Alan Booker

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since Apr 12, 2013
Alan graduated from Auburn University in Electrical Engineering with a focus on computer architecture and neural networks. He currently has over 25 years of experience as a systems engineer and systems architect working in digital telecommunications and large-scale computer systems.
As he gained experience in the industry throughout the 1990’s, Alan began to understand the long-term problems being created by modern design practices. In researching possible solutions, he became interested in Permaculture due to its holistic design approach and track record of creating workable solutions in a wide range of climates and ecosystems around the world.
Alan started studying Permaculture in 2002 and completed his PDC with Geoff Lawton in 2007. After several years of field experience and a variety of advanced training, Alan completed the Permaculture Teacher Training class with Geoff Lawton in 2012 and began to add Permaculture to the classes and workshops he was already teaching on community development, health and nutrition, and nature connection.
From early experiences learning edible and medicinal plants, Alan developed a love of being outdoors and observing natural systems. By his early twenties, he was teaching wilderness skills, survival, and other nature connection skills. Today, Alan uses this background to help students more deeply understand natural ecosystems in order to become better designers.
In addition to teaching the PDC, Alan also provides consulting and workshops on earthworks, soil remediation, composting, forest gardening, holistic management of pastureland, keyline design, aquaculture and aquaponics, off-grid energy systems, and natural building systems.
Alan is the founder and lead instructor of the Eldenbridge Institute, which provides education and research in support of regenerative communities.
Huntsville, AL
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Recent posts by Alan Booker

Jeremy Allen wrote:Alan, Chad, thanks for the replies.  I was trying to keep it generic so it'd be more helpful to others looking for starter guides on this.  But maybe it's more helpful to be more specific about my situation?

Firstly, Alan, can you talk more about your Ecological Solar Design course?  What are the skills taught to a non-electrician like myself?

Anyway, my situation is that I am moving into an off-grid yurt in the coming months.  It would cost >$80k to have power brought in, and then I'd get the pleasure of a monthly power bill and the company assuming ownership of all of the equipment I'd need to install to get the power to my yurt (and future house) site.  So off-grid just made a ton more sense.

I already have most of the equipment.  I got a killer deal on the Clean Energy Storage Powergrid PG11, here's the stat sheet.  It contains the AIMS 8kW Power Inverter Charger, the Outback FlexMAX 80, and the Nuvation NUV300 battery controller.  It's supposed to be "plug and play" but I don't have the skills to know the minutia required.  I also got a crazy good deal on Canadian 275w solar panels, so have 20 of those.  I don't have anything to connect the panels to the inverter/charge controller.  I see the schematic in the Powergrid instructions, but wanted to make sure I was doing everything properly (as you pointed out, small mistakes can be big problems).

I have a southern exposed area that's close to the yurt for the panels.  I ultimately want some type of pole mount, since I could more easily shed the snow and change the angle to catch the sun in winter better.

Hmm, what else?

I will reach out to the local contractor who does off-grid systems, but felt like I had most of the work done and just needed to "plug it all together."  Of course, I'm not so naive to think that's really all I need to do...  :)

Thanks for your, and anyone else's, advice.  Trying to save money, but like not exploding.

Jeremy



It sounds like you have a number of good components, but putting it all together properly takes a little work. I have worked with the Outback FLEXmax before, as well as Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries (although not the PG11), but I am not familiar with the Nuvation NUV300.

Since you have the charge controller and the inverter from different vendors, there may be a bit of trickiness is making sure they play together nicely. When you buy both from the same vendor, they usually have some way of talking to each other to do a few "smart" things that help out and let you manage them in a unified fashion.

On the Ecological Solar Design class I do go over a lot of these concepts in a fair amount of detail, but don't get into all the specifics that an installer would need to know. I concentrate more on covering the concepts a permaculture designer looking to integrate solar into a larger regenerative design would find useful.

I also take a much bigger-picture approach to what "solar" is. In my mind, your garden is the most sophisticated use of solar power. Sticking up solar panels to create electricity is dirty and inelegant in comparison. And how about a solar clothes dryer (aka a clothes line) instead of an electric dryer? Or passive solar gain from a properly designed building?

