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Harvesting the "Fervor" of Permaculture

If the term is new to your vocabulary – permaculture combines natural landscaping and edible gardening, with the aim of mimicking patterns and relationships found in nature.

Today through Sunday the 2015 Wisconsin Permaculture Convergence is underway on a small farm outside Fredonia, Wisconsin. Summer fruit tree grafting and the ins and outs of fermentation will be among a multitude of topics of discussion.

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Ruddock incorporated a pond, complete with wild rice - in is permaculture-inspired yard.

Bryce Ruddock is a human lexicon of all things permaculture.

His life and everything he grows in his South Milwaukee yard are expressions of his enthusiasm.

Ruddock’s fascination with living things took root when he was a kid and job was to weed the family cucumber patch.

Time passed, but not Ruddock’s fervor.

Over his 32-year career working in Oak Creek paint factory Ruddock wore multiple hats – from paint mixer to resin warehouse attendant. But his lunch breaks were devoted to accumulating more knowledge.

“During breaks I would sit there and read seed catalogs and plant books. Other guys thought ‘okay he’s not talking sports, what’s wrong with this guy’,” he says.

Their reaction didn’t bother Ruddock one little bit.

One particular article he consumed was transformative.

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“1980 in the Mother Earth magazine with a fellow from Australia called Bill Mollison. He had this interesting idea about working with nature, replicating patterns found in nature for our agriculture, not just for gardening,” Ruddock says. 1bryce4 It was 1980 …or anything else….

Ruddock says you only have to walk down his block for inspiration.

“There is a natural black walnut guild with mature cottonwood trees, mature black walnut trees, wild grapes growing up into the trees. There’s blackberries and raspberries growing up in there. There’s sumac. All of these are useful plants,” Ruddock says.

Permaculture, according to Ruddock, is a toolbox, rather than a gardening technique.

“People say, oh look at my permaculture garden. No you have a garden inspired by permaculture design,” he says.

Ruddock calls his the Spirit Tree Urban Food Forest, named in honor of a silver maple that used to stand here and continues to live on in various forms.

“That’s some of the tree there, all cut up. And more of it is mushroom log, with shitake and oyster mushroom plug spawn on them,” Ruddock says.

I visited last spring before Ruddock planted his vegetable garden. Spring flowers and trees were budding everywhere.

The place buzzes and beams with life.

So boundless is Ruddock’s enthusiasm for permaculture – he coauthored a book about it, titled “Integrated Forest Gardening.”

“And I throw ideas out to be people. I’m not into it for the money, I’m not doing it for a living. Even writing the book, it hasn’t paid for itself yet, that for sure. It’s more like, I want to see people doing this stuff,” Ruddock says.

Sixty miles from Ruddock’s diverse greenspace, Dennis Fiser – IS trying to make money farming the permaculture way.

Fiser co-owns Regenerative Roots. I met him earlier THIS week inside his greenhouse as he busily trimmed garlic.

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Dennis Fiser and Anne Drehfal.

Fiser and his partner Anne Drehfal supply fresh veggies to 37 CSA accounts and a food coop in Madison, with a couple of nearby farmers markets on the side.

“It’s Tuesday. Thursday is our CSA delivery. So Tuesday is usually our big harvest day. This time of year it’s getting a lot easier, because more can be harvested all at once. So we pick some greens and some peppers and herbs and a few other things. And then tomatoes, it’s all about tomatoes this time of year,” Fiser says.

On our way to see those tomatoes, we walk by the hoophouse. Inside, tomato plants are on our left, some scraggly-looking kale to the right.

Anne Drehfal says there’s a lesson to be learned here.

“This kale is really uneven, because of it got nibbled right after it was transplanted. When we go out to the field you’ll see we have clover, sort of a living aisle system. But we didn’t have to establish cover in here. So when, you have clover things eats your vegetables. If you don’t have have clover, they’d rather eat clover,” Drehfal says.

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  Sunflowers border the parcel where happy kale, several varieties of eggplant and tomatoes grow. Drehfal says between the interspersed rows of clover, they grow about 50 different edible crops…

Fiser and Drehfal share portions of their land with a woman who breeds and raises rabbits. They “pasture” when the weather is fine and spend winters in a cozy yurt.

Then there are the sheep.

Thirteen males are happily munching away in a paddock cordoned off for their eating pleasure. They’re part of a herd belonging to friends who raise them for wool and meat.

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 The ewes are being kept at home, Drehfal says the 13 “rams” are here.

“We’re kind of experimenting. This is really Dennis’ thing. He enjoys his early morning sheep time. While I love having them here, he’s been the one observing and seeing how they impact the land,” Drehfal says.

The 30 year old reflects on her career choice – one with which she’s delighted.

Drehfal fancied herself a future doctor as she earned her undergrad degree.

She discovered permaculture fits her philosophy. She wants to work hard, grow food, share surplus when it exists AND care for people – including herself.

Drehfal and Fiser fell on a unique variation of a coop – or community farm. They are two of seven people who own and collectively manage its 30 acres – Drehfal and Fiser are DIRECTLY responsible for their 4 acres, but contribute to the whole.

Working collectively with people who share the same values Drehfal says, is another iteration of permaculture. She says the sense of “we’re all in this together” works for her.

“As long as everybody’s needs are being met and it’s the right kind of people. Because I think some farmer types are independent, so I don’t think it’s a good fit for everybody,” she says.

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  Drehfal will share more of her thoughts on the topic during her “Cooperative Permaculture Farming” talk at this weekend’s Convergence.

She’s also going to be on the lookout for someone who’s interested in berries. There’s a large orchard attached to the coop, that so far, doesn’t have a steward.

“See if we can find some partners who are really passionate about this. Because there is one thing I have realized as a farmer, is that I don’t want to be working from dusk to dawn, that I really value having that off time,” she says.

It’s all, Drehfal says, about the balance.

Feature story about permaculture expert Mark Shepherd based in Richland County, Wisconsin. Aired August, 2011.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.