Benefit Corporations – are they a solution?

What if corporations had to prove they were having a net and material positive impact on society and the environment?

A Benefit, or “B” Corporation status is a relatively new legal structure for public corporations available in some, but not all states. It addresses some of the most problematic corporate law that encourages businesses to operate criminally. It isn’t a full solution but a step in the right direction. “The  purpose of a benefit corporation is to create general public benefit, which is defined as a material positive impact on society and the environment.” (Wikepedia)

What if all corporations had to demonstrate twice yearly in a questionnaire that their operations were having a material positive impact on society and the environment?  What if shareholders had to demand that of the company they invested in?

This is a paradigm shift from the current model, where shareholders can and do sue companies that put people or the planet ahead of next quarter’s profits.

Of course, material positive impact is a relative term. But B Lab, the non-profit behind the creation of B Corporate structure appears serious about addressing environmental and social issues. http://www.bcorporation.net/

This legal structure allows corporations who feel that people and planet are important to make a public statement about that. It also protects them from greedy shareholders who could cut across the ability of the company to make positive environmental and social decisions if it affects profits.

The concept of passive investors who do nothing but rake in profits and who feel entitled to as many profits as possible needs to be seriously questioned. It is not a sustainable paradigm because it rewards and encourages criminal behavior from many angles.  But Benefit Corporations are a step in the right direction. And well known companies such as Patagonia and Ben and Jerrys are taking the lead.

http://www.patagonia.com/us/patagonia.go?assetid=68413

Another relatively new legal structure, for privately held companies, is the L3C.  A gradient step between for profit and non profit corporations, this structure allows a privately held, for profit company to accept money from both investors and grants/foundations.  It is a “low profit” corporation, operating much as a non profit, but retaining for profit abilities. This structure was created to meet the needs of “social entrepreneurs” who run businesses that have positive social and environmental purposes.

All in all, it’s good to see some people in the business community working to come up with solutions to existing structures that encourage destructive, irresponsible and criminal behavior. Much more work is needed, in every sector.

Kickstarter campaign for Pine Ridge

We’re doing another Kickstarter campaign for Pine Ridge this year to pay for irrigation, fixing up housing and a number of other projects we have ongoing. See our photos, stories and more at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/892430421/permablitz-for-pine-ridge-reservation-2013. Our intention is to contribute to the creation of food and water sovereignty, healthy shelter and alternative energy  on the reservation.

Pine Ridge reservation food forests

It’s almost May, there is two feet of snow in the swales we dug in 2011 at Pine Ridge, and we might get there this year just in time to hit yet another snow storm.  But we have plenty of blankets and layers; we have shovels and other tools; we’re bringing up some hard to get plants in a trailer; we’re going to plant 500 trees there this year. Plus get a beehive going, create some rainwater catchment, fill a pond, and anything else we have the resources and manpower to complete.

Food forests at Pine Ridge reservation are full of metaphor. The Lakota have experienced a long history of  sabotage of their food supply.  Pine Ridge has recently declared itself sovereign.  There is a place in that for the seven generation food and water security that can be created by a food forest.  Food forests can create calm amidst storm; they are resilient for generations.

There is a spirit to Pine Ridge that keeps us coming back for more. It’s hard to describe. People have tried. You have to read between the lines to see it, without going there yourself and experiencing it.

As we are getting ready for our yearly trip, we started thinking about some of the highlights of last year’s journey in May of 2012.

About how the badlands looked with the sun setting on them when we were driving from Rapid City to Thunder Valley with a car stuffed so full of plants it felt like a jungle in there.

How the wind blew so hard one day you could stand at a 45 degree angle and not fall down and how we still dug trench and laid irrigation, leaning sideways. It was kind of fun. You could yell and the wind would take your voice somewhere into the next field, but the person next to you couldn’t hear you too well.

