Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Permaculture Class Begins!

On Saturday our first Permaculture Design course class was held, with fifteen students in attendance and our three Permaculture instructors. We are learning through lecture, physical demonstration, group discussion, and various permaculture activities.

A little about our instructors:

Bradford White is an Ecologist, world traveler, and Gaia University associate on the track of integrative eco-social design. Bradford has lived and worked on permaculture, food forestry, and perennial food systems projects throughout Central America, the Pacific Northwest, and Orlando, FL in the last year and a half.

Tia Meer grew up on a 13-acre organic farm in Pittsburgh, PA and has had a lifelong passion for growing food organically and lessening our impact on Mother Earth. Tia has studied Permaculture in Costa Rica, Bio-dynamic gardening on the Big Island of Hawaii, and GROW BIOINTENSIVE gardening with John Jeavons in Willits, CA.

Terry Meer grew up on a sailboat in the Florida Keys. Living on a sailboat, Terry learned about energy and water conservation, solar and wind power at an early age. Terry’s expertise is in designing and building small off-the-grid systems for homeowners interested in sustainability and for use in remote locations.


Our students are a wide range of talented, ambitious community members with an amazing bank of knowledge and experience to contribute .

A photo of the class touring and learning about the permaculture techniques implemented at the Econ Farm

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Audubon Park Community Garden (3/6)

On Sunday, we zipped on over to this "ground-breaking" Community garden event just off Corrine Ave on Winter Park Drive.

The garden itself is being placed in between the sidewalk and the baseball field, and in my mind means that many kids and their parents are going to see these wonderful folks tending their food and plants up-close. For those that have not had any exposure to plants, the soil and the joy of tending both it could be just what they need to consider their own garden or plants.

I was so excited to see there wasn't going to be a fence, as it implies there isn't any need to keep anyone out. Of course their was some concern, understandably, but I'm a firm believer that if you put out positive thoughts, that is exactly what you will get in return.

In this garden there will be a 10 - 4'x10' beds. Three interspersed in between trees beside the sidewalk and seven in a row behind that. As always, it was wonderful to meet new folks and see the wide diversity of people. One lady had her camera and of course found plenty of subjects to record, one man brought out his daughter to partake in the experience of creating their garden. We of course brought our dog, as he's part of the family too.

While we didn't get to stay as long as we would have liked, my husband, son and I each worked on three different beds and had a great time helping out.

I must say it is was amazing to watch Tia and Tommy make short work of laying out the beds so we could dig up the grass, sift the sand back into the plots and then rake them clean.

By the time we left the first three beds were well underway and those that will have bed here, were very happy preparing the earth to receive love and care.

Ann S.

Central Florida Fair

For two weekends in a row now, we have trekked out to the Central Florida Fairgrounds to volunteer for a few hours at the Simple Living table.

I am constantly amazed by the enormous diversity of people filtering through an event that stop and chat with you about their interest in eating food from their own garden, or the health aspects of eating what you grow, and of course those who love to dig in the dirt.

I especially appreciate those individuals who stop yet aren't really sure which part they are most interested in because they haven't done much of it. They want "to do something", but aren't necessarily sure where to start. These wonderful people are like seedlings; they need lots of sunlight (a warm greeting and a friendly smile), a good base soil (invite them to come to a workshop or check out what they could be doing) and lots of water to spur the grow (encouragement that starting with just one pot is wonderful).

Below are a few conversations that stuck out in my mind, that I though I would share;
One women, Wanda, who we saw at a previous event, was interested in everything and eager to find people who would take the time to answer her questions. We talked about ways she could possibly improve her health and remedy a long suffering skin irritant. My husband talked her ear off with enthusiasm about his experiences in health and wellness. Wanda was even a brave enough soul to try the sunflower sprouts, even though at the time we weren't positive what type of sprout they were. ;)

A man who came by who was interested in growing primarily as a means to get his son involved outside, and so we talked about how excited my son has been to dig, pull, cut, snip WHATEVER he can do to be  part of a gardening experience. He was concerned that his son was too young at first, but I think our story has inspired him just a little, to know that any age, any pace, any ability can come out and do what works for them through Simple Living.

