Friday, December 5, 2008

ETC '08 - year in review 'optimistic nutshell'

In essence, the Ecovillage Training Center is little more than an educational homestead in an intentional community run as a non-profit business.  We are, at most, farm hands and teachers, helping to improve the homestead while providing ourselves and others like us with educating and edifying opportunities.  The 'ecovillage' itself is The Farm at large.  There exists a true village, and thus far, here at the ETC is enacted a training center entertaining transitory, spontaneous communities.  The true blessing of the entire place is its recognition as a place of benevolent outreach and perennial challenging of the dominant paradigm.  The Ecovillage Training Center is an integral player in The Farm's continued contributions to the creation of a culture of peace, self-reliance, and heartiness.  All the heart work that this year's crew has put in on the homestead has paid off mightily.  We scratched out a profit at times amidst economic turmoil, gave unparalleled courses, and greatly influenced the lives of many bright individuals.  The site has gained an incredible amount of embedded attentive energy, and yet still struggles to maintain itself in a state of negentropy.  We provided permaculture by merely entering our stalwart, idealist energies into a model provided to us by years of tweeking a mold carved out by countless instructors and ecovillagers from years prior.  The same model in previous years had produced some lack-luster results, yet still proved valuable enough to persist into the next season.  We now believe it is due time that some changes be made to the business model to both improve our efficacy in our mission and our business, and to improve the lives of those of us who have chosen to make our livelihoods maintaining and improving the Ecovillage Training Center.   More on that later... stay tuned.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Orchard Remediation

Wandering through the old orchards of the Farm with Brother Martin, our advanced permaculture course and Ecovillage Training Center Apprentices got a chance to hear stories about starting an orchard and and start brainstorming designs to improve the healthy and productivity of the Orchards, and perhaps even transition them into an forest gardening system.
We have been making gallons of gallons of Cider, and drinking it fresh and putting some up to ferment...perhaps I will get a chance to post up some FAQs and DIY in a couple days

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Old orchards and fresh fruit

For the last month we have been enjoying the sweet fruits of the various apple orchards on The Farm. The apples and pears we have been enjoying so much were harvested from trees planted in the late 70's and early 80's by Martin Holsinger, aka Brother Martin.  Martin is an old Farmie who know lives down in the Central Basin near Nashville.  Last weekend the Advanced Permaculture Course in Forest Gardening got the chance to spend an afternoon walking the orchards with Martin to learn the history and gleen wisdom from his experiences planting and maintaing an orchard here.  The walk played a key role in our educational process, and the apples form the orchard are playing a key role in our health and happiness this fall as we laugh over cold apple cider, enjoy hot apple cobler, and put up apple preserves for the weekend.

Many thanks to Martin for his forsight and follow through with the orchard, and for his willingness to share his information.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Permi news from the RNC (Update)

This is a quick update about our friends on the Permibus...We are glad they are free and clear of trouble and ready to start teaching and sharing again.
Thanks to Starhawk for the update:

UPDATE: The PermiBus is free, and parked right outside! It was released by the city. Our folks had to pay towing, but did not have to pay the impound charges. Today they are going over the bus carefully, as it received some damage either from the towing or during the illegal searches. Believe me when I say they are carefully checking all systems, and will get everything fully repaired before setting off on the road.

A note of irony—one of the most bizarre items listed on the search warrants used in the raids was ‘buckets of urine and human wastes’, presumably to be used for nefarious purposes. The PermiBus, of course, has a composting toilet aboard. So Stan had to explain to at least one reporter all about humanure. The reporter downloaded The Humanure Handbook and then faxed it to the city attorney. So at least someone in city administration is getting educated!

Thanks for all the support from so many different people and communities. All the calls and public pressure were tremendously effective. Many, many thanks to those of you who donated money. We will have funds left over when the fees and repairs are paid, and they will be used to further the work of the bus. The Wilsons receive no salary or stipend for the work and trainings that they do. They sustain themselves on donations—so sometimes it’s feast, sometimes famine. (Frankly, they all seem to have lost weight since I saw them last, except for the dogs and the chickens, who are plump as ever.) Now they will have money for gas, food, and possibly even some improvements to the bus. And, of course, some money to set in motion a lawsuit which will hopefully deter the authorities from making this sort of thing a habit. Many people have also contacted them and volunteered to organize trainings and a visit to their area. If you’d like the bus to come to your town, the Wilsons can be reached at: If you are interested in permaculture, check out our website at

Rain was arrested last night, along with three hundred other people, at the end of the antiwar march, and is scheduled to be in court today. Our other folks from the Pagan Cluster are all out of jail, and doing fine. Again, many many thanks for your calls and support. More may be needed as the struggle moves into the courts.

I’ll write about the last day, but probably not until tomorrow when with luck, I’ll be home. All my other updates are available on my website,

Thanks! Starhawk

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fall is coming!

