Cliff & Jennifer ← Spiral Ridge Permaculture

Cliff & Jennifer

Hi, we are Cliff Davis & Jennifer Albanese and this is our story (well, at least part of it)

Cliff Davis giving a permaculture lectureCliff Davis – Ever since I was born I have been living close to the land. Growing up in Southern Illinois my family would camp 6 months out of the year at Crab Orchard Lake. Hunting, fishing, gardening, cutting firewood was part of our life. Living near large tracts of woodlands I experienced the Sacred taking walks, building forts and climbing trees. I have fond memories of those days. After college I set out on a sacred journey to find the meaning of life. What I found was a way of life that mimicked nature, embraced innovative technologies, respected indigenous knowledge and created positive solutions to the world’s problems. I found permaculture or permaculture found me.

Jennifer Albanese I grew up in the suburbs of the city, but ever since I was young, I remember seeking out the small, wild places. Whether it be a small woods surrounded by apartment buildings, a swath of undeveloped land in a neighborhood or a stretch of isolated beach. These are the places I would go to, where my imagination would run wild, or I would find some peace from whatever problem I was facing. In high school I took two youth group trips to hike part of the Appalachian trail. That was a turning point for me. I loved being in the wilderness and couldn’t stop dreaming of a life that would help me retain the connection I felt when I was in those mountains. In college, I began to grow plants, seek out natural areas and became drawn to the farming lifestyle, without ever having set foot on a farm!

Country Boy meets City Girl – Our Journey Together 

We met, fell in love (that’s another story) and weeks later found ourselves being mentored by an organic farmer. This experience ignited our passion further. For years we traveled, gardening in backyards in Illinois, apprenticing on an organic flower farm in the Midwest, living on a permaculture site in Costa Rica, homestead farming in Florida, and instructing at the Ecovillage Training Center in Tennessee. Kids in tow, we abandoned the conventional life to pursue our passions.  Cliff worked as a builder, natural builder, arborist, native plants landscaper, gardener, intern, and educator.  We scraped together our pennies to continue investing in our education by way of courses and skill building experiences. We have lived in yurts, tents, lofts above tool sheds, 200 sq. foot cabins (without electricity & running water) and even now, while we build our dream home, we live off-grid, in a 420 square foot cabin, with four kids.  Hey, we were tiny house living, before tiny house living was cool!

homestead_flowersPutting Down Roots – Our Homestead

We homestead a 9.25 acre site located in the Cumberland-Green bio-region of middle Tennessee. The site was clear cut, before we bought it, in December 2007, causing major damage to the soil, wildlife habitat, and the watershed. It was not your idyllic picturesque farm, not by a long shot!  It was damaged, marginal, on a ridge top, windy, eroded and stripped bare of all trees….but it was cheap!  We figured that if we could apply what we had learned and transform this piece of land into a thriving, productive and ecological ecosystem, that provides for many of our needs, then we would have a lot to share with others and we would have an opportunity to heal a ravaged piece of land.  We acquired the land in April 2009 with the intent to restore the landscape using permaculture and restoration ecology.  We had about $500 in our pockets, skills & knowledge, support from our community, a dose of ingenuity and resourcefulness and a lot of determination!

 

 

  • A barren landscape. Notice we began implementing earthworks right away to get our water systems in place and prevent further erosion.
  • The landscape shortly after we arrive. Logged, eroded, littered with debris, compaction and oil spills where machinery had been.
  • We quickly planted cover crops to hold what was left of the soil, in place and accelerating development of fertility.
  • We quickly built a small cabin, so we could move on to the property right away. A few years later it is covered in vegetation. Hops, honeysuckle & kiwi vines climb the trellises.
  • We selectively chose which species to allow to grow back. Black locust (a nitrogen fixer) stand with cover crop understory, stabilizing the soil and building fertility.
  • Newly built on contour raised beds rapidly convert to productive vegetable gardens.
  • A thriving Mulberry tree in the forefront of the garden.
  • Four year old perennial food forest and outdoor shower/compost toilet/shed multipurpose building.
  • The young fruit trees in the forest garden are beginning to bear fruit. Fruit bearing bushes, edible ground covers and roots, herbal understories, all add to the diversity and stability of the system.
  • Productive green house and lots of vegetative growth all over the property thanks to soil building efforts over the years. It is necessary to learn nursery skills to flesh out the barren landscape with edible and useful plants.
  • Ponds capture rainwater and provide habitat for ducks, create microclimate and attract beneficial wildlife.
  • Agroforestry systems. Orchards mixed with pastures for animals.
  • Compost tea being sprayed on the land (with a fire hose) to increase soil biology.

The design of the property, started with careful observation of the site and articulating our goals. We then started the site analysis and assessment phase of our design process. We followed the scale of permanence, designing our water and road systems first.  In 6 years we have implemented: a number of earthworks projects (reticulating swales, terraces, several ponds and on contour driveway), a small cabin on the top of the hill with rainwater for gravity fed irrigation that also serves as a shelter for now and off-grid design studio later, a 20×48 hoophouse, fencing for chickens and gardens, small duck ponds for our ducks, earthbag retaining walls, our a new work-shed (also equipped with rainwater), an out door multi purpose building (shed, compost toilet, outdoor shower), an organic garden, a cleared pad for our house, several young food At the Homesteadforests, bamboo agroforestry, silvo pastures, alley cropping, savanna orchards, hedgerows, living fences, and animal systems. This all is powered by solar that we designed and installed ourselves.

We are currently designing our house, restoring our spring for future water use, clearing land using animals for future gardens, creating a vineyard, raising home schooled children, and running an educational company, a professional design firm and a farm & garden supply store.  We are learning from nature and adding to our skills every.single.day.

We are confident that if we can do it, so can you.  We started out with little in the way of monetary resources and a landscape that needed a lot of managing and remediation, yet we were able to accomplish so much on the landscape as well as build a successful business.  We are here to help you, empower you, mentor you, bring you back to reality (if necessary), teach you, learn from you, help you gain skills, design for you and otherwise help you on your journey to a more sustainable and regenerative lifestyle.

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Professional Bios 

Cliff Davis and Jennifer Albanese co-own Spiral Ridge Permaculture, a family run education company, homestead and nursery specializing in permaculture, regenerative farming and nature connection.  They also run a full-scale design firm, that offers consultation, master planning and implementation, in the same specialities.  Jen and Cliff also run Southeast Organic Supply, a developing organic farm & garden supply company.  They developed these businesses out of their passion to; address cultural and ecological issues that demand real and lasting solutions, encourage more people to homestead and help save family farms, by making them more ecological and productive.  They have over 30  years of combined experience studying and applying permaculture in temperate, tropical/subtropical and dry land climates and have taught hundreds of students permaculture and homesteading skills.

We’ve worked with Jennifer Albanese & Cliff Davis for a number of years now and found them refreshingly high on integrity and low on bravado, qualities that we at Regrarians just love in people. They are above all else great at the work that they do and truly walk their talk, whether it be hosting cutting edge events or real Permaculture Design courses (PDC’s) or in helping people develop their own dreams on a range of different sites in their region. Whenever we think of PDC’s or other workshops in the ‘south east’ we think straight away of Jen & Cliff!  – Darren Doherty, Regrarians

Cliff  has vast experience in the fields of permaculture, food forestry, organics, appropriate technology, natural building, deep nature connection and regenerative agriculture, that allow him to offer an integrative approach to land and culture repair.  He empowers others to take a hands-on approach to design in his regular and advanced course offerings. His humor, straight-forward style and determination to make positive change, make him an engaging instructor, consultant and designer.   He has taught over 55 classes & courses since 2004, and has taken over 25 professional development courses in various specialities. As a professional designer and consultant, he has worked for farms, intentional communities, school campuses and homesteaders.  Cliff is the main instructor and curriculum developer for all Spiral Ridge courses. He took his permaculture design course in 2004 from the International Institute of Ecological Agriculture, where he earned his certificate.  He later received his teacher training certificate from Dave Jacke, after which he co-taught the teacher training course, with him.  Cliff has been featured in many podcasts/magazine articles and has been a speaker at many sustainability/farming events and conferences.  Experience matters.  For a detailed look at his experience, training & mentors as well as a list of courses that he has taught, check out his full resume.

“Got a question, ask Cliffapedia.”  – Permaculture Design Course Graduate

Jennifer has been an organic gardening student and practitioner for over 18 years.  She has a special interest in soil regeneration and re-mineralization to create ecosystem health and nutrient dense food.  She runs a small nursery on an off-grid homestead in Tennessee with Cliff and her family.  She has a passion for local in-season, nose-to-tail cooking, ferments and traditional foods.  Jennifer worked as a midwife’s apprentice, birth mentor/doula and course organizer, for The Farm Midwifery Center, for many years before running Spiral Ridge full-time.  She home schools 3 of her 4 children, and has mentored others in nature connection, permaculture and gardening at The Farm School.  She has written articles for Permaculture News, B-Real magazine, Hand Picked Nation and as a guest blogger for other websites.  Jennifer took her permaculture design course in 2007 from the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology and Ecovillage Training Center.