Welcome Home

David and I have both returned from globe trotting filled with new knowledge and experiences gleaned from around the world. This time spent abroad has motivated us to rethink our contributions to the agriculture movement, and we are in the process of completely re-envisioning the Amyitis project.

I spent a lot of my time overseas working on a reforestation project in Tamil Nadu, India: Sadhana Forest, part of the larger community of Auroville. I once overheard Sadhana Forest described as, “an amazing group of people, good work ethic, good energy, and good vibes.” Absolutely true. Founded by Yorit and Aviram Rozin in 2003 Sadhana is a model sustainability project striving to recreate indigenous Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest that once grew in the area.  When Sadhana project first began, the land was completely barren, and now there are more than 20,500 Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest plants of 150 different indigenous species, with an average survival rate between 80% – 90%. More than 1,600 volunteers, interns, and students from India and around the world have lived and worked in Sadhana Forest for periods of 2 weeks to 24 months.

Sadhana Forest volunteers, March 2010

One of the foundational elements of Sadhana Forest is that community support is vital to the success of the project. The Rozins and their volunteers are constantly striving to maintain close ties with the local community.  Without the community’s support and commitment to the forest, the trees would simply not survive. This is one of the reasons why the relationships between the volunteers, the community, and the forest  are at the heart of the project. As one volunteer famously said, “may there be more forests to grow people!”  This connection to the community being invaluable to the overall success of the project is the most valuable lesson Sadhana Forrest has taught me. Sadhana India and their brand new sister project, Sadhana Haiti, are always looking for new volunteers. It’s a most invaluable experience, trust me. If you would like more information on the experience of volunteering, feel free to contact me through the comments.

Around the time I returned from Asia, David triumphantly returned from an intensive permaculture course at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. Motivated by a life changing experience with permaculture in San Francisco, David  journeyed to the motherland of modern permaculture near The Channon in NSW Australia.

From the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia:

David had such an amazing experience at the Institute that he plans on returning in the fall this time to teach with world-renowned permaculture pioneers Geoff and Nadia Lawton.

He made this video chronicling his experiences:

David continues to imagine new and better ways of bringing permaculture practice and knowledge to San Francisco. One such project he is involved in is Hayes Valley Farm– a community garden and permaculture demonstration site here in San Francisco.

David discusses this project in the podcast, Confessions of a Permaculture Aid Worker, Episode 5: Paul David Stockhausen.

You can listen to it here:

Recently, David was a major contributor at the Greener minds summit 2010, an active, collaborative meeting of the minds of “Bay Area sustainability movers and shakers.”

David @ the GreenerMind Summit 2010

We have many other projects and ideas in the works as we contemplate our next steps. As always, we’d love to hear any suggestions and feedback from our readers in the comments.

It’s great to be home!


Back and kicking it!

Before venturing to Australia and The Permaculture Research institute this past January, I’d found myself answering the same query over and over again “……O.K, wait, tell me again, what is Permaculture anyway?” And now, since returning from the PRI to the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve encountered the same questions from friends and family though now with more of a peppered interest in where Permaculture might lead me. My answer is often less about where Permaculture is going to lead me, but instead us.

Being a trained observer of natural patterns, it’s pretty difficult not to notice an obvious dearth in awareness around the subject of Permaculture. Furthermore, I feel that it goes without saying that there’s an urgent need for permaculture education that is a direct conduit to action. Once one knows and deeply understands our global state of affairs and environmental situation through the educational lens of a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), it is difficult to not have a sense of urgency about permanent cultural repair. To me, it appears that this type of urgency isn’t often shared by those who don’t see the issues and the solutions through the lens of Permaculture and whole systems thinking.

While many of us are well-intentioned and passionate about change, we’re often at a loss to know how to tackle such large problems. As though many of us seem to be caught in the rapid current of a positive feedback loop, a lot of us have learned helplessness thus driving the problems deeper into the proverbial carpet. And as these problems become deeper and embedded so does our sense of frustration, confusion and ultimately apathy. Now the need for an interruption in this feedback pattern is evermore timely as an eponymous oil disaster in the American Gulf of Mexico sounds the environmental alarm. As each moment passes, the adoption of scaled design solutions, not only for disaster relief and aid work but for community organization and skills trading, become needed with increasing urgency. Though, despite this, It would appear that a lot of us are eager yet unprepared to make even the small changes that might set forth a pattern of positive change fueled by real solutions. And still, for so many Americans, it is easier to spend $20-$30 on an afternoon at the movie theaters than it is to spend hard-earned dollars on personal development. For instance, rentrack.com reports “Twilight: The Eclipse” generated nearly 70 million USD over July 4th weekend alone.

