Wayne Weiseman, The Permaculture Project


Wayne-Weisman-by-Jack-Piatt-300x200Wayne Weiseman is a Permaculture teacher, designer, consultant and author. He lives in Carbondale, Illinois with his wife, Frances and daughter, Halima. He was certified to teach Permaculture by Bill Mollison, the founder of Permaculture, and is recognized by the Worldwide Permaculture Network as an instructor of the Permaculture Design Certificate Course. Mr. Weiseman is certified by the American Institute of Architecture (AIA) and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) to teach continuing education in Permaculture to licensed architects and landscape architects. Wayne has taught hundreds of Permaculture Design Certificate courses and advanced work, lectured and consulted internationally for many years. More at The Permaculture Project



Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food today. How are you? I’m good. Happy St. Patty’s Day. I’m sipping on a little green – a little green tea. Mmm, that’s good. And we celebrated earlier with a St. Patty’s day plate. It looked like the flag with a little sautéed kale and collards on the left. Millet in the middle, and sweet potatoes on the right. Green, white and orange for the Irish flag. Green for the Catholics, white for peace and hope and orange for Protestants. I think that’s how it works. Anyway, it was delicious.

So, let’s move to my first guest, Wayne Weiseman. Wayne is a permaculture teacher, designer, consultant and author. He lives in Carbondale, Illinois. He was certified to teach permaculture by Bill Mollison, the founder of permaculture and is recognized by the Worldwide Permaculture Network as an instructor of the Permaculture Design Certificate Course.

So, welcome to It’s All About Food, Wayne.

Wayne Weiseman: Hi, good afternoon.

Caryn Hartglass: How are you doing?

Wayne Weiseman: Good, how are you?

Caryn Hartglass: OK. Where is Carbondale?

Wayne Weiseman: Carbondale is in southern Illinois about 20 minutes from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know about Carbondale, is it related at all to carbon?

Wayne Weiseman: It is. This was a huge coal mining area and there still is some semblance of coal mining here now. Of course, fracking is trying to make its way in here so carbon is definitely appropriate.

Caryn Hartglass: Wow. And you’re working on permaculture in Carbondale.

Wayne Weiseman: In Carbondale and all around the world. Mostly in this country right now.

Caryn Hartglass: Great. Well that’s interesting. We may get back to Carbondale in a moment. OK. Permaculture. I know a lot of people have heard about it, but can you just give a brief explanation of what it is.

Wayne Weiseman: OK. It’s been around since the 1970’s and was created by Bill Mollison in Australia and his student David Holmgren. And the word was originally a contraction of permanent and agriculture and then as the years have passed Mollison realized that it was more about permanent culture. It’s comprehensive planning and design system that takes in agriculture which would include plants and animals and gardening; the built environment, how we use energy systems on a property, etc. So it’s a comprehensive lifestyle planning science, I guess you would call it.

Caryn Hartglass: OK, now our current system of agriculture, which is more like agribusiness for the most part. I think many of us who are concerned about the food system know that it’s not a good system and it’s got a lot of problems and many people are doing what they can to working within the system or work outside the system, but make it better. Do you think it’s possible to use permaculture for all of our agriculture?

Wayne Weiseman: Yeah, I do. As a matter of fact permaculture’s predicated originally on small, intensive systems. Meaning that it’s a cumulative effect. For instance, on my property here in southern Illinois, I’m on a fifth of an acre and we produce probably 50 to 60 percent of our food on this small property which includes chickens and fruit and nuts and vegetables and if you were to extrapolate out of this property move across the entire neighborhood on each property, we would have more food than we could possibly eat. In terms of large-scale systems, permaculture is more about agro-forestry and practices such as silvopasture, which are animals under trees, etc. So we are looking at more perennial agricultural systems with annuals mixed in rather than just a straight annual production and of course, in modern agriculture, it’s more of a monoculture where single species are planted on a large scale.

Caryn Hartglass: You have a fifth of an acre and what kind of plants are you growing?