You would probably get a lot out of this class, but I am not going to have time to teach it again in the near future. Fortunately, the EAT Network had me do an early version of the class as a series of 14 webinars which they recorded. The first one is free at the EAT Community website and you can register for paid access to see the rest if you think it would be helpful. (They have recently changed around their paid access plans, so you will have to look at the details if you are interested.)

Good luck with the project and please report back on your progress and what you learn!
1 month ago
Julio,

I have never worked with the RootMaker, but I have tried out the Air-Pot containers to learn more about how air pruning works. The Air-Pots seemed to work quite well for the few things I have grown in them so far.

I've never had the opportunity to use them on a large scale, so I would be interested to hear a comparison from someone who has worked with both the RootMaker and the Air-Pot on a larger project.
1 month ago

Julio Budreaux wrote:Paul and Alan, welcome! I would be super excited to win a slot in your next PDC course. I'm slowly (aren't we all?) putting together a permaculture Paw Paw orchard outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas. I've got three planted as tests and they've done well over the past year, so I now have another 8 ready to go into the ground this year and 28 seedlings planted in RootMakerII pots. My plan is to have more than 80 trees in the ground by the fall of 2020!

Anyway, welcome again and good luck to everybody in the drawing!



Hey Julio,

I'm glad to hear you are working with Pawpaw. We need more folks working with this amazing native fruit. If you haven't read it yet, I recommend Pawpaw: In Search of America's Forgotten Fruit by Andrew Moore.

Are you planting one (or more) of the improved varieties? Where are you getting your stock?

Also, what is the larger context of your orchard? Pawpaws definitely seem to do better in a diverse food forest setting where they can act as an under-story tree. What else are you working on for the other layers of your system?
1 month ago

J Davis wrote:Fascinating thread.

As bio/chemical toxins have become prevalent, the need to incorporate detox protocols into daily routines has become evident.

It seems that as emf increases, our need for adaptogens (and or cannaboids) may likewise become evident.

Does anyone have actual data on how earth shelters block or mitigate emf?



Because I'm not geeky enough already just being an electrical engineer, I also have my Extra Class Amateur Radio (aka Ham Radio) license. So I think a lot about how RF at different frequencies propagate.

The way EMF's interact with soil is determined by several factors, primary of which is the characteristic impedance of the soil and the frequency of the RF field.

The resistivity and permittivity of the soil together create the characteristic impedance and therefore determine the skin depth of the soil at each frequency. The skin depth is the thickness of soil needed to attenuate the signal down to 36.8% of the original. By the time you get to four skin depths, you have pretty much eliminated the field.

The SMeter website is a Ham Radio site that has a free piece of software to help you calculate skin depths for different types of soils and different frequencies. Their page on RF Skin Depth in the Ground has the link for downloading the software.
1 month ago

Charlotte Tessadri wrote:I think practicing permaculture is a great way to awaken the inner scientist in people, but I am not very strict with the word scientist. For me a scientist definitely is a person who wants to free themselves from the norms to discover the truth beyond the known. Old paradigms have to be changed or thrown out for something new to come. If you research within a discipline you already are caught in the concepts of that discipline, meaning you're already nit thinking freely, because the perspective you're researching from has been taught to you from someone else, who has also taken over concepts from another person.  
Thus a scientist who has studied in his field for many years might not be as free as someone who has never studied anything before.

And I think to really observe something, perceive it purely it is better to have a free mind rather than a mind stuffed with various concepts.


Anyway: Alan, thank you for the response about the education techniques from the San people. I'm very fascinated now and I'm wondering why you have such a deep knowledge in that field. Did you live with them for some time?  



Charlotte,

I grew up outdoors all the time and started learning wilderness skills fairly young. I started studying tracking seriously about 20 years ago and have had the good fortune to spend some time tracking with a number of native people in a few places around the world, including Botswana. The native tracker I got to spend some time with there was not San; he grew up in the Okavango Delta. I used the San for illustration because one of my teachers has spent a lot of time with them and has documented the details I discussed.

In addition to permaculture, I also teach some wilderness skills, tracking, primitive fire making, bird language, and navigation. Primitive skills is an ideal way to help people build the connections to the natural world that makes them both excellent observers and caretakers, thus acting as a gateway to them wanting to learn permaculture and how to work with the Earth in a better way.

