Bringing Animals Back into the Forest

(Wild aurochs, the ancestor of modern cattle, depicted in its woodland habitat, wikimedia)

Cattle are forest animals. They are not pasture animals. You have to chase them out on to pastures. Really, cattle belong in cool forest swamplands. They love it. In summer, they spend all their time up to their bellies out in swamps, eating the swamp grasses. In winter they will come back into the forest edges. 

That is where we got them from. That was their habit–the white ox of the forests of northern Europe.” – 
Bill Mollison 
Because of our romantic notions of the American farm, the cowboys of the arid west, and the buffulo of the Great Plains, it seems impossible to us that the cow was a forest animal, but Bill Mollison was yet again (mostly) correct! (Modern genetic evidence indicates that all cattle were domesticated in Turkey, and that Europeans never domesticated their local aurochs.)

(Forest in Poland, the last wild habitat of the aurochs, wikipedia.)

Studies on the aurochs, the predecssor of modern cattle, have found it was a forest dweller with a special relationship to swamps, marshes, riversides and grassy wetlands:
Evidence which has never been used in this discussion before consists of data from the last Central European wilderness, the Great Wilderness in former East Prussia (NE Poland). During the middle ages, a wilderness situation existed in this area for several centuries, nearly untouched by man (Mager 1960, Mortensen & Mortensen 1938). All original indigenous herbivores (including the aurochs) and predators were present at the time and human settlements and agricultural fields were absent. Descriptions of that area, by eyewitnesses, show the widespread presence of extensive forests and marshes. Just like the Romans in Germania, here army units also had great difficulties to penetrate the wilderness forests. A large number of route descriptions through this area have been handed down (Hirsch 1863); from these we can learn about the density of the forests and the problems people had in cutting and clearing paths through them. Medieval people did not like these wild woods and saw it as their task to order and cultivate this ‘highly inhospitable’ landscape.”    

Such was the natural habitat of the aurochs, from which we domesticated modern cattle! And its diet was much like the diet of domesticated escapees, or those left to their own devices: wetland and open woodland grasses, some leaves and twigs, especially in winter, and acorns in fall. 

And for most domesticated cattle the world over, this “mosaic landscape” of grassy woodland edge has continued to be their main habitat, as part of the tropical home garden, the “homestead pattern of humanity.” The Zebu (Bos Indicus) has long been at home in the tropical home gardens of South Asia, and its European cousin has long been housed in similar homestead conditions. Those systems evolved out of an economic necessity to cooperate with nature, and it turns out they may convey many advantages to modern homesteaders, farmers, and the society that relies on them. 

(Edward Neale, Malay Red Jungle Fowl, wikipedia) 

And the same holds true of our other common domesticated companions, we found our friends in the forests! Chickens were domesticated from the Malay jungle fowl, turkeys are a bird of the Eastern Woodland, sheep were derived from the mouflon of steep forested mountains, and pigs – like their wild boar ancestors – are naturals to mixed, shrubby woodland. 

And why not? The forest is also where we primates evolved, with us humans gravitating towards the same forest edges that all these animals called home! And when we spread around the world, recreating this ideal habitat of forest edge wherever we went (the home-garden pattern) we were also creating the ideal habitat for our animal associates. 

So now Permaculturists are learning from these age-old, proven, evolved homestead systems and bringing our animals back into the forest. From a purely economic perspective, this has a lot of benefits, since these animals evolved to depend upon the services of the forest ecosystem, when we remove the forest, we have to provide those services ourselves.

An even more important economic benefit is that by integrating our animals back into the homestead, they become partners, sharing our farm labor and helping contribute to ecosystem function. They can fertilize our crops, aid in pest and disease control, help keep lawns mown, and brush cleared, and so on. In an era where it’s difficult for small farms to raise meat profitably, getting these animals to help on our more profitable farm endeavors is extremely important! 

And finally, in an age of unthinking industrial animal cruelty, I believe that these Permaculturists are re-kindling a more sane relationship to our age-old companions by rebuilding these old systems. It is kind to allow animals to live out their lives as freely as possible in an environment similar to their Environment of Evoutionary Adaptation (EEA.) And the more personal relationship makes a big difference on how these Permaculture animals get treated.

