Practicing What We Learn

Jason Gerhardt
12. 10. 2019
By putting what he learned into practice, a student takes permaculture to his neighborhood, inspiring others to follow suit.
green infrastructure

Many of our course participants go on to do great things with permaculture. This summer during the Sustainable Backyard Tour in St. Louis, MO, I made a point to visit the home of Ryan Young and his family. Ryan was a participant in the Saint Louis Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in 2017-2018, and I’d been way overdue checking in on what he’s been up to.

On a crowded block of brick two and three-stories, I found Ryan’s home immediately by spotting a slim cistern neatly tucked against the house. Ryan took the water harvesting lessons from the PDC to heart by designing a home landscape that can be entirely irrigated from harvested rainwater. The benefits to this are huge, but perhaps most importantly in this land of big rivers, Ryan is no longer contributing runoff from his property to the sewer system, which directly impacts water quality for downstream neighbors, and contributes to the near lifeless hypoxic zone of the Mississippi River delta.

water harvesting cistern
Street facing cistern with educational signage

These are not small impacts. Part of the power of one person taking care of their runoff footprint like Ryan has is that it demonstrates what’s possible when we all do. At scale, cities can become natural places, full of a whole diversity of life, with food dripping from trees and shrubs beside runoff dripping into basins, cisterns, and swales.

More than anything though, as a stay at home dad, I think Ryan just wanted to raise his kids in a verdant, life-teeming place with good things to eat. I’ve watched yards like Ryan’s positively effect families for years. In suburbs and cities, it’s only become increasingly common for young kids to be disconnected to nature and their food system. Remediating this has been a pattern in my own work and I love seeing my students expand it.

Rooftop runoff to foodscape

To pull this all off, Ryan crafted a landscape design with his permaculture training, applied for a rainscaping grant from the Metropolitan Sewer District in St. Louis, and ultimately was awarded funding. That allowed the purchase of materials like cisterns, which otherwise can be cost prohibitive. Small grants like this exist all over the country too and are becoming more and more prevalent. What the grant couldn’t pay for, Ryan pieced together as time and funds allowed, which is what most folks do, but as funding to positively impact our environment becomes increasingly available, Ryan suggests it’s worth looking into opportunities in your area.

Well-planned work goes a long way toward success. A couple of weeks after visiting Ryan, he sent me a photo of the Yard of the Year Award he received from the organization who hosted the garden tour. I was elated for him!

People putting what they learn into practice, taking it to their unique neighborhoods, and inspiring others in following suit has the potential to shift many of our collective destructive patterns. That’s part of the ‘each one, teach one’ power of the PDC. It’s not the only level of change to be sure, just an absolutely essential one.

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