New farm brings permaculture to Benzie County farmers markets

BENZIE COUNTY— Chad Van Tol aims to maximize energy returned on energy invested on his Benzie County farm, Cold Creek Permaculture.

While shoppers at Grow Benzie’s and Elberta’s Farmers’ Markets may be getting to know Van Tol and his market team, Julie Van Tol and Sherry and Aaron Garrett for the first time, his journey to permaculture began in 2006.

Van Tol will introduce interested people to basic permaculture principles at a workshop from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Monday at Grow Benzie.

Specifically, attendees will learn what a hugelkultur bed is, and how to make one. A hugelkultur bed is a no-dig, low-to-no maintenance garden bed that, once established, uses the natural flow of water on a landscape so doesn’t need to be watered.

Chad Van Tol will be talking about permaculture at a presentation on Monday at Grow Benzie. (Courtesy photo)

Chad Van Tol will be talking about permaculture at a presentation on Monday at Grow Benzie. (Courtesy photo)

2006 is when Van Tol started scouring the internet for anything he could find out permaculture. Permaculture is a set of agricultural and social design principles aimed to model or use patterns observed in natural surroundings. Always wanting to know the why of things, Van Tol’s “mind was blown” by permaculture concepts, so he started experimenting in his Grand Rapids backyard, where he worked as a licensed builder during the day. For seven years, he never did the same things twice in his garden, always observing and learning.

Van Tol realized his dream was to have a permaculture farm and not limit his learning to his backyard. With his charismatic enthusiasm and passion, he shared his dream with his good friends and invited them to join him, and they did.

In 2013, Van Tol’s family bought the land for the farm. In 2014, he attended a permaculture design course taught by Geoff Lawton, and became a certified permaculture designer. Van Tol and his team commuted from Grand Rapids for three years to begin working the land, and just this year, most of the group moved to Benzie County.

Van Tol, his wife and their three kids along with his sister, and Van Tol’s best friend, his wife, and kids all moved to Benzie County this year to grow Cold Creek Permaculture.

The vision for Cold Creek Permaculture includes being a demonstration and educational farm. The farm features various vegetable and fruit crops, as well as soay-heritage bred sheep, whose job is to build soil. Other animals include chickens, rabbits and pot-belly pigs. They have a hoop house for growing vegetable transplants and extending the grow season. Hops are the cash crop of the farm.

Find Cold Creek Permaculture every week at Grow Benzie’s Farmers Market on Monday and at the Elberta Farmers Market on Thursdays.

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