So here is a collection of inspiring Permaculture patterns that bring us, and our faunal associates, back into the forest:

Permaculture Patterns for Integrated Animal Systems:

Of course, there’s no reason why you HAVE to have animals to have a completely functioning Permaculture system. It’s entirely possible to get the benefits of ecosystem function by recruiting the help of wild animals in our systems, without having to use domesticated ones. But for those who want to raise animals, these systems might be of some help.

Cattle Pattern 2: Trees for cattle fodder. 
Siberian pea shrub
Cattle Pattern 3: Clean runoff. 
Forests and hedgerows can be used to catch and infiltrate contaminated water, reducing contamination of waterways. 
Livestock Pattern 4: Sheep Fodder Pasture Plants, etc
Chickens Pattern 5: Chicken Forage Forests and Hedgerows
Plants for chicken forage hedgerows:
wild grapes and hardy kiwi
siberian pea shrub
Turkish rocket
Chickens Pattern 6: Chickens and Compost
Preserving the Savannas



Introduction to Permaculture Workshop in Kalamazoo Michigan

Hello Permaculture enthusiasts!
Normally we try to keep this site just for free content and avoid advertising on it, but I wanted to let Lillie House readers know about this workshop we’ll be holding on December 3rd. 
Though it’s an “introduction” we’ll be going WELL beyond the basics, stuff like hugelkulture and swales, to cover a wide variety of inspiring tools and patterns that can be used in the garden, the home, the neighborhood, and beyond. 
Folks attending the class will also get my super huge annotated list of Top

Permaculture resources to explore online. 

Practical Permaculture Patterns Introduced: 
Permaculture life design and right livelihoods beyond farming – real-world examples that work.
Successful Permaculture farm and market-garden models, what really works?
Best Permaculture patterns for easier, more regenerative gardening
Examples of Natural Building and smart home construction for Michigan
Practical Agriforest applications: home forest gardens, hedgerows, systems for livestock feed.
Best perennial herbs and vegetables to start with. 
Water collection that works for cold temperate climates.
Energy investments that pay for themselves. 
Real-world examples of transformative Permaculture community organizing. 

Introduction to Permaculture Workshop


We are opening the first day of our Permaculture Design Course to anyone interested, and you are invited to join us for this special, interactive Permaculture workshop on December 3rd, to help us in Designing Regenerative Lives. Learn the basics of the Permaculture Design system and explore dozens of practical Permaculture tools for a more resilient, self-sufficient, regenerative life. This is also an excellent opportunity to preview the Permaculture Design Course to get an idea of what it is like.

Practical Permaculture Patterns Covered:
Permaculture life design and right livelihoods beyond farming – real-world examples that work.
Successful Permaculture farm and market-garden models, what really works?
Best Permaculture patterns for easier, more regenerative gardening
Examples of Natural Building and smart home construction for Michigan
Practical Agriforest applications: home forest gardens, hedgerows, systems for livestock feed.
Best perennial herbs and vegetables to start with.
Water collection that works for cold temperate climates.
Energy investments that pay for themselves.
Real-world examples of transformative Permaculture Community Organizing.

Introduction to Permaculture Class

December 3rd 9:00 – 5:00
Students can opt to attend all day $50 or only the morning $25
Prices are suggested donations, no one will be turned away

Class Learning Objectives: Through this course, students will be able to:
Meet a community of like-minded people who share your goals.
Define Permaculture and list the basic components of the Design System.
Describe the kind of work Permaculturists are doing and identify opportunities for right livelihood, by exploring inspiring Permaculture projects from around the world.
Get an introduction to concepts in design.
Gain a better appreciation for the patterns of the natural world and how they can be applied to build better human systems, better lives and a better world.
Explore a set of inspiring Permaculture patterns you can put to work in your own projects and life.
Meet and Greet Icebreakers to focus on the assets and needs of our community. Build community connections to support your goals.
get to know People who share your interests and goals:
What do you need?
What do you have?
What do we want to see?

II. Community Introductions: Introduce teachers, make community announcements
-You are welcome to introduce a Permaculture-related event or project.

III. Understanding Our Problems and Addressing them by Building a Permanent Culture: Lecture, slideshow and Discussion.
Societal Problems of the modern world.
Related problems for the individual: unemployment, poor health, hopelessness…
How design can provide real potential to address all of our problems holistically.
Greening the dessert
The Loess Plateau
Designing a more beautiful, abundant life for ourselves.