How the wind blew kept blowing so hard it shredded not one, but two of my tents! Both of them! And then someone just gave me a tent out of the blue. Which was low profile, thankfully (I know this secret well, having spent a month with my high profile tent wall resting on my face whenever the wind blew, the first year I stayed there – it miraculously did not shred or break). I had loaned my low profile to someone else so was using one of those high profile family sized jobs that someone loaned me – which does not work at Pine Ridge – do not bring!  LOL. Do not bring!

How the high school group that was there helping us dig trench in the sleet (yes, it sleeted and froze after the frost date of May 15, and after we planted tomatoes for Kimilelee that all died :-( got smart and used their cars and vans as wind breaks for their tents. They made a guild, while we, on the other hand, were scattered about like random, forlorn fruit trees with no skirt or blanket, or like stranger cats at opposite ends of the yard with their backs turned on each other in a snow storm.  (Pine Ridge kind of has a way of making you want to enjoy all that wide open prairie space, so we pitch our tents all over the field and embrace the weather)

How most of the volunteers who said they would come, didn’t show up, and we ended up with between three and six (at various times) super intrepid tree-hole-digging souls who we will love forever and ever. :-D

How I walked the field where we planted hundreds of honey locusts the year before, that didn’t get any water because the water tank broke, and they were still alive – I saw their buds just starting to come out and jumped and danced around them for joy.

How we helped set up the garden at the jail and planted  a bunch of golden currants for a border and I’m thinking, I gotta come back when these are in season and taste at least just one because I’ve never had one. How intrigued I am by the berries that grow in colder climates that I’ve never tried!

How we stopped at a grocery store on the reservation and they had three shelves of white bread, and the only fresh food was one orange and one apple. And the closest place to buy fresh or organic food is 100 miles away in Rapid City.

How much the kids loved watering the plants.

How big the sky is, how many stars you can see, and how the 80 mile 360 degree clear view of the lands from Slim Butte looks.

How Bryan from Oglala Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitalization Initiative always comes up with these brilliant engineering ideas for things he has never dealt with before, but he just “sees” it, and how he then turns around and comes up with a brilliant idea for some issue in the community – such a well rounded genius.

How so many people helped us – how Dave Jacke sent us some awesome food forest plants, how Oikos and Bountiful Gardens donated some beautiful trees and bushes, how people who don’t know us from Adam believed in us and made it happen (and we could not have done nearly as much as we did without all of that).

How children were gently helped and encouraged to be a part of everything and how the kids had some serious skill sets at pretty young ages.

How Nick and Scott took people who came to visit Thunder Valley out back to the food forest to eat leaves off the linden tree, just to see their expression. J

How they were so helpful – how they got somebody out to dig a pond on really short notice, and how they made it happen to move and plant four 170 pound trees and how enthusiastic and engaged in creating resilience on the reservation.  And how big the scope and breadth of their dream is.

How hard working and dedicated Shannon from Earth Tipi is, how much she has gotten done and she is still going.

How we would look up from digging and planting trees and there would be a horse at full gallop with a bareback rider, streaming by in the ditch. Or we were driving home one day and there was a Lakota in full headdress, riding down the highway bareback on a horse.

How, when we’re planting the butternut trees, we’re thinking – these trees will be here ten generations from now, still bearing food. We’re thinking of how the soil will be built over time, the temperatures modified, the wind calmed in the leaves. And how that center of calm  abundance can spread outward once it is established.

How beautiful the apple tree buds looked when they started coming out. And how alive all the plants looked, and what a nice mix of plants we were able to get: serviceberries, nanking cherries, goldenberries, butternuts, cold tolerant pecans, hazels, three kinds of apple, pear, plum, apricot, goji berry, gooseberry, raspberries, buffalo berry, Siberian pea shrub, lilac, linden, pine, cottonwood, honey locust.

How one day when we were exhausted and still had lots of stuff to plant, and wondering how we got ourselves into this. We get out of the car, and a bald eagle circles above us three times, pretty low so we could see all the colors and feathers and his expression, and then soars off to the east. And we wondered in a different way then, and got to work.

