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Taking The Leap: One Family’s Transition to Permaculture

It has been nearly three years since my husband Kim and I decided we wanted to find a piece of land somewhere where we could raise most of our own food and lead a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. By March of 2007, we were the proud new owners of a beautiful farm just under 44 acres in North Central Idaho.

Now what?

We knew we wanted to raise fruits and vegetables and medicinal herbs without chemicals so organic farming interested us. We also wanted to build a straw bale house and raise our own livestock for meat, eggs and dairy. We started researching different methods and one day an article in Mother Earth News magazine changed everything. The name of the article was, “Plant an Edible Forest Garden” by Harvey Ursery. The article started out by asking questions. “Are you feeling adventurous?” Sure! “Do you want to delve deeper into gardening?” Why, yes. Even better, “are you thinking of planting an orchard?” Wow, this guy must be psychic… how did he know? It went on, “If so, consider planting a forest garden….”


Kim Pagliaro and Geoff Lawton
Discussing Our Design

The idea of working with nature and imitating natural systems clicked with us. It made perfect sense. I thought we had better find out more about this Permaculture stuff! Within a short period of time, I knew quite a bit about the history of Permaculture and the credentials of Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton. I signed up for a Permaculture webinar offered by Midwest Permaculture in the States and shared what I had learned with my husband. The next logical step was to take a Permaculture Design Course, but which one and where? And then… I found it… the Tagari website! Bill Mollison was still teaching Permaculture and there was a PDC scheduled in three months in Melbourne, Australia! I told Kim, “Did you know Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton are teaching a PDC in Australia in January? It sure would be fantastic to learn from one of the most experienced teachers ever, not to mention the man that started it all, wouldn’t it?” I think he muttered back, “Yeah, sure…we’ve always wanted to go to Australia”. At this point it was more of a joke then a plan but I couldn’t resist checking the airfare prices. We had saved some money to dig a well on the farm, but perhaps this was more important. To make a long story short, three months later, my husband and I, and our daughter, Kelly, found ourselves on a plane to Melbourne.

It is no exaggeration that a Permaculture design certificate course is a life changing experience. While not all Permaculture students go on to teach, we were sure before the end of our PDC, that establishing a demonstration farm and educational center on our farm in Idaho was what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. As an added bonus, our then eleven-year-old daughter Kelly, who just came along for the ride, ended up with a Permaculture Design certification as well.

Immediately after returning to Las Vegas from Melbourne, the three of us planted a Permaculture garden using raised beds We also set up a website (www.kamiahpermaculture.com) and organized an Introduction to Permaculture class the following month. We went on to host three different Permaculture Film and Discussion events at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve featuring Bill Mollison’s The Global Gardener and Geoff Lawton’s water harvesting and food forest videos. Last August, we were lucky to have Geoff and Nadia Lawton visit our farm to consult on our design and we held a small meeting in the town of Kamiah to introduce some like-minded members of the local community to the Lawtons.


Setting up rainwater harvesting system

Returning to our regular jobs seemed somewhat strange. Our outlook on life had changed. I felt as if there was something more important I should be doing. We knew we would eventually make the move to Idaho full time but the idea of leaving the security of a good paying occupation was very terrifying. We continued to prepare for our eventual relocation. We stopped leasing our land to a cattle farmer, who has obviously never heard of rotational grazing, and attempted digging our first swale. Last fall, we set up our rainwater harvesting system by installing gutters on our barn roof (our only existing structure which happily sits on the highest point on our farm).

The global economic situation put us at a crossroads. It was time to choose…stay in our current situation of a mainstream family always trying to make ends meet and accumulate more stuff but never feeling fulfilled and put our demonstration farm plans on hold, or take the leap and have faith that by doing something meaningful, things would fall into place and everything would work out. Why couldn’t we have thought of this when we were in our twenties? I have to say this has been the biggest challenge our family has ever faced… to make that decision to move forward. We have decided to take the leap. To say we are going to experience a lifestyle change is an understatement. We purchased a yurt to live in until we can build a straw bale house and started a small sheet mulch garden. We do not have a well or municipal source of water, only rainwater. Some people think we are a little crazy.

Now we are offering our first Permaculture classes at our farm this summer with the help of experienced Permaculture designers/teachers. In August, we are offering a Permaculture Design Certificate course with Jesse Lemieux of Pacific Permaculture, British Columbia, Canada on August 23rd – September 4th, followed by Water For Every Farm, a three-day earthworks course, Sept. 5-7th, 2009, taught by Warren Brush of Quail Springs Permaculture located at Quail Springs in California.

We are as excited about this change for our family as we are scared but we are also optimistic. Permaculture has given us hope for the future, our future…everyone’s future. The world needs Permaculture now. To share it with others has never felt so right.

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7 Comments

  1. You guys have the strength and determination we all need, more power too you, keep up the good work and keep us all up to date on what you are doing.

  2. hi kim and julie. congratulations on what looks like an amazing achievement. what beautiful land you have to develop and what an inspired beginning. thanks for sharing your experiences with us. we too are embarking on a permaculture adventure. for us it’s 40 acres on the midnorth coast of nsw in australia. we have the enthusiasm although a rather limited budget, but we are convinced we are on the right path and will document our progress on our blog. it makes it all the easier to be able to refer back to your experiences. so, once again, thanks!
    cheers, kate

  3. Hi Kim, Julie and Kelly,
    It’s really amazing how much you’ve done in the year and a half since the PDC. We were in the same class together!

    Thanks for your inspiration and guts! Best wishes to all of you.

    P.S. Did your son get to take the PDC, too?

  4. Impressive leap!!! Hope all is going well for you. I’m sure there are serious “adjustments” you’re experiencing. It is always refreshing to hear about these kinds of actions. Hope the class goes well in September. It will be a great learning experience for all of you.
    Wishing you all the best,
    Brian Splatt (PDC class-mate)

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