In-Season Recipes: When Gardening and Cooking Become the Same

(Golden beets, Galapagos tomatoes, Fern Tomatoes, Lillie House Landrace carrots, red potatoes, thyme, and basil)
The true beauty of a productive home Permaculture garden is found on the table. The act of “gardening” becomes so casual that it’s no more than wandering around the yard finding inspiration. In between picking carrots, you pull a few “weeds” to nibble on and use the rest to mulch a basil plant. You stop to watch a butterfly on the way to the tomatoes and “harvest” some “mulch” (pull weeds) there, too. 
It’s the most natural thing in the world to clean up some beautiful vegetables and herbs like these and throw them together in a searing-hot pan with some pumpkin seed oil and a little lemon juice. That’s hardly even cooking. With such fresh vegetables, picked just moments before cooking, there’s no need for fancy sauces, heavy oils or special preparation. 
But the garden grants meals that you could hardly find at a restaurant, in this case, roasted vegetables, fresh caprese salad and blackberries. All but the lemon, salt and fresh mozzarella picked within an hour of eating. There’s no point in even giving a recipe for meals like this… 
Go to the garden. 
Pick the best. 
Process minimally. 
Cook, barely. 
Bon Appetite, a universal recipe fit for the kings of our romantic literature, worthy of Tom Bombadil’s table, the last suppers of our most exalted saints, or the campfires of our most ancient ancestors. 
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Like native plants? 
I think they’re delicious! 
Recognize these milkweed pods? They’re one of the first “wild edibles” that set us on our passionate foraging journey, around a decade ago. When picked under 2″ long, the “pre-silk” inside makes an interesting “cheese” substitute. Both the texture and flavor make a very good vegetable. 
The shoots of milkweed make a very good “asparagus” and the flower buds make a nice “broccoli” but the pods–why, they’re like Jalapeño poppers. We like to dredge them in a little flour and fry them up in a shallow pool of hot canola or peanut oil, just before it starts smoking. Then we sprinkle them with sea salt and cayenne pepper, and voila, the outside becomes crunchy and the inside like melted cheese: Milkweed Jalapeño poppers!
But on this occasion, we tried them with salt and curry powder instead, and fried them up in coconut oil, and found our Milkweed “curry puffs” especially tasty! 
The trick is to do a small test batch first. Often, the variability of moisture means that some pods will get soggy if only dredged with flour. The best poppers will be perfect with a mere dredging, but if your test poppers are soggy, coat the rest in a light “tempura” batter instead, by mixing the flour with a pinch of baking soda and a bit of light beer (Pilsner is especially nice,) carbonated water or plain water. I like a milky batter that will only just coat the pods, though a thick batter would probably be delicious, too, if a little heavy.
The end result is a “gateway wild food,” one of the first we often feed to the “wild-curious.” We rarely have any that go to waste…. 

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How to Make Better "Native Plant Gardens" with Permaculture

(This post is accompanied by this morning’s pictures of some charasmatic native flowers at Lillie House) 

Hovering from flower to flower, the bumble bee embraces her partner and begins to sing. This is a new song, not the regular hum of flight, but a deliberate and intricate buzzing sung aloud for another living being. This is called “buzz pollination.” She knows exactly the notes and frequencies that will make the flower release its pollen, a living demonstration of how sound, song, and music can move something inside of us, too. 

I learned this, and many other beautiful things, by watching native plants in our Permaculture garden. It is a truly great joy to sit and watch the chorus of invertebrates foraging together in the ecosystem we’ve co-created. And while it’s true that many of the “busiest” plants in the garden are non-natives like yarrow, valerian, oregano and thyme, I take special joy in knowing the natives are providing for evolved partnerships and interactions that may be invisible to me as the gardener. 

Native plants also have a range of other benefits that most people these days are quite familiar with, and they bring those benefits with them into any kind of garden. 
As a native garden lover, it has become difficult for me to deny that the best way to use native plants in home, business, or public gardens is to include them with “exotics” into a productive, diverse Permaculture garden. This garden will integrate high-quality appropriate wildlife habitat with the production of food, medicine, cut flowers, materials for crafts, and other products. 

