This is special. Spaceship Earth.. the overview effect is the sudden realisation we live on a planet… a living breathing organism, that at the same time looks extremely fragile. It gives rise to a unity of awareness, a sense of wholeness and the realisation that the self and the world are not separate from each other. Th whole earth perspective is key to this age.. we are not going to survive unless we can embrace this view. If the earth becomes sick then we become sick, if the earth dies we die. It is our basic world view, our basic understanding of who we are that is stake. We need to shift our behaviours to encompass this perspective.
Permaculture friend and colleague Chris Evans is leading on this PDC in Shropshire next month. He has many years of experience practising and teaching permaculture in Nepal, this is an especially relevant opportunity to study permaculture design for people interested in an international perspective and in working abroad.. but is also ideal for those witha UK perspective. It is also at a stunning and unique venue, Karuna a beautiful forest garden in the Shropshire hills.
Birthday party invite image by Paul Stocking, thanks Paul!
Celebrating 50 years and an excuse to get everyone together.
This invite goes out to anyone who knows me via whatever connection, has worked with the sector39 crew or been on any of our permaculture or other courses.
At the Workhouse, Llanfyllin, Powys 25/ 26th May 2013, Midday-Midday
Its camping, there are local B+B’s, lots of parking space and facilities… small charge for parking. Well stocked bar and food and snacks on hand. Some great DJ’s, a stage and plenty of space to chill and relax and enjoy the beautiful setting
A chance to get together and network, open space to talk about projects, offers and requests.. we are interested to hear people’s permaculture journeys and stories, accomplishments and aspirations for the future.
We will post more details as they emerge.. but please put the date in your diary we would love to see you here!
Old plan of an early Workhouse event. Its a great venue, with courtyards, gardens, meadow as well as a venue and basic facilities, including a bunk house
My Birthday Party on Facebook
Party Outline Plan
Saturday from Midday – You are welcome to arrive and get settled in
Saturday PM, Permaculture networking and open space.
Evening Bar and food
Entertainments and refreshments until 3.00am
Sunday relax and chill in the field in post party splendour
View of Workhouse under renovation in 2010
Permaculture Design Course graduate group at Llanfyllin Workhouse May 2009
tallest windmill.. apparently, makes a lot of sense, it is the middle for the fens, which are very flat and very windy and of course where much of our grain is grown.
It is certainly not Wales!
Everything about East Anglia, especially the fens.. where I was invited to give a talk on energy descent as part of a forum on sustainable agriculture last week is close to the opposite of what I am used to seeing here in Wales.
With its massive farms, deep rich silt soils and growing most of the UK’s veg on a huge scale perhaps the only thing the Fens has in common with Wales is the agricultural monoculture.. but there the similarity ends. Where we have a monoculture of extensive hill farms of pasture and sheep, on thin mountain soils and and propped up with farm subsidies, over there it is all about tilling those rich soils, with highly intensive and mechanised processes to produce arable crops to be distributed all over the UK. In essence this is very intensive use of superb land which in turn feeds most of Britain with its produce.
A 200 acre field of celeriac…. the vast majority of the whole UK supply of this vegetable is grown in one huge field in the Fens
The farm in question that we visited grew just about ALL of the celeriac for the UK.. I was told if you bought your celeriac from a supermarket like Tesco or Sainsburys then it was almost definitely produced by them.
With over 200 acres of the stuff they held a very significant part of the UK market.
Of course when you grow things on this kind of scale you cannot possibly do it organically. Pest build up, nutrient loss and stressed soils require the input of significant amounts of fertilizers and pesticides and the processing and storing of the veg, as well as its UK wide distribution also call heavily on fossil fuel inputs.
So the main theme of the talk I presented is that rather than focussing on output, from these huge producers , we need to be thinking about the relationship between inputs and outputs.. the EROI or Energy Return On Investment. When you think about production in these terms you get a very different result.. farms like this are actually net consumers of energy and broadly speaking can be summarised as a type of production that tuns oil into food. Centralised production and very input heavy production methods mean 10 calories of oil derived energy are consumed for every single calorie of food energy delivered to the consumer.
It is a very successful model so why knock it?
Well of course oil is finite.. its not about to run out any time soon.. but it is getting ever more expensive to extract and refine and the consequences of its excessive use is what is driving climate change.
