Alan Booker

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since Apr 12, 2013
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Alan graduated from Auburn University in Electrical Engineering with a focus on computer architecture and neural networks. He currently has over 30 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 executive director of the Institute of Integrated Regenerative Design, which provides education and research in support of regenerative communities.
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Huntsville, AL
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Recent posts by Alan Booker

Vaughan Griffin wrote:Hi there!

Will there be recordings of this PDC available for purchase, similar to the Virtual PDC and Appropriate Technology course on Permies?

I have wanted to attend a PDC for Scienists and Engineers for some time, however they're almost always in the States (I'm in Australia).

Hoping there might be an option to watch or download the recordings at a discounted rate. The course outline looks elite!




No, there won't be any videos for this PDC. Paul has expressed some interest in possible doing this, but I have resisted for several reasons.

Perhaps the biggest of the reason is that having cameras and microphones going fundamentally shifts the environment of the course. It moves from an intimate discussion just between those of us in the room over to a space where everyone is aware that what they are saying is being recorded. When I allowed recording of a couple of sessions during the 2022 PDC, I was immediately aware of how the mood in the room shifted and how much less certain students interacted. I want to protect the shared space that we all create when we come together for two weeks to learn together.

There are other reasons, such as the fact that I designed the curriculum to unfold as a combination of presentations and active learning that can't be captured via video, and that I tell a number of stories given to me by elders who said they should only be told in person. But mostly it's because many people find the course to be a transformational experience and I find that cameras get in the way of that experience.

If you can manage to find a way to come join us, we would love to have you. If not, I would encourage you to find a more local group that you can share the experience with.

1 month ago

Hal Schmidt wrote:So I know that the PDC listing says that it's for scientists and engineers and professionals, but would someone who is more of a beginner be welcomed and still benefit from the course? I see great value in all of the topics that will be discussed, especially when we get our land and decide on how to to design our system. Would love to hear others' thoughts and experiences!

Hal, the course is geared for learners who have a strong technical background but little/no experience with permaculture, so obviously these folks do well. I have also noticed that learners who show up with a good amount of exposure to permaculture concepts but a limited background in the sciences can do well, but might have to spend some extra effort catching up to speed on the chemistry, biology, and physics concepts. Folks that have neither a technical background nor familiarity with permaculture concepts can definitely get overwhelmed.

If a learner is the type who gets really frustrated when they can't catch every concept, then coming in without an adequate background in either the technical fields or permaculture is probably not a good fit. On the other hand, a learner whose temperament allows them to take a more relaxed approach and simply pick up on those parts for which they are ready would likely do fine. They would certainly miss a good amount of the more advanced content, but would learn plenty that they could take home and put into practice.
1 month ago
Being a systems engineer, my thought is that the question of infrastructure requirements is quite complex.

The first layer of breaking it down would be to divide things up into embodied infrastructure and operational infrastructure.

Embodied infrastructure is the technological base required to produce, ship, install, and commission the system in the first place. A mini-split, for instance, requires a civilization to maintain the infrastructure to extract all of the raw materials, ship them to factories, produce the power to run those factories, produce complex chemicals such as refrigerants, test the finished assembly, have transportation infrastructure to move it to the point of installation, maintain businesses that can handle the details of selling and installing the unit, train people to install it, etc. You also need a functioning economic system (banks, etc.) to be able to support the economic transactions required to facilitate all of these transactions.

Operational infrastructure is the infrastructure required to operate and maintain the system once it is installed. Any system that requires grid electricity to operate is operationally dependent on power generation plants, power transmission and distribution systems, and the infrastructure required to extract and transport the fuels used to power those generation facilities. Complex technologies require replacement parts to maintain them over their operational lifetime, so you have to maintain the infrastructure to manufacture and distribute those parts.