Autumn is on its way, and with it a flurry of activity here at the Ecovillage Training Center as we prepare to host some amazing workshops including:
Advanced Permaculture Course Practicum in earthworks for food and water and Food Forestry
from the 12-21st of September
Natural Building Theory and Practice
from October 3rd-5th
Gaia University Graduation and workshops including Financial Permaculture
from October 7th-28th
POPCICLE -- Peak Oil Preparedness, Climate Intervention: the Challenge of Less Everything
From October 7th-11th
Mushroom workshop
November 1st
Solar Installation Course
From November 5th-9th

For more details email us at Ecovillage [at]
In addition to the amazing workshops coming up at the ETC we have a new group of amazing apprentices to learn our ways of living sustainably and share their own talents and skills.

Permi news from the RNC

News from our friends on the Permibus...

Hey friends, we need your help! Our Earth Activist Training Sustainable Skills Bus has been seized without cause by the police. Below is an account from the Wilsons, who have been travelling in the bus for the last seven months doing trainings in permaculture and sustainability, including ways you can help. My own accounts from the action can be found on and I’ll be posting daily as long as I can—or sign on to my own list by emailing If you’re on that list, my own account follows. Please support these folks who have been doing such good work for us all. Thanks!


Please Post Far and Wide including any Media Contacts You May Have

At approximately 6:25 pm on August 30, 2008 Minneapolis Police, Minnesota State Troopers, Ramsey County Sheriffs, Saint Paul Police, and University of Minnesota Police pulled over the Earth Activist Training Permaculture Demonstration Bus (Permibus) by exit 237 on Interstate 94. Initially the police told the people on the bus to exit. When the people on the bus asked if they were being detained they were told that they were but police wereunable to provide justification. When asked why they pulled the bus over they refused to answer. After repeated requests to explain why the bus had been stopped Officer Honican of the Minneapolis Police explained that this was just a routine traffic stop though he did not explain the reason for the traffic stop. The police then told Stan Wilson, the driver and registered owner of the Permibus, that they were going to impound the bus in case they wanted to execute a search warrant later. After more than an hour of being questioned by Stan and Delyla Wilson as to the legalities of their detainment and the impoundment of the Permibus, the police then informed Stan that the bus, which is legally registered as a passenger vehicle in the state of Montana, was being impounded for a commercial vehicle inspection. Shortly afterward Sergeant Paul Davis, a commercial vehicle inspector arrived on scene. Despite the polices insistence that the reason for impoundment was for a commercial vehicle inspection the Permibus crew were not allowed to remove anything from the bus including computers, toiletries, and 17-year-old Megan Wilson's shoes. The police finally allowed the animals to be removed from the Permibus before it was towed, leaving the Permibus family standing beside their chickens and dogs, homeless on the highway.

The Permibus was relocating from the Bedlam Theatre in Minneapolis, where they had spent the day teaching Urban Permaculture, to a friend's house in Saint Paul for a well deserved break. The Permibus has been in the Minneapolis area since August 2nd when the crew appeared at the Midtown Farmers Market for a morning of Permaculture education including Permaculture 101, chicken care, seed ball making for kids, and the Permi-puppet show. During the past month the Permibus has parked at several local businesses and, as a neighborly gesture of respect for local police, Mr. Wilson contacted the appropriate precincts just to let them know the Permibus was in the area and had permission from the business owners to be parked on their lot. Through this, as well as other casual discussions with Minneapolis and Saint Paul police officers, the Permibus crew found the local police to be interested and respectful. However on August 30th all that changed when, for no apparent valid reason the police pulled over and seized the Permibus. After the incident Stan Wilson said, "If the combined law enforcement of Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Ramsey County, and the State of Minnesota can pull over and impound a vehicle and home used to teach organic gardening and sustainability, one has to wonder what it is our government really fears. After all, we seek to teach people that the real meaning of homeland security is local food, fuel and energy production. For that we have had our lives stolen by government men with guns."

As of now, after repeated requests to be present at any vehicle inspection, with an list of what they are inspecting for, as well as requests to be served any warrants for searches of the vehicles prior to a search and to be present during the search the Permi-family has been unable to ascertain the current status of the Permibus. On site Mr. Wilson was told that Officer Palmerranky was the inspector in charge of the case and would determine if the Permi-family's rights protecting them from unreasonable search and seizure would be respected. Neither Officer Palmerranky nor his supervisor has yet to return Mr. Wilson's calls. The loss of her home and possessions is particularly difficult on seventeen-year-old Megan Wilson. Megan, a shining example of what this country asks of today's youth, has dedicated herself to making positive changes in the world. She was the youth keynote speaker at the Local to Global conference in Phoenix AZ, has taught conflict resolution at youth shelters and is the outreach coordinator for the Skills for a New Millennium Tour, the family traveling educational project. Megan believes that, "While I understand that the world we live in is not as it should be I strive to live and teach in a way that shows the world how life could be. What I don't understand is why I can't get dressed for an evening out with friends in my own home without armed men stealing my life out from under me." The Permi-family, along with their dogs and Permaculture super-hero chickens are currently being housed by folks in the Twin Cities.

