Tip of the iceberg lettuce

by Walter Pierce

This labyrinth of seemingly disorganized plants is a rare find in South Louisiana.

This labyrinth of seemingly disorganized plants is a rare find in South Louisiana. By Tyler F. Thigpen

Monday, Dec. 2, 2013

Photos by Lucius A. Fontenot

Permaculture is known as biomimicry, sustainable agriculture, biodynamic gardening, indigenous food production and a close-looped system. Permaculture is a science that, like all sustainable farming practices, starts with an understanding of soil properties, climate, hydrology and geology, but ends with a labyrinth of seemingly disorganized plants that work together in a carefully orchestrated symbiosis. Despite the many synonyms and the wealth of benefits to humans, wildlife and plants, permaculture is a relatively unexplored gardening and farming technique in the Southeast. In the sub-tropical climate of South Louisiana, these farms are even rarer.

The Brockoli Patch in Scott is one of those biodynamic, man-made, nature-maintained gardening systems. Established in 2008, the Brockoli Patch sits on 10 linear acres that stretch along a gradient of dry to wet soils. The range of hydrology allows for the speciose gardens occurring throughout the property.

"The Brockoli Patch is a beautiful garden of diversity and abundance with an eclectic mix of more than 250 fruit trees, flowers, herbs and vegetables. [It] is also an excellent classroom space for people to learn how to garden creatively," says Brock Barker, owner and operator of the Brockoli Patch.
"When I started the farm I was focusing more on vegetable production, but I am now concentrating on perennial fruit, nut and berry crops. So, my current projects include increasing the number and diversity of fruit trees on the farm and maintaining the extensive gardens."

Barker, the newly appointed director of The Acadiana Permaculture Guild, recently established a sustainable landscaping business that helps people establish indigenous agriculture and gardens in their own back yards.

"[The] landscaping business is born from the number of people who are inspired by The Brockoli Patch and wish to plant gardens of abundance and diversity of their own," says Barker. "This landscaping business is the culmination of the past seven years of dedicating my life to gardening. In this time I have learned to create uniquely beautiful and productive gardens, and I want to share this gift with the community. I want to plant as many fruit trees as I can, [and] will concentrate on orchard installation."

In addition to his landscaping venture, Barker - much like Marcus Descant, AKA The Urban Naturalist, and botanist Bill Fontenot - uses his land as an outdoor classroom and offers educational tours and courses to all types of groups and ages. His interest in teaching on permaculture and landscape ecology has grown from his own experiences at permaculture farms throughout the world and from participating in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program.

"I have WWOOFed on two permaculture farms," says Barker. "One of them was in Austin, Texas, and the other in Wales. More importantly I've had the opportunity to travel to two of the best permaculture sites in the world. The first was the Bullock's Permaculture Homestead on Orcas Island in Washington state. It was here that I took a three-week Permaculture Design Course. The second was a farm named Krameterhof in Ramingstein, Austria. I anticipate traveling to more top-notch permaculture sites to further my education."

The Brockoli Patch in Scott is a farm, classroom and laboratory
all rolled into one. Owner Brock Barker, above, runs the operation.

Barker not only participates as a farm hand in the WWOOF program, but he is also a host. The Brockoli Patch has hosted more than 40 volunteers from the United States, Europe and South America ranging from their 20s to their 60s in the past 2.5 years. The farm offers volunteers a bus-turned-efficiency-apartment equipped with solar panels, beds and other house amenities and outlets. WWOOFers are also given the opportunity to learn sustainable gardening and farming techniques from Brock and his colleagues. The Brockoli Patch provides a range of disciplines and skills customized to each volunteer's specific interests. Permaculture is an ever-evolving trade that requires the interaction of beginners and experts from diverse backgrounds, and Barker's gardens serve as a venue for these relationships.

"Permaculture is important because it holds solutions to many of the problems pressing humanity," says Barker. "We have plenty of land and people who wish to work, but instead the land and people sit idle. Land plus education equals jobs. These jobs can provide us with nutritious food, clean air and water, increase biodiversity and much more. Permaculture is important because it shows us the latent potential in landscapes. Plants are capable of providing all of the resources that we need to thrive; we simply have to plant them."

Tyler F. Thigpen is a wetland ecologist and past president of Acadiana Food Circle (, a community-based nonprofit that connects local food producers to consumers.