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Case Study >Permaculture: Sustainable Living


Permaculture: Sustainable Living

for Dillon Naber

What is a day in the life of Dillon Naber? On the surface, Dillon works for his customers, designing their homes in the name of sustainability. However, Dillon represents something much greater; a subculture of committed individuals, dedicated to living sustainably. Dillon does not use a car – he walks and rides his bike. Dillon also eats exclusively local produce, supporting the Lancaster community and the lifestyle he enjoys. Yet, Dillon does what he loves on a daily basis, translating his appreciation for sustainable living into a career.

Dillon is a certified permanent agriculture designer. Permanent agriculture, or permaculture for short, is a style of design that seeks to establish long-lasting plant designs within homes, communities, and public spaces. Specifically, Dillon is hired by homeowners to create stylish, sustainable home design by planting aesthetically pleasing arrangements of vegetation within homes and around entire properties. Not only is Dillon a dedicated environmentalist, but he also possesses a keen knowledge of style specific to his area of home design. His trade is very intriguing, for he allows others to share his love for sustainable living and the environment.


Permaculture (Click for video)


About Dillon Naber

Dillon Naber's Lifestyle Choices

Dillon Naber's Hope for Permaculture in the Future

History of Permaculture


Mollison and Holmgren's Idea

15 Principles of Permaculture Design

Putting the Principles to Use

The Ethics of Permaculture

The Designs of Permaculture

Some Easy Do It Yourself Ideas


About Dillon Naber

Dillon Naber is a Millersville University graduate who currently resides in Lancaster, PA. During his years in college, Naber met a friend who shared the same ideas about how he wanted to live; sustainably, in harmony with nature, and amongst people who are like minded. As a result, Naber and his friend went to a place called The Farm, located in Summertown, Tennessee.

It is an intentional community of families and friends started in the 70s for sustainable efforts. The Farm began with the goal of “establishing a strongly cohesive, outwardly-directed community.” One of the things The Farm is known for is their Eco Village Training Center, created by environmental lawyer, Albert Bates. Naber took courses there that taught him the design of permaculture. During his time at The Farm, Naber began to recognize that a lot of the things we were doing, as Americans, were inherently wasteful and destructive. To him, it made no sense that we had to filter all of our water, or be concerned with what we eat; shiny does not mean healthy. Naber said the course was, “like a religious experience because of the profound way it hit me.” He felt that the knowledge he gained there made more sense than anything he had heard before.

Since Naber completed the permaculture design course in 2007, he has dedicated himself to making permaculture his livelihood and also a means of building a community. As a result, he has begun to make different lifestyle choices.

Dillon Naber’s Lifestyle Choices

While Naber realized that it is hard to change existing habits, he has made many changes to incorporate permaculture into his daily lifestyle. First, he rides his bike whenever possible. In a city such as Lancaster it is not only more economical, but also environmentally friendly to ride a bike. It can play a large role in reducing the amount of pollution as well as oil and gas use. Naber rides his bike about 5-6 miles back and forth from work (weather permitting). While he does own a vehicle, he tries to use his bike or walk as much as possible.

Second, Naber always buys organically. He fully supports Lancaster Buy Fresh Buy Local, a nationwide program to educate the public on the benefits of locally-grown foods. The mission of Lancaster Buy Fresh By Local is to “increase the demand for locally-produced foods, and strengthen our local food system by connecting Lancaster County families, farmers markets, restaurants, and other institutions with Lancaster County farmers.” Naber does his part and purchases Lancaster products by shopping at the Central Market and the Easter Market. By buying his food locally, Naber is supporting the local economy, helping the various farm families and eating only fresh and nutritious foods. For more information about eating organically, click here.

Switching to all organic was an important lifestyle change for Naber. While he does sometimes have to shop at a local grocery store, he limits this to necessities and hopes to soon grow as much of his own food as possible. A book that tough him the importance and concepts of eating locally is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Third, Naber tries to be as energy efficient in his own home as possible. While he does own a TV, he does not watch it often and always keeps it unplugged. He is also conscious of keeping lights on in the house and uses all energy-saving light bulbs. Naber is very conscious of water use as well. He has a permaculture way in which he does dishes which involves taking all of the water off one dish and pouring it onto another dish. He also is very aware if the temperature his thermostat is set at. In the winter time he wears long johns and sweaters in the house to keep warm instead of cranking the heat. Generally his thermostat is set at 65 degrees. Naber believes that while these may be small things, they do add up in the end.

