Brad Peterson has given over 40 seminars and workshops on permaculture, land regeneration and environmental design. Presentations are tailored to specific client or interest group needs and can be co-ordinated within context of an entire conference or speaker program, or may be group oriented 'project specific' and include visionings, group design charrettes, and other project deliverables.

The following workshop was given at the Guelph Organic Conference in 2015 and published in the 2015 Guelph Organic Conference proceedings booklet.

Designing Advanced Permaculture Systems

Brad Peterson M.L.A., B.Sc., OALA, CSLA

This 1.0 hr. session will review emerging trends in permaculture (Pc) practice.  Program notes are intended to compliment rather than summarize the presentation.  There will be Q&A at the end.


These strategies consolidate a tremendous volume of work done by hundreds of Pc and related practitioners over the years, mostly since the early 1960’s and stemming back to the 1920’s and earlier.  Thus no personal claim can be made to any strategy or the meme as a whole.

  1. Recombinant Ecologies.  The intentional recombining of plants and animals (producers, consumers and decomposers) from extant global ecosystems to produce high-yielding food, fiber, fuel, ‘farm’aceutical, and fun polycultures is as old as humanity itself and a hall-mark of permaculture.  These orchards, silvo-pastures, regenerative strip forests and gardens should include some livestock or livestock manure in order to accelerate biological renewal.  These permanent renewal ecologies are designed to grow topsoil and combine with other land management activities (See 3. below).  One fosters self-managing ecosystem processes around natural weed suppression, pest management, nutrient recycling and composting.  This is a ‘perennials first’ approach, using both woody and herbaceous plants to optimize layers of trees, shrubs, canes, vines, and other ground covers, with patches of preferred annuals, as desired.  

  1. Model the Best of Nature.  The tree-based, shrub and herb-dominated polyculture expressed as savannah or silvo-pasture is the quintessential model for a permanent agriculture.  One introduces analogues that mimic stable, self-managing ecosystem functions.  Herbivory including browsing by livestock plays a role in vegetation and disease management.  Leader-follower livestock rotations simulate animal migration patterns.  Enhanced pest predator habitat, natural seed dispersal and pollination is necessary.  Decomposition becomes a form of production itself, that stimulates nutrient recycling.  

  1. Earth Repair and Regeneration.  Centered on converting subsoil into topsoil and growing more topsoil, this central activity can be summarized as: turning blue (water) to green (biomass) to black (topsoil).  In agricultural systems, the main focus is on keyline water management, contour subsoiling and cultivation, and proper grazing that gives rise to increased root biomass and greater soil carbon sequestration.  Earth repair also involves reducing / stopping biosphere toxification.  Carbon farming involves closing the carbon loop, plugging the carbon leak and building soil carbon.  Essentially, the farmer becomes a photon manager.

  1. Garden Farming.  The garden farm is that scale of production between backyard garden and broadacre farm.  It can be from about 100m2 to 25 acres (or more) in size, expressed as SPIN agriculture, single-plot farms, or associated with Continuously Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs) or Green Hubs, that is, linear or aggregate multi-use urban or near-urban landscapes.

  1. Recombinant Green Architecture.  Here, architecture means anything that humans build: machinery, buildings, service infrastructure and industrial chemicals.  One reduces overall reliance on machines by fostering beneficial natural processes.  Maximize the number of attachments one machine can use, and minimize the number of engines.  Use larger pipes and smaller pumps.  Multi-use, multi-season bioshelters such as insulated tall tunnels are also used as animal shelter in winter and crop production at other times, which reduce building footprint and energy needs.  

  1. Re-skilling for Local Reliance.  Learn what your grandparents or their parents knew. How to make cheese and store root vegetables are tied to earth production and management rhythms.  Eat in season.  One must not forget the ‘feel’ of how to act.  Develop your mother ship (your primary activity) and do it exceptionally well.  At the same time one is drawn to become web savvy and join the ranks of poly-marketers, electronic aggregators and food delivery startups, etc.  Don’t be afraid of scaling up with others in a larger community, if it’s savvy and smart.

  1. Ethics of co-operation.  Some very successful operations function more as an extended multi-generational family, up to 35 people.  Multiple businesses run by different people operate out of one or more farms.  The farm becomes a complimentary food business and service incubator.  One can’t do everything, so others develop their specialties to a higher level.  Cross over to social services or other business types when they become attractive.  Joel Salatin refers to ‘developing your tribe’ as a local support network that develops specialties, gets paid well, and grows to relocalize the market economy.


Several case studies will be described in detail.  Projects that exemplify an holistic Pc Systems approach with cross-over between disciplines include:  

  1. Favron Urban Permaculture  This typical urban lot in Cambridge, ON, is being transformed into a regenerative landscape for local food production.  The Master Plan features an all-season bioshelter, and plantings for green manure, kitchen and herb gardens, annuals, pollinators, and veggie polyculture.  The plan also provides for micro keyline irrigation.  The Planting Plan is very diverse, with various nut trees (hazels and oaks), fruit trees (apples, pears, Prunus spp., pawpaw, nitrogen fixers, herbs and herbaceous perennials.  Very little grass is left to be mowed with a push mower.  The property is Barrier Free accessible.

  1. Wildwoods Orchard Polyculture  Part of a 100 acre property near Hawkstone, ON, this 5.0 ac. area is designed to provide fresh, healthy seasonal food to the owners and satisfy local market demand for fruits, nuts and produce.  The new gardens and the garage loft are designed for public seminars.  Ponds are deepened for swimming, and a new outdoor kitchen, labyrinth and trail system will diversify outdoors activities.  The orchard polyculture, with some of the plants grown from an on-site nursery, contains a diverse mix of northern hardy fruit trees, shrubs, canes and vines.  This project is intended to be a model for others to learn about and establish in their own communities.


  1. Aisling Keep Polyculture  Located in Grey County and covering 0.74 ha./1.83 ac. this orchard polyculture is a unique genetic reserve of northern hardy food plants.  Started in 2006, it doubles as a community permaculture learning ground for organic practices and source of local naturally-grown tree, shrub, vine and cane fruit.  Among 26 distinct ecotones are zones that intermix chestnut with Saskatoon and cherry; walnut with pawpaw, kiwi and Rubus; hazel with apple and currant; pear with gooseberry, hickory and grape.  Many other polyculture trials are being conducted alongside areas dedicated to blueberry, grapes, annual vegetables and perennial green manure compost crops.  The orchard also includes a ‘global oval’ for sacred dance and seasonal ceremonies.

  1. No-till Annual Beds and Composting Practice  Various ongoing trials are being conducted to plug the carbon leak (reduce reliance on internal combustion and the need for soil cultivation), and sequester atmospheric carbon in soil by enhancing biomass accumulation and decomposition.  No-till annual beds are managed by planting in the footprints of turned compost windrows or planting Forage radish (Raphamus sativus) as a soil-improving and weed-suppressing catch crop in following year beds.  A related practice involves locating compost piles on future tree planting sites.  Green manures such as buckwheat, fava beans, oil radish and crimson clover are added to compost piles along with livestock manure, minerals, rotten straw and other soil amendments.  Heat from the piles can be used to warm buildings and water for the shower.  Legumes are grown in areas of future garden beds.  Numerous trials are ongoing.


The following strategies organized in distinct topics offer a summary of the above, although they are altogether intended to form a complete, harmonious approach to regenerative practice.  EARTH STRATEGIES revolve around converting blue to green to black i.e. optimum land hydration, photon capture and conversion to biomass, and decomposition to ‘grow’ topsoil.  This strategy also includes intensive mob ‘tall’ grazing practices. Often facilitated by keyline water management and soil cultivation.  ENERGY STRATEGIES involve using less fossil fuel by letting nature help out, using less fuel and more efficient hand tools for smaller jobs.  MARKET STRATEGIES focus on building community, its businesses and expertise as a viable, diverse and integrated local market economy.  Let others help you with production, marketing, office and/or promotion, and pay them well.  Scale up when it makes sense.  SOCIAL STRATEGIES focus on the farm as complimentary food business and service incubator.  Grow love.


Last year at Guelph Organic Conference we called directly upon Land Planners, Architects, Engineers and Landscape Architects to take up and incorporate Pc Strategies and practice tools in their own professions, while at the same time build synergy and compatibility with the other professions and society.  We hope to bring representatives of these four professions to the 2016 Conference to open this grand collaborative dialogue up to the public.  If you are interested in this, please make your request known by contacting the Conference organizers.

Here are some initial thoughts around the Four Sister Professions and their challenges in working more collaboratively for environmental, social and fiscal regeneration, and with each other.

LAND PLANNERS  Relax and diversity.  Flex zoning is a good start and Official Plans invariably include some sort of policies around local food production or community gardens.  We must protect more farm land, even in small pockets for future market farms and urban farm networks.  We need to permit and encourage CPULs: Continuously Productive Urban Landscapes.

ARCHITECTS  This most noble profession is doing a good job of ‘green buildings’ but architects need to understand that land and buildings are one continuum: part of a holistic living environment.  As a result, building design should reflect the practical daily activities, functions and routines of ‘green living’.  How about the pantry and summer kitchen, so necessary not so long ago?  Architects collaborating with landscape architects can contribute to local production, community identity, environmental resilience.  

ENGINEERS  All engineers should become familiar with biological principles – the natural laws that sustain humans and the biosphere – including keyline, carbon farming and sequestering soil carbon through biomass decomposition.  Apply this knowledge in practice, particularly to land subdivision, utility location, and minimal earth materials moving and storage.  

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS  LAs need to accept and utilize the productive capacity of land, thereby adding to their bailiwick of traditional horticulture and ecosystem restoration.  Observe functional stacking in nature and mimic the structure and function of ecosystems in landscape.  Design that analogue into garden farms within parks and land pockets that support neighbourhood regeneration.  Foster ecosystem health and community self-reliance at the same time.

NOTE: The fourth biennial Edible Forest & Orchard Polyculture Seminar & Workshop will be held near Chatsworth, ON, on April 18 and 19, 2015.  For more information click on ‘Events’ at

NOTE: The Edible Forest & Orchard Polyculture workshops are offered every second year, in odd-numbered years.  Watch for the 2017 and 2019 workshops on this website, or to be added to e-mail notification list contact Jeff Kitchen at you’re your request and Polyculture Workshop in the subject line.  Thank you!

Brad Peterson is a leading permaculture designer, land management consultant and Landscape Architect in Canada with offices in Guelph and Owen Sound, Ontario.  See Brad or Virginie at Booth # 113 at the Guelph Organic Conference Trade Show, call 519-763-5260 or visit