Ann Arbor Permaculture Convergence: notes and photos

Over this past weekend I did not escape the sweltering heat. Instead, we drove through it up from Bloomington to the Ann Arbor Permaculture Convergence, held at  the Sunward Co-Housing, where about 80 midwestern permies, hailing mostly from Michicgan, met for one long, event-filled Saturday in a tent with fans and a breeze that flowed under the top in many auspicious moments that dovetailed with what was going on inside. I was not the only one who noticed the synchrony between we who value relationships with each other and earth above all else and earth’s air element greeting us via  seemingly precisely timed breezes!

The day was, even though long, hot, and sweaty, magical in other ways too. I especially loved the two speakers brought in from outside the permaculture community, one a state rep and the other a businessman. David Hall, who lives at Sunward (and who sponsored, hosted, managed, and funded the event in collaboration with a number of area businesses and organizations), had invited both of speakers especially because they were not permies, and yet in their own practice and beliefs they are allied with us. The synergy between each of them and their audience here was evident.

Ari Weinzweig, the mastermind behind Zingerman Enterprises, in Ann Arbor, gave a talk during which he shared his own early beginnings (B.A. in Russian History, with an emphasis on the Anarchist movement), and how that both does not relate to what he ended up doing —  — starting with one friend this amazing horizontally networked company that now has over 700 worker-owners. While his mom had wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer, he ended up following his anarchist leanings, all just by somehow knowing how to organize something horizontally rather than vertically (as do most corporations), and, he discovered, after David asked him to speak at our event, that he’s actually a permaculturist, working with many of the same principles.

Ari’s talk reminded me of what Jeff Meese is doing here in Bloomington with One World Enterprises, starting small needed food based businesses, each one unique, both filling a niche and filled with many long-term employees who are very happy working there.

I mentioned this to Rhonda Baird, one of the three young women with whom I drove six hours for this event, and she told me, that Ari knows Jeff! Well, of course!

One wonders how many other horizontally-organized companies there are. One in every academic town? And it sounds as if Ari and Jeff both started around the same time, in the early 1980s.

I wasn’t surprised that Rhonda would know that Jeff and Ari know each other, because she is the organizer and founding board member of Great Rivers and Lakes Institute (GRLPI), which bills itself as the first regional hub for the Permaculture Institute of North America (PINA), itself spearheaded originally by Peter Bane, a permaculture teacher and author (The Permaculture Handbook) and a few others. Peter used to live here in Bloomington and was the one who both encouraged Rhonda to become a permaculture teacher way back in 2005, and who mentored her apprenticeship for many years.

I happened to be in a class on “money” the first time she helped teach a permaculture design course with Peter! That’s how we met. She went on to teach permaculture workshops here at Green Acres in 2010 when we were a fledgling neighborhood garden. We hadn’t seen each other in months! Friday morning we were both in the back seat of a car headed north. Our six hour trip both to and from Ann Arbor, also with Katarina Koh (who used to live here, and who headed up the group that got us our beautiful Green Acres Neighboorhood signs, and another GRLPI board member Whitney Sewell (who gave a talk at this event on urban permaculture,), was filled with the kind of deep, wide-ranging, and meaningful conversation that used to be common when conscious people met each other in small groups for hours at a time without cell phone interference. In fact, as I told the women when I got out of the car last night, the trip up and back was, for me, the most meaningful part of the weekend!

Rhonda has gone on from being a fledgling and very tentative, back then, teacher, to not only teach Permaculture Design Courses and teacher-training courses here in the U.S., but also Belize! Not only that, but she is one of the main forces behind the movement to network permaculturists across this region and throughout north America framed by organizations (PINA, GRLPI) which standardize teacher training, put on events, and vision the further incorporation of permaculture as a healing agent for post-industrial civilization. Permaculture, I am not alone in thinking, can actually “save the world.”

But, as I told Peter Bane at the Michigan event on Saturday (hadn’t seen him for a couple of years, since he and his partner Keith moved to Michigan), the next seven years are crucial for permaculture. For just about the time that Kileaua began to erupt, Uranus moved from fiery Aries into earthy Taurus. And if there is ever a time when we will be open to wild new/old ways of recognizing our connection with the powerful living, conscious being of this planet, it is NOW.

At the event, we were encouraged to share photos with each other on facebook. So, aha! Just got this from Whitney’s page. Thanks!

Here’s the program for morning and afternoon.

AAPC18 Schedule Basic 1-2



In the afternoon, we were hailed by Youssef Rabhi, now a young state rep in Michigan who got his start as an activist when in pre-school; his small group was instructed by their teacher to  put themselves in charge of a certain section of a small creek.



One of my passions is the creation of conscious communities. And so was fascinated by how Sunward (now 20 years old, started after four years of planning; about 150 people, including about 20 kids) organizes itself. Here’s their bulletin board:


I must confess, I did not attend the 12:30 p.m. Water Ceremony, to bless the troubled man-made pond that runs alongside Sunward, downstream from runoff.

Instead, I chose that time to be alone in shade of a young oak tree and do my yoga, chi kung and tai chi.

Here’s my view of that intrepid ceremonial group, way back in the center of in this photo, standing in a circle on a bluff. I could hear the drum and their singing.

I so appreciated the shade.

There was much much more, but this is long enough. Here’s a group shot at the end of those who were left who survived the heat.


BTW: GRLPI wants to co-sponsor annual events in each of the six Ohio Valley states that it covers. Ann Arbor’s was a first for Michigan. They’ve already done two in Ohio, one in Illinois. Indiana next?

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