Innovating in the garden, heritage grains

It is always interesting and illuminating to hear from a past PDC graduate to hear what they have been wrestling with and working through since they finished their course.  This came today from a participant from 3 years ago, who had an active interesting in food growing and land work talk about the challenges of pursuing these ambitions.

Hi Steve! I’ve been keeping up with the blog and it’s good to see what’s going on in Wales with the projects 😊.

Last time I messaged I was looking to set up a market garden, I’ve been trying to do this for three years and have not succeeded yet! Land was hard to come by where I was living in Stratford (or should I say land that people would let me use) and so I moved to Birmingham thinking that an Urban farm would be better placed for a client base.
I’ve met up with a few food co-ops and local growers who have looked into trying similar things and we have all come across the same problems. In short, peoples attitude in the city towards food is not currently at a level where a urban food farm can thrive.
Peoples attitude needs to change, as you are well aware, indeed we have no option but to change with the coming challenges!
So I’m currently in talks with a few people and have started to work out a new project in order to change the publics relationship with food. The project is less about the amount of food grow at the end of the season but about peoples connection with the years cycle and how that relates to food production, harvest, the soil biology and preparing for next year. In a world of short termism, these are valuable skills to know.
The idea is to turn peoples back yard lawn into a field of grain. Rather than a field in the city, it needs to be personal and apart of the individual’s personal space in order for them to engage regularly. I will be visiting each household at key stages in the cycle to work with the individual about what to do next and to assist with the activity.
In the end the participant will have experienced the life cycle of the grain, from preparing the land (some or indeed a lot of preparation will be needed on ground that was once a compacted lawn) sowing, observing growth, harvesting, threshing, seed saving, milling and baking.
Oh I forgot to mention as well that the project will use regenerative agriculture techniques instead of current agricultural land management practices.
The project will be small to start with, only an handful of people in the first year or so, and then we can see if the project has legs.

I’m currently writing out an expenditure and have come across a problem, I’m struggling to find a place to buy any grain that is an old variety. Places to buy heirloom veg seem more available than heirloom grains.
Would you know of any organisation or individuals saving grain seeds?

Hope you are well!


A reply came back from Emma of the horticulture training centre in Newtown..

You can’t buy heritage grain. You can get small amounts from heritage seed libraries, and spend years bulking it up. Otherwise need to get to know growers and get direct from them.

The questioner came up with two links from the USA.

Need t check on the restrictions of sending seeds across international boundaries.

Taking permaculture to old places

Taking permaculture to old places

Chapter house, Chester Cathedral

The cathedral at Chester represents nearly a 1000 years of history. First built-in 1093 the main part of the building was rebuilt around 1283 to 1537. For this course, the first at such a venue certainly for us, we will be based in The Early English Gothic chapter house, built between 1230 and 1265, it is a rectangular building and opens off a “charming” vestibule leading from the north transept. The chapter house will be the classroom for the proposed PDC and the significance of the venue is not lost on me. (History from Wikipedia)

This place connects us directly to our Norman past, Hugh d’Avranches (c. 1047 – 27 July 1101), also known as Hugh the Fat, the second Normal Earl of Chester was buried there, first in a long line of patrician overlords who found their resting place here. I have always been fascinated with history, especially the ancient buildings, churches and castles which have always captured my attention and where as I child I always felt I could feel the pulse of those that had passed before somehow resonating from the very stone of the buildings.

Hugh spent much of his time fighting with his neighbours in Wales. Together with his cousin Robert of Rhuddlan he subdued a good part of northern Wales. Initially Robert of Rhuddlan held north-east Wales as a vassal of Hugh. However, in 1081 Gruffudd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd was captured by treachery at a meeting near Corwen.

Gruffudd was imprisoned by Earl Hugh in his castle at Chester, but it was Robert who took over his kingdom, holding it directly from the king. When Robert was killed by a Welsh raiding party in 1093 Hugh took over these lands, becoming ruler of most of North Wales, but he lost Anglesey and much of the rest of Gwynedd in the Welsh revolt of 1094, led by Gruffudd ap Cynan, who had escaped from captivity.

So it comes full circle, to be travelling from Wales to Chester to explore ideas for our continued mutual survival in this rapidly changing modern world.

