Jay and Kathy Fritchen's acreage looked just like their neighbors' six years ago: flat, level, a single big shade tree in the front yard.
Today, the Fritchens feed themselves and supply food to three other families from what they produce - organically and sustainably - on their one-and-a-half acres.
They are certified permaculture designers; their acreage teems with fruit-covered windbreak plants, vegetable-filled garden plots, rainwater-collecting barrels and honey-producing beehives.
-Messenger photo by Barbara Wallace Hughes
Jay Fritchen explains that instead of mowing around trees, there are benefits to mulching and underplanting with herbs and flowers that will repel pests and attract helpful insects.
Permaculture design, Jay Fritchen said, "is all about living without chemicals, living in harmony with nature, and that's really what we're all about."
There are three ethical principles of permaculture, he said: "Be good to people, be good to the earth, realign the resources to your advantage."
"We can be productive without being such wasteful consumers," said Kathy Fritchen.
The Fritchens, who live near Coalville, also operate Weeds n Bees, a home-based business where they grow, market and produce organic, sustainable products. Kathy Fritchen is an herbalist and naturopath - someone who provides health care without using chemicals or drugs.
"We set up to do organic and sustainable, and permaculture takes it further. It takes away the excess labor," said Jay Fritchen.
By planting indigenous, edible plants - including more than 140 bushes and trees - "we're going to get to the point where there's not much mowing," said Kathy Fritchen.
"In the front yard, there will be no grass," Jay Fritchen said.
Theirs is basically a closed environment.
"The only things leaving this property are the things we're selling. It's sustainable. It's organic," Jay Fritchen said.
In other words, no pollution.
In addition to growing vegetable, fruits and nuts, the Fritchens raise ducks and rabbits, vigorously recycle, and make compost and manure teas that enrich their gardens.
By balancing the needs of their plants with their own needs, they create a "circle of life."
"The beauty of permaculture design is in the relationships," Jay Fritchen said. "Nature's natural arrangements begin with cooperation and companionship. That's how you get anbundance, purity of food, by pairing plants up."
For example, he said, most people would plant a black cherry tree and mow around it.
Permaculture sees a tree as "just another plant." It needs what all plants need to survive, he said.
"It needs food, it needs organic matter, so we mulch. But it also needs nitrogen, like a legume, a nitrogen fixer. It needs something to pull minerals up to make it usable, then it needs insecticide plants. Then, it needs insect-attractor plants."
"Especially if it is a fruit tree," said Kathy Fritchen. "You know how people spray all of their fruit trees? They could plant plants around it to do (the same) things. Most of the (useful) plants are herbs or flowers. If they would only do that, it not only looks pretty and smells pretty, but they repel the bad insects and attract the good insects."
Under an apple tree, the Fritchens recommend planting comfrey, daylilies, anise hyssop, yarrow, nasturiums or a combination of them to reduce diseases and draw in beneficial insects.
"So, you don't have to go out and spray for bugs, you don't have to worry about rust, you don't have to worry about remembering to mulch or put enough food around your trees," Kathy Fritchen said.
"Then, you can take it a step further, which we haven't yet," she said. "But in orchards there should be chickens or ducks, or even a pig, to clean up so you don't have to clean up those rotten apples that have fallen to the ground. It's like letting nature do all the work, and lying in the hammock, reaping the benefits, basically.
"Once you get everything planted using permaculture, then it's less work. That's kind of our thing is teaching people. A lot of people think gardening is a lot of hard work. You're out there in the hot sun, weeding and blah, blah, blah. But when you use the permaculture techniques, none of that is necessary."
A permaculture goal is to create a self-sustaining environment. To that end, adding bees to help pollinate their plants has made a huge difference, according to the Fritchens.
"I will say, we saw the biggest improvement on our property with our vegetables, our herbs and our berries when we got started beekeeping," she said. "A good example is the hawthorne berries. They were just little, bitty things, and then we got our bees, and they're huge."
"Our food supply system here is about unity," Jay Fritchen said. "We want to help people grow local food, local food that doesn't have that carbon footprint, that doesn't have that fossil fuel impact. It builds local economies. It builds local community awareness and cohesiveness."
The Fritchens admit that locally grown, organically produced food often won't be as large or as flawless-looking as some commerical produce. But the advantages of growing their food outweigh any drawbacks, they said.
"It puts people back in touch with their food," Kathy Fritchen said. "If people would start tasting real food again, I think they would be amazed. People have to get over wanting this perfect-looking, tasteless fruit or vegetable and go with the maybe not-so-pretty because, oh my gosh, it tastes so good."
Contact Barbara Wallace Hughes at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org