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The power of influence: Memories of a homestead.

2011 January 27

You know those memories that make you feel so warm, fuzzy, and free, you wish you could relive them? Unexpectedly, my visit to Bullock Brothers Permaculture Homestead has become one of those memories.

Bullock Brother's Permaculture Homestead

Bullock Brothers’ farm consists of three families, a few volunteers and interns living on a substantial plot of Orcas Island. These experienced permaculturists have been nurturing their land since 1982, and offer tours, hands-on permaculture courses, workshops, internships, and more.

I probably would have never stumbled upon this little haven if it weren’t for my sister who, currently a crop-science major at Cal Poly, asked that our family attend a Bullocks’ overnight workshop for her birthday. How many 20-year-olds do you know that would want a family sleepover on a farm for their birthday? Odd, but perfectly expected from my idealistic sister, who enjoys spreading her passion for making the world a better place to those around her.

Now, imagine my family traipsing up past the solar panels and chickens to check in with a friendly hippy intern. I must admit, I felt out of place in that moment. Honestly, I didn’t really even understand the meaning of permaculture. If you, too, aren’t versed in the subject, here is a description by Bill Mollison, known by many as the ‘father of permaculture‘:

“Permaculture offers a radical approach to food production and urban renewal, water, energy and pollution. It integrates ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry in creating a rich and sustainable way of living. It uses appropriate technology giving high yields for low energy inputs, achieving a resource of great diversity and stability. The design principles are equally applicable to both urban and rural dwellers” – Bill Mollison

If that doesn’t give you a complete understanding, I’ll share visuals of my tour with you below. To say the least, this tour was memorable–beautiful, educational and fun.We picked fresh apricots from the orchards, moseyed through the strawberry garden, visited the chickens, and ate a picnic under the grape arbor.


Marshinarch graft


Comfrey plant


Grape arbor

Entrance to the large nursery

Nursery plants for sale


Apple Tree Tag

applescompostPondLiner pondSolar pump at the swimming pondSwimming pondsolar array

Solar pump system

In addition, we learned about the process of building a self-sustaining water system, the conditions for a good root cellar, the most Northwest-loving plants, and gardening secrets.

Water holding tankGrey water infiltration systemPedal powered washing machineCob hot tubroot cellar

Root cellarInside root cellarsolar dehydrator
solar dehydratorSolar oven

Not to mention, we saw the not-so-glamorous side of living off the grid. To build such a system is really hard work! The Bullocks have taken close to 30 years to build up their land and move it nearly 100% off the grid.

Tool shedIntern housingBike shed & bike shop.Metal shop

While the families have built (what I can only assume from the outside) quite comfortable living structures, volunteers and interns live in more primitive conditions. Camping-style, if you will. We too, threw down a tent to get the whole (if less laborous) experience.

After we had met many of our fellow visitors throughout the day, we settled under a large outdoor tent for some more learning.

Photo courtesy of Dave Boehnlein at Bullocks'

It was time to listen to a visiting speaker from Austrailia, Robyn Francis.

Award-winning permaculture designer, educator, presenter, pioneer, and writer, Robyn Francis has trained thousands of people from around the world, designed ecovillages, consulted on hundreds of projects internationally, played a key role in accrediting vocational permaculture courses in Australia and was founding director of Permaculture International Ltd.

Robyn spent a significant amount of time presenting her experience studying, first-hand, the sustainable practices in Cuba. Did you know it is the only nation on earth living within its ecological footprint? Cuba is an entire topic unto itself, but if you haven’t seen the documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, I highly encourage you to do so. What a fascinating case study of resourcefulness!

Photo courtesy of Dave Boehnlein at Bullocks'

The evening ended with wood-fired pizza, wine, acoustic music around a campfire, then nestling in our tent among the trees. Good old-fashioned fun.

As a result of my visit to Bullock Brothers’ Homestead, I live differently. Sometimes it’s really surprising what can make such strong impacts and memories in one’s life.

I have a great appreciation for innovation and resourcefulness, and this homestead is the epitome of such qualities. Being surrounded by people who live this lifestyle is not only inspiring, but it also makes the daily bustle of consumer life peacefully fall away. What one is left with is a new lineup of values that involve simplicity, appreciation and respect.

I encourage you to see for yourself what the Bullock Brothers have going on. If you’re not the camping type, but would like to join a tour or workshop, it’s a lovely day-trip to the San Juan Islands. Check it out here.

If you can’t make a trip at the moment, how about learning a practical life skill? Knitting, food preservation, soap-making, perhaps? Trust me, you’ll feel empowered!

Sustainable NE Seattle is hosting a huge selection of hands-on skills workshops on Feb 12th. More information and registration information can be found here.

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. January 28, 2011

    I love what you have done here, in a way, this is my goal too, one day!



  2. Justine permalink*
    January 28, 2011

    Thanks, Ray! I appreciate you stopping by. Hope this encourages you to go for your goal sooner, rather than later!

    • January 28, 2011

      Yes you are right, sooner than later. I don’t have any ponds like you, but there is a big vein of an artesian aquifer on my property (2 acres), and I am already using septic. I need to automate the power (solar seems kinda expensive right now for anything than just 1 sheet) and I am growing lots of veggies and fruiting trees, learning. Cities to me are death traps!

      Everything that I took for granted as a kind in my parents garden, not I am trying to achieve, still lots to learn.


  3. January 28, 2011

    typos, arrrggg:

    Everything that I took for granted as a kid in my parents garden, now I am trying to achieve, still lots to learn. :-)

  4. Justine permalink*
    January 28, 2011

    Sounds like you have a good start, and a great mindset. Just to clarify, the property I featured in this blog is no my own. I wish! It is simply a permaculture homestead that I stayed at overnight and was truly inspired.

    My parents (who also went on the trip with me) were very inspired also, and have been doing many of the steps it sounds like you are. They now have an orchard, a large garden, and are working on ways to incorporate ponds and alternative energy.

    As for me, I’m currently a city girl with dreams of a healthy expanse of land in which to grow and till the soil. It will happen someday.

  5. February 27, 2011

    Fun to see your photos, Justine. I’m going to show them to my husband later, we are hoping to camp at Orcas this summer and go see this farm. I saw a video of the Bullock Brothers at their farm and have wanted to see it ever since.

  6. Justine permalink*
    February 28, 2011

    I hope you do visit, Heather! Not sure when you’re planning to go but summer was great mostly to see the garden bounty. The Bullock family and Dave Boehnlein are super.

  7. Essa pearl permalink
    February 17, 2012

    If I might ask, how did you make the solar dehydrater out of the fridge? That is just genius.

    • Justine permalink*
      April 9, 2012

      Hi Essa,
      Actually I did not make this myself. However, if you contact the permaculturalists from the Bullock Bros. farm they may be able to provide information.

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