Naber made an important decision this past summer to make permaculture his livelihood. He has decided to stop trying to find full time work and focus on making permaculture his life and bringing the concept into the public awareness. Naber works as a certified permaculture designer and offers the following services: Intro to permaculture workshops , organic garden design and or installation including annual and perennial plants, composting systems, rainwater harvesting, and cold weather growing systems. He explained that a large part of permaculture is human culture. As a result, he finds it important to build a community and find different means of exchange.

One example of this is how Naber was involved with co-housing. He shared his home with another couple who had a child and is looking to do something similar again soon. Another example is that he does a lot of barter exchange for his permaculture designs. He designed a garden for massage therapist and bartered with her through their services. He was also involved with bartering with a musician; permaculture designs for musical training classes. Naber has found that the more he puts the idea of permaculture out into the public, the more he has people coming to him interested in learning about it. This is a large aspect to Naber’s life which he hopes to continue and flourish throughout the community.

Dillon Naber’s hope for Permaculture in the Future

Naber is very hopeful that he can do his job to make permaculture a part of more people’s lives. He plans to begin this by teaching permaculture courses. He is knowledgeable in the subject matter and has many books and magazines which he usues for reference. He is going to be designing a curriculum over the winter to teach, train and certify people in permaculture design. This will enable individuals to go back to their communities and teach others. Naber hopes to be doing this in Lancaster and Lebanon County.

Naber also described an urban component to this. He has been presently focusing on people who want permaculture design in the city, but are not sure how to achieve this with little space. Many yards in the city are monocropped and over-fertilized, which does not lend itself to sustainability. As a result, Naber is putting in his effort to make these lands flat and green with gardens, allowing people to grow healty food and live a better livestyle.

There is also a Community Supported Agriculture component to Naber’s plan. CSA has become a popular way for consumers to by local, seasonal food directly from the farmer. Naber hopes to work with them and get more individuals involved in the services they offer. Additionally, Naber found someone who is interested in doing Community Supported Medicine. This entails finding land to grow medicinal herbs and proving them for people in the community supported model of permaculture.

History of Permaculture

Permaculture has been around since the 70s, but given that sustanibility has become increasingly mainstream, the concept is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

Permaculture was developed in Australia by Professor Bill Mollison and student David Holmgren. Permaculture literally means permanent agriculture. This idea came from the notion that things work in symbiosis with each other. Naber explained that permaculture is essentially a design toolkit aimed at teaching people how to feed themselves and live as energy- efficient as possible (Ranson, 2007).

Permaculture borrows techniques from organic agriculture, sustainable forestry, horticulture, agroforestry, and various land management system from around the world. Its principles are modeled off of interactions seen in natural ecosystem and are applicable to suburban backyards as well as rural properties.

Naber explained the need for permaculture as “a system design that holistically brings together humanity and nature in a way that will sustain both without a lot of chemical inputs or high energy inputs.” This is important because we as Americans are going to be in an energy dissent. Naber believes that there is not a lot being said about this in the mainstream news, but permaculture design can help this. Many scholars believe that we have reached the peak globally, so a lot of individuals see permaculture as a way to help.

While the permaculture movement is growing exponentially, it has experienced a patchy relationship with mainstream environmentalism and other sustainability movements. According to Mollison, “the professional community was outraged because the concept combined architecture with biology, architecture with forestry, and forestry with animal husbandry, so almost everybody who considered themselves a specialist felt a bit offended.” Although the design of permaculture combines many different and practical concepts found in nature, many do not see it this way and it is still widely critiqued.


If you are not a farmer you may not know that so much of our agriculture right now is based on fossil fuel inputs. Almost all fertilizers used are based on fossil fuels. This brings us to the move in the twentieth century for farmers to either get big or get out. As a result, farms expanded and began to monocrop, producing corn, soy beans, beets, rice or potatoes; the five most eaten crops on the planet. With that, farmers needed bigger tractors and more chemicals to produce such a large amount of food.

