Friday Mar 29, 2024

Reflections on over two decades of resilient farmstead living, with Ben Falk

Despite the popularity of permaculture, homesteading, regen ag, and all these other buzz terms we hear, many of the people promoting these ideas, including myself, are quite new and inexperienced. It’s still rare to find people who can offer insight and wisdom from decades or a whole lifetime of living with regenerative systems.

Sure, you can still find quite a few hardy old timers who know a lot about resilience and self sufficiency, but even though there is a ton of wisdom to be gleaned from those life experiences I’ve found many of them lacking in the whole picture, systems level thinking that informs a regenerative world view.
I’ve been lucky enough to interview and highlight some of those voices on this show in the past, and today is another example of a person who’s work and life philosophy has been a big inspiration to me.

Many of you may know Ben Falk as the developer of Whole Systems Design, LLC, his company created as a land-based response to biological and cultural extinction and the increasing separation between people and elemental things. Life as a designer, builder, ecologist, tree-tender, and backcountry traveler continually informs Ben’s integrative approach to developing landscapes and buildings. His home landscape and the WSD studio site in Vermont's Mad River Valley serve as a proving ground for the regenerative land developments featured in the projects of Whole Systems Design.

Ben studied architecture and landscape architecture at the graduate level and holds a master’s degree in land-use planning and design. He has conducted more than 650 site development and land inspection consultations across the US and abroad, and has facilitated dozens of courses on property selection, permaculture design, and resilient systems. He has given keynote addresses and presented dozens of workshops at venues ranging from Bioneers to the Omega Institute.

Ben is the author of the award-winning book The Resilient Farm and Homestead (Chelsea Green, 2013) and serves as an Advisory Council for the international regeneration group Ecosystem Restoration Camps, which is incidentally how I first got in touch with him back when I worked with that organization.

Today we’ll be going beyond the typical talking points of regenerative design principles, reading the landscape and life hacks for permaculture enthusiasts, partly because we already went over them in the first interview he and I did together a couple seasons ago. Instead, Ben and I explore the reflections he has on over two decades of living the lifestyle that he designs and promotes for others. We look into the biggest learnings that have come from evolving alongside and in service to perennial food systems as well as what he might do differently if he could go back and redesign things.

Ben also explains how his life experience has informed his design work and consultancy for clients, the patterns that have emerged from the endless experiments that he’s run, and where his focus is in this stage of life, both in his family and personal life as well as his work on the land.

Since I’m only in the second year of designing and building my own farmstead, I find it invaluable to gain insights into all of these reflections almost as a way to peek into one of a million possible futures in hopes of setting a solid foundation and maybe avoid some pitfalls ahead. 

Oliver M Goshey 2023

Version: 20240320