Spotlight on Installation:
Ricky Heidvogel is a permaculture installer with Food Forest Abundance, as well as an expert in irrigation. This is an interview with Chelsea Boissonneault to get to know Ricky a little bit more 🙂
How did you come into the world of permaculture?
I was working in landscape distribution for years and did not like the fact that most clients wanted the use of pesticides and herbicides and that landscapers are responsible for a lot of the over-use and over-application of these chemicals. The use of these poisons I knew wasn’t good for the environment or our health and it was weighing on me. My own health went for a downturn at this time, mentally, physically and spiritually, as I was struggling with this.
I was asking myself what will our world look like if we continue with the poisons? How will our kids be affected? This is when I started researching regenerative agriculture and food forestry. Understanding that this was the solution to most of the problems we face as a society and that I saw first hand working in landscape distribution . After studying permaculture for the last 4 – 5 years, I began to create plans to start my own permaculture design and installation business.
While researching plans to start this business, my wife sent me the Highwire episode that Jim was on and it all clicked! THIS was the answer, food rather than lawns with no poisons and a great purpose by far than just grass. Jim made it clear to me that permaculture is the solution to so many problems in the world and you can make money without poisons. His passion led me to send a message to Food Forest Abundance and within an hour Jim called me himself, that was a conversation I will never forget. It was perfectly in line with what I wanted to do and also aligned with the life I wanted for myself and my family. All the resources and support from Food Forest Abundance is what sealed the deal.
At the time my family and I were living with my parents as we refused to settle to live in an apartment. We manifested what we wanted, which was acreage on which we could grow our own food. We found a 14 acre property and our neighbors had a garden area they were not using and they agreed to let us use it to grow food! Everything fell into place.
I wish I would have learned about permaculture in school and fallen in love with it sooner. Instead I found it by becoming a truth seeker and going through that time of frustration, but it was my path. I don’t want my kids to have to wait to learn about this kind of life and now they don’t have to.
Why is irrigation so critical?
Irrigation is not absolutely necessary but it definitely helps in many environments. That being said, an irrigation system will not do much if the soil isn’t healthy. Healthy soil and microbiome is necessary to allow the water to make the nutrients available to the plants. The more nutrients in the soil you have the less you may need to water the plants.
As installers of food forests it is our job to preserve the plants we install to the best of our ability. Part of that is to always install an irrigation system that is to ensure the plants get through the first few seasons, then it is possible to wean off the irrigation if so desired.
There are other ways to trap and store water for a food forest that we use depending on the landscape of the clients property such as swales along the contour of a southern facing slope. We then berm up on the low side of the swale with topsoil and compost, plants go in the berm, and rain water from the slope is trapped in the swale allowing for a slower release of water throughout the food forest.
We install the irrigation system after the plants are in with the exception of putting the main line in the ground when we are in the sheet mulching process and carving out the beds. Then once the beds are shaped and the plants are in we will finish installing the rest of the irrigation system by laying out the drip. We typically install a control valve box as well at this time which will help the client water specific areas of their food forest and not others if desired.
What is a common mistake when it comes to watering?
One common mistake is to water just at the base of the tree, bush or plant. It’s important to water all around the plant so that the roots spread
Dont water just at that tree base – spread it so roots spread out to reach the water and nutrients that the water helps to bring to the plant. This will create a stronger and healthier plant. Perennials need water to get their roots deeper, but not too much water, just the right amount. If you stick to watering once a week on average you will be able to train the roots to go deeper into the ground.
It is also important to know your climate zone, even microclimates within your property matter. So how much and how often you should water your food forest will depend on that as well as seasonal changes where you live. The goal is to water as little as possible, maybe even just 2-3 hours once a week if you have rainfall.
What do you love most about helping people grow their own food?
Definitely it would be the new way of thinking when they learn more about what is possible on their very own land. I typically start by walking around the clients property with them to find plants that are already there in place that are edible and that starts the learning off.
They become empowered now as they look at things with a deeper, more connected perspective on plants and their life. An appreciation develops for nature and the quality of their food for themselves and their family.
Why do you think more people do not grow their own food?
Often they are intimidated to do it themselves, but that’s why Food Forest Abundance exists, to help people grow their own food and empower them. Many people are conditioned to be programmed for convenience over working for many things in life, including acquiring their food. Of course it is easier to go to the grocery store, but that doesn’t provide so many things that a food forest will bring into one’s life. Included in that is the absolute knowledge of where your food comes from and ensures no use of poisons in the process of growing it.
In society as a whole we have lost the knowledge and techniques of growing food. It is not taught in schools most of the time and parents of today are usually working full time jobs and just haven’t been taught the skills necessary to (easily) grow their own food.
What would you tell someone who is on the fence about growing their own food?
Well if they have kids I would ask them how they want their kids to grow up? Do you want them spending more time on tablets and watching TV or develop a love of nature? Having food on your own land is a way to spark their imagination like nothing else can.
If they do not have kids I would maybe start by asking them if they want to be free from the medical system and having to buy so called organic food that may or may not be actually organic? If health freedom is of value the answer is simple. Start by asking yourself what would you like to grow in your own yard and that usually makes it easier to envision what that may look like.
What is being an installer with Food Forest Abundance like?
I started with Food Forest Abundance a year ago. I did 1 install right away when I started in the fall of 2021 and now it is my full time job. Not only for myself but also for my brother and we hired another person as well. We have done 8 installations so far this year and we have 4-5 more to do this fall.
What I like most about working with Food Forest Abundance is the connections with so many amazing people that have a similar passion and mindset. We bounce ideas off of each other, we are support systems to each other. I feel I can call anyone from FFA and they are always willing to help no matter what and that feels amazing.
They are a group of people who have the full innerstanding of the vision and are willing to put in the work to make things happen. They don’t just talk the talk they walk the walk!