What would Hugh d’Avranches have made of the dilemmas we now face, climate change and resource depletion, what lands would he invade and subjugate? I also wonder what would he have thought of Bill Mollison, the originator of the permaculture concept? I really can’t empathise with Hugh d’Avranches but on many levels the monks at the Abbey in the 13th or 14th century would have got it, they kept bees, grew veg, were guardians of seed and provenance and kept carp in ponds in the gardens at the Abbey. They knew about food security, how to cultivate the land and how to act a guardians of seed and soil. They certainly knew how to weather the many storms that faced them in those troubled times and I am interested to know what we can draw as inspiration from their memory.

If you have never heard BIll Mollison speak then he is certainly worth a listen. The word genius is overused these days but Bill brought a new way of seeing to the forefront, of way of seeing that which once you do see things that way, becomes obvious and compelling. Bill had foresight, he could see what was coming and set his mind to developing a system that was accessible and adaptive that might provide a basis for every community to address the challenges that confront us.

On the PDC I will be sharing Bill’s vision and design for a sustainable world, but so much more than that permaculture gives you a set of tools that enable you to work with the people around you to bring about meaningful change.As much as we can recognise the need for change it is hard to know where to direct one’s energies and what to prioritize.


The PDC is a curriculum that covers the broad thrust of Bill Mollision’s and David Holmgren’s work, encompassing the principle tools to be able to immediately start working for positive environmental change. Permaculture is empowering,  at its heart are ideas of self-determination and responsibility and a way that actively helps to build mutually beneficial relationships with those that surround you.

Scott London: A reviewer once described your teachings as “seditious.”

Bill Mollison: Yes, it was very perceptive. I teach self-reliance, the world’s most subversive practice. I teach people how to grow their own food, which is shockingly subversive. So, yes, it’s seditious. But it’s peaceful sedition.

Bill’s passing in September this year is a huge loss, a big tree has fallen in the forest, as writer and teacher Graham Bell said, however the new light let in from the canopy creates the opportunity for many more to grow.  Bill always taught us the nature is cyclical, the Rainbow serpent on the cover of the epic Designer Manual is both creator and destroyer, birthing a whole world of complexity whilst devouring its own tale.

Please join us in Chester for this course and help us work together to create new opportunities for all and to draw on the inspiration of those who have gone before us.

New life at Chickenshack

My co-operative journey began with the inspiration of working in rural Zimbabwe in the early 1990’s, where I first learned about permaculture and the possibilites of people working together towards common goals. Inspired by that and more when I did finally return to the UK I was determined to do something along those lines myself. I craved the opportunty to have my fingers in the soil, to contribute directly to the global transition to sustainability but also to crate a home, somehwere safe, somewhere to roost. In late 1994 Chickenshack was born as an idea and in 1995 with the support of a great many people, friends, investors and Radical Routes we moved in on August 1.

I spent 13 fantastic years there, learning much of what I now draw on in my permaculture teaching and running our first 3 PDC’s there before moving to Llanrhaeadr in 2009. Since then I have ben involved at the Workhouse, Cwm Harry Permanent Housing Co-operative and eventually Dragons co-op, where I now live. The co-operative journey continues!

Really thrilled to see this lovely video from Chickenshack where a new generation of members are making way for a brand new member! Good luck to everyone there for a continued bountiful future. !

Permaculture Academy Proposal

This is a bold attempt to steer a new course in education and to empower students and other stakeholders to shape the long term development of their school.

Steve Jones, Jan 2016

Here at Sector39 we are putting together an exciting and what we consider to be an essential project, exploring the potential of using permaculture design to transform a whole school campus and to shift a school’s ethos and outlook to be in line with climate science. We want to create an exemplary Sustainable School to inspire and enable others to do the same.

Principle aim of this project:

To develop a permaculture curriculum accessible to educational bodies to drive a culture change proportionate to the challenges presented by climate change and to develop this in partnership with our local high school.

Completing this project will also serve to establish our wider aims of founding a permaculture academy of partners to widen our reach.