Well..” I asked myself “…how does one prepare for battle?”. “How do you get from couch potato to a sprightly spud?”. “You go to Boot Camp…Permaculture Boot Camp!” Actually, to be completely transparent, the design process didn’t exactly fall into place with such cinematic drama. In fact, the Permaculture Boot Camp at Hayes Valley Farm (HVF) in San Francisco, CA is an ongoing design project between myself and Chris Burley that aims to teach Permaculture to the masses in three short hours. The design for this class developed out of a design project for our Permaculture Design Certificate in 2009. Leaving the PDC we felt strongly that the needs of our community were expressed in its interest in positive change, but apparent lack of direction and cohesiveness to see results. Our desires to teach the lessons that were so powerful to us in our PDC experienced several evolutions before an opportunity aligned with our intent. Now with the Hayes Valley site, an experimental urban farm, getting deep community and media attention, we’ve found the it is the perfect platform for mass education. As the design continues to evolve, we’re getting indicators of success, full classes.

The real success has been in the timing. When Chris originally proposed the course as a one hour lecture, I almost thought he was mad. “Teach Permaculture in one hour? We’ll be lucky if we finish introductions in an hour!” Though after a few emails back and forth, we settled on the current format of two energetic 90 minute sessions. Feeling that it would be disingenuous to call in an “Introduction to Permaculture” we settled on Boot Camp. “Put em through the ringer!” we thought.

With the three-hour BootCamp, Chris and I offer a rapid-fire introduction to the basics of Permaculture. We begin with an active lecture on evidence followed by a Permaculture ethics and principles site tour where we demonstrate how HVF fulfills and acts on each of Holmgren’s principles and Mollison’s ethical framework . Teaching the course on site invites the students to activate their new-found perspective immediately. Our aim goes beyond the theory of Permaculture to introduce and actively forge a community through sharing and understanding the skills and resources of the people sitting next to one another. With interactive classroom exercises the students are encouraged to form quick bonds to leave empowered and active.

One of the biggest issues students mentioned as being problematic in their worlds is a feeling that their community has been lost. Our answer is part of the course design. The class is typically offered on Sundays twice per month just before the weekly public volunteer workday at HVF. By the time the class ends at 1:30pm the urban farm is buzzing with bodies from all over San Francisco digging, raking, sheet-mulching and planting.  The Boot Camp appears to be a perfect entrée to direct action; incentivizing community collaboration over more commercial forms of entertainment. As the students get to know their class and their classroom we remind them “Your lack of community ends here!” Moreover, because the Hayes Valley site has been almost entirely built with volunteer labor and community support, it quickly is becoming the community. It’s drawn hundreds of volunteers and visitors on weekends since January 2010 when its gates opened, and continues to need helping hands to make it truly demonstrate the capacity of Permaculture design solutions. The design of the BootCamp allows for people energy to be delivered to the site and ensures continued support for the site, not to mention a little revenue. What’s more, is that now with three BootCamps offered since May, we’ve taught nearly 60 students, 7 of which have gone on to take the Urban PDC with Kevin Bayuk and David Cody, and many more of which are now regular volunteers at Hayes Valley Farm.

The course costs anywhere between $60-$75 dollars with scholarships available for eligible applicants. What’s really encouraging is that there are a great number of people willing to spend that money on a weekend learning to help save their community. In a city known for its love of hedonistic options for ways one can spend a dime, it is nice to know that there is a growing number of hedonists turned activists. The next BootCamp is being offered at Hayes Valley Farm in San Francisco on Sunday, July 11th. For more information or to spread the word about what’s happening in urban permaculture visit hayesvalleyfarm.com.

David Stockhausen

The weekend works.

