A Whirlwind of Synchronicity- Around the world and back again

So, I’m sitting in Cairo airport, marveling at the miracle my life has become. The last two weeks of hard-earned vacation have been a whirlwind of synchronicity. After eight months working as a permaculture specialist for GreenPath in Ethiopia, I’m liking the woman I am becoming and the adventure that lies ahead.

 

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After reading every Egyptology book in my elementary school library and studying colloquial Egyptian Arabic as a peace activist in college, I never imagined that I would ever, really, wind up in Cairo! I am grateful for the incredible job that allows me travel the world while helping farmers earn money by growing organically. Thank you!!!

First, let me give a brief update as to the work we have been doing with GreenPath smallholder farmers since my last blog post back in April. Last month, we had our first export of 2.8 metric tonnes of Hass avocados, in collaboration with partners from the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and MASHEV (Israel’s version of USAID.) It was, in fact, Ethiopia’s first export of avocados ever. You can read more about it in the news here.

Sharing one of my favorite places with one of my all-time favorite people : )

Butajira farmers’ beautiful avocados!!

We aren’t limiting ourselves to avocados alone. Last month, our nursery introduced GreenPath’s “Guild to Goes– modular, over-producing perennial polycultures that allow farmers to quickly and easily plant scaleable rainwater-harvesting “avocado micro-ecosystems.” All components of the guild to go are chosen and arranged to generate higher income for farmers, reduce soil erosion, conserve rainwater, attract pollinators, detract pests, and increase avocado yields. You can see a diagram of a perennial “Guild to Go” here:

An example of our rainwater-harvesting perennial over-producing polycultures-- nick-named "Guild to Goes"

An example of our rainwater-harvesting perennial over-producing polycultures– nick-named “Guild to Goes”

We have been experimenting with a number of annual vegetable crops as well, and have been experimenting with larger-scale rainwater harvesting swales and barrier berms that help farmers plant strategically around growing organically. Farmers are excited to be earning a 20% premium for growing organically, and the number of smallholder farmers our Agronomy Team is working with has more than doubled. Yes, it’s been a long, hard, and often lonely road, but really, a lot has been accomplished in a relatively short period of time. I owe this to incredible support of GreenPath’s brilliant, open-minded, and encouraging international management, as well as the dedication of my hard-working and devoted staff in Butajira.

Helping Z install rainwater harvesting swales and barrier berms at her farm.

Helping Z install rainwater harvesting swales and barrier berms at her farm.

My vacation to the US helped clarify some things I have been questioning about my life, and I was astounded by the amount of love and synchronicity I experienced during my time here. After arriving in DC, I was blessed to be picked by my old activist friend Drew Hornbein, a web designer who has been working with organic farms and intentional communities across the country. After having dinner with my dear friends Naeem, Natalia, and GreenPath Colleagues Eric and Rachel, Drew and I headed to the Southern Exposure Seed Company, where folks were kind enough to walk us through the operations of a successful for-profit seed business. I look forward to adopting the methods I saw to Butajira, where we are beginning to save and propagate hard-to-find seeds. Thank you Southern Exposure!

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Deep thanks to David B for sharing Southern Exposure Seed Company’s impressive operation!

Once I arrived in Blacksburg, I felt like I was home. There is no place or group of people that I love more in the world. I hiked with my favorite friends in my favorite places, was healed by a mad scientist, rode around in the most inventive of vehicles, was forgiven by a friend I feared was lost, and was told, unanimously by the wise who want the best for me, that I should devote myself to GreenPath and an international PhD in Sustainable Agriculture (an opportunity I was afraid of taking due to my extreme loneliness in Ethiopia.) The professors at Virginia Tech were unanimous- Wageningen University’s program in International Sustainable Agriculture is the best in the world, and the work GreenPath is doing is cutting edge and needs me to “lean in” even further. As my wise mentor, Crystal Allen Cooke told me, “The people who love you most will still be here” and the Fairy Godfather of my PhD, reassured me that, as lonely as my time in Ethiopia is now, the work I am doing there now will open doors for me later.

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G’s family in their lush new organic vegetable intercrop : )

I also got some great news from my Permaculture for Peace colleague Junior Beauvais. The Haitian Heirloom Seed Bank is already half-constructed in Fondwa, Haiti! He showed me photos of the building with my name painted on it, along with Fang Wan’s and Laura Zanotti’s. They (Junior and Enil) have invited me to come to the grand opening of the Seed Bank in March 2016. It just goes to show you that you never know how the small things you do can make a difference. No matter how much you might hate your day-job or where you are in life, step back and look at the problems differently. Think, “What can I do with the people and resources I have available here and now to make a difference?” Divergent thinking and dedication can transform your impact on the world if you would only let it. I look forward to collaborating remotely with Junior’s team as we establish our GreenPath seedbank and they establish the Haitian Heirloom Seed Bank.

Junior Beavais and Fang Wan winning the Barilla Good 4 Grant for the Haitian Heirloom Seed Bank back in February!

Junior Beavais and Fang Wan winning the Barilla Good 4 Grant for the Haitian Heirloom Seed Bank back in February!

I got to see high school friends I hadn’t seen in over ten years embark into their next stage of life: one into marriage, the other into a graduate program in Edenborough, Scottland. I enjoyed some R&R with my Ukrainian diaspora community in Narrowsburg and got to visit my old farm (Gypsy Wagon Farm in PA) and be friends with my old business partner again : ) We’re both happy doing what we’re doing now. Sometimes something isn’t working because something better is supposed to be working. I’m happy to see that he is doing so great, and I think he’s happy to see that I’ve spread my wings as well.

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Sharing one of my favorite places with one of my all-time favorite people.

