300 converge on Unity fairgrounds to talk, learn about Permaculture

Posted July 03, 2010, at 4:28 p.m.

UNITY, Maine — About 300 people converged on the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s Common Ground Education Center over the July Fourth weekend to talk about sustainable land use, finding water, keeping bees and more at the sixth annual Northeast Permaculture Convergence.

The three-day event was sold out Saturday, according to Lisa Fernandes, one of the organizers. This was the first time Maine hosted the convergence.

Fernandes said permaculture is not just a gardening method.

“It is a design technique and set of skills for creating sustainable human habitats and ecosystems,” she said.

Participation numbers were up from last year, Fernandes said.

“It is becoming more popular because it is hands-on and practical,” Fernandes said. “It gives people immediate things they can do in their own yards.”

She said there might be an urgency for permaculture now because of the economy and because people would like to be more energy-independent. This, she said, is especially pertinent in Maine where people are particularly vulnerable to rising heating oil prices.

“It’s about resilience,” Fernandes said.

Groups of people congregated in spots all over the grassy fairgrounds off Route 220. Some did yoga while others meditated, and Stu Silverstein taught people how to make a bread oven out of clay and sand.

In a rabbit barn behind the earthy wood stove on Saturday, Kiarna Boyd taught a class on geomancy, or “sacred landscape design.”

Boyd came up from Portsmouth, N.H., to instruct 20 or so participants in dowsing. The participants stood outside with metal rods that Boyd said aren’t much different from coat hangers. This process, Boyd said, brings intuitive knowledge that humans have of the Earth into a concrete form.

Boyd uses pendulums, tarot cards, L rods and her sense of another object’s energy to determine where to place plants in a field, or where water runs underground, or where toxins might be, she said.

“It’s a way to pull information from people’s subconsciouses,” Boyd said. “It is in you. You just want to bring this into your consciousness.”

Boyd said anyone can dowse. She has practiced it since she was 15 years old.

Charlene Whitman, meanwhile, took part in a mandala-building workshop in which she and several others created art from leaves and straw while trying to relax.

“I don’t consider myself artistic, but I did feel creative with it and it was very relaxing,” Whitman said.

Whitman and her two young boys came from their hometown of Plymouth, N.H., to camp at the fairgrounds during the weekend, like many other convergence participants.

Whitman said some of her time was spent directing her boys to children’s events, including yoga. They didn’t take well to that, however.

“They didn’t do yoga with all the girls. Surprise, surprise,” she said, laughing.

Her boys found a guy with a guitar and hung out with him instead.

Stephen Whitman of Westhampton, Mass., who is no relation to Charlene Whitman, came to the event because he was worried about his daughter’s nutrition. She has learning disabilities and he thinks better food could help her, but he said “high quality food is very difficult to find.”

He is considering adding a greenhouse to his New England home so he can start growing his own foods.

“We live in a food desert. There is lots of food, but it is not nutrient-rich,” Stephen Whitman said. “Things our great-grandparents ate are what we are trying to get back to.”

Last year’s Permaculture Convergence was held in East Montpelier, Vt.

For more information on the convergence, visit http://northeastconvergence.wordpress.com.