Permablitzing earthship-style in Darfield, B.C.

The plan is to eventually become food self-sufficient on the earthship property as soon as possible

Many helpful hands were needed over the two days to bring the permaculture design into reality.

Many helpful hands were needed over the two days to bring the permaculture design into reality.

The Burkholder/Newton family over the past three years have constructed an earthship on their property in Darfield.  An earthship is a sustainable home built from dirt-packed used tires and stacked pop cans. Its hallmarks are passive solar heating, rainwater catchment and sustainable energy use and consumptionThe family is now moving into the next phase of their sustainable living plan.

Permaculture BC and Elements Eco-Design dynamos Javan Bernakevitch and Gord Heibert descended upon the Burkholder/Newton property in Darfield, B.C. on June 14 and 15.  They were there to join 23 plus participants taking part in a workshop titled ‘Earthships and Permaculture: Applied Techniques for Cold Climate Food Production’, and to help install half of Zone 1 of the Darfield earthship’s permaculture design.

Sandra Burkholder says,  “This is what happens during  a weekend of hugelkulture, Sepp Holzer-style high beds and hours of connecting with like-minded people.

“I can’t begin to describe what a wonderful experience this workshop was for us. We had 23 diverse and capable people who came to learn about compost tea, fungi, hugelkulture, perennials, Sepp Holzer-style high beds –arguably the first installed in Canada – raised garden beds, bone salve, food forestry and a number of other interesting topics that popped up outside the weekend’s agenda.

“There is nothing like a permablitz for making fast friends.  We are grateful to all who came for giving up a weekend to learn and help us build something better, even if it was in the rain!”

The project has been five years in the “starting” for Chris Newton, Sandra, and their children.

Sandra says that what made the event especially exciting for the family was that the first steps of that five year plan to reclaim this industrial land for food production have now been taken.  For the first time in about 50 years  a family is living on land that had been used as a sawmill, and making a home on it.

Although the earthship is not yet fully completed inside, it has always been the family’s plan to eventually become food self-sufficient on their property as soon as possible.

“Chris and I, and our children, first met Javan when we visited O.U.R. Ecovillage on Vancouver Island in November 2009, just after we began building our earthship,” says Sandra, “Javan gave us the tour of OUR, and I knew then that one way or another we would be seeing him again!

“Last summer, as our family finished hiking the West Coast Trail we met with Javan in Victoria, B.C., to see if he would be interested in working with us to realize our ‘permie’ plans.  We had just moved into our earthship a few months before, and we were ready to take modern homesteading ‘earthship-style’ to the next level.”

Sandra says that husband Chris is an engineer, and she is a former journalist and PR consultant.  Javan gave the couple “lots of leeway in the early planning stages”.

“With minimal help from him we put together our holistic goal, a guiding document of our dreams and desires for our land, and by extension an ever-changing road map for our lives,” tells Sandra, “Chris and I each had strengths in data collection, parsing information, writing and evaluation so this task was within our abilities.  We also took on the job of finding climate data and site specific information. We used our own resources to map our property, calling on a forestry ‘friend of a friend’ who taught us how to use a compass, clinometer and tight chain to map our land.”

The couple say that when working with a permaculture designer you have the option to do as much as you want. This can often save you in fees, and there really is no better way to learn then doing it yourself.  They highly recommend taking a deep breath and diving in!

Sandra explains that as they proceeded further into the process, “Javan spent a lot of last fall and part of the winter doing some amazing things overseas in Cuba and Kenya, so in early 2014 he introduced Gord into the planning process and together they came up with an initial design. We made very few changes, although the design shown does not include the hugelkulture bed that quickly became a ‘must’ for the area just south of our main entrance.

Sandra says she became the “workshop organizer”, and with input from Javan and Gord accumulated all the materials – topsoil, manure, cardboard and a variety of other things necessary for a successful workshop.  She also lined up Dustin Rainer to do the excavation work, bought topsoil from Mitchell’s Cattle Company since the soil on the property “needed help”, and  worked with a nursery to ensure the family had all the edible perennials, fruit trees and herbs that were indicated on their list.

During the permablitz event more than 200 individual plants were installed and the hugel bed was seeded with more than 100 packets of seeds.

“The two-day workshop was so much fun.  It is pretty heady stuff to be surrounded by 20 plus like-minded people, who wonder about the same things and who each have their own set of very unique skills and knowledge,” says Sandra, “We feel quite lucky to have met everyone who came – one person from as far away as Whitehorse – and lots of new friendships were formed.

“Would we proceed with the next phase? Yes, but first we need to ‘own’ this very new space we helped to create.”

You can find more about the earthship and sustainable living plan by referring to the Star/Journal’s May 8, 2014 issue’s ‘Permaculture for earthship family in Darfield, B.C.’, or by going to  Please respect the privacy of the earthship family and their property.  You can contact them via Facebook or their website for more info or to inquire about a future tour.