Paul starts by apologizing for not making any podcasts for weeks and weeks. He still has a bit of a cough anytime he tries to talk. Even though he's not back to normal, he's just got to tell all of you pod people about the workshop in Bozeman with the mighty, the glorious Sepp Holzer. He's recording this with Bill Schnieders who prescribes a week in Hawaii for the cough. Paul loves the idea of eating pineapple in Hawaii, or of going to the Bahamas in January, but he has not been to either of these places. There is a lot of permaculture stuff going on in Hawaii, especially if someone is into raw foods.
Paul says he thinks he got sick by being "too nice." He got sick on a day when he did nothing but help people who did nothing to help him in return. They "tolerated" his help, it doesn't sound like he felt a lot of love that day. He got a lot of hostility, did a lot of driving and had to stay in a disgusting hotel late at night on the way home to Missoula. He woke up the next morning sick, and so it went for ages. He was sucking on lozenges through the entire Sepp Holzervisit.
Paul has described his eco scale many times. When you get to ecolevel 10, there is one person, and that person is Sepp Holzer. Paul still feels that this is true, and yet, he has (critical) things to say about his experience with Sepp. Last year, he noted that there were a couple of things he would have done differently with the land that Sepp transformed. He would have gone with smaller ponds, going up the hillside, and more behind the house. Sepp took an area that was a massive big flat gravel expanse, a dead zone, and he transformed it. Perhaps he deliberately went there given that he had a limited amount of time. It could be that he concentrated on that area for maximum impact.
Paul adores Sepp, but he seriously disagreed with more than one thing that Sepp did on the land at Bozeman. He was actually starting to feel angry as he watched what happened, such that he removed himself from the area for a while. This could be attributed to artistic differences between Sepp and Paul.
Last year, Jack Spirko came up for Sepp's workshop in Montana, and he recorded a podcast afterwards in which he expressed how disappointed he was in the experience. Paul agreed that what Jack said was true, but he disagreed with his conclusion (that it wasn't worth attending a Sepp Holzer event). Paul feels like the information coming from Sepp is so advanced that it's just really hard to translate it for other people. Bill recalls a concern that some people's questions were "shot down," but notes that some of those questions had been asked before (sometimes, less than half an hour before). He suggested that some of the problem may be cultural--europeans are not as open to questions as americans are. The language barrier is also definitely a factor.
Paul recalls that some people were asking "stupid" questions at that workshop, a year ago. Somebody asked Sepp what kind of liner to put in a pond. Bill shares that Sepp is tons of fun when he's off duty. When he is working, he is very focussed and doesn't have a lot of patience, doesn't suffer fools gladly. Paul recalls that he left the party, and had to go back to get Immo. When he got back to the party, Sepp calls out to him "Pole!!" and throws an arm around him and chats to him in German. Somebody handed him a giant bottle of something alcoholic, and he chugged it. There was a scrum of people, hugging and swaying, with Paul in the middle, feeling out of place. Turns out Immo had a new lady friend and didn't need Paul's help getting anywhere.
The proof is in the pudding, and when Paul went back the following September and got video of lush green growth on the brand new hugelkultur raised garden beds, with everything beyond it all dry and brown and dormant, well, that was golden. Bill feels like Sepp has forgotten more permaculture than he (Bill) will ever know. Jack complained about paying money and then being asked to plant potatoes, especially that they spent three days on the activity of building and planting hugelkultur beds. Paul notes that Sepp was just trying to get stuff done. Bill watched a recent Sepp video in which he says that you have to just do it yourself (plant the potatoes) and compares it to the training of a chef. This group of people (a LOT of people, over 100, with widely varying knowledge base and experience) put in nearly a kilometer of hugelkultur beds, and that was a lot of work, but the video Paul made with it has 140 thousand views already and is helping to change the world.
Bill points out that folks with capital are interested in permaculture transformation from an investment standpoint. You can take a dry dusty prairie field and turn it into a lake in just a week! Of course, as they see it happening they get drawn into the beauty of it.
Four years ago when Sepp came into town, there were 2 days about building ponds and aquaculture, 2 days about hugelkultur, 2 days about raising animals and preserving meat. Each day had an agenda. Paul got the impression that Sepp didn't like that. When they were setting up the more recent Montana event, they tried to have an agenda for each day, but Sepp resisted. He shows up, he does his thing, he leaves. He came the day before the workshop, seeing the property for the first time. Paul walked with him for this, but could not understand what Sepp said, even with the help of translators.
Paul kept trying to get him to go back over a story he'd told before, but Sepp kept putting him off. He's trying to design the property, get the design built, and then also teach a bunch of folks things. It might have been too much for one guy to do. Sepp did eventually talk about how to make the bone sauce, but it was not until the very last day. Bill recalls that it happened after Sepp finally felt like the project was going to get done and there was time. Paul recalls that getting the bone sauce story was the main reason he was there and not getting it until the very last day was frustrating.
Paul feels like there is all sorts of stuff in Sepp's head that he wants, but there just doesn't seem to be a good way to get to it. As previously noted, Sepp is not easy to direct. Bill suggests that maybe someday there could be an "advanced" workshop with Sepp. Paul's not sure if that would help. He recalls Sepp answering "You must read from the book of nature," in response to his questions and feels like that was a bullshit answer. Pauls remembers asking about curving hugelkultur beds 4 years ago and notes (with some satisfaction) that these days Sepp makes curvy hugelbeds.
Bill tells a story about Sepp in Spain or Portugal (sounds like Portugal) where he was getting serious resistance from the local government with regards to the (massive) size of the lake he was planning. It seemed like all was for naught, and nothing could be done. Sepp took a walk in nature, took a nap, pondered it and woke in the middle of the night with an idea for how to present it to the authorities. He used dark blue for the deeper parts, light blue for shallow parts, and white for wetlands and with this presentation they were willing to give him a green light. It was really the same plan, just framed a different way. Bill's point is that for Sepp "reading from the book of nature" is a real thing.
Paul recalls trying to explain rocket mass heaters to Sepp. At first, Sepp said it was impossible, and then as they did more explanation, he said that he invented it. Bill figures that the big problem was translation. Paul figures the big problem was genius--many people with truly big ideas have a hard time relating their ideas to just normal folk.
OK, getting on to the 2013 event. Paul recalls that about 18 months ago there was a thread on permies.com that was anti-Sepp. The origin seemed to be a woman in Austria who hired Sepp to transform her land. It didn't go well and she sued him. The judge ended up putting the woman in jail and giving her land to Sepp. (Bill points out that apparently the woman owed Sepp a lot of money, and that's why he was given her land.) Paul says that Sepp moved out of the Krameterhof (leaving it to his son) and has moved into this new place. Bill says he's hoping to see what happens when he travels to Austria. Apparently the place looked pretty messed up immediately after the major earth moving, but it will certainly improve. Paul reports that right after the Montana workshop a year ago, the tribal authority was highly displeased, but Katarina put them off and it started to look lovely.
Bill says that Sepp's work speaks for itself, and notes some really huge projects that have gone in Eastern Europe, Khazakstan, Russia. Apparently you can see his project in Spain on Google Earth. Bill recalls the lake in Montana looking pretty iffy until an earth mover hit a vein of undergroundwater and the lake filled up in like, three days.
The first leg of Sepp's 2013 trip was in California. California was great--the property owner had gotten information to Sepp before hand and some Sepp related folks had scouted the place for him. Sepp said that the property (about 17 acres) was "so magnificent" with giant redwoods and such. He pointed out that mushrooms grow well and are a source of income for the area that was growing redwoods. The wood itself is prized and a little bit could be harvested. One of the fallen trees had 474 rings! Sepp talked about just setting up camping spots at some of the most powerful places "energy spots" on the property. He found a spring up the hill--a remarkable resource. There was a more bare area on a south facing slope and Sepp talked about more intensive food production there. They spent a day building model ponds--California law prohibited messing with the creek that ran through the property. Sepp would come by and critique individual's model ponds--it was a very useful exercise, Bill thought. Paul recalls doing the same thing in his PDC.
After Bozeman was Michigan. It was sort of a side trip, organized by Nathan who is doing great things in Detroit. As part of the Michigan trip, they went to an inner city spot, dilapidated neighborhood, a one day project where they built some hugelbeds and a crater garden, with a single bulldozer. Bill was really impressed by the energy of the neighborhood kids, asking questions of Sepp and getting really good responses from him. On the first day they built a giant hugel bed and a partial crater garden on some private land in Michigan and Bill thinks its going to be tremendous. Bill got to tap a maple tree for the first time, and was told that the original sap is the "coconut water of the Midwest" full of nutrients and such. Sepp got to walk the land and made some suggestions, but couldn't do a full transformation. Sepp gave a talk at the University of Michigan in a big auditorium, showed his new film and did a long Q&A afterwards--maybe an hour, hour and a half.
Nate told Bill about driving Sepp to the airport and sharing the story of a man who had a near death experience, David Milarch, and is now trying to save the earth by cloning and replanting the oldest and most important trees on earth. Nate said that Sepp was deeply affected by the story, and repeated that David Milarch is doing very important work.
After Michigan was Minnesota. Bill was 2 1/2 weeks into this at this point. He thought that Sepp might have been at his strongest in Minnesota. Sepp was frustrated in that he wanted to do a lot of waterscaping but the permits could not be obtained. They talked about fruit tree grafting and mushroom cultivation. They made the bone sauce to keep deer off of fruit trees. On one evening he consulted with a woman who had a lot of land in Canada--something might be happening there. Unlike in Bozeman, Sepp's voice was very strong. He gave a public talk at a big brewpub and the place was packed. There was a big snowstorm while he was there, which forestalled any earthworks. He apparently gave a great talk to the city council, telling them they needed to allow people to create water retention landscapes. He gave Mark permission to share the video of the whole talk (which is unusual). Bill notes that when relaxing on this trip Sepp complained that in America "the land of the free" he's been unable to do what he wants with the land. In Russia he's had much freer rein to do big things.
In Bill's view, the whole trip ended on a very positive note in Minnesota, even though they were physically limited by three feet of snow on the ground.
Paul asked about crater gardens. Bill talks about building a really big crater garden on Chad's property, complicated by the presence of a road that gets salted in the wintertime. When Sepp came and checked it out, he was overall very positive about it.
And, that's the end of part one. Part two will focus on the Bozeman Montana event.
There is a great book about this story titled: The Man who Planted Trees - Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet by Jim Robbins. It is the compelling story of David Milarch's amazing efforts to save extraordinary trees. If you only read one book a year, this one should be at the top of the list!