I had a great time with Mama, first in Narrowsburg and again in New York- we enjoyed good meals over the Delaware River, visited museums and talked heart to heart. I had fantastic food and family time with my Aunt and Uncle at their restaurant, John’s of 12th street. And best of all, my brother Nicholas is back from England, now engaged to an amazing young woman and working at a charter school in Brooklyn that he’s just wild about : )

Spending time with my beloved family, Nicholas and Mama : )

Spending time with my beloved family, Nicholas and Mama : )

My time in Brooklyn was poignant as well. I spent a day bicycling down to Brighton Beach to enjoy pierogies and vodka with my old from Indymedia, Jed Brandt. It was exactly what I wanted to do. The visit ended with a bitter-sweet farewell to my dear friend Tom Martinez– the one person outside of my family who has impacted my inner life the most. He’s heading off to Arizona to a new a job and PhD in ecopsychology.

A shot from Tom's farewell bash. You will be loved and missed!

A shot from Tom’s farewell bash. You will be loved and missed!

On my last day in New York, I was interviewed on Pacifica radio about permaculture. This morning, I landed in Cairo, Egypt, and rode a camel to the Great Pyramids of Giza. If you had asked me two years ago if I would be working as a permaculture specialist, jet-setting to Ethiopia, Haiti, and Egypt, talking on news radio and doing cutting edge PhD research at the best Sustainable Agriculture program in the world, I could never have believed it.

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What kind of woman am I now? I’m still the same as I have always been, but less anxious about it. I’m becoming more accepting of who I am. I am weird. I am different. My brain behaves differently. I perceive the world and relationships differently from other people. I am learning that being alone is more a sign of uniqueness than of failure. Sure, I’d love to have a partner. But apparently the love in my life is so much more radical than that. And the universe never throws anything at you you can’t handle.  I feel like the bird being nudged out of the nest, being urged to fly. May fierce passion, innovation, and adventure blaze the path forward on my return to Ethiopia. Thank you universe for this terrific opportunity to experience life and impact others in a whole new way

: )

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International PermaGardens: Making Progress and Meeting Master Teachers

Our first 100 kilo delivery of Ettinger, Pinkerton, and Bacon avocados!

Our first 100 kilo delivery of Ettinger, Pinkerton, and Bacon avocados!

I am pleased to announce that GreenPath food made its first delivery of organic Fair-trade avocados to Fresh Corner Supermarkets in Addis Ababa yesterday. The purchasers had never seen avocados of such size and quality. Our only hope is that we can grow enough avocados to meet demand— Nature is an abundant system that works at its own pace.

GreenPath goes beyond the "Low-hanging Fruit."  Mohammed harvesting hard-to-reach Ettingers.

GreenPath goes beyond the “Low-hanging Fruit.” Mohammed harvesting hard-to-reach Ettingers.

It has been an eventful two weeks since I last had access to 3G internet. This month, we have initiated a few new stages in developing our permaculture designs with our partner farmers. These include:

Engaging with farms as Family Systems:  The Yrma family is excited about their goals!

Engaging with farms as Family Systems: The Yrma family is excited about their goals!

Engaging with Farms as Family Systems- I have been working hard to develop relationships with our partner farmers as a complete family system. Rather than a “One Size Fits All” approach, I am meeting with farm families on a bi-weekly basis in order to co-develop goals in context. Through in-depth interviews, permaculture land surveys, and measurable goal-setting strategies, our team collaborates with farmers and their families to develop and execute farm-specific permaculture plans.

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Surveying for Sustainability- Female farmers participate in creating baseline maps of their property, developing numeracy and geospatial reasoning skills while creating tools for long-term strategic thinking and permaculture planning.
This month, we created baseline maps for 9 partner farms.

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Assessing Every Avocado- We are currently developing a database for every avocado treewe survey. Using a QR code scanner, we are able to record and keep track of each tree’s history, progress, and production over time. This up-front investment of time will pay off as we scale up. We can use this “plant portfolio” to communicate tree-specific recommendations for improved health and productivity to other team-members or stakeholders tapping in to our database. No tree left behind!

Peace Corps PermaGarden workshop!  Notice the berms and swales!

Peace Corps PermaGarden workshop! Notice the berms and swales!

On a more personal note…

You know how, at the times when you feel the most lost and alone, the universe conspires for your success? I feel like this week, may prayers were answered by the arrival of Peter Jensen to Butajira. The founder of International PermaGardens, Peter has been working as a trainer for the Peace Corps for the past 30 years, and has been working in Ethiopia for the past 6. He describes International PermaGardening as “An intercultural blend with a family classroom targeting the most vulnerable, specifically mothers, children, and HIV positive individuals.”

Peace Corps Compost workshop- talk about a Hot Topic!

Peace Corps Compost workshop- talk about a Hot Topic!

After a fantastic exchange of ideas over lunch, Peter was generous enough to invite me to observe his Peace Corps PermaGarden workshops over the course of the week. Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about GrowBiointensive gardening (Peter’s work is not “Permaculture” with a capital “P” but rather a fusion of strategies from Jeavons’ GROW Biointensive gardening, Mollison’s permaculture, and local practice), but I also managed to formally introduce myself to Peace Corps volunteers serving all over Ethiopia. To quote the feminist author Starhawk, at a time when I was feeling very much alone in what I was doing, I was offered “a seat at the table.”

Peter Jensen photographing a Peace Corps PermaGarden.

Peter Jensen photographing a Peace Corps PermaGarden.

Peter’s expertise not only validate my intuition as a permaculturist working in a new climate, but it also saved me from making some unnecessary errors. It was also encouraging to find another colleague who shares the vision of valuing the marginal, diversity, and slow simple solutions for lasting change. Last but not least, Peter is what what educators call a “Master Teacher.” The strategies he uses to make gardening concepts “stick” in the minds of the people he serves are admirable. He makes what takes a tremendous amount of planning look effortless. I have to say that I have had a few great teachers in my life: Dick Andrus, Ray Buteaux, Neha Khanna, Crystal Alan Cooke, and of course, Irene Zawerucha. Despite our short interaction, I would put Peter Jensen up high on this list of great teachers. I hope that, with 20 years of experience, I could be half the permaculture teacher he is. And I hope he writes a book. Soon.

