Suzanne grows the garden, harvests and processes the backyard bounty, takes care of the animals, and works with children here. It is her passion and she is happy to share her knowledge with the kids and grown-ups who come to visit. She is a perennial student of the natural world.
Paul is the builder, beekeeper, chief scavenger and banjo player here. He always loves a new challenge and has a passion for all things old and made of wood. The kids love following him around to see what he’ll work on next and hoping he’ll play them a tune.
Suzanne and Paul graduated from college and both found themselves working jobs in their ‘field’ of study. They both soon realized that they may be trapped inside of a building all day for the rest of their lives trying to ‘make a living’. They bailed out of those jobs and into work that kept them mostly outside and engaged with the natural world. Paul became a wildland firefighter and Suzanne became a naturalist and educator.
They moved to Petaluma in 2002 and bought an old wooden house. It was constructed in 1907 using recycled building materials from the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, old barn siding, scavenged trim pieces and even some shipping crate wood tacked up on the wall. The house sits on a 6,000 square foot urban lot in a neighborhood filled with fruit and nut trees, tall redwoods, oaks and sycamores. It’s just a short walk to the old downtown.
When the opportunity arose, they convinced their friends to leave Oakland and buy the house behind them. Their backyards adjoin so they’ve joined forces in this urban homesteading project. The two couples had looked for rural property together before coming here but the long drive to jobs and amenities seemed crazy with the coming end of oil. They wanted a small, tight community that could support itself in a crisis. They have found it here.
Suzanne and her neighbor friend took a Permaculture Design Course in 2006 and re-designed their two adjoining lots using the Permaculture Principles. They aimed for “An overabundance of abundance” as their Permaculture teacher Penny Livingston-Stark says.
Over the years the site has evolved into a mature ‘food forest’. Suzanne and Paul have added ducks, chickens, honeybee hives, annual and perennial food crops, 20 fruit trees, berries, grapes, fruit-bearing shrubs, medicinal herbs, dye and cordage plants, 3000 gallons of rainwater catchment, a rainwater-fed pond-to-garden system, a grey-water fed garden, prolific backyard composting and an operating greenhouse. They share the garden with many species of wild birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, and the occasional furry interloper. It is backyard resilience in the making.
Suzanne’s inspiration for her Permaculture work in the garden has come from her time spent in the Mother Garden at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center with Doug Gosling and Michelle Vesser. OAEC and the people there (past and present) have inspired her in a multitude of ways. Her go-to person for the ‘personal ecology’ component of Permaculture is Trathen Heckman, director of the Daily Acts Organization. She took her Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course with the continually inspiring Erik Ohlsen and Penny Livingston-Stark at The Center for Regenerative Design. Many of the nuts and bolts ideas for infrastructure here have come from Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual by Bill Mollison and Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway.