PDC – Post #2: Green Buildings

Most people argue that going green only works if you are willing to spend more money that conventional products and/or are willing to lower your standards. This argument is used most often in building design and construction. One of hte best parts of going to Rainbow Valley Farm for the PDC was seeing working beautiful examples of green buildings.

Chook houses and worm bins made out of reclaimed materials:

The willow circle is an outside classroom and fire circle. The walls are made of willow which can be coppiced for animal feed, firewood, or mulch:

It takes 6-20 liters of water to flush a toilet. Each flush means combining good drinking water with good fertilizer to make a waste product that we spend millions cleaning and sending out to sea. Composting Toilets make much more sense:
During the course we got the chance to take a one day earth building course with Graeme North, a leading earth builder. His house is another great example of green design:
Here we are mixing mud, straw, and gravel to make earth bricks and morter:
Graeme talks about creating indoor/outdoor flow. His house is a series of rooms all under a giant greenhouse roof. The top floor is a year-round garden:He also has garden beds inside his living room that continue outside:
The walls and cielings are made of a mix of natural and recycled materials:

We also got a chance to visit Otomatea eco village and saw Wolfgang and Sabine’s house. Yes, this is an eco house. Among other things, they use a cool cupboard system that uses the thermal mass of their house and air currents to keep their food cool and don’t need a fridge.
Along the way we got to stop at our friend Billy’s house. They are using straw bale construction that will eventually be sealed with eath and plaster:
Nelson and Bo were exhausted from all the learning:

PDC – Post #1- Rainbow Valley heaven

We are in Hamilton for a few days doing some much needed catch-up on school work. The nice quick internet connection at Waikato University will also allow me to post lots (oops I mean heaps) of fabulous pictures from the Permaculture Design Course I just finished. (It is by far the quickest internet I’ve found in New Zealand).

Permaculture is a tricky thing to define because it encompasses so many things. But the general idea is that by looking at the world holistically, as a series of systems, we can design ways to live sustainably. Nelson has been practicing permaculture for years, and now so have I, first on our farm in New Hampshire, and then here in New Zealand. But, even though we’ve been doing designs, teaching classes, and growing veggies for a few years I’ve never taken a PDC. I figured it was about time.

My PDC was at Rainbow Valley Farm in Matakana. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever been, and is an example of a thriving permaculture farm. Trish Allen developed the farm over the past 20 years with her husband Joe Polascher, who died suddenly last February. RVF produces honey, fruit, and vegetable for sale and runs educational courses. They raise enough milk, beef, eggs, chicken, and rice to provide for the 6 people who live on the farm. And, its gorgeous. Here is Trish, and below the house she built with Joe (it has earth walls, a living roof, and a pergola with grapes they use for wine):

The next 2 pictures show what a huge impact they have had on the land by practicing permaculture. These pictures show the boundary between RVF and their neighbors, who raise beef cattle:
While I took the course Nelson played carpenter and was busy with all sorts of projects. Joe’s tool shed made him homesick for his own tool collection. Here he is building a bench on a shavehorse. He clearly has not shaved his own face or had a haircut for a while (long hair is not a permaculture principle, but it could be).
While we were at Rainbow Valley our home was a little building they call “the capsule”. It is a model for quick durable housing that can be made from local materials after a natural disaster. We shared it with a few mosquitos and secadas who were hiding out from the daily torrential downpours.
Our teacher, Darren, who liked to be called Dr. Doherty or Professore, had so much information that I’m still trying to digest it all. His background is in large-scale farming, a different perspective from the human-scale production I’m used to. Here he is teaching a lesson on patterns in nature in the willow circle classroom:

I feel really strongly that permaculture is the best form of sustainable development out there. Helping people to understand natural systems and design with them, as opposed to against them, will allow them to become more self-sufficient. I came out of the course feeling energized and inspired by the material and all of the wonderful people. I’m ready to go to Nicaragua right this minute! (But there are a few essays I need to write first). I have a lot more to say about the PDC, but I’ll leave you with one last photo of a bench from the farm:


Nelson and I began surfing 2 months ago. While we are certainly not expert, or even intermediate surfers, today we moved beyond grommet status.

Raglan is known for three world-famous breaks (See Bruce Brown’s 1964 surf classic Endless Summer): Manu Bay, Whale Bay, and Indicators. Supposedly Raglan has the longest left-hand break in the world. By the way, according to Lonely Planet NZ, due to all of the surfers “Raglan may also be NZ’s best-looking town”. But I digress.

Although we live in this town of beauties and renowned surf spots our surf career thus far has been limited to the lesser-known Wainui Beach. Rather than being the site of an infamous surf movie, this beach is the site of dozens of surf lessons a day teaching pasty white kooks how to ride soft-topped foam 10-foot boards. The surf is dumpy, you can’t help but get slammed by the waves while paddling out, and strong rips might pull you either towards the rocks or out into the harbor. It isn’t ideal, but there are lifeguards, generally small waves, and after a few days it isn’t too hard to be one of the better surfers in the water.

We have avoided the famous spots because of what I suppose you could call a surfer inferiority complex. What if we get in someone’s way? What if we can’t get out past the breakers? What if some big tough local guy bullies us?

Well, no longer can say I’ve lived in raglan and never surfed the big breaks. After some coaxing from equally beginner surfer friends Nelson and I surfed Manu for the first time today. It did happen to be a particularly small day, but it was a milestone. I equate it to my niece Matilda sitting up for the first time (minus the crying and drooling).