This garden will also have room for heirloom flowers and plants, gifts from friends, families and neighbors, and specimens that remind us of loved ones, even if they are “exotics.” 


It always makes me profoundly sad when I hear someone say they love their grandmother’s favorite lillies, but that they “have to” remove them because they’re not “native.” These plants are certainly doing no harm, and if the research on ecological “resiliency theory” and ecosystem health are to be believed, then more than likely these “invaders” are actually adding to the resilience and health of the ecosystem, providing additional connections and habitat that strengthens the natives. 

And finally, this ideal Permaculture garden will be appropriate to the architecture, history and feel of the home and neighborhood, which may also require some exotic species.  

Such a garden can include just as many “native species” as any “native flower garden”  and it will have all the benefits of the “native flower garden.” But it will also provide a multitude of additional benefits, a list too long to get very far into, but it starts with reducing the harm we cause to other humans and ecosystems by meeting more of our needs within our human habitats–the places we actually live– instead of exploiting “wild” places or other people. 
This is the kind of “integrated” garden that I design and recommend for homes, businesses and public spaces. 
People in Kalamazoo often ask me about the “conflict” between Permaculture and “native plant nuts” and I say “there isn’t one!” I’m a Permaculturist and a certifiable native plant nut.
“Native flower gardens” are wonderful gardens and I absolutely love them! Many native plant gardeners are doing amazing work and making beautiful living historical exhibits. 


And Permaculture Design is the perfect compliment to their work. Good design can make these gardens even better, increasing the positive impact of “Native Flower Gardens” or “Prairie Gardens.”
Here are some thoughts, from a Permacultre perspective, on how we can improve our already awesome “native gardens” :
1. Include appropriate productive plants. It’s simple and fulfilling to design native gardens filled with delicious and healthy native fruits and vegetables, materials for crafts, medicines, aromatherapy or building materials. It’s even possible to create a “natives only” edible forest garden. And the befefits are profound: any space used within a human habitat like a yard, a city or a suburb, that isn’t put to productive use, means that a much, much larger 4-40 times or even greater, judging from the research of the Grow Biointensive organization) piece of land outside of the human habitat has to be converted into desert for human benefit. (Yes, a corn field is essentially a desert.) 
Think about that. It’s self-evident, yet rarely considered. 
While habitat inside the human zone is of poor quality for wildlife, this conscripted land outside the human realm would be of high value, especially for the often “shy” endangered species. Meanwhile, productive gardens close to where humans live require DRAMATICALLY reduced energy intensity, going a long way to reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact. 
This is just a matter of recognizing “highest and best use” and acting accordingly. 

2. Don’t till. Many “native gardens” require periodic replanting or tilling to maintain. You can make a case that tilling is necessary for productive land uses, but not for gardens that are essentially ornamental. This needlessly costs us soil, kills wildlife and wastes resources just to give us give us something pretty to look at and eleviate our “ecological guilt.” Find better ways to do both. 

3. Never, ever spray poison on the earth for a “native garden.” Does this honestly require explanation? It is literally insanity to spray poisons that are well-documented to destroy wildlife and soil life, in places where our children run and play, in order to “help nature” or “do something good for the earth.” Insanity. If we can’t plant our “nature gardens” without poisoning nature, we’re desperately confused. 

4. Try sheet mulching or lassagne gadening instead. This method actually INCREASES soil health, life and wildlife value, often while recycling waste products that would otherwise go into land fills. Nature will thank you.


5. Accept that “native gardens” aren’t native ecosystems. Because they’re not. This should be obvious to people, but it isn’t. Take a look at a map of pre-settlement vegetation. Not a lot of “native gardens” on there! Not a lot of “prairie” either, in all those places with “native prairie gardens.”  Many of these gardens, especially prairie gardens, emulate the gardens that were tended by native Americans, rather than non-human habitats. In Michigan the natural landscape would gravitate towards forest without human intervention. This is called “natural succession,” and it is, as the name suggests, perfectly natural, even if it musses up our “nature gardens.” These gardens are beautiful places, but they aren’t themselves “native” or natural in any way. Hey human, you are literally planning and planting it! Yet, a lot of harmful practices are justified by the idea that it’s necessary to fight nature to “restore” this “natural” habitat. It’s time to correct that confusion. 