The Skills for a New Millennium Tour is a family education project that travels around the United States teaching homesteading, citizenship, and life skills at farmers markets, community gardens, churches, intentional communities, schools, and in people's living rooms. The Skills Tour is a donation supported project dedicated to providing tools for sustainable living, including Permaculture, to anyone who is interested, regardless of income. "We believe that any solution that is not accessible to the poor and urban areas is not a real solution for the future," states Delyla Wilson. Permaculture is a design system with ethics and principles that can be applied to food production, home design, and community building in order to increase sustainability in food production, energy production, and social systems. The Permibus is a rolling demonstration of small scale sustainable living with three people, three dogs, three chickens, and a box of worms as permanent residence. The chickens and worms are part of a closed-loop food productions composting system that supports the Permibus's traveling garden. For more information on the seizure of the Permibus, the Skills for the New Millennium Tour, or Permaculture, the Wilson's can be reached at 406-721-8427 or through email at You can also see pictures and read stories about the last six months of their educational adventures at

To our supporters: First we ask that as many people as possible contact precinct one in Minneapolis, MN at 612-673-5701 and Mayor Rybak at

Phone: (612) 673-2100 or

call 311 or call (612) 673-3000 outside Minneapolis.

Also call the Ramsey County Sheriff

Sheriff - Bob Fletcher 651-266-9300

and demand the immediate release of the Permibus.

We are also in desperate need of donations. Though we do not yet know the full cost of getting the permibus returned we know that it will include tow fee, impound fees, and legal fees. To donate contact us directly for a local address or...

Donate On-line:

Go to:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In Memory of Masanobu Fukouka

Sadly, natural farming innovator Masanobu Fukuoka passed away yesterday, Saturday, August 16, 2008, at his home in Iyo, Ehime Prefecture, Japan of old age. He was 95.

Fukuoka was an inspiration for his exploration and application of ecological farming techniques that mimicked nature. He was an inspiration and keystone for Permaculture.

We give thanks for his gifts of humble service.

For more on his life

Friday, August 1, 2008

cooking in the volcano

Albert grins over his perfectly cooked rice while standing the the shade...
We moved the cooking outside as the kitchen reached boiling point during the recent Ecovillage and Permaculture Design course.
CHeck out the story of the Volcano Stove

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hohenwald Design

We are starting our Ecovillage Design Course, a 10 day residential intensive course that gives individuals and communities the tools to start an ecovillage, and design it from the ground up, or retrofit an existing community. First we are focusing on mapping community structures and creating agreements to empower a group of people to become a community as taught by author and educator Diana Lief Christain. Then we will be desinging a vision for a beautiful post petroluim version of our local county seat, Hohenwald, TN. Greg Ramsey, a renowned archetect will be leading us through the process of design. We are weaving the archetectural elements and human elements of a succesful ecovillage design together with the ethics and principles of Permaculture and applying them to the design of Hohenwald.
Hohenwald is getting a lot of postive attention...Sometimes I blink and wonder if this is allreally happening to this small southern town in the poorest county in Tennessee. In addition to the Ecovillage Design Course, our partner and ally in regenerative designa nd education, The Center For Holistic Ecology (CHE), has been running a local sustainable development program through a USDA grant, and we are collaborating with CHE, Solari and Gaia University, to run a cutting edge Financial Permaculture Workshop. This workshop is going to provide the tools needed to actualize the designs and visions of a sustainable Hohenwald. Who knows, maybe some of the designs we draw up over the next two weeks will come true!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Web 2.0

Albert, Cord, Doug, Jessi and I are geeking out getting our blogs up to snuff for web 2.0
que vive web 2.0 y la revolucion de informacion democratica!
Technorati Profile

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Advanced Permaculture

A lot of energy has been swirling around The Farm ecovillage of late. Brainstorms leave showers of inspiration and aha moments strike like lightning. The cause of this inspirational weather?
We have an upcoming Ecovillage Design course, the second part of our Permaculture Design Certification process...and on top of that We are launching two new advanced permaculture design courses.
both courses are being produced in partnership with a wide array of amazing individuals and are covering some of the most pertinent topics, and offering some of the most amazing solutions for the world today.
Earthworks for water catchment, soil erosion and clear cut remediation offers us a hands on glimpse into how to create lush green forest out of a wasteland of desertification caused by clear cutting. For an idea about the impact of earthworks (keyline systems and swales) on a dry climte check out this video
Forest Gardening and old orchard remediation will give us a chance to delve into food forestry: a retirement plan for seven generations. Forest gardening and restoring orchards into productive multi yield oasis can provide food, fuel and fodder for a sustainable future. check out this video on one of the original temperate forest gardens
Financial Permaculture: crafting regenerative business is in the design phase, and is generating excitement as it proves to be the interesting intersection of cutting edge needs to ground capital into regenerative shared enterprise on a bioregional level. For more infor on the ideas and participants in this design check out Solari, Center for Holistic Ecology, and Gaia University
All three of these courses are sending a spark of hope and creativity up my spine as I work hard to research and organizing the things that will be needed to provide education that is grounded in action learning (learning by doing).
It looks like its going to be an amazing summer and outstanding fall....MORE TO COME!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Early Morning Shift