Living Bridges – permaculture design inspiration

Living bridge in Meghalaya, India

Living bridge in Meghalaya, India

This is a wonderful example of the type of design solution we are interested in accomplishing with permaculture. Working with nature, rather than against her, the people of Meghalaya in India have created a beautiful design for a bridge that will survive heavy flooding. This is an exquisitely  aesthetic and informative 5 minute video that you won’t regret viewing, or forget!  How could we incorporate the lessons of this amazing design solution?

https://mail.google.com/mail/?shva=1#inbox/13a16e6996096942

Using compost to heat buildings

The Japanese have created a model tea house that is heated with compost in the walls with pipes running through it. It is an elegant design that could be replicated  in cob houses and other natural building, greenhouses, or other types of buildings. It’s good to see the concept is spreading.  We have seen several working compost showers.  How could you capture the heat in your compost pile?

bakoko-comploo-composting-shelter1

The link below has more information on the tea house.

http://inhabitat.com/circular-pod-tea-house-is-heated-by-compost/

Economics of Happiness

Mark Anielski, a cutting edge economist, has devised a way to make economic statistics reflect what people most want – quality of life.

http://www.anielski.com/celebrating-years-genuine-wealth-leduc-alberta-2/

“This work was inspired by the words of Robert Kennedy who said that the Gross National Product — the primary measure of economic progress– may measure the money flowing in an economy but fails to measure most of the things that make life worth living. This included the quality of our water and land and air, the way we spent our time, and our sense of trust and belonging to a community.”

“This is what the Genuine Wealth assessment delivers: a system of well-being measurement that is the basis of local governance and decision-making.”

This system for measuring quality of life is based on what citizens themselves feel that represents.

I appreciate the similarities between Mark’s flower graph and David’ Holmgren’s Permaculture Flower. Leduc-GW-Flower

permaculture flower

Apprenticeship opportunities in Tampa Bay

We are offering apprenticeship or “shadowing” opportunities to course students in several exciting projects we have ongoing. We are working on all of these from the Tampa Bay area, Florida. There is a lot happening, a lot that needs to be done and if we work together, the sky is the limit!

- Plan and implement a permaculture design for a city park.

- Plan and stage multiple food forests designs for Pine Ridge reservation.

- Work with Greenwood neighborhood on planning a permaculture community garden, and get it created.

- Help with fall planting and ongoing care for an expanding permaculture edible perennials nursery.

- Work on creating and expanding financial permaculture models, including innovative urban farming cooperative ventures, link-up, beneficial connection and integration of permaculture energies around the Bay for mutual benefit, start up businesses that get support from the existing community, time banking, etc.

- Work on community projects, including art gardens, neighborhood place-making, etc.

Our new name – Grow Permaculture!

We are changing our name to more closely reflect our mission.  We are focused on spreading the knowledge and practice of permaculture everywhere, to create more abundance, resilience, quality of life, and healing of both people and the earth.

Our projects include using permaculture to improve conditions in high poverty urban and rural areas with degraded lands, and working with schools, governments and organizations to educate people on the regenerative possibilities of conscious design.  We create demonstration sites so people can see, feel, taste and smell what that is like.

These are non-profit activities that are supported by our for-profit education and design business.  We offer high-quality education and aesthetic edible landscaping and other permaculture services via this service.

We feel that a Permaculture Guild has a very specific function of coordinating permaculture activities in an area and providing support and resources for professional permaculture designers and those who want to become professionals.  While we do provide support to the permaculture community in a number of ways through volunteering and other resources, we feel a better way to describe the relationship is as a sponsor of Guild activities.  It is not our main function to coordinate or facilitate all of the permaculture activities in our area, as a guild would do.

We love the abundance and regeneration inherent in the word “Grow” and we feel there is nothing more appropriate or needed than nurturing and growing the concept and practice of conscious design – far and wide!

