The Project at a Glance
Beginning in March 2013 I set out to develop a permaculture design plan for Prairie Song Farm, a 140 acre rural site in Iowa 5 miles north of Fairfield city limits. The overarching mission of Prairie Song Farm is to build a resilient community that provides opportunities for people to learn how to live in harmony with each other and the cosmos. The Farm has a unique history, and for the past 5 years students from the Sustainable Living Department at MUM have been living and working at the farm to apply their skills and education to co-create a living example of permaculture and sustainability with the land owner and the land. I am one of those students, and will be leaving this document behind to help guide the evolution of life at the Farm. The potential depth and scope of a permaculture design is endless. This document is not intended to provide detailed instructions. The scope of this project is to outline an overall framework for the big picture at the farm, and discuss some potential ways the vision, mission, and goals can be fulfilled.
The Design Process
I had 2 months to complete the project. During the first month of the project I established the vision, mission and goals of the Farm in the form of a “Holistic Goal.” Forming the Holistic Goal is a participatory process developed by Allan Savory that includes all stakeholders in the goal formation, not just the land owner. I also did a client interview separately with the land owner and his wife to understand their desires and vision for the site. During this time I also did a thorough site survey listing all the infrastructure and existing features, including the human social dynamics and observations of the wild components of the land; this also included mapping the site and its energy flows/patterns. Before analyzing this information and assessing potential design components, I spent a day on the site consulting an experienced permaculture designer; I learned a lot more about the site with him and picked up some crucial design strategies. During the final week and a half of the project I consolidated all my information and began writing the report, analyzing and assessing major design components; I also described strategies for implementation and maintenance over time. Throughout the two months of project time I consulted many books, video presentations, and other people with experience in key areas, as well as ongoing conversations with Farm members and the landlord.
Based on the holistic goal and site survey of the Farm I discerned that the theme of this site is: Restoration, Regeneration and Resilience. Key components for restoration include wildlife habitat restoration, tall-grass prairie reconstruction, and reforestation. I also included design features based on the desire of the stakeholders to restore an engaged way of being with the earth and with each other in community. Regeneration of the land can be achieved through a variety of systems. Proper harvesting of yields is absolutely fundamental, as is plant propagation to attract beneficial species and support a healthy food-web. “Regenerative agriculture” methods are the recommended way for the farm to go, given sufficient managing capacity and skill; these include keyline design, advanced agro-forestry and food-forest polycultures, as well as certain livestock systems to recycle nutrients and regenerate soil fertility.The theme of resilience has emerged in response to the precarious regional and national systems of food and energy production. Redundancy in the system builds resilience. So I recommended more than one component to fulfill each of the necessary forms of production. I emphasized these two permaculture principles: “Each important function is supported by many elements”, and “each important element performs many functions.” Thus, managers will need to craft a diverse portfolio of complimentary products and services to support the whole.
Here are some other posts from the years prior to the design plan; they are just a small sample of the love, sweat and inspiration that went into the experimental phase of life at the farm.