Food production is of course tightly bound with the money and profit systems.. market forces inform farmers what to do, backed by strong government incentives. These are highly evolved, highly capitalised systems and the people that run them are sophisticated and successful business people and demand respect on that level.. but the key challenge is: how to develop firstly the understanding about the long term viability and sustainability of these business models and to begin to map out the route for the journey from here to something much more resilient and sustainable.
This is certainly some of the the best farm land in the UK if not the world.. deep silt soils, no stones, flat land and plenty of available water.. it doesn’t get any better than this. But talking to the farmers directly and they readily admit that they can see the soil quality diminishing.. and that it has a very low soil carbon content and precious little organic matter in the soil.
Plus those famed market forces, the ‘invisible hand’ that steers the economy is also telling farmers to grow non-food crops like daffodils.. so essentially we are using up and eroding the best soils in the UK, using one-off and climate damaging petrochemical inputs to grow non-essential crops. Surely this is a market imperfection of the highest order! I cant believe the free market is telling us the right information here.. it is certainly not factoring in the erosion of the resource base.. oil, soils, or the long-term impact on climate.
Change is required!
How do we do that? How do we make these kind of long term decisions without damaging those businesses invested in the current production paradigm and without disrupting the supply of vital foodstuffs being produced on these farms?
The price of producing food via the industrial system is tightly pegged tot he cost of oil
The price relationship between oil and food tells pretty much everything we need to know about the long term viability of these systems of production.. a rising price for oil, gas and petrochemicals is going to compromise the whole agro-industrial system and rising transport costs are going to make distribution an ever bigger challenge.
A further factor which is bound to drive change is that growing concern and therefore legislation to curb climate change will further put up the costs of this kind of production.
Solutions will have to address all of the underlying issues .. a vast reduction in inputs, a re-localisation of much of the markets for produce and a move to production methods that allow us to build the levels of soil carbon, making soils more resilient. Such soils would be more absorbent to water and nutrient and harbour increasing diversity of soil microbes whilst helping address the atmospheric carbon imbalance that is bringing about climate change.
Luckily a lot of work has already been done on these responses and I believe there is a clear way forward to present as an intelligent response to all of the challenges mentioned above. Increasing soil carbon reduces soil erosion, it improves soil structure, water retention and creates habitat for soil microbes , which in turn improves fertility and helps build a healthy and bio-diverse soil ecology. This in turn reduces the need for inputs and makes inputs used much more effective, which has the knock n effect of increasing profitability which has to be good for the long term survival of the farms and the communities around them.
I can only surmise that it is only a matter of time before the necessity for action on climate change is going to create a large market for carbon reduction, carbon credits for sequestration and carbon tax for its extraction which will in turn accelerate this process.
There is of course a very interesting and important precedent out there, which has only started to be fully understood recently.. that of the Amazonian farms pre-dating the Spanish arrival in the New World. Recent research and archaeological evidence reveals that there were large populations in the Amazon pre 1530 who had developed a carbon farming technique that was so successful at building fertile soils that those soils still exist today. Known as Terra Preta these black fertile soils are full of tiny fragments of charcoal, and consequently have a very high content of soil microbes and fungi which in turn makes them very stable and very fertile. Modern attempts to farm the soils under the rain forest have led to disastrous soil erosion and rapidly declining yields .. leading many to the conclusion that there never could have been large populations of pre industrial peoples living in the Amazon.
This documentary, broadcast on BBC1 gives an excellent explanation of the story and is well worth watching to anyone with an interest in this subject. To my mind the implications are vast and point to a whole different way to understanding in terms of our relationship with the soil and soil life.
Evidence of past civilization in the Amazon is presented in the fertile soils they left behind
Whatever we do.. and whatever solutions and responses we choose to follow one simple fact remains.. if we want to build something that is going to be sustainable and last with out the constant input of resources from elsewhere then we are going to have to study and obey the rules of ecology. The template for sustainability is given to us my nature.. and it is there for us to study and learn from.
Permaculture is the concious application of those insights into how the natural world works and it is not until we have built an economic system and a social system which respects this reality that we will find a sustainable and abundant way to live in harmony with each other and with our beautiful planet.
Dr Martin Wolfe talking on the potentials of Agro Ecology and Agrofrestry
The Wakelyns farm from the air… the agroforestry system is clearly visible. Click image to visit the website
How do we integrate our understanding of the natural world into tour intensive productive systems?