Pine Ridge reservation 2012 – Food forests!

pine ridge erosionLast year’s tree planting and gardening at Pine Ridge has led to expanded plans for this year!  Our plans include three food forests at Pine Ridge this year, with three different organizations on the rez. We will also help install gardens and give classes on the techniques we’ll be using. We’ll be there from late April to mid-May, .  Planting will occur Apr 29, May 1-4 and May 5-9.

We still need volunteers! We have a Kickstarter campaign at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/892430421/pine-ridge-reservation-food-forest-2012-0

Pine Ridge reservation is a “food desert” in the extreme sense of the word. There are almost no organic foods being sold on the reservation. People often have to drive two hours or 100 miles to get organic or fresh vegetables or fruits.  Diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related diseases are at epidemic proportions on the rez.  The infant mortality and early death rates are some of the worst in the world.  Food security is a major issue.  The land is harsh – with severe, drying winds, hail in July, and freezes in June and August sometimes.  Insect pests are ubiquitous.   It can be challenging to grow things on this land.

Food forests are a way of working with nature to create stable ecosystems that grow lots of food.   We mimic how a natural ecosystem of trees would behave in this zone.  Because this is open prairie land and the main trees are pine forests, we will be experimenting to some degree to create a good microclimate for fruit trees. There are a number of successful orchards around that we are learning from.

Forests create milder temperatures (cooler in summer, warmer in winter), windbreaks, water capture, erosion control, and many other benefits.  One can have a small food forest in the backyard, or a larger one on a few acres.  Agroforestry is another version of using trees to produce food.  There are many advantages to all of these approaches and they can be integrated in the existing ecosystem in ways that enhance the ecosystem.

The Lakota are known for buffalo hunting, but they also traditionally appreciated the wild plant food that grows in the region.  We’ll be including native edibles traditionally used by Lakota in our food forest, as well as other fruits and nuts that are of interest.

Food forests provide a food system that mimics the ‘hunter-gatherer’ tradition of the Lakota.  We are creating demonstration/experimental forest gardens this year and will continue to document progress, make it publicly available, enhance the forests, and help plant new ones in years to come.  This is not a one shot deal!

We need donations of trees, seeds and plants,  irrigation piping and equipment, rain catchment containers, and funding for travel and food expenses for experts who will install and educate while there.  We also need volunteers to help with planting, and are looking for skilled volunteers to help install irrigation, water catchment, and other systems.

Two members of Grow Permaculture (formerly Permaculture Guild) Koreen Brennan and Bob Lawrason, will be headed to Pine Ridge in late April for approximately three weeks, from the Tampa Bay area.  We are looking for other volunteers to come up from the Tampa area to carpool and share travel costs.  There will also be volunteers coming from Oregon, Wisconsin, California and elsewhere.

Please consider a tax deductible donation via our donation Pay Pal button.

If you have donations of materials or would like to volunteer, please contact us via the web site!

Pine Ridge food sovereignty 2011

We focused on the natural world this year at Pine Ridge, immersing ourselves in nature awareness and communion with the land.

horses 2 and 3 079p

It started with the arrival of over 100 wild horses rescued for release on 8000 acres of prairie stewarded by Oglala-Lakota Cultural and Economic Revitilization Initiative. Nothing could embody the spirit of freedom via self-sufficiency that we’re striving for more than to watch, from the garden, this wild herd in full gallop across the range – purely because they feel like it. Our breath ends up in our throat regularly in response to the beauty and majesty of this animal.

We had many chances to watch the behavior of the wild herd and learn design lessons from it.  We’ll share some of those in future articles.