Nothing has gotten me out of my funk faster than the early morning breakfast shift. Something about waking up with the sun, getting the coffee going, and preparing simple yet satisfying food to fuel the bodies and minds of my friends, teammates, and the good folks who are here taking the Permaculture course. In about a half hour Wade will walk in, followed by Kurt, as they lovingly offer help, share remembered dreams, and bless me with childish laughter at dawn. By 6 am the coffee and hot water are ready, a simple snack is out on the table, and I stroll the house with a bell ringing to awake those in their slumber, imagining myself in an ashram and we are about do do our morning prayers. No prayers on these mornings, just smiles, soft conversation, and excitement for the 6:30 class. The participants leave and I remain in the kitchen, I prepare something warm and wholesome... either something simple like grits or oats, or I use the New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook for a special something, like scrambled tofu, or zucchini pancakes.

I find I am nourished in the kitchen as I prepare nourishment for others. It is a good break from my ball and chain we call the office.... And this is one great value of living in community- the opportunity to be involved in different projects/responsibilities as part of my work, of my offering to the shared effort.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Brother Martin on Sonnenchien

Our friend Brother Martin recently wrote a great description of the goings on at the recent Sonnenscien Green Power festival in Hohenwald TN. Check it out! SOUNDS OF SONNENSCHIEN

Sonnenscien and Brother Martin

Our friend Brother Martin recently wrote a great description of the goings on at the recent Sonnenscien Green Power festival in Hohenwald TN. Check it out! SOUNDS OF SONNENSCHIEN

Monday, June 9, 2008

Living Well in the Age Of Global Weirding

With all the news of food shortages, peak oil and climate change swirling around the media...the question begins to form: how can we survive all the craziness?

Well this weekend in Hohenwald Tennessee at he Second Annual Sonnenchien Green Power Festival, we got a sneak peak on how to survive, and indeed live well in this age of global weirding. (for a quick discussion on the scene in Hohenwald this weekend check out my personal blog

Three keynote speakers with radically simple and practical solutions gave us their expertise on how to weave together the possibilities to create localized, decentralized, resilient and sustainable communities. Albert Bates, David Blume and Catherine Fitts gave three distinct angles on how to empower communities to self organize to create sustainable solutions.
The topics covered really spanned the range from economic development, to energy and food security and community decision making and democracy.

Albert gave a talk on Transition Towns a system for self organized solution oriented change to prepare for energy decent in a post-petroleum world. Albert Explores these ideas in his latest book: The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook with humor and zest.

David spoke about the truth about the food vs fuel myth being bounced around, pointing out that food is a natural by=product of a well designed energy farm. His book Alcohol Can Be A Gas provides a detailed description on how to create small decentralized energy farms to power our communities and generate food and healthy ecosystems.

Catherine Fitts gave us a wake up call about the nature of our economy and the siphoning of capital out of local communities and into the hands of large transnational corporations. This pattern is one of the keys to re-localizing and re-democratizing our lives...she offers advice on how to invest in sustainable and ethical ventures and navigate the falling doller at

The combination of these three powerful ideas and speakers is a detailed map that can empower any community to chart a course towards sustainability and local health and well being.

Check out The Gaiapoiesis blog for a follow up to Living Well in the Age of Global Warming

Friday, June 6, 2008

Paddling the Buffalo

With so much to do and learn here at the Ecovillage it is some times hard to rip ourselves away from The Farm...

There is so much going on out in the world, and one of the central tenets of permaculture design is to spend time in nature gathering inspiration from the environment. The first step in being able to observe nature is to GET OUT IN IT!!

So in that vein we took a day canoe trip down the Buffalo River...getting swept down stream by a gentle current and gazing in awe at the lush green of the Tennessee hills.

The Buffalo river, according tot he locals, is one of the cleanest rivers in the country. This is due in part because of the efforts of the Swan Conservation Trust, and of course our friendly neighbors the Amish who have been living off the land and stewarding their corner of creation for quite some time now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Herbal Salt Scrub Recipe

Here is a really simple concoction for affordable home-made salt scrubs. You can make spa-quality scrubs and treat yourself to some yummy skin care or package it nicely and give it as a gift.

Wendell Combest. Ph.D. of Shenandoah University taught this to us when he was here last week. He says, " These formulations are commonly used in health spas as whole body, hand or foot exfoliating/softening/moisturizing treatments. They can be done 2x a week for a quite surprising effect... It is different than most other salt scrubs in that this one has much less oil... You can vary the consistency of the sea salt fine or course or use kosher salt for a harsher effect (may be ok in a foot scrub but not on the hands or body.)