Me and my friend Tamar from the Israeli NGO Fair Planet chilling at the nursery : )

Me and my friend Tamar from the Israeli NGO Fair Planet chilling at the nursery : )

Sometimes, I feel very much alone as a woman practicing permaculture. Sometimes, the realities of Ethiopia can drag me down: Fractured foot, no internet, no house, no mobile service, not atm service, nobody speaking English… these are the basics, but these are also the little things. When it comes to the the big picture, synchronicity works in mysterious ways. Who could imagine that a permaculture expert would be sent right into my backyard when I needed it the most? You can’t make this stuff up. I often think of the poem “Footprints,” specifically, “During the darkest times of your life, that is when I carried you.” Thank you, Universe, for guiding me and carrying me on this terrific journey.

Growing My Hands: My First Two Weeks Working in Butajira

The Abeza family processing Ensett (false banana) a staple and highly productive chorm that Ethiopians use to make "kocho."  See Mohammed in the GreenPath hat?

The Abeza family processing Ensett (false banana) a staple and highly productive chorm that Ethiopians use to make “kocho.” See Mohammed in the GreenPath hat?

So, dear friends, I know it has been a while.  I want you to know that, despite the fact that I have posted very little on the permaculture4peace.org website or facebook, that I am having an exciting, life-changing experience working with GreenPath Food in Ethiopia. 

I have the most incredible job in the world!  While there is no typical day in Butajira, it generally involves some of the following: I ride on a motorcycle across mountains and fields to meet with small-scale Ethiopian farmers and co-develop permaculture strategies that help them produce more avocados and diversify their crop base.  The farms I visit are usually under 2 hectares in size, and are family-run.  They vary widely from those that are practicing strong agroforestry techniques and permaculture intuitively, to those that need A LOT of help with even the basics of managing their annual vegetable crops and water needs.  The people are generous and kind, the food is amazing, and the culture is fascinatingly beautiful.  And don’t let me get started on the fantastic “Bunna” coffee everywhere you go : )

Our partner farmer Hager (in the GreenPath hat) and Amerga Menji and the motorcycle that gets us all over Butajira : )

Our partner farmer Hager (in the GreenPath hat) and Amerga Menji and the motorcycle that gets us all over Butajira : )

The farmers are so excited about what we are doing. They’ve never met an entity like us- We’re not a charity, we’re not the government, and we’re not an exploitative corporation. We made our first harvest last Friday- our partner farmer’s first profit off of avocados! They had never gotten so much money for this “monkey food” before. The local markets are flooded with all the same products- we’re creating a supply chain that gives them access to markets that will pay fair money for organic avocados, as well as hopefully other crops in the future.

My biggest challenge? Getting information and materials. A lot of my job involves keeping my eye out for seeds/cuttings so I can collect them and propagate them out of our nursery at the Ethiopian Horticulture Center for Excellence. There is not a lot of crop diversity here, and farming practices are very destructive of the soil. I’m initiating restoration agriculture, but without access to cover crop seeds. When you go to the local seed union, the list of seeds is a half a page long, while the list of chemicals is 3 pages long (No exaggeration!)  Also, there is little to no internet (I’m lucky if I get 2G on a good day.) Google is futile. But I find that all I need to do is walk outside with my eyes open, draw plans in my notebook, and solutions present themselves from the permaculture muse.  My latest hacks? Creating rooting hormone with aspirin and water, planning a freshwater kelp harvest from a local lake to deal with Boron deficiency, and creating harvest bags out of used concrete bags.   

Furrow irrigation and ploughing are a common practice.  This has long-term consequences of eroding and salinating the soil.  Our goal is to integrate cover crops that rebuild the soil structure.  This "restoration agriculture" approach goes against convention here (just as it would in the US), and for now we are focusing slow, simple solutions.

Furrow irrigation and ploughing are a common practice. This has long-term consequences of eroding and salinating the soil. Our goal is to integrate cover crops that rebuild the soil structure. This “restoration agriculture” approach goes against convention here (just as it would in the US), and for now we are focusing slow, simple solutions.  Oh- and you can see two 2-year old Fuerte avocado trees growing in the upper left!

I am in constant creative problem-solving mode, and loving it. I feel like I’m “Growing my hands.” That, even if I’m not a master permaculturist yet, by the end of my time here, I will be. I’m creating designs for 17 different farms- long term visioning but also day-to-day problem solving. Everything about this job is exciting and meaningful, on every level.

I am working with an incredible team of brilliant, compassionate people from all over the world. Sidhanth Kamath, our General Manager, is an incredible visionary, and one of the smartest, most capable people I have ever met.  Ezra Nigussie, our operations manager, is the most solid team-mate I’ve ever worked with- always on the ball, honest, positive, and on top of things.  I don’t know when he sleeps : )  Amerga Menji is our horticulture specialist, and is an expert on avocados.  His experience and good sense of humor fill my farm visits with joy, and we are learning a lot from each other.  Eden Getachew is my woman in Addis- she works for the Tony Blaire foundation now, and was integral in establishing GreenPath. She used to hold my job, and I have very big, classy shoes to fill. Eric Couper is a Technology Wiz, a voice from across the ocean that makes magic happen in digital space. Mirafe Marcos provides us with visionary guidance from the Agricultural Transformation Agency, and I like to call his Mom is the “Patron Saint” of GreenPath.  She is an entrepreneur herself and has pulled many administrative strings to help us.  And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mohammed, the 21-year old Butajira-native who is learning English as he assists me with all kinds of odds and ends.  He holds the other end of the tape measure, and takes me to the clinic when I’m sick : )  I think great things are in store for him as he grows with our company.