6. Work to make functioning ecosystems instead of “native gardens.” Ironically, this might require some exotic plants. Unfortunately, when we try to build “native gardens” these days, we’re doing so on “non-native soil” in “non-native ecosystems.” Our soil ecology has been changed dramatically by the inclusion of exotic worms and the microbes that travel in their worm guts. Not to mention an unknown amount of other non-native soil life that came here in our guts and the guts of all our domesticated animals. The conversion of leaf litter into worm poo creates soils with a “faster metabolism” than worm-free native soils, and in that new environment, it is difficult for a pure stand of natives to outcompete “weeds” that evolved in this “fast” soil type. (Yes, this is a simplification, but I think a pretty good one.) 
On top of that, these “native prairie” systems evolved with large ruminants, apex predators, passenger pigeons, horticultural human cultures, and a whole host of other “keystone species” that no longer exist. Our experience and research thus far indicates that it is likely impossible to create sustainable native plant communities without their native ecosystems. 
Exotic species can fill these niches, as they are often observed to in nature, creating “recombinant ecologies” that support native species and are well adapted to our modern “non-native” soils and ecosystems. You see this each time you drive past ditches where natives and non-natives live together in peace. 

7. Allow your “native gardens” to demonstrate ecological succession. This goes back to the confusion that native gardens are native ecosystems. In Michgan, no “prairie flower garden” wants to stay a “prairie” forever. Prairies existed in Michigan in brief periods of “disturbance” when forests are removed. Every “wildflower prarie” wants to “grow up” to be a forest. Most of the time, we end up fighting against nature to preserve our “nature gardens” against the process of “succession,” so we end up spraying, tilling weeding, etc. The best and truest “native gardens” will demonstrate succession, moving towards becoming what they want to be, old-fields, young forest and finally mature forest. Let it be. 
8. Design gardens that are historically and architecturally informed and harmonize well with homes and neighborhoods. While we’ve been working hard at preserving native plants and wildlife, our friends and neighbors promoting a “restoration” or “historic preservation” approach to our human environments have been making significant contributions to our future sustainability. This restoration movement  helps us make best use of embodied energy and durable materials, keeping our energy and resource impact low. Lets honor their work and the work and dreams of our ancestors by designing gardens that build on their efforts, instead of tearing them down and fighting with them. It’s very possible to make “historically and architecturally informed” gardens with native plants, and the experts on restoration point out that there are a whole host of benefits for doing so. 
9. Don’t be too purist. This only discourages people from planting more native plants! If exotics are necessary to make functional ecologies, support an architectural style or honor our loved ones, then let them be! Please never tell somebody to rip out their aunt Petunia’s petunias. 
10. Plan for nature to do the maintenance: embrace the “guilded age.” Perhaps the biggest benefit that native gardens give, is reducing the burden that landscape maintenance puts on us, lowering our resource and energy use, ecological impact, and giving us more free time. Native plants don’t generally require watering, or fertilizing once established. However, I do hear a lot of native gardeners say that their gardens require a lot of maintenance and take a lot of time, energy–and often–chemicals. In Permacultre, we try to create “guilds” of plants that work together to create plant communities that do this work for us. You can find information on “guild roles” online. One of the keys to making this work, though, is a hands-off, or light approach, understanding that if we create a system through constant intervention, we’ve created a syste that requires intervention! So sit back and let nature have her way, even if that means you have a few “weeds.” Many of these “weeds” are sun-loving plants with fast metabolisms that will eventually get out competed if the garden is allowed to follow succession into a forest ecosystem. 
So, keep enjoying all of our beautiful “native gardens.” And let’s see if we can’t use Permacultre to make them even better. 
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In-Season Recipes: Warm Carrot, Broccoli, Summer Vegetables Salad

From garden to table in about 10 minutes. Carrots and broccoli make a beautiful warm “salad” with a light vinaigrette or in this recipe, a quick garlic and shoyu dressing. I never tire of the wonderful, complex flavors of these fresh vegetables–fit for the finest restaurants. 