This past weekend was a busy one for me. After a week of working on landscape art projects for the Presidio, I was ready to get down to business in the garden. My focus was to begin the spring planting with the long-term goal of diversifying our crops. When I arrived at the garden I was pleased to see that our potato towers have sprouted and are now covered in new growth.

Also, the fava beans were starting to flower and green garlic is plentiful.

After this bit of garden porn it was time to get to work. I started by mapping out the garden and loosely planning our crop rotation. I say loosely because we have some big changes coming in the near future for our first garden, but more on that in later posts. After that I dug into the seed box and realized we desperately need some seed. It was then that I realized that we should start a CSA (community supported agriculture) to provide us with some income at the start of the season. It always seems to be the time of year that farms need the most and are the most broke due to the winter. The good news is that it is early enough in the season to put in seed orders. Also I was able to plant some early and hardy crops such as radish and collard.

I decided that I would try using straw mulch when planting. The mulch will serve to keep the soil slightly warmer and suppress the early weeds. Mulch has the added benefit of breaking down over time and providing the soil with nutrients and humus. As the temperature starts to rise and rain fall lessens a mulch layer also helps to keep moisture in the soil and evenly distributed.

As Sunday came to a close I realized how much there is left to do. I made a lot of progress, but really only scratched the surface as we have two other gardens that are ready to be jump started into spring. I would like to put out a call for volunteers. If anybody would like to get involved and get dirty I will be coordinating work parties primarily on weekends as that is the only time I really have free. Also I would like to put out a request for old windows that can be donated to build a cold frame for vegetable starts. I can be reached at eben.bell81@gmail.com and would love to hear from readers who would like to volunteer their time, money, or materials as well as anyone who just wants to say what’s up. I’ll leave you with a photo of the garden as she stands.


Bon Voyage!….For now.

” The use of our bodies for work or love or pleasure, or even for combat, sets us free again in the wilderness, and we exult” -Wendell Berry

The time has arrived, dear readers, to venture again into our own version of the wilderness to explore things more intimately, more vividly, more extremely.  As we might have mentioned before, 2/3 rds of the Amyitis crew have decided to temporarily leave our beloved city of San Francisco to re-vision our path in agriculture.  While the adventure of Amyitis has been an education in itself, we see the value in revisiting some more classical types of experiential education.  For better or for worse, we hope to bring back  a new insight to our practices here in the city by taking an intensive peek at green thumbs the world over.

After my recent journey into permaculture with Kevin Bayuk and David Cody (who begin their winter PDC next week) my inspiration drove me to dive more deeply into the world of holistic thinking and design.  Permaculture had its origins in Australia out of necessity in the 1970’s.  Brackish soils and paralyzing drought were some of the issues dooming Australian farmers and landowners everywhere. A, then, slow-moving idea (or more accurately a group of ideas) called permaculture housed a group of time-tested, environmentally conscious, and highly productive strategies and techniques under one set of clear principles.  Nearly 40 years later, permaculture has now become a fast growing and ever-more widely accepted design strategy having communities, courses and certifications available globally.  One of these communities is the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia run by Geoff and Nadia Lawton.  Designers using permaculture’s design lense strive to create and encourage systems that are beyond sustainable; regenerative.  People like Geoff have spent a lifetime training them.  I have decided to spend 10 weeks on Geoff’s farm to learn to see through this lense a bit more and gain a mastery of some of the more popular techniques made famous by permies. I hope to return empowered and inspired to see Amyitis through to its next phase.

Katie Conry has taken advantage of her work situation to explore S. E. Asia and beyond willingly working on organic farms in places like India, Malaysia, and Nepal.  I feel encouraged and inspired that Katie’s interest in food has driven her forward both in the world of the blogosphere and into the garden.  I trust Katie will also come back inspired and ready to apply her energy with a new lense.  We wish her well and await her safe return.

Eben Bell will be here to take care of your Amyitis queries, comments, and collaborations.  Look for him at the Free Farm Stand on Sundays in the Mission, or perhaps you local Mission street corner.  Keep posted as Katie and I will be sending posts from the Southern Hemisphere.

Until then, Happy Gardening!