I am currently writing a book called Observation for Design that takes students through a 14-week program of learning deep observation skills and helping them understand how this relates to being a good designer. We always say that observation is a key to good permaculture design, but we seem to almost never actually teach that skill.
1 month ago
I think what Noah is pointing out in response to Ken's question is important.

More recent science has started to figure out the how eating plants or animals that have been stressed can expose us to xenohormone effects and provoke a xenohormesis response in our bodies.

Xenohormones are hormones from another species that we ingest and that end up having hormonal effects in our own bodies. So if plants or animals create stress hormones or hormones that promote obesity (called obesogens), this can trigger a similar response in us when we ingest them as our food.

Xenohormesis is one of the body's responses to the presence of these xenohormones. At low levels, it can actually trigger a strengthening effect where the body reacts to the stress by getting stronger in much the same way that muscles respond to the stress of working out by getting bigger and stronger.

But just as overworking a muscle can result in the muscle being torn down faster than it can regenerate, the presence of a xenohormesis response at too high of a level can result in chronic stresses that are a long-term drain on our bodies.



The problem is that the benefits of a hormesis response are typically seen in response to a stimulus of limited duration and intensity. Chronic, low-level stress is more likely to be uniformly destructive. So if our long-term diets consist of foods that contain bad xenohormones, the outcome is not likely to be very positive.
1 month ago

Jeremy Allen wrote:As a man of squishy sciences (biology, mycology, medicine- all squishy things) I’m less informed with things electrical. I’m setting up an 11kW solar system with PV to power my off grid home. Any helpful design sites out there? I’m having a hard time figuring out the best way to “plug it all together” including cables connecting the panels. YouTube has failed me. Much appreciated!



Jeremy,

There is an lot to learn to successfully design and install a off-grid good Solar PV system. If you end up doing it wrong, the results can be anywhere from wasting a lot of money to burning your house down (yes, I have seen this).

So if you don't have a reasonable amount of expertise in electrical work in genera,l and Solar PV in specific, I would first advise that you work with somebody who does. And my experience is that the folks who are experienced in off-grid Solar PV designs (which requires sizing out batteries and figuring out discharge curves) are a small subset of the professional solar installers I run into. Most solar installers I have met specialize in installing grid-tied systems since this is what they can sell the most of.

(As for YouTube, it has a mix of good, bad, and ugly advice, so I wouldn't recommend using that as a primary source of information).

When you work out the economics, the payback period for grid-tied systems looks a lot better than off-grid or grid-interactive, and they require much less maintenance or thought from the user. So the sales team for most Solar PV companies have an easier time selling the typical homeowner a grid-tied system.

That being said, I actually prefer off-grid systems (possibly with grid fall-back if a grid connection is easy where you are located). They just take careful design and some thought and care to operate.

I actually teach a 20-hour Ecological Solar Design course that is designed to teach regenerative designers how to work with Solar PV professionals to add solar to their designs in as sustainable and regenerative a way as possible. (Please notice that this course doesn't try to teach you to actually be a certified installer yourself. That is normally a week-long hands-on course for just the basic certification that only covers grid-tied. Off-grid is at least another week of school.)

My first piece of advise is to start by figuring out how to reduce your electrical loads by 90%. Then the rest gets much easier, and usually much cheaper.

If you are thinking about an 11 kW solar array, I would want to know what you are planning on powering with the array and how many kWh of total consumption per day you use on average.

If you do chose to tackle this project on your own, please understand that there are a large number of tasks you are going to have to handle to end up with a good result. These include things like:
*Decide on the optimal mounting location and orientation for your array
*Do a solar insulation survey to determine how much solar radiation is falling on the site during the day for each season of the year
*Do a complete load analysis that accurately reflects you peak loads, average loads, and worst-case energy consumption through the different seasons
*Decide on array voltage, whether to use power optimizers, the best serial/parallel arrangement to meet your goals, the proper gauge of power wire to handle the current load and minimize voltage drops
*Analyze your load requirements to determine the total size of battery array needed, pick your battery chemistry, and figure out your discharge curves so that you don't destroy your batteries in short order
*Pick the best equipment to meet your goals, including sizing your charge controller and inverters
*Install everything to full electrical code (if you don't and something bad happens, your insurance company will probably use this as an excuse not to pay)
*Configure the equipment to run in the required modes and then monitor and maintain the system to insure proper operation

All of these tasks are much easier for a smaller array than for a larger array. This is another element that recommends towards starting by figuring out how to reduce your loads.

