Urban Re-Ruralization: An Interview With Marisha Aeurbach Part 2


This is Part 2 of an interview that PMNA conducted with Marisha Auerbach on how she is helping people live a more bioregional lifestyle in Portland, Oregon.


PMNA: What sources of income are you able to create through permaculture?

Our intention is not to earn our living from solely our city lot. Most of my paid income is from teaching and consulting. However, what happens on the lot directly affects my teaching and consulting. We are constantly learning and sharing our experiences through working with others. I have a small plant nursery based in the biodiversity from our landscape. During my plant sales, I also offer seeds and herbal products, such as tinctures, salves, cough syrup, and lip balm. All of these endeavors are based on the resources that we have on our site. By collecting unique cultural plants, I hope to be able to provide things that are difficult to find and significant to people who live here from other countries. My dream is for people to be able to find a plant that they can grow to harvest and make the meal they remember from their grandmother’s home. If someone is interested in buying fresh herbs or something else that I have growing on site, I am always open to that. Sometimes some income comes in from raising rabbits, but generally it just covers the costs of the feed.

My income streams have been called a “drought management strategy”. Similar to designing our homes and communities for disaster, we also need to design our income strategies that way. However, it is also important to me to recognize that money is often not the most valuable outcome of my endeavors for work. In the past century, money has become the primary medium for exchange and other forms of value have been less important. Each of my endeavors supports other endeavors. My goal is to help people live a bioregional life. By teaching classes, I find the people who want to learn in a classroom setting. My consultation practice finds the people who want one on one support with designing their landscape. Both of these groups might cross over into the other group. The nursery provides that plants and supplies that my clients need. As the nursery evolves, we have more products available at plant sales. In the last year, I had friends join in the plant sale to sells Ollas (ceramic pots for irrigation), mushroom spawn, and herbal products. I have another student who is developing a line of tools and sheaths. (as seen in the photos) He will be offering these at future plant sales. Sometimes I sell books, which also provides support in the education of these groups of clients.

Outreach to our neighborhood and the greater community is a valuable aspect of my work. Even if I had more money than I could imagine, it would not be worth anything if I did not have strong relationships in my community. I seek to be an active participant in designing the space that I live in. By providing plants, especially rare plants, and medicine locally in my neighborhood, we are increasing our resilience. We are providing a space for like minded people to meet synchronistically and network, which strengthens the culture of growing food and sustainability of in our neighborhood. By growing these plants out each year, I am gaining skills that will be invaluable in the future. Permaculture classes are investments in the future generations of this planet.

Less income is needed in my life because we grow all of our own food. We have designed our lives to conserve energy. We use limited electricity in our home because it has been well insulated and designed for our climate. Since we have such a thriving garden throughout the season, we have chosen to live without a refrigerator. We do have a 6 cubic foot freezer (mostly fruit, pesto, soup stock, and meat) for preserving some of the harvest. We catch rainwater and use it on the garden. We also use greywater on the landscape. Minimal use of the public utilities means that we have very inexpensive bills.

My lifestyle yields many items that are available for trade including produce, seeds, education, medicine, dye plants, fiber, compost worms, soldier fly larvae, worm castings, compost teas, eggs, wine, cider, and more. We regularly trade produce for fish with our neighbor. Tradable items enhance resilience too. Whatever we are not producing now, we have opportunities for gleaning within our greater community.  If the monetary system were to collapse, I would have these products and skills to support my life. In addition, it is always wonderful when a friend’s birthday comes around. I always have the perfect gift without having to purchase anything.

marisha garden

PMNA: What advice would you give to people looking to increase the production of their urban yard?

MA: Whether you have a parcel of property to work with or not, if you are in an urban area, there is lots of potential for collaborating with others. You can work with various groups and find partnerships to help meet your needs locally. You can build resiliency through these connections.

Put your energy and your resources into reducing consumption and building soil. Adapt to a localized lifestyle through your dietary and transportation choices. Consider the succession. We are always learning from our past experiences and trying to set ourselves up for the future by gathering the resources that we will need.

Deepen your relationship with the Wheel of the Year in your bioregion. By observing the forest and our native environments, we can get a sense of when to do things. One of my favorite quotes from Masanobu Fukuoka is “Do nothing, observe everything, timing is important.” When we do things in the optimal time, we save work at other times. By growing food at the appropriate times of the year and in the appropriate microclimates for the plants, we are able to maximize production and minimize our work.


PMNA: What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned from your “urban garden of Eden?”

MA: One of the best outcomes of our work here has been sharing with our neighborhood and building community through outreach at home. The visual aspect of our yard has enabled us to connect with people that are outside of our circles, who may not know what permaculture. Because of the nursery and regular open houses, we have managed to reach people who we would not have met otherwise.

I have learned how much can be done on a city lot. I thought that we could produce enough food to meet our needs and I have been delighted that this is true.  The success of my urban nursery has been an absolute delight this year. It is amazing to me to see how much a city lot can yield both for my household, to share with my community, and knowledge gained by all.


PMAN: To someone looking to re-ruralize their urban setting, where do you recommend starting?

MA: Re-ruralization is a term that we use because the common understanding is that that the rural areas are where certain things are produced. We can actively strive to produce those things in the urban areas and lighten our environmental footprint. Food, materials for soil building, wildlife habitat, medicine, fuel, and other resources can all be produced locally, regardless of where you live.

Use permaculture design principles to identify the potential for yields. Focus on identifying and meeting the needs in your community.  Start with a small project so you can have success. Develop relationships within your community.  Frequent the farmers markets. Keep your organic matter out of the garbage and find a way to replenish the soil. Identify your waste streams and actively work to decrease them. Make a point to engage with your neighbors. Find ways that you can relate.  Go on walks in natural areas for observation throughout the year.  Do what you can to minimize your dependence on fossil fuels. Strive for interdependence with the community that surrounds you.


PMNA: What plants do you recommend the most for attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects?

MA: The first plant that comes to mind is the Parsnip. It is our trifecta. They naturalize in the landscape and their deep taproot enhances the soil structure. When they flower, they are adored by pollinators and beneficial insects. Parsnips are one of our primary staple crops. They produce lots of biomass and cast shade for starting tender plants.

Parsnips are in the Umbelliferae family, which is known for being attractive to beneficial insects. Plants in this family have flowers that look like landing pads for insects. Collectively the flowers bloom for an extended time. In this family, I like to grow Dill, Cilantro, Angelica, Parsley, Chervil, Lovage, and Fennel. The Compositae family includes flowers that bloom for a long time. Some plants in this family are Calendula, Sunflower, Zinnias, Lettuce, Maxmillian Sunflower, Jerusalem Artichoke, Yarrow, and Shungkiku.  Other flowers I recommend include Anise Hyssop, Bee Balm, Dang Shen, Thyme, Lavender, Chives, and Garlic Chives. Mashua provides fabulous flowers for hummingbirds into the autumn.


PMNA: What are the top plants you would recommend to grow for herbal healing?

MA: I love to grow Elderberries for the cold and flu season. They are a beautiful and productive landscape plant that provides for wildlife as well. I could never have too much. Everyone should have a patch of Yarrow nearby. Yarrow is great for stopping bleeding. It is also a wonderful immune tonic, specifically in combination with Elderberry and Peppermint. I like to make a cough syrup with Elderberries, a strong infusion of Yarrow and Peppermint, and Elecampagne Honey. All of these plants are very easy to grow in my climate. I have been enjoying growing Holy Basil ‘Tulsi’, Lemon Balm, and Skullcap to help me with stress management. Many people consider Lemon Balm an aggressive weed, but it is one of the most important herbs for stress, especially when it affects our digestion.


PMNA: What else would you like to share with the readers of North America?

MA: I feel, and many of you may agree, that we are at a tipping point of civilization. So many things are in crisis, and yet permaculture offers a way that we can respond to these situations with grace by connecting with our local environment and community. I heard someone say once that the most radical thing that one can do is stay home. Get to know the place where you live as if you plan to always be there.

I truly believe that each person has a niche in their community that is informed by their talents, skills, and interests juxtaposed in the context of where you live. Take some time to develop your vision for the future.

Generosity is key for positive future outcomes. I think about this as I gather seeds and share them in community. I plant one seed and I can get an exponential amount of return as a result of that action. I save the seed or it may be scattered on the landscape to find its unique niche to germinate and thrive. It may go into the seed exchange to find someone else who will plant it and see it through to harvest. The intentions to save seeds and share it generously with others is a potent way to influence future outcomes.  Each year as I save seed, I want them to go near and far. May we share our seeds with our communities to enhance our resilience knowing that investing in the biological is the solution for overcoming the current challenges. As Vandana Shiva says “May the seed be exhaustless. May it never run out.”

For more on Marisha’s work, courses, and plant sales, please visit www.PermacultureRising.com.   Information on the course in Belize can also be found there.

If you’d like to read Part 1 of this interview, click here.