Well the answer is most likely already out there.. as presented by Dr Martin Wolfe agro forestry ( see his research farm The Wakelyns) can bring the forest back into the farm.. bringing in with it a far greater deal of diversity, and additional materials with which to build soil.
Nature is naturally bio diverse and complex and never builds mono cultures. We can copy this diversity with hedges and agro-forestry strips and can design these to produce high value yields themselves.. either as timber crops or short term coppice. For example willow, ash and alder could be produced to be pyrolised to produce large quantities of heat and power via CHP plants addressing some of the on site energy needs of these large farms, whilst generating char which can be mixed with compost or animal manures and added to the soils. Such a strategy could safely store large quantities of carbon, in an inert and stable form in a way that also greatly increases soil fertility and water retention. Surely this has to be the win win scenario we need to both protect soils, reduce inputs and boost biodiversity and habitat in a way that is useful for farmers, nature and the markets?
Permaculture Through the Heart – May 15 – June 14, 2013
This innovative program blends the core principles of tropical Permaculture gardening with Self exploration from a transpersonal psychological perspective. “Experiencing Permaculture through the heart” presents a unique opportunity to combine class room Permaculture learning with “hands-on” experience, complementing the active physical engagement with the soil with an inner attitude of loving alignment with the earth.
This program is the first of its kind, working with the psychological framework of the mind, theoretical Permaculture principles, design and planning, planting, harvesting and food preparation – all in alignment with the heart energy.
“Permaculture through the Heart” is a modular seminar. You can choose if you want to book the entire program or if you only want to book the 1. and/or 2. week. (cost includes accommodation, lunch, dinner, excursions)
Module 1 Permaculture Basics: May 15-22 680€
Module 2 Unfolding the HeartSelf-Intelligence: May 23-28 680€
Module 1+2 May 15-28 1050€
Module 1+2+3, 4 weeks seminar: May 15-June 14 1500€
Anyone who has been at any of my talks will have heard me talking about wood gassification and biochar and areas of huge potential. Here is a refreshing short video of a cooking stove developed to run off rice husks using exactly that technology. The point here being that it allows the utilisation of a low grade food bi product.. rice husks that burns as a clean burn fuel which leaves charcoal as a residue.
Every day matters. The system seems to be unraveling quitequickly. Cyprus being yet another potential falling domino ready to trigger some kind of Euro meltdown. The widespread addiction to economic growth in the post Peak-Oil world is starting to expose a great many cracks and vulnerabilities.
The sense of urgency that I feel is that we need to have much more of a dialogue, more of a plan and more elements in place to help us deliver a strategy for our own local and regional response to increasingly scary global issues. What is our response to all this uncertainty? What is the community led response- because I don’t actually trust a centralised government to get around to figuring out the problems of the Welsh Marches before something somewhere else goes badly wrong. I don’t want to be alarmist but the UK imports 50% of its food, we are running on borrowed money and the production of our gas fields has plummeted such that we are in danger of seeing the lights go out.
The whole food/ energy/ resilience thing is not good on a national scale. We really need to invest in the decentralised sustainable alternative because everything is in melt down right about now.
Co-operatives and credit unions.. ways to create investment and ownership of assets in the regenerative sector feels like that is an area with an increasingly important role to play. I am thinking now in terms of how to we enable the regenerative sector.. those individuals, organisations and enterprises that are seeking to rebuild and restore and reweave some of the social, biological and economic complexity we have lost in the up-scaled, corporatised, globalised economy. There is now overwhelming evidence that the very same globalised economy no longer has our better interests at heart. It more resembles a run away train of greed that has sped off down the tracks without sufficient control.. driven by the ruthless priority of shareholders returns whilst working to externalise as many of the costs of production on the environment and the society as possible. Without ethics of values to guide it, the global economy is a rapacious monster wreckig havoc on the biosphere. As Bill Gates was recently quoted saying.. capitalism is a system that generates many times more investment into men’s hair loss treatments than in curing malaria.
Protest sign, circulated via social media
Sweet spring showers
It might seem sensible for those with significant investment in the economic status quo to try and run the system as is for another economic cycle, but for an increasing number of people the age of growth and economic prosperity is already over and gone for good. The housing bubble, energy prices, too much debt, souless consumerism, built in obsolescence and the commuter lifestyle.. it has kind of run its course.. it is certainly not there for those that never go on that ladder and the bottom rungs are way too high for anyone who wants to join it now. The ship has long since left the port.