  • Put 1/2 cup sea salt into a bowl, mix with 1 tsp olive oil, 1/4 tbs grapeseed of sweet almond oil, 1/4 tbs jojoba oil and a little vitamin E. (One capsule would work if you have the vitamin form- just squeeze out the contents and discard capsule.)
  • Add 5-10 drops of an essential oil of your choice. I like vetiver and chamomile flowers.
  • Also add about 1 tsp of powdered or coarsely chopped or ground herbs, like lemongrass, lemonbalm, lavender, peppermint, spearmint, sage, thyme, basal, sandalwood, ginger... And Mix!
Moisten your skin, rub a small amount into your skin for a few minutes. And then wash off. This treatment will stimulate your skin and leave you feeling soft and moisturized.

Thanks to Del for sharing this great formula!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A day in the kitchen: Whole Wheat Ginger Bread

Hello everybody Nathan here at the ETC.

Another bread recipe has emerged as a success from the oven. I used the Tassajara method for making whole wheat bread, which involves making a sponge, mixing the remaining ingredients & kneading, then letting rise twice and proof before baking.
This recipe will make one large round loaf or 2-3 loaves in smaller loaf pans.

3 C Warm water
2-3 Tbs Yeast (active dry or liquid culture)
4-6 C Coarse/fine whole wheat flour
1/3-1/2 C Dark honey
1/2 C Safflower oil
1 Tbs Salt
A handful Chopped ginger
4-5 C Fine/coarse W.W. flour

Making the Sponge
I start with the body temperature warm water in a medium-large mixing bowl, adding in the honey and yeast, for this batch I used some yeast left over from brewing a hard ginger beer, which was fermented with dry-active bread yeast, however dry yeast will work as well, this is mixed into solution. Next, one cup at a time I mix in the w.w. flour until it is quite thick and hard to stir. At this time I give it about another 100 strokes with a wooden spoon to smooth it out. This stage is to allow the yeast to build up activity & strength in an ideal environment as salt & oil will slow the yeast down.
The sponge is set to rise for a time until it is nearly double in size. A warm environment is best for this, 70-80 degrees F with a lid/cloth over top to prevent evaporation. I usually head up a wide pot with water in it (120-180 F) and set the mixing bowl on top.

Making Dough & Kneading
Add oil, salt and ginger to the sponge and now instead of mixing/stirring, ingredients are incorporated by folding the dough, slide the spoon under the dough and fold from the edge up and over the top of the dough, spin the bowl a little and continue to fold and spin until it reaches an even consistency. Add flour 1 cup at a time, continuing to fold the dough. At some point this becomes difficult for me to do with a spoon so I fold with my hands in a fashion similar to kneading adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. Once dough is not too sticky, bring it out onto a floured board or counter-top and continue to knead adding flour as needed, usually for 15-20 minutes or until dough is soft. Form dough into a ball by flipping onto folded side and bring in the sides which stretches the top surface, be careful not to stretch it too tight as it can tear the surface. Set the round dough into a clean oiled bowl and keep warm & covered. Let rise 60 minutes or until almost double, punch down, make round again and let rise 45 minutes or so.

Making loaves and baking
Preheat the oven to 375 F. At this point divide the dough with a sharp knife if you are using smaller pans, or leave intact if your are going to bake it in something larger, I use a large cast-iron pan 18-20'' and the dough doesn't touch the sides so it rises without assistance for a beautiful gently sloping round. A baking sheet may also work to bake a round like this. Regardless of what you bake it in take the dough for each loaf and knead it lightly, using just a little flour and form it into a ball with the folds on the bottom. If your making a round loaf set this in your pan and keep warm until it has risen for 10-20 min. If making in a rectangular loaf pan, let your dough ball rest for a few minutes, then with a rolling pin roll it out about as wide as your pan is long and then roll it up and pinch the seam. Oil your pan and set in the dough seam up which shapes the bottom, then let is slip out onto your hand and set it in seam down which gives you a nice and even top. As with the round loaf let this set in a warm place for 10-20 min.
Bake bread for 45-60 min and pull out once top is well browned, set out of pan and tap on the bottom if it sounds hollow it is probably done if not set it back in for a time. Once loaf is finished set it out onto a rack or cloth to cool and enjoy.

Friday, May 16, 2008


The past few weeks have been an explosion of positive energy and art here at the ETC. We have been making great progress on the Hodge Podge Lodge (a building combining 7 building techniques) and generally embodying the artistic creation of a regenerative culture.
What does that mean you ask...

That means weaving our collective artistic expression into our work and lives.
That means cob dancing

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Building with Buzzards and Eagles

My name is Wade, and I’ve accepted the role as the Natural Building coordinator here at the ecovillage training center. Life here on the site is rich with dynamic energies & plenty solid work to be done. As our team of staff members came together in early March, we knew we had the makings of something tremendous this season. As the month of March elapsed via our strivings to formulate our group’s vision and prepare our gardens to provide a good lot of sustenance, we suddenly noticed how soon April was coming, bringing with it courses to give and apprentices to build with.