If you decide to go forward, I would certainly recommend doing a lot of your own ground work and research and then finding a good Solar PV designer and installer who has done a bunch of off-grid work to help you out. If you find somebody good to work with, you may be able to keep costs down by doing certain things yourself. You just will want help at certain critical phases unless you have the proper expertise yourself.

1 month ago

Greg Martin wrote:I kind of look at it as....when one is using the scientific method one is acting as a scientist.  You can be a professional scientist, an amateur scientist, have a doctorate in a science, have a bachelor's degree or be a high school drop out.  Those are just extra titles to characterize the folks, but I think someone is only a scientist when they are doing science.  Don't get me wrong, some people are better at it than others....some much better.  And peer review is a critical part of the process.  Without peer review it gets dicey fast because it's much too easy to fail due to our unexamined biases.  Peer review isn't perfect, but it certainly tends to help.



Greg,

Yes. I count peer review under the category of "putting in place ways to check your conclusions so that you don't get caught in your own biases or blind spots." It is the preferred way in many areas of modern academia, but not necessarily the only way.

When the San trackers hunt, they often do so in groups of two or three, constantly communicating back and forth, challenging each other's interpretation of what they are seeing. This is their form of peer review, and it works very well for them.

You could probably come up with any number of different ways to accomplish this. I think the most important thing is to make sure you have at least one (or preferably several) and that you make sure you are using it.
1 month ago

Jeremy Allen wrote:This is awesome stuff. I work in medicine and frequently am re-looking up stuff, using pubmed.gov over and over, sometimes bookmarking. Thanks for the tip!



If you are interested, sign up for the free class next Wednesday evening. We will be going over how to install Zotero and get everything up and working. I will also be sharing some more details about the collaboration.

One of my permaculture students who is also a PhD in Biology will also be giving a good overview of the whole peer-review and publication process, along with talking through how to spot good research vs. bad research.
1 month ago

Charlotte Tessadri wrote:Thank you for this detailed and very deep answer to my question. I'm really impressed and thankful for the package of knowledge you just gave me. I am really wondering how it would be to talk to you for real.  :-)

And I have to say I'm also very happy about your answer. I like to call myself a scientist because I love to observe and I also love the challenge to break my boundaries and search for the unknown or let's say renew old, dusty paradigms.
I'm very much into the science of yoga which is a very old and mostly misinterpreted science about how we perceive our reality. I believe that yogis were the first indian scientists, who included much more in their observations than modern scientist do today. That's why they might have gone much deeper as we go today.
Studying yoga deeply definitely redefines your view of human capacities and practicing it truly extends yours and the capacities of your surrounding for sure.

Please forgive me my English, it's a bit late now and my brain is tired. 😊

Anyway thank you for the answer.
I'm still a bit curious tough:
I studied educational science and I am very much interested in pedagogical concepts that educators use to teach people.

Can you tell me a bit about your approach of teaching permaculture and also your way of teaching to teach permaculture. 😊

How do you think can and will people sustainably learn and which methods to you use to support them in your courses?

Looking forward to another great answer
Thanks



Charlotte,

I think you are bringing up a very important point when you ask about ways of teaching to teach permaculture.

A young man I was working with several years ago said, "I finally realized you aren't just interested in creating good students or even creating good teachers. You want to create good teachers who can create good teachers."

I think this precisely catches the point. If we only create good students, we pass things down for one generation. If we create good teachers, we can probably pass things down two generations. But if we can create teachers who know how to create other good teachers, then we are moving towards being able to keep things passing down sustainably.

Let me first attack the question of pedagogy in general, and then address how it applies to teaching a PDC or helping people learn permaculture in general.

Modern Pedagogy vs. Deep Learning

Teaching via lecture to students in a group setting is a rather recent human innovation which probably only started a few thousand years ago and wasn't widely practiced on large numbers of people until the later part of the nineteenth century. This way of teaching imposes a number of specific habits and patterns of thought on those who are taught this way, not all of them good.