Many chemicals that conventional farmers put on their crops such as herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are based on fossil fuel production. So, if the experts are correct, and we are going to have less oil coming out of the ground, then the fear is that it could create a food crisis. Naber explained that with the aforementioned thought process in mind, Mollison and Holmgren came up with the ecological system of design, permaculture.

Food is a large aspect to permaculture. It is important to understand that the way we as Americans currently prepare food consumes about one third of all the vanishing, non-renewable energy we use. Another interesting fact is that about one third of the food produced for the people of rich countries never reaches their mouths, but goes to waste. Naber believes that being less wasteful and using polyculture can help this.

Mollison and Holmgren’s Idea

Much of their system is based on perennial plants, things that once they are established will perpetuate growth year after year. Naber explained to me that a lot of fruit and nut trees are used in permaculture for this idea. Additionally, for localized dwellings one would have what is called a kitchen garden for annual production. This allows the bulk of food to come from areas that you do not have to do much after the initial set up and establishment.

15 Principles of Permaculture Design

1. Everything gardens throughout nature

a. This is referring to the notion that everything which is running around is participating in some sort of gardening.

2. Work with nature not against it

a. This principle comes from monocropping, which is working against nature. Nature does not thrive from a field of one thing. Permaculture guilds would be an example of working well with nature.

3. The problem is the solution

a. This principle challenges designers to think creatively. An example would be if there is a hill that creates a micoclimate which is too cold for something, then permaculture teaches you to figure out a different use for that hill.

4. Make the least change for the greatest effect

a. This principle is making the most out of a little amount. An example would be instead of clear cutting an area of forest, one might selectively harvest timber and then let the forest regenerate naturally.

5. Stacking the functions

a. One plant in particular is a good example of this principle. Dandelion offers many functions. Its leaves and flowers are both edible and highly nutritious, the roots are medicinal, and while the plant is still in the ground it is a bio-accumulator. This means the root draws a lot of nutrients, so when it dies or in the winter all of the nutrients are released back into the soil.

6. Catch and store energy

a. This is a large principle in permaculture. It is important to understand that we have limited time to catch and store energy, so use it wisely. One example of this principle is by catching and storing rainwater from the roof of a house into a tank. If the tank is placed near a garden it can also reduce the needed for hoses and pipes needed for irrigation.

7. Obtain a yield

a. This principle tells us that we must get immediate rewards to sustain us. A direct example is debarking timber from fallen trees. Valuable nutrients are left in the timber and the poles of wood can be sold at a higher price. This offers long term sustainability as well as short terms because it provides immediate yields of firewood, while improving the ecological and timber aspects of the land.

8. Produce no waste

a. This principle goes hand in hand with the saying “waste not, want not.” It explains to us that it is easy as Americans to be wasteful in times of abundance, but this waste can be a case of hardship later. One example of this is to teach people how to fix their own appliances. This not only allows individuals to be more self-reliant, but keeps costs down while not producing waste.

9. Creatively use and respond to change

a. This principle promotes positive change and transformation in nature. With this, it is important to remember that understanding change is good, but responding to it and seeing things as they could be is better. An example of this is when creating new buildings; architects can use sustainable designs to promote future change.

10. Use edges and value the marginal

a. This principle says to create pockets between two places where there is more edge and more diversification. It is important to understand that the interface between two things is where the most interesting things take place. These often become the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system. An example of this is an estuary, where fresh water and salt water come together or the middle place between a meadow and a farm.

11. Integrate rather than segregate

a. This principle encompasses the idea of community in permaculture that when we work together the job becomes easier. By putting the right things in the right place, those things can work together to support each other. An example is to incorporate something that takes over a yard, such as deer. Another example would be a compost pile. Separate, all of the elements are not useful in nature, but put together they become a rich source of food and create soil.

12. Small and slow solutions

a. This principle explains that in permaculture small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones. This helps in making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes

13. Observe and interact

a. This principle of permaculture is simple because it tells us that by taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation. In nature there is no right or wrong, only different. The more you observe and interact the more ideas you find that can apply to permaculture design.