April showers brought us a very welcomed 7 inches of rain during the first week of the month, which just so happened to be the same week that all the myriad preparations for the Natural Building course became the requisite. I found myself with more physical responsibilities than I’d had in a good long while, mired deep in mud on all sides. That’s precisely when and where I knew I belonged. It was a combination of the feeling you get when you are able perform a task with strength enjoyably, and a generous helping of support coming to me from all angles. A collaboration of apprentices (gardeners and builders), early arrival course participants, neighbors (Biko teaching stone work), family members (Will coming through with straw bales), and, yes, even bloggers brought about the effort we needed to get April started off right.

Teaching Natural Building is a challenging task, no doubt. Yet expert builders, architects, and storytellers, primed the apprentices and I with the know-how we needed to develop an effective working rhythm. We were able to accomplish quite a bit of building in a short span, and I learned an awful lot about how to coordinate a cooperative building project. Meanwhile, in the midst of all our cobbing, plastering, carpentry, adobe, earth bagging, etc., we were able to get in a few awesome field trips (i.e. canoing, botanizing, visiting a mentor builders home site…), and we got to know each other quite well.

I can’t help but interpret those heavy early Spring rains and bald eagle sightings as good omens. Now that we’re out of the mucky muck beginning of April, when seldom a leave was on the oak trees, there are bounteous gardens promising fulfilling harvests, lotus blossoms in the swampy pond, and a brand new batch of apprentices to join up with in building our new dawn here at the ecoville. I can foresee great things coming together here this season. I must keep reminding myself that sailing on the horizon of the future has its inherent risks. As the outlook becomes more clear, our free reign to create will surely only come proportionally to the amount of responsibility that we take up for it.

Into the world of medicinal plants

Darryl Patton
Being a business school graduate, its safe to say that I did not have much time for the study of plants. Sure, I loved being outside, playing in the woods, climbing, swimming.... But I never cared to learn the identity and uses of my little (and big) plant friends. It was only after a hike in the Bankhead National Forest of Alabama with Darryl Patton, apprentice of legendary herbalist Tommie Bass, that I plunged full of wonder and excitement into the mysterious world of plants. Food and medicines growing in the wild, oftentimes following us humans wherever we settle, as if to cry out "Eat me! Eat me!"

So where do I begin? Wade has Darryl's Book,
Mountain Medicine: The Herbal Remedies of Tommie Bass. It is a great resource for me as a beginner because it only mentions local plants, many of which are right outside my door. It has big beautiful images and describes the medicinal folk uses and preparations of the herbs.

In a wave of excitement I bought
Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide, and I am currently using it in conjunction with Mountain Medicine in my studies. It is a great resource for identifying edible plants in wild (and not so wild) places across America, and also tells me where I am likely to find them, when is the best time to harvest, as well as whether to use the greens in a salad, cook them, boil the roots, make tea with the leaves, make flour with the seeds.... It is well indexed and I can search by common or Latin names, by season, or by geographical region.

I am also reading a third book called The Master Book of Herbalism, by Paul Beyerl, which offers much in terms of medicinal uses, but unlike the first two books, goes deeply into history, religious lore, and herbal magick. This is the book's true gift, for there are many easily attainable resources out there about herbalism, but it is harder to find a book that describes herbs and their relationships with gemstones, links with astrology and the tarot, and rituals. You can't find this book on Nathan bought it at Blue Dragon Bookshop in Ashland, OR which sells used and out of print books.

So this is where a beginner begins, with a few simple books and the encouragement of all my forest friends.

Dogwood in Spring: Photo by Greg Landua

Thursday, April 24, 2008

worm poop

Harnessing the mighty worm!
One of the most amazing creatures on the planet is the earthworm: worms break down organic material, leaving a nutrient rich, aerated trail.

As permaculturealists we are always looking for ways to harness natural systems to give us higher yields and reduce our over all footprint (and give us more hammock time).

One design that meets those criteria is the vermawash system designed by Cliff, our Garden Magician. Cliff wanted to create a system that could meet the nutrient needs of our garden as well as create a micro enterprise to help the Ecovillage Training Center earn funds for futre research.
The design he decided to use came from the Eco-Science, a leading research organization focusing on vermaculture (worm based soil and agriculture systems). The design Cliff found came from their database of vermaculture designs at This vermawash design can produce 20 liters of worm juice per day, more than enough for the needs of an average garden. A vermawash mimics soil systems by creating habitat for worms and other beneficial mirco-organisms to decompose manure and household organic waste. The micro nutrients are then washed through the system and can be bottled and used for organic folier spray or fertilizer. In fact, you can buy worm juice at your local home and garden center for 10-20 dollars per liter, opening up the possibility for local micro-enterprise supplying people with homegrown, organic fertilizer made with worms and micro organisms indigenous to the local area.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Zero Emission Mission

Today I am inspired to write my first blog entry for Terra Firma. My name is Jason and I am the site manager here at the Ecovillage Training Center. Normally I am just the guy behind the scenes who is fixing things. Among those things, I take care of the wiring and electrical of all the buildings and our Photovoltaic arrays. As part of last year's Solar Photovoltaic Installation Course held here, a small power station was setup using a hodgepodge (popular word for around here) of components we had available on site at the time. The result today was the ability to go into the woods, far away from the extension cord's reach and use an electric chain saw drawing over 800 watts to cut firewood for winter after next. Powered by the sun. No stinky smell, no loud noise, and no pull starting!

