Bill Wilson and Midwest Permaculture

While I was away on vacation this past week, a well know permaculturist by the name of Bill Wilson came through Ypsi on a speaking tour. As I wasn’t able to attend, I asked a friend of mine named David Palmer, who was at the event, to share his thoughts. Following are his notes.

There are not many events in life that, when complete, you feel completely convinced that you need to plan to live your life in a different way; (Friday) night was one of those evenings for me. This was not a eureka moment, instead it was a nice columniation of my desire to be more self-sufficient, not relying on warehouses masquerading as grocery stores to sell me food, or as the case may be, franken-food, aka highly processed, genetically modified delights (thank you ConAgra & Monsanto).

permacultureI was lucky to grow up with a garden in my back yard. Being a renter, and moving almost every year, I have missed the relationship with my food for a long time. It might take a few years, but Bill Wilson’s presentation, an Introduction to Premaculture, planted a thought that will sit in the back of my mind until circumstances are right to engage this choice of lifestyle- if for no other reason than to have a farm market growing naturally in my lawn instead of paying someone else to grow food for me.

Bill Wilson is the Co-Founder of Midwest Permaculture, and he spoke to a group of about 70 people at the EMU College of Business Friday evening (24 July). This was the last of a series of four speaking events that took him to Ann Arbor, Flint, Detroit, and finally Ypsilanti. A wealth of information about Permaculture can be found on his website.

I’ll be honest, I had not ever heard of Mr. Wilson before attending his workshop last night. The event was sponsored by one of my favorite local organizations, Growing Hope, along with a number of other groups including the Southeastern Michigan Permaculture Guild. After his three hour class, however, I’m sure I’ll never forget him.

“Permaculture is a creative and artful way of living, where wastes become resources, productivity and yields increase, work is minimized, people and nature are all preserved and the environment is restored (even enhanced) – all by thoughtful planning and a respectful approach to life.”

Sounds pretty reasonable, eh?

Wilson gave several examples of developments that cooperatively created Permaculture gardens that sustain the entire community. Communities interested in maximizing their productivity and reducing their waste naturally segue to improving energy efficiency, seeking alternative ways to heat and power their homes and businesses, and start thinking more about why they waste energy on unnecessarily lighting the night sky.

In a practical sense, utilizing Permaculture it is possible to feed you and your family with fresh organic foods. Instead of having a sterile front lawn that you mow every week during the summer using a gasoline powered mower, which encourages water to run off into the sewer system. Instead you develop a front lawn that becomes a bountiful garden bearing fruit trees, vegetables and rain gardens. These changes are sustaining both to the body and spirit; not to mention nicer to look at than a sign that says, “pets and children should stay off the grass- recently treated with pesticides and fertilizer.” On his website, Wilson sites examples of people harvesting their gardens year round, even in cold climates.

It is no big secret that the world has reached its peak oil production. It is also no big secret that clean drinking water will be the liquid that future wars will be fought over as people and governments do little to ebb the affects of global warming. Permaculture is a way for an individual, or community, to retain water on the land and replenish aquifers, reduce one’s carbon footprint and indeed sequester carbon in new vegetation, and also to increase one’s personal security and stability in an economically unstable time.

Ask yourself, when gasoline is $4, $5, or $15, a gallon, how will you be able to afford lettuce, green beans and pears from Kroger or Hiller’s Market? We all know that food prices are directly related gasoline prices, after all it was not so long ago that gas was over $4 a gallon in the Ann Arbor metroplex and we all talked about how shocking it was to spend a lot more money shopping for groceries.

One of the reasons I have been attracted to volunteering for Growing Hope is that community gardens are one of the simplest and best ways to enhance community. A garden can be an anchor that revitalizes an entire neighborhood. In many cases neighbors meet for the first time, and build relationships they would have never had if not for the garden plot that brought neighbors together. Permaculture is the next logical step after building community gardens across Ypsilanti. There are known ways to easily turn abandoned parking lots into a sweet potato farms, and front yards into virtual farmer markets where 40+ varieties of fruits and vegetables can be harvested with relative ease.

Together we can build a lasting and sustainable community, one that is more shielded from the drama of state, national, and international economic cycles of boom and bust. With effort and time, the knowledge exists to work with the gifts that nature has provided us all- one garden, one lawn and one asphalt lot at a time.

David Palmer, who also shot the above photo of Wilson with Growing Hope’s executive director, Amanda Edmonds, is a newly-appointed member of the Growing Hope Board of Directors and is an active member of the community in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, and Southeast Michigan. For a copy of his notes from the Bill Wilson meeting, or to just say hello, you can email him at… I’m reading through his notes right now, and there’s some good stuff. I’m particularly interested in the references to the Enright-ridge Urban Eco-village in Cincinnati, OH… Oh, and I’ve traded a few emails with Bill Wilson, and it looks like I might be interviewing him one of these days for the site. So, if you have particular questions that you would like to have asked, just let me know.

