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August 4, 2014
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Sierra Permaculture Design promotes local energy sustainability

Paul Racko, owner of Sierra Permaculture Design, a Nevada City business that helps land owners produce more natural energy, says he has an environmentally friendly solution for local residents, farmers and ranch owners looking to conserve water and energy throughout the year.

“It’s maximizing the yield and reducing the amount of labor and energy that has to go into a system by mimicking natural relationships between natural elements,” Racko said. “Using patterns found in nature to reduce the amount of energy that’s required to go into a system, and maximizing the productive output. That’s what permaculture design aims to provide.”

Racko, 44, is originally from Southern California and says he has been applying the principles of permaculture since the late 1990s.

“I was doing it in my own garden and working for a non-profit installing community gardens on vacant lots throughout the Long Beach area for a nonprofit called Long Beach Organic,” Racko said. “I kind of started applying the principles of permaculture, water capture and mulching there.”

When Racko moved his family to Nevada City in 2006, he decided he wanted to implement permaculture principles in the county as a hired consultant for landowners in the area looking to maximize natural energy on their properties. Racko began doing one-on-one consulting to help design homes and or farms to be more sustainable, and has since worked on more than 60 properties.

The idea of permaculture dates back to the 1920s when academic Joseph Russell Smith took up an antecedent term as the subtitle for “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture,” a book that summed up his long experience experimenting with fruits and nuts as crops for human food and animal feed. This book inspired certain groups and individuals intent on making agriculture more sustainable and permanent, to create the principles of permaculture.

“You know the waste from animals can go to someone’s vegetable garden, and the vegetables go to the people, and the waste from the vegetables that you don’t eat go back to the animals so that they can eat it,” Racko said. “So it creates this closed loop system. Permaculture is all about the placement of elements to one another so you that you’re not wasting energy and time in managing it, it’s more like acting like a natural system.”

Racko says many of his clients find him online and hire him for a three-hour consultant session which costs $225. Racko will then go out to the customer’s house, land, farm or ranch to plot out what the property’s wind and solar axis is in an attempt to determine how a home or farm should be positioned in order to reap the benefits of natural energy.

“We sit down and I interview them to find out what their long-term plans are and what they want to achieve on site,” Racko said. “I consider what their hobbies are and what their career backgrounds are to figure out a way how they can perhaps make money over the long-term, or build up their property so that they can meet most of their needs from what they have on site already. So it’s kind of creating that closed loop homestead in a way.”

Racko says planting trees at certain parts of the property can provide wind breaks that would help prevent wind damage on a home. According to Racko, positioning a home with less windows on the west side of the property reduces the amount of heat from the sun the home would absorb, which would help save a homeowner air conditioning bills in the summer.

“You can do things like passive cooling, where you can put part of the house into the ground, where the back side of the house is built into the hill and that temperature of the hill, that 50 degrees, will keep the house nice and cool,” Racko said. “That saves a lot of energy versus a house that’s got lots of glass facing to the west, and the suns turning it into an oven during the summer.”

A recent report from the Los Angeles Times says that 58-percent of the state is now under the most severe level of drought for the first time since the federal government began issuing regular drought reports in the late 1990s. Racko says that permaculture principles his business provides can help local residents who are currently affected by the drought in an extreme way.

“Down on Loma Rica on Brunswick Road they have the apple orchard on the hill, and all the rows go down hill,” Racko said. “Instead of having the water shoot down the hill they should be putting swales in contour, and capturing the water as it runs down the hill so that water could be used to feed the roots of the fruit trees. So I see little mistakes here and there locally.

Racko adds, “We can find ways to channel and connect and spread that water usage out over time, that’s a really big part of permaculture design. Taking the waste water from our showers and washing machines, and using that water to irrigate our ornamental plants and fruit trees around our homes, so we can save that fresh water for things we need like drinking.”

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.


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The Union Updated Aug 4, 2014 01:01AM Published Aug 5, 2014 12:00PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.