  Careful design of these organizations is essential to creating efficient functional relationships that ensure the sustainability of that organization.  Social systems can be designed to express patterns of harmony rather than stress.  In traditional permaculture teachings, this is similar to designing plant guilds.

Plant Guilds vs. Social Guilds

The desire of social system design is to create functional relationships between system elements.  Guilds encompass any group of organisms, whether plants in a garden, or people within a social organization.  With regards to plant guilds, Jacke defines 3 main types of guilds, Community Function Guilds, Mutual Support Guilds, and Resource Partitioning Guilds.  

1. Community Function Guilds involve relationships that serve the community. They are broken down further into Crop, Nectary, Soil Builder, and Ground Cover functions.  It is common for one plant to be identified as filling more than one of these functions.  The table below describes these functions as they relate to a Plant Polyculture vs. a Social Polyculture.


2. Resource Partitioning Guilds describe non-competitive relationship between two or more species where a mutually-necessary resource is partitioned to more than one individual.  An example is two adjacent plants with complimentary root structures.  A plant with a taproot will grow happily among a plant that has shallow roots.  These two individuals partition the soil and water resources that they both need, in a non-competitive, or minimally-competitive relationship.  In a social context, resource partitioning might mean having enough personal space as to not “step on each other’s toes,” or avoiding cannibalization of the system’s own resources.

3. Mutual Support Guilds are groupings of species that support inherent needs of each other.  An example is the Native American “three sisters guild,” in which the corn supports the growth habit of the pole beans, and the squash supports the corn and beans by shading the ground and retaining moisture in the soil.  This could describe social interconnections and relationships that are mutually beneficial, or where two system elements rely on and support each other.  This could take the form of agreements or partnerships that support both parties.

Species Niches

“Every person possesses a unique set of qualities, equipment, and training that prepares her or him for certain lines of work.  A species niche resembles these inborn and developed characteristics. A species niche reflects the sum total of the organism’s ongoing attempts to remain adapted and adaptive, or its ways of interacting with the world.  Every surviving organism must marshal these characteristics and inner resources in a way that blends its inherent character with its environmental context.  We all must choose how to spend our limited time and energy.” (5)  Toby Hemenway states that, “Finding where we fit into the larger community gives us a sense of purpose and also makes us valuable to others, and that’s the basis of true security.” (6) This definition of Species Niche is closely tied to The Competitive Exclusion Principle, which states that “Stable populations of two or more species cannot continuously occupy the same niche… one species: one niche.” (7)

When designing plant guilds, each individual’s niche should be considered.  As the seasons change, the designer aims to cover the entire growing season with flowers for pollinators by planting species that fill specific niches, and flower at different times, ensuring that something is flowering at all times.  Designing for food crops that can be harvested throughout the year ensures food security.  Designing for redundancy ensures resilience, so that if one plant has a bad year, other plants fill the same function.  If a flowering plant is affected by a disease, other species of plants should flower at the same time so that there is still food for pollinators.  The garden is designed so that if one crop fails, there are others to harvest.

Dave Jacke describes The Principle of Redundancy Principle as, “Every essential function should be supported by many components.” (8)  Likewise, when designing social polycultures, consideration for functional coverage and redundancy in the community is necessary.  If a group of friends is planning to form a co-habiting community, it would be problematic to have only one person who knew how to cook.  If that person gets sick or leaves home for a period of time, the community needs redundancy of the function of meal preparation.  If the community’s only chef plans to travel during winters, than it would be useful for the community to consider who will fill this niche during this time.  If the cook only plans to live on the property for 2 years, it would be pertinent to consider the succession plan for preparing meals after the cook leaves.  These types of considerations can be identified with a careful system audit, and by thinking towards the future.  One possible solution would be for another member of the community to learn to cook by assisting the chef one day a week.  This would create functional redundancy throughout the year.

Structure and Function defining Aim and Strategy

“Principles expressed through patterns and processes create systems yielding emergent properties.” (9)

  • Principles = Strategy
  • Patterns = Structure
  • Processes = Function
  • Properties = Aims

Within an ecosystem, the function of a community of organisms is bounded by the structure of the ecosystem.  The structure may be thought of as the architecture (layers, horizons, density, patterning, and diversity of species) of the ecosystem.  The structure might also include species niches and interactions, community niches, food webs, guilds, and polycultures.  When analyzing social structures, existing cultural and societal structures might also be considered.  This can be accomplished with a niche analysis considering:

  • National and global economic and governmental structures like capitalism, socialism, anarchism, or democracy (context)
  • Local regulations and laws
  • Local economic needs and yields (market demands and yields)
  • Existing partnerships/networks/friendships
  • Community characteristics
    • Rural, urban, artistic, technological, industrial, agricultural, etc.
    • Intolerant of change, or embracing change
  • Threats and allies to achieving your goals

These characteristics of social structures may help guide the design of social systems.  This type of analysis relates to the Observe and Interact Principle of Permaculture. Permaculture practitioners must understand the current state of a system in order to change that system.  This allows for understanding of how much change can be enacted while ensuring stability and openness to change.