Group Exercise: Defining Permaculture
What does Permaculture mean to you?
What concepts does it include or convey?


IV. Video: Introduction to Permaculture, by Geoff Lawton:
V. Slideshow, videos and Lecture: Themes and Concepts in Design – Inspiring Permaculture Projects, Tools and Patterns!
Permaculture farms and gardens
Edible forest gardens
City Repair
Permaculture heat, water and energy systems
Natural building and sustainable building
Permaculture careers and life design

Conversation Cafe, Brainstorming and Discussion:
Envisioning a better life and a Permanent Community.

1:00 : LUNCH (Snacks provided, bring brown-bag lunch)

2:00 Part 2 Meeting at Lillie House Site (Weather Permitting, Carpooling encouraged)

Basic Tour and Concepts at Lillie House
Small Group Exercise: Identify Permaculture Principles (Holmgren Principles) and Natural Patterns at Lillie House.
Brief Permaculture Work Project and Demonstration (Time/Weather Permitting)
Review and Closing


Register for half – day (morning only) $25.

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Register for Full Day $50 (Snacks provided, bring brown bag lunch)

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If you would like to reserve your space but cannot pay at this time, it would be great to have you join us! Please contact Michael Hoag at to reserve your spot.

Class will be held at:

Disciples of Christ Church

2208 Winchell Ave, Kalamazoo Michigan:

Permaculture Ideas for Positive Action

(Text version below:) 

“There is no instance of a people benefitting from prolonged conflict.”
“Of your enemies… If of high morale, depress them…. If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them.” 
“Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.” 
– Sun Tsu
If you’re frustrated with the world right now, feel worn down by all the negative energy, and looking for a positive and meaningful way to recharge while taking action, the perspective of Permaculture has been a real help for me, and it might be useful to you, too. 
I’ve seen a few terrific action lists that focus on partisan politics and protest, and I think those are important. But political action is necessarily about opposition and for most of us it feels negative and draining, and I haven’t seen any lists that focus on positive energy and positive action, or non-partisan action. And Permaculture is a great place to start, since it was created by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who were themselves disillusioned and burned out on political activis, and looking for a non-political, positive means to create a better, more just and sustainable society that respected and honored the natural world. 
A lot of people feel pretty burned out from a long election cycle, and they need to recharge, but they’re also conflicted because they don’t want to “give up.” In an outrageous world it feels uncaring, privileged or downright apathetic to allow oneself to stop being outraged.  
But if we want to be skillful and effective, instead of just being outraged, then it’s important to have compassion for ourselves. If you look at the kind of state Sun Tsu wanted to create to weaken and defeat his enemies: stressed, tired, starved, divided, depressed: that’s exactly the state many Americans are in right now – and we’re the ones doing it to ourselves and our own allies!

We can find a balance that embraces righteous anger and legitimizes rational fear, but recognizes that a place of anger, fear and stress are not a conducive peak state for getting ANYTHING done, let alone creating a better society. And in the mean time, a society flooded with stress and negativity is good for no one, especially not populations that are already stressed, afraid and marginalized. 
So, in addition to political action, we can shift our focus and inject some positive energy into this turbulent time: something to regenerate and energize ourselves and our communities. That’s actually a completely valid and beneficial way to respond. If we do that, studies show we’ll actually be more productive and powerful when the time comes to fight!
I’m not saying that activism and politics are unimportant or that folks shouldn’t bother voting. 
But from a Permaculture perspective, we can and should invest energy in building a better world outside the political system. In fact, if we want to build a better world, it will not be enough to simply engage in partisan politics! Consider that: 
Analytical studies and statistical analysis have demonstrated for decades that the political activities of most voters have no measurable impact on policy! Only a very small percentage of high-earning Americans has a very large impact on policy. 
– Political struggle effects only the CURRENT systems we use to meet our needs. But many of these are already failing or they were unjust to begin with. Most are considered “unsustainable” by experts from within those systems, which doesn’t mean they’re bad for dolphins and Monarch butterfies, it means they literally cannot continue into the future. Instead of putting energy into controlling or “fixing” systems that are bound to end soon, we can work outside the political system to build new “parallel” systems that can better meet our needs. 
– Going back to Aristotle and continuing through our modern democracies, republican government is intended and designed to slow change, and prevent revolution – not facilitate it! The political processes of modern government, two-party systems, separation of powers and bicameral legislature (etc.) were intended to pacify the masses, siphon off revolutionary energy and bind it up into cogs of a system that is very slow to change.
-Tug -o-war. One powerful, intended counter-revolutionary mechanism in our political system is that when we put all our energy into political struggle, it often causes a backlash, and in the next election the other guys come along and undo much of what was accomplished, our energy investment largely lost! 
So while we work through that slow system, we can and should also invest positive energy into durable, apolitical ways of building a better world, a more regenerative culture, stronger communities and more resilient lives for ourselves, so that we’re stronger when it’s time to fight for what we believe in!
Here are some positive, powerful, transformative actions you can take today. A huge benefit is that many of these reach beyond demographics and politics, helping to build influence and build alliances beyond partisan boundaries :