CZ & Ezra with the notorious red suitcase of books.  Without regular internet, I am grateful for every single one of these reference materials!

CZ & Ezra with the notorious red suitcase of books. Without regular internet, I am grateful for every single one of these reference materials!

Overall, I am honored and grateful to work with such an amazing team on such an important venture.  I could never have imagined being part of something so incredible, but now that I’m here, I feel like I am exactly in the place I need to be at this stage in my life.  The level of professional and personal growth I am experiencing right now cannot be expressed in words.  I am honored and excited to take on the challenges before me.

With love and gratitude,

Christina Z

Ethiopian epiphany celebration!  So very Beautiful!  People marched sang, and drummed in the streets, as they rolled out a red carpet before priests in brilliant robes carried icons under gold-embroidered umbrellas.  Ethiopia is at once an ancient and cosmopolitan mix of religions, languages, and cultures.  It's the most fascinating place I've ever visited.  I'd recommend it to anybody to come and visit.

Ethiopian epiphany celebration! So very Beautiful! People marched sang, and drummed in the streets, as they rolled out a red carpet before priests in brilliant robes carried icons under gold-embroidered umbrellas. Ethiopia is at once an ancient and cosmopolitan mix of religions, languages, and cultures. It’s the most fascinating place I’ve ever visited. I’d recommend it to anybody to come and visit!

Permaculture for Peace: Our New Volunteer Organization and Project for Refugees in Ukraine

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new volunteer organization, Permaculture for Peace.  Please come to our next event “Zone and Sector Analysis Workshop” this Sunday, 9/7/14 from 2:00-4:00 PM in the barn at Crow Forest Farm, 3300 Old Farm Road, Blacksburg, VA.

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Caroline Montgomery, Sydney Darden, Maureen McGonagle, Oumoule Ndiaye and Aissatou Diouf reflect carefully in our first “Permaculture for Peace” session: “Introduction to Permaculture: Life at the Crossroads.”

Permaculture for Peace: Permaculture for Peace-building in Post-Conflict and Conflict Areas

Vision: Permaculture for Peace is a collective of international farmers, educators, and artists focused on exchanging ecological wisdom in an international context.  The goal of Permaculture for Peace is to facilitate peace-building in post-conflict areas through permaculture workshops that empower marginalized and displaced communities to co-develop long-term food security, energy efficiency, and participatory democratic structures based on permaculture principles. Permaculture is a design approach that mimics patterns in nature in order to develop sustainable and self-regulating agricultural, economic, and political systems.  

Permaculture for Peace in Ukraine: The Challenge is the Solution

Crow Forest Permaculture, in collaboration with our partner NGO Permaculture in Ukraine, has launched a “Permaculture for Peace-building” 72-hour Design Course “Permaculture Roundtable” that is being video-taped, translated, and broadcast for free online to approximately 500 internally displaced refugees in Ukraine. Permaculture design strategies (described in greater detail below) will be introduced, explored, and implemented with the purpose of empowering internally displaced persons as they rebuild their homes and communities.  Participants will learn practical skills, including but not limited to small-scale, intensive systems designed to generate and store heat  energy (e.g. Solar ovens, solar glazing, thermal mass,) as well as provide strategies for food security (Greenhouse growing, succession garden design, food foraging, food preservation) and conflict resolution that incorporate permaculture principles.

Parakh Hoon, Dennis Chang, Nouri ElMekharam and Christina Zawerucha set up the technology to "Think Globally and Act Locally."  Each of our PDC sessions are streamed live to Ukraine and translated to Ukrainian and Creole.

Parakh Hoon, Dennis Chang, Nouri ElMekharam and Christina Zawerucha set up the technology to “Think Globally and Act Locally.” Each of our PDC sessions are streamed live to Ukraine and translated to Ukrainian and Creole.

How can you help?

Crow Forest Permaculture is offering a 72-hour permaculture course over 36 2-hour sessions, every Sunday from 2-4 PM.  Students can attend the course in person at our 8-acre permaculture demonstration farm in Blacksburg, VA, or online through google hang-outs. Each 2-hour session is a $10 donation to the “Permaculture for Peace” project fund. Students can “drop in” for specific sessions, or attend all 36 sessions to receive a “72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate.”  Security-permitting, key participants may also opt to volunteer on-the ground in Ukraine in 2015.  Scholarships and work-study available.

Junior Beauvais, Permaculture Instructor, Director of Haiti Project

Junior Beauvais, Permaculture Instructor, Director of Haiti Project

Christina Zawerucha, Certified Permaculture Instructor

Christina Zawerucha, Certified Permaculture Instructor, Director of Permaculture for Peace and Ukraine Project

Details about the Challenges in Ukraine & the Work of Our Partners

According the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, over 117,000 thousand civilians have been displaced as of 8/05/14.  Approximately 20,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are currently resettled in the Kiev region of Ukraine, and our NGO Partners (Permaculture in Ukraine,  Ukrainian Society of Overcoming the Consequences of Traumatic Events, Volunteers Hundred, Squadrons of Goodness, Psychological Crisis Service, Legal Space) are currently serving 700 IDPs in Coordination Center of the Kyiv Hospital  #17.  Coordination Center of the Kyiv Hospital  #17 has successfully found money to purchase medicine through the Fund Education for Democracy (Polish NGO), but has no funds to pay staff. Most IDPs are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, preventing their social assimilation and hopes for the future.

