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Permaculture Sees an Abundant Michigan

Jesse Tack
Jesse Tack - Doug Coombe
Abundant Michigan, Permaculture Ypsi founder Jesse Tack says permaculture is a "generalist's game," and his own career is the perfect proof of his point: Tack's background is in music therapy.

"My thinking is that anybody could be into permaculture design," Tack says. "You can be a mechanic, you can be a plumber, you can be a teacher, you can be at any interest level because permaculture design is about human culture."

Permaculture design, first advanced in the 1970s by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, promotes the use of self-sustaining cultural (and particularly agricultural) practices, referencing nature's own systems as a model. Tack, now 34, says the concept appealed to him as a solution to global problems that bothered him as an "angry kid." He first discovered permaculture through Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

"It's the art of arranging things in a fashion that essentially produces no waste," Tack says. "It's a way to think about our interactions on Earth that isn't politicized or isn't an environmentalist thing." 

Tack was inspired to start an Ypsi permaculture group after hosting a course on the subject in Detroit last year. The five-year Ypsi resident quickly realized his efforts would be more efficiently spent closer to home.

"Just in terms of personal energy, not to mention fossil fuel energy, it's untenable for me to drive to Detroit," Tack says. "We're talking about putting down tree systems that will last 400 years, much longer than my life. But while you can, you want to care for these systems while they're baby systems."

Tack says Ypsi sustainability advocates like Monica King and Lisa Bashert "supported and nurtured" him as he founded Abundant Michigan, Permaculture Ypsilanti (AMPY) last August. The group pools members' efforts for projects to make each other's yards, gardens and farms more sustainable. Membership is free, and members can earn group work days on their own properties if they accumulate enough work hours on other members' projects. 

The group is comprised of about 225 Facebook group members, and 20 regular workers, who are loosely divided into groups called "guilds" for specialties like food preservation and growing. The idea is in keeping with the permaculture definition of "guild" as a group of plants or animals that work well together. 

"Everything that's integral to human nature, we have a guild for it," Tack says. "If you come in and you're interested in ducks, you join the animal guild."

In addition to various permaculture projects on its members' properties, AMPY has branched out into a more public service-oriented project this season at Dawn Farm, an Ypsi substance abuse recovery facility. AMPY has partnered with the farm to manage five acres of its 60-acre plot with what's known in the permaculture world as a "perennial food system."

"Perennial food systems are food systems that meet our full nutritional needs," Tack says. "So we're meeting our carbohydrate needs and our vitamin and mineral needs not from annual corn production, but from actual tree-based systems. You plant it once and it goes through hundreds of years, if not thousands of years, productively."

Tack says the first half of AMPY's name is intended to "honor" the group's home state just as much as it aims to encourage permaculture statewide. He says the group's ultimate goal is to leave behind long-lasting resources for future generations- – and given a robust state ecosystem and the "powerful asset" of abundant fresh water, that goal is within easy reach. 

"Our culture promotes the idea that there's never enough to eat and you never have enough money and everything's so precarious," Tack says. "But when you look at Michigan, it's potentially amazingly abundant in its natural state. And if you combine permaculture with a state like Michigan, you can have true abundance, like Garden of Eden-type stuff."

All photos by Doug Coombe

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