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Ponzi Permie – Is the PDC a Pyramid Scheme?

During my travels, I have come across some opinions of the permaculture movement being somewhat of a ponzi scheme; mostly in relation to the Permaculture Design Course. Though worded in many different ways, the general disgruntled rumblings surrounding permaculture are in relation to training teachers.

Here’s the issue that keeps cropping up. The PDC is expensive, there’s no doubt about that. While the PDC teaches you to design the systems to live a more sustainable and regenerative life, it doesn’t necessarily teach the skills to implement it so easily; a great deal more learning and experience is needed after. However, the argument comes in that quite a few PDC teachers don’t have farms of their own but instead travel around spending their time teaching courses, as this is a more reliable route to making money. These courses bring people into the permaculture forum, leading them themselves to shell out the dollars to train to become a PDC teacher. While the course should be teaching people to go out and practice, instead it is leading them to spend further money to become a teacher to teach others the PDC, then enrolling more people into the system of having to spend money to become a teacher, withut ever really building their own projects that demonstrate success and longevity.

While all this is going on, PDC teachers tend to go from place to place, helping on projects or even designing, but rarely following through with the full period of implementation, never allowing them to further gain the experience of implementation over time and long-term reassessment of a site. While the idea of teaching permaculture is to encourage others to live a more self-sufficient life, many people are not in fact actually following through with this, leading to the question of whether permaculture is merely a conceptual ideology rather than a practical reality.

It’s really difficult to address this concern. On the one hand, it’s no secret that Bill Mollison was not keen on traditional education and felt that people should learn from the nature around them. So while the permaculture institutions in each country seem to be enforcing a strict curriculum that must be followed to become a ‘permaculturist’, some may disagree with this method, likening it to a ponzi scheme, or just another indoctrinating education system.

On the other hand, however, I can personally say that the PDC was extremely important to helping me to think in the way I do. To connect the dots. The PDC puts a whole group of people on the same page. If we want this to work, we need to work together, fighting the good fight from all corners of the world, but on the same page. Not only does the PDC teach a basis that gives everyone a backbone to work from, a way of thinking to help increase their own empowerment.

With regards to becoming a teacher, I think it’s important to recognise that permaculture is not a mainstream idea. It’s getting there, but it’s not there yet. We’re not building fancy gardens to feed the world, we’re encouraging people to take their own power back and show them the way to learn to do that. This requires a mass paradigm shift, which really isn’t simple. Awareness and education are the best tools to doing this, and so having as many teachers as possible on the ground spreading the message is important.

The only reason that people would consider permaculture be a ponzi scheme is because there’s money involved. Yes, people do become PDC teachers to have some money in their back pockets. But why is that so wrong? While we hope for a utopian world of self-empowered humans creating abundance all around, the reality is that right now, we live in a world run by money. A well-constructed permaculture dwelling can provide you with most things you need, but unfortunately, there’s a need for money; even if it’s to buy the things you need to build your site.

In my journey, I can honestly say that making money is hard and not having it is worrying. We’ve been indoctrinated to need to be financially secure, which leads us to feel undervalued without it. Despite the fact that people can be rewarded in more ways than money, it is unrealistic to think that anybody would be happy to carry out work without a certain amount of financial gain.

For example, I have worked on many sites for food and accommodation. While I am grateful for the lack of those outgoings, it’s hard back-breaking garden work out in the sun all day. Every terrace I dig, every seed I sow, every shovelful of manure is toward building someone else’s future. So yes, gaining food and accommodation for my work leaves me with all I need in that moment, but it doesn’t allow me to work toward my future. I am gaining neither financial security toward having my own property, nor am I working to improve something I will later benefit from. I’m doing the work for somebody else to benefit.

Becoming a teacher means that I would be able to gain some financial means while also having ample time to help other people’s projects and to spread awareness. Those financial means would allow me to one day have a site that I can build on, while also enabling me to worry less when helping other people’s projects as my nest egg is safe.

It’s not a ponzi scheme at all. It’s a way of creating self-sustainability and empowerment in all ways. We live in a financial world, we need to consider that.

But and I stress this, anyone teaching PDCs and not practising is guilty of bringing this scene closer to being a ponzi scheme. Teaching permaculture is a noble thing to do and to be the best teacher you can be, you need to gain experience and enhance your skills, while also practising the messages of community and cooperation that we preach.

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5 Observations from my Tropical Garden

OK, so I have been working on this garden in Nicaragua for about a month now. It’s rainy season so it’s been a bit of a busy kafuffle trying to get everything ready before the big rains come. Due to this, there have been a great many changes to the garden very quickly. Here are a few things I’ve observed from working.