Wayne Weiseman: Well, in this fifth of an acre we have 250 species of plants, so it’s very diverse. We’re growing a wide variety of fruit in the front yard, which is a forest environment that’s covered by a thick mulch. As a matter of fact, all the neighbors now rake their leaves into my yard in the winter so there is no lawn. Then the back yard I have a mix of perennial and annuals with the annual crops that go out in spring an basically broadcast the seeds out on the beds and whatever comes up I will continually harvest the seed through the year so I’m raising more of a hardy crop rather than something that has to be nursed along. So we’re talking about all the different levels. In other words we work with vertical layers as well as horizontal layers in permaculture. So every niche that we can fill, that’s what we’re after so for instance in my yard we have different layers in the root system from tap roots to mid-level to surface feeding roots, in the way of plants. Then an herbaceous layer, a groundcover, small fruiting bushes and then as we climb up the ladder, everything up to climax species. What’s unique about a place like Carbondale is there already is a mature canopy of Oaks and Maples etc. And then I always look at it as we are inserting other species in the under-story into that over-story. And so that’s pretty much how it works. As far as varieties go, peaches, plums, I could go on and on. I’d say that we have about 25 species of nuts and fruits, even more than that. And like I say lots of herbaceous species. And they also let a lot of so called wild plant come in a use those for food and medicine and utility.

Caryn Hartglass: Now the weather’s not so great in Illinois so what’s your growing season?

Wayne Weiseman: Well, this is we’re about 10 or 15 degrees warmer on average than Chicago. We’re actually below the Mason-Dixon line so we get, if we get a large snow in the winter, which is erratic, it doesn’t happen every year, it’ll melt within a week and we’re actually situated in between two jet streams and we don’t get very extreme cold in the winter. There are a couple of weeks that we might get down to 5 or 10 but it usually will warm back up to about 40 or 50. So our growing season, the last frost date is April 10 to 15 and the first frost date comes usually mid October to late October so we are growing here. I’ve already planted peas and spinach awhile back and when I get back from my latest excursion, which starts tomorrow I’ll be teaching and consulting at the beginning of April I’ll be planting a whole bunch of cold crops and some of my trees are already budding and some of them are beginning to leaf out. So we are Zone 7A, 7B which has gone up a zone since I first moved here 20 years ago. And I’m pushing it with plants that are in Zone 8A.

Caryn Hartglass: What does that mean, the Zones?

Wayne Weiseman: These are the USDA agricultural zones and it goes by climate. The first thing that we pay attention to in permaculture systems and our design work is climate and so that means that for instance if you were up in Wisconsin which is where I’m going to this weekend, we’re up around Zone 5. So the colder, the wetter through the year, the lower the zone.

Caryn Hartglass: Alright. Who’s wanting to study about permaculture? Are these individuals are these businesses are these big farmers?

Wayne Weiseman: All of the above. I just did a course at, my annual course at George Mason University in Virginia. I just got back on Sunday. And we had 40 people in the course. It’s very hard to pinpoint and target who the audience will be. But I can tell you that we had everything from doctors to architects to engineers to students at the University to you-name-it, they show up. And I think it’s because these skills are appropriate no matter what race, religion, it really makes no difference. They are lifestyle skills that are appropriate for anybody. And, yeah, it’s very difficult to find a target audience. It’s very broad.

Caryn Hartglass: OK now you’re obviously very familiar with Carbondale, Illinois but I imagine permaculture is going to be different in different climates and different Zones. How does that affect what you’re going to teach and what people are ultimately going to grow?

Wayne Weiseman: Right, well there are a specific set of principles and methodologies that we use and some templates for design work and implementation. Those methodologies and principles work across the board, it makes no difference the scale. It could be on 30th story floor apartment building in the middle of New York City or it could be on a thousand acres so based on the fact that these methodologies work everywhere, the only difference would be in climate and then what we can grow in that climate, what animals we can insert into the landscape so as far as a plant list might go, or what plants we might be growing, that is really the only difference. And as I said the methodologies and principles hold true no matter where we are.

Caryn Hartglass: OK, I live in an apartment building in New York City. I’m on the 3rd floor. I have a small terrace. What can I grow? Permaculture style.

Wayne Weiseman: You know I’m originally from New York. So here’s what I did all winter at my place. We had all of our crops that probably finally finished the beginning of December. We bring all those indoors. We dehydrate food, which we use all winter long. We ferment. So we’re making all sorts of Kim Chees and ‘Krauts and pickles and, anyway fermentations. We are growing microgreens with diffused light. Which are Kale, collards, etc. And they grow to about maybe 4 inch to 5 inch leaves tops. So we have fresh salads all winter and it’s very live food because when you are sprouting seeds and you’re using a small vegetable, it’s more power-packed than any other type of vegetable. We’re also growing wheatgrass in the window, so we juice wheatgrass.  All the soil that we use for those goes into our worm bins in the basement. We’re also sprouting all winter and that includes wild seeds and things like alfalfa and clover. So we’re having fresh sprouts with all of our meals.  Grew mushrooms this winter, we just harvested our Shiitakes and dried them in the dehydrator. So we add those to all kinds of dishes, into green smoothies.  Now, because the seasons are so close together here in Carbondale, we’re able to start our cultivation very soon. If you have a terrace and you have good sunlight, especially if you’re a south-facing terrace, then you can grow all kinds of herbs and vegetables out there. And fruits and fruits can also be grown indoors. We can also grow indoors under lights. We can also create aquaponics systems indoors, which are a combination of fish and plants where the fish effluent goes to fertilizing the plants and works in a cyclical way. There’s hundreds of different techniques that we can use indoors as well as outdoors and plus the fact that if you’re in the city, there’s also the opportunities in community gardens and also with rooftop gardening.

Caryn Hartglass: And how much space do you use inside your home for growing food?

Wayne Weiseman: Not really all that much, but I have to say that it looks like a jungle. There’s kombucha brewing in all the cabinets, there’s fermented things all over the counter tops. All the windows are taken up by plants. And it’s actually, it creates a wonderful environment indoors and a very healthy environment to see all this fresh green growing through the darker months of winter.

Caryn Hartglass: Boy I love that. OK you wrote a book, came out last year. Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to read it. It’s called Integrated Forest Gardening?

Wayne Weiseman: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: Three words that don’t exactly go together in my mind.

Wayne Weiseman: OK, well forest gardening is, depending on where we are we mimic the local bioregion and local ecosystem. And then we insert, rather than, we’re not trying to recreate an ecosystem but we’re inserting higher yielding species into. If we’re in an area that has a forest environment, we’re inserting higher-yielding species into a forest ecosystem. And that becomes a harvest forest. So my integrated we mean that it’s diverse, what we call a polyculture, and poly meaning many. A diverse polyculture of plants. And all of those plants have specific, for instance we use nitrogen fixers and flowering plants that flower throughout the entire year, different plants that can attract beneficial insects and pollinators. We use every niche as I mentioned before. Vertically as well as horizontally and that’s known as stacking function. So we’re looking for functions that can support plants within this conglomerate of plants. For instance a nitrogen fixer will help to feed nitrogen to plants that don’t necessarily fix a lot of nitrogen. So anyway, all of these functions work together in relationship and these plants help support one another. And that is a forest garden and these combinations of plants we also call them plant guilds. And several combinations of plant guilds would be a forest garden. So as a quick example of this we might have an overstorage area which could even be a dwarf fruit tree that grows up to about 12 feet tall and then all of the species that sit under that tree, all the way down to that lower levels in the soil. That is a forest garden. It is usually predominantly perennial but we’ve also been sticking annuals into forest gardens with a lot of success.

Caryn Hartglass: Now do you have a vision for the future? Where would you like to see it go? Do you see everyone growing their own food, or some of it?

Wayne Weiseman: Yeah, I would love to see that. Not only do I think that, but I know that it’s doable on a small piece of property. So for instance on my fifth of an acre I work maybe 7 to 10 full days a year. Because it’s completely mulched, I spend most of my time harvesting. It’s very easy work, and my vision would be what we would call small and slow solutions that would mean that a neighborhood would take it on themselves to create these small edible and medicinal and utility plant landscapes and the combination thereof would produce a very high yield. Whatever excess we had would be turned back into…. In permaculture, we have three ethics: Care of Earth, Care of People and what we might call Fair Share or Redistribution of surplus back into the first two ethics. So we would turn our excess yield back into those first two ethics by distributing food.  Years ago when I was driving down to Texas to teach a course north of Dallas, I was passing through Arkansas.  There was a combine harvesting cotton out in the fields and I had this, and there was nobody driving the combine, it was run by GPS unit. I had this image of what it was like with Arkansas cotton, which happens to deplete the soil completely. And I was just thinking back through the old cotton plantations and slavery and all that.  I wrote a note to my friend and I said, “Well what’s the use of doing all this, it just seems so overwhelming.” And he wrote back to me that “We have to hold out hope for people.” And I’ve never forgotten that. No matter who I teach or who I work with or who I consult with, this is what I always have in my mind, front and center. That feeling is that the more we can get the word out and the more we can continue to do this work and to implement, my hope for the future is that we can create some semblance of a Garden of Eden and that people have access to local – local meaning right at the back door – and very healthy foods.

Caryn Hartglass: That sounds good to me.  You have a terrific blog. And not only are you interested in plants, but you’re a bit of a poet.

