Justin Stenkamp

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since Dec 04, 2011
I am a permaculturalist and aspiring mad scientist. I operate a small farm called Seek and Restore Farm.
I am an engineer and project manager. I have worked on a wide variety of projects with aggressive sustainability goals including the largest commercial Living Building in the world - The Bullitt Center. I regularly speak on topics such as permaculture design, net zero water, net zero energy, the water energy nexus, and ecomimicry.
I am a US Navy veteran. My first introduction to engineering was in the Navy's nuclear power training program. I've spent almost two years of my life under water.
I grew up in Enterprise, OR hunting, fishing, cutting firewood, and spending time outdoors. I work in Seattle now but have moved back to the country to find my roots.
I'm addicted to the systems design aspect of Permaculture.
I enjoy cold cider and campfires.
I'm a husband and a dad. I want my kids to grow up connected to the outdoors and their food.
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Recent posts by Justin Stenkamp

Composting toilets can work in a six story building.  Below are pictures of the first compost removal from two of the Phoenix bins.  I watched the removal.  No smell.

5 years ago
As I read through the Permaculture Designers Manual I am struck by Bill Molllisons ability to write.  The words he chooses seem so intentional and filled with meaning.  Each sentence is like a paragraph, each paragraph a page, and each page a chapter and each chapter a book.  

The general philosophy of permaculture design is made up of a Prime Directive and an overarching Principle of Cooperation.

"A person of courage today is a person of peace.  The courage we need is to refuse authority and to accept only personal responsible decisions.  Like war, growth at any cost is an outmoded and discredited concept.  it is our lives being laid to waste.  What is worse, it is our children's world which is being destroyed." ~Bill Mollison, PDM

The Prime Directive of Permaculture ~ The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.  MAKE IT NOW.

The Prime Directive of Permaculture is a great filter for decision making and is similar to axioms like we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.  Another great filter for decision making I hear at the sustainability related conferences I go to is the 7th generation principle thought by Native Americans.  It says that every decision, be it personal, governmental or corporate, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future.  Powerful ideas.

What stands out to me about the Prime Directive of Permaculture is it's focus on ethics and personal responsibility as it is applied to design.  Personal responsibility to act and understand our interaction in and cooperation with the rest of the living world.

Principle of Cooperation ~ Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of existing life systems and of future survival.

"Life is cooperative rather than competitive, and life forms of very different qualities may interact beneficially with one another and with their physical environment." ~Bill Mollison ~ PDM

The principle brings up the idea for me of a distinction between biology and ecology.  Between biomimicry and ecomimicry.

Biology is a natural science that studys life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, and evolution.  Evolution is the foundational and underlying concept of biology.  Evolution is driven by selection pressure and an organisms ability to adapt to that selection pressure.  This leads to the idea of survival of the fittest.  Essentially evolution and by extension biology is based largely on competition.  When I think of Biomimicry I think of organisms ability to live in it's environment, how that organism evolved to thrive in its environment.  

Ecology is the scientific analysis and study of interactions among organisms and their environment.  Ecology is the study of systems.   The functionality of ecosystems is dependent on the cooperation of the various organisms in the system.  

I believe the key to restorative design is understanding and optimizing the interaction of different elements in the design, not optimizing the individual elements.  Basically mimicking ecosystems rather than organisms.

In the end competition and cooperation are both important components of functional resilient systems.

The general philosophy of Permaculture leads to a philosophical framework grounded in a set of ethics.

I am new to interacting on forums and late to the party but I'm reading the PDM and thought I would add my notes and thoughts to this thread.

Even reading the preface for the book is a lot to take in and brings up more questions to think about.  

What is Permaculture?  I am often asked this question when I talk about permaculture in my personal and professional life.

How do others define it when asked.

Permaculture , by design, is hard to define.  It was set up in a way that allows the word to express its own evolution over time.

The Permaculture Institutes and their College of Graduates own the copyright for the word Permaculture. The word permaculture can be used by anybody as long as they are using it in a context that complies with the ethics and design principles of permaculture.  The only restriction is if you are teaching permaculture in which case you must be a graduate of the Permaculture Institute Permaculture Design Course.

If anybody can use the word and define it as they see fit within the context of three simple ethics and a base of ecomimitic design principles then there is no single definition.  Everybody can have their own definition.

It is easier to define what permaculture is not.  Permacutlure is not herb spirals, holistic planned grazing, hugelculture, rocket mass heaters, or swales.  These are techniques.  Permaculture is a systems approach to design.

Defining what permaculture isn't does not help answer the question.  What is Permaculture?

Larry Santoyo's definition resonates with me.  Permaculture is a set of design protocols for critical thinking, decision making and problem solving - all based on the patterns of nature.

Larry's definition is succinct and thought provoking.  It is also still open for interpretation.

So, what is Permacutlure?

Permaculture is multi-disciplinary applied design system that integrates often segregated area of expertise into an integrated whole.  It can be applied to agriculture, architecture, engineering, business, and life design.  

Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of productive ecosystems which have the following qualities of functional living systems.

* diversity
* stability
* resilience

Permaculture is the integration of living systems and human systems.  Where providing our food, energy, water, shelter, and other material and non-material needs restorative and mutually beneficial for people and planet.

Permaculture is the intentional assembly of conceptual, material, and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit all living things.

Permaculture works with rather than against nature.   Remember nature bats last.

Permaculture is thoughtful observation and interaction with the systems that support us rather than thoughtless action and consumption without consideration for consequences.

Permaculture design is observing systems in all their functions.  Creating systems that are resilient where any given system competent has multiple yields and multiple inputs from the system for support.

Permaculture designs are inherently simple and become complex over time as they demonstrate their own evolutions.

The definition of permaculture is unique to the individual.  

So, what is permaculture to me?

I think of permaculture as an integrated and applied design science but I don't have a succinct definition yet.  I hope to develop one as I work my way through the Permaculture Designers Manual.  I will be posting my notes as I go.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Erica, thanks for the response and resources.
8 years ago
I am a professional mechanical engineer and working on a project where we are considering rocket mass heaters as the heating source. We actually were discussing using them in and underfloor application so any more information on this project would be appreciated.

Since I am a licensed engineer I have to work within the bounds of the department of making you sad. Has anybody had any luck getting a RMH system permitted? It was mentioned in a podcast that Paul did with Ernie and Erica. If I recall correctly the inspector came out, thought they put the fire out, was impressed with the system, but didn't know how to permit.
8 years ago
Is it appropriate to use ponds in arid climates such as northwestern Montana?

I know that Sepp installed at least one pond as part of his design at the project in Dayton last year so it seems that ponds could be a good water storage approach. But, I recently took my permaculutre design course with Geoff Lawton and in the course notes it says that ponds are not appropriate to use in arid climates. The Designers Manual says that an arid climate gets less than 19.5" of rain per year. In the area I'm looking there is an average of 14.7" of rain per year. I'm trying to understand where the disconnect is or what I'm missing.

I think that ponds make sense for this particular climate but I need to make the case to the team I'm working with.

I've included some basic info on the climate in the attached pdf's. I wasn't smart enough to be able to paste them into the post from an excel format.

8 years ago
It would be great to have some Cascadia Permies at the event linked below on the Urban Agriculture petal of the Living Building Challenge. You can attend in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver BC, or San Francisco. There will be multiple presentations and a design exercise after the presentations. There will be food and drinks at each location (free beer and wine!). The architecture industry needs more permaculture, please help spread the message.

I'll be at the Seattle location so if you decide to attend the event at the Seattle location please let me know.

Event Link: http://living-future.org/events/living-building-collaboratives-urban-agriculture

Info on the Living Building Challenge: http://living-future.org/lbc

8 years ago