Friday, May 10, 2013

Main Street Market

Main Street Market is a business in Kingston, Ontario. I was fortunate enough to work for them part time for two months in the beginning of 2013. Most of the work involved preserving food from the summer for sale in the upcoming spring markets, researching government funding and writing position descriptions, organizing the seed collection for the spring and recording education workshops happening in Kingston.

Near the end of my stay, I wrote a document proposing an experiment for foliar spray to potentially increase the nutrient content and brix index of vegetables for market. The property involved is run by the Ontario Public Interest Research Group and is run as a community garden with special space afforded to the Main Street Market.

The experiment proposed uses sprinklers on automatic timers to deliver foliar spray to a double set of control and experiment sections. I was especially excited to bring the experimental computer, Raspberri Pi into the proposal as a cheap ($35) irrigation computer with an open-source support community and a great deal of functionality, allowing expansion into a general farm computer for recording weather and remote control through the cellphone network.

A sketch of the experiment layout is below,

And I can also share the written proposal, which contains more detail (note: the dropbox .pdf reader does not render very well so it is better to download it and look at it that way). 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Field of Dreams

I met the owner of Field of Dreams when I was just beginning to study agriculture, at the Everdale Environmental Learning Center. When, years later, LolaJean agreed to have me at her place for a few weeks, I was thrilled to help her start her own farm in Erin, Ontario.

At Field of Dreams we did a lot of interesting things that did not involve design, like logging with horses, maple syrup production, and construction of small farm vehicles. But we also got to do a little bit of permaculture design work.

Again I was practicing map-making although this job was considerably easier than the terraces of Nepal, since there were a lot more straight lines.

A simple map of the property was immediately useful in some ways, like assessing how much horse fencing would cost to run it entirely around the perimeter,

Field of Dreams has a lot of nut trees planted, but since they take a long time to come into production market gardening is one of the focuses for this year. So, I put my skills to use creating a map of the garden. The outlines in the drawing below represent an area which was turned over from grass the previous fall.


I went to Australia to study permaculture, spending most of my time in southern Queensland. Queensland and the province to the south, New South Wales are a hotspot for Permaculture activity, with the Permaculture Research Institute nearby as well as the first intentional Permaculture community, Crystal Waters.

Eventually, I ended up at Symara Organic Farm where I stayed for just over a month.
Symara is a market garden in Stanthorpe, Queensland. The owners, Ray and Sam, are keenly interested in permaculture and generously open their home to many people. When a group of permaculture students ended up at their place in November, 2011, we were all excited to practice some permaculture design and add something to the property.

After many drawings and discussions, we focused on an area near the house, which used to be a chicken yard for many years.

Proposed design. No doubt the plan will evolve in later stages.

Implementation began with removing the old fencing, and clearing the site. This included a lot of rock moving! Fortunately, Ray and his chain made it possible to move some of the larger granite pieces. The holes in the ground suggested ponds and convenient holes to fill with some compost and plant a cucurbit that could cover the area and out-compete a lot of the current volunteering plants.

Although we three permaculture students were only visiting the farm we decided to implement part of the plan by constructing the reed bed for the grey water system coming out of the composting toilets. In a few days we constructed a ferroconcrete reed bed. 

The reed bed was reported as working well as of April, 2012 and had apparently grown a great crop of tomatoes with the outflow!

Namo Buddha Resort

I stayed at Namo Buddha Resort, Nepal, for 5 months in 2010-2011 after completing the Permaculture Design Course at a nearby farm, HASERA. Namo Buddha Resort is approximately 45 km SE of Kathmandu.

My arrangement was to work for the farm half time to help them develop their organic farm, and for the rest of the time be free to study permaculture in other ways, on my own. My time at the farm was a great opportunity to experience the negotiation of working with landowners to come up with a design, working in a foreign context and building my technical skills for mapping and permaculture theory.

Unlike the common situation in industrialized countries, the Nepali government keeps no substantial arial photos, or property maps. Property boundaries are mostly undocumented although well remembered by neighbors. So, my first task was to begin mapping the incredibly complex mountain environment. With a measuring tape, viewing compass and my computer I began making accurate to-scale maps of the property. Satellite photos are useful at a larger scale, but the other tools are necessary for the small gardens that exist on the property. The outer property boundaries are mostly held in memory, which meant numerous sessions of questions and discussions with the current owners and long term employees.

Here are some samples,

Background satelite photo property of Google Maps.

The gardens exist on terraces, which is what gives the curvy shapes. The maps are made using vector drawing software, and it is easy to export different versions with varying amounts of features or gridlines. Calculating area of an irregular shape is easy on the computer and is something I used to help predict yield from the farm. I find maps very useful to draw on and re-imagine a property as well as keep records on regular operations.

After coming to a satisfactory point with the mapping, and giving the gardens names based on their compass points, I began to create a crop plan for the largest garden. I used mostly recommendations and data from books and papers by John Jeavons although I referred often to my previous study of Elliot Coleman's writings and what I learned during the program I completed at Everdale Environmental Learning Center, Canada.

The North West Garden is the largest so I will show it as an example. Here is the garden,

The note about "modified bed borders" is because I proposed to adjust the borders a little bit to make all the beds have the same area. Having beds of the same area makes the crop plan simpler.

I began by assessing the garden for the sun that falls on it, just by sketching the shadow at key times of the day. The western section of the garden is very shady, so I left it as a composting or mushroom area and did not include it in the crop plan.

The crop plan was made on a spreadsheet and exported to PDF to share, It contains considerable green manuring, and aims to produce peak amounts of food during the busiest tourist season. Creating compost in-situ is especially important in a mountain environment where everything is carried by hand.

The operation has existed for many years, and gone through many phases of development. Designers, architects, managers and artists have come and gone, contributing their own work to the project before moving on. When I arrived the owners explained that they were looking for an unobtrusive design. Although some well known designers such as Sepp Holzer had visited the farm and made their own recommendations, the owners rejected the idea of using large machinery for heavy landscaping. No doubt the owners of this resort and farm have their work cut out for them for many years to come, and it was a pleasure to make a contribution to the project.


This is a collection of some design work that I'm proud of. For the past few years I have been traveling to and working at many farms. Most of my work does not result in any design work documentation that I can share here, but some does.

This portfolio is part of my journey towards accreditation by the Permaculture Institute for a Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design through The Independent Route.

To view my CV, click here. (The Dropbox pdf renderer is not very good, so it is better to download the document).

You will notice that I move a lot from farm to farm, which is why I have adopted the title of Journeyman. A Journeyman is a trained worker employed by someone else, often for short periods of time. This isn't because I don't get along with the farmers, on the contrary I have fond memories of the places I've been. I move often because I believe in the teaching power of travel; by engaging in a period of travel-study I have been able to learn complex lessons that are difficult to realize by staying in one place. This is a tradition followed by many cultures, including the well known Traveling Carpenters of Germany.

After travelling for approximately 4 years tradition suggests that my journeyman years should now come to a close and I am open to longer term work in one location.