(Community Supported Forest Gardening Program Members at Lillie House)

1. Build a broad, diverse community based on needs. Communities that are truly dynamic and vibrant, such as folk communities, are so because they’re interdependent: people rely on each other. They are interconnected. Each of us can mindfully build our own communities for ourselves. Ask: What do you need? Find the people in your community who can provide it! What are you dependent upon soul sucking corporations for? Find the people who can help you cut your corporate umbilicle cord! Invest in people right in your community. And if you can’t find them, then consider starting a business yourself or encouraging someone else in your community to do so. 
2. Ask people for help! People often think that it’s offering help that is the key to building social capital, but research has found that ASKING can actually be more powerful – especially when you’re appreciative. 
3. Plant some shit. If Permaculturist Ron Finely can do it in land-starved and concrete-covered LA, then we can all do \it! According to the US Government, our food system is the #1 cause of climate change, the #1 user of oil, the #1 cause of soil loss, habitat destruction, and deforestation. Our unhealthy food system is a major cause of disease, malnutrition and starvation. But we can start withdrawing our support for this insane sociopathic system by growing some of our own food. And if you can’t right now, then find someone to help: see #1! My  top recommendation for people who want to start a Permaculture garden is the book “Gaia’s Garden.” But we’ve got some articles on getting started at 
4. Home Energy Retrofit. Make your home more energy efficient and comfortable. If you’re smart, you can actually plan these so that they even pay for themselves. Save yourself money. Then teach others in your community to do the same!

(Community members learning about sustainable building while helping Ben Brown build his Tiny House)

5. Learn something: a new practical skill that will make yourself or your community stronger. If you don’t know what to do, try asking around and see what people in your community need. Everyone follows the trends, you can be the one who sets them. As Bill Mollison used to say: “The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone.” 
6. Make some art:
“It is through art, music, dance, and poetry that ecological knowledge is passed from one generation to the next.” You think you can change minds by bashing skulls? Think again. What we need is a change OF CULTURE. If we’re going to make a Permanent culture, we actually need the culture part, as my buddy Permaculturist Josh Shultz has said. 

(Old field ecology at a VanKal Permaculture Event at Rustling Knapweed Forest Garden, Lawton Michigan.)

7. Connect with nature:  As Bill Mollison said: “Wealth is a deep understanding of the natural world.” Go out and learn nature, and then share the wisdom she has taught. There is wealth here to fuel our fight. And many of our problems are caused by our disconnection from nature. 

8. Love. Ha ha! Not in some cheesy hippie dreamy sort of way. Sorry! If you haven’t figured it out yet, real love is HARD! Sometimes it sucks. Like… at Thanksgiving. I’ve been sharing all the “Love Trumps Hate” memes on Facebook, but then I ask myself: have I tried to LOVE President Elect Trump, his voters and supporters? Hell no!  It feels way better to marginalize and dehumanize them in 1,000 different ways, confident that my liberal, inclusive values make me superior to them. Well, my values ARE superior, but I’m not. Thinking so just makes me an asshole. In general, we should try to learn about people and perspectives we tend to dismiss or be uncomfortable with. If that’s people of color, then you might start here. If you’d like to try investing some energy into understanding the plight of rural, working class communities wh supported Trump,  this is a good place to start

(Open Garden day at Lillie House.)