Better now than ever

The article that David posted, Out of Reach, raised some good points and was inspiring to us here at Amyitis. In thinking about this issue and doing some follow-up research I ended up on the San Francisco Permaculture Guild website and saw a posting for volunteers for something called the Free Farm Stand. I immediately got in touch with the folks who organize this remarkable program in our very own city. The stand is “funded” by a community of gardens and gardeners from the mission who bring their harvest together every Sunday. In the spirit of mutual support for our community and fellow gardeners I woke up earlier than normal on my one day off and harvested the greens that have grown, albeit slowly, through a relatively cold bay area winter.

When I arrived at the Farm Stand there was already a veritable bounty of food and a line that stretched out of the park. I introduced myself to Tree, one of the organizers, and was happy to meet a gentle, generous soul happy to have some more to add to an already overflowing table of food. The table was split in half with locally harvested produce on one side and donated food on the other. As I squeezed our greens in I sensed the line of people was eager to get their turn at making their way down the table and getting some of the very free bounty awaiting them. There were baskets of greens, fruit, bread, grains, and volunteers to refill them as they were quickly diminished.

The local side

Eager foodies

The Free Farm Stand happens every Sunday from 1-3pm in Treat Commons Community Garden at Parque Niños Unidos at the corner of 23rd St. and Treat Ave. For more information about the stand, volunteering and the latest blog from Tree head over to their site at:


Programs like the Free Farm Stand and the food stamp program at San Francisco farmers markets are a good step in the right direction for helping improve access to healthy food for all. One other thing that I would like to add to the problems of access the article Out of Reach covered is the very corrupt system of farm subsidies. They are one of the most important factors contributing to the problem of the cheapest food being the unhealthy preservative and sugar-loaded packaged food. If the subsidies that our tax dollars contribute to went to healthy food we would have far better access for all and a healthier population that would go a long way in reducing the cost of health care in this country. However, that’s a topic for another time and Michael Pollen has covered it pretty thoroughly in recent speeches. I’d like to assert, though, that if we diverted a fraction of subsidies handed out to big agriculture for this purpose we would have a better idea of what a more sustainable food system might look like and whether it would improve both working conditions for farm workers and access to healthy food for all.

Better late than never

Out of Reach (Dec 2-8, 2009) SF Bay Guardian.

I meant to post a link to this article when it came out about two weeks ago and well…forgot.  It is a really well-written article that highlights a really big concern with the food movement world-wide; how do we make good food accessible to everyone?  Amyitis’ initial mission was to provide produce to Boogaloos restaurant as a reaction to this very issue.  I thought, “get a restaurant employee (me) to grow local organic produce for a greasy-spoon style diner= affordable prices for priceless food, violla!”  Well, for those that have been following our story here at Amyitis, you know that, while we made some waves, nothing quite worked out as planned.

Streams of resistance from many points on high lead us into the heart of this quandary when we started growing for The Corner.  We started out aiming to make healthy food cheap and accessible as we thought possible (and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but even eating out at a diner isn’t cheap anymore) but instead ended up growing exclusively for the most upscale restaurant in our fleet.  Why?  Well, for so many reasons, not the least of which being, menu, client volume, and product consistency, the upper-crust Corner was the only establishment truly equipped to handle the produce.  We were well-intentioned but foiled.  Why?  Frankly, the roots of the issue go deep and touch on many different sources.  The blogging world nor I are prepared (or even interested) in the type of diatribe I could go on about food, accessibility, and equal share to all parties concerned.  For the record however I will suggest that the heart of this issue is that our cultural movement around food has caused us to open our hearts and minds but not always our wallets.  Though a generalization, it is clear that developed nations (primarily the US) don’t value the true cost of our food, that which sustains us.  Why, I ask, do we live in such a way where being a farmer is a dead-end job?  Better yet, how do we change that?  If we all understood and supported with our mouths and our wallets the true costs of food, what would our world look like?  What would our schools look like? I want to live in a world where the local hero is the woman who grows my tomatoes and our national heros are the suits who are figuring out how to make access to good food the rule not the exception.  Here at Amyitis, we are scheming for ways to bring fresh food to people who need it and pay our rent at the same time.  While we don’t have all of the answers, we know the issues.  Maybe with your help we can all make some headway.  Read the above article and make some waves with us.

Happy eating,


What IS going on in Copenhagen?

An interesting video explaining Cap & Trade and what’s going on in Copenhagen. (Via The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.)

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