I also was able to transport the necessary components to power the saw, and the firewood, using stored energy from the main solar array that powers the Eco-Hostel. I took my golf cart. She is an 800 pound electric mule that can pull her own weight in a variety of ways. Charged up from the surplus solar energy coming from the 1.2 kilowatt array atop our Eco-Hostel, My carbon footprint is looking minimal so far for this otherwise petroleum dependent task. Not to mention I barely made tracks in the soft earth. The hodgepodge I mentioned is mostly recycled stuff. We reclaimed the batteries for this power station and for the golf cart from a corporation that chose to dump them as they switched to internal combustion generators. The golf cart was also rejected as junk by the same unnamed cell phone tower management company. I put two and two together and made a working electric truck. All available torque to pull almost one-half ton at zero rpm. It has pulled its share around here in the last year!

To quickly name a few other components in the setup: A 1500 watt inverter, a DC mulitmeter reading the bank's votage potential, and a “kill a watt” meter reading watts of energy being transformed from potential lead-acid ions to real cutting power on the ol' oak tree.

Alas, my carbon footprint crumbles as I realize the goal of today's mission: Firewood. Or is it so bad? Even though it is nowhere near zero emissions, firewood is more renewable than propane, natural gas, fuel oil, as well as coal and nuclear electricity. The big plus for us here in the Tennessee high forest of the Cumberland Plateau is it is local, and abundant. With the right stove design in an energy efficient, naturally built home, Burning good quality dried hardwoods can be a radiant and inexpensive way to heat your home. If you don't mind a few ashes. A word of caution while we are on the subject. Chimneys and stove pipe installation is not for the amatuer DIY homeowner. I safely recommend professional assistance when converting any indoor space to containing an alive portion of one of the elements we must respect: Fire!

My goal was not completed today as a result of another more earthly elemental that demanded my respect-- deer ticks by the hundreds hanging out in those upper branches I was sawing. Run away!! After over an hour and about seven feet of box tape, I sequestered the little blood suckers, leaving me no time left except to put away the heavy battery setup my mule toted into the forest. All's well that ends well, except it hasn't ended yet! Check back again for more of my energy related ramblings.

Friday, April 18, 2008

MTV is watching me

photo by Greg Landua

Gigantic productions of NYC
TRUE LIFE: I'm Living Off The Grid will be airing on MTV in June

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Natural Building

what a whirlwind it was. The April Natural Building workshop was such a success and covered so much ground, I am just now starting to come back into my daily routine. We had 25 people show up from all over the country to learn various styles of Natural Building. In three days we covered Cob, Strawbale, Earthbags, stone/masonry, adobe, Zacacilla, Waddle and Daub, Earthen Floors, Thatch and Timber Frame. Most of those involved hands on activities to help illustrate technique and use of materials.
It was quite a show...and to top it all off MTV was here to film for their upcoming documentary: True Life I am moving off the grid.

It was amazing to see how we all came together as a community to help cook, clean, prep, teach, and pitch in with all the tasks associated with hosting a large group.

Go Team!

The highlight of the whole crazy weekend was dancing and stomping as we cobbed the strawbale cabin.
Lead by our dear friend Biko and Cliff of the ETC along with Jessi and course participants a stellar rhythm section provided us with music to move our feet, bodies and souls as we learned and built does not get much better than that.

Learning to build: Biko drums as we stomp our souls down into the cob (and look at the camera in the corner! ;)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Shitstorm @ The Farm

And by shit I mean poop....YES DOOKIE

Sanitation: taking care of our shit, is one of the biggest issues facing the world today. As Stephen Turner, Policy Director of the NGO Water Aid says "We need to put the word shit into people's mouths.
The importance of how we take care of our waste and our water is essential to the health, safty, and happiness of us all.
This issue is hitting home here on The Farm:

There is a new neighborhood in the works here at The off the grid, permaculture neighborhood to help model sustainable living and provide a new magnet for progressive and conscious people to come live in this experiment in right livelihood.

The Farm has a long history of progressive thinking, but even in a hippie commune there are conservatives.

Although the Farm Board (The Democratically elected Governing Body) is behind the development of the new community, there are some people with reservations in the greater Farm community who have been making their voices heard. These vocal people are concerned about the planned use of composting toilets: humanure systems, a dry alternative to septic and sewage systems. If done right composting systems can kill more pathogens than a septic system, and recycle “waste” into the permaculture being established to provide fertility for fruit trees and gardens...the catch is IF DONE CORRECTLY.

unfortunately communication has not always been clear, and politics has begun to supersede heart felt communication. Feelings have been hurt and there is tension, fear and frustration in the air...

What a time for change!, what an opportunity for healing and growth.
Synchronistically as the Shit his the fan here on the Farm about the composting in new neighborhood, a representative of the Natural Building Network is here to offer support and guidance. Phone trees and emails go out, posters are printed...time for community outreach!