Our Organisation
Haulfre, Market Street, Llanrhaeadr Ym Mochnant, Oswestry, SY10 0JN

Sector39 is a small grass roots teaching cooperative who build community projects, sustainable enterprise and new cooperatives by bringing together designers, growers, artisans and teachers working for a sustainable future. We run courses, training and deliver public speaking, working with schools, community groups and the general public in the UK and Uganda. We raise awareness and encourage others in how to make a difference in their community and their planet.

In Association with
Cae Badfach Community Orchard- a community field donated to the people of Llanfyllin, funded by Keep Wales Tidy, Welsh Cider and Perry Society and the Local Council. Here we have started a community orchard and other initiatives with high environmental value with the help of Llanfyllin High School. Other partners include to name a few Treflach Farm, Garth Organic Garden, Dragons Cooperative, Llanfyllin Workhouse, Dolyn Ffermio, The Permanent Housing Cooperative, Cultivate Newtown and many more.

Justification for Proposal

The Pope’s recent encyclical frames the looming issues of climate change as one of morality, placing us all in a position of responsibility and challenging us to action. His statement follows on the heels of both the scientific and political heavyweights in a call to action the scale of which has never been seen before. This proposal aims to connect this urgent need for thoughtful and constructive change at a global level to meaningful action at an educational level.

Permaculture is a design process that brings about change. Addressing climate change will require long-term political, economic and social changes. To achieve an 80% reduction in carbon omissions (as required by the climate change agreement) will require a fundamental behavioural shift.

Teaching permaculture within a school or educational body will initiate changes within the school. Sector39 have been working closely with Llanfyllin High school over the last two years. We have a well established relationship with the School due to previous work done on their land-based studies GCSE as well as with the wider community of that area through the community orchard project we ran there. Sector39 have already written and delivered a trial unit on ‘energy and climate’ for Llanfyllin High School 6th form which was well received and they have expressed interest in developing their school as a ‘Sustainable School’ through permaculture design.

This project aims to form a Mid Wales Permaculture Academy, a strong regional network of permaculture teachers and practitioners, drawing on 20 years of groundwork. Drawing on this network the aim is to develop a permaculture curriculum that is accessible to educational bodies and in a way that would create a mechanism to create and drive a culture change, proportionate to the challenges presented by climate change.

Project Aims

1. Bring Permaculture Education into the Mainstream; create ‘Sustainable Leader Schools’ reaching learning objectives whilst becoming sustainable. We will work with the school on an applied Permaculture Design Course or ‘PDC’, helping all, teachers, students and community, to develop an understanding of climate change and transforming the educational body’s behaviour; reduce waste, create productive systems, reduce carbon footprints and change the behavior of students.

2. Affect policy and initiate a wider change- Demonstrate to policy makers and councils the huge potentials to change the ethos of an educational body through sustainability. Changing young minds will affect policy as those young minds become our future generation.

3. Establish a Permaculture Design Academy- Support and encourage other practitioners and pioneers. Build a coherent network linking established permaculture projects, farms and co-operatives with teachers and educators in the formal sector.

This is a 3-year project:

Sector39 aims to influence policy, curriculum content and subject delivery at all levels from school to adult learning. They hope to see an increase in educational bodies across the UK offering more sustainability, environmental subjects with links to business studies and economics. By working with key partners they will demonstrate and develop learning processes which bring permaculture design tools and skills into every sphere.

By framing business skills and processes around the realities of climate change this would accelerate a shift in sustainability practices in all areas of the economy, which will better align business and investor behaviour with environmental sustainability and the long-term public interest.

Year 1-
We will begin writing the resources we will use in educational bodies. During this time we can begin working with Llanfyllin High school, allowing students to apply the design process, creating a design to produce a ‘Sustainable Leader School’. We will create a strong connection with headteachers, management, finance department, local farms and cooperatives. Working in the local orchard; Cae Bodfach, with existing projects and previous Permaculture Design Courses. Once the design has been finalised the design presentation can include school participants, council officials and policy makers.

May-July :
To write a design for the school with the students identified for the course. Together make a timeline for the project. School trips and talks from local community permaculture projects. Activities and design trials.
Sept-December :
Presentation in early September for entire school community including stake holders and wider Llanfyllin community. Begin the project in September and complete major aspects by December.
January-May :
School write up, promotion work, prepare handover for following September starters/ induction

Year 2- In the second year we hope to work with further schools, ideally Newtown College, FE college for region, whom we have close working bonds with.