The role of Permaculture for Peace is to provide training to IDPs in order to meet long term goals and short-term goals.  With cold weather approaching, displaced persons are attempting to build or repair destroyed homes with little to no resources.   The rise in energy prices, and projected shortages in natural gas make Permaculture Design approaches to using renewable resources, maximizing passive solar design, capturing and storing heat energy, and food security of timely importance.  In the long-run, the “Permaculture ” and “Growing Experiences” curriculum will be used to facilitate conflict resolution, planning, decision-making, and reconstruction of disturbed communities via the following 14 permaculture design principles:

PDC

Our partners working on the ground in Kiev Hospital 17 with the NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine.”

Details about the Challenges in Ukraine & the Work of Our Partners

According the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, over 117,000 thousand civilians have been displaced as of 8/05/14.  Approximately 20,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are currently resettled in the Kiev region of Ukraine, and our NGO Partners (Permaculture in Ukraine,  Ukrainian Society of Overcoming the Consequences of Traumatic Events, Volunteers Hundred, Squadrons of Goodness, Psychological Crisis Service, Legal Space) are currently serving 700 IDPs in Coordination Center of the Kyiv Hospital  #17.  Coordination Center of the Kyiv Hospital  #17 has successfully found money to purchase medicine through the Fund Education for Democracy (Polish NGO), but has no funds to pay staff. Most IDPs are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, preventing their social assimilation and hopes for the future.

The role of Permaculture for Peace is to provide training to IDPs in order to meet long term goals and short-term goals.  With cold weather approaching, displaced persons are attempting to build or repair destroyed homes with little to no resources.   The rise in energy prices, and projected shortages in natural gas make Permaculture Design approaches to using renewable resources, maximizing passive solar design, capturing and storing heat energy, and food security of timely importance.  In the long-run, the “Permaculture ” and “Growing Experiences” curriculum will be used to facilitate conflict resolution, planning, decision-making, and reconstruction of disturbed communities via the following 14 permaculture design principles:

Permaculture Attitudes

  1. Turn problems into solutions. Constraints can inspire creative design. “We are confronted by insurmountable opportunities.”—Pogo (Walt Kelly)
  2. Obtain a yield. Design for both immediate and long-term returns from your efforts: “You can’t work on an empty stomach.” Set up positive feedback loops to build the system and repay your investment.
  3. The biggest limit to abundance is creativity. The designer’s imagination and skill limit productivity and diversity more than any physical limit.
  4. Mistakes are tools for learning. Evaluate your trials. Making mistakes is a sign you’re trying to do things better.

Primary Principles for Functional Design:

  1. Observe. Use protracted and thoughtful observation rather than prolonged and thoughtless action. Observe the site and its elements in all seasons. Design for specific sites, clients, and cultures.
  2. Connect. Use relative location: Place elements in ways that create useful relationships and time-saving connections among all parts. The number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements.
  3. Catch and store energy and materials. Identify, collect, and hold useful flows. Every cycle is an opportunity for yield, every gradient (in slope, charge, heat, etc.) can produce energy. Re-investing resources builds capacity to capture yet more resources.
  4. Each element performs multiple functions. Choose and place each element in a system to perform as many functions as possible. Beneficial connections between diverse components create a stable whole. Stack elements in both space and time.
  5. Each function is supported by multiple elements. Use multiple methods to achieve important functions and to create synergies. Redundancy protects when one or more elements fail.
  6. Make the least change for the greatest effect. Find the “leverage points” in the system and intervene there, where the least work accomplishes the most change.
  7. Use small scale, intensive systems. Start at your doorstep with the smallest systems that will do the job, and build on your successes, with variations. Grow by chunking.

Principles for Living and Energy Systems

  1. Optimize edge. The edge—the intersection of two environments—is the most diverse place in a system, and is where energy and materials accumulate or are transformed. Increase or decrease edge as appropriate.
  2. Collaborate with succession. Systems will evolve over time, often toward greater diversity and productivity. Work with this tendency, and use design to jump-start succession when needed.
  3. Use biological and renewable resources. Renewable resources (usually living beings and their products) reproduce and build up over time, store energy, assist yield, and interact with other elements.

 

Crow Forest Permaculture’s 1st Year Anniversary: Growing Possibilities

Yesterday, August 13th, was the 1-year anniversary of my decision to stay in Blacksburg and establish Crow Forest Permaculture.  The grapes are ripening on the vine.  Our chickens are roaming free.  The tomatoes are rolling in.  Apple and pear season has come early this year.  The ground hogs have retreated!  And the paw paws are growing fatter on their branches.

What a life-changing year it has been!  Here is a review some of the  month-month highlights of 2014 and goals for 2015.

STEPS TAKEN in 2014

NEXT STEPS in 2014-2015

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Advanced Permaculture Teacher Certification Course in Truskavets, Ukraine. I was blessed with the opportunity to take a “birthright” trip to the land of my heritage, all while making friends with Ukrainians who care deeply about ecological sustainability and social justice.

Eating at the Armenian Restaurant

Permaculture for Peace Roundtable Design Course September 2014-June 2015

Christina Zawerucha will be co-teaching a 72 hour hybrid Bilingual Permaculture Design Course with the NGO- Permaculture in Ukraine and Permaculture for Peace with Tatiana Chuchko and Pavlo Ardanov.

Crow Forest Permaculture, in collaboration with our partner NGO Permaculture in Ukraine, has launched a “Permaculture for Peace-building” 72-hour Design Course “Permaculture Roundtable” that is being video-taped, translated, and broadcast for free online to approximately 500 internally displaced refugees in Ukraine. Permaculture design strategies will be introduced, explored, and implemented with the purpose of empowering internally displaced persons as they rebuild their homes and communities.  Participants will learn practical skills, including but not limited to small-scale, intensive systems designed to generate and store heat  energy (e.g. Solar ovens, solar glazing, thermal mass,) as well as provide strategies for food security (Greenhouse growing, succession garden design, food foraging, food preservation) and conflict resolution that incorporate permaculture principles.