9. Quietly invest in your own spiritual capital. Everyone can do this, even devout atheists. Spend time for quiet contemplation, to get to know yourself. Unplug, take a week-long media fast. Like “connecting with nature,” this might seem froo froo, but it’s actually the most effective way we can act to inject some thoughtful, tolerant, peaceful energy into a violent angsty world. Whether you have a spiritual tradition or not, everyone can set aside some quiet time to cultivate a quiet, relaxed happy mind, something that has always been key to effective action and warriorship. 
And if you feel inspired to learn more about Permaculture, you can check out our articles at, visit the forums or resources at Permaculture Global, 

or learn the basics of Permaculture at

Whoops! Blame the Horrible Blogger App

Apologies, an infuriating feature on the nearly unusuable Blogger App published a quick sketch for a possible future post. The article will be on developing a non-religous “ritual” for calming down quickly and clearing the mind – for anyone, despite their beliefs. Unfortunately, I haven’t started developing that article yet! Perhaps in the future…. 

Social Permaculture: Designing Change for a Better Life and a Better World

When people first visit an established Permaculture garden/system, it can be striking. Here is a style of food garden that’s beautiful, life-enriching, highly productive, and low-maintenance – and it just works. 
Look deeper: this is not just a pretty place, it is transformational. It is a revolution on the personal level, a tangible way to build the kind of life you want to live and the kind of place you want to live in. And it is a revolution on the global scale, as well, that transforms our relationship with the earth and its ecosystems and the invisible structures that perpetuate social oppression. With our American food system being the number 1 use of fossil fuels, the #1 driver of climate change, the #1 cause of deforestation and soil loss, the #1 reason for the confiscation of tribal lands and displacement of tribal communities in the global south, the #1 cause of exposure to dangerous chemicals and toxins for marginalized communities… taking responsibility for your OWN food is powerful transformational action. 
It works because we rely on the help and energy of NATURAL SYSTEMS to maintain our gardens and produce our food, instead of exploiting people, oppression, fossil fuels, animal cruelty, poisons and non-renewable resources. And like natural ecosystems that naturally grow healthier and more fertile over time, these systems aren’t just “sustainable,” they’re “regenerative,” actively making the world a better place to be. 
And go further: the systems we use to meet our needs drive virtually ALL the injustice and environmental degradation we see in the world today. But we can work together, now, today – without waiting for other people or politics – to start building new, just, sustainable ways to meet our needs, and we can start changing all those problems – at home, in our own communities. 
Beyond the garden, Permaculture shows us patterns we can use to invest in regenerative systems for energy, housing, heating, food, water, transportation…. And like the gardens, because they emulate and work with nature, they just work.
And it helps us design communities for ourselves that support us in our lives and in building the kind of world we want to see. The reason ecosystems grow stronger over time, which scientists call natural succession and “negentropy,” is that they catch and store energy into the various living beings and communities in the ecosystem. Like a natural energy bank. 
Like nature, we can actually think of investing our time and energy into our own productive assets, communities and ecosystems, so that we have resources to draw on when we advocate for change.
We call that “Social Permaculture.” And just as we can start building our own gardens today, and taking responsible for our food, we can start creating our own Social Permaculture communities and networks. 
To get some ideas and inspiration here are some articles on Social Permaculture and community design that we’ve published here at Lillie House. If you have questions or want to learn more, please comment!
The basics from a perspective of social and ecological transformation. 
Can we learn to lead “wealthy” lives that aren’t destructive or exploitive? That actually help us create a more just, sustainable world? 
Understanding and Addressing the Ecological Causes of our Problems: 
Healing Ourselves, Healing the World: More on how Permaculture can help us build better lives for ourselves while simultaneously being socially transformational. 
Social Permaculture: Designing the Relational Landscape. This three-part series applies the patterns of nature and folk communities to our modern communities, to help us think about our own relationships. 
Catching and Storing Energy for Financial and Social Permaculture: Two articles with thoughts on how to invest time, money and energy into assets that will build a stronger community. 
Articles on the Intersection of Social Permaculture and Forest Gardening:
2. Our Community Supported Forest Gardening Class, as a model for Community Design:
3. Social Patterns in a Food Forest:
Intersectionality and Permaculture: How do we create new, better systems for meeting our needs without recreating the same destructive patterns of oppression? 
Why our Best efforts fail. Avoid some common traps associated with organizing. This two-part series deals with common problems in social organizing: