Fall 2013 Honors 135 Beyond Sustainability: The Methodology and Practices of Permaculture Syllabus

HONORS 135- Section 005 Fall 2013

Beyond Sustainability: The Methodology and Practices of Permaculture

Tuesday 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm 210 Tappan Hall

Instructor: Madeline C. Dunn

Email: maddunn@umich.edu

Office hours are by appointment


This class aims to engage you all in the lifestyle surrounding permaculture principles and ethics. Permaculture stands for permanent-agriculture and is a design science that uses patterns found in nature to create zero waste, regenerative systems. We will spend some time analyzing permaculture design within food and social systems. However, I am most interested in you discovering how to use the 12 principles and 3 ethics (earth care, people care, and fair share) to enhance your daily lives and inspire the use of holistic and systems thinking in your career and senior thesis planning. Permaculture as a design science can also be used to regenerate happiness and well-being within societies and within our minds. Through the outside of class assignments, you will gain skills in interviewing, utilization of multi-media, and prepare yourselves for the construction of your own Honors Thesis project: a task in which you will all be embarking on during your time here at the University of Michigan and possibly beyond.

Classroom Environment:

Respect yourselves, your classmates, and me by completing the required readings and actively participating in the appropriate amount of outside of class activities. This will inherently enhance both class discussion as well as the quality of the online class blog site which I am using to document the work completed in this section of Honors 135. Class may not always extend through the entire 1.5 hours of time allocated towards this section. This longer class block is intended to give us time to meet in the Nichols Arboretum or Matthaei Botanical Gardens if necessary. If we finish discussion before our time is up, you will be free to leave early.


Attendance is required. If you miss a day of class, you can make it up by completing one extra outside of class activity listed on the list, or coming up with one of your own, and blogging about.

Required Texts:

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren

The Permaculture Activist Magazine- As a class, we have a diverse set of copies of this publication to share throughout the semester. Students will circulate them between each other at the beginning of each class. Remember to take personal notes and keep track of the articles that inspire you as well as articles that you disagree with for our discussion on the last day of class. This inherently teaches sustainable and sharable community development within the classroom environment. See the CTools resources folder labeled “Permaculture Activist Magazines” for a complete list of our class copies.


This class is counted as pass or fail credit therefore your engagement with the material will be based on blog posts and attentiveness during class. Your engagement with the speakers will be measured based on the quality of questions that you come prepared with to class.

Required outside of class activities:

Below is a list of required outside of class activities you must all complete by the end of the year. Feel free to attend your four required outside of class field trips with a group, a partner, or alone. You are also required to choose two options from the secondary list found on CTools in the resources folder titled “Outside of Class Activities”, in addition to the four below. Please see CTools for specific instructions/directions on each outside of class activity.

1) Go to the farmers market in Kerrytown and interview at least two stand owners in order to create a photojournalism assignment that you will post to the blog no later than October 1st 2013.

2) Conduct Holmgren’s self-audit no later than October 15th 2013. We will discuss these in class. There is no need to post your self-audits to the blog and you are not required to send them to me. I want you to be honest with yourself and have the ability to come back and revise this on your own time.

3) Submit an opinion piece on a topic we have covered this semester to a local, regional, national, or even global publication and post it to the blog no later than October 29th 2013.

4) Keep a waste journal for three days this semester and blog about the experience no later than November 5th 2013 (all in one post please so remember to take long-hand notes during the exercise). Make sure that at least one day is a weekend and one is a week day. This can include taking photos of the waste, creating an art project with the waste and documenting it, or simply recording the waste and journaling about the experience. You will first want to create a definition of waste. See this example of a semester long waste journal that I kept: http://mywastejournal.wordpress.com/



Everyone is required to personally post to our class blog. Blogging can be done in pairs of two if you wish to embark on a point/counterpoint style piece. Each week, you are required to upload at least one post to the blog. These posts are separate from the brief paragraphs that you are required to post on your outside of class activities. Blog posts can consist of the following: your opinion of a lecture on campus or in Ann Arbor and how it relates to permaculture, commentary on the content our guest speaker (if there was one) of the week shared with the class and how the topic relates to permaculture principles and ethics, or on a theme/pattern you discovered within the print material for this course. There may be weeks where I give you a theme to blog about but overall you have autonomy within your posts and posting style. Blogging can be in the form of a video, photo journalism assignment, written text- poem, rap, short essay, or any other creative format you come up with.

9/10/13 Week 1: Course overview/Get to know each other

Before Class:

Please complete the Planet Blue online ambassador training program: http://sustainability.umich.edu/pba/planet-blue-ambassadors

In Class:

Go over the effectiveness of the Planet Blue Online Ambassador Training and any surprises/concerns you have with it.

Interview each other in preparation for required Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market photojournalism assignment.

9/17/13 Week 2:Sustainability Education

Before Class:

*Read articles on CTools under the folder labeled “9/17/13 Week 2 Materials”

*Read Preface, Introduction and Ethical Principles of Permaculture of Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.

In Class:

Class will be held at Nichols Arboretum. See CTools announcement “Directions to the Nichols Arboretum” for directions. We will identify permaculture systems in nature as well as envision how the land looked hundreds of years ago and what it may look like after human existence.Class will start at 2:50 pm (10 minutes late) and end at 3:50 pm to support your travel to and from the Arboretum.

9/24/13 Week 3: Feel, Before You Act

Before Class:

Principle 1: Observe and Interact in Holmgren

Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy in Holmgren

In Class: Plant walk in Nichols Arboretum with ZachGizicki

10/1/13 Week 4:Intelligent Design

Before Class:

Principle 3: Obtain a Yield in Holmgren

Farmers market photojournalism assignment due

In Class:

Class will be held at the Chiwara Permaculture Research and Design Lab. Class will start at 3:00 pm (20 minutes late) and end at 3:45 pm to support your travel to and from this location. See CTools announcement “Directions to Chiwara R&D Lab” for directions.

10/8/13 Week 5: A Regenerative You

Before Class:

Principle 4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback in Holmgren

Principle 5: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services in Holmgren

In Class:

Guest Speaker- Bryan Mets speaks about the human carbon cycle.

10/15/13 Week 6: Fall Break

10/22/13 Week 7: Waste not Want Not/Local Food Supporting a Healthy You, Community, and Economy

Before Class:

Principle 6: Produce No Waste in Holmgren

Holmgren’s Self-Audit exercise due

Principle 7: Design from Patterns to Details in Holmgren

Principle 8: Integrate Rather than Segregate in Holmgren

In Class:

We will be visiting the Campus Farm at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Please meet in front of the Michigan League at 2:40 pm to catch the green cabs. We will be at the farm for roughly 40 minutes. We will briefly speak with a 4th grade class from Summer’s Knoll and tour the Campus Farm learning about bio-mimicry in agriculture systems as well as proper harvesting and consumption of the various plants and herbs on site.

10/29/13 Week 8: Sustainable/Regenerative Land Use

Before Class:

Principle 9: Use Small and Slow Solutions in Holmgren

Principle 10: Use and Value Diversity in Holmgren

Op-ed piece due

In Class:

Guest Speakers- Mark Angelini and Trevor Newman from Roots to Fruits Edible and Ecological Land Landscape Design.

11/5/13 Week 9:

Before Class:

Principle 11: Use Edges and Value the Marginal In Holmgren

Principle 12: Creatively Use and Respond to Change in Holmgren

Waste Journal Assignment Due


This week’s blog post must be an analysis of how the permaculture principles were and were not modeled within the structure of this course. Also, briefly state how you would have structured the course differently if you were teaching it as well as what you would have kept the same.

In Class:

Class will be held at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Please meet in front of the Michigan League at 2:40 pm to catch the green cabs. We will be at the gardens for roughly 40 minutes focusing on the honey bee sanctuary and speaking with UM Campus Farm Manager Parker Anderson.

11/12/13 Week 10:Wrapping Up

Before Class:

Revisit your initial definitions of the word “permaculture” from the beginning of the semester and come up with a new one based on your new knowledge of the theory and practice.

Please review your self-audit and come to class prepared to discuss what you learned about yourself through this assignment.

In Class:

Discuss what we all learned from the class and each other roundtable style and discuss your favorite Permaculture Activist Magazine articles.


