All posts by DanielHalsey

Thinking about how we design and the influence culture plays.

The New Beauty

Aesthetic: a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. (ref:Merriam-Webster)

Since advanced permaculture design, or any design process, is influenced by the designer’s personal values, we need to assess our aesthetic defaults. We need to critically examine and reevaluate why we act the way we do and how decisions and choices are made. We see more with our eyes through the aesthetic filter of our culture than through our instinctive biological vision. We appreciate “beauty in the natural world that we do not incorporate in our controlled living space. We have been taught a separation between that natural world and our personal space defines us as “superior or civilized”.

How we perceive beauty, which is the learned cultural aesthetic, conflicts and causes stress in the permaculture design process. In serious ecological design, we need to redirect our vision to the functional aesthetic of natural systems. In our design process we use all the steps in a scale of permanence and apply our design process in a progressive manner. This refines our personal aesthetic to a more natural expectation. For our design work we will use a structure of decision-making, from large-scale patterns to details. Following an organic design process allows us to discover the design solutions rather than impose them[i].

In order to do ecological design in a sustainable manner we follow a functional aesthetic as nature does. What we perceive as beauty in nature is the functional anesthetic that is the result of billions of choices for efficiency and fitness of living organisms. These patterns that repeat in our vision show us the most efficient use of space, resources, transportation of resources, and resilience.   Organism fitness is directly related to its ability to thrive. Each cell, each genetic mutation either increases or decreases the fitness of the affected organism. The simplicity of design for the most efficient use of space, resources, and structural resilience, must also be sufficient to allow the system to survive changes. These changes may be climactic, geological, meteorological, or through competition as other species change.

When we, as Permaculture designers, begin to read the land, we want to make sure that we are being imprinted by the land so that our design is not imposed (forced) on the land. That is why the site assessment process cannot be motivated by extraction (taking) of resources. We are only looking for available resources that we may enhance, restore, and integrate in a design. This will increase the fitness of the land and its ability to buffer extreme events that may deplete its resources. We are in a sense raising the carrying capacity of the land.

Within the boundaries of the property for which we are making a master plan, we are the new genetic code. We are like a virus in its most positive sense. We as ecological designers can supply a  “new genetic code” bringing increased resilience to a property. We can help the land restore itself to natural fertility. We can assist the land in developing deeper and richer organic material on its horizon. As stated in many permaculture articles, we accelerate succession and see ourselves as a steward of the land, not its master.

By increasing the ecological services available to the natural systems we create increased resources for ourselves. We are the primary livestock in this natural system, yet as the stewards of this land we know that if we were to vacate the property, the natural systems will be more resilient, deeper in organic materials, and at a higher state of natural restoration than if we had never appeared. There will be increased diversity of flora and fauna and increased levels of complexity in the ecology.

The biggest challenge we have in ecological design is refraining from imposing our personal, cultural, and economic aesthetic on natural systems that already exist.  We ourselves are imprinted by our culture to create personal space that follows the cultural aesthetic of our origin. It is not hard to imagine the design of a house owned by a consumerist suburban American. It is also not hard to imagine how that design would change based on the cultural origin of the designer. That subconscious design driver, which infiltrates our design, is most likely contrary to natural ecological design. This assumed beauty is the predetermined aesthetic that is subtly incorporated in our concepts.

As we walk an undisturbed property, we can see the natural aesthetic of ecological systems, mostly in what we would call Permaculture zone 5. The natural aesthetic or beauty is the functional design of natural ecology. As we move down the zones to zone 4, zone 3, zone 2, and zone 1, we can see the cultural design choices appear and begin to disturb the natural ecology. The greatest challenge we have is trying to adapt the predetermined economic and cultural design drivers (defaults) to our goal of a natural design (intention) based on enhancing ecological services rather than imposed economic and lifestyle preferences.

In the SouthWoods Design Process we observe, through a tour of the built environment, the differences between learned beauty, cultural defaults, and an appreciation for nature’s functional aesthetic. In ecological design, nature’s ecological functions and patterns are valued as the principal pathway to beauty.

[i] Meaning, decisions are based on necessity rather than preference.  As will be shown in the design process, plant species are not considered until all other design items have been defined. It is the last consideration in ecological design.


United Designers Summits and Workshops

United Designers Summits and Workshops 

It’s time to get the combined efforts and skills of the many excellent designers and practitioners working as teams. This planet’s people need us and the influence of our expertise to extend far beyond our own watersheds and political boundaries. We need to work together with not only a common goal, but a mutually supported mission, language, and process. Working together we can accelerate our development as the key designers at home and across the world.

