Community Agriculture Alliance: Permaculture in practice

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Erica Olson

At its roots, permaculture is the idea of using agriculture to mimic natural ecosystems. It uses the idea of a closed-loop system — nothing wasted, no outside inputs needed. Ideally, everything is balanced and sustainable, just like it is in nature. Although agriculture was the basis of the permaculture movement, it has grown to encompass economic interactions, social systems and even religious/spiritual growth.

When I first learned about permaculture, I didn’t have a name for it. I was fascinated by the idea of agriculture as a living ecosystem. Greg and I have been able to implement several permaculture practices into our wee homestead.

We started out with goats, using them as four-legged lawnmowers. They ate the tall grass in which the mosquitoes seemed to thrive, providing us with insect control. They also have been valuable in their production of milk, meat and fiber.

We have free-range turkeys to eat the grasshoppers that go after our garden. The cat eats the mice in the house. The weeds we pull go to the rabbits in summer. The turkeys and rabbits go in our freezer, and we use the manure from both to fertilize the garden.

We have a large livestock guardian dog so the foxes don’t eat the turkeys when they’re free-ranging. He is a dual-coated breed; in the spring and summer when he blows his undercoat, I harvest it and spin it into yarn. In return, he gets all of the goat/turkey/rabbit entrails, feet and heads we can provide him with. What he doesn’t eat, the magpies do.

Nothing is wasted at our house. Excess grease and fat is skimmed off the top of dishes, stored in a jar, and doled out to the dogs as part of their evening meal. Leftover whey from cheesemaking is fed to the dogs, cat, goats and turkeys. Eggshells are dried, pulverized in a coffee/spice grinder and fed back to the dogs for calcium. Fruit and vegetable scraps are usually given to the goats; if they are too far gone, they go into the compost bin.

Leftover bones go in Ziploc bags in the freezer, along with onion and garlic scraps. From there, they go into the crockpot for stock. A dash of vinegar helps pulls minerals from the bones into the stock. Afterwards, meat scraps go to the dogs or cat, veggie bits go in the compost, and the bones go in the freezer until fall. At that point, they are buried in the garden, along with any blood, feathers or unconsumed bits from butchering.

Yes, it’s a little extra work sometimes. But our trash output is incredibly minimal. I like knowing where my food comes from, and it’s important to me that the animals in my care live the best, happiest lives they can. Permaculture helps me feel more a part of the world, not apart from it.

Routt County resident Erica Olson can be reached at girlwithgoats@gmail.com.

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