Bending Oak PDC Course – Picture Summary

Midwest Permaculture PDC Course #78
A Picture Summary
This was our First PDC at Bending Oak Permaculture Farm
Youngstown, OH – In August 2018
A Project Site we are Co-designing with the Owner

“…this course (at Bending Oak) was solid, loaded, useful, fascinating and endlessly helpful in understanding permaculture design.  Everyone came away feeling completely enriched by the training.”
PDC Student Graduate

Check HERE for Upcoming PDC Courses

Besides Bill and Becky Wilson as the lead instructors, Erik Peterson taught various segments of the course as one of Midwest Permaculture’s co-teachers.
Jim Penrod is the Bending Oak site manager and a Midwest Permaculture teacher. He is explaining to students how to use soil drenches and foliar sprays to build 3″ of topsoil in just three years. We  teach/show students how to do this, step-by-step, at every PDC course.

A Personal Journey:

Follow these pink boxes to read about Coral’s PDC experience.

After finishing up my month-long work-trade program in Stelle, I and the other two interns, Brie and Hunter, piled into Bill’s pick-up truck and headed east to Youngstown, Ohio.  All three of us were excited to be taking Midwest Permaculture’s first PDC course at their project site, Bending Oak Permaculture Farm.

Me, (L-R) Brie and Hunter during out work-trade program, shortly before our travels to Bending Oak for the PDC course.
After creating so many happy memories in Stelle, we all felt a little poignant about leaving our little niche on the prairie. But later, as we arrived in Youngstown, and turned down the long gravel driveway of the Bending Oak, our spirits lifted as we saw a large tranquil pond, fields of lush clover, and something we all secretly missed while we were in central Illinois—trees and forests!

Jim and young Ali walking through the orchard garden at Bending Oak.

Bending Oak is a 25-acre parcel of land in Youngstown, Ohio, that we have been working on with the site owner since 2013. Previously, the land was used as a staging site by a local contractor. Most of the trees had been logged and much of the topsoil removed. So we started building the farm from the subsoil up.

Key to making the site functional as an educational site was the building of the shipping container barn that included the rainwater harvesting system. Now we had shelter, water and electricity from the solar panels we also installed.

In the foreground is the root cellar which also houses the water pump that brings the water out of the four 1,000 gallon cisterns buried in a row behind it.

Stored underground, the water stays cool and clean but we still filter it once before showering and twice before using it as drinking water.

Coral’s journey continued…

For the next three days, the three of us interns worked with Jim Penrod, Bending Oak’s site manager and teacher, to get everything cleaned up and set for the commencement of the PDC. One thing we did is care for and harvest the mushrooms Jim was growing for the upcoming meals. It is such a simple and wonderful process to grow one’s own mushrooms. He had 8 buckets pushing out ‘shrooms’.

One of the things that needed to be finalized was the toilet situation. Even though there was fresh drinking water there were no flush toilets so we did things in a very rustic permaculture way—woodchip composting toilets. Even going to the bathroom became sort of a charming experience with the loos being tucked into the woods.

Additionally, our off-grid plumbing situation meant that we needed to come up with an alternative outdoor shower option. We pumped clean rainwater from the cisterns, through the thermal mass of a rocket stove where it could be heated every morning.

Heating hot water for coffee on the riser on this customized thermal-mass, rocket-stove, hot-water heater designed by Mr. Permaculture himself, Bill Wilson.

From there the warmed water now ran to a simple showerhouse set-up that had a strong Gilligan’s Island aesthetic.

Some of the students rented motels in the area so there was never a line at the shower and for those of us camping, this warm shower was a total luxury.

We arrived on a Wednesday to help set up, but come Saturday morning, our fellow students began to arrive and set up their own tents.

Between the layout of the camp with its rustic vibes, as well as the natural camaraderie and complimentary personalities, the mood of this Bending Oak PDC was beginning to take me back to my childhood days of summer camp.

For meals, Jim and Becky cooked daily. Many of the ingredients had been grown on site, in Stelle or brought by students from their own gardens.

The three meals per day were plentiful, healthy and amazingly delicious.

