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The Regenerative Landscaper Premiere: A Permaculture Convergence in NorCal

The Regenerative Landscaper Premiere: A Permaculture Convergence in NorCal

The Regenerative Landscaper Premiere was much more than a book launch… It was a “mini permaculture convergence” happening in NorCal according to many permaculture elders and leaders in attendance. The 9-hour day was filled with laughter, tears of joy, hugs, and networking, serving as a reunion for old friends as well as a point of connection for new ones. 

The event was coordinated by the Synergetic Press team with author of The Regenerative Landscaper, Erik Ohlsen’s direction. The venue, the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC), was chosen because of Erik’s deep connection to the place and people of that community. 

The OAEC is an 80-acre research, demonstration, education, advocacy, and community-organizing center in West Sonoma County, California that develops strategies for regional-scale community resilience and the restoration of biological and cultural diversity. We could not have made this event happen without the contributions of the staff and founders of OAEC including their sponsorship of the event costs. 

Throughout the day we had quite a packed schedule. We started with a lecture by Erik about regenerative landscaping and the inspiration behind the book. We then went on a tour of the beautiful regenerative landscaping of OAEC with founder, Brock Dolman. We then transitioned into the evening with celebratory drinks, snacks, a yummy food truck, Hefty Gyros, and buoyant networking. 

Lastly, we arrived at the evening talks and panel that featured Erik Ohlsen, Redbird Willie of The Cultural Conservancy, Penny Livingston of Regenerative Design Institute, and Brock Dolman of Occidental. 

Sharing on Erik’s impact in the community, Penny Livingston said, “He has stood on our shoulders, in many ways, and has just launched to great success in his landscaping, Permaculture Artisans, in the permaculture skills center, and the books that he authored. I’m just so proud of what Erik has done and the integrity, heart, and soul that he has shown up with.” 

If you would like to watch the evening portion, watch the recording here. 

We also had several sponsors who came and supported the event as booth vendors. Learn more about them below.

Hidden Forests Nursery

The Hidden Forest and Botanical Reserve is both a three-acre nursery specializing in common and unusual, hard-to-find shade loving plants, as well as a four-acre Botanical Reserve that is a Forest Sanctuary containing some of the largest and rarest trees in the United States.  The Botanical Reserve is supported by Friends of the HIdden Forest which is a 501c3 with the mission statement: To inspire nature appreciation and education by protecting, preserving, improving, and promoting nature sanctuaries.

Biophilia Botanicals

At Biophilia, we believe that cosmetics are more than simply skin-beautifying preparations. That is why we deliver original, holistic, transformative, small-batch crafted cosmetics and culinary products of the highest purity.

Town and City Permaculture

Town and City Permaculture (TCP), an Oakland/Bay Area-based nonprofit organization, was formed on June 15, 2015. TCP was created to aid inner-city, disadvantaged communities and at-risk youth in realizing their leadership and life/career-building skills from an approach through education and training in permaculture principles and practices.


A one-of-a-kind Permaculture Design Course (PDC) for people of color, exploring the indigenous origins of permaculture concepts taught from culturally relevant perspectives from a diverse group of people. 

Wildflower Academy of the Arts 

Wildflower Academy of the Arts is a community-supported program that inspires wonderment and imagination in young girls ages 7-9 through performing arts and crafting.

Synergetic Press Founders – 50 years of ecology, innovation, and exploration

Synergetic Press Founders – 50 years of ecology, innovation, and exploration

The most unique sailing vessel for planetary and cultural studies ever built.

The founders of Synergetic Press have a wide ranging background that connects ecology, innovation,culture, and cutting edge exploration of our natural world and consciousness – beginning almost 50 years ago. Their sister organization, Institute of Ecotechnics, is responsible for ground-breaking research and projects. Read on to learn more.

Many have heard of the notable Biosphere 2 project, the world’s largest laboratory for studying our global ecology and climate with seven recreated biomes; rainforest, coral reefs, agricultural areas, and more; initiated and guided by the Institute of the Ecotechnics. 

However, far less have heard about the Heraclitus, the ferro-cement sailing ship  that was born out of the need to study the biomes implemented in the Biosphere 2 project while also realizing the importance of the world’s oceans, and of the sea-people cultures which live with it.

