Permaculture is not gardening
Posted on March 3, 2013

Instant culture or Permaculture? Permaculture is not gardening.

It is clear what culture we've chosen as an industrialist nation of the West. Instant, like now, like no kidding, like KD Lang sings "I want it all" right now dammit. Another demand is it has to be cheap. Such cheapness that it becomes disposable, but is it really? The other side of disposable is garbage, we are drowning in garbage, which we have addressed in the last Carbon Economy Series workshop on Zero Wast. To give an example a tool like a spade had value, it was made with high quality materials crafted to last and passed on to our children. That no longer exists, instead, we will buy a dozen spades in our life time that break and end up in our ever increasing land fills. We are energy hogs here in the United States and we have completely lost touch of natural cycles, natural laws and systems of life. Petroleum and dynamite have corrupted our vision, our power of observation, our reflection and our interaction with nature and the web of life. We are blown out of scale when it comes to living sustainably on our earth today. This energy addiction to non renewable energy has polluted our home, exploited our people and altered our climate.

What would you rather have, instant culture or permanent culture? The contraction of these two words is what was coined as Permaculture design by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren who traveled the world looking at the relationship of humans with their environment and noted the principles of those that were more successful and sustainable through time and space. Perhaps you've heard the word before or maybe not. Permaculture is not gardening. Permaculture design uses gardens as a design feature and uses gardens as a demonstration of the design principles that govern this ethical based system. The ethics of Permaculture design are simple: love people, love the planet and use all our skills and effort to do the first two well so that there is yield for future generations. In other words, a way of living that seamlessly integrates humans into the natural cycle of life in such a way that perpetuate life by mimicking nature, creating more with less and working smarter rather harder. Each action is informed by long, sustained, hard observation of what is there and shaped by an inventory of resources and needs that are at the core of design. Very different from the instant culture that we live in. The huge energy available from petroleum and dynamite have allowed us to move beyond time and space at such an accelerated rate that it has us believe and that we, as a unique species, do not have to follow natural laws or natural patterns. In fact, it has created an arrogance and a feeling of superiority over nature and each other such that we are hurling ourselves towards extinction. In the name of progress and science we have polluted, contaminated the waterways and oceans, we have changed face of the planet, exploited natural mineral deposits and created a consumer based society that cannot be sustained nor can it be exported, yet it is, at the peril of thousands of species including our own.

Permaculture is a sustainable design science rooted in observation of nature and providing solutions to some of our most pressing problems.  The same branching pattern that's found in tree is also found in a river, in your heart, and numerous other places.  That pattern maximizes edge (surface area for exchanging information or nutrients), increases diversity and serves a whole range of other functions. The very concepts of diversity increasing stability of natural living systems and edge increasing diversity are core permaculture teachings. A common example of biomimicry is velcro, which was invented by an engineer who removed burrs from his dog, and noticed how the small hooks on the burr grabbed to his dog's fur.  Another great example is better packaging designs.  Have you ever considered how nature packages orange juice inside an orange?  Permaculture design has us look for multiple solutions to one problem and find one element to provide more than one function, in addition to doing more with less and using problems as the solutions. This way of designing requires less inputs for more yield and decrease our need for energy allowing biological solutions instead of man made chemical ones and using simple common sense before implementing high tech solutions.

Learn the basics of Permaculture design isn a fun setting, learn the core values, how to apply natural patterns and keep on track by looking at the  indicators of sustainability.  Bring your own home, business  or community as a site to apply what you have learned during class.  Walk out with an initial master plan for sustainability of  your very own site with expert peer review. Permaculture Boot Camp March 15, 2013 at 7-9pm cost $10, Saturday and Sunday March16,17 2013 from 9:30- 4:00 pm, cost $175 for each or $300 for all three events at the SFCC in the Jemez room. Look us up or for mare information call 505 819-3828.


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Gary Liss is talking trash—again!
Posted on January 30, 2013

Garbage is man made and stems from a design flaw.  There are no dumps or incinerators in nature.  The waste of one species becomes food or habitat for another species.  It is not only ugly, hazardous smelly and unsightly but it is costly to the environment, the people and the bottom line.  One job at the landfill translates into four jobs when the same waste is recycled, 16 jobs if it is reused and over 270 jobs if what we call “waste” is redesigned. Transforming garbage into a sizeable revenue stream.


Local governments around the world are embracing Zero Waste as a key tool for them to meet their goals for addressing climate change.  The Zero Waste International Alliance has developed a list of these communities.  Over two-thirds of New Zealand communities have adopted Zero Waste as a goal, and New Zealand is the first country on earth to have adopted Zero Waste as a goal nationally.  Large urban communities and small rural communities alike have adopted Zero Waste as a goal and are working to achieve that goal.