One freak storm does not climate change make. But when was it normal? Last spring was 24 degrees warmer at this time and we were on stand by for hosepipe bans. It feels like it has hardly stopped raining ever since. Anyway we have had a snowed in weekend in Llanrhaeadr with a heavy fall over the weekend. Weird weather is certainly the new normal… which once again gets me thinking about how much and how far and rapidly things are required to change to make the transition required to prevent worst case scenarios for climate chaos becoming climate calamity. Whatever we do, we are assured by a cheery Radio4 voice this morning, we are set in for another 25 years of climate chaos, as that is the time lag between emissions and impact… so there is a whole lot more disturbance to look forward to in front of us. Which leads me back to the theme of resilience, extreme weather means more disturbance to long supply lines, more insecurity and a future which is increasingly hard to predict. Relocalisation of at least core areas of the economy will both bring jobs and investment back home and allow us a greater degree of resilience to withstand stresses exerted on us from outside our control.
The Rio Earth summit, the one that introduced the World to the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development was already over 20 years ago. 20 years in which we have lost the head of steam we had built up in the late 80′s and early 90′s.. time that we will sorely regret that has been wasted. So much more could have been done in that time… yet regrets aside.. we now need to focus on how we are going to use what momentum we do have to bring about a far more significant change in a much shorter period of time.
the field at Cwm Einion, brought many like minds together
Part of my own personal transition was the decision to relocate to Wales in 1994.. I had been working with a group in Reading in the year preceding, learning about housing cooperative with the intention of finding the right place to start a permaculture designed housing coop and had suspicions that Mid Wales might just be the pace to do it. the right kind of properties at the right prices and the right people all being the essential ingredients we were looking for.
On moving to the Machynlleth area I discovered that the place to be for incomers, down-shifters and permaculture pioneers was the field on picking day. Two keen growers Roxane Smith and Jenny North had negotiated with the owner of a rather unpromising field – none other that rock star and music hero Robert Plant to allow the to cultivate the patch to grow veg for an new local veg box scheme.
Straw bale house at Cwm Einion
This is not proper food.. it is a set of unnatural ingredients that will serve to give you diabetes and obesity. This is the bi product form industrial agriculture.. a system design to make money and runs of diesel and petro chemicals
It was a focal point for many of us at the time to meet up, do some work and enjoy some of the produce. More importantly it is where many personal bonds were forged and convictions developed to work for a better greener world and be part of the solution. It was early days, and feels a bit naive now perhaps but it was important times and the beginning of something that is still growing today. A recent visit to the site brought a flood of memories back for me.. it has been some years since the garden was active and I had not been there since about 1996 a year or so after we had moved over to the Tywyn area to be part of Chickenshack housing cooperative – which was home for me for the next 14 years. Seeing the garden abandoned was a sad, I could so easily visualise how it had looked in its glory days.. but the one relic was the straw bale house that had replaced the original rotten old caravan which had been the project base. There was a 1997 wall planner on the wall… and a rusted kettle and gas hob inside.. but not much signs of the thriving group that had been there all those years ago.
It is a real testament to the straw bale building technique.,,. it is a bit green and mossy on the outside.. but the building has survived 15 years of neglect very well… except for a couple of bits of render that had fallen off the wall it was in a nearly perfect condition.. a little damp inside where it had not been aired out at all.. but all things considering it has survived really well. Straw bale is a cheap, quick and very effective building method, it creates breathable organic buildings that have a high thermal insulation.. it beggars belief that there is not a lot more interest in the potential of such buildings. What is more.. they are made out of carbon.. a source of which is easy to grow and harvest and represent carbon that has been removed from eh carbon cycle for long periods of time
Wake up to the Carbon economy
Surely the penny is dropping now for a great many people that the rules of ecology are none negotiable. We cannot last long on this planet without clean air and water, and soils from which to grow our food. We live in a productive partnership with the planet.. and are crazy if we think our intellect and petrochemical resources excuse us from that relationship with the planet.
I see massive opportunities and new areas for work and investment coming out of embracing the carbon economy. Changing land use, producing more food locally, looking at different ways of using land in ways that sequestrate carbon, not release it.. buildings that lock up carbon and perform at very eco efficient standards. The training and facilitation needed to see this process to completion is also significant, as this is a change that will affect everyone, so we will need to find ways to involve everyone we can in as many ways as we can in speeding up this process.
