The Bio-Integrated Farm

Katie Shepherd | Monday, 27th June 2016
Learn how to stack up to seven functions in your permaculture systems, all applicable to any sized plot, from small gardens to broad-scale farms.
Author: Shawn and Stephanie Jadrnicek
Publisher: Chelsea Green
Publication year: 2016
RRP: £28.00

As someone who has been using permaculture design in broad scale farming over the last 15 years or so, I was really interested to read this new permaculture farming book from the US. In The Bio-Integrated Farm, Jadrnicek shares his experience as farm manager at the Clemson University Student Organic Farm and his home farm, with his wife Stephanie (and contributor to the book), in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. These geographical areas lie in the cooler northern edge of a humid subtropical clime in Texas, and along the coast to New Jersey. Much of the design focus of the book is related to water scarcity.

Each chapter is itself a design. These designs include: reflecting and water storage ponds; multipurpose basins; greenhouses; compost heat extraction; pastured chicken systems; aquaculture; hydroponics and hydronic heating; water filtration and aeration; cover cropping; innovative rain water systems that supply water for drip irrigation and flushing toilets.

The book claims to be ground-breaking in that each of the Jadrniceks’ permaculture designs stack up to seven functions, while classic permaculture only asks for a design to serve two functions. A bio-integrated greenhouse, for example, doesn’t just extend the season for growing vegetables; it also serves as a rainwater collector, a pond site, an aquaponics system and a heat generator. The Jadrniceks noticed that designs take on a new life of their own once the magical number of seven functions is reached. These stacked systems create biological and mechanical efficiencies that maximise production and ecological diversity. 

I would also say that there are many other examples of great permaculture designs in the public realm (books, online resources, magazine articles) that far exceed two functions too. The Jadrniceks’ descriptions of how these functions stack in their own designs, however, are really well presented. Because of this clarity, it’s easy to apply some of these function stacking ideas to my own design projects.

The book has a very applied, practical focus and there are many interesting relevant photos and diagrams throughout making it a great, clear learning manual and recourse for closed loop systems, reducing the reliance on outside resources. At times the designs seem complex, but it’s also easy to see how with a little pre-existing design knowledge, others could adapt them for their own permaculture work. Many of the systems described in the book could be adapted and used on different scales from small garden projects to broad scale farms.

Within my own farming work I have the highest standards for the health and care of farmed animals in permaculture design, and I do have big concerns about the ethics of fish ‘farming’ in aquaponics systems, especially the ones detailed in this book. My understanding of these systems, and especially after reading the Jadrniceks’ work, is that the experience of the fish in these designs is no different to that of intensively factory farmed chickens or pigs for example. I’m wondering if this will also give others within the permaculture community some reservations about aspects of the Bio-Integrated Farm too. 

In summary though this book has some great accessible detailed system ideas that can be adapted for a diverse range of land-based permaculture projects.

Katie Shepherd is a diploma tutor and designer. She blogs at: http://ktshepherdpermaculture.weebly.com

Further resources

US customers can buy this directly from Chelsea Green HERE

Stacking functions: the chicken compost run

Holistic planned grazing: sheep in orchards

How to charge biochar

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