A Start of a Hello

Goodbye class! And hello, a permaculturist lifestyle.

Beyond Sustainability: The Methodology and Practices of Permaculture made me think a lot about the way we lived, the things we value, and what we can change. After taking this class, I feel a lot more educated about the broad topics that exist within the permaculturist world, and because I know they exist, I can now look more into them and try to improve the way I live, for the sake of myself, my great grand-children, and the planet.

The twelve permaculture principles listed in Holmgren’s book were all integrated within the course through different trips and some principles were clearly everywhere, especially Observe and Interact.

I think this class is a great kickstart to introduce students to a new living style that will ultimately bring benefits to the future. One thing I would change, if I could and it doesn’t cause too much discontent in others, is to have to class more often! It’s a great stress reliever and we learned a lot of things about living in a way that is more mindful of the environment and efficient systems. Also in our era, one environment-related class like this should be one of the requirements to graduate.

I would also elect to search for an internship, but it might not end up being exactly an internship. Many internships I found were only for students already in the pharmacy program and a lot of people I talked to (professors, advisors, other pre-pharmacy students) advised me to apply to become a pharmacy technician. I will continue looking for more opportunities throughout the school year for more pharmacy related things and also try to apply for positions as pharmacy technician. Thank you, professor, for all your hard work in teaching us and helping us with our futures! I am really glad I took this course.


Outside of Class Activity

During one of the weekends I went home, I helped out (a little) at my uncle’s farm.

I helped feed the chickens and put a new small chicken into the coop. There was one rooster that picked fights and bullied all the hens, and there was one hen and one other rooster who fought back.  I ended up sitting there talking to them (but mostly myself) for about an hour while my uncle gave his Siberian Husky a bath and prepared food for the children inside.

When I walked inside, I saw that my younger cousin owned some electronics but rarely touched them. Instead he asked us to go outside and shoot with him. I didn’t exactly know what he meant but then he pulled out a bow and arrow and a BB gun. I realized his lifestyle was a lot different from mine, and a whole lot more active. There was a lot of space to run and put targets and cans to shoot at, and meanwhile he told me a story about how his dad was practicing shooting in the barn with a real gun and his little sister walked in and almost got shot. It sounded so unreal to me, mostly because in my life, I don’t think I have ever seen a real gun in action. He asked me to try shooting the gun and I held it with one hand and he exclaimed, “Ohohoho, look at you, one hand already!” And I didn’t understand at all, but he explained, “You have to hold it with two to stabilize it, unless I guess, you’re pro with one hand.” I remembered that I learned that before but I didn’t recall that fact when I had to put it into practice. He then talked fondly about running around the farm and catching fireflies during most nights in the summer.

Later, they ate small heads of corn and offered me one. It wasn’t nearly as sweet as the ones we find in the grocery store but it tasted more . . . real? Or natural? I’m not sure how to describe it. It seemed like they did not depend on grocery stores for their main source of vegetables or fruit, and even though I had my laptop with me, I didn’t feel like opening it up on the farm. Perhaps it was the atmosphere or because no one else used their electronics during the day, even though they did have them. I had a lot of time to be bored, without the hustle of information from the social media and the Internet.

We went outside to pull some weeds in the fields but ended up trying to get cars to honk. We got about thirty of them to honk. My cousin Andrea also saw her teacher walk past and back to where she came from, and past again, and back again, in that span of three hours. Her tire broke and she was getting one of her relatives nearby to help her get a new one and replace it.

So even though it wasn’t exactly an outside of class activity, I think I learned a lot from spending the whole day at my uncle’s farm. His lifestyle was completely different to the lifestyle I had. I live a sedentary one but my sister is very active and she agreed that it still was a whole lot different. She said that living at a farm seems like it would give her a lot more street smarts and a lot more interaction with how nature works. Life felt a little more simple during our day at the farm, a little more productive, and a little easier to handle.


More Greenery (Op-ed)

I believe that gardens should be a more widespread thing. Roof gardens, backyard gardens, anywhere. Gardens are necessary because they provide many benefits–such as reducing carbon dioxide in the air, providing healthy, accessible food, and it lets you save money.

