Three Sisters Farm and Bioshelter was the original permaculture project initiated by Darrell Frey.  Located near Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania, this unique five acre plot of land is designed to mimic the rhythms of nature while providing a sustainable livelihood through organic market gardening.  The book Bioshelter Market Garden: A Permaculture Farm, (by Darrell Frey, New Society Publishing 2011) chronicles the development of the farm over the decades.

Inspiration & Early Beginnings

Drawing inspiration from permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison, following an early meeting with him in 1982, Darrell envisioned a demonstration of permaculture design in action.  His vision came to be Three Sisters Farm, a pioneering effort to apply permaculture design to a small scale, intensive, organic market garden.  Beginning in 1983, the farm was established with a small plot of perennial crops, while soil regeneration was undertaken on the remainder of the land, observations were made, and plans for the farm were developed.

Farm Expansion & Development

Commercial development began in 1988 with construction of the bioshelter– a solar greenhouse managed as an indoor ecosystem for year-round production.  Inspired by the design of the Ark at the New Alchemy Institute in Cape Cod, MA, and the Solviva Bioshelter in Martha’s Vineyard, MA, the bioshelter incorporates active and passive solar design as well as biothermal and wood stove heating systems.  Spaces inside the bioshelter include growing areas, poultry housing, composting facilities, a processing kitchen, potting room, and classroom space. Over time the farm was expanded to include a pond, two acres of gardens, multi-functional windbreaks, orchards and perennial crops, as well as living areas.

A Pioneer on the Local Foods Scene

From 1989 until 2015 Three Sisters Farm was a recognized leader in providing high quality farm to table produce to local customers and regional restaurants.  The farm was renowned for its specialty salad mixes that included unique ingredients, such as edible flowers and wild harvested greens.  Other farm products included specialty vegetables, fruits, herbs, seedlings, and free range organic eggs.  The farm was host for numerous events, such as Permaculture Design Courses, workshops, field days, tours and full moon drum circles.  Annual internships provided hands-on learning opportunities for folks eager to learn permaculture and market gardening.

Defining Success

Three Sisters Farm was a successful economic enterprise, demonstrating the possibility of year-round production in a cold weather climate without the use of fossil fuels.  It was also a successful permaculture project, demonstrating how the development of the land using permaculture principles could restore the ecological balance of the landscape.

Changes to the Landscape & Ecosystem

At the project’s inception, the land was a monoculture corn field, degraded from decades of conventional agriculture.  Today the myriad plantings of trees, shrubs and other perennials have created a flourishing habitat for wildlife to abound.  Well over a hundred trees and shrubs have been established over the years, in addition to many varieties of herbaceous perennials.  These fruit trees and shrubs, wildflowers, herbs, and other useful plants are integrated into the landscape as tree lines, windbreaks and food forests.  (Click here for an extensive list of perennial plants established at Three Sisters Farm.)

The vibrant farm ecosystem is home to dozens of species of birds, frogs, toads, snakes, countless types of bees, wasps, spiders and other beneficial insects.  Songbirds now come to nest in the trees, shrubs and meadows. Spring peepers have flooded the banks of the pond, which is home to bass and bluegill, snapping turtles, painted turtles and the ever present muskrat.  Nesting ducks, great blue herons, green herons and kingfishers also visit each year.

Continuing the Legacy (Farm for Sale)

Now, with the original farm manager in retirement from market gardening, the farm seeks to pass the land on to a new generation of aspiring farmers, permaculturists or stewards of the land. Land and bioshelter is currently available for sale to the right people. The land is fertile, fruitful and productive, and the area is rich with amenities.

Area Amenities

The farm, while rural, is located within 20 minutes of several large towns, 40 minutes of Erie and 90 minutes of Pittsburgh, all providing numerous opportunities to market farm products.  Located along the western edge of the Appalachian Plateau, the farm is set in a gently rolling landscape of farm fields, woodlands and rural homes.  The farm pond drains into Mill Creek, a tributary of the nearby French Creek, which flows to the Allegheny River.  These waterways, combined with the nearby Lake Wilhelm and the natural glacial Sandy Lake, all offer natural beauty, rich biodiversity, and excellent recreational opportunities, such as fishing, boating, hiking, bike trails and swimming.  Lake Erie and the Allegheny National Forest are both within an hour’s drive, providing further such opportunities.

Contact us at if you’re interested in inquiring about the farm purchase.