Jessi Bloom - Living Shelter Podcast, from Board & Vellum

Episode 007

Backyard Environmentalism

Using Permaculture for Climate Resilient Spaces with Jessi Bloom, co-author of Practical Permaculture

July 12, 2023


Terry sits down with guest Jessi Bloom, founder of NW Bloom Ecological Services. Terry and Jessi discuss all-things permaculture, from its theories and ethics to its application in urban environments. Jessi also discusses her books Practical Permaculture and Backyard Chicken Gardens, as well as her recent election to the King County Agriculture Commission.

Learn More About Jessi Bloom

Jessi Bloom is founder of the permaculture-inspired landscape and design firm, Northwest Bloom. In addition to her work as an award-winning ecological landscape designer, Jessi serves on the King County Agriculture Commission where she has an opportunity to apply her love of the land and other small farmer views to complex issues. Jessi hails from the Pacific Northwest, where she currently resides on her own permaculture farm where she harvests her own food and shelters rescue animals.

Episode Transcript

Terry Phelan: Welcome to the Living Shelter podcast, where we explore ways to create healthy, energy efficient and joyful places to live. I’m your host Terry Phelan, a Pacific Northwest native and an architect with over 30 years experience designing with a focus on sustainable options. I am delighted to be presenting this podcast series as the Director of Sustainable Practice at Board & Vellum, an integrated design firm based in Seattle. Living Shelter’s goal is to help you expand your green knowledge toolkit. So together we can help build a resilient future that includes comfortable and sustainable places for everyone to live. Our guests share their years of experience in one or more of the many facets of the green and natural building industries with topics like material choices for health and wellness, energy efficiency and carbon reduction, regenerative site design, waterway health, and other big picture ideas from thought leaders we think you’ll find inspiring.

In this episode of Living Shelter, we’re going to explore permaculture and its potential as a toolkit and development. I’m excited to introduce my friend and guest Jessi Bloom. She’s a Pacific Northwest native known nationally by her work in permaculture, having written or co-written several books related to the topic, including Backyard Chicken Gardens and Practical Permaculture. She also runs a permaculture inspired landscape design and installation firm called Northwest Bloom. Hi, Jessi, and welcome to the program.

Jessi Bloom: Hi, Terry, thanks for having me.

Terry Phelan: So, I’ve thrown out the word permaculture several times already, and I’m sure not all of our audience knows exactly what it is. Can you help us define that?

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of definitions out there. But how I think of permaculture is a toolkit that is rooted in ecological and ethical decisions. And there’s quite a bit of history behind it, which I think is worth mentioning. But essentially, two Australian men in the ’70s coined the term “permaculture,” which is a combination of “permanent” and “culture” or permanent agriculture, and is modelled after indigenous land practices, as well as community living. And it is a toolkit that we can use the framework to design anything — from a landscape to a home, to a social life, to finances, you name it — it’s really a framework to make decisions.

Terry Phelan: So, help me and visualizing what that framework might look like, say in, in a backyard situation versus in a community.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, so basically, the ethics are where we start, generally, in making those decisions, and use those as guideposts, essentially. If you start with the first ethic, Taking Care of the Earth, we can make a lot of decisions that don’t take care of the earth, right? So, that’s number one. And we want to make sure that all our decisions are being mindful of that ethic. But then the second one, is where we can go in a little bit deeper into community, where the ethic is Care of People, and in someone’s backyard, say a residential neighborhood, they might not be worried about what their neighbors are doing or, or someone down the street, or seven generations from their decision making, but that’s really what permaculture is trying to get at — is thinking about how the decisions we make, and designs, are going to take care of people. And I like to point out that we need to take care of ourselves first, so that we can take care of others in a mindful way.

And in a community context, making decisions around group decision making, for example, that might be a part of the framework for creating an ecovillage, for example, and looking at how a leadership structure might be created, or decisions are made by the group, you know, depending on the situation, those things are thought out in the design process itself. And then the last ethic that is made to help inform decision making is the ethic that is — it can be worded a few different ways — but in most textbooks, you’ll see it called Fair Share. We expand on this one quite a bit. And I think of it as the altruistic ethic, where if we have our needs met, and we’re taking care of the earth, we can start to really give back. And in this culture, we have so many examples of people taking more than they need. And then others not having the basic needs met. And so, this is really thinking about how can we share what we have excess of. And that might be, you know, in a farm situation, excess food or crop yield that we can donate to food banks, or if someone has extra money, they can donate, someone has extra time, they can volunteer. So there’s, there’s lots of ways that you can look at this ethic. Dave Boehnlein (who I co-authored, Practical Permaculture with) him and I came up with another ethic, which really goes into that sustainability is not overnight. And so taking our time and making these decisions, and it being a process, is also part of that.

So, there’s a lot of ways to look at that early part of the framework of permaculture in ethics. But there’s also principles that we use in making decisions that are based in ecological design. And so, for example, one of those principles is not to create waste, because in nature, there’s no waste created, right? That’s a manmade concept. And that’s something we can strive for, is not creating a bunch of waste. So those are some examples. And as you can imagine, it applies to much more than just a backyard, for example.

Terry Phelan: Right, right. And I mean, I’ve seen examples of permaculture in larger scale applications, say the Beacon Hill Food Forest or Bullock Farm, you know, permaculture is really applied to a larger area, but it’s still really, it’s about growing food, in those places, it’s really about creating that agricultural setting. And I hadn’t really thought about how it applies to social justice, and the sharing aspect. That’s an interesting additional layer for me to add into my understanding of permaculture. So, how then might it be used in a development mindset or, a development project? How might this be applied?

Jessi Bloom: Well, I think there’s a lot of examples that are out there of ecovillages. And I always go back to where permaculture is rooted in indigenous communities and land use. And what’s really interesting is, you know, in indigenous communities, the concept of ownership of land is not something that, was really a thing until capitalism and colonial mindsets moved in and took over the land. Dave Boehnlein, who’s actually working on an ecovillage in Arlington, could speak to this in great detail, because he’s been working on it for several years… But rather than everybody having these big, expensive homes that are very resource intensive to heat and to keep running, the idea would be maybe have a shared space where some of the activities that everybody needs to do are in one place, and so the footprints of the home can be smaller and their energy use, maybe there’s not really backyards, so to speak, that are all fenced off, but there’s community areas that are zoned differently for different uses. The piece of land that they’re working on, it’s pretty impressive. It’s about 300 acres. It was a dairy farm and is being designed as we speak. And all of these permaculture ethics and principles are being applied in the development, which is really a new thing for a lot of our policymakers and planning departments, right, because they just carve up the land based on zoning, and aren’t necessarily thinking of these things in the bigger context.

Terry Phelan: Right. So, ecovillages and cohousing communities, ecovillages are typically a type of cohousing community… I can see how that applies well to those structures, thinking more of like an urban environment, when you don’t have a collective of people coming together to create a space that they want to live in together, which typically in cohousing, a lot of the are co-owners are working from a very early stage to develop the whole structure of the community to create something that someone will buy into. It’s a different lens to use. And I’d love to be able to kind of apply some of the ethics and theory of permaculture in more — well, I don’t want to say classical, but the type of development that usually entails one or two landowners creating something and then offering it to the public to buy into, it could be an interesting aspect of development to to research more and see how that might be accepted, and how that might perform in the market.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, yeah, it’s a really interesting time right now, as we see land access becoming more and more scarce, especially for younger folks. And the idea of ownership, and only wealthy people owning the land, and other people have to rent or have potential issues down the road because they don’t own or invest in that, that asset, so to speak, is really showing up a lot right now in a lot of different parts of the world. And it’s something that back before the colonial structure of what’s happened in capitalism, I think, land was shared, right, there was territories, and there was always wars, there’s always something happening and fighting over resources. And this model is really about sharing. And I like to remind people, when I’m teaching, that we’re stewards here, we’re only here for a short period of time. And so the idea of ownership (and a lot of it is really wrapped up in banks), but it really creates this unequal playing field. And so those who do have the privilege, and the resources to own land, I feel like we’re at a point right now where we can start looking at land-sharing different kinds of models to follow, like, right now, in farming, it’s really hard to find farmland, and leasing farmland can really be a problem in certain areas, because the resources aren’t there to begin with. And the infrastructure might not be there. But also building something on land you don’t own can be a challenge both in, you know, finding the resources to do it. But then, if you lose access, what happens? You know, does all your hard work get plowed over? And so, I think that a lot I think of land access, and that inequity around that being one of our biggest issues we face in the future, especially for young people. And hopefully planners and developers can start thinking about this. But yeah, there’s a lot of ways permaculture could benefit development, but not a lot of developers, I think, are asking for it, specifically.

Terry Phelan: Right, right, especially in an area like ours, where land is in such high demand that they go the path of least resistance and just do what’s been done. We’re looking at ways to disrupt that. And how do we do that in a positive way and become your stewards for the land and for a greater number of people.

Terry Phelan: This is Terry Phelan, and you’re listening to the Living Shelter podcast. Today I’m talking with Jessi Bloom of Northwest Bloom about using permaculture as a toolkit. So, Jessi, you were talking about access to land and people wanting to farm, and people having a hard time finding land to farm. Now I know you were recently elected to a position with the King County Agricultural Commission. How are you applying your knowledge of permaculture in that role?

Jessi Bloom: Well, I kind of wear a few different hats in that role. Part of me doing that is me giving back because I feel like I do have a lot of experience that the commission could benefit from. But I look at my role as both a business owner who’s leased farmland, and a small business owner. I also look at myself as a first-generation farmer. I don’t come from a family that’s been farming for many generations and has had farmland in my family. So, there’s a lot of people that are in a similar situation as I’ve been in, where leasing plot of land to farm is a real challenge. But as a permaculture designer and educator, I really look at that “Earth Care” piece up front. The biggest benefit I can offer is always thinking of the land first, and the people who don’t have access, and how we can, as an organization, or government entity, help create policies that create that access or that equity. And I think that I’ve been fairly new to the commission so far. But I tend to only speak up if it’s something I feel really strongly about. As an educator, I’ve learned a lot being a first generation farmer on leased land. And I feel like I can offer a lot in that regard, as well, and teaching. So, it’s been an interesting journey. And there’s a lot of policy changes that potentially could happen. But we’re also looking at stormwater, we’re looking at salmon habitat, flooding… So, there’s a lot of components and layers to that position. And I’m very grateful and honored to be a part of it and be learning a lot in that role.

Terry Phelan: It’s great to be an educator and be in a position of learning. And the more I’ve taught, the more I’ve learned along the way. So, I love that you’re in that position of learning something new.

Jessi Bloom: Right now, there’s policies being looked at for event planning and other things that are not typical agricultural uses of land. And so, you know, decisions have to be made or rules have to be created around that.

Terry Phelan: I love to go wine tasting and, you know, attend a wedding at one of the wineries. But, help people think about things in a different way around that.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, well, again, I go back to that, like, we’re just stewards of the land, right? And a product that is not feeding the community, at least not in a nutritional, you know, nourishment sense, maybe socially. The very rare valleys that are still farmable, in this county, are very, very small, and most of the land is being pressured by developers. And you can see examples of that in the Kent Valley, which, once upon a time, was fertile farmland and now is warehouses and concrete. So, there’s a point in which business and capitalism is taking over the accessible farmland. It drives prices up, as well. So farmers have less access to land in general. So, it changes the dynamic of the county when we eliminate accessible farmland and creates less resiliency for our region if we can’t grow food here. It makes us reliant on other regions to grow our food. And we’re a growing region, so the more food we can grow in our own valleys, the better.

Terry Phelan: Definitely, definitely. I remember seeing pictures of the Kent Valley when it was just a floodplain and farmland. And it was a completely different place. Yeah, the Woodinville Valley still has a lot of those characteristics.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, which gives it the charm for the weddings and for the wine tasting.

Terry Phelan: Right, right. And it’s close by, so people with money can access it. Are there community support systems in place for the small farmer who’s looking for land, or the people who want to do a similar thing that maybe what, what’s happening up in the Arlington development? Are there local organizations or places people can go to connect with others around these ideas?

Jessi Bloom: Oh, yeah, I mean, I think most counties will have plenty of resources. There’s the Young Farmers, I think it’s an association. But the there’s government resources, there’s nonprofit resources, there’s quite a bit, it’s just a matter of where, and plugging into the regional or local resources that are available. King County has lease programs, they’re actually buying farmland and leasing it to folks. There’s different cooperatives, depending on what the person’s need is or what the farmer is looking for. In this area, we’re pretty rich with resources. In other areas, I can’t speak to so much. But really, the nonprofits and the government are really looking to support people who don’t have access.

Terry Phelan: That’s really good news. I didn’t realize that that was available. Shifting gears again, just a little. We’ve been talking about rural lands and agricultural lands. I know you’re also involved in urban forestry. How do you see urban forestry being connected with permaculture?

Jessi Bloom: It’s a great question. Well, caring for the earth and caring for the people really go hand-in-hand with having a tree canopy, especially in urban areas. There’s so much research that shows how good it is for our mental health, for property values… Again, there’s inequity there, quite a bit, in urban centers where there are pockets with no trees. And it’s a much different landscape on many different levels. But, there are some great examples of permaculture within cities. You mentioned Beacon Food Forests, which is a really great example in the United States. There’s other countries that are doing pockets of native areas. Of course, we have parks, which are great, most are overrun with invasives. I think, if I could wave a wand and make some of our ornamental trees and parks, turn them into nut-bearing trees of the same age, we’d have a lot of nutrients coming to communities, if they wanted to use them. But the idea of a food forest, or community having access to fruit trees and whatnot, I’ve seen it really successful. And I’ve also seen it, where communities get grants, and they build something, and then they abandoned it after a few years because there’s not a good social structure or organization to take care of it. So that’s where permaculture can really help is — if those all those pieces are designed together. And our trees are really struggling with climate change. And so, really, the goal right now is to plant trees and, and help soothe the effects of the heat domes and the really extreme weather that we’ve been having.

Terry Phelan: They also sequester carbon while they are growing. And that’s, you know, we need trees for that activity as well as for providing the canopy and the balance and the shade and the hot days, and the biophilia.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, I just did a two-series workshop on Pacific Northwest tree care and design. And one of my favorite finds in learning as I was preparing these workshops was that, it’s shown if you’re around trees, it alleviates loneliness. And there’s all kinds of statistics about how it helps you physically, but mentally, I feel like, we’re designed as humans to be around trees. And it’s just a natural, symbiotic relationship. And so I wish we could all get on planting millions of trees everywhere. And it’s happening, and there’s funding going towards that right now. It’s just we need to be selecting the right species, we need to be taking care of them as they’re getting established. And there’s lots of nonprofits popping up all over the place that are helping aid that effort. So, there’s a lot happening around that. And it’s really exciting to see. It gives me a lot of hope. And yeah, I’m planting trees wherever I can.

Terry Phelan: Yeah, there’s, there’s the question, if somebody wants to, say, expand the footprint of a building, and there’s an existing tree to work around, sometimes people keep trees when it’s not in the best interest of the tree to keep it. And that’s always been a hard thing for me; I remember having a property I wanted to build an accessory dwelling on, and there was probably a 200 year old Douglas fir on the property. It was like, seven feet across. And anything going towards that tree was going to affect the root ball. And I have, you know, several people said, “Oh, you should take it down.” And I didn’t want to touch it. So that’s always a hard thing to to decide. People, some people think you should take down the tree that’s old and might not be in perfect condition, and then plant new trees in its place. But the new trees take so long to establish. It’s a dilemma.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, older trees add so much value to the ecosystem. And if they’re being developed around, oftentimes, we see more failure because the roots were compacted, it wasn’t protected, or its neighboring tree community was removed. And that’s so common, that sometimes it makes sense to just take the trees out. But if you can avoid it, I mean, we’ve already deforested so much of our urban areas. If there’s a way to build around trees, or only take trees out that were hazardous, and protect the ones… I think the policies, many of them in at least these more affluent counties, are really driven towards protecting what trees can be protected, but it’s not always followed.

Terry Phelan: Right. Yeah, it’s always been an interesting, interesting, aspect of development. For me, being in the business, I know that architecture is something that affects the landscape, and not always in a positive way. And I know we’re trying to be smarter about it. We’re trying to be more thoughtful about maintaining that balance between nature and the built environment. And I like to look to permaculture as an inspiration for that, and as, as you said, a toolkit to be able to consider the different layers that can be incorporated in in a development plan so that things can be more self-sufficient and more supportive of each other.

Again, thinking about some of our listeners who may not be totally familiar with permaculture, one of the things that has always rung true to me is, is that layering aspect of what things are closest to the home, in a home setting, what things are furthest away, how they support each other, and how it’s really a symbiotic relationship. And that symbiotic relationship can be reflected in very different ways. Whether it’s trees and shrubs and animals and waterways and, you know, all the different things that nature brings, or can be planted to be a natural support system for each other. I think it’s a really fulfilling journey for people to learn about that and be able to have a place that can support itself more readily than something that’s been designed without nature in mind, but more just about what elements can be plopped down around each other.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, I think what comes to mind is, intentional design, regenerative design, ecological design, is much different than the cookie cutter, what seems to fill the most space or, you know, max out the setback lines, all of that, which I see so often in development. There’s not very many examples, at least in this region, of good permaculture development. And there are architects, like you, who do think about that. But I feel like you’re a rarity.

Terry Phelan: Are there places — I know that the Bullock Homestead is a really good example of permaculture in place that people can visit — are there other places that are open to the public that people might be inspired by permaculture?

Jessi Bloom: That’s a good question. On a on a residential level, I’m not sure if places offer tours. That would be like an individual asking each community what they offer. But Dave Boehnlein would be a good person to ask. He spent a lot of time touring ecovillages as he was planning and developing the site that he’s on now. And he went, I believe, to many in other countries, too.

Terry Phelan: Yeah, the Beacon Food Forest is another one that comes to mind. But I was hoping there were some others, like public places, or gardens, that are open to the public, for people to go walk through and get a better idea of how permaculture works.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, I’m not sure. I mean, Beacon Food Forest is a good one, of a public land use example. I think when I heard your question, the first time, it was really more about living spaces. And there’s plenty of little pockets of parks here and there, but they’re not going to show the full extent of what permaculture has to offer. I could plug our book…

Terry Phelan: Right, yeah, I was just gonna say, your book is a great resource for that.

Jessi Bloom: Well, I one of the things I did when we were writing that book, is I went and I toured a bunch of permaculture sites, but most of them were in other parts of the country. So, I went and looked everywhere that I was travelling, I would find the closest permaculture example that I could visit and took photos, and so that way, we are also looking at different climates and different materials being used… Because our climate is so different than, you know, further down the coast in California. So, you know, how do how do materials come into play, when it comes to sustainable design? And it was a really fascinating road trip travel adventure for me. But all of those are in the book.

Terry Phelan: Ah huh. So the book is Practical Permaculture. And people can find it in bookstores and on Amazon, and it’s an eBook, and it’s not an audiobook at this point. Is it?

Jessi Bloom: Um, I don’t know. Actually. That’s a good question. It’s in six languages.

Terry Phelan: Yeah, that’s, I would think it’d be hard to put that in audiobook because the illustrations are so wonderful. And I can’t imagine listening to the book and not being able to see those illustrations. But I’m a visual learner, so might not be as big of an issue for others. But I’ve been revisiting that book this last couple of weeks in preparing for our conversation reminded just how full it is, and how many different things are covered there. It’s really wonderful.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, it’s a big, it’s a big topic, I feel like you can really go down the rabbit hole in any direction with permaculture. But once you really understand the ethics and principles, it’s like glasses you put on that you never take off again. It’s really having a new lens and filter on how the world works and how you can start making decisions differently. So, I’m very grateful for it. And yeah, the book has done really well. But it’s still a fringe topic.

Terry Phelan: This is Terry Phelan and you’re listening to the Living Shelter podcast. Today, I’m talking with Jessi Bloom about using permaculture as a toolkit. So, I’m curious. I mean, you have written three books so far, that I know of, have written or co-written… How has writing influenced your life and the way that you you look at the natural world?

Jessi Bloom: I think writing — I never considered myself a writer — until I was actually asked to write a book. I think what writing has done for me is, it has really made me a better communicator, and made me look at how people learn, and the difference that we all have, according to our privilege. And like, for example, going to different parts of the country. And, you know, understanding what’s taught in schools, just as a general baseline, you know, is different. From here to Texas to North Carolina to Minnesota, you know, there’s a big spectrum of what people learn. And that is also influenced by learning style, but also what people, need and how important that information is, and how it can be digested. I think one way I’ve experienced authors in permaculture is that there’s kind of a superior tone that has been really abrasive to me as a reader, especially when I was trying to first understand, what is permaculture? Right? There’s a lot of entry points for permaculture, there’s a lot of advanced components of it. But in general, learning about how people learn and what is really needed, and using a voice or a tone that is digestible, has been a big part of this learning experience for me. And I’ve taken a lot of workshops on nonviolent communication and compassionate leadership, and being trauma-informed. And that has all all compiled into, I believe, being a better author and communicator in general, and as an employer, or in any relationship. So, it’s been really beneficial on the human side of things. I think I interact with the natural world the same as I always did as a child, and feeling really a deep connection early on, but learning how to write really taught me how to see other humans and how they could be met where they’re at.

Terry Phelan: I love that. A lot of people think about writing, they think about writing a book to share their knowledge or their ideas, and some do a better job of it than others. I think it takes it must take a lot of patience. And I love the idea of, really think about how you can communicate an idea to someone and be at their level, meeting them where they are, is a great way to talk to anyone — just meet them where they are, especially if you want to teach them something.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, yeah. Don’t place yourself above someone else just because you have the knowledge that they don’t. The concept of teaching was also not something I wanted to, or I had planned on taking on in my career. Most of my career I have not planned on anything, it just happens. But, teaching becoming trauma-informed, is really helpful in working with other people and meeting them where they’re at, because we all experience trauma of some kind, and it usually comes out relationally and how you’re interacting with people. But, the process of writing is no easy feat. At least it wasn’t for me. I had a lot of fear and anxiety around, like, this is my baby I’m writing. I don’t want it to be criticized, and I’m afraid if I’m not doing it well enough. That’s my own trauma. But yeah, there, there is a lot for me. And it takes a very long time. I think of it like having a baby, you’re really excited in the beginning and then you grow this thing. And by the time it’s ready to be birthed this, its this big ordeal, and it’s a really hard push, really at the end. And now I’m enjoying all the books out, and living their lives, essentially, and growing in their own ways. But it’s a great journey to experience. It’s been fun, for sure.

Terry Phelan: Yeah. Speaking of trauma-informed, a lot of us are experiencing trauma with climate change. And all of the ways that it’s affecting the natural world around us and the need to become more resilient. What are a couple things you suggest people can do to become more resilient around these changes?

Jessi Bloom: Oh, that’s a really good question. It’s so there’s so many answers to that I think it depends on which part is the most traumatizing, and I can speak for myself, I have asthma. And so, when the air quality is bad, I have a really hard time going outside. I’ve invested in a really good mask, which makes me feel like I’m living in the apocalypse. But self-care is really number one in making sure that you’re being taken care of. It is very sad to see what’s happening to the plants and everything that suffers because of climate change. And I think where I tend to focus for myself and with people that I know, closely, is working on grief. Because I think that’s really what we’re experiencing, in that impact is the grief. It’s a loss that we’re witnessing. And if we can process grief, which is not in this culture, widely accepted, or like a social norm, but if we can learn to grieve with each other, I think that’s a really good place to start. And in my crystal ball, I feel like it’s gonna get worse, right? And how quickly that happens, we don’t know, exactly, but it’s already happening faster than predicted originally. And it’s something that, you know, we can start preparing ourselves physically for, I think saving water is a big one, saving seeds is another. For my own home remodelling and self care, I invested last year in a heat pump and AC unit, because my house faces west with big, huge windows and it literally gets to 100 degrees inside and stays that way overnight. So, that investment for me and getting a green loan was a tough decision, but I feel like long-term, is going to be really smart. So, looking at how you spend your money is also another way to make sure that your life is set up so that you stay healthy, and have clean water when it’s available, filtration systems, water collection tanks, I try to sell those to every single client I work with. And I’m sure I sound like a crazy person half the time, but I really believe it. And I think there will be a point where water is like gold, and it is already in parts of the world. So that’s something that I think is pretty important as our population grows in this region. And our snowmelt seems to be pretty erratic right now. But the drought period is getting hotter and longer. Our water resources are limited. And a lot of people are moving here. I think of them as climate refugees from hotter areas.

Terry Phelan: Right, right.

Jessi Bloom: People think this is the safe place to be. But we’re already having problems with our aquifers. And so looking at long-term, water is really where I focus. That’s the one thing that we really, really need.