Wherever there is free space, we need gardens because the amount of carbon we humans put out is too much for the plants in the world to absorb alone. They need support from even more plants. These plants should be encourage by humans, who have cut down countless trees to make room for ourselves. To give back, even if the original actions were made long before we were born, we should plant things again. The place should be as green as it was when the humans were not there.

In the Permaculture Class at U-M, we learned that the forest used to cover the entirety of Michigan. When people came to settle in Michigan, many of these forests were cut, but now it is making its way back up to the original percentage of land coverage. However, just making it to the original is not sufficient because we have been burning many fossil fuels. This releases more carbon dioxide into the air than before, when the forests covered the entirety of Michigan. So we definitely need more greenery in the world to bring the carbon dioxide to a normal level. 


Carbon Footprint


Wow, it takes 4.1 planets to support my lifestyle! It’s really surprising because it seems like we go through life day to day easily. We don’t often have to worry about running out of food in the market or running out of electricity, and we are not strained too much to have the basics of living. But the strain put on the planet is a completely different story!

There are a lot of things I can do to decrease this strain, such as use less electricity and growing my own food. Maybe using the car a little less or just walking that extra mile.

I think it was good for me to do this because it made me realize how one person can have a large impact on the world and changing the little things really do matter.


Last Words

This was one of the most rewarding classes I’ve taken this semester, and most of that is due to its applicability beyond the course. The class was structured around the ideas presented in the textbook and Holmgren’s principles, which were discussed during a fraction of class time. While that was all very standard, what made the class especially entertaining and memorable was the time we spent actually observing the principles in action. We visited quite a few locations that employ popular permaculture structures, such as the Campus Farm with its herb spiral and Chiwara R&D Lab with its hoophouses and hugelkultur. Going to the Nichols Arboretum and learning about the practical uses of various herbs also distinguished the class as especially rewarding. But finally, the class was most special in the way it pushed us students to rethink and reconstruct our lifestyles. For me, I never would have known about or visited the Ann Arbor Farmers Market or the People’s Food Co-op if it weren’t for this class, nor would I have realized that my waste and consumption are really unnecessarily high for a 17-year old girl – obviously I shouldn’t be using up 3.7 planets.

Admittedly, this class was a bit of work for a 1-credit class, but I don’t mind the blogging. It’s the first time I’ve ever blogged, and it was a fun experience at least. I liked having to go to the Farmers Market and the People’s Food Co-op and snapping pictures there as well. Class outdoors also was one of the most refreshing parts of my week. I did not like reading the textbook; however, as this is an educational course on permaculture, I realize it was a necessary component of our learning process. In general, the class and its workload were pretty well-designed and thought out properly, but I might suggest cutting down the external reading, such as the textbook and magazines, and instead discuss them during class time, which was definitely more educational for me. 


The EcoQube

One of my favorite websites to visit when I need (“need”) to waste time is reddit.com…and recently I found out there’s a subreddit for permies, r/permaculture. While browsing some of the more popular posts on r/permaculture, I came across the website for a Kickstarter project called the EcoQube, which is a desktop ecosystem that grows flowers and herbs.

This picture of an EcoQube is taken directly off of the Kickstarter web page. It is NOT mine.

The idea for an EcoQube originated with two UC San Diego students, named Eric and Kevin, whose love for aquarium systems has spawned their own company, Aqua Design Innovations. As you can see, it’s a very beautiful, multifunctional home decoration that is, as most permaculture structures are, low-maintenance and self-sufficient. It is an object built for both fish and plants to survive, and taking advantage of the function-stacking principle to sustain the cube. In simple terms, the fish excrete waste, which is then purified by a filter which uses the plants, before finally being turned into fertilizer by a built-in aquaponics system. There is no need to change or replace the filters, the water remains clean as possible, and its immense efficiency is all compacted into one small, aesthetically pleasing cube.

Personally, I’m very impressed by the careful design and thought put into this structure, and the beauty of the end result. While permaculture structures are undoubtedly efficient, I don’t always find them visually appealing (hugelkulturs anyone?), but this EcoQube combines both physical attractiveness and functional efficiency.

Here’s the link to the Kickstarter project webpage: