Permaculture Convergence 2018 Reflections- Week 5


The 2018 Permaculture Convergence took place in Toledo, Washington, just north of the Oregon border on September 28-30th. It was a gathering of progressive-minded movers and shakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines. There was almost too much amazingness for one mind to properly process. Every session was filled with at least 3 or 4 completely unique and captivating presentations. I had to trust my intuition and make snap decisions in order to not sink into the “fear of missing out” (fomo). Although I could not properly do justice to all of the variety of inspiring presentations I attended, I must address a few of my highlights.

First off, I must say that amongst all the doom and gloom in the news, the overall theme of this convergence, was people making changes where they are with what they have. Most people took very small steps and made a lot of seemingly insignificant decisions that ultimately are now stories worth writing home about.
The opening keynote highlighted this very theme, as it presented the cases of 4 individual short stories.

One story was Emily Scali, of Gridless Studio in Seattle, who uses concepts of permaculture and community engagement in work as an architect, educator, and entrepreneur. She gave an example of a vacant lot in south Seattle that she was able to turn into a mini farmer’s market and community garden. With little more than a shipping container and helping hands from the community, she was able to revitalize a dilapidated lot into a meeting area and food hub for the neighborhood. You can read more about it in this article: “BEET BOX OFFERS SPACE FOR FOOD, NUTRITION EDUCATION IN OTHELLO.”

Amaranth grows in a raised bed outside The Beet Box during a class on permaculture in Othello in August. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

She also hosted a talk the next day on “Observe, Design, and Connect: Find & work with mainstream resources.” This workshop was simple and profound. With some easy prompts on what kind of threads you wanted to pull on in your life, we used S.M.A.R.T. (simple, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals to put our goals into tangible and manageable terms. She also had a big emphasis on making maps on all the resources available to you right now and starting where you are.


Another one of Friday’s keynote speakers was Jan Spencer of Eugene, Oregon. He is the brain behind Suburban Permaculture. Almost 20 years ago he bought a mid 50’s suburban house on a quarter acre property and has since turned it into a permacultural oasis and shining example of how suburban homes can retrofit for a regenerative future. In his own words:

Image of Jan Spener’s place in Eugene, Oregon from his website. “South side of the main house from Bungalow. Note galvalume metal roofing, solar water heating panels.”

The ideal, to take care of more needs on site, to reduce my ecological and political footprints. I rarely buy fruit and vegetables. Solar energy helps warm both the main house and the bungalow. There is a 6500 gallon rain water catchment system. With filtration for drinking water capacity if needed, I can be off the grid for water. The place is aesthetically beautiful. It is a small example of the much larger transformations in land use, culture and economics I would like to see. “


Jan also hosted a workshop the next day on Suburban Permaculture and dove into the history of the suburbs in general and then really was passionately advocating for people to get involved with their local governments in order to enact change through the values outlined in the city or state’s agenda. The local neighborhood associations almost ubiquitously have their goals in line with the goals of permaculture. He recommends abstaining from the “p” word in general and just approaching the problems from a practical and relatable stance. Most neighborhoods have agendas to green their energy, to solve transportation issues, to bring healthier food to schools and communities, to create more jobs in regenerative fields— we need only to use their language and weave into practical possibilities.

Dr. Elaine Ingham was Saturday’s keynote speaker and I really would need another post to do any bit of justice to her presentation. Essentially she is and has been an innovator in the soil science fields as a researcher and professor. She is an incredible speaker and has the ability to articulate the complexities involved in microbiology in a way that even the most average citizen can understand. I believe that if the general populous knew what she knows, it would fundamentally crumble the industrial agriculture, petrochemical fertilizer, and related industries. What she is presenting is pretty simple; all the nutrients we need are already in the soil. We need only the right combination of microbiology to access it, in order to make insoluble nutrients soluble.  You can find her work under the name Soil Food Web, and she offers incredible classes online and is a sought-after speaker. I first heard about her on the Permaculture Podcast here.

An image of Dr. Ingham and the soil food web that accompanies her appearance on podcasts and presentations.

“Soil Food Web
Our Mission: What We Do and What We Believe In
We grow plants without disturbance, without pesticides or inorganic fertilizers.   


We use living, beneficial soil organisms to do the work of making soluble nutrients available to plants, nutrients that are in the soil in extremely high amounts but need the soil food web to make those nutrients available to plants.” (from


Michael Becker, a middle school teacher making waves of innovation in education as it relates to food, agriculture, energy, design, science and more. (Photo from the permaculture convergence website.)

Finally, I wanted to highlight the work of Michael Becker, arguably the coolest middle school teacher on the planet. He has been at the helm of Hood River Middle School’s Food and Conservation Program for 11 years, a position he designed himself. He is an incredible example of how permacultural ideas can find their way into school’s curriculum. He treats his students like the designers, architects, builders, and whole humans that they are.

He started a now thriving farmer’s market garden and has managed to secure grants to build a green house and put solar panels on the school, making it energy net zero. He really emphasizes a relationship to the “solar budget” or the amount of energy that is harvestable based on the output of the sun in real time and not the use of buried sunlight in the form of fossil fuels. His goal is for his students to understand the parts and the relationships between them in order to bring them more fully in the reality they inhabit. We must not wait for optimal conditions to arrive, we must create optimal conditions in order for our communities to thrive.

Image result for hood river middle school
A view of Hood River Middle School’s greenhouse and solar panels.

All in All, the permaculture convergence held more stories than I could possibly convey. It was so inspiring and motivating that I can hardly put into words the dreams it has sparked in me. The illusion of separation is so widespread in our culture, but when we turn our attention to the rhythms of the natural world and the many solutions that are exemplified by so many innovative people, there is not only hope, but practical possibility.

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