We are hoping to turn manure into compost, just like The Families involved in planing the new neighborhood...the metaphor runs deep.

With this kind of community strife comes the opportunity for deep transformation and healing, the opportunity for change...all we need to do is stay centered and take the small steps to assure that people are heard, educated and organized and let democracy that its course.

What Better Place Than Here?

What Better Time Than Now?

As Chris McClellan of the Natural Building Network says: its time to put on the conservative code loving inspector’s shoes, and instead of arguing or forcing things, just add moral criteria to the existing codes (put there to protect the health and safety of the community)
This is an opportunity for us to come together as a community to hear everyones needs. If we can create a space where everyone can be heard, and the people who have the knowledge and wisdom are allowed to share, the positive solutions of natural building will be embraced, and dry composting toilets can become an integral part of the Farm and serve as a model for the rest of the region, country and world as we all look for simple, low cost, low energy solutions.

Now that the state of Tennessee has become involved and inspectors are coming to inspect and assure health and safety, we have an opportunity to come forth with integrity and power, showing the cleanliness and meticulous design that has gone into the dry composting systems planned.
As a community we at The ETC along with the Natural Building Network and our friends on the Farm are ready to listen, and to share. I for one am optimistic that we can turn this shitstorm into a beautiful bed of roses...
all we need is the patience to compost.

For more information on composting toilets/humanure or buy the Humanure Handbook

For more information about The Natural Building Network

For more information about us at the ETC

For more information about The Farm Community

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Intro to Natural Building

The natural building movement is continuously gaining popularity
for many reasons. It offers affordable housing that is healthy, safe,
comfortable, beautiful, unique, and spiritually uplifting. It values
environmental and social sustainability, offering simple techniques
based on local, renewable resources thus minimizing the
environmental impact of our housing needs.
It is also fun and creative for old and young alike.

Michael G. Smith says in his book The Art of Natural Building; Design,
Construction, Resources
, "Natural Building is personally empowering
because it teaches that everyone has, or can easily acquire, the skills they
need to build their own home."

And how does one gain these skills? By working along side others on
natural building projects, reading books like The Art of Natural Building
(more listed below), and enrolling in workshops being offered all
over the world.

One of our main focuses right now at the ETC is on the Natural Building Introductory Weekend, our first workshop of the season, April 4-6, 2008.

The weekend should provide a holistic overview of natural building methods and is not intended to be an in depth exploration of any individual topic. We'll learn about straw, cob, wood, wattle and daub, adobe, earthbags, earthships, traditional Mexican styles, timber frame, domes and arches, earthen floors, earth plasters and alis, passive solar, foundations and drainage, living roofs and pole frame... Wowy cowy. Through hands on sessions each day, we will gain practical experience in integrating a number of simple and valuable technologies into one working solution.

I am excited that I will be able to take part in the workshop. I have very little experience in this stuff and only worked with cob twice. The first time was helping with a dragon-like oven and bench at Tryon Life Community Farm in Portland, OR. The other time was here at the ETC last fall, while exploring the place and deciding if I wanted to accept the Office Manager position here the following March. I helped start the creation of a masonry stove, and when I came back it was finished!

Mixing cob with my feet on left, and finished stove on right.

Some great books on the subject include:
  • THE ART OF NATURAL BUILDING; DESIGN, CONSTRUCTION, RESOURCES by Joseph F. Kennedy, Michael G. Smith, and Catherine Wanek, Editors
  • THE STRAW BALE HOUSE by Athena Swentzell Steen, Bill Steen, and David Bainbridge, with David Eisenberg

These are various natural building projects on the ETC, under construction...

A Tour Of the Ecovillage

Join us for a tour around the Ecovillage Training Center, a learning center for sustainability founded by Albert Bates. The ETC is a living workshop environment where you can learn organic food production, natural building, permaculture and how to create and live in harmony within the means of nature. This video pod is an educated walkthrough intended to create a window into some of these eco methodologies and green technologies as well as thoughts and ideas by Albert regarding the creation of an ecovillage and the need to scale down our wants and needs.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Living at The Ecovillage Training Center provides plenty of opportunity for growth and learning, and there is also a lot of work to do. Day to day things that just need to get done to keep an educational center like this running. I spend hours in the office most days emailing and coordinating, sucked into the beautiful accursed light of my electro-magnetic interface with the World Wide Web. My computer, the bane and savior of my existence. Creative outlet and creative dirge. It sucks away my time, and sometimes gives me the glimmer of hope that my productivity could soar to new, unimaginable, heights...

I'll tell you what...right now I think I am going to just go plant something in the garden and call it a day.

My First Blog

Hey everyone this is my first blog I have ever posted! For someone who sent his first e-mail a little more than a year ago this is a pretty big step for me out into the virtual world (baby steps you know). Today the heat of the season coming up is upon us, and I do not mean spring weather. Apprentices and workshops start in a week and we have all been extremely busy. I personally find myself very stimulated with this kind of environment. Keep in touch with my blog to find out what kate, others, and I are cooking up in the kitchen. Thanks for reading!
Be Well,