I’ve been experimenting around a lot this year with reducing or eliminating “stable” carbs like grains from my daily diet to make meals that come 95% (oils, salt and condiments are the imports) from our garden. Right now, carrots are one of the main “carb crops” I’ve been building meals around, since they are abundant and self sow around our garden. Some version of this recipe has been on the table 3 or 4 times a week. 
I usually add a variety of additional vegetables to compliment the dish. Today that included a handful of peas, some pattypan squash and some purslane, an excellent summer vegetable found wild in most gardens. 

Garlic Bulbils are a secret farm luxury, a mild and sweet garlic flavoring available right now to those who grow garlic. Many people miss out by removing the garlic scapes to increase productivity, but research on the topic has been inconclusive. Recent studies from Washinton State and the University of Maine have found modest reductions (a maximum of 5%) when grown in good garden soils (in poor soils WSU found a maximum 30% reduction in productivity with certain varieties) while older studies have found no impact on garlic productivity. But none of these studies account for the increased productivity of garlic plantings in the home garden when considering the additional yield of fresh bulbils and scapes, which together are much larger than 5-30% (Often as high as 40-50% in our garden) of bulb size, indicating an increased theoretical yield to be had from leaving scapes. 
So we harvest scapes as needed in the kitchen and keep some scapes around long enough to enjoy the beautiful form they add to the garden and the gourmet vegetable that flowers on top. At the end of the season, unused bulbils flavor soups and stocks. 
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Ingredients (per person)
5 medium carrots, washed and cut into “french fry” slices
1 head of garlic bulbils.  
1 cup fresh broccoli. 
1 cup additional in-season vegetables, including summer squash, peas, radishes, sorrel, “rat tails,” marshmallow leaves, purslane, etc. 
1 T Shoyu or (less if Tamari is used)
1 t maple syrup
1 t sesame oil 
Add oil to pan along with fresh, sightly crushed garlic bulbils. Fry over high heat for 30 seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until carrots and broccoli take on a bright, beautiful color and the aroma fills the kitchen (about 1 minute.) Poor directly onto plate and eat up! 

Community Permaculture Parables: Give People Freedom, Not More Work

Plan Projects that Support Social Structures, instead of Planning Social Structures to Support your Projects

That’s a longer way of saying the same thing, for those who aren’t into the whole brevity thing. 

