The SOIL Permaculture Design Process

The SOIL Permaculture Design Process

After touring the SOIL collection and processing sites around Cap-Haitien, we arrived at the SOIL office, farm, and associated KOMOP farm properties. (KOMOP is a farm collective of SOIL staff members whose name is a combination of Komite = Committee and Opòtinite = Opportunity.)  SOIL recently completed the construction of their beautiful new office complex and were ready to move to the next phase of succession towards integrating the building into their surrounding property and creating a comprehensive demonstration site.

SOIL'S new office
SOIL’S new office

This is the site¬†where we facilitated SOIL staff through a permaculture design process over the 3 days. The goal of the permaculture design process was to facilitate staff through a design process for both the SOIL office property as well as the KOMOP property. Staff divided into two teams to design the different areas. The SOIL staff participants were: Wilner ‚ÄúMet‚ÄĚ Pierre, Rommel Toussaint, Jean Claude Flerimond on the COMOP design and Madame Bwa, Job Etienne, and Monika Roy on the SOIL office property design. (Emmanuel and Theo popped in and out during the process.)¬†


SOIL's new office
SOIL’s new office

To prepare for the design process, Jean Arnaud, our Haitian permaculture collaborator and Kreyol translator, translated¬†OAEC’s¬†definition of permaculture, the permaculture ethics, and the design principles along with the 3-day agenda into Kreyol, which were posted on the walls of the meeting room. The process of translating permaculture concepts¬†into Kreyol was not simply a process of substituting words, but challenge to find to find words and phrases that conveyed¬†the ideas, metaphors and images within the concepts and were meaningful the Haitian designers. A dear friend of SOIL, Ingrid Henrys, was a vital support to the design process, translating, elaborating concepts, scribing, and assisting in numerous other ways. It was a gift to collaborate with these two wonderful whole-systems thinkers!

Each of the 3-day design sessions, Madame Bwa opened and closed our sessions with a song and prayer. She sang melodic tunes that the whole staff knew and loudly joined in on. Her prayers were for the work we were doing together that day, for the work we would do in the future, and for all of humankind to thrive.


In our Resilient Community¬†Design, we¬†use a mix of participatory pedagogy throughout design processes to make the experience¬†accessible, effective, and fun including singing (old favorites such as “What is permaculture?”), pairs shares and group discussion, drawing and mapping, movement (stretching, singing, clapping and dancing, and site assessment), small group work (4 person design charette), shared meals, and a few mini-lectures along the way. All work is supported by visual notes posted on the walls of the room and simple handouts in one‚Äôs native language.¬†¬†

The basic flow for the SOIL design process was:

On day one, we introduced ourselves to each other, clarified the organization relationship, defined success for this engagement and explored the basics of permaculture concepts (definition, ethics, principles).


On day two, we did an in-depth review of 4¬†permaculture design principles, discussing each one, finding examples of each in their current work, and drawing pictures to represent the principles. For our community permaculture design work (aka permaculture for the people or permacultura popular), we focus on 4 of the 15 permaculture principles ‚Äď PATO (protracted and thoughtful observation), stacking functions, planned redundancy, and relative location. We have found limiting the principles to these makes the process more manageable¬†and still achieves a sound design.




Each group drew up their base maps by projecting a Google Earth image of their site on the white board and tracing over it. The SOIL staff were happily surprised to see that the Google Earth images were actually from 2014 and had their new building shown. One exciting aspect of the SOIL design teams was the many different backgrounds, skills, and formal educational levels in the group. For example, some people had little to no experience with maps, especially property maps. Each team took time to orient each other to their base map until all were able to read and use it. Madame Bwa was particularly excited to read the maps. She was a model of the excited learner! She was absolutely focused and continually engaged asking questions and discussing the base map until she felt satisfied that she fully understood it and had added her site observations on it and they had been recorded correctly. Nothing gets by Madame Bwa!


In the afternoon, we worked with each team to undertake a site assessment for their area including sector mapping of the sun path, prevailing winds, storms, flood area, and soil types. Charismatic mango trees and other existing features staff wanted to retain in the design were measured and marked on the base map. To end the day, each group read their organizational mission, outlined their vision for the design and brainstormed elements they wanted in their design.

An important permaculture design principle is: “compose with, instead of ¬†impose upon.” ¬†We apply the principles to our facilitation of a group to create their own design. In site assessment, for example,¬†we understand that¬†the SOIL staff are the experts on their place (physically, socially, organizationally, etc). They bring their background¬†observation and understanding to the site assessment process. Our work as facilitators is¬†in asking key questions about the place to draw out their knowledge and to offer¬†¬†tools that help them capture, share, and employ that knowledge toward their vision. Our goal is to bring together¬†what they know about what they observe¬†and support them to seamlessly integrate it with what they want¬†using¬†simple and effective design methods.


Day three was the big design charette day. Participants added in new elements they had thought of overnight. Then they were given instruction about zones and drew in zones onto their base map. Next they organized their elements in piles arranged by zones. Finally, with much group discussion, they worked at finding the optimal placement for their elements informed by the use of the principles, zones, sectors, and other site assessment info, and in relative location to other supportive elements.


In the afternoon of the final day, each group gave design presentations (Job for the office and Rommel for KOMOP) explaining what they had come up with and why. Other staffers from the organization were present and had a Q&A with each group.



As for next steps, SOIL will discuss at their next staff meeting when to finish their designs and to create a beautiful colored version of their proposed designs to post on the wall and get feedback from other staff and community members.

Once they feel complete with their designs, then they can spec out each element and create materials list and budgets. OAEC is committed to helping SOIL as they move into their implementation stage and to procure any specific design plans, materials, training materials unavailable in Haiti, transporting them to Haiti, and supporting SOIL staff on installation training and support. We look forward to seeing SOIL breath life into their beautiful designs. As experts of turning waste into resources, we have no doubt the results will be an enormous source of education and inspiration toward furthering the vital work they do in their communities. Viva la SOIL!




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