by Chuck Estin July 28, 2012 1:52 p.m.
Flying over the Atlantic, I’m in a place between worlds. I left my old world when I boarded the ferry this morning, after three days of minimal sleep putting my affairs in order from my Island realm. Now I’m struggling to adjust my large frame to the sardine seats when I give up on sleeping, despite my sleep-deprived state and begin writing my first blog. I left my typical American world where most of the residents view home as a place to be isolated in a nice house on a suburban lot, with minimal commitment to the value of community. When morning comes and my plane lands on another continent, I will be on an adventura—a three-month immersion into a 37-year experiment in community.
My friends and wife sometimes call me Too Much Chuck. Never slowing down, always taking on more projects. From my perspective, I’ve been feeling a sense of quickening over the past several years. The Ascent of Humanity which began when we left the forest and learned how to accumulate energy is coming to a head. The urgency of these times of transition is my motivator. A local currency for circulating the current of community energy. A Farm School for helping young adults acquire skills and learn nature’s patterns to connect with the earth and create tilth. Forests of food to help us learn how to recreate a garden of Eden. I’ve been planting Chuckie Apple Seeds, and I felt committed to stay and nourish them.
My first release from this commitment came when I acknowledged to my wife that my year-long experiment in creating a mini-permaculture institute—The Old Mill Permaculture Center—was not financially and socially sustainable, and I agreed to “sell the farm” (as the saying goes) to the neighbor next door for a break-even price. That detachment influenced me to start looking around for another focus, resulting in my current passion for financial permaculture and economic localization. I co-presented a workshop on economic localization with my good permaculture friend Demi at the Cascadia Permaculture Convergence in October.
My second release came when I was forced to leave the farm where I had my large, several year-old permaculture nursery plant collection. Without a home, my treasured permaculture plant collection had to be shaken out of pots, and transformed into bare-root stock, and healed in sawdust by year’s end. My living capital had been turned into hoarded material capital, and my pot-bound roots called out to be released and distributed to my community. I posted a “wanted” ad on the local currency website, which was answered by a dozen of my community Life Dollar traders. I went into deep “commitment” to reimburse them for their labors as we trucked out the last of the plants by sunset on December 31st.
By April Fool’s Day I had organized, inventoried, and marketed for my big plant sale. By the end of the weekend my entire nursery was disbursed into final resting places in my community. Some of it would live in backyard start-up food forests paid for with local currency Life Dollars. The largest quantities went to my young permaculture partner who is farming several private land plots around the Island. A long-term permaculture friend couldn’t resist filling in some gaps in his 5-acre permaculture dairy farm. He saved the day by arranging for a mutual friend to take all the plants remaining at the end of the day for his recently purchased 25-acre Quilcene permaculture start-up farm. My entire Life Dollar “commitment” was paid off, and I had earned a nice stash of cash to help finance my upcoming adventura.
Last year when the Occupy Wall Street movement increased interest in the economy, I began a series of writings I called “Living by Design ” (and published here on Inside Bainbridge). Researching models of economic sustainability led me to an eco-village called Damanhur. It seemed from my research and conversations with friends who had lived there that this was a community that embodied many of the design principles in my Living by Design series. Their patterns defined a true learning community—a local living economy. It was Damanhur’s experiments in sustainability that really drew me in. Through emailing with Damanhur residents, I was surprised to learn that conventional permaculture was not a part of their declared knowledge-base, although I’m sure they practice many aspects of permaculture that make sense. They were interested in me coming to teach an International Permaculture Design Certification course. I negotiated a mutual learning experience: I would learn about their ways of living an experiment in “social permaculture”; they would give me the opportunity to share my knowledge of conventional permaculture.
So I began putting together teams to transfer ownership of the seed-tending I had initiated. I facilitated developing a new APEX Council to take on ownership and responsibility for the Life Dollars community trading currency. I gathered my fellow permaculture supporters to found a new Kitsap Tilth Chapter to continue our work on developing the Food Forest and Farm School projects. My new permaculture partner took on responsibility for continuing the development of my Bios Design edible landscape design business.
My wife Judy has wanted to travel for the years that I have chained myself to my Johnny Appleseed Projects. She will spend two weeks with me at Damanhur and then explore other parts of Italy. Finally we have an opportunity to travel together for a while. Maybe not what Judy had in mind, but still an adventura. Judy and I diligently studied Italian in preparation for a country where English is not commonly spoken.
I will participate in the New Life Program at Damanhur for three months to experience what it’s like to be a Damanhur citizen. Damanhurians live in small intentional communities of 24 residents in restored farmhouses sprinkled throughout the Valchiusella valley in the Piemonte region north of Turino. Each “nucleo” has a focus, and all contribute to the 60+ businesses that make up the Federation of Damanhur with its 1000 citizens.
There are no commitments from Damanhur to fill my Permaculture Design Course, so I will have to “market” myself to solicit participants for my course. I will stay in different nucleos to learn and observe potential ways I might use my knowledge of permaculture to improve what they are already doing to live sustainably. Then I will design a course to teach the International Permaculture Design Certification curriculum to best address their needs. I will have to fit my New Life schedule in with my permaculture explorations and course offering days. I have my electronically stored files of permaculture content, slideshows, and videos. My own LCD projector and portable speakers fill up my carry-on bike messenger bag.
My checked luggage pack is loaded with grafting knives to teach propagation skills and diverse seeds from my saved collection for May plantings that could contribute to their genetic diversity bank (which is part of their mission to preserve cultural diversity for the future.) My live root kit includes Ozette potatoes (prolific, disease resistant, and grown for centuries by the Makah tribe on the Washington coast); Russian comfrey root (my favorite dynamic accumulator and thick-leaved mulch plant); and horseradish for its disease repellent properties.
I get brief glimpses of the emails flying among my fellow team members I have left, but they’re in charge now. Three nights with five hours of total sleep in order to get it all done before I left. But that’s all behind me as I draw this entry to a close, so I can catch some more sleep in preparation for my adventura that awaits on the other side of this world-between-worlds.
Learn more about Chuck Estin, Ph.D., at http://www.biosdesign.us/.
Photos by SuSanA Secretariat, Keith Rowley, Paul Stein JC, sergio_65_ita, and Yvette Soler.