“My current focus is on living a life of integrity that I find most easily accomplished when being true to my values. Although I have never had a religious or political tent in which to include myself, I find that theories contained in the design science of permaculture best describe my values”.
I started my career as a craftsman in my grandfather’s woodshop, Inverness CA. From joinery to lathe work, milling lumber from the surrounding oak forests or combing the beach, wood has always been my connection to this special man. Its only rival for my attention is water.
The first occasion I can recall where I searched for a deeper understanding than 80’s rock-n-roll could provide, was through my long time dedication to fishing. Once while fishing a stream in mendocino county I was told that “all the natives have been fished out but they planted last week ”, meaning that all the indigenous trout species were gone and replaced with farmed planters (fish raised on farms to re-populate a stream/river/lake).
Like so many of us I learn about the word sustainability through its counter achievement, un-sustainable practices. It was un-sustainable for the 49er miners of the California gold rush to feed the crew with fresh trout every night. Add to this fact that trout are very sensitive to water quality and temperature, the overfishing and mining practices rendered a stream unable to sustain a regenerating population. So I hiked further into the mountains to catch native species of fish. I felt more than the usual pride when landing a native salmon or releasing a native steelhead. Once the concept was understood, backed by countless other system failures in my life, and thousands of quite hours hunting the ocean and mountains chasing those fish, I naturally started moving toward a way of life that could be considered sustainable. The people I choose to spend time with had ethical qualities that promoted long term relations (leading to marriage in one case!) The materials I used in projects were more thoughtfully chosen. And the food! I started eating in a way that made my body feel more agile, my brain seemed to be more calm. Concentration came easier and was of a deeper quality. For many years I had taken pride in catching and eating my own food (fish), but once I planted a garden with my wife and added fresh vegetables to the table from soil I had carefully prepared myself – The sustainable farmer in me emerged.
Life and work style by design
My dubious career so far has spanned multiple industries. The waste and inefficiency I saw throughout has compelled me to make the full commitment to sustainable practices in just about everything I do.
Working for many years in art studios and primarily in the fabrication of stained glass windows I was no stranger to ergonomics and efficiency. It is most often stated in a labor situation “pace yourself “. This is the practical application of a concept in sustainability. Hard work is made harder through injury and dull tools.
Making an object, taking a trip or designing a system that meets more than one goal is a concept that I had practiced because it leads to efficient productivity. Only in the last few years did I learned this is called “stacking functions “ in the design science of permaculture.
Where the study of ergonomics guide in designing furniture and homes, stacking functions is helpful in designing systems. I believe anything worth designing should meet some very simple criteria. For example when designing a food producing landscape:
• Get the maximum enjoyment/utility with the smallest amount of maintenance.
• Get the maximum yield from the lowest amount of inputs
• Make sure the financial cost can be recaptured in an acceptable amount of time.
This last point comes to me from IT infrastructure design where cost and redundancy are key concerns. Simply put, paying $5 to get $4 is un-sustainable.
This idea can be extended to the total life cycle of a product or resource. The above example for a fruit orchard would take into account the cost of a rain capture and irrigation system to the cost of irrigating using municipal water or well water. Downtown LA , probably not worth it…..in the mountains where well water only provides for one household might be worth it.
Another example is my utilization of open source software for operating systems ( LINUX! ) email ,web and database servers. Over the course of the last 10 years this has exceeded all expectation. The open source community, a distributed system of engineers, is simply more efficient than one megalithic company in supporting software. The total cost of building and maintaining IT infrastructure is low enough to make late nights learning unix worth while.
I believe this is important to consider if work done today is going to function for the lifetime of the home, business, fruit orchard or river system.
In the case of our new greywater business: Is the system simple enough for the next non-urban farmer to use? Does it increase property value?
Or is it so complicated that the next homeowner simply disconnects it or worse, rips it out!
I have shop tools and furniture that has been passed down through generations (up to recently a working table saw that was built in1932 ).
The quality of craftsmanship and durability is something I pay attention to. The term “built-in obsolescence” is new to me but I have been suffering the results for years. I have just built my response to the yearly cheap camping chair purchase (that I wont be making again).