Sustainable agriculture education and practicum for Kansas small farmers and ranchers using permaculture principles of ecological systems design and management

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $17,976.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Steve Moring
Vajra Farm
Charles NovoGradac
Chestnut Charlie's Organic Tree Crops
Maryam Hjersted
Prairie Lovesong Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products

Kaw Permaculture Collaborative Presentation (Conference/Presentation Material)


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: apples, berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), cherries, grapes, peaches, pears, plums, quinces
  • Nuts: almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts


  • Animal Production: pasture fertility, housing, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, youth education, technical assistance
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy conservation/efficiency, energy use, solar energy, wind power
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, community-supported agriculture, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, afforestation, biodiversity, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, field monitoring/scouting, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, soil analysis, composting, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    With our ever increasing dependency on energy to grow our economy and power industrial agriculture, we as a nation are entering into a long period of energy depletion and our current agricultural system may not be sustainable. Most institutional "sustainable" agricultural programs do not adequately address the need to transition from high energy fossil fuel inputs to low energy biointensive inputs. One of the central goals of the permaculture movement is to address this issue by developing ecologically based and highly resilient local agricultural food systems. Permaculture is an alternative approach to sustainable agriculture that promotes biocentric ethics, which emphasizes the intrinsic value of all living organisms. Additionally, it utilizes low energy inputs, ecological system design to create organic polyculture food production and human habitation (

    The mission of the Permaculture Research Institute is to establish permaculture training centers throughout the world ( The educational goal of our project is to provide farm training sites for the practice of permaculture principles. We will teach farmstead planning, systems design, the creation of sustainable soils, and biologically diverse food systems. These food systems are designed to stack, or orient and position in space vegetable, perennial fruit and nut tree species, and in time, with ecological succession. This mimics nature's natural progression of species composition and increasing diversity over many decades.

    In order to effectively support our educational program we plan to create three demonstration and intern training farm sites. The first demonstrates an initial phase of planting, the second ongoing support for a partially established system, a third site which demonstrates a mature system:

    Early succession, food forest garden planning site. A two acre area on Prairie Lovesong Farm has been selected to plan and design a fruit and nut tree food forest. The theme for this site is "beginning stage succession" by using tree stacking and plant guild development methods. A working site has been chosen that is on the south side of an existing swale water catchment system about 200 yards long. Two additional 50 yard swales will be built and planted on the south facing slope for water catchment and erosion control. The site is currently pasture.

    In early 2010 we plan to conduct a formal land resource assessment, which will include the participation of student interns. We will generate a landscape design which includes a soil survey, soil tests and analysis of the most ecologically beneficial placement of nut trees, including pecan, walnut, hazelnut, and chestnut trees, interspersed with fruit trees, including cherry, apple, pear, plum, peach, pawpaw, and apricot. Nitrogen fixing understory shrubs and native plants placed throughout will support soil building, and provide organic mulching material. In addition we will nitrogen mulch with alfalfa hay existing on site. Fruit bearing vines, including blackberries and raspberries, will be inter-planted with strawberries in a separate area.

    Our expected timeline, given approval, is to begin the planning and design phase in the winter of 2010. In the spring of 2010 we plan to create the two additional swales, and prepare the soil by mulching with existing alfalfa hay, and begin planting of leguminous and native species, including blue wild indigo, autumn berry, bush clover, bristly and black locust, American senna, New Jersey tea, and goumi. In the early summer we will install 6, 30ft. fences with wire supports for fruiting vines, and plant them along with strawberries. In the early fall we plan to plant the fruit and nut trees. We plan to provide educational and outreach activities throughout the process.

    Mid succession, integrated raised-bed, no-till gardens and early stage food forest system. A three acre site on Vajra Farm is currently under development. It includes a suntrap no-till raised bed garden plots and a surrounding food forest system that has been transformed from an old-field woodland ecosystem succession. The suntrap plots consist of keyhole maze and rosette shaped raised beds that are heavily mulched with straw and compost. In 2010 these beds will be planted with common vegetables using integrated polyculture methods and companion plantings (e.g. three sisters sweet corn, beans and squash). A polyculture food forest was started in the fall of 2008 with the clearing of thickets of small trees and brush, and planting of pecan, chestnut, hazelnut, shellbark hickory, pawpaw, persimmon, apple, cherry and peach trees. In 2010 the owners plan to expand the forest by planting additional nitrogen fixing herbs, shrubs, and trees to support edible species, and a second planting of about 30 fruit and nut trees in the fall. Planning of ecological guilds, seed germination and tree planting will include the participation of paid farm labor, interns and practicum students.

    Late succession, mature fruit and nut tree orchard system, developing tree guild food systems and livestock foraging. Chestnut Charlie's tree plantation is a sylvaculture system that represents, in different parts, early, mid, and late succession managed ecosystem. It consists of predominantly mature nut bearing chestnut trees and other nut trees including pecans, black and Persian walnuts. These trees are spaced about 18 - 24 feet apart with a mixed grass and clover ground cover. His orchard is a biologically diverse polyculture system with shelter belts consisting of native species including various oaks, walnuts, mulberry and some non-native trees including oaks, cypress, pines and autumn olive. Mr. NovoGradac keeps detailed records on all his nut and fruit trees on an on-going basis. He plans to support the project by hosting practicum students, apprentices and interns by demonstrating his cultural practices and their practical results. He will also engage students in a work-share program to learn basic pruning, grafting, and organic pest management. Mr. NovoGradac will also participate in hosting farm tours and lectures on agroforestry. He has requested not to receive grant funds directly for personal reasons.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.