I suppose you could break off a sub-category of "on-site infrastructure" to list only the things required on-site to allow installation and the resources that need to be either delivered or generated on-site to maintain operation (electricity, natural gas, wood, etc.). But that fails to capture the vast differences in actual global infrastructure required to allow the existence of something like a geothermal heat pump vs a rocket mass heater.
2 months ago

Beau Davidson wrote:Unanswered Webinar Questions from the chat:

Ezra asks:
Is HGT partly responsible for the success of interplanted high diversity systems? The genetic databank that microorganisms are carrying around is more broad, so the proper defense mechanism information is more easily accessed by each plant?

I suspect it is a combination of HGT and multi-species quorum sensing cutting in to activate more robust soil food web activity. There isn't any peer-reviewed research on this that I have found yet, so we still have much to learn. But we have plenty of actual field experience to tell us that it actually works, so let's keep doing it as we continue to figure out all the magic nature is working when we work with high diversity.

James asks:
Conducting Holobiontic Orchestra. Is IMO 1-4 a plaussible approach for this epigenetic nudging?

Yes, if you properly harvest good genetics at the beginning of the process of creating the IMO's. The effect of IMO creation and application is to amplify the presence of the indigenous microorganisms that you capture from the local ecosystem, so making sure you have good material at the start is important.

flamin asks:
Will it benefit if I put wormcasting and compost or some active cultures in the seedling soil mix?

If you are doing biological cultivation, then yes. Adding some vermicompost, thermophilic compost, or aerated static pile compost will help with inoculation. Good aerated static pile (such as Johnson-Su) will tend to have better fungal populations, so is great for mid-succession or late-succession plants. I always check any compost with the microscope prior to application to make sure everything is looking good.

Rachel asks:
Where would you get samples for localized cultures  

If you have somebody in your area that already has a great biologically cultivated garden with robust-healthy plants, then soil from that garden would be great to inoculate your own compost. If you don't have access to that, then gather small handfuls of soil from various wild (and chemical-free) healthy plant communities in your area. Pick plant communities of similar successional stage to what you are growing if possible. Use that soil to inoculate your compost and then check with a microscope before application to make sure everything is high quality.

Barry asks:
What is the best way to introduce or import non-local "beneficial" biodiversity in our locally produced soil building goo?  

A high-quality compost, carefully packaged and shipped to maintain its biological viability, is probably the best way to transport good microbial biodiversity from one place to the other. There are now several vendors who sell biologically active compost in small quantities (just a few pounds) precisely for this purpose. You can do a simple drench to inoculate soil, or brew an aerated compost tea for foliar application (via spraying) to inoculate leaf surfaces (important for disease suppression).

Jeremy asks:
Is there a way to increase this kind of biological activity in a hydroponics (Kratky) system?  

Hydroponics is difficult since this the aqueous version of chemical cultivation. It is certainly possible using aquaponics, since this is the aqueous version of biological cultivation, in which the soil food web attempts to adapt by creating a sort of biofilm on the plant roots. I have run some experimental aquaponic systems, but never done formal experiments with inoculating the plant roots in those systems. I ended up moving away from aquaponics once I became convinced that growing truly nutrient-dense food using this method was going to be very difficult.

Louis asks:
what is the number of generations that the epigenetic change lasts after the stressor event on the original plant? is it strongest with first generation and then diminish or does it just adapt based on that plants current stressors?  

We have good evidence that epigenetic inheritance reaches the third generation (the "grandchild"), but research is still unfolding so it is hard to give a definitive answer right now. One of the famous examples is that there is evidence that a biological female smoking during pregnacy will have an epigenetic stress-response impact on both the direct offspring and the children of the female offspring.

Ezra asks:
So in determinate plants all seeds would inherit the same epigenetics, but in indeterminate plants it could be that the earlier fruit and the later fruit would pass on different epigenetics based on a change of climate or a weather event between the creation of the first fruits and last fruits?  

Interesting thought. I have never seen that question addressed by any formal research, but the hypothesis makes sense. A high-stress event, for examples, might show up through epigenetic inheritance in seeds produced after the event where it was absent in the seeds produces before the event.

Barry asks:
How long before Permies creates a epigenetic localized seed sharing platform?  

Nature tends to use decentralized solutions, so I tend to favor lots of independent local seeds banks, all working with their local community to breed and share locally-adapted genetics. A great role for Permies might be to maintain links to all of those seeds banks to help connect people to their local seed-saving communities. I'm sure Paul would be happy for somebody to volunteer to help develop/maintain that list.

Kristen asks:
How do you measure herb brix?  Can we see your brix notes?

My notes on brix are a little long to post in-line here, so maybe that needs to be a different post. In terms of measuring brix for herbs, I would recommend using a standard refractometer (optical and digital will both work) to test the sap from a leaf not in the meristem region. Go back to the second branching behind the terminal bud and pick off the second leaf on that stem. Do this the same time each day to maintain consistency between measurements (about 2-3 hours after sunrise, once the dew has lifted, is a good time). Rub the leaf between your fingers vigorously for about 30 seconds to break down the structure and release the sap. Then put the leaf through a garlic press to get a drop of sap to put in the refractometer.

Jeremy asks:
So is saving seeds really essential or can you get "most" of the benefit with uber healthy soil and plant biodiversity?  

I think of seed saving as a critical part of any program to develop local food security and food sovereignty. If you start with the wrong genetics in your seeds, then there is only so much that great soil can do to overcome that. Great soil can certainly help, but I want to see both/and instead of either/or. Doing this by yourself can be daunting, so this is a great opportunity to build community with other gardeners in your area so you can share the work and learn from each other.

rachel asks:
Would you agree with IMO cultivation like in the Korean natural Farming methods

Korean Natural Farming techniques such as IMO are certainly one of the good options for creating high-quality inoculants to help establish a great soil food web. Just like with any other inoculant, I would check it with a microscope before application to make sure it is high quality.

flamin asks:
How can we trigger the epigenetic change we want relatively quickly?  

The steps I outlined in the Breeding Strategy section are all designed to do exactly this. Things like overplanting then thinning, STUN-like management, etc. are all good for prompting beneficial epigenetic adaptation.

alina asks:
so is it not worth doing anything if I"m in a small urban property in Honolulu? Even local seeds are grown outer islands, with lots of rain and subtropical temperatures...

Your situation is EXACTLY where we need the most work. We need to start growing a lot more nutrient-dense food in our urban areas, and we need genetics that are well-adapted to this situation. I was just talking to somebody working with the mayor's office in a large northeastern city where they are trying to address issues of local food security and the increasing percentage of their population that lacks access to nutrient-dense real food. I am discussing with them ways to grow food in lots of small places (including small wicking beds, raised planters, etc.) instead of waiting to implement massive scale projects that costs lots of money and are likely to fail. I would encourage you to set up a planter or wicking bed and start growing if you aren't already. Maybe 20-30 square feet, which can grow quite a bit when intensively managed.

James asks:
Is short seed fermentation (no solt) prior to storage improves next generation and viability period?

Fermentation helps with certain families or annual crop seed. If you check with the seed saving books I recommended, they discuss whether fermentation is appropriate on a per-family basis.
2 months ago

Justin Stenkamp II wrote:I would be happy to help out with the ILFI discussions regarding methane and biomass.  I think this is an area of the standard that needs a different lens.  I have worked on multiple Living Building projects including the Bullitt Center,  Kendeda Building, and the PAE Living Building.   All three of these buildings were designed with compost toilet systems.  The PAE Living Building has a urine diversion system that can generate fertilizer.


Yes, I would definitely like to connect with you to discuss. Please message me so we can set up a call.
A quick clarification to the summary:

The Living Building Challenge is the world's most rigorous standard for sustainable and regenerative building design. There are only a little over 30 buildings in the world right now that are certified to the full LBC standard. The group that maintains the standard is the International Living Future Institute.
Two corrections to this summary:

1. I indicated that autopoiesis is one of the criteria laid out in the systems definition of life. There are several other criteria that also must be met to be classified as living according to the systems definition.

