The Return

Return          The I Ching

It might be considered a writing cliche to reflect upon the past and gaze into the future at the cusp of the new year, but I believe this reflection time is an ancient custom, born tens of thousands of years in the past. My European ancestors most certainly spent the dark and cold months in close quarters, sheltered around a fire, sharing stories of the past, mending baskets and making tools for the coming year. Most places on the earth that are inhabited by humans have seasonal cycles that include times of decline and time of renewal: winter and spring, dry season and wet season, the passing of migrating herds. It is these times that we become most aware of the cycles of time and the patterns of nature. Since our most ancient journeys to the northern latitudes, after the longest nights, when the longer days begin to return, we think back on the seasons just past, and plan for those ahead. And so, as is customary, I will take this time to look back on the year just ended and forward to the year ahead.

2017 was a time for learning and organizing affairs. An opportunity to travel gave us practical experience into permaculture in another climate, and we took the time to reorganize our education and design services, including the launch of  The year also saw the release of The Food Forest Handbook by New Society Publishing, which I co-authored with Michelle Czolba.

My partner, Jessy Swisher, and I traveled to the Andalucia region of Southern Spain. From January until April we had the great pleasure to volunteer at Suryalila Yoga Retreat Center and work in the gardens, landscape and olive groves. While we were there Suryalila launched the Danyadara project, which aims to use permaculture design to restore their land and to serve as an education project for the region and beyond. Our immersion in both yoga and permaculture systems establishment deepened our commitment to our work in regenerating natural systems.

The summer of 2017 was a time to cleanup Three Sisters Farm and to develop these web pages. I am deeply appreciative of Jessy Swisher for her focused attention to both tasks. After two years of minimal use, the bioshelter and farm required a summer worth of weekends to  clean and organize. We are currently offering the bioshelter and farm for sale to the next generation of permaculture market gardeners.

After this time of learning and renewal, we are renewing our commitment to permaculture education. As 2017 draws to a close and 2018 begins, we at Three Sister Permaculture are gearing up for a return to teaching permaculture workshops and courses, as listed in our events calendar.  In 2018 Three Sisters Permaculture is offering two permaculture design courses, one in Spain, one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a series of permaculture workshops.

When preparing to teach permaculture classes, it is a good practice to study the basic permaculture texts. These include Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison and Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren. As I look forward to re-engaging with permaculture students and with design clients, a look back at these primary guides to permaculture design is instructional and inspirational.

I prefer not to compare these books as much as see them as two parts of a whole. Holmgren’s book is widely considered to be more accessible to the average reader, and his 12 principles serve to illustrate permaculture design in simple and elegant terms. Mollison’s book is often described as dense and difficult to read, but a careful study reveals a broad depth of knowledge, insight and experience. Holmgren, rooted in his decades of experience and consideration, presents permaculture as a series of regenerative design principles. Mollison provides a very high quality synthesis of cultural studies, environmental science, physics, animal husbandry, and horticulture into a comprehensive design system.  Together these two authors, who collaborated in the 1970’s to present permaculture to the world in the landmark book Permaculture One, provide the definitive guides to a design system for truly permanent cultures.

And so the serious student of permaculture design should begin with David Holmgren’s Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.  (For more details of Holmgren’s principles see the website:  Once the fundamental principles are understood, the student then should proceed to study Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. In subsequent posts, we will further explore these books and the details of permaculture design. For now we wish you a very good New Year and trust our combined efforts will yield a regenerated planet.



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