As a permaculture design tutor I am constantly reminded of the vast potential of the Permaculture concept and feel increasingly that this design system can hold the key to addressing many of our significant problem. We need a language a set of concepts and tools with which we can approach and make headway in the challenge of responding to the global environmental crisis.
I have four courses planned for this year.. each with a different focus with the idea of creating opportunities to get involved for people from all backgrounds etc.
“A couple of years ago, I did a 2 week intensive Permaculture Design Course at Treflach Farm in Shropshire. It’s fair to say that those 2 weeks were a real turning point in my life – it was informative, empowering, fun, and enlightening. For anyone who wants to take their overstanding to the next level, and wants to work on finding solutions, I cannot recommend it highly enough! It is run by Steve from Sector39 who is a truly knowledgeable and passionate man!
The next course is scheduled for May this year, and full details are on the Sector39 website: http://www.sector39.co.uk/pdc.htm
The website is also a valuable resource for finding out more about Permaculture.
Close observation of grassland systems has led Allan Savory to realise that one of the keys to reversing desertification is to closely emulate natural systems in the way we manage grasslands. Savannah is typified by large herds of grazing animals who stick to together in numbers for safety from predators, consequently they tend to mob graze, eating everything, trampling the ground and having covered it with their manure move on to fresh areas. This is the natural grazing pattern and helps protect soils and prepare them for the next rainy season to be able to absorb moisture and hold on to nutrients. It is this mulch layer that is essential to the process, bare soils on the other hand are damaged by extremes of climate and dry out and release stored carbon back into the atmosphere which is a significant course of increased atmospheric CO2.
The excellent TED talk below gives a really good insight into how tackling climate change is much more than restricting carbon emissions from fossil fuels, it is very much about how we manage landscapes to sequestrate carbon into soils for long term fertility and water retention.
While the politicians rant on about how we might kick start our stalled growth-led economy and the oil and gas companies fracture the rocks and delve into the ocean floor to extract the diminishing dregs of the economy’s lifeblood: cheap energy and while we argue about who is to blame for the financial crisis and collapse of credit perhaps we are missing a whole new and different approach to solving our woes?
We need to escape the old left/ right industrial age paradigm and embrace a whole shift in perspective.. from the extractive to the organic, from physics to biology.. If we were to embrace the biology of our planet, rather than treat it a set of resources to be liquidated we may find abundance not scarcity and a true path to harmony. There is another way and a great many and an increasing number of people have been studying ways and exploring its implications of how might live in this planet sustainably.. some call this other way permaculture design. Permaculture is as simple as it is powerful and is packed full of new possibilities and potentials, solutions, not problems. Permaculture is a word created to describe that process, of how we learn to harmonise and work with nature and learn to make this step beyond the extractive degenerative phase of economic growth to something much more whole, sane and truly sustainable.
Regular permaculture courses in Mid Wales
Permaculture is the path to freedom. The more we can achieve through good design the less we need resources, money and labour to meet our needs. Energy efficient housing, highly productive yet low input gardens and landscapes, using gravity and natural forces to clean water, compost wastes and return outputs as inputs, interconnected communities and vibrant local economies all combine together to make a much more abundant World. One much more resilient to outside forces and changes and one able to meet core needs from local resources. Freedom from consumption and the endless treadmill of work a day life is the true path to freedom and to exploring and achieving one’s own personal goals.
The sustainability revolution is a bottom up process.. it is just people taking the time to educate them selves to work with their own powers of observation and experience and them beginning to apply that learning to world around them.
Studying a permaculture design course can be a major step on one’s personal journey to a more abundant, interconnected and life. Find out more about up and coming courses with Sector39 and Get-Growing
PDC advert 2013
A permaculture design course is a 2-week curriculum, created with the intention of creating a self replicating body of knowledge which maps out the essential skills and perspectives required to understand the mechanism of how the World works. Permaculture engenders an understanding of natural systems, how the soil beneath our feet lives and breathes and how to live in partnership with it rather than by ruthlessly exploiting it.
What is true for the natural world is also true for society and our economic systems.. permaculture observes and communicates these patterns of abundance. The formula for success in natural systems which are dynamic, robust and productive is the same for human systems and with a permaculture design approach this abundance is attainable, indeed it is essential in enabling us all to make the evolutionary step required to progress beyond the vast economic, ecological and social challenges of the day.
This is a special one-off course, working closely to redesign a small holding and provide a space for people to come to together to explore strategies for strong network of individuals and communities working for sustainability