Bonita Ford and Sébastien Bacharach

Date Published: Wed, 01 May 2013

Permaculture Passion

When was the last time you carefully considered a tree? It is truly a beautiful creation. Well, actually it’s more like a miracle — one that we often overlook. Initially, to the virgin observer, it may seem to be just a pleasant form occupying some space in a yard, field or forest; but linger awhile in the company of this tree and its subtler, more complex and perhaps powerful attributes reveal themselves. Leaves provide shade at the hottest time of the year — to you and your home, as well as to the ground beneath it and the creatures within the soil. Photosynthesis transforms carbon dioxide into sugar the tree uses, and expels “waste” oxygen, contributing to the air we breathe. Roots hold soil in place, helping to prevent erosion, and cycle water up from the soil, to leaves, to air, creating pockets of humidity. Leaves, fruits, flowers and nuts provide nourishment for birds, insects, animals and us. Branches and bark (even of dying trees) provide nesting and roosting habitat for all sorts of critters, and potentially wood for us or soil nutrients through decay. The whole tree impacts the wellbeing of the other beings around it, and their wellbeing impacts the tree in turn. And so it goes… Connections become unearthed like underground webs of mycelium.

Bonita Ford and Sébastien Bacharach

Permaculture is a design system that can be broadly applied to physical systems (farms, gardens, cities) and to social systems (organizational flows, business models, school curricula) anywhere. It draws from multiple disciplines and careful observation of natural systems, skilfully weaving together complementary components to develop synergetic systems for our lives and communities.

Fundamental principles include multiple functionality (i.e. components of the design have more than one purpose), appropriately scaled actions (i.e. determine what the smallest changes are to impart the greatest benefit), extended timeframes (look at nature’s timeline — things evolve slowly), supporting synergetic relationships, maximizing diversity, working with rather than against what you already have, creating abundance, minimizing waste, and cycling excess back into the system. It can become an insightful, holistic process of shaping one’s own life and the social and ecological environments we are part of, and it has the potential to deepen the alignment of personal ethics with practice and action.

The term “permaculture” — think permanent (truly sustainable) plus (agri)culture — was coined by Australian Bill Mollison in the late '70s. The movement originally held favour with back-to-the-landers and had a land-centred focus. Since then it has spread around the globe and is now permeating the minds and imaginations of people beyond eco-conscious gardeners, farmers and homesteaders. Its holistic and fully engaged approach to design is now being applied to individuals, interpersonal relationships, organizations, businesses, and even entire communities.

Two individuals passionate about applying permaculture practices to their life, work and community are Bonita Ford and Sébastien Bacharach. They migrated independently (from Ontario and France respectively) to San Francisco in 2001, where they each became actively engaged in the community gardening and ecological networks in the Bay area. In 2005 they met, aligned forces, and spent a couple of years thereafter doing work exchanges on farms in France, Ontario and Quebec. While WWOOFing on a farm near Merrickville, Perth emerged as a potential place to put some roots down. Its active and growing local food scene, alternate health practitioners, thriving cultural community, and good measure of community engagement resonated with them. They settled into the community, bought a house a few years ago, and are in the midst of creatively and thoughtfully configuring their spaces and lives here, using permaculture principles.

Building Perma-community

In the past few years they have taught numerous (sold out) permaculture workshops to groups in the area and in Ottawa. Bonita was instrumental in organizing a second regional Permaculture Convergence in March 2013, which was a huge success. In the fall of 2013 they will lead a third Permaculture Design Course in Ottawa — an 84-hour intensive course completed over three weekends. Two other workshops were offered in Perth recently: Loving Earth and Building Soil, and Ecological Design & Gardening: Intro to Permaculture. Bonita’s interest in personal journeys and healing can sometimes be found woven into the fabric of her workshops. She often integrates elements from Reiki, nonviolent communication, and shamanism, as well as Earth- and body-centred practices into the mix.

Much of Sébastien’s inspiration comes from witnessing and/or enabling the emergence of innovative community-initiated projects (e.g. seed libraries, repair cafés, community gardens). Building thriving community is at the core of his work and may be what inspired Bonita and him to start a chapter of Transition Town in Perth. The Transition Movement deserves an article unto itself, but suffice it to say it uses permaculture strategies to help communities transition from systems based on a fossil fuel economy to something more sustainable, through community engagement and capacity building. See <> for more information.

Due largely to their efforts, vision and great generosity of spirit, an understanding of permaculture and opportunities for learning about it are increasingly available in the region. The great response in Eastern Ontario to their work, and a connection made with Douglas Barnes, a passionate permaculturist living in the Tweed area, has recently led to their joint founding of The Permaculture Institute of Eastern Ontario. Check out the PIEO website for lots more information about permaculture and to keep abreast of numerous events happening in the area.

When Bonita and Sébastien chose to settle in Perth they noted a “gap” — the absence of permaculture education in the area. They hoped it could become an opportunity for them to contribute their skills and passion to the community. The response to permaculture has been terrific and their vision is unfolding. It appears that Perth is now well on the way to becoming a permaculture hub for Eastern Ontario.

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