How can you help?

Crow Forest Permaculture is offering a 72-hour permaculture course over 36 2-hour sessions, every Sunday from 2-4 PM.  Students can attend the course in person at our 8-acre permaculture demonstration farm in Blacksburg, VA, or online through google hang-outs. Each 2-hour session is a $10 donation to the “Permaculture for Peace” project fund. Students can “drop in” for specific sessions, or attend all 36 sessions to receive a “72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate.”  Key participants may also opt to volunteer on-the ground in Ukraine in January 2015.  Scholarships and work-study available.

***Please email czwriter@vt.edu if you are interested in participating.

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Stage-Building: Chris Piatt, Kelly Junco, Parakh Hoon, Mike Heitzman and Christina Zawerucha worked in the cold and snow to design and build a beautiful stage for our barn.

Our Stage Building Crew!

Shed Talks: Ongoing

We have started a series of shed-talks.  Please come to our next shed talks:

Lebanese Astronomy: 8 PM, August 23 with Alex Hazouri

Water and Wisdom: 6 PM, August 30th with Jada Kelly

Sauna and Sledding Party

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Sauna Club: August 2014- February 2015

We are running an official “Sauna Club” to fund the repair of our hot-tub.  $50 membership gets you 5 visits to the sauna/hot tub.

***Please email czwriter@vt.edu if you are interested in participating.

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The Joy of Fermentation Workshop

Participants learned how to make ginger beer.  Some people learned how to make their own potting soil.

Our cider press!

Cider-Making Workshop

We hope to run a Cider-Making workshop with local brewer Justin Martin, using our very own cider-press in October.  We also hope to run a lacto-fermented pickling workshop over the winter.

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Ukrainian Pysanka Egg-Painting Workshop- We ran a series of hands-on workshops with Warm Hearth Community Center.

Thanks for a great creative and collaborative community!

Pysanky at Gypsy Fest, Sept 8 2014

We will be running a Pysanka-making booth at Gypsy fest in Rhiner on September 5th, 2014.

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Greenhouse building workshop Part 1

Nouri, Junior, Parakh, Ethan, Mousa, Mike, Maureen, Tim, and Christina built a foundation and frame for our rainwater harvesting greenhouse. 

The Crew!  Parakh, Nouri, Drew, Evan, Tim, Christina and Maureen.  What a day!

Greenhouse Building Workshop Part 2

Monday, September 18th.

Please help us complete our greenhouse roof and walls before winter sets in.  Scheduled for Free food provided. 

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Korean Wild Food Foraging and Cooking Workshop

On Saturday, June 7th, we had an awesome “Wild Food Foraging and Korean Cooking workshop” led by my dear friends KD Palwole Jang and Roy Kim.  During this fun filled evening, KD, a certified acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist and Korean Medicinal Healer took us for a stroll through the woods to discover nature’s wild abundance growing all around us.

KD and Roy teach us the fundamentals of Korean cooking in the Octagon house.

Fall Food Foraging and Korean Cooking II

KD and Roy will lead a Fall Session of the Korean Food Foraging Workshop.  Stay tuned for specific dates!

Ivana Kupala Ukrainian Solstice Party- Thank you Orbit Eyes, Sovereign Goblin, and Dan Steinberg for your amazing artistic and music contributions.  This was a fantastic party that mixed ancient traditions with new ones.

Christina and Kaity take a leap of faith on midnight of the longest day of the year.

Ivana Kupala: June 20th, 2015

Be ready to jump over the fire on June 20th, 2014!

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GROUND HOG BBQ

CZ shot a groundhog and shared it with the community.

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Hunting for Sustainability Nov 2014

We would like to learn how to deer-hunt.  Anybody interested in leading a skill share or workshop?  Please contact czwriter@vt.edu

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LEBANESE ASTRONOMY AND STARGAZING WORKSHOP

Master Naturalist Alex Hazzouri will  lead an astronomy and Stargazing workshop at 8:00 PM on Saturday, August 23rd.  $5 suggested donation and/or work-study.

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YOU CAN GROW THE POSSIBILITIES!

Do you have an interesting skill or concept you would like to introduce to a larger community?  Do you want to share culinary or ecological wisdom from your heritage?  Then you may want to run a workshop with Crow Forest Permaculture.  Please email czwriter@vt.edu or call 540-315-7059.  Thank you!!!

Deep thanks must go to my roommates Maureen, Tim, and Tom, as well as Mike, Parakh, Nouri, Junior, KD, Roy, Kelly, Chris, Kaity, Adam, Elliot, Nancy, Aissatou, Oumoule, Drew, Patrick, Seneca and all of the other loving friends who have encouraged and supported these experiments from near and far.  Deep thanks must go to Crystal Cook and Edward Marshall of We Are All Farmers, who encouraged me to follow the dream here in Virginia.  Thank you to Tom, Rachel, Carrie, Pete and my long-term friends who root for me from afar.  Also, thanks to my family for accepting my choices, even if they do seem a little different.

Thanks, Parakh for this funny Easter photo!

Thanks, Parakh for this funny Easter photo!

I often struggle with the tension between wanting to accomplish more, and being able to simply relax and enjoy what we have built here.  But I am grateful for the opportunity to grow, both internally and externally.  I beat myself up for the blunders, but as I look back on 2014, it looks like the path can be retraced.  I want to focus on being a better friend and community member for the second half of 2014.  May we all stay true to our dreams, and blossom into our true selves.

Wild Foraging and Korean Cooking Workshop a Success!

KD and Roy teach us the fundamentals of Korean cooking in the Octagon house.

KD and Roy teach us the fundamentals of Korean cooking in the Octagon house.

