A garden or farm should operate like nature, by being fruitful, vigorous and varied with all kinds of plants and bugs — and not getting plowed every spring or trying to function like a factory, making just one or two things and keeping all the rest out.
That's the philosophy of Chuck Burr, whose 10-acre Ashland Restoration Farm on Old Siskiyou Highway is being reshaped by the principles of permaculture.
It serves as a favorite landing spot for "Wwoofers" (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and is a growing platform for teachers of organic/sustainable farming.
Having found wealth as a software entrepreneur in advertising management systems — but repelled by the rapacious and unsustainable corporate lifestyle — Burr decided "there's got to be a better way to make a living, to find what works and to knit a community together."
The permaculture-based educational center and demonstration farm, located east of Ashland, "uses nature as a model." Burr is nurturing a "food forest" featuring multistoried layers of vegetation — with tall, long-lived, food-bearing trees, like walnut and chestnut, midlevel understory trees, shrubs and berry bushes, herbs, perennials and annuals, groundcover, climbers and tubers.
Underneath it all is soil that never gets plowed, thus leaving its network of mycelia and nutrients intact, says Burr.
Everything gets along with everything else. Trees with good nitrogen-fixing properties, like the false indigo, are put next to the pecan tree, whose roots need the nitrogen, "so the whole point of fertilizer is eliminated," says Burr, pointing to the surrounding cover crop of clovers which go back into the soil as green manure.
"This is a 1,000-foot-long, beneficial-insect, nectarary rainbow," exudes Burr. "You should see how many bees come here because there are so many good things to eat. They like it, yeah!"
There is no bad "stuff" falling from all this vegetation. Rather, it all gets folded into the soil and imitates a natural forest, so compost is OK, but it's not really necessary, he notes.
Until this demonstration farm, there hasn't been a place — in a natural farm setting — where the region's farmers could teach their skills and pass on the results of their research to the growing legions of gardeners and farmers, says soil scientist, permaculture teacher and writer Larry Korn, who uses the Restoration Farm as a classroom.
"A lot of people have special skills and come here to teach, and everyone benefits," says Korn. "In the past, everyone grew up with these country skills, but they were largely lost. A lot of people are getting into their backyards, homesteading or discovering the joys of producing our own food."
The permaculture farm is laid out in zones, with zone one growing veggies in beds and nearest to the kitchen, says Michael DiGiorgio, a partner in an Ashland-based CSA Farm called Village Farm, which is renting a field at Restoration Farm so they can supply more families with locally grown produce next summer.
Furthest from the farm house is zone five, DiGiorgio explains, which is basically in a state of nature (or interface with it) and contains a charming "secret garden" for kids, by a tiny creek, overshadowed by a spreading willow.
The Restoration Farm holds classes in a modern barn and provides a space with media equipment and farming tools for teachers.
It also takes in up to 10 Wwoofers (which also stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms). These are people who want to learn all the latest organic and permaculture technologies and food-growing skills, while seeing the world and getting to know communities in many locales.
Wwoofers work in trade for room and meals at a rate of $8 to $10 an hour. One of them, Daniel Kra, from Israel, tending blueberries on the Restoration Farm says, "I want to advance my education. I came to the Pacific Northwest because there's a lot of sustainable, natural farming and building."
Kra fell in the love with the region and has now moved to Talent. If he hadn't learned about permaculture and developed a passion for its principles, he says, he might have wound up in an office job, buying food from the market.
But Kra did learn about "the complex system" of nature that we live in and the "whole-system design" of permaculture that can support communities in a time of declining energy and increased impact on the planet.
"I'd love to have an impact on the planet, but I want it to be a positive impact," Kra says.
Burr, a prolific writer on subjects sustainable, has a running blog at www.restorationfarm.org. Another of his blogs, www.culturequake.org, is an extension of his new book, "CultureQuake: The Fall of Modern Culture and the Rise of Earth Culture."
The book describes what he sees as the unraveling of our present culture, in which overpopulation is outstripping Earth's carrying capacity, and the emergence of new cultures and tribal communities.
For more information about the farm, Burr can be reached at 541-941-9711.