And I hope that’s you, because it’s taken me a long time to really learn that, so this will be a long post. For me, this was clarified greatly by something I’ve heard both Permaculture originator Bill Mollison and his student Geoff Lawton say in several different ways, to paraphrase:
If you build something that demands more time, energy and work from people than they started with, that’s not “caring for people” and it’s not “Permaculture.” 
That last part’s a direct quote and, and it’s rare for Mollison to be so stern and universal, so it bears repeating: “If your design takes more work than you started with, that’s not people care and it’s not Permaculture.” 
That means that if your project starts with a lawn, whatever you build on it should–after an initial investment of thought, energy and time–ideally take less time than it took to mow. This is obviously an ideal “easier said than done,” but a good goal for us none the less. 
I think immediately of the fantastic “Global Gardener” videos that BIll Mollison made in the early days of Permaculture, (http://youtu.be/AeTQtzkpLQQthat featured him lazing around in his garden, sleeping instead of weeding, and bemoaning our western priorities of “work” over “living.” 
While much of the hippie “back to the land” movement, as well as the modern communitarian, environmentalist and food movements romanticize hard work and long days of toil in the fields in the old struggle of man vs. nature, Mollison knew it didn’t have to be that way. He had learned from the relaxed, care-free horticultural people in the tropics and sub-tropics, who cooperated casually with nature to meet their needs on a few hours a week and spent the rest of their time living
Anthropological studies of forest gardening cultures verify that they often only spend around 4 hours a week doing what we would consider “work,” and most of that is casual harvesting. (For example, Douglas McConnel, the Economic Structure of Kandyan Forest Garden Farms 1973; Allen, the Kandyan Gardens of Sri Lanka, etc.) There’s a reason why “People Care” is one of Permaculture’s founding ethics and “protracted observation and planning instead of protracted work” was one of the original “Mollison Principles:” to Mollison, one of the primary goals of Permaculture is to set people FREE to enjoy life.
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In 2002-2004 I was a student at the University of Illinois in Champaign at a time when a very energetic and active Permaculture communtiy was busy building gardens and food forests all over town, it seemed. The word “Permaculture” was completely new to me, and suddenly it seemed I was hearing it almost daily in my environmental and anti-war circles, as well as on the community radio station WEFT. And when I’d travel outside Urbana, I’d repeat the opinion I often heard on WEFT “Permaculturists” are doing the most important work in the world today!” Of course, I had no idea what Permaculturists were actually doing, but still it sounded good when I said it. 
While I believe this flurry of activity inspired a great many people such as myself, probably more than their designers even know about, the results were mixed. There were conflicts with neighbors and the city, a number of fines, and the widely-circulated belief that Permaculture is necessarily messy, loud and un-neighborly. Today, almost none of the gardens remain, and none of the original projects remain under their original social structures. 
Anyone who’s interested in doing community or public Permaculture projects should read all about this in Rob Scott’s “Critical Review of Permaculture in the United States–a must-read for those interested in doing Permaculture in public. http://robscott.net/2010/comments/
While my personal involvement in those projects was limited to being inspired on my own Permaculture journey, I’m glad for the opportunity to learn from them, thanks to this incredible piece, which is a profound gift to the Permaculture Designer community, and one of the most important short pieces of Permaculture writing out there. 
It’s worth noting that garden design and ecological soundness had nothing to do with why these gardens didn’t last. The problems were all about “people.” Most of these projects didn’t last because of their social structures, or more precisely, because they were designed to be supported by social structures, rather than to support social structures. When the social structures fell apart, so did the projects. 
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(Humble beginings…)

The first community Permaculture project I planned and designed was the McHenry County Defenders’ Sustainable Educational Garden, a project which never even got around to finding a shorter name. (We were apparently not into the whole brevity thing.) After a few years of dreaming, discussion, planning–working up to presentations and committee meetings and so on, the project “broke ground” in 2010. The garden had nice seasons in 2010 – 2012, primarily with a few community gardeners tending a small polyculture keyhole garden, before I had to leave the project to move to Michigan.  
I had heard that some people were still gardening the site after I left, and that another couple of Permaculture Designers who had been involved in the project took over, but the last I checked the “Garden Committee” was no longer meeting and the project as I designed it essentially came to an end when I left. 
Sad Panda.
Yet, I’m aware that some portion of it remains…. Part of my original design integrated into an existing community of plants including: several shagbark hickories, black raspberries, elderberries, pin cherry, highbush cranberry, wild grapes, aronias, wild onions and a few other species. Even before this was a designated “food forest,” foragers were coming here to gather food, and hikers would stop to snack on berries as they walked. It was my personal favorite site for collecting hickory nuts. Even though we didn’t get far on our “improvements” this “food forest” will continue on, feeding nature and and humans for years, if not generations to come…. 

(Looks like hard work, kids! I’ll be over here taking pictures.)

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Yesterday, I visited the site of one of Kalamazoo’s public food forest projects. I was not involved in the planning but I had the pleasure of helping out with the planting. The project was again put together in a flurry of activity with probably over 100 volunteers and literally thousands of dollars of plants and tree stock were donated, primarily by one local member of Van-Kal Permaculture. I donated a few plants myself, but ended up taking most of them home after seeing the way the establishment would be managed. 
The design team diligently took names and tried to organize a social structure to support the ambitious project, which was planned to require a large amount of volunteer labor to establish. In addition, it was planned to require a commitment from an inherently political property manager, the Kalamazoo Land Bank, subject to the whims of its own turbulent social structure. 
When I had last visited the site, most of the trees seemed overgrown and there didn’t seem to be any signs that a volunteer group had materialized to maintain the donated plant material. I know that I had volunteered and never received a call or email. 
When I visited yesterday, I was sad to see that virtually all of the highest quality trees and plants had been removed, mown over or sprayed with herbicide in a phase of re-establishing a “native” prairie planting (that would not have been native pre-settlement vegetation) over where we had planted a food forest. From what I can tell, most of what remains is a placard indicating that this foul-smelling poisonous field of dying vegetation “demonstrates the value of the Permaculture Design method.” 