Lastly, I spoke to a women from New Zealand. She indicated back home it is common to have a garden. In fact, the "norm" is to see people out tending to plants and animals. She also mentioned she had a good laugh watching the First Lady out on the White House lawn using a spade when she had clearly never used one. To me, it was heartening to see Michelle Obama, out there. Politics aside, the exposure brings more people searching for ways to bring some of what the "First Family" does back into their lives and I would love to see some of New Zealand brought to North America by way of gardens.

The Central Florida Fair is apparently a big deal here- who knew? We thoroughly enjoyed the small town feel coupled with the openness of the participants. A big,Thank you, to the fair coordinators for putting us in a high trafficked location that allowed us to pass out ever copy of Real Florida Gardner magazine and chat with some excellent folks!

Ann S.

Rollins College Philanthropic Center Membership Appreciation night (Feb 22)

Being new to volunteering with Simple Living Institute this was my first networking event and I had no idea what to expect.
As I put veggies on my plate during the meet and greet portion, I wondered where it came from. I decided if I thought about it too hard I would likely be disappointed, but noted someone from the local community could be doing this with quality and flair.

The amount of people participating was a bit surprising, but I supposed it was a good opportunity to spread their word and perhaps make connections they might not normally encounter. For example; the only person that I really exchanged ideas with was a very nice woman from Ten Thousand Villages in Winter Park. I realize belatedly, that I didn’t get her card, but believe it was noteworthy non-the-less.

She mentioned that she had read that the spice community was concerned by the “eat local” and “Native plants” movements and how would our organization respond? My comment; “Well I can’t speak for Simple Living, but first of all Native when? As North America has had much of their beloved plant material brought from over seas at some point. Additionally, the idea is to bring to the community what you CAN bring from nearby to help promote the actual community, the diversity in each community itself and its natural surroundings. That said; if we don’t also reach beyond our communities into other pools of diversity we isolate not only ourselves but in essence stagnate those same communities we are promoting”.

This Ten Thousand Villages representative mentioned she was a transplant from the North but had lived in Orlando many years, and had watched it transform into what it is today. She loves to garden but commented “it is hard to grow here, fruit for instance”. I’ve heard this so often and find the comment astounding, as I came from up North myself which has a severely limited growing season thanks to Mother Nature. I thought back to my reading about Sepp Holzer, a farmer growing fruit on the mountainside in Austria and told her about him. She said, “But he’s only one man”.  I replied; “yes, but it only takes one to prove it can be done. A little ingenuity and a true desire can create something wonderful”!

Thinking back this whole exchange reminded why I was standing there representing Simple Living. Everyone, no matter what stage of life they are in, can learn from what Simple Living Institute has to offer and that is worth spreading.

Well on to the main event; we were greeted by the Dean of Crummer Graduate School and several others representing Rollins who spoke about having Philanthropy jobs posted on their website and the numerous classes they offer to us as members. The guest speaker, Mark Russell, Editor of the Orlando Sentinel has an easy manner of speaking I am familiar with and I appreciated his straightforward and witty approach. As someone who believes “tempered technology” can be beneficial to many, particularly spreading our message to an increasingly tech savvy audience, the most important part of Mark’s talk was that the Orlando Sentinel has embraced the idea of tech savvy readers. The Sentinel has grown to incorporate that into their daily coverage of the local news and watchdog stories. They have on average 250,000 visits to their website a day with over 1.5 million page views. Mark also compared covering the Daytona 500 a decade ago to now. The most recent event had “live photo galleries” and a full bodied coverage, from food available to background stories on the participants. My favorite part was hearing the Sentinel recently released an iPhone application in November 2010, which has had over 19 thousand downloads and already has a sponsor. The Droid application was released just a few weeks ago and has 3,700 downloads. They will also be releasing an application geared towards the iPad soon.  As of now they make approximately $1 for online subscription compared to $10 for a printed edition. In my opinion, that will swing the opposite direction in the not too distant future. How does this relate to Simple Living? Well for one, I reiterate what I said at the Visionary Meeting. We need folks, volunteers, to write about their experiences and we need to connect with the local papers to include them routinely. Secondly, it is a reminder that life is fluid and we must identify and put our resources to targeting these areas to truly reach the most people who are out their seeking answers and connections with people just like us.