Wayne Weiseman: I guess so, yeah. I’ve been writing poetry for many years and was a songwriter for many years and played music and all the inspiration came out of being out in the woods since I was a kid. I know I grew up right outside of New York City, in New Jersey and when I was a kid it was pretty much rural west of New Jersey and I spent hours and hours out in the woods learning about plants and animals and that grew in to my work in agriculture and as a builder, etc. etc. I’ve had many different lifetimes I think in this lifetime. The inspiration for all of my writing definitely comes from the natural world, without a doubt.

Caryn Hartglass: Can you talk about your teacher, Bill Mollison, who created permaculture. You said that he has repeatedly stated “The problem is the solution.” Can you talk a little bit about the problem being the solution?

Wayne Weiseman: Right. Bill was a, grew up in an agricultural family in Tasmania, which is off the coast of Australia. I don’t know who remembers the Tasmanian Devil. And then he became I guess a field biologist and he traveled all over the world and studied indigenous cultures and the way that they were supporting extended families on a quarter acre or less. What he saw was, wherever there was an underlying or overlying constraint on the people that we need to basically lift the veil of the constraint and look inside it and search for opportunity within the constraints. So if we have a constraint based on climate, we need to be able to look inside of that and what Bill always says is that the only limitations in our design work are our limitations in the imagination of the designer. And I agree fully with that. And this is what I am attempting to get my students to break open their thinking, which in some ways has been beaten out of us as students in this world and to get them to start to break open their thinking and through the basic methodologies, some basic physics to start to create off the cuff and just let it ride. And that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for solutions that we can uncover inside the problems and to break that problem open and see what is available in our environment, in our landscape. So if it’s climate and we have frost dates on either side of the growing season, we might ask ourselves how many different ways can we extend the growing season or how many different ways can we find other possibility of having our own fresh food 365 days a year.

Caryn Hartglass: Well that’ s all very hopeful to me. I like that point of view and we need to encourage our students and everyone to, I hate to use the cliché, but get outside of the box and be creative. All the answers are there.

Wayne Weiseman: Exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: Wow. Alright. Now I think people are probably thinking, I know I’m thinking this all sounds really lovely, I would love to be able to do all of this but it sounds kind of complicated to get started. How do individuals get started?

Wayne Weiseman: OK. A few things. One thing would be to take a course. And we have a standard 72-hour permaculture course. It’s called Permaculture Design Certificate Course. Or to begin by starting to research and to go online to look at books. To go to lectures and smaller workshops. Get a small taste to begin. But my whole thing is, if you’ve never done any of this before, somehow get ahold of 6 tomato plants or 8 tomato plants and plant them in different spots in your backyard and observe for one year and see what you’ve got. In the meantime, as you’ve implemented this small system, or even a little bit more than tomatoes, whatever it might be. You’re observing, but you’re also researching as you move through the year and finding out what might be the next steps. You can also, folks can also contact people like me or other practitioners who’ve had many – I’ve been putting these systems on the ground for over 40 years and I’ve had a lot of hands-on experience on just about every area of permaculture. I would say that 80 to 85% of what I teach I’ve actually done and I think that’s important to find a seasoned practitioner. There’s many ways to go about it and to find ways that we don’t necessarily have to stop what we’re already doing but to be able to find a fit to be able to do this. And as I mentioned before with the small system that I’m talking about at my place, it’s very doable and I think it just takes visiting sites, talking with people, searching around and we have to take that first step. We’ve got to get across that threshold and there is no failure in this system. As a matter of fact, all we’re really looking at because it is whole system design and implementation, we’re looking for feedback, rather than mistakes. Anything that might look like a mistake is really there to inform us.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I like that it’s feedback, it’s not a mistake. That’s beautiful. We could apply that to everything in life, couldn’t we?

Wayne Weiseman: Definitely, yes.

Caryn Hartglass: So I could really see more individuals on small pieces of property getting this going and having it work nicely for them either to supplement the food that they get or be the primary source of food. But it’s taken 50 to 100 years for us to totally transform the agricultural land of the United States and we’ve gone from little to medium to huge and most of the food is grown by giant agribusiness, monocropped. We’re growing all the wrong things in the wrong places, in the wrong way. You see a way to transform that?