The United Designers summits are a gathering of designers/practitioners wishing to extend their skills and experience into higher professional practice. Attendees will develop a consistent process to complete designs with high quality presentation, confidence, and efficiency. This summit is for current and prospective members of our supporting organizations and those wishing to join the United Designers Co-op.  Attendees completing the summit workshops will join the cohesive teams of designers working on projects throughout the planet.

Professional Permaculture and  Digital Ecological Design

This is the foundation for professional permaculture and digital design. These sessions take you through the entire design process to develop higher skills for professional design services. Taught by Daniel Halsey, international ecological and agro-ecosystem designer and creator of the SouthWoods permaculture design process, teaches the course from real-life case studies, with intensive hands-on experience, and real-time assignments. Its an intense experience of skill building, design progression, studying ecological models, and the science to support your best design.

A six day plan will be supplied with a focus on:

  • Advanced Permaculture Strategies.
  • Applied Permaculture Principles in Ecological Design.
  • Advanced training in Adobe Illustrator with supplied digital resources.
  • Case studies from a diverse selection of sites and environments.
  • Special consideration for urban settings, farm settings, and homesteads.

Professional Permaculture and Digital Ecological Design 

May 20 – 25, 2019   Sponsored by United Designers Espana Hosted by Designers Regina Cobo and Sara Garcia



Professional Permaculture and Digital Ecological Design

This is the foundation for professional permaculture and digital design. These sessions take you through the entire design process to develop higher skills for professional design services.

Taught by Daniel Halsey, international ecological and agro-ecosystem designer and creator of the SouthWoods permaculture design process, teaches the course from real-life case studies, with intensive hands-on experience, and real-time assignments.

Its an intense experience of skill building, design progression, studying ecological models, and the science to support your best design.

The course will be given in English.
All documentation will be in English.
After course completion a certification will be issued by Permaculture Research Institute USA.

A 6-day course, from Monday to Friday, the class schedule being from 9:00 a.m. to 14:00 p.m. and from 15:00 p.m. to 17:00 p.m.
On Saturday, field day at Finca Magara (Permaculture and Analog Foresty Farm)

Edificio FITENI . Alba3 Bussiness center
C/ Anabel Segura 10 3ª planta.
28108 Alcobendas, Madrid

How to get there:
Metro station: Line 10. Stop: “La Moraleja” .10 min. walk
Bus: Line 159 from Plaza Castilla. Stop Avda. de la Vega

Professional Practices and the Ecological Design Process is a 6-day course that concentrates on professional practices and skill development. Although we will discuss client relationships, marketing, and accounting practices, we will emphasize each student developing a professional design process and presentation style.

Throughout the week, students will acquire the necessary tools and skills to function comfortably and smoothly in the process of digital designing with the Adobe Illustrator. The class will acquire hands on experience with design drawing, software, and data mining. Also, students will have 1-year free access to The Natural Capital™ Plant Database, a repository of plant information for ecological design, that provides a variety of design tools from searching for plants based on selected criteria to creating ecological analogs. Students will use on-line document access during and after the course.




A six-day plan with a focus on:

  1. Advanced Permaculture Strategies.
  2. Applied Permaculture Principles in Ecological Design.
  3. Advanced training in Adobe Illustrator with supplied digital resources.
  4. Case studies from a diverse selection of sites and environments.
  5. Special consideration for urban settings, farm settings, and homesteads.




Course Resources

  • Complete Design Process info in digital format.
  • Access to all design process files and documentation.
  • Site assessment documents, tables, and resource libraries.
  • One-year subscription to the Natural Capital Plant Database.
  • Exercises and practice sheets to develop design speed and experience.


Requisites for this course

  • Permaculture Design Certificate is not required
  • Laptop with Adobe Illustrator installed version 6.0 or later (free trial version lasts 7 days)
  • Basic knowledge of Office tools and PDF.
  • Free space on the hard disk. 

Fee and Registration

Payment system
Full Course

Advance deposit:


Second payment:


(must be paid before the first day of the course)

Early bird



paid full


April 1, 2019


You can register via:
or in:


Conditions and Cancellation policy

  • We reserve the right to cancel the course for reasons beyond control.
  • Cancellations will be communicated one month before the beginning of the course.
  • The deposit is non-refundable unless the course is cancelled.
  • In the case of course cancellation, all payments made will be refunded to you in full.
  • If installment payments are not received on time, all participation and online support access will be suspended.




Instructor and Lecturers

Daniel Halsey is a certified permaculture designer and teacher for the Permaculture Research Institute, Australia, director of PRI/USA, and board member of the Large-Scale Ecosystem Restoration Section of the International Society for Ecological Design.  Daniel has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota in Temperate Climate Polyculture Design and a Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture. Dan’s studies and research focuses on ecological polycultures, natural capital, increasing carrying capacity, and woodland food systems. He has co-authored three books on sustainable design including Integrated Forest Gardening, 2014. He is hired nationally and internationally to design private homesteads, intentional communities, ecological restoration, and broad-acre farm transitions in Haiti, Lebanon, Costa Rica, Canada, across the United States, Alaska, Hawaii, in The United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and The Netherlands.

United Designers Co-op

Welcome to the United Designers Co-op.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-10-57-31-pmUnited Designers is a design co-op for ecological and permaculture design.  The foundation of United Designers solutions is Restoration of Ecological Functions on the landscape and Increased  Ecological Services to the ecology. Team members acquire design projects and work together as co-designers/creators.  Join us and build your team of partner designers for faster and better results.

United Designers is also looking for sales associates looking for design resources for their area. UD can supply all the services needed for starting a Permaculture design business.

This gateway to design resources, consultation, collaboration, and tools is an initiative of the SouthWoods Ecological Design and the Permaculture Research Institute/USA.

Contact Daniel Halsey for further information.

Each gaining experience and expertise. We work as team with skill sharing , each taking the tasks at their level of expertise to move the project forward to completion.   The United Designers team uses resource data mining, numerous government and private database sources,  Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Office, and various GIS software. The design work is done after an extensive site assessment process with forms and tables we supply our team members so we all have a standard design process and platform. Designers are signing up for team projects and access to assessment and design resources.

The United Designer Team and Working in Portugal

A week before Dan left for a project assessment and an site visit in Portugal,  Dan met on Skype with the United Designer team for a briefing to get design input. On-line were Regina Cobo (Spain), Jessica Robertson (Wildcraft Permaculture, Ontario), Bryce Ruddock ( WI), Pete Wedin (MN), and Paula Westmoreland (Ecological Design, MN), and Javan Kerby Bernakevitch, (B.C, Canada).  Discussed were the site conditions, plants of the Iberian Peninsula, and fire regimes. After the trip we met again and went through the resulting images, strategy and options for the client.

Regina sent some valuable fire deterrent plant systems from Spain. These are being drawn out and made into polycultures from 3 different fire defense strategies based on site conditions.

Much of the raw materials needed for stream bed restoration, erosion control, and check dams are available on-site.

Bryce completed research on plants of the Iberian Peninsula that will be used in the final reforestation plan. Specific species identification may need more work. There is some question as to the actual species of some of the Umbrella pines. The eucalyptus trees are the biggest ecological liability on the property.  The fire defense buffers include removal of all eucalyptus trees (google that) within 15 meters of the road beds and 50 meters from all buildings and structures. Details of this and other systems are in the final design narrative still in progress.

Wim, the owner, used a Phantom 4 drone to do some outstanding 3D models of the property. Along with the high res and real time 2D maps, we have great detail to reference in the design process. Much of the ground cover faded back to soils as the overlapping and angled flight images layered to show under story  conditions.

Farm Design in Haiti

Client: Healing Haiti (NGO)
Property:  Fleri Farm
Design Location: Port Au Prince, Haiti
Project Lead: Chris Newhouse, Matter Inc. (NGO)
Lead Designer: Daniel Halsey
Design Group: SouthWoods/United Designers

Working in Senegal

Client: Dieng Foundation
Project Lead: Chris Newhouse, Matter Inc. (NGO)
Lead Designer: Daniel Halsey
Specialist Designer: Neil Bertrando, Drylands
Design Group: SouthWoods/United Designers
Design Site: Kebemer Senegal

We cannot be divided. We are the Regeneration.

We are not Millennials
We are not Gen-Xers
We are not Baby Boomers, Gen Y, or Z.
We are the Re-generation,

Renewing the soil.
Rebuilding forests, watersheds and wetlands.
Regenerating prairies and lakes.
Redefining farming for perhaps the first time in generations
and building perennial systems that will support our farm families for generations to come.
We save the soil and we save the farm…we save our place on this planet.
Who else is going to do this?  Cities?  Corporations?
All manufactured landscapes reduce the carrying capacity of our planet.
Show me a value of a street, building, or sidewalk that creates a net gain in the capacity of natural systems. Natural Capital is the real value of a place.

The ecological functions within its natural systems define a sites carrying capacity.

Land and water are the only resources for corrective measures; by raising their carrying capacity. Live in the Biotic World, surround yourself with living things and know the difference. Having us here should be a net gain to the planet and its future inhabitants.

Join United Designers and lets work together.

Restoration Planning and Management Resources (Minnesota, USA)

Midwest Restoration Planning and Management Resources

Web Resources
Minnesota County Record Checklist
 Invasive Species, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources,
Minnesota Department of Transportation Plant Selector
Minnesota Wildflowers
National List of Vascular Plant Species that Occur in Wetlands
Native Plant Community Classification, Ecological Land Classification Program
Native Prairie Seeding Calculator (XLS)
PLANTS Database, USDA,
Plants for Stormwater Design: Species Selection for the Upper Midwest
Restore Your Shore, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Illinois Plant Information Network
Illinois Wildflowers
Lady Bird Johnson Center Native Plant Database

PDFs to Download

Field Guide to Wetland Buffer Plant Seedlings
Going Native: A Prairie Restoration Handbook for Minnesota Landowners,
Handbook for Collecting Vegetation Plot Data in Minnesota: The Releve Method
Managing and Restoring Riparian Environments
Managing and Restoring Woodland and Forest Communities
Managing, Restoring, and Re-establishing Prairie and Savanna Communities,
Measuring & Monitoring Plant Populations
Minnesota Wetland Restoration Guide, Vegetation Establishment Section
MNDOT Seeding Manual, Minnesota Department of Transportation
MN List of Vascular Plant Species that Occur in Wetlands
Native Seed Seed Mix Design for Roadsides
Native Vegetation Establishment and Enhancement Guidelines
Prairie Seedling and Seeding Evaluation Guide
Prairie Moon Nursery Catalog and Cultural Guide
Restoration and Management of Declining Habitats – Tallgrass Prairie (643), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of Minnesota, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC., 2005.
Restoring and Managing Native Wetland and Upland Vegetation, Jacobson, R.L., Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources and Minnesota Department of Transportation, St. Paul, MN, 2006.
Species Lists for Terrestrial and Palustrine Native Plant Communities in East-Central Minnesota, Dunevitz-Texler, H. and C. Lane, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and Great River Greening, St. Paul, MN, 2007.

Books      (Google Search for access)

Central Region Seedling ID Guide for Native Prairie Plants
Field Guide to the Native Plant Communities of Minnesota: The Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province, Ecological Land Classification Program
Field Guide to the Native Plant Communities of Minnesota: The Laurentian Mixed Forest Province,Biological Survey, and Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program,
Field Guide to the Native Plant Communities of Minnesota: The Prairie Parkland and Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Provinces
Field Guide to Wisconsin Sedges: An Introduction to the Genus Carex (Cyperaceae),
Flora of the Great Plains, Barkley
Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality, Henderson
Michigan Flora: Part 1 Gymnosperms and Monocots
Michigan Flora: Part 2
Michigan Flora: Part 3 Dicots Concluded,
Minnesota Flora: An Illustrated Guide to Vascular Plants of Minnesota.
Minnesota Invasive Non-native Terrestrial Plants: An Identification Guide for Resource Managers,
Minnesota’s Saint Croix River Valley and the Anoka Sandplain: A Guide to Native Habitats,
Northland Wildflowers: the Comprehensive Guide to the Minnesota Region,
Plants for Stormwater Design: Species Selection for the Upper Midwest,
Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie: An Illustrated Manual for Iowa and the Upper
Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Prairie Restoration, in the Upper Midwest (The),
Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Seed and Seedling Identification (The), Williams,
Tallgrass Restoration Handbook for Prairies, Savannas, and Woodlands
Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota: The Complete Guide to Species Identification
Vascular Plants of Minnesota: A Checklist and Atlas, Ownbey, G.B. and T. Morley, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1991.
Vegetation of Wisconsin: An Ordination of Plant Communities, Curtis, J.T., University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, 1959.
Wetland Plants and Plant Communities of Minnesota and Wisconsin