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Millie Hrdina
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Baltimore, Maryland, United States
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A Journey in Sustainability via Permaculture DIY

Posted by Millie Hrdina about 12 years ago

This is "My Story" which I told at the 2011 Annual Conference of WISA - Women In Sustainable Agriculture

Annual Conference of WISA - Women In Sustainable Agriculture

Permaculture Panel 9:00 A.M. Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Journey in Sustainability via Permaculture DIY

Good Morning and Welcome!

Thank you for showing up. It has been said that “showing up” is 80% of life. I think it
could be a bit more than that; for “life lived” is exciting and inspiring.
Therefore, showing up for what interest you activates and simulates action.

I am especially grateful that you have shown up for Permaculture. I trust you find
it interesting and further hope that you find it inspiring. I know I do and so
do a great many others around the globe. It seems some aspect of it goes
further than dirt and get under the skin and into the blood and bones of those
who reach out and touch it. It is as if one steps through a one way door of
awareness that cannot be returned through. Concepts, ideas, relationships,
connections evolve and continue to identify with and permeate all aspects of
life. Shifting view points as it goes.

So welcome to a new you and a new level of awareness of the expanding possibilities of
sustainability via Permaculture.

My personal introduction to Permaculture took place at a magazine rack near the checkout isle in a grocery store close to my home in Baltimore, MD. But I’ll get to that a little later.

I have always lived in an urban environment; however, looking back over the years, I
can see where farming has always been there in the background - supporting my
development. My father’s father was a “professional” farmer. He owned land and
equipment and leased part of it out for a very low % of whatever the crop
brought at market. Some years were good years. But there was always a risk.
Some years no one made anything and then everyone was in debt. Fortunately most
years were good – at least during my life time.

My grandfather, Jethro Vernon Ferrell, was invited and became one of a select few
U.S.A. farmers to visit the, then (50s) very closed, U.S.S.R. to share farming

In my early childhood, a fair amount of my weekends and summers where spent on his or other family member’s farms. As I grew, so did my share of chores. No one is along
for the ride on a farm. Everyone contributes in some way. I’ve even spent long,
hot, summer days in a dry, dusty, cotton field reaching in the dry, hard, sharp
bowls and pulling out the soft, white centers with their black seeds tightly
bound inside. Moving along the rows, hand to bowl - hand to bowl, pulling out and
holding onto until my fists could hold no more. Then pushing them down into a
long gunny sack that I dragged along behind me, its weight would soon prevent
me from taking my next step forward, and I would call out to my brother, “Jimmy
Lee”. He would come and help me drag it over to the scales where it was weighed
and logged in a book for payment at the end of the day - before being emptied
into the big truck, which stood close by. Those were long, hot, tiring days but
I would walk back to the farm house carrying not only a ton of dirt on my sweaty
body and one or two extra coins in my pocket - but a large sense of accomplishment. I had worked hard and earned money for doing so that day. Not as much as the others I walked with but, none the less, I had done my share. We laughed, we sang and we even cried when the sweat carried the dirt down our brows and into our eyes. We were tired. We were hungry. Oh but the rewards. We were happy. We had contributed to something larger than ourselves and we were fulfilled.

My farm days ended along with my 8th summer. I was carried back to the city
and hospitalized. After much testing, Polio was ruled out - much to my mother’s
relief. The diagnosis was Rheumatic Fever. Over six months of being bed ridden followed
by another six being house bound and at least an additional two years of no exercise
other than walking to school - pretty much ended my farm activities.

During the six months I laid in bed, I acquired a new companion. Peaty Boy was a greenish/yellow parakeet. He was young, tame, funny, and had the freedom of the kitchen, where my sick bed was. He loved to take baths in my sister, Joyce’s, dish water in
the evenings. But when everyone had left for work and/or school, it was just Peaty
Boy and I. He loved to play in the garden of house plants my mother had in
front of the window. Observing him in all his freedom allowed me a view of
plant and animal relationship I had not previously paid much attention to other
than turkeys roosting in trees in the evenings on a farm.

The early part of my adult years my garden was not much more than that like my mother’s – house plants in a window. Then in the mid 70s, along with my younger son,
Jimmy, I attempted some gardening Arizona style. Jimmy’s zucchini squash did
the best of all we had planted and we were both proud of the accomplishment –
until – one of his fellow preschooler invited us over to her house and showed
off her garden with zucchini the size of a giant’s shoe. Jimmy, on arrival back
home, immediately pulled our whole garden out of the ground and walked away
from the whole idea. We did keep the dog, parrot and the rabbits though.

The mid 80s brought a move to the San Francisco Bay Area of California and a refreshing
environmental shift from the dry, desert heat of Phoenix, Arizona. In the “Bay
Area” it was joked that “One just has to waive a seed over the ground one day
and the next it will be a fully grown plant.” The reality was more like “To
grow anything deliberately, one needed to cut back or pull up all that
surrounded it, as everything grows like weeds” there. I was in urban
agricultural heaven. Along with a quarter acre of vegetable garden, some fruit
and nut trees, we raised chickens. Besides being a great source of entertainment
and an amazing study, they kept the entire yard and garden free of insects and
weeds, turned the compost pile, provide fertilizer along the way and an
abundance of eggs.

