Why You Should Do A Permaculture Course This Year
People from all over the world of all ages, backgrounds and abilities are immersing themselves in the flow of a land-based lifestyle through the practice and design process of permaculture. Course material is unique to every ecosystem, but the knowledge is applicable in other locations and settings.
Theodora Young recounts her experience of living and working in an eco-culture centre in Greece. Here are her insights into the permaculture philosophy, her reasons for wanting to do a Permaculture Design Course, and why you should do one too!
Tue 14 Jan 2020
This summer, I was working in London at the headquarters of an organisation tackling food waste by re-purposing surplus food to create new products. I was confronted daily with the shocking reality of food waste. In the UK it is an unavoidable by-product of the UK’s unsustainable, profit-driven food system. It inspired me to think about what a better model might look like.
I wanted hands-on experience, to do the growing and harvesting myself and to find out just how much work goes into an organic, zero waste kitchen garden. After a quick Google, the website for a permaculture project in Greece sang out to me.
Shortly afterwards, I swapped bustling Thameside for a village nestled high in the Northern Re-Green’s volunteer family, where I became part of Re-Green’s volunteer family for a month.
Re-Green is an eco-culture centre in its 8th year. It was founded by two people who moved out of Athens to live in harmony with the natural systems that support human existence. They seek to share this experience with their community and with visitors from all over the world.
Re-Green has a series of natural earth buildings (including a sweat lodge, a roundhouse yoga space, and even an outdoor pizza kitchen). These buildings are integrated with the dynamics of their environments, such as the sun and the seasons, rather than the static entities devoid of environmental integration that are conventionally built and often lead to intense energy consumption and waste. Numerous large, flourishing gardens are alight with the colours of the flowers, fruits and vegetables they grow and alive with insects and birdsong.
"Live in harmony with the natural systems that support human existence"
These features set Re-Green apart from the silent, conventionally-farmed orchards a few miles down the road, where pesticides are regularly sprayed. The centre also boasts:
- Several dry compost toilets
- Solar-powered showers
- Indoor and outdoor communal eating spaces
- A natural swimming pond with a bio-filter
- A solar oven
- A cold-frame: a glass-roofed enclosure that protects young plants from adverse weather
- A bug hotel
- A solar dehydrator
Each of these features was built by participants during their time on one of Re-Green’s Permaculture Design Courses (PDC), which are hosted over 16 days in June (more on this later).
What is Permaculture?
Whilst at Re-Green, I grew familiar with the philosophy and practise of permaculture. Put succinctly by Permaculture Magazine, it is an ‘innovative framework for creating regenerative ways of living; a practical method for developing ecologically harmonious, ethical, human-scale and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere.’
The term was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia in 1987. It encompasses questions about how to grow food, build houses and create communities whilst simultaneously minimising your environmental impact. It honours the Indigenous knowledge it draws so much understanding from too. Mirroring natural ecosystem dynamics when farming in order to ensure the capacity for regeneration and permanence (hence the name, which comes from ‘permanent agriculture’).
Permaculture also provides a framework for simple and efficient problem solving by looking at the system as a whole. For example, closed energy cycles allow ‘waste’ outputs from one part of the system to be used and inputs for another part. This means that primary inputs, such as chemical fertilisers, aren’t required. A recent Guardian article described how a teenage permaculture farmer in Malawi had improved his family's health. He’s done it by increasing the safety of their drinking water by diverting their bathing water away from their well, into a garden bed. Permaculture encourages us to look at the system as a whole, in order to allow long-term, multifunctional solutions.
"Permaculture encourages us to look at the system as a whole, in order to allow long-term, multifunctional solutions."
What A Permaculture Design Course Will Teach You
As a volunteer at Re-Green, I became familiar with the dynamics and inner workings of a collaborative project. I learnt how to prepare and ameliorate soil, how and when to sow and harvest different flowers, fruits and vegetables to ensure the plants remained productive. I got to connect to the peace of the mountains whilst becoming part of a family of like-minded individuals. We enjoyed the abundance of the landscape together and nourished each other with meals, prepared using fresh ingredients and cooked in ways inspired by our international backgrounds.
As much as I learnt about cultivating gardens to maximise their yield whilst improving biodiversity in the unique context of Re-Green’s Mediterranean ecosystem, I’m still planning on getting my official Permaculture Design Certificate next year. This is because my lifestyle is now urban again, yet I still find myself wondering how I can bring the philosophy and practises of permaculture into this context. A Permaculture Design Course equips participants with a diverse and practical skill-set, reconnects them to natural principles and boosts their imagination.
To give you an idea of what to expect, Re-Green’s Permaculture Design Course offers over 80 hours of tuition and costs 560 euros (which includes all meals and days out). They cover a wild amount of different skills:
- Backyard and small-scale gardening
- Cultivating fruit orchards
- Water management and erosion prevention
- Animal husbandry
- Healthy lifestyle practises
- Understanding energy systems
- Soil life and soil building
- Natural building with straw bales
- Earth bags and cob
- Plastering with lime and earth
- Decorating with natural paints
- Producing and preserving organic, biodynamic food
- Herbal remedies
It really is a toolkit for anyone who wishes to design their way to self-reliance and move beyond an unsustainable lifestyle.
"It really is a toolkit for anyone who wishes to design their way to self-reliance"
6 Reasons You Need To Do A Permaculture Course This Year
1. You don’t need a particular skill set
Group work is collaborative, and all pre-existing skills are welcome.
2. You can do a Permaculture Design Course almost anywhere, anytime
In the city, online, or by travelling somewhere beautiful to interact with wildlife and gardens in a new environment whilst witnessing active community projects for yourself. The principles of permaculture are being constantly developed and refined by people throughout the world in very different climates and cultural circumstances. However, finding one nearby could be a way of connecting with like-minded people locally as well as learning about how to work in the context of your environment.
3. You don’t need a farm, garden or project of your own
The skills you learn will be relevant no matter what your lifestyle looks like.
4. You can empower the people around you
A Permaculture Design Course shows you how to work practically, with your hands, at a time when activists are taking to the streets to speak up for a more sustainable future. It is a tool for living simply and minimising one’s ecological impact. This starts with planting, digging, re-designing and sharing. It is a way of helping your family, friends and community to thrive. There’s plenty that little people can do too!
5. You can connect with a global movement
You will be joining forces with others from all over the world who challenge wasteful, conventional farming and resource use. Permaculture is helping empower local farmers worldwide, improve their food, security and livelihoods and protect the environment. Unfortunately, the small-scale, grassroots nature of permaculture, (albeit one of its strengths) has slowed its dissemination and visibility. Therefore, the permaculture community needs to grow in order to encourage and support successful projects.
6. Permaculture can serve as a framework for tackling society’s challenges
Permaculture encourages us to take responsibility, open our minds and re-think how we use resources. Our environmental and political issues may seem unsolvable. Yet, as Bill Mollison once said, “although the problems are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” He believed that imagination was a permaculture designer’s biggest constraint. Conventional, monoculture farming systems face and create challenges because they aren’t imaginative enough; they’re single output systems that rely on resource-intensive inputs. Conversely, permaculture design produces ‘polycultures,’ which are multi-layered and highly interlinked systems. Therefore, Permaculture Design training can increase our ability to create imaginative, efficient long-term solutions to problems.
Keen to find out when and where you can learn the skills for building the world you want, and not just the garden you want? Take a look at the Permaculture Association's comprehensive list of courses and educators from all over the world.