14. Design from patters and details

a. This principle tells us that by stepping back we can observe patterns found in nature and society. These observations can create the backbone of our designs, filling in the details as we go. Remember: remain focused on the big picture

15. Use and value diversity

a. This principle teaches us that diversity reduces vulnerability to many threats and that we should take advantage of the nature of the environment. (Naber, personal communication, October 21, 2009).

Putting the principles to use

Naber uses all fifteen of these permaculture principles in his daily life. Once committed to making permaculture a part of your life like his; it is easy to incorporate these principles. Upon visiting Naber’s residence it was clear they are useful when put into action. He had Principle 3; the problem is the solution, in mind when he placed all of the leaves from his backyard on the cellar door to use for insulation. In this instance, the leaves were the problem, and the solution was using them to keep heat in.

Naber also got rid of poison ivy without the use of harsh chemicals. He used cardboard boxes, newspapers, leaves and straw to get the poison out of the yard. Principle 5, stacking the functions was also used in Naber’s backyard. He kept useful weeds in his garden such as dandelion and violet because both are edible and serve many functions. Additionally, he grows shitake mushrooms in his yard for cooking. This is easy because mushroom logs take up minimal space and can be grown both indoors and outdoors.

Naber also has his own decomposer, which can be easily made, where he throws all waste that is not meat or dairy. The decomposer turns these materials into useable soil. There were also various brush piles located around his backyard to form habitats for birds and critters to live. He keeps wild onions growing in his backyard because they are useful in many ways. The tops can be used and cut like chives, while the small bulbs at the bottom when cleaned can be used in cooking. Additionally, Naber grows Stevia, an organic sweetener plant that is an ideal addition to a garden. Its leaves can be used as a sugar substitute for low carbohydrate and low sugar alternatives.

The ethics of permaculture

The heart of permaculture design is a set of ethics, or core values which remain constant regardless of the person or situation. Naber suggest when you put together the ethics and the principles, you have permaculture. The three main ethics of permaculture are as follows:

* Earthcare- recognizing that Earth is the source of all life, that Earth is our valuable home, and that we are a part of Earth, not apart from it.

* Peoplecare- supporting and helping each other to change to ways of living that do not harm ourselves or the planet, and to develop healthy societies.

* Fairshare- placing limits on consumption. Ensuring that Earth’s limited resources are used in ways that are wise.

These ethics are at the center of permaculture design. They define how one should behave towards the Earth and each other.

The Designs of permaculture

The design of permaculture is very important because it is separated into different zones. It represents the “perma” part of perma culture. The zones are as follows:

* Zone 0 = your house

* Zone I = your garden or immediate outside space

* Zone II = orchards

* Zone III = farmland

* Zone IV = rough grazing and woodland

* Zone V = wilderness

(Sullivan, 2008).

These zones are all defined by the relationship between human energy and the land. The rationale behind the zones is that by intelligent design, we can make the most out of human energy and create an edible earth.

Some easy do it yourself permaculture ideas

1. Living Roofs a. Make your roof sustainable. Create a slight pitch for drainage.

2. Edible Balconies a. Windowsills are a great place around your house to grow herbs, sprouting seeds and grains. This can be an even more productive space if it is in a place that is always sunny.

3. Forest Gardens a. Grow mainly perennial food crops in every available niche.

4. Water Harvesting a. There are many ways to harvest rain water and put it to use again

5. No-Dig Mulch Gardens a. A no-dig garden is one where the soil is not disrupted. In permaculture, healthy soil is said to be an ecosystem in itself. So, grow vegetables in a raised bed where organic matter can be collected.

6. The Chicken Greenhouse a. Chickens are useful creatures. They yield eggs and meat, but also are good waste-disposal units and produce rich manure for the garden

7. Swales

To conclude, Dillon Naber is an individual who encompasses all of the core principles of permaculture design. He not only lives his life according to the ethics of permaculture, but he dedicates his time to teaching others and spreading his values. He believes that his efforts to live sustainably and in harmony with nature will make a large contribution to our planet















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