Permaculture design work on display in this area of the barn.
Hands-on demonstrations are often mixed in with the classroom work. Erik shows how a reciprocating roof truss system holds itself up.
A plant walk around the pond to learn what is native, what we planted in, and why.
Breaktime smiles, laughs and conversation.
This double-deer fence keeps deer out of the orchard garden. The chickens run in between keeping the grasses and weeds down while also assisting in the reduction of insect pressure.
The hands-on projects give students the confidence to know how to do something.
Yes, classes go into the evening but the barn is lit from the day’s sunlight (solar electric)…
…and the evening exercises pull students into real permaculture design.
A wonderful treat for us was an unexpected visit from Malvikaa Solanki (standing with Becky and Bill) of India. She has created a wonderful permaculture site near her village that is slowly bringing security back to the area while inspiring young people as well. Would you like to learn more about her project or possibly even travel to India?    …More here…
Coral’s journey continued…

The week-long PDC course covers a vast amount of material and so every day is packed, but packed with joy and wonder as well.

When class ended, us campers were ready to let loose and wind down. So, every night after class, when the crickets were humming and the Ohio night-air cooled and relaxed with us, Jim would light a roaring campfire to gather around.

The training was filled with people of all ages, and yet all together—most evenings we stayed up for hours around an impressively endurable campfire. Usually at first our conversations would revolve around what we had learned in class that day, but like the chirping of the crickets, they gradually intensified and we all came to discuss matters of spirituality, personal life experiences, and the nature of human relationships.

Every night for a whole week, we came together for this fireside communion—bonding and sharing, thinking and feeling, expressing and listening. It occurred to me that there may be something primal about sitting around the mesmerizing glow of a fire that is fundamental to all healthy human social behavior.

The truth is that Bending Oak was so beautiful at one point I literally thought it was the Garden of Eden.

Here we were, outside suburban Youngstown, an old steel factory town, a far cry from where you would expect to find paradise. Yet we were nestled in this lush oasis. Soft, fresh clover. Tall trees that could catch the sunlight in all the perfect angles. A tranquil pond that strikes one as a primordial swimming pool—the waterbed of life.

Every night I watched the glow of the warmest fire and watched the sparks dance and the smoke rise and found myself perplexed and breathless at what was happening not only around me—but also inside me. In a single eternal week I laughed, I cried, I explored, I learned, I grew, I connected, I bonded, I also rediscovered my lost talent for artwork.

I’ve always been someone who doodled in class. It actually helps me pay attention, because if I’m not doing something with my hands or feet I have a tendency to get lost in my thoughts instead of listening. But as I was listening in class I created artworks that surprised not only on-looking classmates but also shocked me.

One of the doodles I created in the classroom during the week of the PDC.

The ability to create a beautiful artwork with abilities I didn’t even know I really had clued me in to an important truth that Bill expressed several times during the week: If we were created in the image and likeness of ‘The Creator’ then we too must be creative beings. And as such we have the ability to create beauty, wonder and abundance…or not.

Saying that a human isn’t creative is no different than saying that a beaver is incapable of building a dam, or a woodpecker can’t peck. Creativity is a defining characteristic that classifies a human as a human. Millions of years of evolutionary processes shaped our ancestors in such a way to ensure that homo sapiens would be creative and inventive beyond anything the Earth had seen before.

In the PDC it we explored what it might mean if all life were able to reach its full-genetic potential. Could the plants and animals that we grow acturally become immune to diseases or pests as some present research is now indicating?

And just like those organisms, what if we nurtured ourselves to rise to our own full-genetic potential? What and who might we become then?

If there is any resounding message that I feel can sum up the enormity of the material in the PDC, that message would be the power of nurture and surrender.

When we quiet our minds and take a few moments to stop judging everything around us, when we allow ourselves to notice when others love us, when we take a minute to lie down on the Earth and feel love instead of guilt, then we can truly find that our future on this planet is bright and promising. It is easier to find solutions when we are not blinded by what we perceive as problems.

‘Observe and interact.’ That is one of the 12 Permaculture Principles and personally I find that it is the easiest of the principles to apply on a daily basis. I also find that the other principles will naturally follow if I allow myself to simply observe and interact.

Truth and power will forever be out of my reach as long as I fail to listen and examine. And that, in my opinion, is permaculture.

I so loved my week at Bending Oak. I can’t imagine anyone not getting something wonderful from this course with Bill, Becky and their team of wonderful people. We learned an amazing amount about permaculture design and even something more about ourselves.

Coral – Nov. 2018

2 thoughts on “Bending Oak PDC Course – Picture Summary”

  1. It’s great to see the smiling faces on a new group of permaculturists! I’ve been busy with my 24 acre paradise in Wisconsin since I graduated from MWP in 2013, trying hard to use the skills I learned in Stelle.
    Keep up the good work.

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