In the United States, California was the first State to adopt Zero Waste as 1 of 8 goals in the 2001 Strategic Plan of the CA Integrated Waste Management Board. As a result of that strong state support, over 20 communities in California have adopted Zero Waste as a goal, and most of them are working to develop and implement plans to reach that goal.

The links between Zero Waste and climate change are significant.  Solid wastes that are buried in landfills create methane gas in the anaerobic conditions of the landfill.  Methane gas is 21 times as potent as carbon dioxide in changing the planet’s climate.  And for every ton of waste that reaches municipal landfills, 71 tons have been created “upstream” from mining, manufacturing and distribution of wastes.  Using the USEPA WARM Model to calculate the effect of recycling and composting all the materials currently discarded in California, the CRRA Recyclers Global Warming Council calculated that it would be the equivalent of taking all the cars off the road in California.

Therefore, it’s key to climate change to keep all organics out of landfills.  In fact, Zero Waste or dramatically increased local waste reduction efforts is one of the single most effective ways that local government can immediately address climate change.

There are many “Cool Cities”, “Green Cities” and Sustainability programs developing now for local governments to participate in.  Over 900 communities worldwide are part of the ICLEI network of Local Governments for Sustainability.  ICLEI in the United States is working with over 400 communities to address their solid waste issues as part of their sustainability planning.  However, the only local sustainability program that has adopted Zero Waste as a goal so far is the United Nations Sponsored Urban Environmental Accords, which have been adopted by over 100 cities worldwide.

ZERI trained System Designer Gary Liss & Associates (GLA) is working with many communities to develop plans for Zero Waste. In developing these Zero Waste plans:

  • GLA encourages communities to use the Zero Waste International Alliance definition of Zero Waste:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is both pragmatic and visionary, to guide people to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are resources for others to use.  Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.  Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

  • GLA performs a Service Opportunity Analysis review of existing system to identify opportunities for new services that will be needed to reduce, reuse, recycle or compost discarded materials
  • GLA develops a Menu of Policy and Program Options and identifies facilities needed to achieve Zero Waste.  Communities can significantly change what is “economic” in the local marketplace with policies such as: changes in rate structures; changes in compensation, fees, and taxes for waste handlers; zoning overlays for reuse and recycling businesses; permit requirements; conditions of land use permits; and many other legal tools.  GLA also works in structuring contracts to make the avoided costs of solid waste collection and disposal a key engine for change in the community.  All the funding needed to achieve Zero Waste is already being paid out for wasting, and plans are used to shift those resources to Zero Waste.
  • GLA works with the community to involve all aspects of the public in developing ideas for what is needed to move forward to Zero Waste.  Public participation processes have included Zero Waste Task Forces, public meetings, focus groups, individual interviews with stakeholders, house parties, residential and business surveys, service provider surveys, and media outreach.  In Los Angeles and Austin, GLA has helped issue a Zero Waste Challenge to ask everyone to work immediately at home, school, work or their house of worship to adopt Zero Waste as a goal, and begin working on that goal.   This generates its own creative energy that encourages everyone in the community to get involved.
  • GLA works with the community then to establish short-term and long-term Zero Waste goals and a timetable to achieve those goals, usually timed to coincide with the end of existing contracts or life of existing facilities, so that the goals leverage real-world issues in the community to support this significant change.

Samples of Zero Waste Community Plans include the Palo Alto Zero Waste Strategic Plan and the Oakland Zero Waste Strategic Plan.  GLA highlights that communities only need as large a plan as required to get their elected officials to approve the program, policies and budget to move forward. The Santa Fe No More Garbage: ZERO Waste workshop with Gary Liss will take place at the SFCC at the Jemez room on Thursday night February 21, 7-9 pm and all day Friday, February 22 9:30 am-4:30 pm. Cost is $250 (20% discount for buddy pass/family pass). For more information or to register, go to or call 505-819-3828 or 505-913-2877. Please note that the schedule is subject to change.

