An Introduction to Permaculture in Nebraska Part 1

An Introduction to Permaculture in Nebraska (Part 1 of 4) 

Gus von Roenn, PDC

In a strong agricultural state like Nebraska, most people would not think there is much room for improvement. As a Permaculture designer, I can confidently claim that if Nebraska were to adopt permaculture principles throughout the state, we would passively create THE healthiest and most abundant paradise on earth. 


Permaculture is an ideology that funnels the revelations of sustainability and science through community ethics. Permaculture philosophy begins with a deistic reverence for Mother Nature and encourages ecosystem regeneration through natural or low impact solutions. Once you have created a system that creates abundance for you and your family, permaculture invites you to assist the less fortunate members of your community. In the city, permaculture is an ecosystem-sensitive design approach to neighborhood development. In rural communities, permaculture is ecological land stewardship that improves the air, water, and soil for the next generation and the world. For the world citizen, permaculture addresses how we consume, what we consume, how much we consume, and how we manage our waste. 


Many endeavors of life can benefit from Permaculture principles: energy, commerce, finance, health, farming, transportation, building, culture and leisure. To many people, Permaculture may sound like a return to the days of sweat and toil when compared with our current farming and land management methods. While there is definitely some initial investment when establishing a Permaculture design system, the subsequent growing years benefit from a perennial landscape that delivers productivity without the dependence on an annual planting cycle. Through Permaculture's "downhill, downwind, downstream" design approach, passive abundance is provided effortlessly on cue like a Swiss watch throughout the seasons. In many respects, the permaculture farmer works a lot less than your conventional farmer. When people experience a property designed with Permaculture principles, one observes the connections and overlaps of functional landscape features. It is these complementary relationships throughout systems that set the stage for resilience.


Resilience and passive abundance are two important themes in Permaculture. In the current volatile global energy market, new winners and losers are determined virtually year to year. This global volatility ripples throughout the global economy until they reverberate most devastatingly in our rural communities; the same communities pressed to feed a growing population that is migrating to the cities. Therein lies the problem and the solution from a permaculture perspective. Nebraskans are very well aware of our relationship to global markets. As the breadbasket of the world, Nebraskan products should demand a premium price on the global market for a Nebraska grown product produced in an ecologically-sound manner without federal subsidies. If a clean environment were incentivized through a local economy rather than playing slave to global economic tradewinds, Nebraska would sit very proudly as a regional agricultural powerhouse of passive abundance.


In the context of climate change, resilient land stewardship will be the only way to create enough opportunities for passive abundance through macro-scale ecological habitat restoration. Assuming that you are observing the local weather change caused by increasingly erratic global climate trends, we should begin to imagine our landscapes as dynamic, not stationary ecosystems trapped in time. As Nebraska paleontology in Ash Falls points out, Nebraska is in a constant state of change. From an inland sea to rhinos, elephants and the buffalo, Nebraska is very familiar with ecosystem transitions. It is in this wide-swing climate resilience reflected through our hardy flora and fauna species that positions Nebraska in one of the best geographic situations for future experimentation with nature’s climate change-related fluctuations.


To the gardener’s delight, permaculture does not need to be an aggressive management strategy for suppressing weeds manicured to golf course standards when designing for resilience and passive abundance. Many of the plants growing around produce is grown for soil fertility, moisture retention and ecological habitat. For example, to distract our neighborhood garden predators, we should allow some of our ‘ weeds’ to grow around our plantings as a distraction and another option on the menu.  Also, plant another nature garden away from your personal garden. Your personal garden may be the the only source of tasty vegetation for our bunny friends(foes?) on your block. By planting a landscape that encourages biodiversity, you are creating the harmony that must exist between man and nature; even in our cities.


To those who aspire to live sustainably beyond the garden and the farm, careful consideration is necessary when building the farmstead, the home or the neighborhood. From building materials to building orientation, Nebraskan homeowners should consider growing forests to create homegrown homesteads. When designing for our climate, we need to become acquainted with our native and local tree options to develop the proper windbreak from bitter cold northwest winds and hot southern winds that dry out out the landscape. While we have many prairie enthusiasts throughout Nebraska who do not wish to give up any more acreage to invasive forests, the case can be made for both habitats in different regions throughout Nebraska when considering homesteading.


Then, let’s imagine developing all neighborhoods, homes and farmsteads positioned halfway-up south-facing slopes throughout our riparian landscapes. Hilltops are vulnerable to winter winds and valleys are where the water flows. Like the days of our great grandparents, lets imagine homes designed with sufficient shade trees that reduce summer energy use.  When building the homestead, the wild weather extremes of Nebraska weather need to be considered. Through permaculture and sustainable design, a neighborhood can be developed to create heat pockets for winter and cool spots for summer, reducing our needs for high energy use.


So often, a development company likes to imagine a blank canvas. Let us imagine we are a set-designer for a future agricultural sci-fi movie. What is the future of Nebraska’s landscapes? As a new homeowner or aspiring farmer, all you can do is assess the pros and cons of each parcel on the market. I would consider developing your own slice of heaven on a cost-effective parcel of improperly used land; giving a Nebraskan the opportunity to restore and nurture a slice of Nebraskan ecosystem paradise proliferated with Savannah Oaks, Little Blue Stem, cottonwoods, goldenrod, deer, beaver, seasonal birds, prairie dogs, bobcats, cougars, quail, eagles, buffalo, dung beetles, pheasant, cranes, groundhogs, butterflies, squirrels, and fish. Who needs a zoo?