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  1. Amanda
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Big thanks to Ashley (GH’s Community Organizer) for taking the lead on bringing Bill to Ypsi during his trip here! I agree with David– it was pretty amazing and mindblowing, and Bill is way cool… There’s a permaculture study group that meets monthly at the Growing Hope Center… Drop GH a line ( if you want details (I don’t know them).

  2. Cat
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Wilson is also involved in the US Transition Town movement.

  3. Lisele
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    The Permaculture Self-Study Group is meeting the first Tuesday of each month (Aug 4) from 7-9pm at Growing Hope Center, 922 W Michigan Avenue, Ypsi. Anyone is welcome to join in! We are using the two volume book Edible Forest Gardens by David Jacke, the first permaculture text to focus on the North American temperate zone.

    Bill’s whirlwind speaking tour (he visited Flint, Detroit, Ann Arbor & Ypsi) came out of the Training for Transition that was held here in January. Bill is actively involved in Transition efforts in his home town of Lille, IN and is himself a certified trainer for the Transition Town movement. (Which movement I first found out about in your blog, Mark!) He was at the January two-day training and helped facilitate some of the sessions. Transition is very much based on the model of permaculture — Rob Hopkins, the found of Transition Towns, is a permaculturist and taught the first 2 year certification program in permaculture in Kinsale, Ireland.

    Credit goes to Claire of Transition Ann Arbor and Vicki of Transition Detroit for initiating the idea of bringing Bill in to our four cities and doing so much work to make that a reality (along with Ash, Holly and others). The goal was not only to get wider exposure for permaculture as a model for transitioning to a lower energy future, but also to raise funds for a four-day permaculture design course to be taught in Detroit in the spring.

  4. the injector
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    i’ll be attending the permaculture certification course in columbiaville, mi august 8-15 (provided by Mr. Wilson and Midwest Permaculture). i’ll give a synopsis of my experience here if you’d like.

  5. Lisele
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Our friend, Natalie, is attending the 8 day course, too. I hope to attend the spring 4-day course.

  6. Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink


    I really enjoyed this summary. We have been receiving various emails with simmilar sentiments of the 4-day speaking tour. Thanks for writing it David.

    I personally really enjoyed myself. Everyone’s hospitality in S.E. Michiagn was infectious and it felt like one family gathering moving into another.

    Lisele, thank you for your summary as well. In the FYI department, I actually live in a small community in Illinois called Stelle. It’s a great place. Only 100 folks but we have a garden co-op, a tool co-op, a chicken co-op and a dinner co-op. Great place to raise a family and play with permaculture in one’s own yard.

    Best to all… Bill

  7. Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    And Yes…Mark… give me a call sometime and we can talk turkey…

  8. Posted July 28, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Hopefully Bill and Mark will be talking chicken also…. I know of at least one person who is moving towards getting a chicken because of Bill’s talk.

    Yes, they really were great events. There were over 100 people at the Ann Arbor event and many people stayed after to ask Bill questions and meet each other. I’m so glad to hear that the events in the other 3 cities also went really well.

    If people are interested in Transition, I definitely encourage you to get more involved in the local groups, or just continue working on transition in your own neighborhoods/groups. As Lisa and Amanda mention there are many great things going on in Ypsilanti, and the Ann Arbor Transition Initiating group is also working on spreading awareness about transition and supporting people who are planning related events (like Claire/Ashley/Vicki and the great group of people who planned the reskilling festival a week and a half ago). It’s an exciting time to be working in this area…

  9. Lisele
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    [Pardon me for getting Bill’s hometown wrong — all those states starting with “i” confuse me.] Much of the work & planning for a lower energy future here in Ypsilanti is popcorning up in a variety of organizations: Growing Hope , Transition Town Ypsi , the Urban Agriculture Breakfast group, Clean Energy Coalition , Creative Change , the local Slow Food group , a sprinkling of microfarms, including Thomason’s and my own, and especially in our active neighborhood associations. I’m meeting today with someone in our neighborhood about ramping up the use of our Community/Senior Center for more community building activities such as re-skilling, learning from elders, shared food preservation, etc.

  10. Lisele
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Bummer. All the links I put in above disappeared. Well, at least visit us at YpsilantiTransition dot ning dot com — there’s lotsa ways to get involved in preparing Ypsi for a lower-energy, more local, deeper, more connected, more resilient future.

  11. Posted July 31, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    This guy sounds great :) I hope I get to see him speak soon.

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