Terry Phelan: And a lot of people around the Pacific Northwest don’t realize that, especially in Western Washington, Western Oregon, on the ocean side of the Cascades, we think we have all the water that we could ever want because of the rainfall and the mountains. So, to consider that those things might be a lot riskier than what we have come to believe. It’s another one of those things that people either refuse to believe it, put on blinders and continue on with their way of living, or they get overwhelmed and don’t know really what to do about it. So, coming up with practical ways of preparing yourself, I think is, is what we all have to do.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, yeah, I think being prepared in the case of an emergency. Growing up here, you know, I’m sure you remember to like, having it drilled in our heads that there was this big earthquake coming. I still think of that. And if we did have an earthquake, regardless of climate change, our water mains could break, our wellheads could break all of the piping to the homes that we, you know, rely on and have had water coming out of our taps for our lives could suddenly run dry. In an earthquake event, it would be a long time, most likely, especially if it’s big like they have predicted, before repairs were made. And so having water as a backup emergency plan, I think is never a bad idea. And if you’re paying for water from municipality, and you can lighten that load, and save some money, why not? There’s a lot of cheap, cheap filtration systems. We use water all the time, if you do a water audit, I like to ask people like how many gallons do you use a day in my water district, you can actually measure and see in graph form, how much water is used for my household day by day.

Terry Phelan: That’s cool.

Jessi Bloom: Yeah, there’s lots of ways to start looking at how much water you use, imagining an earthquake or serious drought and, you know, water rationing, and it’s happened. I remember being a kid living in Marysville and having that happen. And that wasn’t that long ago. But most water districts now say that they’re not going to ration water, they’ll just keep raising the price.

Terry Phelan: Talk about social equity.

Jessi Bloom: You know, golf courses may stay green, but that neighborhood down the road and has no water. So it’s definitely something to be thinking about. There’s some really great books. This is my rabbit hole, I really geek out on water systems. And there’s a lot of really fascinating books that look at water systems around the world and throughout human history, and what’s happened. But there’s, there’s a lot of examples out there of very recent water wars going on. And California has seen towns dry up, people all over, see their wells dry up. So, it’s happening. It’s just, like you said, if people have their blinders on, or they’re not exposed to it, they’re not going to know about it.

Terry Phelan: Yeah. Or they just go somewhere else. They’re just like, go to the Pacific Northwest. So, I love something you said a little bit ago about how being with trees is kind of a cure for loneliness. And I know that nature inspires you. You’re an inspiration to me, I mean, the fact that you run a business and the raising of family and writing books, and you know, on this commission, and it’s like, where do you find the energy? Where do you find the inspiration? Where do you find the time? What inspires you? What keeps you going?

Jessi Bloom: Honestly, caffeine. My deep-rooted addiction to coffee. No, I think I’ve just always had a lot of energy, and I am so in love with the natural world. Like I just went plant shopping for two projects. And if you could just hear me, like, with every plant, I’m like, “Oh, hi, let’s go home!” You know, I think of every organism, you know, having its own spirit, its own, you know, existence and being in the world. And I guess that gives me a lot of life, life energy, because I share it, my own with them. But I’m also surrounded by gardens and animals and that lifeforce energy that I think we’re so naturally a part of. But yeah, the coffee beans help too.

Terry Phelan: Where do you go plant shopping?

Jessi Bloom: Oh, I have a list. I do wholesale planting plant shopping. We have a broker we have, like, probably 10 different vendors that we use, depending on what kind of plant we’re looking for. I loaded a whole dump truck this morning. And that felt really good to bring them all back, and I know they’re gonna go to good homes that we’ve prepared for them. So, yeah, it’s really fun. I think I love my job so much, that because I get to have those interactions, but it takes a lot for me to get burnt out. It does happen, but, I do a lot of self-care. That’s the other thing. I’ve learned that that is a necessity and requirement.

Terry Phelan: Yeah, yeah. And I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but your third book that you wrote was on creating sanctuary. And that’s a big piece of self care, I would highly recommend that book to anyone who is wanting to create a healing garden. It’s very sweet. So, we’re about out of time. Are there places you might want to list, websites or other things that people where people can go to find out more information about what we’ve been talking about and your work?

Jessi Bloom: My work, I have two websites:, And that’s the design and build company that I run. And is where my author and teaching and all that kind of stuff lives.

Terry Phelan: Wonderful. Okay, well, thank you so much. It was really good having you on and having a chance to catch up with you today.

Jessi Bloom: Thanks for having me.

Terry Phelan: That was Jesse bloom of Northwest Bloom, helping us understand how we can use permaculture as a toolkit and development. I also want to thank everyone listening in and hope you’ll tune in again for more great content and inspirational guests from the world of sustainable design. The Living Shelter podcast is a project of Board & Vellum, a multidisciplinary design firm practicing architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture for residential, commercial and civic projects. From our studio in Seattle, I’m your host Terry Phelan. Take care and we’ll talk again soon.