(Sad Panda Image, Fluffington Post)

Again, I don’t consider this project (which probably isn’t “finished”) to be a “failure,” as I know for certain that some of the young people I met there were inspired to start their own Permaculture paths….
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There was nothing inherently wrong with any of these projects or designs. This is the rule for such projects, not the exception. I have seen many similar community and public projects over my time as a Permaculture activist, and the vast majority are short-lived. The internet is filled with stories of failed community garden and orchard projects. Here is a short collection of them, for those as interested as I am:
http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/tag/case-study/ (Note, this is another very important “celebration of failure” and a very important work of Permaculture research.)
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Meanwhile, Kalamazoo’s many unofficial “food forests” continue to thrive. These are “wild” places where the natural plant communties have been casually tended and improved by foragers and guerilla gardeners, who meet and chat as they gather nuts, pick asparagus, or collect berries. These places require very little maintenance but continue to produce food year in and out with no inputs of fertlizer, or toxic sprays of biocides. 

They don’t require a team of volunteers or an enduring rigid social structure to keep them going. But they instead CREATE AND FUEL a fluid, informal and friendly community of families and foragers who come together authentically over their shared connection with food and nature. 
These food forests don’t require the energy input of committee meetings, planning sessions, consensus deliberations, arguements or votes to maintain. Nobody has to do presentations to get funds for them. The interaction is so casual that most people wouldn’t even recognize it! But the trained eye recognizes a grafted tree, a stand of tended irises, or a patch of sunchokes where they wouldn’t grow naturally. Or that someone has kindly thinned a particularly good stand of raspberry canes, ensuring we’ll all share in a better crop next year. 
These food forests don’t require a “volunteer” committee to figure out how to “engage” supposedly apathetic modern citizens. There’s nobody to grumble when volunteers are “no shows.” The volunteers just show up because the phsyical structure allows them to “obtain a yield” for their efforts. It “gives” the volunteers more than it demands of them. Nobody even has to call them! 
They do not require a “social structure” to continue. And yet these “physical structures” will continue to support social structures for years, if not generations, to come. Friendships will start here. Families will bond here. Teachers will lead “foraging” walks. The hungry will find free food. The spiritualist will find sanctuary. 
And so it will continue on until the day someone comes in and tears them out… 
Knowing that social structures change and that initial energy fades, smart designers wilil plan to “catch and store” those bursts of energy into “durable infrastructure,” systems that look like the ones I just described…. That’s “people care,” and that’s “Perma” culture. 
And if you’re asking “who will volunteer at the food forest?” you’re asking the wrong question. 

Free Garden Tour with a focus on Designing Polycultures: Sunday the 19th, 3:00

This Sunday we’ll be offering a free garden tour with a focus on designing practical polycultures. I’m making up a nice handout with online resources on Polyculture design and a summary of the techniques and strategies I’ll be covering and demonstrating. 

We’ll be checking out the garden and tasting some plants while we explore current theory and research on interplanting strategies including:
Basic “Root type” polycultures based on the “carrot, onions, lettuce” model. 
Naturally modelled plantings that mimic locally found plant communities.
Time based “advanced polycultures” such as the “Ianto Evans Polyculture.” 
Strategies for mixed Annual/Perennial Polycultures 
“Plant Guild” roles: mulch-makers, nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, pollinator plants, ground-covers, nutrient cyclers, fumigators, and insectory plants. 
And current theories in basic forest garden “architecture.” 


In our gardens you can see all of these techniques actually in use, to assess how they’d work for you. 

The garden is looking beautiful and we’ll have some interesting plants for sale/trade/gift, so if you’re interested in starting your own forest garden or learning about Polycultures, then come on out!



