Why is Permaculture a game changer for both urban and rural communities? 5/5 (12)

This contest entry received the highest number of high ratings from registered YGH members and was announced to be a winner of Your Green Homestead Highest Rated Entry Award for 2019. Congratulations! [see press release about this].

By Charles White (Permaculture Action Network) and Ginger-Rose Krueck (GROW Enrichment)

Did you know that one tree appropriately planted on a private backyard or in a public park could support up to 12 species of wildlife? They can include pollinators like bees, birds like finches, grazers like deer and goats, scavengers like raccoons and coyotes, and predators like cats and foxes. This applies both to urban and rural settings, effectively eliminating the attractiveness of our garbage bins for particularly pesky animals in the presence of abundant nature.

How would you know which trees to plant in your area and what locations to choose for their best survival and wildlife support over time? That is where Permaculture principles go into play and help us make wise selections based on the observations of local habitat prevalence along with soil, water, and wind conditions.

National Geographic recently showcased forest gardening of UK-based Martin Crawford who transformed a land that was a flat field in 1994 into a woodland with 500 edible plants. He is spending just a few hours per month for its maintenance. Now his garden serves as an educational resource for others interested in forest gardening. By having a diverse system, it gives you maximum resilience in the face of the changing weather and climate, says Martin Crawford in this film.

National Geographic youtube channel, Feb. 18, 2019.
A Forest Garden With 500 Edible Plants Could Lead to a Sustainable Future |
Short Film Showcase (3:32 min.)

Permaculture Project at GROW Enrichment in Nashville, TN

A local example of a Permaculture project is a 14-acre holistic urban restoration center of GROW Enrichment, located within Two Rivers Regional Park in the Donelson. In the 2018 season alone, this project activated over 4,000 hours of community volunteer engagement and planted more than 1,000 trees back into the park.

In the silvopasture orchard, located at the entrance to the project site along the Stones River Greenway, the GROW team decided to focus on chestnuts as the primary tree crop. Fourteen “Celestial” variety hybrid chestnut seedlings from Greenwood Nursery were planted, spaced at 50 ft intervals, with the expectation that they will start producing their protein rich nuts in about 7-14 years reaching up to 2,000 pounds of chestnuts per year. In between them, a variety of other trees were interplanted including American Persimmon, American Red Plum, and Northern Red Oaks.

The chestnuts are more than a practical solution for addressing urban food insecurity; they tell an important cultural history story for younger generations. The American chestnut was once the most populous tree in the entire Southeastern US and was, sadly, almost entirely eradicated in the early 1900’s by a blight introduced with the introduction of the Chinese chestnut. The American Chestnut Foundation is working hard to create an American chestnut variety that is resistant to the blight and the GROW team looks forward to replanting those back into the park landscape when they are available. In the meantime, they selected the hybrid variety so that the public can begin to gain exposure and familiarity with this important species.

“Biodiversity is essential for our resilience to adverse events and climate change. Through learning about Permaculture, I’ve realized the powerful potential to address food insecurity. This is particularly impactful for the urban setting where populations are dense and land can be scarce. Permaculture invites us to think both in terms of micro-ecosystem management and the larger scale holistic management of land.” says Ginger-Rose Krueck, executive director of GROW Enrichment in Nashville, TN. “I had first-hand experience living in a densely populated city in Northern Dallas and later in a rural place. In both locations, food insecurity affected my family personally – even when we lived across from a vast field full of growing wheat.”

Ginger-Rose vividly remembered when for the first time as a teenager she received a full box of fresh apples and could eat as much of them as she wanted. They tasted so good! She couldn’t comprehend why fruit trees do not dominate our landscapes in both rural and urban areas. Now it is one of her missions at the GROW Enrichment to establish an edible food forest in one of the busy public parks in the city of Nashville and build a growing community of like-minded residents.

“Our collective vision of an active permaculture community is coming to life and growing!” shares Charles White from the Nashville Permaculture Action Network. “We are excited to share our experimental findings and knowledge with a wider community and invite anyone to come to our upcoming Nashville Permaculture Action Day on Monday, November 11, 2019 at Two Rivers Park in Nashville.”

Please visit the Nashville Permaculture Action Day event page for more information and the schedule of the fun and educational workshops, music, and food. Your Green Homestead is glad to be among over a dozen supporting organizations for this event!

Note from YGH: This post was updated after the original publication to correct a few typos.