  1. Tropical rain is hard to deal with

When it comes to rainwater harvesting, the tropics have their own set of complications. While half the year it’s throwing rain out of the sky like a clown with a bucket, the other half is dry as a bone. While obviously we want harvest as much rainwater as we can in order to keep the plants satisfied in dry season, when that rain comes down in rainy season, it comes so thick and fast that the beds become saturated.

As some work had been done in one area before I came, I can actually compare the different methods used. The guys here had already transplanted tomato plants into terraces when I arrived, without preparing the soil. This means that when it rains, while the terraces help to halt the water, once the bed becomes full, it overflows and the soil starts the erode down the beds. However, I used sheet mulching with rice husks and weeds on the new beds I built. This not only suppresses the weeds, but it holds the water, absorbing it into the rice husks.

I have noticed a few things with this method. The soil isn’t eroding and the weeds are suppressed which means the seedlings seem to be sprouting up at record rate. With the tomatoes, you can see that some areas are more eroded than others, and in those eroded areas, the tomatoes are not growing so well or dying off; especially at the top of the bed.

I’m trying to combat this by laying rice husks down. It’s not impossible but it’s tedious to weave in and out of the plants. Rather than laying green mulch, I’m planting edible cover crops in between; some give nitrogen to the soil, some shade, some are simply weed suppressants, but all of them help to hold and harvest the water.

  1. The insects love anything non-native

When I first arrived here, I was fortunate enough to bump into Scott, one of the teachers at Rancho Mastatal. It was my first day here and his advice was invaluable. He told me that it’s hard to grow food here because the insects are ferocious. I was a little confused at first, because everyone has to eat, but then I realised he was referring to the kinds of vegetables we can easily grow in the UK.

I observed the garden to work out where the insects like to flock to and where they stay away. It became apparent very quickly that native plants were far more hardy to the attacks of the insects. I started to chat to the local guys to find out more about edible weeds and indigenous plants. They pointed me toward a wild bean, certain squashes, indian lettuce, wandering jew, cucaracha, katuk, chaya, and other such plants. I’ve been planting these in the garden and so far, they seem to be much more hardy. While the insects are slowly mauling the tomatoes, they tend to steer clear from these more native species.

The shows that part of permaculture is to think about how to adapt to your surroundings. While it’s great to have an iceberg lettuce for a solid BLT, using native edible leaves as lettuce is going to have a much higher success rate.

  1. The jungle will always try to take the land back

I’ve noticed that I need creative ways to keep the jungle back. Whether that’s using thick mulch or cover crops, it is important to suppress the weeds in order to intensively grow enough food. While I have of course worked in other gardens with weeds growing, the jungle is a different ballgame. If I weed a bed, leave the soil bare, and come back that evening, there will be weeds again.

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Right now I’m experimenting with all different ways. I’ve been planting lemongrass at the edges to use their dense root system to keep back weeds. I’ve also been planting squashes all around the patches, as their large leaves help to keep the weeds back using shade. Varying cover crops a will help me to work out which plants work best with with vegetables to keep the weeds back without affecting the growth of the veggies; the variety also increases the biodiversity.

  1. A decent plant nursery is essential

When I first got here, the garden guys were using plastic crates filled with soil as a plant nursery. There are a few issues with this that prevents seedling sprouting.

Firstly, the rain is so heavy that it leads to the box saturating and becoming swampy. There’s no places for it to drain. Equally, they used the same soil from the ground, without mixing in sand, making it difficult for things to root easily. Secondly, the boxes aren’t shaded and the blistering tropical sunshine leads to seedlings withering; they need some kind of shade.

This week I would like to try to create a plant nursery to start planting lettuce seedlings and peppers. I’m thinking of using plastic bottles as a means to harvest water and build it from bamboo, ensuring drainage, while also giving shade.

  1. Terracing creates a series of microenvironments

I’ve never worked so closely with terraces before and seeing them every day enables me to understand their power. With all gardens, different areas should be treated differently due to their ranging features; some areas have more shade, water, wind, light.

However, interestingly, by creating terraces, we have created several different areas to work with. The top of the terracing tends to get more flooded than the bottom, which doesn’t appear to make logical sense, but it does. This means that plants that like wet feet, tend to be doing better up there; such as lemongrass. With this observation, I planted yucca at the bottom (north). Planting it here was a conscious decision as its northern location means it won’t shade out the garden, but it is also quite drought hardy, so it would be fine with less water.

