Me & Permaculture

My name is Monica Richards. I am best known for my music, having been half of Faith and the Muse for nearly 20 years, as well a singer for early Washington DC punk bands. Recently I’ve been composing and releasing my own solo music and have begun to score films.

Me and Gil, our tortoise. Photo by kaRIN.

I live and breathe Nature. Nature was where I found solace from the world for as long as I can remember. I grew up around the forests of Washington State and then later, Northern Virginia, where I was lucky enough to have a forest area nearby where I could disappear and just ‘Be’.  Throughout my childhood, I disappeared into the local forests there, wrote epic tales of the trees and animals around me, sang operas, collected clay to sculpt with and lived to the fullest extent that I could before dragging myself back home. My most private dream was to be Queen of the Jungle and live far away from people…

When we moved during my early teen years to Washington DC, all of those feelings somehow morphed into my becoming a punk rocker. Keeping my oddness blazing distinctly against the ‘normal’ kids, I began singing for bands, going out with friends and actually connecting with other kids like me. I had always been the weird kid who never fit in, but now I was accepted into a subculture, which gave me strength and a tribal identity. My escapes to Nature went quiet after that, I worked full-time jobs and went to school. When I moved into my own places, I filled my home with rescues, wrote songs and tales, and began my own personal research into the oral story traditions and the ancient Goddess within Matriarchal society.

Through the years of work and writing music and touring that went on afterward, I realize now I kept my connection with Nature – but only on paper, in books and in songs. Hardly venturing into the back yards of the houses I rented, nor taking walks in forests, (which were not so easy to find in the cities where I lived), I simply dreamed away about the ideal of Nature in my head…

Then in 2005, we watched a clip of punk rock kids in Mexico practicing Permaculture, going through poor towns and fixing cheap concrete buildings with cob – a natural mix of straw, sand and clay that once dried can become as hard as stone. These amazing kids were using Nature to fix the decay of industrial waste in the shanty towns around them. Something flashed in me… What is Permaculture??? I began to look into this underground way of living, and everything from my deepest childhood began to burn again.

Permaculture, in its most basic form, is living with Nature in every way possible. Following the ebb and flow of natural patterns and systems and creating them in your own home (and yard if you have one). Taking time to observe the natural systems around you, closing the gap of waste, finding ways to retain these cycles while having them do what they naturally do. It is an active meditation of Nature, one that can bring you untold peace while manifesting its own simple momentum. In order to practice Permaculture, you must follow the cycles of the seasons, the height of the Sun in the sky as it travels through each year, the direction of the winds, the types of plants that work in your zone, how best to put beneficial plants together – the journey is endless and full of wonder.

In 2006, we went to The Farm in Tennessee and spent part of the Summer at the Ecovillage Training Center there learning Permaculture. It changed my life. Every strange and beautiful thought I had had as a child was a Truth in Nature. I felt empowered, and though I was living in a suburban home in the High Desert of CA at the time, I decided to begin the work of Permaculture in my own back yard. I observed, I made my garden map, I lay down trash and cardboard over the grass, added layers of straw and compost, and built my first gardens. See below:

Original homestead 2006-2009: Original backyard lawn • Garden plan outlined • Garden growing

AT_BY_growing2 copy

Every year I learned new things about the land, the climate, where the Sun hit the garden, where the shade worked best, how the wind travelled through the property. I built a food forest, gray water systems, batched yearly compost boxes, dug ponds and stacked tire gardens… and then I began to teach these ways to others. The systems I had created were growing much on their own, and after only a couple years, I had a fantastic wilderness in my own yard.

Original homestead transformation: 2006 – 2009

Sadly, I lost my growing wonderful homestead in 2010 when the housing market crashed. It was a deep heartache, but at the same time, I knew I had learned so much from my own home practice and that one day I would have the land I needed to begin again. 

Now, at last, we have our own place on five acres of land out in the high desert. This blog is about my work on the property, trials and solutions, observations and the slow transformation of our land.