As beautiful and intriguing the horses are, our biggest focus for this year was food sovereignty.  Pine Ridge is a “food desert”, with almost no grocery stores on the rez (many people travel 1 hour or more to Rapid City, paying huge sums in fuel costs as well as for groceries), and almost no local, fresh food available. There are small, positive changes being made, and we made connections with some other great organizations on the rez also working on this issue – Roots and Shoots has installed several community gardens in Kyle and other areas, and Thunder Valley is engaging the community in discussions about the subject, raising awareness and gathering information on needs and resources.  They have also helped create more access to the few farmer’s markets on the rez.  The Pine Ridge Fire Dept is growing a community garden and giving the food away to the public, and this will be a good outlet for our excess crops as well.

Our goal was to make what we did in our garden as relevant and useful for others as possible, and we’ve been gathering information about what people are struggling with in trying to grow food on the rez for a couple of years now.

We decided to completely redo the garden (as the original wasn’t designed for water catchment) and create an experimental site in order to find out exactly what people deal with in the harsh climate of the plains.

A common gardening method here is what could be described as  ”scorched earth.” In an effort to keep pests from finding the garden, people mow down the prairie grass for dozens of feet surrounding it, leaving the soil exposed to dry winds and baking sun in the summer, and erosion in the wet season. We decided to try to see what would happen if we let succession happen naturally and worked with nature instead of against her, letting the “weeds” grow near the garden.

We sheet mulched about 1/4 acre with composted manure (plenty of it on the ranch), and straw, cut a swale, measured out a pond, and cut paths to capture rainwater and send it into the garden.

We created two small greenhouses out of pallet boxes and old clear tarp lying around. They didn’t warm things up much, but they protected young seedlings from wind, hail and creatures.  We planted more than 80 species of heirloom veggie, herb and flower seeds, to see how each would do in this particular environment, and started a spreadsheet to keep track of results.

Because we didn’t do the scorched earth thing, our garden filled up quickly with pigweed, lambsquarter, the dreaded goathead and wild sunflowers.  Pigweed and lambsquarter are very edible and also dynamic accumulators, and the pig loves them. So we let them stay and added their nutrition to our salads and potherb dishes.

Goathead is another matter. It is a ground cover pioneer species that spawns a vicious burr that has two giant spikes on it like devils horns, or goat’s horns (thus the name), sharp enough to flatten a bicycle tire or leave a gaping, bleeding wound in your foot.  The manure we used for the sheet mulch was inundated with goathead seeds. So we weeded a lot more than we usually do.  Normally we would have just mulched it into non-existence, but we also wanted to try out numerous heirloom veggie and herb species this year, and we got a late start for a number of reasons,  so we left the beds uncovered to plant seeds and seedlings. Next year, our strategy will be to let the goathead come up while growing seedlings in the greenhouse and allowing the soils to warm up,  mulch it down, then plant in the mulch.  That way, we should avoid having to weed at all, while adding fertility and protection to the soil.

By pushing the system, opening it to pests and weather, we discovered which varieties did well and which didn’t. We also learned a tremendous amount about the challenges people face when trying to grow vegetables in this tough climate (hot, dry summers, very cold winters, hail the size of baseballs sometimes, strong, dry winds, only a three to four month frost-free window, heavy clay-silt soils, and tons of pests – every plant chomping and sucking insect you could think of seems to live here, and some I had hardly imagined! The abundance of insect life is quite impressive).  Though it took some courage because we knew we would probably lose crops, we wanted to deal with what we’ve seen the average gardener dealing with her, and see how hard it would be to get those factors under control, starting from an imbalanced system.

We had visits from just about every pest that must exist in these parts. That was interesting, as I have rarely had to deal with pests in the balanced systems we set up.  But, from our surveys done last year, we found that many people do deal with them on the rez and handling them organically seems difficult.  So, what works once they are in the system and active?

We wrote an article about our findings, here:

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=269916073035044

We spent many hours researching suitable plant species for the area – which are invasive? Which are toxic to horses or cows? (many of our favorite nitro fixers and other permaculture staples are toxic to horses – we now have a pretty thorough list). Which are easy to grow, drought and cold tolerant, nutritious and healthy, similar to what people already eat and like, etc?  We came up with a list we were excited about (and still are – some of the things on the list did really well – for instance, we now have several hundred sunchoke plants on our swales and will be adding many more next year – a real survival native crop that grows well under a wide range of conditions found here.  Bonus – the inulin in them helps with diabetes, something that 60% of the people on the rez suffer from).