After a long hiatus from the blog, we’re excited to report some new developments at Crow Forest Farm.  Thanks for keeping in touch!  On Saturday, June 7th, we had an awesome “Wild Food Foraging and Korean Cooking workshop” led by my dear friends KD Palwole Jang and Roy Kim.  During this fun filled evening, KD, a certified acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist and Korean Medicinal Healer took us for a stroll through the woods to discover nature’s wild abundance growing all around us.

KD teaching us in the barn about the "Five Elements Theory" of Korean cooking.

KD teaching us in the barn about the “Five Elements Theory” of Korean cooking.

We began the afternoon with a short round of introductions and a 20-minute presentation by KD about the “Five Elements Theory” of Korean cooking.   She described the kinds of foods that our bodies crave when we need certain kinds of healing, and what kinds of foods can balance our energy.   The astute observation of one of our ~20 participants  was that it made sense to eat food in season.

Garlic mustard.  One of the most abundant and nutritious foods in the wild!

Garlic mustard. One of the most abundant and nutritious foods in the wild!

We then took an hour and a half walk-about over Crow Forest Farm, learning how to identify different edible plants in the wild.  We learned that wild edibles grow best on the edges of forests and in places that are rebounding from disturbances.  Our first great discoveries were wild mustard greens and lamb’s quarters (wild spinach).  Both of these plants are growing in abundance in an area where the invasive “Tree of Heaven” has been cut down.  Tree of Heaven is an allelopathic invasive plant that sends out hormones into the soil that prevent other plants from growing around it and competing for nutrients.  It was interesting to observe that only these strong, wild edibles were growing in areas where nothing else could.

Wild spinach is growing like crazy in our space!  Super delicious and nutritious!

Wild spinach is growing like crazy in our space! Super delicious and nutritious!

We learned that the best way to harvest lamb’s quarters is from the top, so we could get the most tender leaves and could allow the plant to continue to produce food.   The food made a delicious sautée with Korean Chile paste!

 

Mulberries!  Ferment them as a condiment, or just eat them fresh off the tree.  So good!!!

Mulberries! Ferment them as a condiment, or just eat them fresh off the tree. So good!!!

Next, we harvested mulberries from our five mulberry trees!  We learned that the smartest way to harvest them is by putting a bed sheet underneath the tree and shaking it.  Mulberries can be eaten fresh or fermented to create mulberry wine or condiments.

Bush cherries are not just for birds : )

Bush cherries are not just for birds : )

We then discovered bush cherry, sour cherries, and blueberries growing on the edge of the forest.  We also had jerusalem artichoke, or “pig potato” poking out of the weeds.

Autumn olive bears delicious fruits in the late summer/early fall.

Autumn olive bears delicious fruits in the late summer/early fall.

Around the autumn olive, we found beautiful honeysuckle blossoms that we collected to make a relaxing tea!

Honeysuckles make a delicious tea!

Honeysuckles make a delicious tea!

We then continued deeper into the woods, where we found “To boong young” growing around wild rose and paw paw trees.  The new growth on the wild rose and To boong young can added to salads.  We also found wild garlic growing among the ferns in the paw paw grove.

Roy demonstrates how Burdock root makes an excellent "chop and drop" mulch for garden vegetables.

Roy demonstrates how Burdock root makes an excellent “chop and drop” mulch for garden vegetables.

We then went to the edge of the forest, where Roy made Parakh dig up a bunch of burdock root.  This edible is particularly  nutritious because its taproot absorbs minerals from deep within the earth and then brings them up to the earth’s surface.  For this same reason, it makes an excellent “chop and drop” mulch fertilizer.

Poke weed is a delicacy that can only be eaten during its earliest stages of development as a cooked green.  Once it matures, it becomes highly toxic.  We look forward to keeping our eyes out for this next spring.

Poke weed is a delicacy that can only be eaten during its earliest stages of development as a cooked green. Once it matures, it becomes highly toxic. We look forward to keeping our eyes out for this next spring.

 

We also discovered some delicacies such as pokeweed and milkweed, which we could not harvest this season but could harvest next season.   Pokeweed makes a delicious cooked vegetable when it is young and immature.  Once it matures, it becomes highly toxic.  Hence our appreciation for expert guides like KD and Roy.

 

Blueberries!

Blueberries!

After identifying different edible plants, we then broke up into harvesting groups.  People harvested as much of their assigned plant as possible and brought them in paper bags to our outdoor washing station near the spiral garden.

Samuel, Eunyoong, Kama, and Parakh sorting and washing wild vegetables in the barn.

Samuel, Eunyoong, Kama, and Parakh sorting and washing wild vegetables in the barn.

Once the harvest had been double-checked and cleaned, it was taken to the kitchen!  We prepared Bimbim bop, Kimbim bop (Which is the Korean precursor to sushi) real miso soup, and kimchi.  We ate a feast and had a toast of fermented ginger wine with mottled speramint leaves and sugar.  Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Our delicious Korean Feast!

Our delicious Korean Feast!

Deep thanks must first go to KD Lee and Roy Kim for driving all the way from Chapel Hill to lead us through this workshop today.  Thank you to Nouri El Mekharam for coordinating the carpool and Junior Beauvais and Elliot Crookshank for helping prepare the barn for the workshop.  Thanks to Adam K. Ernest for his photos and Maureen McGonagle for being an awesome co-host!  Love and thanks to all!  -CZ

Stay tuned for our Ivana Kupala Ukrainian solstice celebration on Saturday, June 21st!

Stay tuned for our Ivana Kupala Ukrainian solstice celebration on Saturday, June 21st!