2. I used a silvopasture system (not a pasture system) as the example in resource type #3. If a silvopasture system is not inhabited by a functional mix of browsers, grazers (and their predators), it will either success forward towards a more closed-canopy forest or possibly regress back towards a prairie/meadow if there is an over-abundance of browsers.

Jeff Bosch wrote:What air quality meters do you recommend? Both stand alone and that can be plugged into a computer for logging?

For a stand-alone IAQ sensor appropriate for a home, something like the Awair Element works well. It connects to an app on your smartphone so you can see detailed results.

If you are doing large-scale projects such as multi-tenet units or commercial buildings, then multi-sensor systems are required. This would be something more like Awair's Omni or the various options available from Senseware (which just announced that they are rebranding as Attune). The sensors send results back to cloud-based servers, which then provide a portal to view and correlate results. These systems can actually do a lot more than just simple IAQ monitoring since they are designed to handle a variety of building monitoring and automation tasks.
4 months ago

Beau Davidson wrote:It was a great presentation and conversation, thanks to Alan, and to Paul.

Here are our leftover questions.  I will ping Alan to come share his thoughts as he is able.

Will slides be available after for later perusal?

What is the maximum practical storage mass temp?

How do the economics work out with dry scrap wood?

Burn bans and mass heaters any issues?

foot slog:
from an earlier topic. What was the website for reforestation of deserts?

I will get with Beau and provide a PDF version of the slides that can be posted just for those who have access to the video. I am still working on parts of the white paper, so I don't want to post publicly yet.

See Ernie and Erica Wisner's book The Rocket Mass Heater Builder's Guide for a detailed discussion of the temperatures of the various layers of the thermal mass. The short form of the answer is that you normally don't want parts of the mass that people might sit on or touch to be much above 100 F. The core of the thermal mass, where the active heat exchange it taking place, will be much hotter, sometimes over 500 F.

Most types of dry scrap wood will burn quite well in a rocket mass heater, so if you have a cheap/free source then the economics would be quite good.

A properly constructed rocket mass heater should be just about the safest option in areas of high fire risk. It is almost impossible to get a spark out the chimney of a RMH, even if it is being operated sub-optimally. The fire is also well-contained inside the burn chamber, making it generally one of the safest options of any wood-burning device.

For reforestation of deserts, see the many resources about Geoff Lawton's Greening the Desert projects in Jordan, and Neil Spackman's Al Baydha project in Saudi Arabia.
4 months ago

Michael Cox wrote:Is the objective to get a set of these built at the labs? I'm really keen to learn how this turns out. I'm not aware of anyone other than Sepp trying this and getting good results. I worry that his write up may be a quirk of his geology.

Paul wants me to try an installation on the lab. The first thing I pointed out was that I'm not at all sure there is anyplace on the lab that has the proper geohydrologic conditions for it to work properly. So we agreed that I would do the following:

1. Explain how a spring terrace works, what conditions it requires, and how to tell if you have those conditions.
2. Take everyone out on the lab and evaluate possible locations. Bore test cores and/or dig test trenches to determine sub-soil conditions.
3. If we find a suitable location, install a spring terrace there. If not, do a small-scale demonstration of the process of installation.

It isn't actually all that unusual for there to be an impervious layer in the soil strata somewhere in the first 20-30 feet. If you have a good slope in much of the temperate zones, then there is a fair chance that you might have a relatively impervious layer (either an impervious form of bedrock or a clay layer) somewhere underneath. The more rare condition is having that layer shallow enough towards the bottom of the slope that it is practical to trench down to it and install the weeping tile and gravel.

The next time you see a place where a hill has been cut to allow a road through, take a closer look at the way the strata stack up. You may even notice places where water or moisture are seeping out. It may come out primarily at specific points, or it may be a slow seep all along a seem. That is the kind of thing the spring terrace is trying to intercept and harvest.
11 months ago