John Allen on the Heraclitus

In Me and the Biospheres by visionary John Allen, writes;

 “In 1973, I saw that the next step toward understanding our biosphere was for our creative group to master highly technical design and construction skills…Two-thirds of the atmospheric surface of the biosphere touches the ocean, and without the water cycle driven by sun and ocean, the rest of Earth would be desert…..We needed to build an ocean-going ship, which could deal with coral reefs, rivers, and Antarctic waters.” 


The Heraclitus was built in 1975. Not only were the crews of the R/VH responsible for crucial research for the Biosphere  2 project, the ship has been a part of the following: 

➢  Sailed over 270,000 nautical miles throughout every ocean except the Arctic

➢ Collected coral reef cores for Lamont- Doherty Earth Observatory research and placed into paleo-climates to understand climate change

➢ Sailed on a 2 year Ethnobotanical Expedition in the Amazon

➢ Genetic whale studies in Antarctica

➢ The first captive dolphin release to the wild

➢ Hosted educational programs in seamanship, diving and citizen science. 

 The ocean biome is facing the brunt of the impact of the planetary crisis with rising temperature and ocean acidifcation. We are needing to seek solutions that supersede the impacts on people and the planet. For these reasons, the Institute has rebuilt the RV Heraclitus to continue their dedication to planetary stewardship and be a platform for critical ocean research and education. They hope to continue the research to mitigating the climate crisis through their work.

For the last decade, the ship has been in dry dock for a major rebuild, replacing the majority of the hull with a stronger, longer lasting one, working with Mapei Corporation who manufactures specialized cement and sealing materials.  As it is nearing the end of its reconstruction, the Heraclitus team is putting out a call to action for this last push.

Help our sister organization raise the necessary funds to paint and seal the hull and get the ship back into the ocean.  They need to raise $250,000 in funds to accomplish this. 

Please visit the crowdfunding page for more information on the future mission of the ship and, if you can, contribute to this worthy cause. 








Permaculture as a Tool in the Hand Basket of Social Forestry

Permaculture as a Tool in the Hand Basket of Social Forestry

A parallel concept to permaculture, social forestry is defined as a practice that interweaves rewilding, becoming a people of place, and relationships between humans and other more-than-human beings. As author Tomi Hazel Vaarde describes it in their new book, “Social Forestry is a study of cultural adaptations on forested landscapes that reaches back deep into human evolution and traditional cultures.”

Hazel Vaarde, also known as Tom Ward, has influenced the trajectory of permaculture in North America since the early 60s. They have mentored permaculture leaders such as Toby Hemenway and Penny Livingston. Because of their credentials and years of experience, what Vaarde states about permaculture is revelatory. 

Permaculture is a tool in the handbasket of Social Forestry.

They go on to write, “Permaculture as an educational experience has inspired generations of participants to widen their perspectives. The Permaculture course is a fantastic survey of systems thinking. The skills of observation, mapping, and using principles and patterns to understand relationships is essential to any culture of place. The accumulated collection of tactics specific to multiple locations as reviewed in the Permaculture course is a library of suggestions we all can learn from.”

Bottom line: “Permaculture is full of treasures and stories that try to move alienated moderns with fragmented relationships toward survival and healing.”

If we are to take the advice from this renowned elder, it would seem that permaculture is not the end goal. It is just the beginning. Permaculture is the story of seven generations and Social Forestry is the story of human evolution. 

In Hazel’s book, they often refer to the concept of “people of place.” According to Karen Taylor, one of Hazel’s mentees, it is the act of having relationships with more than just humans, a deep connection that encompasses the land and all beings. This is one of the primary goals of Social Forestry. When we go a step further than site analysis and design we need to focus on where we live and our relationship to it. We can then move beyond just our relationship with the plants, animals, weather patterns towards how we can support them as humans. 

We are at a critical crossroads, do we continue on a path of hyperindividualism and instant gratification or do we begin focusing on our relationships to each other and our planet? Even in the permaculture movement, there is still a stuckness around the theme of what the Earth can do for us, as opposed to explorations of how we can exist as interdependent, kincentric beings. 

In reflecting on the impact of embodying the tenets of social forestry, I leave us with a question to ponder: “How can we shift away from hyperindividualism and towards an embrace of connection with each other and our planet?” 

