What began for Darrell Frey as a desire to homestead and learn basic self-reliance skills evolved into a passion for applying environmental science to design ecologically based farms and gardens. Drawing inspiration from the writings of Bill Mollison, the so called ‘father of permaculture,’ and the innovative farming techniques and bioshelter building strategies developed by the New Alchemy Institute in Massachusetts, Frey launched his farming operation, Three Sisters Farm in 1988 on five acres of land in Sandy Lake, PA to promote permaculture. At the center of his operation sits a unique bioshelter that employs permaculture design and utilizes sustainable agriculture methods, technologies and practices.
While challenging, Frey does believe that it is possible to scale permaculture to feed large numbers of people sustainably. “A permaculture farm doesn’t define what a farm will look like as much as the tools and processes you use to plant it and manage it,” he said. Frey points to Wes Jackson’s efforts to develop perennial systems that mimic a prairie and allow for the harvest of multiple types of grains as one possible solution. Frey, however, said: “If you want to grow a thousand acres of grain you’re getting a little out of the scale.”
Frey said the farm has been in business for 22 years, and that for 15 of those years it has paid its own bills and provided a healthy family income. Frey explains the seven year gap as a period where production dropped as a result of his decision to focus more time on developing permaculture education initiatives and programs, growing his permaculture consulting business, and writing his book, Bioshelter Market Garden: A Permaculture Farm.