I mentioned the San people above. If you look at how they pass on knowledge to their children, you will quickly notice that the have nothing that remotely looks like a classroom or a bunch of kids sitting down to listen to a didactic lecture. The closest you will come is everyone listening to the storytellers around the fire in the evening. Yet when the average 14-year old San is tested to see what they know about their environment and how to live there, the estimate is that they have also assimilated and can apply at least as much information as the average person with a Master's degree from a major university. The San are clearly doing something much more sophisticated than we are. Without classrooms, books, lectures, or even reading and writing.

What the San have is something that Jon Young (an expert in cultural mentoring systems and the founder of the Eight Shields Institute) calls the "invisible school." It is built into their culture so that children absorb information as an ongoing part of simply living in the village.

As I studied these mentoring systems with Jon, I started to sort out an categorize all the different ways I had noticed that human beings have developed to share information with each other. My list right now stands at 13 distinct methods. I don't have room here to explain all 13, but will at least list them to give you an idea of the range of techniques:

 1. Didactic Instruction
 2. Art of Questioning
 3. Storytelling
 4. Games
 5. Role Modeling
 6. Experiential activities
 7. Invoking children's universal passions
 8. Imitation and Emulation
 9. Trickster
 10. Symbol and Pattern
 11. Synchrony and Entrainment
 12. Music and Rhythm
 13. Objects that teach on display

If you look at this list, you will probably agree that most teachers in modern classrooms spend the vast majority of their time on the first method. Good teachers will add the second and third methods. Great teachers will manage to work in even more.

The invisible school run by the San uses all 13 and probably others I haven't figured out yet.

The problem is, of course, that the logistics of a single teacher running a classroom full of students doesn't typically allow for bringing the full range of teaching tools to bear. Thus the heavy dependence on didactic teaching.

Didactic teaching can certainly be effective in the right contexts (though probably never as effective as the proper mix of all 13 methods), but as I studied how didactic instruction works I realized that there are certain prerequisites that must be met in order for a group of students in a classroom to learn efficiently.

I came up with a list of eight prerequisites for effective didactic learning, which I will included in the attached PDF file for those who would like to read it.

If you look at this list, it becomes obvious that a number of things all need to line up for the standard academic classroom structure to work well. And in many cases this isn't happening in a lot of our schools.

Pedagogy in Permaculture

This brings me down to the challenge of teaching a PDC.

To make any sense, I think we have to approach the PDC as one prong of a multi-faceted approach to learning. I call the PDC "an introduction to thinking like a permaculture designer." When done well, it is a great compliment to all the other critical pathways of learning, such as working with mentors, hands-on experience, reading and studying on your own, etc.

The reason I say that teaching a good PDC is a challenge is that there is so much groundwork to lay down to help people start to think like a whole-systems designer, and you have a very limited amount of time to do it. The result is that there is a fairly good amount of didactic instruction that creates the backbone of the course.

The reason for so much didactic is that it is the most efficient way to transfer certain forms of information in a short time provided that all of the prerequisites are met. So what you end up doing is working through the required 72 hours of classroom material, making it a mixture of lecture, discussion, storytelling, art of questioning, and design activities. You intersperse that will hands-on activities and demonstrations. And you let each student work through an entire design project on their own, broken down into well defined phases over the course of the entire class.

(There is a trade-off between letting students work together as a group and asking students to work through their design projects on their own. Group designs do help certain students learn to better work in group settings, but often at the cost of some students simply sitting back and watching as everyone else does all the work. For the more professional level students that I usually teach, I want them to work through all phases of the design project on their own and then present their design to the group individually. This insures they have worked through and internalized all parts of the design process.)

When done properly, a good PDC can help students learn to think in a whole new way: as whole-systems designers that embrace complexity instead of try to fight it. This preparation super-charges all of the other forms of learning they will do over the course of building the deep experience required to become an expert designer.

I certainly don't think that any single PDC can make someone a great designer all by itself. Instead, it should be a launching pad to send you off in the right direction, equipped with the right tools, to start the real journey of life-long learning.

Part of the reason I have designed my PDC to be tailored to the needs of a specific type of student is that I know that this is the best way to make sure these students get what they need. Because of that, I feel that there is a lot of room for many different approaches to teaching a PDC, each one optimized for its intended audience.




1 month ago