Week 2: Google Sketchup and Beginning Concepts and Themes

So its the second week of Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Design Course (PDC). This week is going to be about Concepts and Themes in Design where we learn about energy building systems as we need to grasp some basic concepts and themes of approach to fully understand how we can apply methods (which will be the lesson of the week after that).

Since I got started with the course early, I was a week ahead when the course officially began. I started learning how to use Google Sketchup a bit, to practice for when I do my final design exercise for the course, which when we hand in will grant us a PDC certificate and registration in their network of permaculture designers. I want to do it good as well, which is why I’m already starting to think about location.

Where I live now (Diemen) there might be a possibility to do some design. I was initially thinking of doing Diemerpark but that turned out to have been built on top of what used to be a waste dump. The water around here is constantly being filtered and treated. I should talk to the water treatment place people. Perhaps they can tell me more about rehabilitating the land with permaculture as a principle… but there’s still a lot I need to learn.

Speaking of water filtration, closed loops and energy, I also visited Metabolic this week. That was an intense experience. They’re working on a closed loop system as well, paying particular attention to what we do with grey water and waste. That’s not the only thing they do either. They’re a very diverse team of quasi-entrepreneurs and get most of their revenue from consulting but spend a lot of time on projects with zero to minimal margins as well, if not more so. They’re working on a lot of sustainable technologies and concepts from a systems thinking perspective. It’s fascinating to watch them work, but also to get involved and helping them out where I can.

They were kind of surprised at my presence since I just showed up at their workshop. I caught them on a lunch break and they told me to meet them later around 18:00 as then they were starting to settle down and have dinner and a few beers.

When I arrived the second time I was aware that everyone was still busy. At least, they were just riding the waves of the tasks at hand. I put my longboard and bag in the office, and just started observing and interacting where I could. I helped out with some re-organization of the “hacker’s terminal”, but also in the kitchen, preparing some vegetables and cooking equipment. I eventually also helped with dishes since I felt like I had to earn my place at the table, and that was my way to do it.

Overall, I had a very good experience at the organization and was definitely struck by their radically different way of thinking and doing work. At the moment however, I don’t see how much value I could be towards the organization. Chris (the Chief Operating Office) told me that if I could work on an ecosystem type unit that would produce an output for people to consume that would be very useful. Of course having something like that would be priceless… but its also going to get complicated, especially if you start implementing humans into the equation.

Something that would be a step in the right direction, however, would be an aquaponic system (combining fish with plants). However, fish still need to eat, so depending on what they eat, you’re likely still going to be dependent on external support if you can’t close the loop. We would have to think on a bigger scale which might involve a chicken-tractor focused on foraging through compost rather than being grain fed, and having the chicken waste be fed back into the fish system along with growing plants that the fish may eat through using the ammonia rich fish water and using an ebb-and-flow system on the plants. We’d be looking at something like this:

Fig.3.1

(taken from http://www.fao.org/docrep/field/003/ac375e/ac375e04.htm)

We’d have to make sure that the initial ‘feed’ loop is created through simply maximizing the utility of the soil, and allowing natural foraging to take place (by the chickens par example). This is done through effective composting done by humans… which is how humans are going to be ingrained into this system. Once we start seeing the value in our own waste, we can complete the circle and increase the fertility of our soil.

There’s a lot of things that still need to be learned, but some basic things are an important element to keep our minds on. Such as the fact that all our energy comes from the Sun. Oil is also a product of the Sun, however, oil is a finite resource. It starts with photosynthesis, a compression of plant matter over the course of a few million years and then the final result. Our dependence on oil for our food system is problematic however, as we will face challenges in the future if we do not find a sustainable solution now.

I definitely see the value in using permaculture to maximize a natural environment’s capability to support human interaction. Looking forward to learning more and hopefully I can implicitly transfer some knowledge and information through my writing.

Until next week 😉

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