In North America, ZERI trained System Designer Gary Liss & Associates has worked or is working with the following communities to develop plans for Zero Waste:


  • Burbank
  • Culver City
  • Del Norte County
  • Los Angeles
  • Oakland
  • Palo Alto
  • San Jose

Other United States

  • Albuquerque, NM (selected)
  • Austin, TX 
  • Carroll County, MD
  • Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District
  • New York City (reviewed Citizens Zero Waste Plan)
  • Telluride, CO

Other North America

  • Nelson, British Columbia

For a full list of Communities around the world that have adopted Zero Waste as a goal, go to:


Written by Gary Liss with collaboration from Iginia Boccalandro

Posted on December 12, 2012

Sustainable tourism and sustainable development is a theme in Santa Fe that is extremely pertinent.   Mayor Coss and Dr. Ortego, former President of SFCC, discussed the need for our city to look at the principles of sustainable tourism last year.  Crucial to this understanding is the importance of following the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.  Guiding an industry based on how it impacts people, the environment and the revenue stream creates a better world that is more sustainable.   When people visit New Mexico they have a chance to learn, experience and participate in this unique and rich milieu.

We depend on tourism as an industry and the way we address this powerful economic force can make all the difference.  Santa Fe is a showcase for many things including art, culture and progressive ideas, some of which are sustainable living and local, organic food production.   The Santa Fe Farmer’s market is a perfect example of collaboration between farmers, businesses, the city and non profits teaming up to produce a weekly cornucopia of fresh food and Santa Fe’s primo social hot spot.

Tourism fluctuates between high season and low season making it hard to keep employees and income during the low season.  So what can we do during the low season that could have aggregate value in the long run?  In addition, how can we improve finances by reducing waste, increasing efficiency, reducing the amount of inputs and increasing yield?  Eco tourism touches on the idea that we must reduce the negative impact of the visitor on the place visited.  This perspective is attractive to youth all over the world and a place of unity amongst world citizens.  It is only the beginning and we must go beyond eco tourism to sustainable tourism.

It is for this reason that when an industry like tourism commits to ZERO waste the impact is enormous.  Like ants or even bees, critters we love, tourists come and go to Santa Fe  by the millions cross pollinating  ideas, customs and initiatives.   Creating a dynamic synthesis of traditions and the possibility for innovation and creativity is one of the benefits.

Tourism in itself offers a series of challenges and opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint.   These opportunities can be explored in Santa Fe with the Carbon Economy Series on January 11,12,14 2013 at Santa Fe Community College.  Maria Boccalandro PhD and Daniel Mirabal from Arete Consulting Group will address the challenges in the intensive Sustainable Tourism and Sustainable Development workshop.  Look at our web page for more information or call 505 819-3828

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When the first rain falls
Posted on October 2, 2012

In a nutshell when disaster strikes a forest or a natural setting the consequences are brought to bear and exacerbated exponentially when the first rain falls. That rain fall and how it is managed will determine how long, how well and how successful the restoration process will be. Historically, many of the fire remediation and restoration efforts are very costly, slow to respond and not very successful in establishing new ground cover. This makes it difficult to see the benefit and to intervene in a timely manner taking advantage of the coming rain for establishing new growth, preventing further erosion and storing water in the soil.

Applying learned lessons from natural systems we can easily and quickly create precision interventions on contour that will slow water down, spread it and make it sink in. Using living biology, structured soil and key line principles of working on counter to establish seedlings with companion plants will generate a forest that is stronger than the one destroyed. Looking at examples like Mount Saint Helens and different natural disasters where the soil biology is strong the rapid regeneration astounds the scientists. (Featured on Nasa’s Earth Observatory World of Change site) We now have the knowledge and the understanding to be able to recreate the conditions that make forest regeneration possible. Currently there are pioneers and entrepreneurs doing this work for one tenth of the price as traditional remediation efforts.

More importantly for 10% effort, the practices employed do 90% of the work. We don’t have to wait 30 years for recovery! The above happened in 30 days! January 4 on first picture. February 7 on first picture. A small intervention at the right place during the right time can make a huge difference.

Many of the recovery areas are in or adjacent to human habitat. So with a small amount of precise well directed effort, we can let the water do the work and welcome the moisture we receive. The storm water is slowed down, the detritus builds up behind the low impact felled logs on contour or slash on contour or straw wattles on contour. ON CONTOUR being the precise part of the best management practice. These repetitive small structures are like topographic ribs. A small rainfall event of less than 1” can build up 2” of detritus, ash, and soil particles behind one of these ribs. After 3” of rain, we’ve seen 4-6” of detritus built up, the broadcast quick cover seeds have a perfect place to germinate. The continual build up in this area backs up water, and lets it sit and sink into the soil. These same ribs will be the perfect place in another season to start seedlings to further speed reforestation in areas closest to human habitat.