To join us, please call 269-350-3407 to RSVP. 

Permaculture Life Design: "Wealth"

(Monarda in our home food forest garden)
As “a system for designing human habitats to meet our needs,” Permaculture can be used to improve the function of ANY “structure” we “inhabit,” including invisible structures like economies. 
Its basic method is to emulate the processes in nature that make natural systems accumulate life-enhancing energies such as water, fertlility and energy, rather than constantly declining the way most man-made things do. 
(A “Forest garden” modelled after a natural ecosystem, to grow more fertile over time.)
Those same principles can be used to design our home economies so that our families can grow “wealthier” over time naturally and effortlessly. 
Here, I use the word wealth to mean something more than money, which is a poor measure of “wealth” for most people. I’ve written about what I would consider to be true wealth here: http://lilliehouse.blogspot.com/2014/11/paths-to-alternative-wealth.html 
“Wealth” might mean different things to different people, but since most of us never define what we’re actually after, the pursuit of money often leads us astray, getting in the way of accumulating the things that would truly make us feel wealthy. 

(time spent in our “home office” makes me feel wealthy)

But once we know what we’re after, a little thoughtful design can help us achieve it. 
One tool from the early Permaculture movement that has been very helpful to us in designing our own home “microeconomy” is the idea of classifying one’s assets into three categories:
Degenerative Assets are those which break down and decline quickly, requiring regular upkeep and maintenance. This could include cars, conventional landscaping, cell-phones or poorly contructed houses. These days, many of our consumer goods are actually designed to break faster in order to stave off economic decline. This is called Planned Obsolescence. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these items, but each one we own extracts an ongoing price from us in order to keep it going. If we have more of these than we can “pay for” with our self-reliant lifestyle, then we will need an outside income to keep them going. And If we have too many of these, that price becomes more than we can afford, putting us in a position of where we have to let some of our possessions convert into “chaos” or waste. 
Generative Assets on the other hand, are “durable assets” that help us become producers instead of consumers. Cider mills, garden tools, sewing machines, carpentry equipment all help us create something useful, saving us time and money, and generating value that can help us grow wealthier. Garden plants and kitchen tools help us generate delicious meals.

Procreative Assets are those that can self-replicate, truly growing “wealth.” These are usually natural systems. Fruit trees are a procreative asset that both generates value for us in the form of fruit and generates more fruit trees, creating a positive feedback loop in our life. A “food forest” is a procreative asset that meets a wide variety of our needs while generating the plant material for new food forests. But it’s important to note that you can have too much of a good thing. Once you have more fruit than you can harvest and more trees than you can tend, these systems can actually create a burden for you. Energy streams that can’t be harvested into productivity convert into chaos in our lives, creating weedy food forests, angry neighbors, many fruit pests, etc. 

(A “procreative asset”)
One caveat I add to this idea is that these systems are only TRULY “generative” or “procreative” if they function and can be maintained with a POSITIVE return on investment. Any system or possession that costs us more to maintain than we get out of it is just as big a burden as any degenerative asset. Permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison explained this using Permaculture’s ethic of “people care,” saying that a “solution” or “purchase” that adds to someone’s work load rather than decreasing it is not “caring for people” and hence, not Permaculture. 

And a second caveat is that not everything fits neatly into one category. But even if it isn’t a perfect system, considering these three asset classes each time we make a purchase helps us put our home economy in order. And it’s an entry point for visualizing the “balance” of our purchases. It helps us understand that if we’re not careful, we will not “own” our possessions, but become slaves to them, as Thoreau warned. 
This leads us to buy items that are durable and well-made, understanding that each poorly-made item adds to our burden, our upkeep costs and maintenance time. And if we can find a ballance where we have enough procreative and generative assets that they naturally “pay” for the upkeep on our “degenerative” assets, plus produce a small surplus to reinvest, then we have positioned ourselves to grow wealthy and become independent and self-reliant over time in the way an ecosystem does. 
This same thinking can be used to create wealthy neighborhoods, families, blocks, cities and even wealthy countries….
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