When visiting the Eugene Farmers market on Saturday, we ran into some interns from Aprovecho. We had had some friends and farmers point us in their direction as a good educational and aquaponics resource, but we were not sure if we would have time to visit. Running into them at the market solidified our need to go. Jordan and Jordan (some friendly representatives of Apro) told us about an open class the next day on permaculture aspects of “forest gardening” taught by the main director of Aprovecho’s permaculture program, Abel. Forest gardening, on a basic level, is the mixing of canopy, understory, shrubbery, herbs, roots, and fungi to create a diverse natural environment that can fuel itself. “The idea is for everything to live in harmony, creating a closed-loop system in which you need no inputs,” says Abel. Education, rather than the farm itself, would be the obvious focus of this stop.
Established in the 70’s, Aprovecho is an educational center based around agroforestry and permaculture methods. Recently, they’ve started hosting a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) “intensive” for people really wanting to get their hands dirty in permaculture method. Students spend 8 months living on site, taking classes, and working the grounds. On the weekends, the facility hosts community members for natural building, permaculture, and ecological gardening classes.
When pulling up the driveway, the first thing one notices is the bright green foliage and cob buildings. We made our way up to the classroom, and were met with a lecture on forest gardening, traditional farming systems, and permaculture’s principles of “stacking”. The introduction to these agroforestry methods was deeply rooted in the importance of traditional knowledge. “It is important to recognize these [traditonal systems] and their persistence for thousands of years, even on this continent. And then we’re looking at this other [modern] agriculture system that after 150 years is pretty much in the late stages of collapse.” So what are we doing wrong? When talking about farming education, Abel talks about traditional farming knowledge passed from one generation to the next within farming communities: “The sad thing was to see the knowledge loss. If one generation didn’t uphold the practices, the following ones had no idea how to do it. The beautiful thing is that this knowledge existed at all.”
Abel walked us through the world of permaculture, and helped us explore what that would look like in tropical, sub tropical, and temperate zones. We went into detail when looking at the 7 layers (or 8 layers in tropical climates) that make up a forest garden, and permaculture’s goal of creating a closed-loop system and “complete” environment. We talked soil biota and fertility, and afterwards Abel listed off extensive amounts of regional plants that can be used within the seven layers. Abel stressed the importance of mulching (growing specific plants such as burdock, mullein, and comfrey, that are good for soil conditioning and “chopping and dropping” them to allow decomposition to occur.) It was refreshing to find such objective, thorough (not to mention free!) education being taught for all the right reasons, empowering people to support themselves.
After the lecture, we walked through the on-site garden and greenhouses. A new addition to the site is an active aquaponics system. Currently holding around 50 Tilapia, the methane that the production gives off is able to heat the greenhouse through the winter and grow products (like bananas) that cannot tolerate freezing days. The greenhouse also grows enough biomass of algae and plants to feed the fish, so other than initial food to get the system going, it’s pretty much self-sustaining. During the winter when conditions get too cold, they house the fish in the heated greenhouse of a local high school whose students also study them. Abel expressed his desire for the center to one day house three aquaponics systems, each representative of tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate micro-climates, and host to a multitude of appropriate water species.
Aprovecho is a hub of permaculture inspiration. They are constantly bettering their property while supporting others endeavors, and serving as a space for learning and demonstrations. It truly follows the “Everything Garden” permaculture principle, as every corner of the operation is an aesthetic reminder of the beauty that nature creates.