About 9 years ago I moved to Baltimore. Yes, everyone asked me that for years. They
still do in fact. ” Why?” Well that is another branch of my journey in
sustainability via Permaculture DIY to be explored at some future conference
(maybe in Central Asia).

In Baltimore I soon bought a house and returned to gardening. It did not take me
long to integrate that I was not in Kansas – I mean California anymore.
Nothing grew the same. So I took a few steps back and observed. Changing seasons,
rain water flow, wind intensity and direction, sun movement and intensity or
lack thereof all had weighted influence on growing anything here. I only
planted in containers the first few years and didn’t, other than some Italian
Oregano, even feel successful in that.

About the same time that I was ready to deal with in ground soil conditioning and plant a
real garden, I spotted a magazine that would not let my attention go. Every
time I went to the store, this same magazine grabbed me. Was it the promise:
“DIY ENERGY >> Build a Sustainable Future at Home?” There was clearly
something working on me because I finally paid $15 plus tax and took it home.

I read and I read. I found Terrie Miller’s “Lay Of The Land: Mapping your lot is the first
step in designing a homestead” interesting but too involved for my awareness level
of the dynamic scope of Permaculture at the time. So I pushed her article aside
as “for later” material. However, like all concepts, whose time has come, in
someone’s evolution, the seed was planted. Other articles about more limited
topics such as drip irrigation and making your own worm composting bin were
speaking loudly and urgently to me all the while feeding the germination of

It is now only a couple of years later that as I:

  • Feed my worms in their 7 gallon double layer bin in the basement

  • Turn the DIY made compost tumbler in the back yard

  • Collect and compost my neighbors autumn leaves

  • Contemplate how the swale will be dug next spring in order to redirect rain water into the soil instead of over it

  • Haul seasoned horse manure from a nearby equestrian ranch to compost with the leaves

  • Plan a apple centered guild

  • Flush my toilet with laundry water

  • Catch rain in DIY made rain barrels for the garden

  • Hang my laundry out on the clothes line

  • And conduct Vermaculture workshops to name only a few of the shifts I made

That I realize I am a Permaculturalist on a journey towards sustainability.

Sustainability lessons I have learned along my journey or “Tips for Realizing Your Dream”:

Start now

Start where your are

Show-up and follow your interest

Feel your passion; it holds the elements of your mission in this life

Take your next step – whatever that may be – and then take the next… continue to repeat
over and over again

Never give up

Public libraries and the internet host a wealth of information and are free

Invest in yourself, your knowledge and your awareness before things

Be patient with and trust yourself

Do whatever it takes to transport yourself to your next level

Let dissenters experience their own karma

Align with and support others who share your values and interest

Empower the community you wish to create by volunteering your understanding, skills and
abundance of resources

Teach others (The best way to learn something is to teach it.)

Mistakes happen, correct what you can and move on

Forgiveness is a healing power beyond words even science

Feel and express gratitude

Reduce what you take out while maximizing what you put back in:

  • Reduce

  • Reuse

  • Repurpose

  • Freecycle

  • Upcycle

  • Ecycle

  • Donate

  • Recycle

  • Compost, compost, compost

Permaculture is an open system. It is a community thing. It is saturated with intentions of caring, sharing, giving, receiving, expanding awareness and love of all things. Living
things want to live. They will survive under the harshest of conditions at
least for a while. Nature knows no other way than how to create and maintain
balance. Permaculture studies this and aligns with to empower not under power
or overpower its process.

How does this translate in an urban community? People want to live and are motivated to
balance their environment “if” they feel they do not always have to constantly
protect and fight something/somewhere just to survive. Given attention,
understanding, support and appreciation, individuals will shift their intention
and find their personal balance and work towards community balance.

Here is what this urban organic evolution looks like in action. Baltimore is a community
becoming healthier, supporting and balancing itself with nature. Everyone is contributing
in some way to something larger than self.

I would like to honor a few of the many (too many to mention all who deserve to be) women contributing to sustainability in agriculture in Baltimore City:

Stephanie Rowlings-Blake, Mayor – City of Baltimore

Holly Freishtat, C.N., M.S., Food Policy Director – City of Baltimore

Celeste James, B.B.A., Program Director - Community Health Initiative, Kaiser

Anne Palmer, Faculty - John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health

Abby Cocke, Office of Sustainability – Department of Planning

Mirian Avins, Executive Director, Baltimore Green Space (OSI Fellowship)

Elisa Lane, Farm Manager - Whitelock Community Farms (Master Gardner Intern)

Maya Kosok, Community Outreach Coordinator - Real Food Farms (OSI Fellowship)

Katie Dix, Coordinator - Community Greening Resource Network (CGRN) (Master Garner)

Sandra K. Young, Master Gardner

Casey Jackson, Roof top container gardening instructor, inspired and inspiring
passion in action

Alejandra Lorenzo – Chenq, Teacher, educational garden active parent, inspired and
inspiring passion in action

Lee Dix, Community and educational garden active parent, inspired and inspiring passion in action

I would like to thank Dr. Arthur Morgan and Hamilton Crop Circle for the use of some of
their photos.



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