Practitioners analyze the structure and function with asset mapping and a system audit, and design adjustments to the structure, which defines the functions of a system through which the principles of the system are expressed and specific desired properties of the system emerge (ideally).  If the emergent properties aren’t the desired properties, then a cycle of feedback and adjustment is necessary.  Successful designs create harmonious relationships and minimize stress.  However, Jacke and Toensmeier emphasize, “We cannot hope to understand all the interactions in our gardens as they take place, and we don’t need to.  We need only develop anchors and strategies to design a fundamental framework of relationships and conditions, and then remain observant.” (10)


When considering species and community niches, it is useful to think about how these niches change over time. (11)  With plants, it is understood that certain species produce flowers, fruits, and seeds at different times of the year, and sometimes in different years (as in the case of biannual growth cycles).  When designing social systems, it is also useful to consider succession.  “If a garden yields abundantly all at once, the workload can rise to the breaking point and significantly reduce your ability to use it all. Analyzing yield timing is often as important as yield quantity in assessing system stability and sustainability.” (12)  This emphasizes the importance of successional planning in a design.  

When considering social system succession, the viability of different designs based on how well they fit into the current state of a wider social system should be considered.  At the personal level, Ethan Hughes, from the Possibility Alliance and Stillwater Sanctuary in La Plata, Missouri, reminds the Permaculture community, that it must “Meet people where they are.” (13)  Success cannot be expected if changes are designed in such a way that they do not fit within the flexibility of a person’s current lifestyle.  The focus should be on making one change at a time, making small and slow steps to achieve lifestyle goals.

Another example of social system succession is seen in the ability for society (in its current state) to see value in a project. For Curtis Stone, a small-scale farmer in Kelowna, BC, Canada, a successful strategy is to mimic the look of “production” farming (monoculture) with his backyard urban farms.  Curtis urges permaculturists to, “Keep your ideology, but put it in your back pocket.” (14)  He partially credits the success of his farm operations to the fact that they resemble production farming that people can relate to.  They view his straight lines of greens and vegetables, and they understand that a lot of food is growing, locally and organically.  With a typical garden designed using permaculture, there is a common perception of disorder, which is not relatable to the majority of many cultures today, making this type of garden less recognizable and relatable.  Curtis’ operation still uses many permaculture design principles, but he is more accepted by the current state of society, making him a “pioneer species” in the ecosystem of society.

Ethan Hughes, on the other hand, lives in a community in Missouri that has given up the use of electricity in favor of a simple, creativity-focused approach to problem-solving.  This lifestyle is more in-line with the ideal future-state according to permaculture values.  However, this type of lifestyle is a stark contrast to the current state.  Ethan Hughes has achieved a late-stage successional phase in his lifestyle.

It is important to note, however, that Ethan Hughes’ late-successional lifestyle is not necessarily “better” than Curtis Stone’s “pioneer-species” lifestyle state.  Both pioneer species and late-successional species are necessary in a continuously fluctuating ecosystem, just as both these roles are essential in our global social system.  The goal of permaculture design is to move systems away from degenerative processes (as we see in our current society), and towards regenerative processes (as seen in Curtis Stone’s and Ethan Hughes’ work).

Permaculture Strategies

When designing social systems using permaculture, the 12 Principles of Permaculture are just as useful for guiding the designs for social systems as they are useful for designing gardens and farms.  Techniques like Niche Analysis, Zone Mapping, and Sector Analysis are also useful for gaining insight into the interconnections that guide the emergent properties of a system.  Key strategies for social system design are careful observation and planning, transparent and interactive decision-making processes, and thoughtful conflict resolution strategies.  Often times, experienced Permaculture designers will attribute the failure of a project not to the inadequacy of the physical components of a design (vegetation, infrastructure, etc), but rather to the social aspect of the design.  Toby Hemenway states, “We could design and build these wonderfully productive and biologically healthy landscapes that would function beautifully, but they’d repeatedly be destroyed or compromised by social or economic factors.” (15)  Frequently, designs are implemented without considering how they fit into the current social state of a system.  Lessons learned from these failed designs often point to early involvement and inclusion of the surrounding community in order to build the support structures that are necessary for successful design and implementation.  These social considerations are often called, “Invisible structures.”  However, as the neglect of these social design elements are so frequently attributed as the cause of design failure, it is becoming evident that these are the most clearly visible structures in determining successful design.

Works Cited
  1. Jacke, Dave and Toensmeier, Eric; Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 1, p 129 (Adapted from Mollison, Bill; Permaculture Designer’s Manual, p. 38
  2. Jacke, Dave and Toensmeier, Eric; Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 1, p 129 (Adapted from Mollison, Bill; Permaculture Designer’s Manual, p. 131
  3. Jacke, Dave, Designing Perennial Polycultures, May 2015
  5. Jacke, Dave and Toensmeier, Eric; Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 1, pp. 122-124
  7. Jacke, Dave and Toensmeier, Eric; Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 1, p 133
  8. Jacke, Dave and Toensmeier, Eric; Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 1, p 150
  9. Jacke, Dave, Designing Perennial Polycultures, May 2015
  10. Jacke, Dave and Toensmeier, Eric; Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 1, p. 121
  11. Jacke, Dave and Toensmeier, Eric; Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 1, pp. 128-129
  12. Jacke, Dave and Toensmeier, Eric; Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 1, p. 129

October Movie Screening – Chickens!