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  1. Food Forest Walk and other workshops at Nashville Permaculture Action Day on November 11, 2019 at GROW Enrichment in Two Rivers Public Park in Nashville, TN

    I enjoyed the welcome and introduction circle of this event, all the great music, workshops, and hands on experiences. My favorite parts of the day were the plant walk and related workshops. Jeremy Lekish from Nashville Foodscapes took our big group on a trail walk near the park’s pond. As almost everywhere in Tennessee, we immediately encountered the privet and Japanese honeysuckle bushes that opportunistically occupy the sunny spots on the edge of the forest and open field. Jeremy explained that these bushes are not that prevalent inside an established forest because there is not enough light there for them. He advised to leave the privet and honeysuckles alone since local birds, bees and other pollinators often supplement their diet with these bushes’ flowers and berries when other food sources are not available (flowers are okay, but berries are poisonous to humans). Focus on establishing a food forest with local trees and plants is ultimately more productive than battling with these invasive species.
    As soon as we entered the trail, Jeremy pointed out to us the local cherry trees and giant vines of the local grapes. Both of them produce small and sweet fruit that is very tasty to both humans and birds. Birds usually get the ripe berries first though :).
    Around the bend in the trail, we saw some trees next to the water with beaver chisel marks all around the lower trunk. It looked like one of the trees was almost ready to snap and be a part of the beaver dam.
    Close to this place, Jeremy identified a spice bush with fragrant leaves. We mushed them in our fingers, and sure enough, they had the distinct pungent, spicy-sweet smell of allspice that is similar to a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. The allspice sold at the stores is actually made of one ingredient – the dried and ground berries of the spice bush and is usually the main spice for pumpkin pies and curry dishes. Jeremy warned us though that this bush grows well only near water. If we plant it higher and out of reach of constant water supply, the spice bush would not survive.
    The paw paw trees also favor banks of rivers and streams and shady places. A paw paw patch in Two Rivers Public Park occupied a big area on both sides of our trail. The large elongated leaves of these trees make them easy to identify. Some of them were still green, and Jeremy encouraged us to try and experience their earthy taste. He said that some research groups are now investigating anti-cancer properties of the paw paw tree leaves. Jeremy was not sure if the patch contained all the paw paws growing from one “mother” tree (from the same root system) or if there were a few separate trees there. If only a few fruit are produced by these many trees, Jeremy advised to plant another tree of different variety close by for cross pollination. Then the harvest of the paw paw’s mango-banana-pudding tasting fruit will be abundant – with the caveat that the area has enough of the paw paw pollinators, various species of flies and beetles which are attracted to the odor of the dark purple paw paw flowers somewhat resembling rotting meat (sort of like a roadkill smell). Jeremy also recommended to establish the young paw paw seedlings in a shade away from the open sunny spots.
    At the next stop, Jeremy showcased to us how to choose and tap into a maple tree for making maple syrup and tell the difference between the chestnut oak trees and other kinds of oaks. The chestnut oak leaves are usually bigger and have a chestnut leaf-looking veins while still resembling the overall shape of a typical oak leaf. The acorns of the chestnut oak are longer and larger than regular acorns. After several days of soaking and rinsing these acorns, they are usually dried and grounded into a flour. In Jeremy’s experience, the pancakes made with this acorn flour are always delicious and nutrient-rich! To my surprise, when I came home, I identified a volunteer oak seedling in the flower bed in front of our house that had the chestnut oak leaf pattern, most likely planted by the squirrels that live on our backyard.
    At the end of our trail walk, Jeremy picked a bunch of dark berries from a tall plant with reddish stem saying that the pokeberries are among his favorite despite the reputation of being toxic. He explained that the trick is to avoid chewing on the seeds inside the ripe berries because they are full of astringent tannins that protect them from predators, similar to the astringent properties of many unripened fruit. Just spit the seeds out (a few swallowed non-chewed seeds would not harm us either). Not many people know that the juice extracted from pokeberries is often used to enhance the color of wines. Jeremy is mixing it with some other berry juices for its many health benefits, including their high vitamin C content. According to https://www.healthbenefitstimes.com/pokeberry/, “the poultice of berry juice is used to treat acne, hemorrhoids, cancer, skin ulcers, skin eruptions, swellings and sores. Red Indians in North America drank tea which is made from the berries to treat rheumatism… The leaves poultice is used to cure acne, scabs and stop bleeding… Roots of the Pokeweed are used to strengthen the immune system… Pokeroot is also specifically associated with the treatment of uterus and breast cancer.” The older generation of Southerners is still using the young shoots of pokeberry plants as greens for cooking, similar to turnip greens. Of course, all these uses are recommended to do under the watch of experienced practitioners, at least in the beginning and especially with younger children.
    After a delicious lunch, I also attended the workshops about Dynamic Accumulators with Christian Mangrum Alsider, Trees for Bees with David Hughes, and Environmental Economics with Julia Sickler, all of which were great. I hope other attendees of the Nashville Permaculture Action Day would add their impressions of these and other activities, especially in the kids area with goats and crafts where all the school groups and parents with small children spent most of their time.
    Charles White and Ginger-Rose Krueck will be posting a few photos of the Action Day volunteers who worked on preparing several rows for spring planting in Two Rivers Public Park by covering them with cardboard and mulch. Please share what you liked at the event and what ideas you have for the next Permaculture Action Day tentatively planned for May 2020 in Nashville, TN. We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you!