A huge economic opportunity exists for disaster sites to adapt the zero waste model. (, part of the Carbon Economy Series) The cleaning up mode often amounts to millions and millions of dollars spent on disposal and transportation. Instead we must look at the debris as an asset or resource. The on site debris in a burn recovery area contains burned logs that can be felled on contour in place. These logs are laid end to end one log high. The stumps are left on the low side to wedge the log against. Branches can be limbed off with a chainsaw and used to fill in the gaps between the log and the existing terrain grade insuring soil contact. The remaining vegetative debris from a burn area can be shredded in place to provide a mulch area for soil moisture protection and retention. It can be shredded on contour in one pass with a forestry mulcher or it can be mulched by a chipper shredder in one large pile, and used in the stuffing of wattle erosion control logs. Slash on contour is providing amazing results in burn area recovery, especially for supporting native revegetation.

The strategy of “debris removal” is wasteful and does not maximize these resources. Compound costs are created where there is already a shortage of money. Instead revenue can be generated by reusing, recycling, re designing or re thinking how this biomass can be used in place. Just cutting out transportation saves 70% of the cost and generates local employment, and that is at todays fuel prices.

New Mexico is poised in a perfect place to become a show case for sustainable living and fire restoration. Think Greensburg, Kansas after the tornado. One of the opportunities in disaster is a clean slate… an opening for a grand new vision. Having so many higher education institutions as well as primary and secondary schools that are committed to the environment and ecology allow the creative potential for innovative solutions to be great. To solicit from these institutions and communities to come up with solutions could really open the lid to imagination, creativity, and new business development. Enrolling and educating people to make their communities more sustainable, more resilient and with the ability of transitioning into whatever the climate, politics or society brings is what will determine a better and different future.

Water follows carbon so the more organic matter/ carbon available in the soil the greater the capacity of the soil to hold water. The inter capillary water in the soil is greater than all the water in the oceans, streams, rivers and aquifers combined many times over. (As carbon is reduced in the soil so does the ability to hold water. ) In the air the same thing happens, the more carbon, the more water: producing torrential precipitation.

The capacity to absorb this water is the difference between life or disaster. Looking at examples of the huge rainfalls that happened in the Middle East where 10 inches of rain fell but none of it penetrated into the soil. (The Cost of Environmental Degradation: Case Studies from the Middle East and North Africa, Lelia Croitoru, editor, and Maria Sarraf, editor) Instead, flooding, destruction and erosion of the little soil that was present is what occurred. We must be proactive and savvy in the natural patterns and cycles that brought us here and use them in our regeneration efforts. We must also be savvy in the exponential economics we create in our regeneration efforts.

Its easy to see that the vegetation that is alive with branches and all kinds of under story plants is a lot more resilient to wind, fire , water, pests and disease. The most important thing we can do is to use precipitation to generate forests, vegetation and a diverse, understory to stabilize topsoil and build more.

Food production is essential to survival and when topsoil is lost the growing of food becomes nearly impossible. Vital to any community is establishing safe food systems. This meaning not only safety from natural disasters and pests, but safety for the people eating the food that is produced in an organic fashion without additives or poisons and also in terms of seed sovereignty and local food production.

In addition, on a broader sense utilizing system thinking to develop self sustainable communities 50 to 100 miles away from each other in order to build resilience and diversity may be part of the new grand vision that is provided by the clean slate of disaster. At a state level this would allow for healthy trading as well as greater food production security and would encourage tapping into the production of renewable resources for local use. All of this strengthens the state’s economy.

In traditional methods of reforestation or fire damage restoration, the costs are very high due to heavy machinery, fuel costs, bureaucracy and specialized personnel. Innovative companies exist that use the latest technology to survey and intervene with precision earth works that go beyond restoration to regeneration of what was there to begin with.

We must act swiftly, precisely and with the most pertinent data. That is why the Carbon Economy Series can help with the education and training of the local New Mexicans with cutting edge forest and food regeneration strategies taught by the best in the world. Chief Scientist at Rodale Institute and President and Director of Research at Soil Foodweb Inc., Dr. Ingham is one of the world’s leading soil microbiologists with 30 years of experience researching and teaching about creatures under the soil will teach in Santa Fe. Her energetic and easy-to-understand teaching style brings the soil foodweb to life. Dr. Ingham holds a doctorate in Microbiology with an emphasis on soilfrom Colorado State University. She is also an affiliate professor at Maharishi University of Management in Iowa and has served in academia for two decades. Soil Foodweb, Inc. helps farmers all over the world to grow more resilient crops by understanding and improving their soil. Rodale Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach.

Iginia Boccalandro

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