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Weighing the Pros and Cons of GMOs in Our Food

Weighing the Pros and Cons of GMOs in Our Food

What are GMOs and are they good or bad? 

A brief search on the internet for terms like “GMOs” or “Monsanto” will present you with a multitude of conflicting information. Navigating through this sea of opinions and facts can make it challenging to discern the true impact of GMOs on our food, health, and environment.

In this article, we will begin by providing a clear definition of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), followed by an exploration of the benefits attributed to GMOs by their advocates. Subsequently, we will delve into the potential negative health and environmental effects associated with these modified foods, drawing insights from esteemed scientists such as Vandana Shiva.

The Pros of GMOs:

Listening to a passionate and persuasive Ted Talk by plant geneticist Pamela Ronald, I was able to get a good understanding of what a GMO actually is.  

According to Pamela:

  • GMOs have been used since ancient times!  
  • The technology has now been perfected for the past two decades and proven to be the most viable source for safety and frugality 
  • They “nourish children around the planet”

The Genetic Literacy Project supports these confident statements made by Pamela.  

They add that GMOs:

  • have economic and health benefits at the farm level, particularly for smallholder farmers in developing countries
  • reduce the environmental impact of herbicides and pesticides 
  • create a reduced-impact tilling system for farmers

According to the above, the technology has societal, health, and environmental benefits.

However, my exploration into the subject revealed a substantial volume of information that challenges the use of genetically modified crops. In her book Philanthrocapitalism & the Erosion of Democracy, Vandana Shiva boldly asserts, “Gene editing is a failed technology. It has been proven to be a failure due to its inherent inexactness and unpredictability.” This thought-provoking statement brings into question the efficacy and reliability of gene editing techniques employed in genetic modification.

The Cons of GMOs:

“Food has been genetically modified since ancient times.”

Below is an educational graph from GMO Answers that differentiates between selective breeding (an ancient agriculture practice) versus genetically modified breeding.

To gain a comprehensive understanding, it is essential to recognize that GMOs involve the splicing of genes from one organism and inserting them into another. This process aims to confer desired traits from one organism into another. The genes employed in genetic modification can originate from diverse sources, including bacteria, viruses, fish, pigs, or even spiders, and are introduced into crops like tomatoes, papaya, and rice. While Pamela draws parallels between grafting and selective breeding techniques and current GMOs in her TED Talk, it is crucial to note that these ancient practices are nothing like the complete transgenic alteration she is referring to.   

Feeding the Growing Population

One of the biggest claims of this new technology is the ability to feed the global population based on a debunked myth; there is not enough food being produced currently to feed the global population. A study by the renowned McGill College reported there is enough food being produced today to feed ten billion people. However, access to this food is not currently possible in many countries in the global South because of systemic and economic issues. 

According to Vandana Shiva, in her book Philanthrocapitalism & the Erosion of Democracy, “The United Nation’s International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) seminal report showed that neither the Green Revolution nor GMOs could feed the world while at the same time protecting the planet.”

She continues, “There is mounting evidence showing that industrially grown and processed foods contribute significantly to a chronic disease epidemic we are now witnessing everywhere.”

According to sources like Vandana and others, genetic modification, industrial farming, and chemical usage not only reflect a failed solution to food resiliency but it is also a hazard to our health and planetary well-being.  

One of the concerning aspects is their support of monoculture farming practices, which significantly diminish the biodiversity of species within agricultural ecosystems. The importance of maintaining a diverse range of fauna and flora cannot be overstated, as it plays a crucial role in fostering resilient ecosystems. A rich variety of species helps safeguard against disease outbreaks, promotes longevity, and enhances the overall nutrient balance within local ecologies. Therefore, relying solely on GMOs neglects the fundamental need for a more sustainable and diverse approach to agriculture.

Genetically modified foods, although touted as a solution, fall short of addressing the fundamental inefficiencies inherent in our current agricultural model. As we find ourselves grappling with the urgent crisis of climate change, the pertinent questions raised by GMOs about nourishing a growing global population and mitigating environmental degradation require thoughtful consideration. However, the methods employed in GMO production are not viable or sustainable in the long run. It is crucial for us to shift our focus towards comprehending the root causes of climate change and dispelling myths surrounding food production and allocation. Only by doing so can we embark on a path that leads us to a future where food security is ensured for all.