Wayne Weiseman: Yeah. So what I do when I work with farmers and I work with folks that have large-scale properties, I suggest to them that they start small and they build up from there. We may create a master plan over 10 years, 15 years but we’re working toward that master plan. Of course, in the natural world you’re never going to have a final result. We can’t control the natural world, but we can certainly set up the ground and continually build fertility into a property, to start small.  So if there’s a large-scale farmer that’s got a lot of acreage I always suggest to them that they run some trials on a quarter acre or less. Try to get into these systems and reincorporate perennial systems and larger scale rotational grazing systems into their property. And the key to all this is to build fertility. Without good soil and fresh water, then basically we’re doomed. I always think of it as peak soil and peak water and that is my central focus. My central focus. Peak oil. We can’t drink oil, we can’t bathe in it, but certainly fertile soil and fresh water are most important. On large scale properties where people aren’t necessarily doing a lot of agricultural work, initially. Again the same suggestion. Start in and around their home, which is where most of their living is happening. We have in permaculture a template called the Zone System and it’s 6 zones. Zone zero is usually the home or let’s say a business where there there’s more activity or frequency of activity happening and as you move out to Zone 5, you’re actually visiting that part of the property less and less. Then when you get out to Zone 5 it’s more of a wild area. It may not mean that we necessarily intrude on that area, except to harvest or to hunt or whatever that might be. I always am speaking to people about and designing into systems where we intensively work around Zone zero, Zone 1, Zone 2, and as we expand our system, we expand out into these zones that we don’t visit as much. But that also doesn’t mean that we might not plan agroforestry out in Zone 4, combinations of larger grazing areas, etc. All that can go in at once, but we want to make sure that this is doable and a human scale for people. And we also want to make sure that it’s affordable.  So that’s why I said trials in smaller areas or beginning small an moving forward and expanding, that’s really the key to all of this so that it doesn’t… You know I’ve worked as a farmer for many years and as a builder and I know that when we try to do too many things at once then the overwhelm would start and we always had to scale back and make sure that our initial systems were in gear and working properly.

Caryn Hartglass: One last question, you said your neighbors like to rake the leaves over on to your property because you use it for mulch. Do your neighbors like what you are doing? Do some of them learn from you? Do they see what you’re doing, is it strange to them? What’s their reaction?

Wayne Weiseman: No they don’t think it’s strange at all, and they love it. And they’re sharing in all of the yields here and the chicken eggs and all of that. The neighbors next to mine, the next one and the next one have all put in raised beds to grow vegetables. I planted fruit trees around the neighborhood for folks. They’re picking up on it. Here’s what I can say about it. We build it and they definitely will come. It’s certainly a lot more essential to do this than to get out on a pulpit and proselytize. I think its, there’s certainly a lot of room for lecturing and presenting all of this material, but when we actually build these systems and put them on the ground it gives people a visual so that they can actually see it. And then I’ve had from the University here; I’ve had some interns that have helped me work on the property. My next step here is to go to the city council with a report on miniature goats so that we can now have fresh dairy and raw milk and to make cheese and yogurt and kefir and things like that. And I’m hoping that, it took us two years to get chickens here. The other thing is by being able to break through the codes here, and to get chickens, there’s now 20 families in Carbondale that raise chickens. And I’m hoping that we can take some more steps so it leaks out all over these neighborhoods. People are seeing it, people walk by when I’m working out in the yard and they want to know what’s going on and I offer them a fresh peach.  You know what it’s like to bite into a fresh peach that comes right off the tree.

Caryn Hartglass: I haven’t had a really good fresh peach in about 40 years.

Wayne Weiseman: Well you need to have one.

Caryn Hartglass: I need to have one! Well, it all sounds really wonderful. I have to say, I’m a vegan so the chickens and the goat thing is not something that’s exciting me, but it’s got to be a lot better than what we’re doing in factory farms today, which is just horrifying. I really encourage everyone to go, whatever you can do. Learn about this and grow some food. We’ve got to take control of our food system. Because it’s really out of hand. So you’ve offered a lot of information, a lot of hope. Thank you very much for joining me on It’s All About Food, Wayne.

Wayne Weiseman: Okay. Thank you very much.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Take care.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, let’s take a little break and then we’re going to take some virtual eco-adventure travel trips, shall we?   I’ll be right back.

Transcribed by Deanne Vaughn 3/30


  2 comments for “Wayne Weiseman, The Permaculture Project

  1. Riza Vettor
    October 27, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    This is going to sound silly so here goes. MY sister-in-law who is 91yrs , lives in Atlanta, Ga,and is originally from the Bronx,N.Y. Her maiden name was Weissman. I know there is one extra s. She is curious to know if there could be some family connection and asked me to try to find out the answer. Her name is “Pearl” Penny Saunders.

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