I have planted varying crops all over the place. As they grow or don’t, I will be able to see what does well together where and replicate this in similar areas. This planting and revision enables me to learn from what I’m dong and to re-evaluate the system to increase its productivity through pattern recognition. It’s frightfully interesting!

Inanitah – Social Permaculture in Action

This past week I took the opportunity to go and visit a property on the island called Inanitah. Wow.

I knew about this property before I came here because I wanted to check out other permie projects on the island, both in order to garner ideas and seeds but also to create a sense of community for myself. With my permie journey in mind, I’ve also got my eyeball out for the next step on my learning path as a spot to learn a new skill; namely natural building.

Inanitah is stunning and an exceptional example of what can be achieved through employing self-sustainability practices. On a physical level, the examples of permaculture are second to none. Every building is made from cob, sourced locally on site, roofed with palms grown on site, and furnished with handmade timber furniture, also grown on site.

When it comes to the agriculture, it is obvious that a large majority of the greenery is casually edible while also adding to the beauty of the place. The kitchen is teeming with food, all grown and produced on site. Bulging pumpkins and pungent herbs surround you, with leafy greens ready for the picking and juicy fruits and veggies stored and preserved everywhere you look. Within my first five minutes of being there, I was treated to dinner time with home-made coconut milk being whipped up in front of me.

I took a stroll around the property and was dumbfounded by its sheer locational beauty. Perched high up, there is a jaw-dropping view of the volcano ‘Concepcion’, which can be enjoyed from their biopool and accompanying solar hot tub.

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Solar Pool

One of the major things that struck me about the place was the feeling of tranquility. Every person that I met went out of their way to greet me with a hug and barrage of questions. Everybody immediately knew I was new to the scene, which demonstrated the close bond between volunteers and customers alike. One thing that really gave me tickles in my tummy was that several people greeted me with the phrase ‘Welcome Home’. That gave me that warm, fuzzy feeling that draws me to social permaculture; the magic in being able to create bonds between people by dealing with everyday life to address conflict and create harmony.

In previous interactions with permaculturists, I have been baffled by their inability or unwillingness to help me. They’re often arrogant or strangely competitive, which is against everything I thought we were meant to stand for. However, this place was not like that at all. When I arrived, I immediately met their new in-house permaculturists, Piers, who previously worked at Rancho Delicioso in Costa Rica. He took a good chunk out of his day to walk me around the garden, explaining to me what each plant was and its uses. Their garden is a combination of native and non-native plants, yet native plants dominate to increase sustainability and help prevent the barrage of bugs that demolish non-native plants. This was a great lesson for me as it gave me deep insight into the best plants I can use in the garden, especially in relation to leafy greens. I was very honoured that he’d take the time out to take me around. He also gave me seeds and cuttings for everything I would need, which has really beefed out my own garden, something he didn’t need to do but has really cut back on my costs and helped to accelerate my development.

Further to this, I got a chance to see a group of them work together in their community. So people often ask that with a totally efficient garden and shelter, what do you do with your day all day? You go have fun! These guys took me to spend the afternoon looking for edible mushrooms and it was both educational and fun. There’s something so satisfying about running around on a wild goose chase, scouring for food for your dinner that nobody knows about, like a well-kept secret.

This is what permaculture is about to me. Looking at these people working together harmoniously, welcoming strangers into the fold, and willing to share their knowledge is a breath of fresh air to be a part of. Not only have I managed to further my garden, meeting these people has created a new community for me to be a part of and to seek knowledge and advice from. That’s why I’m drawn to social permaculture; if we want this to work, we need to make the people work and Inanitah has really nailed that down.

Not only that, having set out the permie learning journey for myself, being able to make new connections opens doors to further my remit of knowledge and being able to be a part of new exciting projects. One of the problems that keeps us static in our lives is our inability or lack of motivation to seek out the next step. With my steps categorically laid out, I know what I’m searching for and Inanitah may well be the next stage for me, and I would be honoured to work with those bunch of gooduns!

Feeding the Forest – The Right Thing to Do

Since I’ve been here a couple of weeks now, I’ve had a great deal of time to explore the property and understand the inner workings of the plants that live alongside me here. Morgan, the owner of the hostel, has had the property for 12 years. When he arrived there was nothing here; now it looks pretty similar to the neighbouring jungle around it. However, from closer inspection and from lengthy chats with Morgan, I have come to realise the purposefulness with which the plants were chosen.

Although many of the backpackers don’t seem to notice, we are surrounded by an abundance of food and useful plants. I’d like to give you a wordy walk through of what we have here.

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Papaya Canopy

What’s in the Forest?