Check out Vandana Shiva’s books Philanthrocapitalism & the Erosion of Democracy and Agroecology & Regenerative Agriculture  to learn methods of ecologically based food resiliency using indigenous techniques.


The Eco Guide to Wastewater Treatment in Your Septic

The Eco Guide to Wastewater Treatment in Your Septic

Excess Waste

Did you know that the average American household toilet uses between 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of pristine water a year? This means that toilets, alone, use 72 gallons per day which is the largest usage of water in residential areas (according to the EPA).

“Worldwide, sewage treatment plants take more than four million kilograms of nitrogen and nearly a million kilograms of phosphorus out of wastewater. The nitrogen goes into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. This is bad for the climate, and bad for soils.”¹

The waste from sewage plants then destroys salt marshes and coral reefs throughout the world.²

Oh Crap, What Now?

So what are the alternatives to using a typical toilet and sewage system?

The first type of solution is dry toilets. These are toilets that use no water in the waste process. They include outhouses, composting toilets (which are smaller forms of outhouses), or even the new innovative incinerating toilets.


The second alternative is called Eco Septic Systems, also known as “wastewater gardens.” These systems retrofit traditional septic and leach fields into a “constructed wetland.”  The book, The Wastewater Gardener by Mark Nelson, describes this concept in depth. See below. 


According to Mark, natural wetlands are like the “kidneys of the planet.” They remove toxins that would otherwise go into oceans, rivers, and other bodies of water. This environment also supports animals, birds, and aquatic species with their unique vegetation and habitat.

Mark decided to recreate this biome using a septic system as a method to reduce water and recycle “waste” into nutrients. The used water and waste from sinks, showers, and toilets are routed to the constructed wetland that otherwise would be the leech field. Within the system, there are beautiful plants that can thrive in water while filtering waste. See water hyacinth to the left and canna lilies to the right.


Not only are these systems beautiful, but they also have major benefits as well.  “Instead of pumping wastewater to a remote sewage treatment plant, it is processed close to its source, often without any machinery. People become much more conscious of the impact they have on water and nutrient cycles; of what happens when they flush the toilet and to where their shower and laundry water goes.”⁷

If you already have a septic system or are considering installing one, keep reading to learn the do’s and don’ts according to the author. Read the following excerpt from The Wastewater Gardener for the full list:

  1. Separate shit from the water cycle wherever possible. This can be done at the source, by means of composting toilets, or at the end, by sending wastewater through zero-discharge reuse and recycling systems.
  2. Use water of the appropriate quality, according to need. That means clean, potable water should be prioritized for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Irrigation water should be water of a lower quality—for example, unpurified groundwater or surface water or appropriately treated and managed graywater.
  3. Conserve water by installing low-water-use appliances (washing machines, toilets, showers, etc.) and by irrigating using water-efficient methods such as drip irrigation or subsurface irrigation, lessening evapotranspiration.
  4. Use wastewater to create green belts around cities and to landscape at the smaller septic tank house or small community scale.
  5. Treat and reuse shit locally wherever possible. Centralized sewage treatment is very costly and makes more difficult the greening, recycling use of wastewater since much larger quantities of wastewater are now concentrated in one place. Wastewater recycling and redistribution should be decentralized, minimizing infrastructure and energy costs.
  6. Do not mix industrial waste with residential waste. Detoxify the former before any possible recycling. Just as residential wastewater can be treated and recycled as close to its source as possible, so should industry be responsible for cleaning up and recycling its wastewater at its source. If industry had to pay for the downstream costs of wastewater pollution, there would be economic incentives to use less toxic products, to develop methods for detoxifying ones that have no substitutes, and to recycle rather than dispose of wastewater.
  7. Send the sludge and compost made from human shit back to the land in an economical way. If necessary, add the real cost of returning shit to the land as a previously unaccounted cost of agriculture and of restoring and maintaining the health and productivity of our soils.

If you have been moved by this blog and would like to learn more about wastewater treatment in your backyard check out Mark’s book


  2.  Flush and Forget, The Nature Conservancy
  7.  Pg.51 My Love Affair with Wetlands, The Wastewater Gardener by Mark Nelson

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