Wednesday October 28th, 7PM – 10PM
Repair the World 4029 Market St. Philadelphia, PA
Philly Permaculture’s next Free Movie is all about Chickens, Permaculture-style!  Bring some food to share, and come learn with us!

This month, we’ll watch a film and learn all about raising chickens using Permaculture principles. If you’ve ever thought about having some backyard chickens in the city, there’s a lot of valuable information here to get you started!

Bring some food to share if you’d like. Bring your own plates and utencils, and let’s try to make this a no-waste event! The film is about 2.5 hours, so we’ll start right at 7PM, and we may have a short break in the middle if we need one!

Included in the film:
– Joel Salatin on why permaculture chickens (yes, I said Joel Salatin).
Easily get started with your 1st flock.
– Creative feeding programs sourced onsite to cut costs up to 100%.
– Feed on compost, sprouts, wild foods, worms, tree crops, garden…
– Lessen your workload by using chickens in the garden.
– Appropriate housing options for coop’s and mobile shelters.
– Using technology, like electric netting, to easily manage your birds.
– Work with nature to maximize yields while minimizing inputs.
– Humanely butcher and preserving for food security.
– Preparing delicious dishes.
– Making a right livelihood with profitable farmer, Joel Salatin.
– Follow the pro’s on large scale chicken chores at Polyface Farms.
– See the city chick operations in Pat Forman’s back yard.
– Grow and use herbs to prevent and treat illness with Lisa Steele.
– Breed your own for 100% self-sustainability with Jim Adkins.
– Hatching chicks with mother hen to easily raise your own.
– Adjust to winter and summer extremes to maximize production.

Tonight! Time for another Free Permaculture Movie Screening / Potluck / Discussion!

Sorry for the late notice, the next movie screening meetup is tonight!

Where: Repair the World office, 4029 Market St Philadelphia, PA
When: Monday September 21, 7PM – 9:30PM

This evening we’ll be watching a video lecture from Toby Hemenway. This is a follow up video to the lecture that we screened this past January. Here’s a link to that video lecture titled, “Toby Hemenway – How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but Not Civilization” ( In that video, Toby Hemenway describes some of the history of how non-sustainable agriculture took over our society and altered our civilization.  This follow up video that we’ll be screening discusses some of the ways we can redesign civilization to better suit our needs without exploiting our environment.

Bring some food to share if you’d like. The video is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, and we’ll have time afterwards to discuss.

Description of the video:
Modern agriculture, industry and finance all extract more than they give back, and the Earth is starting to show the strain. How did we get in this mess and what can we do to help our culture get back on track? The ecological design approach known as permaculture offers powerful tools for the design of regenerative, fair ways to provide food, energy, livelihood, and other needs while letting humans share the planet with the rest of nature. This presentation will give you insight into why our culture has become fundamentally unsustainable, and offers ecologically based solutions that can help create a just and sustainable society. This is the sequel to Toby’s popular talk, “How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and The Planet, but not Civilization.” A related article is at

11261683_1564377840451282_8476494319847593570_n 12004767_1564377850451281_2067833207002596506_n

Urgent Call for Volunteers!

Our friend Alisa Shargo (who was our special guest and provided the film and lead the discussion for the April movie screening, “Bag It,” about waste reduction)  is looking for volunteers to help with a Commercial Corridor Audit:

“Do you think all the styrofoam use here in Philly is nasty? If you want to see an end to it, participate in this study. We will be going into three commercial corridors and doing a survey of distribution practices. Volunteers will be invited to a dinner party hosted by me and you will also be able to feel like a resident who devotes time and energy into making our city a better place. Please help out!”

“So maybe you are wondering, what’s this Audit all about and how will it work. Well you show up at an assigned location and an assigned time on Sunday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Prior to this you will receive a training packet that contains a powerpoint training. When you show up we will answer any questions. Then you are given a clipboard that contains the audit tool and a section of the neighborhood. You go to this section and visit the business in that section. You walk into each business and just look around and check the corresponding boxes to what you see. You should not be in each business for more than 5 minutes and you never need to go behind the counter or talk to anyone. It’s really very basic and kinda fun fieldwork. I need 10 more volunteers on Wednesday and about 3 more on Monday. If you are not busy on those days and you live in Philly, Jersey or NY please consider helping out and sign up bellow. Thank you so much!”


Alisa needs a few more volunteers for this important project.  Help clean up our city!

The dates that volunteers are needed are August 30th, September 1st and 2nd.

Sign up to volunteer here: