In Consideration of Where I Come From and a Look at Spirals of Erosion

“Anything that we value, but that is being progressively lost; from soil to silence, from biodiversity to darkness, from trees to a sense of purpose, can be studied to help us identify the root causes of these problems.”  Aryana, Permaculture Design

This is what I aim for as a permaculture designer—studying the root causes before I step into action—and/or—-putting the brakes on during the process to do even more study and consideration.  Another step in permaculture design that travels hand-in-hand with observation rather than interpretation, is evaluating why any given thing doesn’t work and where we can make different choices.  An illustration in Permaculture Design, depicts a reinforcing feedback loop focusing on people and their food supply.  This shows a feedback loop which spirals out of control, from growing human population to need for more food, to creating more sunny land, to cutting trees, to loss of biomass and fertility along with less productive land and lower productivity; then spiraling into traveling further for more biomass, taking more time, not being able to support ourselves….whew!

Hand-print Series: Seeds © `penny O’Krebiehl 2013

Looking at the illustration in the design book doesn’t freak me out, but it does anchor me in the pondering place of knowing that I’m a seed-tree-plant based garden-farmer with a concern and question I have about one of my family’s favorite foods which is: “Where will I get my bacon from?”.
“Our aim in in permaculture is to turn spirals of erosion into spirals of abundance and productivity….” Looby Macnamara, People and Permaculture.

Instead of panicking or skimming over this feedback loop which resonates with my food supply concerns, as well as my livelihood as a market-garden-farmer, I spiral into a place of looking at my history of where my food comes from, my own roots—which influenced my behavior about what I eat and how grow it, and where I get what I can’t grow.  Even though I may have to give up pork, someday, I live and work and plan to stay put in a small urban setting here in North West Michigan, and I have great fondness for where I grew up in a small, farming community near Lansing, Michigan.

My dad, John Krebiehl in his mighty pumpkin patch back along the edge of our property and a nearby swampy area.


My original, home-place in Laingsburg was about 10 miles out of town, near the Looking Glass River, a branch of the Grand River flowing just a mile or two south of our rural ten acres.  It was a beautifully rich, wooded area  with only about four homes on our dirt road. No pig farmers, but a chicken farmer lived right down the road, and my friend Debbie Hurst and her family had milk cows a mile or so away.  My parents mostly relied on the industrial food chain to feed our family of eighth, and my Dad a blue-collar Oldsmobile worker, did his best to supplement us with an annual veggie garden, and an assortment of well-tended and blessed, fruit-bearing trees.

Along with my Dad’s influence and pride in the little time he had to spend gardening, my first garden-farming skills were learned through my adventuring and foraging in the fields and woods, as well as my involvement with 4-H in the summer. At the edge of our 10 acre field, I discovered a group of hazelnut bushes and up and down the road there were several old hickory nut trees.  My brother raised chickens, rabbits and pigeons off and on, and both he and my dad hunted for squirrel, pheasant and deer in the fall.  But mostly for food, my parents did the best they could to keep up with our growing family and shopped at an industrial food chain store in Lansing, and a little family owned business Mahoney’s Market in Laingsburg.  It wasn’t until after I left home, at 18, that through harvesting what I tended in a community garden plot in Lansing, that I began to learn to preserve and can food from my garden.

In this past year, I’ve gone way back further still, in regards to my early influences of living rurally and my connections to a portion of land.  I recently did a bit of research and came across information that in the late 1700‘s through the 1800‘s my home-place was a thru-way for travelers, along the abundant lake and river systems, a source of fresh fish and other food sources.  Within a few short miles along the Looking Glass River, was also a favored camping site for the Sagninaw Chippewa people of the the Ojibwa nation. Just a few miles east of my home Chief John Okemos was born in Shiawassee County and just west of my home, is his burial site.  Through the widened lens of system thinking, I take a long look backwards at how the land and the people interconnect and intersect, and this definitely and positively influences my choices in the present day, mostly giving me hope and a reality check.

Even though this is a bit of a twisty-turny side trip, it leads me back to looking at where my food comes from and our hand-to-mouth food-system existence on the planet.  I’m thankful for my upbringing and the space/place I had to wander and explore.  I’m incredibly grateful for my parental units growing, and finding/buying the food they did to nourish our family.  The land and the place where my initial observations and patterns of food systems occurred have influenced me as a human-designer.  And now, taking a deeper look/revisit to my roots, allows me to ground my decisions to begin the design process again.  And without judgement or interpretation, take a look at the deep-deep root of the industrial-age-problem I’ve been born into. Of how I’ve “become the food that I eat”. Observing and letting go of what didn’t work, what isn’t replenishing and providing in a necessary way of ecological choice-making.  I can be a garden-farmer and wandering food gatherer as both my Dad and ways Chief Okemos may have practiced.  I do not have to support the industrial food-system any longer, a system that I know is not working.  And I can continue to realistically plan steps to help my family and neighbors do this as well.

“At a time when the world is more messy, more crowded, more interconnected, more inter-dependent, and more rapidly changing than ever before, the more ways of seeing, the better.  The systems-thinking lens allows us to reclaim our intuition about whole systems and

  • hone our abilities to understand parts,
  • see interconnections
  • ask “what if” questions about possible future behaviors, and
  • be creative and courageous about system-redesign

Then we can use our insights to make a difference in ourselves and our world. “  
Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems

I find a great deal of passion-creativity and solace in being able to back-paddle through these complexities I’ve encountered in the holon of food system upon food systems in my life so far.  It’s like a treasure map of discovery.  And as Donella Meadows points out above, by taking time to consider system thinking  I can use these “insights to make a difference in ourselves and our world.”

This understanding leads me back to my current work and a place of designing a combination of a rural-urban food system with my personal design project through the O’k CSA and Market Garden and LLOOF program here in Traverse City.  It also sets a connective tone for my work this weekend at the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference, as I do my graphic-recording/note-taking with other folks working towards integrated, whole-system design on their small farms.


About to be fried, a lovely gift of cured bacon from Bakers’ Green Acres.

P.S.  Currently my bacon, pictured here, comes from Baker’s Green Acres, which means I can thankfully stick to urban garden-farming with perennial and annual veggie, fruit and herb/flower growing, including the Baker’s farm in my families’ food system.

I’m for Pies–a Community Food System Practice with 12 Slices of Pieku’s

This is another pie-musing and story-telling with bits re-arranged into a newer version…and I’d like to begin it like this (again):

“….The thing about a pie crust is the way it feels. Pie crust, ingredients combined with human hands, becomes a living thing. And, like any other living thing and with the human who’s hands mix, shape and roll it out; it breathes. If there is no breath, there is no life or goodness going into that pie. And then, what is the point?


Pie therapy. A way to bring life, as I know it, back into balance. Much needed, as always, in this present moment. All lists of this and that are inconsequential. Conversations and tellings cease. A gathering of ingredients, an open-space with elbow room. Counter tops at the proper height. Pie as art, Pie as Therapy, and in the making….”

It’s the beginning of winter again, on January 23rd, 2012 and I’m feeling I’m in the right place for pie-making, and in that open place for a dose of Pie Therapy. My urge to act on this task, partially inspired by the basic need to eat, and also upon viewing the wonderful expanse of whiteness out my tree-house-like apartment window.  A great day to dedicate a portion of my energies to baking of a pie or two and writing a few Pieku’s…which would be Haiku’s in honor of and all about pies.

Here’s a few to kick-start my practice:

Pieku #1  i use real lard/proud to reveal this blessing/animal fat shared
Pieku #2  between two crusts love/frigid winter chill outdoors/you me and apples
Pieku #3  you’ve gifted me/a split decision pie tin/two pies side by side

Pie-making and pie-poetry seem to be a good companion, as I continue mingling in the local, food-system, garden-farming community and prepping for my graphic recording services at the upcoming Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference.

What does making/baking pie and Pieku’s have to do with my graphic recording work? Generally my listening/thinking/organizing/drawing recording ends up in a pie-shape.  That’s a beginning explanation, I suppose.  Plus, this is a week when I’ve been delving deeper into my permaculture studies—considering the distinction between looking and seeing—the continued fine art of observation.  Patterns in space—roundness—circle shapes—spheres are the pattern of great resilience, strength and stability. Most of the pre-conference interviews I’ve had with the presenters I’ll be accompanying speak to understanding/re-learning/re-designing co-operative relationships, through whole-system design, while being guided by principles of ecology. That’s pretty much what I do when I make and bake a pie.

Pieku #4 I’m a pie farmer/with crops of fruit, grain and fat/grow share make bake feed
Pieku #5 social well being/guided gentle rolling pin/over and over
Pieku #6 little red hen asks/who will help me bake a pie/before the sky falls

In my world everything could likely evolve, revolve and be associated with the lovely round form of butter, oil or lard crusted creations.  Pies are a simple whole-system…I’m conjuring up a plan for a pie-baking tutorial, a sort of pie-making-baking-taking-bartering jubilee…. if as, this pie spells out, we can occu-pie our creative brains and apply systems thinking–which is a round perspective and design, I believe— we might be able to continue nibbling, eating feasting…..this is serious bizness, when it comes to our food systems—and could be studied/considered best through pie therapy.

DSC05921Perhaps the other honest sharing is that my pies are created for artistic delight, well-being, and, for love. I’ve said this before that I believe sharing is essential. Eating a pie alone is like trying to take over the world. Pies are not for selfish eaters. I pity the fools who have mocked and perverted pies in Hollywood movies. Like pie therapy, there is also pie karma.  I myself schedule one or two “Pie Socials” each year for a larger, community gathering and pie-healing through my O’k CSA bizness.


Pieku #7 mix dirt with water/prep for days to come/worms eat pie too
Pieku #8  how to analyze/is it regenerative/you know it depends
Pieku #9  blessed brave greens froze/savory pie ingredients/veggie pot for sup

Pies happen often, especially when I’m trying to figure something out.  The pies I bake are ceremonial. There is a real and unspoken need for them. My pies have taught me their purpose; to be shared and eaten with intention and reverent thanks. A crust carefully concocted with a filling inspired; binds those sitting round it. Around it and within it, as it were. Relatively speaking, a small farm conference could be functioning as the same or similar.

Pieku #10  speaking of middle/how much fruit do we put there/where our edges meet
Pieku #11  how-to live on pie/reinforcing feedback loop/don’t go overboard

Pieku #12  pie is a method/to accompany great change/that is where we are

Sometimes, I also share the recipe, when the traditional one I’ve followed in my falling apart Joy of Cooking cookbook, has been properly altered and I can call it my own, expecting someone will soon alter mine. The filling always depends on the goods you have, and what is calling out to your pie-making sensibilities.

Mi amiga Olga asked for my apple pie recipe so here it is:

Penny’s Pretty Good and O’k Apple Pie
4 cups fresh apples, sliced
1/2 cup Maple Syrup
4 Tablespoons flour
1/2 Tablespoon orange juice
1/2 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon, or more, of Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Combine above ingredients in a big mixing bowl, and llet sit for 15 minutes.

Mix up crust:
3 cups flour
1/2 to 3/4 cup butter, lard, or oil properly chilled
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup very cold water

Once the crust ingredients are mixed, maybe a little crumbly still, but mostly wet and softly-breathing…put the pie crust bowl into the refridge to chill for 10 minutes more. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Roll cold crust, fill with your lovely filling, stack it HIGH–fill it up good, and then llay at least 6 chunks of butter on top of filling, roll out top crust, cut your signature design on the top, sprinkle with a bit of sugar and put it in the oven.

Bake ten minutes at 425, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Usually another 30 minutes check to see if the filling is bubbling. Let it bubble out a few more minutes, before removing it from the oven.