Please join us on Saturday, June 21st for Ivana Kupala- a Ukrainian Summer Solstice Celebration!   Ivana Kupala is an ancient Ukrainian holiday celebrating the two elements that created the world: water and fire. Traditionally, virgins, lovers, and crones gather on the summer solstice to seek the Tsvit Paparot (the mystical fern flower) on the shortest night of the year. Maidens make wreaths to toss in the stream to be found by their future lovers. Crones tell your fortune over wax and water. Minstrels sing. At midnight, couples test their faith with a leap over the kupala vatra, the bonfire, to affirm their commitment to each other.

Dress as your favorite nymph, god, or traditional costume. Bring instruments, snacks, beverages and a sense of adventure. Live music and fire dances from Orbit EyesSovereign Goblin and George Hardebeck.

 

 

 

Shed Talks, Ukrainian Eggs, and Building our Green-Coop-House Structure

 

The Crew!  Parakh, Nouri, Drew, Evan, Tim, Christina and Maureen.  What a day!

The Crew! Parakh, Nouri, Drew, Evan, Tim, Christina and Maureen. What a day!

Starflower O'Sullivan facilitates our first "Shed Talk" at Crow Forest Farm!

Starflower O’Sullivan facilitates our first “Shed Talk” at Crow Forest Farm!

Every day, I am blown away and grateful for the amazing life I am suddenly leading, and the wonderful people who have come into it.  This was a particularly eventful weekend at Crow Forest Farm.  On Saturday, we had a Pysanka (Ukrainian Egg) Painting workshop, where we wrote our intentions for Spring using ancient symbols.  On Sunday, we had our first ever “Shed Talk,” hosted by Starflower O’Sullivan, regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, and a meaningful discussion about alternatives.  On Sunday afternoon, we built the frame for our Rainwater Harvesting Chicken Coop Greenhouse (We’ve got to come up with a shorter name!), and had a beautiful dinner at sunset.  Life is beautiful.

A quality audience for our first Shed Talk!

A quality audience for our first Shed Talk!

First, I must give thanks to Chris Piatt and Kelly Junco, who spent much of February/March leading the clean-up of our barn and building a stage for the eagerly-awaited Shed Talks.  I must also give thanks to Parakh Hoon, who lent us his projector, and to Dennis Chang, who gave his input regarding lighting/orientation and shot video of our Shed Talk. (Soon to be uploaded).  The pysanka workshop went well, and thanks must go out to Steven Banks, who took beautiful shots of Crow Forest Farm and the wonderful artisans who frequent it.

Industrious artists drawing symbols with beeswax on our pysanky.

Industrious artists drawing symbols with beeswax on our pysanky.

Starflower did a wonderful job of researching and presenting the issues and challenges surrounding the Keystone-XL pipeline.  She facilitated a heartfelt discussion, where people from across the political spectrum discussed what courses of actions to take.  Some advocated a middle of the road approach, allowing the pipeline to be built under the conditions that all tarsand oil be earmarked for building a green energy infrastructure.  Others discussed the implications of the pipeline in light of the recent NASA study and statements from the UN regarding the imminent impact of global warming.  Others discussed the virtues of developing intentional communities, where resources such as cars and computers are shared.  Some asked tough questions about the reality of congressional politics, and how congress-members’ decisions to support or reject the pipeline could effect the shape of congress in the long-run.  There were also discussions on how to engage with people who disagree on a personal level.  The most heart-warming thing, however, was how two of our guests from the Middle East came to me afterwards, saying how grateful they were to see Americans discussing the implications of fossil fuel dependence.  Over dinner later, we learned more about how US consumption of Middle Eastern oil has empowered dictatorships in the region.

 

Arranging our diverse collection of recycled wood and securing it to our foundation.  We are proud to say we are still at a budget of $0!

Arranging our diverse collection of recycled wood and securing it to our foundation. We are proud to say we are still at a budget of $0!

After the shed talk, Maureen, Tim, and Evan planted potatoes, cabbage and onions.  Meanwhile, Nouri, Parakh, Drew, Mousa and I worked on building the wall frames for our chicken coop.  We are deeply grateful to Dan Warren, a barn-builder who stayed after the Shed Talk to advise us on how to attach the walls to our foundation.  He was very encouraging, and his expertise saved us a lot of time and head-scratching.  Just like last weekend, we accomplished more than I expected.  Thank you, hard working people!

Nouri, Evan, Christina Z and Parakh building the frame for our chicken coop/greenhouse.

Nouri, Evan, Christina Z and Parakh building the frame for our chicken coop/greenhouse.

When the evening was over, we had a beautiful dinner outside the Octagon house.  We had roasted Jerusalem artichokes, thanks to generosity of Elliot Crookshank and his Mom Nancy from the 3 Cow Dairy in Floyd.  We ate Soujouk, a smoked Halal beef sausage, a gift to Nouri and Moussa.  I contributed leftover Ukrainian food from the pysanka workshop, including kapusta, kasha, and turkey shnitzli.  Finally, Tim and Maureen prepared a delicious salad of lettuce and mustard greens, freshly harvested from our cold frames.  The discussion lasted long after the sun went down.

Our finished frame for our chicken coop/green house!

Our finished frame for our chicken coop/green house!

My friend Drew, an OWS “hacktivist” friend who came to help on the farm, reassured me that the life we’re cultivating here at Crow Forest Farm is not unconventional.  Rather, it is “neoconventional.”  That you can have a professional day job, but have a collaboratively self-sufficient community for the other 16 hours of the day.  That night, I slept so soundly, grateful for the beautiful community of people that have been blossoming around this great experiment that has become my life.   The universe works in mysterious ways, and while it’s not always easy, I feel grateful to the people who are helping me “grow my hands” along the way.

Thanks for a great creative and collaborative community!

Thanks for a great creative and collaborative community!

We’re took a break this weekend to observe the holidays.  Happy Pesach, Happy Easter, and Happy Cambodian New Year!  Until next time : )