Activism by Southwest Michigan Group Sierra Club Members: Mary Colborn

Mary Colborn of Allegan was doing permaculture before most of the rest of us even heard of it.

Although the word “permaculture” was coined in the late 1970s in Australia, where the modern-day permaculture movement began, it may well have been the first agricultural method ever—eons ago—when we first started to settle down from our hunter-gatherer ways.Australian P. A. Yeomans in his 1964 book Water for Every Farm defined permanent agriculture as “that which can be sustained indefinitely.” About 15 years later, the words permanent agriculture became permaculture, but it took a while—decades—for its precepts to gain serious public attention globally. To oversimplify, the idea is that clearing away all the trees and planting acres and acres of one crop may seem efficient, but it wastes water and damages the soil.

Mary Colborn “Honoring the Past, Healing the Present, Nurturing the Future”

About ten years ago, Mary Colborn converted her family farm near Allegan. It’s now the Allegan Eco Farm, also known as the Allegan Historic Farm and Learning Center. Her purpose is to “farm for soil fertility, water retention, and carbon sequestration.”

Mary’s farming practices emphasize vermiculture, composting, beekeeping, and efficient crop choices and placement: ancient grains and field crops, mushrooms, honey, maple syrup, and fresh fruits and vegetables with higher nutritional value and no petrochemical contaminants. Her methods can…

  • improve soil fertility instead of using it up.
  • retain water in the soil.
  • collect rather than emit carbon (carbon sequestration).
  • increase the nutritional value of her crops.
  • cut the need for fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.

You can learn Mary Colborn’s methods

Mary believes in honoring the past with these methods while working to heal the present, but that’s not enough activism for her. Nurturing the future is just as important. That’s where the “Learning Center” part fits in. Mary offers classes in composting, vermiculture, and other aspects of her Eco Farming philosophy. Passing along what she’s learned and promoting the Allegan Historic Farm’s methods and values is important to Mary and important to the Earth.

Her most recent presentation was a vermiculture and composting class on Saturday, May 16. Mary showed her audience an easy and inexpensive (practically free!) way to save grocery money by growing tastier and healthier veggies and more, and save money and nurture the soil by eliminating ultimately harmful commercial fertilizers and pesticides, plus avoid contributing to our over-filled landfills.

The Sierra club’s Southwest Michigan Group sponsored the event at the Allegan Historic Farm and Learning Center at 2566 122nd Avenue, Allegan, Michigan, and treated Mary’s guests to a sack lunch from Mugshots Coffee House.

This is not Mary Colborn's farm

Is one or two crops over hundreds of acres the most efficient way to use soil and water?

Mary Colborn activism: a "food forest" can provide dozens of crops with true sustainability.

A food forest can create true sustainability while providing dozens of crops—not just the obvious berries, nuts and mushrooms, but plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and many grains.

Mary Colborn's activism means Honor, Heal, Nurture

composting presentation

Mary Colborn, on the right, preparing for her May 16 presentation on composting.


Another of Mary’s training aids