Year 3 – Long term Change.
Sector39 hopes to have excellent relationships with schools, communities, councils, educational bodies and policy makers to influence policy and help others to educate about sustainability. At this point they can use their resources to offer viable curriculum changes and begin writing online resources. Rolling out ‘Sustainable Schools’ across the UK, to change the face of our national curriculum.

Through working with its partners in farming, teaching, growing and communities across the UK, the teaching network can demonstrate real examples of how sustainable practices work and how each person can apply them.

Furthermore a permaculture course results in a practical design project as part of the final assessment and many of these projects are subsequently implemented. This means that running these courses builds the infrastructure and examples required to run more of them by creating case study examples and related infrastructure.
For example a school may implement strategies to reduce its carbon footprint, may begin growing food, composting human waste, fund new projects through capturing solar or wind energy. These design projects will be financially viable, be sustainable and act as a template for other educational bodies. These projects can be incorporated into all subjects taught by the school and improved on year after year, making the school or college more economical as time goes on.

Funding these changes within a school are not without cost but over the longer term will result in more sustainable and economic schools, reducing their financial outlays each year. This would increase the potential of each school.


We are approaching mainstream funders for support for this three year project, however it is an increasingly competitive environment out there, and funding is always pegged to very specific outcomes and timeframes. Consequently our ambition is to raise funds directly from supporters, to give us more freedom and flexibility to run the project according to ours and the school priorities.

Figures are available for a breakdown of planned expenditure.

Who will work on this project?

Sector39 aim to utilise those already working voluntarily for Sector39, as well as Dragons Cooperative, Llanfyllin High School, the Cae Bodfach project and the North Wales community.

Partnership building is an essential part of permaculture design academy process. Sector39 has an extensive list of 18 current stakeholders for the Permaculture Design academy. They are a varied and wide reaching group of professional people already involved in their network, who will make this project viable.

Sector39 will share the lessons learned from their work with others through PDC’s, the online resources, in schools and colleges, on social media and through their community base in North Wales, as well as encouraging the replication of their work both nationally and internationally with those that want to encourage the education and action against climate change in the UK and abroad.

How can you help?

Sector39 plan to fundraise to support Llanfyllin High School in its first year of this project.

Please contact Sector39 on the contact information at the top of this proposal, if you feel you can help in any way or have any suggestions for this project.

Please like and share this idea through social media to show your support and please contact us if you would like to donate or get involved with our fundraising initiatives.

Community growing job near Llangollen

Here is the JD fora  part time job at the Garth community garden in Glynceiriog. This is one of the best examples of a small rural community garden and the potentials for community growing and needs a highly motived and multi skilled person to help drive it forward and build on the incredible work that has been done their already.

Ideal for PDC graduates looking for something to get their teeth into!



Wattle and clay daub structure in Ceiriog valley

Community Grower-2

Community Grower (Garth Hillside Organic Garden)1

Welcome to the Green Blob

Out going environment minster Owen Patterson has expressed his frustration at us small-minded greens who oppose everything and stand in the way of progress and prosperity.He has lumped all us petition-signing, flag-waving, letter-writing annoyances under a single heading, Green Blob. The Times came out with an article this week saying he is basically right. Between greens and NIMBY’s we are consigned to return to the dark ages. It is time to get fracking, to break out the GMO’s and get busy building on the green belts, our economy needs it.

I have no doubt that there is plenty of well meaning but ill-informed and misdirected campaigning going on and plenty of NIMBYism to boot.. but lumping the whole environmental agenda together as a green blob is really unhelpful and actually is pretty revealing about how people like Patterson must actually think.

So we have been told that during his period in office Mr Patterson declined to be briefed by the Government advisor on Climate Change. Let’s say that again, declined to be briefed. Words fail. Anyway maybe from that we can deduce that perhaps those outside the Green Blob are more motived by political outlook and inner conviction then they are by science, debate and academic rigour (see video in previous post).  If we are to be charitable with our judgement lets say that the view is one of pursuing short term economic objectives rather than looking at the bigger and rapidly changing bigger picture.  Very short term objectives indeed as we rush headlong into the post peak world of uncertain energy futures and teetering global economy.

From where I am sitting the Green Blob isn’t about resisting progress and change, it is in fact the very opposite. We have a vision of economy that measures service provision, food security and biodiversity, not the simple throughput of materials ,as does GDP.  The growth model rewards the destruction of natural capital and rewards polluters, the exact opposite that is required to value and protect the biosphere. We have a vision of vibrant local economies that produce a majority of our food and energy and absorb and cycle most of our waste.  A largely localised system sharing heat, composting waste, building wildlife friendly low-embodied energy, affordable housing from natural materials like straw, mud, wool and lime that would actually add biodiversity to where ever they are located.  International trade will still have its place but the low carbon world will be a wonderful mix of high tech and low tech, a people-centric system that values nature and society as well as the freedom of the individual.

Unfettered capitalism is essentially a race to the bottom, a race to externalise the costs of production onto society and environment, to avoid social and ecological responsibility.  It is our values as expressed by economic indicators that need to change, rather than a growth based system driven by corrupt bankers seeking fat bonus to enable them to escape the mayhem the have caused. The scope for change required is well beyond the brief of an individual minister, and I for one am certainly not waiting for the government to articulate these ideas. But I am certainly getting on preparing and building for the post carbon world. Somehow we do need to find people brave enough and with the right profile to begin to frame the future in front of us honestly and positively.

Killing a few badgers wont solve the woes of intensive factory farming Mr Patterson sir and fracking the country side for the remaining pockets of natural gas smacks of desperation. In a world about to go fully digital we are investing in VHS players, in a world of renewable energy with the potential for a thriving and super energy efficient re-localised economy,  we are planning to burn tar sands and borrowing a load of money we don’t know how to pay back to buy everyone a new S.U.V.

Wake up Mr Patterson the Green Blob is more than a figment of your imagination, it is here to stay and it is a world of new opportunity.






Green Shoots #3

I write a short column for the Tanat Valley Chronicle, our village newsletter. I guess my principle aim is to get a dialogue going around sustainability without being preachy and to link that to actually doing things.

As part of my job I have been able to lead on planting a community orchard in the area and wanted to make reference to that whilst making a wider point about mutually beneficial relationships.
Green Shoots
18th April 2014
Steven Jones

Gail, from a farm above Llanfyllin sheared her Jacobs sheep last summer and offered some of the bountiful wool produced to Ian, ex-Mayor of Llanfyllin and one of the trustees and driving forces behind the Workhouse restoration. He offered it to Sue from Llanrhaeadr, another Workhouse regular and local artisan.

Sue spun the thick, dark wool into yarn, some of which she knitted into two beautiful jumpers for friends Bill and Chava, who run the Welsh Mountain Cider apple-tree nursery near Llanidloes. In return for those home spun, hand-knitted garments Bill and Chava gave Sue 30 apple trees from their nursery, which Sue planted in her home garden to mature. Last weekend 9 of those trees were planted in the Bodfach field as part of the new Llanfyllin Community Orchard, a collaboration between Llanfyllin Town Council and Cwm Harry’s Get-Growing project.
With plenty of wool left over Sue decided to offer a weaving workshop in the new village hall in Llanrhaeadr, which 9 people attended and after a busy afternoon of carding and weaving a beautiful rug was made, which this spring Sue gave to Gail.

I must thank the folk from Tan Y Fron housing cooperative, who planted an ‘Apple Tree Guild’ as part of the Cae Bodfach planting. Exploring the idea that plants thrive in relationships not as individuals, they planted an apple tree which they surrounded with bulbs to repel the codling moth and other cyclical pests. They under-planted it’s canopy with comfrey, the deep-rooted, nutrient concentrating companion plant. With the turfs lifted and inverted to suppress the grasses, the guild was completed by surrounding it with a ring of berry bushes to attract pollinating insects and located where they would enjoy the extra moisture from the dip-line from the crown of the tree, once established.

At the heart of all natural systems is a web of inter-linked, mutually-beneficial relationships and therein lies a lesson we can perhaps all learn something from.

Steven Jones