Inclosing; We come together for many different reasons, but we are connected by Simple Living Institute and I, for one, am extremely grateful.

Ann S.
Volunteer and Member
Simple Living Institute

Ten Thousand Villages is a global network of social entrepreneurs working to empower and provide economic opportunities to artisans in developing countries.

Coytown Garden (Feb 15)

Well this past Saturday dawned cold and sunny.
We were excited to help with this wonderful project at Coytown Garden (just off 50 near Colonial Plaza Shopping Center). We were surprised by how large a group had already gathered when we got their at 8:50 on Saturday morning. It turns out volunteers from the Orlando Mountain Bike group and Summit Church were on hand to help out as well.

The first thing you notice is this was a former military site. The buildings aren't a dead give away, but the fenced in area with traditional barbed wire top sure was.  Making our way towards check-in I was excited to see many families coming to help with small children - it is heartwarming to see little ones putting on gardening gloves!!  At the talk before we get started, we found out their will also be a mountain biking trail that is opening up, so bike enthusiasts keep an eye on this project it's going to be good fun to enjoy Florida style mountain bike trails....... Summit church was also hosting a bbq near their church afterwards as a thank you for a job well done, bonus!

After signing in their were three groups; Those working the mountain bike trail sort of disappeared into the wilderness. A group headed off to the park perimeter and soon we could hear a chainsaw buzzing to clear a few trees and debris a bit later. We headed over to the garden area and met Brendan Wood, the organizer of this project and Tia Meer who is doing lots to help get the garden up and running. Our task was to help clear debris inside the fenced in area which had once held ammunitions (I believe) and is 100' by 130' a BIG garden site. Tia told us later on, the first stage will be to have 27 beds. We got to work - with my husband and I raking and our son jumped in with loppers to go at  a huge mound of tree roots. ;)

It was fantastic to see such diversity in one space, just like nature itself, there were kids around 3, teens, a host of college students, who were adept at keeping our 8yr old son engaged and lopping off tree root after tree root.  All in all; there was much raking and hacking, pieces of fence were ripped off, the barbed wire came down (yippee!) and mulch was layed.

It was quite a transformation!! In just 3 hours this area really felt like it was soon to be a garden. How very exciting.

We headed over and were pleasantly surprised by the large Summit Church BBQ, we got our 4R sandwich, chips and an icy cold drink and headed back to the warmth of the car it had been a busy morning. We were ready to stretch out at home and relax our muscles. :)

The Coytown Garden has it's own website where Brendan details the steps taken to get this far and up and coming events.

Orlando Permaculture Design Course

The first day of a 72 hr Permaculture Design Course in Orlando, was an exciting and abundantly fascinating experience at Econ Farm, home of Simple Living Institute's president and board members Tia and Terry Meer. Our instructors Bradford White, Tia and Terry Meer have an apparent wealth of knowledge and experience to guide us, a class of 14 very interesting students in the Permaculture Design Course. The instructors each have extensive hands on experience in the worlds of ecology, sustainability, teaching and much more.
The "learning" was dynamic, from the beginnings of meditation to relax and focus, intructional speaking, group discussions of exploration into the fascinating worlds of Permaculture and we enjoyed every moment at Econ Farm and were energized by our instructor's and our own passions for the sharing of information and good will.
I am very thankful to be a part of this course and wonderful group of people.