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Permaculture comes to St. Albert

Weekend course teaches sustainable local agriculture

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 08, 2014 06:00 am

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A city resident hopes to get St. Albert pumped about perennials this week as part of a public seminar on permaculture.

St. Albert’s Jill Cunningham is organizing a permaculture course this weekend to teach locals how to create ecological, sustainable gardens.

Cunningham says she took a course on permaculture recently and was so taken with the idea that she decided to hold a session on it in St. Albert this week. “This is doable,” she says. “We can live sustainably.”

Permaculture is a concept pioneered in the 1970s by designer David Holmgren and researcher Bill Mollison that aims to create self-sustaining farms (permanent agriculture) and communities (permanent culture) modelled from nature.

Javan Bernakevitch, the founder of Permaculture BC and the instructor for this weekend’s session, says he got into the concept through the Boy Scout principle of taking care of where you live.

“Most of us are trying to find a way to be on the planet long-term,” he says. To do that, we’ll need to change the way we farm.

“In agriculture right now, what we’re doing is mining soil,” he continues. One-time use crops such as wheat drain phosphorous, carbon and water from the soil that we replace with non-renewable fuels and fertilizers. “Our agricultural system is right now intrinsically tied to oil.” As oil prices rise, so will the costs of food.

Permaculture looks to design farms that last. It emphasizes perennial crops such as fruit trees, for example, and soil restoration through composting and no-till planting. Instead of huge, fuel-intensive megafarms, it focuses on smaller, more labour-intensive gardens and plots.

Permaculture also looks to work with natural features rather than against them. Edmonton and Calgary get lots of sun and have lots of cheap straw, Bernakevitch says as an example. We can use cold frames (mini-greenhouses) to tap the sun and extend our growing season, and straw to insulate our homes.

Edmonton gets most of its rain in May and June, he continues, so local gardens should have a “rough and loose” design with lots of water-catching swales. Such swales can supply about 80 per cent of a crop’s water needs in a season, he says.

Cunningham says she uses rainwater to irrigate her garden and a worm-composter to build up her soil.

The course is $250 per person ($125 for students), Cunningham says, and there are about six slots available. The course runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 9:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Star of the North Retreat Centre.

Call Cunningham at 780-418-8814 for details.


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