Integrated living

Chicoans create harmony between home and nature through permaculture

Stephanie Ladwig-Cooper and her husband, Brian, organize the Chico Permaculture Guild.

Stephanie Ladwig-Cooper and her husband, Brian, organize the Chico Permaculture Guild.

Photo by Brittany Waterstradt

• Rosa Maicas' Perma-fun-k offers a Permaculture Design Certification Course whose first module starts today (March 5) but reprises in May. Visit for details and registration.
• The Chico Permaculture Guild conducts educational gatherings the third Sunday of each month; the next is March 22, 1-4 p.m., at the Chico Branch Library. Visit for details.
• Perma-fun-k will host a series of workshops at the Butte College Chico Center on Thursdays starting today (March 5) through April 16. Free to Butte College students and staff, open to everyone. Visit for more info.

Rosa Maicas has always felt a strong connection to nature—and strong connections within nature.

She grew up in Spain “completely and entirely immersed in land work and people work” because that is the essence of European agriculture. Her mother represents the third generation of a farming family with techniques now labeled organic; their pursuits have included olive orchards and winemaking. Her father comes from a line of ranchers who’ve practiced “nomadic pasturing of animals for two or three generations now.” The culture of the continent emphasizes preserving traditions.

Only as an adult did she learn these ingrained ideas had a name. Permaculture, a concept commonly applied to ecological agriculture but containing broader philosophy, put an intellectual framework on many things she’d learned intuitively.

“I’ve feel like I’ve been living all my life in relation with [permaculture]; it just wasn’t called anything,” said Maicas, now 36 and living in Chico. “It was just living and working with the land.”

She studied permaculture—specifically how to design horticultural projects sustainably—in Australia, where the school of thought originated. Maicas spent six months in Bali, teaching and implementing design techniques, then furthered her studies closer to home on islands in the Mediterranean. She came to Chico just over three years ago to be with her partner.

Maicas found her new community on a similar wavelength as her homeland. The North State has an organization, the Chico Permaculture Guild, embracing the paradigm she champions. Organic farming, local-food movements, sustainability: These are some of the elements that quickly resonated with her and motivated her to start teaching principles locally, in order to expand the scope to “community-related permaculture.”

She elaborated: “People have this tendency of always thinking permaculture is [simply] the best way of doing an amazing garden or an amazing orchard; I realized this town is very community-oriented, and … in that way it relates to Europe, because people here like to do things together, are interested in working on projects together, in collaboration.”

So, what is permaculture? The term, when created by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the late 1970s, fused “permanent” and “agriculture”; now “culture” is accepted as the second half, to incorporate social components.

Stephanie Ladwig-Cooper, lead organizer of the Chico Permaculture Guild (along with her husband, Brian), explains it as a systemic approach to planning and design.

“Originally it was focused more on trying to build agricultural systems that were mimicking natural systems,” she said. “It since then has taken on [added dimensions] where humans can design places where we live that also mimic natural systems—where we’re living in tune with the ecosystem; where we’re using appropriate technology, as well as land-care techniques that don’t harm … and where anything that is a byproduct of the system is reincorporated into another system.

Maicas offers a visual representation: a hug. Permaculture is “about how to interrelate things and how to make them work with each other instead of against each other. You’re bringing in organics, biodynamics, eco-building, alternative economics, sustainable education, work catchments (i.e., landowner partnerships) … to work together for design.”

The Chico Permaculture Guild has introduced precepts at monthly meetings. Maicas has taught at Butte College and now, through her nonprofit organization (Perma-fun-k), is launching a course offering certification in Permaculture design. The curriculum, divided into four modules totaling 72 hours of instruction, will be presented by facilitators including land-management educator Richard King, Kelly Munson of Butte College, Lee Altier of Chico State and Kalan Redwood of Redwood Organic Seeds.

Permaculture has taken root locally in specific ways as opposed to a holistic movement.

Ladwig-Cooper, who runs the ecological landscaping firm Gaia Solutions with her husband, says “people utilize bits and pieces of the permaculture toolbox”; apart from perhaps a few individuals “having their entire property self-sustaining or self-regulating, most people are doing what they can do. Being in an urban environment tends to make it a bit more of a challenge … until municipalities adopt a lot of these principles, I think we’re only able to do it in bits and pieces.”

While permaculture “can be applied to everything” in lifestyle design, Ladwig-Cooper says it’s being adopted locally via rooftop rainwater collection, stormwater mitigation, soil health, forest gardening, green energy and integrated pest management. She could go on, and she expects the list to grow.

“The last several months, for the guild, we’ve had a larger than normal attendance at our monthly gatherings,” Ladwig-Cooper said. “I don’t know if it’s because we picked out a whole schedule … or if it’s because the drought has pushed people to be thinking about their land a little bit more, or just the state of climate change is making people more aware and wanting to learn and do and be more active.”

That is Maicas’ goal for her training: action. She hopes to expose a range of people to the permaculture spectrum, then turn them loose.

“I hope each takes it and applies it in the field to whatever they feel good about, whatever they’re already working on,” she said. “The idea is to be training the future leaders.”