(Left to right) Julie Martinson, Kammer Offenhauser, Tim Offenhauser, Skyler Offenhauser, Phillip Allore and Matt Zoerner gather at Soul Springs Permaculture on Five Mile Creek Road. The purpose of Soul Springs Permaculture is to create a place where individuals can come together to learn, share knowledge, and build community space with the goal of sustainability, health and happiness in mind. (Photo by Mark Flemmning)
Jessica Evans News Manager
Perhaps everything happens for a reason. At least that's how Kammer Offenhauser sees it. Following graduation from Michigan State University last year, Offenhauser was all set to move west with the goal of pursuing a sustainable lifestyle and learning more about the concepts of permaculture. Instead, a number of signs drew the 2008 Harbor graduate back home, and fate led him to connect with a unique and special piece of property that would prove to be the perfect place to pursue his dreams here.
"I went on a permaculture tour in California and saw a lot of people doing all these projects and thinking it was so cool, that I'd never seen anything like it," Offenhauser said. "I started thinking about one of the permaculture design certification courses I took in school. I remembered my professor explaining that you should do this in a place where you have roots. Well, I sort of got on this kick to come back here, thinking this area needs something like this. But when I got back, I realized it's already happening, that I just need to help out with what's going on now."
Offenhauser has big plans on how to do this. With a degree in education, Offenhauser plans to combine his love of teaching with sharing knowledge about sustainability and the concepts of permaculture. Permaculture incorporates the concept of growing crops that thrive off each other and work together with the landscape, using ecological design with the goal of maintaining a sustainable system.
"Permaculture is a way of coming up with solutions for things. It's about connecting with what's taking place in nature and how we can build a different way of being that's not dependant upon anything other than what we have," Offenhauser explained.
One of the main components of Offenhauser's plan to educate others about permaculture and sustainability comes in the form of the 20 acres of property and home he purchased last spring on Five Mile Creek Road, just outside Harbor Springs.
Looking at the history of the property, it only seems appropriate that Offenhauser should be the new owner. It was previously owned by the late Jack Batstone, a close family friend who built the home incorporating several environmentally conscious design techniques to make the structure as sustainable as possible. Unfortunately, Batstone passed away before finishing the home. As a child, Offenhauser said he made many fond memories spending time with Batstone at the property with his family. Prior to his college graduation last summer, Offenhauser decided to stop by the property once again, and was struck by the special feeling of the place.
According to Offenhauser, he continued feeling drawn to the property, and since it was up for sale, decided to put in an offer, which was accepted.
"It's like the property was set up to be a place for growing food," Offenhauser noted. "There are berries and leeks and orchards here already, which is a great start to what we'll be doing. With this place, we want to remember and honor Jack, taking his ideas that he started with and adding ours."
Offenhauser is well on his way to doing this. Since purchasing the property, several areas have been cleaned up and cleared, gardens growing fresh food have sprung up and plans for a food forest have been laid out. A food forest is based on the concept of permaculture in that everything works well together, usually incorporating layers of fruit and nut trees, shrubs, vines and other plants (see related story, this page).
"My long term plan is to stack as many functions as possible; big trees like your walnuts and mulberries will provide shade, then you'll have your vining plants underneath and then your shorter trees and shrubs, too," Offenhauser said. "It's the idea that all plants are chosen to serve some sort of purpose. Some plants will bring nitrogen to the soil, some will attract beneficial insects. We want to design a system where we can produce abundant food. This concept is setup to provide for seven generations."
Transforming the property into an edible forest is no small undertaking; it is has become a family affair. Offenhauser's parents and brother are constantly helping out, as are numerous friends.
"The real goal here is to structure something where people can come see a different way of connecting with the land," said Offenhauser's mother, Julie Martinson. "We have a lot of ideas for the property and for this home, too. The long term vision is for this to be the site for workshops, learning, a studio space or maybe even a commercial kitchen."
Offenhauser has dubbed their endeavor Soul Springs Permaculture. His vision is to create a place where individuals can come together to learn, share knowledge, and build community space with the goal of sustainability, health and happiness in mind. He hopes that Soul Springs Permaculture will serve as an example to encourage others to incorporate new ideas into their own lives.
So far, Offenhauser said he has gotten a positive response back from folks as they learn about his goals for Soul Springs Permaculture.
"The name Offenhauser means 'open house' in German, so I guess it's appropriate what we're trying to do here," he said with a laugh. "We hope to continue helping develop a more sustainable community and connecting people with that."
"People are excited," Offenhauser continued. "Everyone keeps coming out here to help us get things going, which is great. We are really starting to connect the network of people who are interested in something like this, and that's where things become truly possible."
Those interested will have the chance to check out Soul Springs Permaculture on August 3-4. Offenhauser will host Explorations Beyond Sustainability: A Permaculture Approach to Community Building and Earth Care, which will serve as a demo day with a variety of permaculture-based workshops.
The two-day event will take place from 12 p.m. on Saturday, August 3 through 9 p.m. Sunday, August 4. Hands-on workshops on earthworks (or earth moving, which demonstrates how to design long-term food production sites), hugelkultur gardening (raised beds using soil and compost over stacked logs and branches), aquaponics, vermiculture and others will take place. Camping is free on site to anyone who is interested and music and food will also be provided (donations are welcome).
For a full list of scheduled events, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SoulSpringsPermaculture.