Firstly, we have an amazing amount of food. Morgan has planted lots of coconut trees. The meat is used for food and for making milk and oil, the water for drinking, and the trees themselves provide much needed shade for the hostel. The property itself is considerably cooled by the canopy layer that the coconuts provide. Under this very high canopy are large fruit trees, such as mangoes, bananas, plantains, breadfruit, and jackfruit, which again provide shade and food. The bananas also serve as food for the chickens and turkeys, who not only eat the fruit, but scratch underneath them to find bugs. Neem trees are also abundant and are used to make insecticide for the garden, as well as providing shade. There are also many smaller citrus trees and papayas. We’ve been considering increasing the use of these fruits by making syrups and juices for the bar, and perhaps making a still to make home-made moonshine for the customers. Equally, papaya stems are hollow and make incredible natural straws, creating a phenomenal replacement for the horrifying damage done by plastic straws in our natural water sources. There are also several trees planted for timber, which has been used to craft the entire hostel, while palms are used for the roofs.

Neem_Permaculture
Neem

When it comes to the bushy layers, lemongrass and cuban oregano can be spotted, used both for culinary purposes and for their medicinal properties. There is also a smaller bushy tree, often confused for papaya, but it’s actually called chia. Not like chia seeds, but pronounced with a capital ‘I’ – ChIa. This plant has big spiked lobed leaves like papaya, but the leaves can be cooked up and served in the same manner as spinach.

There are quite a few creepers crawling along the ground including a wild tiny melon and squashes. Down on that ground level, you’ll also find an abundance of what appear to be weeds, but are actually edible greens, such as wild peanut and an odd succulent type plant that seems like samphire but less salty.

Squash_Permaculture
Squash

Punctuating the green sea are beautiful flowers, both edible and ornamental. Of the edible flowers I recognise are hibiscus and canalillies. Morgan told me that they previously used flowers in the salads but it dwindled away over time. My penchant for beauty in food has led me to encourage him to take this back up again, which I’m excited for. It motivates me to learn more edible flowers so I can scavenge them on site or plant them.

Canalillies_Permaculture
Canalillies

For those that have a good eye for rhizomes, there is a blanket of yukka/cassava that lines the pathways, creating shade and providing starchy goodness for the restaurant’s fries. They serve excellently to break up the soil, which although relatively sandy, can become quite compact after a heavy rain.

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Bananas and Yucca

Winding up the trees you will find dragonfruit, passionfruit, and malabar spinach. I’m in the process of adding loofahs to this and more spinach.

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Breadfruit

I’m very overwhelmed by the fruitfulness of this place and the potential it provides to take Morgan’s hostel one step closer to self-sustainability. When I asked him about why he plants all these things but doesn’t market the ecological side of the property, he said he does it for his son, so that his son will have everything he ever needs right in front of him: food, building materials, medicine, beauty. He followed this up by saying it was the right thing to do. Sometimes I feel like we get caught up in the complexity of creating a perfect design, forgetting the reason for why we do these things. We do this because it’s the right thing to do to help the future generations. We’re out there in all weathers, brains ticking over, trying to push the imagination to find more ways to increase the yield in a regenerative manner, not to prove that we’re the best permaculturists, but because it’s the right thing to do.

For me, being able to see it in action has really spurred me on. Often we visit permaculture sites which are ‘on the way’ but never getting there, or we meet permaculture teachers who bounce from place to place never dedicating themselves to the implementation, leaving the follow-through to fall through. It’s humbling to stand with a normal guy, who doesn’t brand himself as some kind of ‘save the world’ permaculture expert, and hear him profess he does this because it’s the right thing. Because it is, and when you see it in action, you feel it more than ever before.

Living Edge Giving Veg – How To a Make Living Fence

Walls, fences, barriers, they’re so restrictive. They keep people out and keep people in and both of these things has a very negative feel about it. But maybe that’s because those non-living fences have get rid of the beauty of interatcions on boundaries. They turn a place that could become a magical fusion of both sides through a medium, into a stale and lifeless boundary that separates two sides.

Why Love Living Fences?

Living fences embody permaculture’s principles in their very conceptual breath. On the basic level, living fences demonstrate the example of multifunctionality. You plant the fence posts and they grow into trees which not only provide the needed barrier around you garden, for example, they provide shade, food, habitat for wildlife, mulch materials; they hold soil and prevent erosion, they hold water in their roots, they create a less formidable and more arable microclimate, and many tree suitable for living fences are also nitrogen fixers. Great, look at all those benefits that a steel barrier couldn’t provide.