In the midst of planting and caring for the garden, mid-June, we got a hot tip about some bare root trees that could be bought for almost nothing. We were planning to do a food forest, and this seemed to be a perfect opportunity to get the wind break trees we needed to create a suitable microclimate for the more delicate fruit trees we’ve wanted to plant on the plains.  We ended up getting more than 600 trees – 400+ honey locusts alone.

Getting 600 trees planted fast when you weren’t planning on it can be a bit of a challenge!  Since they were bare root and it was late in the season, soon to become hot and dry, we couldn’t take our time about it – we had about three days before trees started dying.

We received some amazing assistance from Bryan Deans, head of OLCERI, who commandeered getting 600 holes dug with his bobcat in only a few hours, and from three volunteers, Dave Karp, Felicia Hobart and Dani Slabaugh, all of who worked extra long hours to make it happen.  We got some key natives into the food forest system such as buffalo berry, hackberry, and cottonwood, and other edibles like rugosa rose, caragena, elderberry, and hawthorn.  And windbreaks up in many of the major areas (though we still need cedars, which will come next year).

Many of these trees can be easily propagated, so next year, we will create dozens of pots to give out to people who need windbreaks and/or fodder.  Already, we have a number of requests from others on the rez for honey locusts and some of the others for next spring.

The trees are beautiful – leaves swaying in the wind and new growth shooting up faster than usual (probably because of the mychrorrhizia we soaked the roots in and added to the soil).  We can’t wait until next spring when the sweet fragrence and flowers of 400 honey locusts will fill the area.  This tree has so many uses – it is great fodder for animals, much of it is edible for humans, but perhaps its strongest quality for the mostly treeless prairie is the wood, which grows rapidly and does not rot. It can be used for posts for fences, for firewood (which can be lifesaving in prairie winters), or for round beams in buildings. We visited a greenhouse earlier in the year in Wisconsin that is built from raw trunk wood of black locust, which has similar properties. The architecture is beautiful, and there is a lot less waste of wood. We can coppice honey locust trees for the wood without killing them, and continue to enjoy their beauty for many years.  Another possible bonus is that they may fix nitrogen. Though their roots do not collect the nodules usually associated with nitrogen fixers, and some people insist they do not fix nitrogen, there is scientific evidence that they do bring nitrogen to the soil. We’ll be watching how other plants do around them, next year.

We created a list for a seven layer food forest that focuses on native and traditional edibles and medicinals of the Lakota, as well as a wide variety of fruit and nut trees that grow in this climate zone. We are trying a few species that grow in warmer zones, to see how we do with our microclimates.  In an area with extremely harsh winters (wind chill of down to -50 F, wide temperature swings, early and late frosts, etc),  this is a special challenge.  We would love hearing from and exchanging knowledge with people who have food forest experience in this type of climate!

Some of our plants did splendidly well, growing with wild exuberance and abundance, while others struggled with the climate and soils. We’re documenting the heirloom varieties that do the best, so we can share that knowledge with the rest of the rez (and publicly, via our web site).  Again, we’re very interested in hearing from others who are gardening in W South Dakota or NW Nebraska climates, their successes, their favorite varieties, etc.  Please feel free to post on our page or share on our facebook page at
Grow Permaculture

Our other major project was documenting some of the wild edibles on the prairie. We explored our pasture and the larger range, documenting wild medicinals and edibles and where they are to be found. This has only begun, but we found many wonderful species and will be continuing that project next year. We’re sharing some of our findings on our partner Facebook site at facebook.com/olceri.  Check out the photo albums on our Facebook sites, of our gardens, food forests, horses, Pine Ridge life, and more.

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