2018 Northwest Permaculture Convergence

Reader Contribution by Jan Spencer
article image

We passed through the gate and left the rolling western Washington field and hedge row landscape behind. Camp Singing Wind greeted us with a long down hill gravel drive through maturing second growth forest with dense canopy above and thick shrubs and ferns below. We took a right, still downslope and emerged into the sunlight and the rustic wood sided lodge in a clearing.

People were moving crates of produce, chairs, audio visual gear into the lodge. There were slaps on backs, shouts, hugs and excited greetings. This was opening day for the 2018 Northwest Permaculture Convergence.

The Convergence alternates each year between Oregon and Washington. Its a conference with presentations, plenary sessions, skill shares, lots of networking, making new friends and lots of fun. This year’s venue was a former girl scout camp, fifty miles north of Portland, Oregon. Iconic Mt. St. Helens was resting only 20 miles away.


Permaculture is a big umbrella. Topics of interest range from rural to urban. Plants, appropriate technology, culture and much more. Important common denominators are resilience of social systems and regeneration of the environment. We greeted friends not seen since the last convergence, unloaded a box of posters to give away, a donated box of premium granola and Eugene made tempeh for the kitchen, then continued down to the camping area. Everywhere we went was full of activity.

In the camp area there was opening circle and blessing from a First Nation elder. Around the circle, early arriving attendees introduced themselves by name and where they were from. People came from Seattle, Olympia, Portland, Idaho and beyond.. Then it was time for the educational program to begin – the first batch of classroom presentations, skill shares and a big swale building project for an eventual agro-forestry installation. Altogether, there would be over 50 presentations, plant walks, skill shares and demonstrations.

Meals were in the lodge, which featured a large kitchen with much of the food coming from participant’s gardens and farms. There was a large banner over the serving line that identified sponsors and organizations supporting the Convergence. Strangers were striking up lively conversations in line, at the dinner table or anywhere.

Much anticipated parts of the Convergence are the keynote presentations. Friday night’s keynotes were four 20 minute stories. They were all “social permaculture.” Permaculture ideals and principles are all about cooperation, both with the natural world and also between people. Permaculture principles are also about purposeful actions to produce multiple benefits.

Friday Plenary

The first story came from Olympia, Washington. A non profit was installing multi tiered, edible landscapes called food forests, at schools, on public property and private homes. Participants often included students planting trees at their own schools and interested neighbors in nearby parks and city right of ways.

Importantly, neighborhood associations were often involved. They have networks to mobilize civic minded volunteers, connections in the neighborhood and access to city neighborhood matching grants. Notably, the City of Olympia’s list of acceptable landscaping plants for parks and public places includes a choice of edible shrubs, trees and ground covers.

Another story was from South Seattle. A neighborhood non profit received grant money to buy an open space near a developing stop on a light rail line. Transit oriented urban development now includes community gardens across the street along with the Beet Box. The Box is a purple painted shipping container that has been turned into a community education space for learning about healthy lifestyles and growing veggies.

The Box also features a tool library and seed library. The Beet Box and community garden collaborates with numerous allies and entities in the neighborhood. Everyone benefits.

Two stories came from Eugene. The first described a church with a civic minded project in the early going. Members of the church started a market garden on church property two years ago. Its a professional operation with hoop houses, seeding beds, timed irrigation. There is a farm stand in the church parking lot along a busy street. The church also sells produce at a local farmers market.

Thats just the start. The plan is for the market garden to fund its own outreach projects into the neighborhood to teach gardening and healthy diets to those interested. Even more, people who have home gardens can affiliate with the church and sell their produce at the farm stand.

It gets better. When the operation is running smoothly, the church will offer the garden and outreach model to other faith communities and mentor them so they can start their own gardens and community building projects. This is a great story of faith in action!

The final story comes from the neighborhood next door to the church garden in Eugene. A small but appreciable number of suburban properties have gone well beyond a garden. Several dozen properties feature various combinations of solar redesign, rain water catchment systems, natural building, front yard gardens, food forests, depaving and more. For the past ten years, bike tours have been organized so interested people can visit these properties and learn what permaculture can look like when applied to suburbia.

The 2015 Northwest Permaculture Convergence took place in this neighborhood – a suburban permaculture convergence with site tours, Expo and outreach to the wider community. Over 600 people attended. Vital to the 2015 Convergence was the eco minded neighborhood association stepped up in a big way to help with organizing, logistics and volunteers.

Currently, the neighborhood is working with the City of Eugene to craft a new and updated neighborhood plan that will guide transportation, land use, economic development, public land and resilience planning for the next 20 to 30 years. This is an unprecedented opportunity for making the neighborhood more green and resilient both loading the planning document with as much permaculture, green and resilient content as we can.

Note, an previous blog from this writer described the early going in this public planning process and a near future blog will update that process.

The plan can encourage all the suburban permaculture features described above. The neighborhood plan can call for eco-friendly changes to land use and code regulations, reduce development charges and offer economic incentives for projects that meet certain green and resilient criteria. Resilient practices from other places, like Olympia, Portland or Seattle could be advocated for the neighborhood plan.

The planning process can catalyze neighborhood collaborations. The church garden project is a perfect ready made ally for the neighborhood plan and the neighborhood plan can be an asset to the church garden project by both working together.

The entire arrangement is a perfect example of social permaculture design – fitting assets and allies together for multiple benefits to people and planet.

Full Schedule On Saturday

The Convergence had a full schedule Saturday. Earth works continued, there was a children’s program with youngsters playing healthy games, making art and making new friends. There were presentations about fruit trees, green urban design, hedgerows, preparedness, eco villages, bio char, climate change and much more.

Saturday evening’s plenary was about soil fertility and the importance of micro organisms for healthy soil. This was all about regenerating agriculture – slowing down climate change, cleaner air and water, social and economic resilience. Afterwards was a contra dance. Sunday delivered more presentations, nature walks, permaculture in Africa, permaculture and business and more. Another hearty meal for lunch and then rearranging the lodge tables and chairs for the Sunday afternoon keynote.

Hood River Middle School

The keynote speaker was a teacher in a Hood River, Oregon middle school who has gained quite a reputation for his progressive and popular curriculum and class projects. He said area home schoolers were coming back to school so they could take his course work. Kids worked on class projects over the summer before classes even began, they were so excited about his program.

The course work is a holistic approach integrating ecology, community and sustainability with focus on water, energy, waste and diversity.

The class learns permaculture by principles and values, if not by name. They have a garden, a big new green house with a student built hydroponic system inside. Several years ago, students at the middle school started Hood River’s first farmer’s market and sold veggies from their garden at school.

Kids learn architectural and mechanical design, working with tools, making mistakes and correcting them. Students discreetly won an engineering design contest that was supposed to be for professionals.

High school kids who took the program come by to remind the middle school students to maintain the standards and work that was done by students several years ago. The talk received a standing ovation. The speaker has frequent requests for personal engagements and consulting. Its great to see how permaculture ideals can excite kids to be creative and responsible. By the end of the talk, it was the end of the Convergence. A big circle formed outside as a closing ceremony. Final games were played, people were recognized and people gave thanks to a wonderful time.

Closing circle

There are permaculture convergences all over the country. Search “permaculture convergence” with a geographical word such as southeast, northeast, Midwest, etc. or Norcal, Florida, Texas. Each has its own personality but all share an ideal for a more green, resilient and peaceful world.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.