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Knocking in Living Fence Posts

But it’s deeper than that. To pull the old rabbit adage out of the permaculture hat, living fences epitomise ‘more edge, more veg’. While this attitudinal principles can literally refer to the fact that more edge enables you to plant more vegetation, living fences embody the symbolism of the deeper-rooted meaning here. When two things exist, they exist in their own manner, say a pond and the land. When these two things meet each other, they interact. This creates a whole new area for development, a new space for magic to happen. When water meets the land’s edge, you get a mixture of both; wetter land and more silty water. This unique environment enables other things to grow that wouldn’t have grown on the land or water, such as reeds, water cress, lemongrass…

When you apply this idea to living fences, you see that the tree fence provides an avenue for what’s on the outside and what’s on the inside to interact in a more magical manner. Say you’re building a fence around your garden to keep the chickens out. Planting a living fence now provides an extra shaded area and perhaps more nitrogen. The tree attracts more insects, so your chickens will be attracted to this area, tilling the soil, eating the insects and manuring on the soil. So on the one side, your chickens are working the soil and so is the tree, and now you have this area just inside your fence which is high in nitrogen, slightly shaded, has been aerated and has a plethora of insect and microbiology; sounds perfect to plant some ginger!

By providing a catalyst for the two sides to interact, you now have a whole new place for yield.

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Madre De Cacao Living Fence in Belize

Living Fences with Live Stake Propogation

There are many species of trees you can use for this but it’s best to look at your native climate to understand the best ones for you. We used Madre de Cacao but according to Andrew Schreiber, you can also use:

  • Scouler’s Willow
  • Austree Willow
  • Balsam Poplar
  • Black Mulberry
  • Blue Elderberry

I’d like to add Moringa, Poplar, Elder, Willow, Gliricidia, Gumbo Liimbo, Jatropha, and Madero Negro to the list. There are many more.

  • You want to try and cut the branches for propogation when the tree is dormant. For us, we were in the tropics, so this isa little harder but look for a time when the tree seems to be dropping most of its leaves. Otherwise, winter is best.
  • You need to cut branches that are about 4 inches thick for the main supporting posts, and then little think whip branches for weaving. You’re looking for newer branches here. Look around the base of the tree.
  • Mark out the place you want the fence and line that fenceline with the posts. They muct be the correct way up (i.e tip of the branch at the top). It is also good to cut the branch at an angle so that it has more surface area to work from
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    Outlining the Garden with Madre de Cacao post in Belize
  • Knock the posts in about half a metre deep.
  • This next bit isn’t essential, but it provides fencing while the trees grow and also allows the trees to mould together (TREES ARE AMAZING). Weaved the smaller branches between the posts.

That’s it. Then you let it grow. It gives a very Alice in Wonderland feel, which in truth, we all want Wonderland so why not?

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Classroom Prisoners – Permaculture as Cross-Curricular Education

So I talked a little before about outlining your own journey to understand where you want to be in the end, to understand what you need to learn. Outside of the four square walls of the oppressive schooling environment, I’m learning to learn in a far more effective and viceral manner. And this is the problem with school; you’re tied to a desk and expected to learn one way and only one that suits the standard format of statistical outcome spreadsheets. Are the children learning or ticking boxes for the sake of the government’s need to prove their ‘achievements’?

The Problem with School

The problem I often see in the schooling system, not that I’m the first to say this, is the compartmentalisation of learning.

Here’s science class. Sit down and learn your science. Here’s geography class. Let’s learn geography here as a completely isolated construct to science.

It makes no sense to me that we would separate these interweaving concepts. It somehow takes out the mystery and magic, the excitement and epiphanines. I’m just spitballing here but I think a lot of it has to do with trying to create a standardised education that’s easy to deliver to children in an organised and easily packaged manner so it looks good in the data. I hear my sister, a primary school teacher, complain about ‘data’ all the time. Data? What data. How can you measure somebody’s capacity to have learned when you apply it in an isolated manner.

I have seen a change though. I see my sister apply cross-curricular thinking to her 6 year olds; trying to develop links between subjects across the board. However it’s insanely difficult to do that when the only stimulus you have is a concrete box in which they sit, an interactive whiteboard, and some crepe paper. You can learn all this theory about the world as much as you want, but as any millenial will tell you, this school system tells you nothing about how to actually be, live, breathe in the world. I was atrociously underprepared for what adulthood would throw at me because I didn’t know how to recognise interconnectivity in the system.

We see a rise of school gardens as a political nod at the envrionmental movement. Here you go, shut up, we’ve given the kids a garden now, what more do you want? What more do I want? I would like you to use it as the multi-faceted tool that it could be utilised as. I would like you to train your teachers into enticing and influencing creativity and pattern recognition in their pupils through this incredible medium that represents basic human needs in its rawest form. I’d like you to encourage children to become self-sustainable so they don’t have to live their lives believing your lies that they’re not good enough or clever enough or brave enough or smart enough to do it themselves and that they need governments to hold our hands in everything they do. This of course is a far bigger paradigm shift…one I firmly believe starts in the garden but it certainly doesn’t end at the tip of a trowel.

Permaculture as a Conduit

Permaculture. Ah. The baffling complexity and simultaneous simplicity of the concept is striking, even overwhelming. Many mistakenly see it as away of doing really good gardening. That’s short-sighted in my humble opinion, as it renounces the incredible capacity for it to demonstrate manners in which we can teach social, economic, and personal development.

Starting this journey, I realise the breadth of everything I need to learn. School teaches us abstract concepts without providing us with applicable scenarios. Kids switch off. Why in God’s name would a 15 year old care about erosion of soils? For serious, it’s not interesting to a teenager, no matter how jazzy your Powerpoint is.

If you want someone to care about something, you have to give them a reason to care; a stake, some ownership, a sense of pride and responsibility.

Wouldn’t it be far more engaging if you said to a 15 year old ‘Here look, by the end of this term, you’ll be making and selling your own hot sauce so you’ll have a bit of money in your pocket, a sense of self identity, a project of which you can be proud, something from which you can demonstrate your responsibilty, and skills which you can take out into the world. However, to get to that stage, there’s a few things you need to know.’ I know I’d be far more willing to hear about soil erosion. Maybe that’s just me.

Permaculture_Education_Mindmap
Permaculture Education Mindmap

Let’s picture what permaculture can teach kids. While the many branches of water management, natural building, cottage industry etc are all connected, let’s take the small example of the school garden; what can they learn? How about the chemistry and biology of soil and plants? What about the physics and mathematics of earthworks. How about the nutrition? Pattern recognition? Mapping? Natural geography? Botany. Energy recycling. Waste management.  How about all the economics they learn from producing products: profit and loss, distribution, marketing, inventory, problem-solving, planning. How about the community and social skills they learn? The philosophy of whole systems thinking. The documentation teaches photography skills, video skills. Want a child to learn IT? How about learning to use complex 3D design programs, video editing? How about the ability to historically look back at the land and understand previous usage; both people and planet. Climate changes, human geography. Entrepreneurship. Art. Home economics.

Sure kids won’t be interested in it all. But the one thing I have really learned through permaculture is that, yes, while I want to make beautiful natural cherry syrups, I have to learn all the processes that go into getting the cherries first and that journey makes it more worthwhile. It gives me a stronger sense of achievement and appreciation for what I have finally produced. Not only does it give me pride, ownership, and economic reward, it also teaches me value. The sheer work that goes into producing stuff and learning that process myself helps me to value things differently, reducing my consumption. It takes you out of the faceless, irrelevant classroom, and puts you in a place where where your learning becomes relevant to the real world.

I know I’m not the first to say this. I’m not the first to push this point across and I’m probably not the most articulate in doing it. However, it has given me the idea of perhaps producing a few resources aimed at education, for schools, parents, homeschoolers. So we’ll see how that goes. We’ll see if we can stimualte to activate.

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Hold Your Breath – Toxic Pesticide Fumigation Without Consent

So this article is a little less about giving advice and a little more about the bewildering scenario I witnessed the other day. So currently, I’m located in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic before I move on to build a garden elsewhere. One thing I’ve noticed about being in a city after coming from the smothering silence of being alone on a farm, is the sheer interruption of pollution around you. Whether it’s the bellowing street vendors, the neighbourhood dogs, the scream of overhead helicopters, or raucous racing cars, there’s always some kind of noise piercing your peace of mind. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it an attack on your senses, but the sights, sounds, and smells of large cities like this certainly provide a jungle of visceral intrusions. For urban permies, this is your world, and I bow to you in the patience of it all, especially the lack of control you have over your own life in a place where being so crowded with others who do not share your vision, means that you are subjected to enduring the decisions that they make.

One of these such decisions barged into my life the other day while I was sitting reading Donella H Meadows book ‘Thinking in Systems: A Primer’ (excellent thought tool by the way). Ironically in the book, she was talking about looking for leverage points in systems where you wouldn’t necessarily realise they were, to help relieve problems at the source, rather than just patching up symptoms and waiting for the pipe to burst again. I heard the mechanical roar of machinery and then saw a dude blasting fertilizer on bin bags, walls, and even a pizza delivery motorcycle.

Fumigating_a_Wall_with_Insecticide
Fumigating a Wall with Insecticide

I’ve noticed that there are many mosquitoes in this city. Flies are also a problem. But so are stray dogs. While the flies and the dogs might not seems connected, of course they are, it’s just where you’re looking for the answers. Apparently there was a ZIKA scare here a little back so the people are avidly trying to control the mosquito population to help curb the chance of a recurrence of this issue. There’s no problem with this; the problem comes when these control measures are futile because they’re not properly assessed.

Take this, the last job I was on, there were a lot of mosquitoes. So I asked myself, why? There’s many reasons why you find mosquitoes within your vicinity: an abundance of their food, insect attracting plants, and places they can breed, are but a few. I noticed on the site that when it rained, there was a great deal of standing water and the cycle of mosquitoes would thicken for the following week or so as the water slowly drained away or evaporated. In this scenario, I designed a rainwater system which would reduce the amount of standing water, which would reduce the amount that mosquitoes could breed.

This is not what is happening in the city. When you look at the collection of mosquitoes, flies, and street dogs, you’ll find they congregate around certain weak points; the garbage sitting on the street. One of the things I noticed, sadly, about the Dominican Republic, is the high level of dumping, leading to areas where garbage is piled all strewn all around. While I have seen billboards denouncing this action, the question remains while it still happens, as this weak point is where those mosquitoes, flies, and dogs are gaining their strength. The likelihood is that the disparity in wealth means that poorer people cannot afford the private services for garbage collection, a service not provided by the government. This leaves them few other options.

Fumigation_of_trash

But what’s most baffling here is how the government are spending money on dealing with the issue. Rather than devising a garbage collection system that’s universal to its people (at least in the city), it sends round spirited young fellows to blast any pile or rubbish or rubble with pesticide. Adorned in a huge atomising body suit, these lads walk up and down the streets and spray everything in site with pesticide. Are the residents warned of this? Do they have a say in this? No they don’t; it just happens.

Obviously, my view on pesticides is far from favourable. I see their toxicity as something I’d rather avoid clogging up my lungs with and if I had children, I would definitely not want them to be subjected. Equally, to unwitting dog owners strolling the streets for their daily walk, it puts their animals at danger from being poisoned by licking or eating this garbage. Whether you agree to the damage that pesticides do to our world or not, it seems unfathomable to me that residents would not be warned about this, at least so they could be out of town for a day while the gasses choke the sky.

Spraying_Insecticide_on_a_Pizza_Motorbike

It also seems incredulous to me that this is the solution that they’ve decided to invest in. No doubt it’s probably cheaper than a garbage system that is affordable to all people, however this is a waste of money. It doesn’t solve the problem at all. Instead it leads to the government needing to frequently shell out money to have garbage fumigated, that continues to pile on the streets and grow pests anyway. The leverage point that they’re tackling isn’t a leverage point at all so the system is still going to kickback in the same way and nothing will change. It’s like increasing pressure through water pipes and patching up the leaks, when you need to either turn down the pressure or widen the pipes.

And this is the issue here that has led to many of our world’s quick-fixes. Rather than addressing the issues of overpopulation or a lack of quality soil or poverty, we try and fix it by pushing through a plaster to patch up the holes by taking more, consuming more, killing more. Systems work most effectively when they’re in balance, so when something becomes imbalanced, like the prevalence of a pest, we need to look at what’s causing that imbalance and remedy that. Not blow toxins in the faces of unwitting urbanites. They’ve already got enough problems with the car fumes to contend with; don’t be spraying extra cancer in their faces.

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Learning to Learn – Outlining My Permie Learny Journey

So I’ve embarked on this adventure to complete my Permaculture Diploma in Applied Design. That means I need to complete 10 designs in a minimum of two years. Obviously, I would like to do this as quickly as possible while broadening my knowledge, gaining hands-on experience, and really trying to become a well-rounded permaculturist.

We’ve all got goals. We also all have things we want to learn. But all too often I hear the murmuring cries of ‘Oh I wish I’d learned to play an instrument’ or ‘I’d love to know how to draw’.

Sometimes it seems like we constantly feel like we’re past our sell by dates, as if learning is limited to school-age individuals. As if the familiar adage ‘ you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is actually true. I think it’s as true as you make it. After all, if you don’t even try to learn how will you ever learn?

I think it’s not as simple as setting your mind to something and going for it. Often we have a menagerie of things we’d like to learn but we have no time/money/resources/inclination/*insert excuse here* to do it. Instead, we trundle along as bundles of sad faces wishing we were more than we’ll ever become.

One thing about the diploma is it teaches you, nay, forces you to set a learning path. A learning yellow brick road if you will. Sometimes the overwhelmingness of the amount of things we want to learn causes us to collapse into a ball under the pressure and we never even get started. I felt so blown over by the prospect of starting this self-taught diploma that being able to devise a learning plan for myself felt like too much, as though I needed all the information at once and had to learn everything simultaneously like an orchestra conductor forced to play all the instruments while trying to keep the symphony together.

Pen to Paper

After a deep breath, and a kick up my own bum, I decided to start small. I tapped myself on the shoulder and asked myself why I’m taking this journey and what I’d like to learn along the way. Yes, permaculture embraces complex agricultural techniques, logical applications of water systems and all manner of complicated social structures so intricate my brain might burst, but I don’t have to start there. And I don’t have to be restricted to those things either. So I asked myself, what do I want to learn in life?

And here’s the trick of the trade, my fellows. GET IT DOWN ON PAPER. As the ink slips out that pen you start to colour your own learning landscape. You start to see how you can bring those skills together to stack functions, with one following on from the other, utilising one to help learn another.

Here’s where I started:

Learning_Objectives_for_Life
Learning Objectives for Life

Seeing it on paper helps to ruse that go-getter in you. My good friend and amazing blogger Super Lucy J has jumped on this bandwagon to become inspired on her learning journey; as soon as you see it being laid out, it really gets your toes tapping.

Beginning, Middle, and End

So you have this paper peppered with possibilities of lucrative learning. But where do you start? For me, I wanted to tie in these skills I want to learn with where I need to go with my diploma. So I asked myself, ‘where am I now and where do I want to be?’.

Right now, I’m just dipping my toe in the concept of designing permaculture systems and I want to be in a place where I can strategically design, implement and manage complex social structures. I know that where permaculture uses the patterns in nature, I need to understand the basics before I’ll ever get there.

Like a child writing a story, I looked at my beginning, middle, and end. I need to start with the practical basics, somewhere in the middle I will start to focus on social permaculture, and toward the end I want to be looking at more complex social systems. Then I broke this down further to ask myself, which 10 steps do you need to learn?

I have decided that I need to learn about:

  • Garden Design

  • Water Design

  • Waste System Design

  • Renewable Energy Systems

  • Methods to Economic Sustainability

  • Fairshare Volunteer Programs

  • Outreach Educational Methods

  • Food Security Programs

  • Community Empowerment Methods

Tying Together the Symphony

Now I know my beginning, middle and end, I can look at what I’d like to learn and ask myself where it fits in that journey. What skills do I want to learn and how are they going to complement the steps I’m taking in order to lead to developing my all-round knowledge and capacity? Place the skills from the first mindmap with the steps you want to take. This final step helps you to know where to start.

Permie_Journey_Steps_and_Skills
Permie Journey Steps and Skills

For example, I can’t draw. I just can’t. It’s like my brain has this amazing idea and then my hand is drunk. It just wiggles on the paper and mocks my internal creativity. However, if I want to be a permaculture designer, I need to practice this skill; I need to learn to draw. So that’s where I’m starting. I tie together the first step of garden design with the first skill of drawing and I begin to practice, hence the somewhat horrifically child-like drawing of my timeline to follow (logically, the picture probably should go here, but I need to warn you in case you wanted to wear sunglasses or cover your eyes).

I can now look at that first step on my learny journey and say to myself ‘OK, Emmy, chill out. This is what you need to do’:

  1. Find a place/project that specifically pertains to garden design

  2. Order the skills logically that you’re looking to master

  3. Use that time to implement those skills

When you start to get these rushing streams of ideas down on to paper, you start to see the connections and the chronology more easily. For example, take the first step of learning garden design. The catastrophe of skills I’d like to learn seem to order themselves when you think logically. Take a look.

Permie_Learning_Journey_Step_1
Permie Learning Journey Step 1

Straight away you can see that the need to learn to draw goes before learning to use Adobe Illustrator, as I’ll be digitalising the drawings after I’ve made them. Equally, learning to make compost tea will come after making garden ferments, as I’ll make the ferments at the same time as I make the compost and I’ll have to wait for the compost to develop before I can make the teas. When you see it laid out, it dances together to form its own logical sense to you.

The Permie Learny Journey

Here’s my first attempt at drawing out my learning journey. It’s rudimental to say the least, but it’s a start. Next time you see it, it’ll be jazzed up in Illustrator and you’ll be convinced I’m a professional!

Permie_Learning_Journey
Permie Learning Journey

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