With no college plans and months away from graduating high school, Connor Jones leaned back in his chair in his Algebra II class and hit his head on a bookshelf. Bill Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture fell on his head; with a glance at the cover, Connor knew he had found his own curriculum. He had grown up on his family’s 10-acre property in Ojai, CA and spent his childhood making terrarium habitats, gardening, and climbing the trees. Resonating with permaculture in terms of agriculture and its approach to full systems thought, Connor felt compelled to make permaculture his career path in life, and has been cultivating the acreage for six years. The process of convincing his parents to allow him to use the land to create a permaculture learning center was not an easy one; the 17-year-old, dedicated to the idea, had the challenge of proving to his parents that permaculture design was in fact something that had been viably practiced for eons. Eventually, East End Eden was born.
In walking around with him, it was clear that the he has grown with this property, and has taken the time to truly observe the geography, topography, patterns, biota, climates, and cycles of the area. The Mediterranean dry climate of Ojai provides a particularly interesting native perennial backdrop. A frost-free microclimate on 1/8 of an acre of their property allows the growth of mangoes and guavas, along with banana, olive, and citrus trees. They collect and age their own humanure (with a composting toilet) to be used for fertilizer on these trees.*
Currently, there are 6 full-time residents who participate in weekly meetings, trade off cooking responsibilities, and help with natural building projects and garden maintenance. Most building infrastructure on the site is a mix of approaches to natural building including superadobe, cob, rammed earth, and straw bale, which have been built by the full-time residents.
They are also working on innovative “Farm Hack”-style projects, creating a rocket mass heater for their bathhouse. This site is one of cycles; piecing together every part of the puzzle, they build their own compost sourcing cow manure locally, and emphasize building beneficial bacteria and fungi ratios by means of brewing their own compost teas. East End Eden is a genuine example of thinking in terms of permaculture as a process.
Our visit coincided with the end of a two-week intensive Permaculture Design Course, and the participating students were engaged in their last day of class and preparing for final presentations. Each was extremely enthusiastic about their experience at East End, describing the communal living and practical education as an inspiring project to be apart of. During the PDC’s, the land also hosts students traveling from as far as South Africa; this round, there were 15 total participants. Currently, Connor holds three Permaculture Design Courses onsite throughout the year; next year they plan to hold four intensive courses as well as three weekend-long “Introduction to Permaculture” classes.
The 10-acre property, comprised of six acres of slopes and four of valley floor, is efficient, integrated, and managed well. Use of cisterns in designing for water harvesting, as well as utilizing techniques such as swale and berm, ephemeral streams, one rock dams, and catching runoff allows for efficient water use and little water loss. Attention to this invaluable resource is of the utmost importance in the high desert climate East End Eden is located in. Moreover, use of hugel beds, grey water systems, and cultivation of native perennial and mulch crops allow for further water retention.
Along with gardens placed throughout the property, East End Eden has incorporated and developed an extremely integral part of an agricultural system, animal husbandry. The property has historically housed goats for dairy and meat, pigs, rabbits, and chickens. They also have a developed aquaponics system, growing Catfish, Karp, Koi, Goldfish, Blue Gills, and sweet potatoes. Moreover, they are in the process of integrating rabbits as well as bees within their aquaponics system.
The meat and vegetables being grown directly feed the East End Eden crew and students during the courses and workshops, and many students return to buy shares of meat long after their course has ended. “Our primary product is educated people,” Connor calculates, “We’re all about productivity here, not production. We glean a harvest of good soil and clean water.” His soil is lush, to say the least; a biodiverse garden established less than four months ago boasts volunteer Morel mushrooms and dark loamy soil where sand once dominated.
One of the most approachable things about East End Eden is Connor’s openness to input and encouragement of all to help in the development of the land. He has his ideas about where he wants his project to go, but also encourages active community participation from all members, visitors, and students. East End Eden is an experience of shared education and growth; it is truly a labor of love and a vision that is constantly progressing through the East End Eden community’s openness to living life as students.
* As a side note: Humanure collection is quite illegal in California, and after we asked if we could post this information, Connor’s response was: “Of course! But be sure to include this: one year of using a composting toilet saves forty years of drinking water.” So we had to mention… For more information on humanure, you should definitely check out Joseph Jenkins’ Humanure Handbook.