As people arrive for the training suddenly there are new faces everywhere on the farm and an immediate flood of excitement as new students arrive for Ridgedale Permaculture’s second PDC of 2014, partnering the commencement of the second 10 Week Internship for the season. With sixteen countries represented in all, from Uruguay to Belgium, Iceland to Columbia, Canada, Romania, South Africa and Italy plus many more, this was definitely going to be an adventure!
After everyone had arrived we settled into the main dining yurt (technically a Ger) for a deliciously warming organic vegetable soup, skipping over to the classroom (another Ger) to meet all the students proper, learn names and orientate to the journey our facilitator Richard Perkins, Owner & joint Director of Ridgedale, will be guiding us on over the coming 14 days.
Before bed was a visit to the farm’s steam room. Now if you’d told me one year ago that in my future I’d be discussing the benefits of broilers and the essentials of egg laying chickens in a caravan sauna in the middle of a field in Sweden, I would have described you as a character of large imaginative capacity. Probably would have sounded something like “You’re crazy.” And yet…
The course facilitator, Richard Perkins: “My role here is really to act as a nutrient to stimulate learning, and help unravel complex systems to leave you with an in-depth understanding of Permaculture and how to go about assembling elements into cohesive and integrated systems” And so our course begins.
Richard explains how he wants Ridgedale to be a place for education but importantly a functioning viable farm so as to demonstrate what he is teaching; that the designs and strategies explained during the next fifteen days can be demonstrated via practical examples on site. After explaining the objectives & decision making process to determine the property he was looking for (and the magical story behind how he and his partner ended up on this site), we begin the farm tour. Richard spent time explaining how to read the landscape and optimize prioritization & placement of elements without risky "imposing" ideas on the landscape using the Keyline Design Scale of Permanence as a reference. He explained the appropriate use of new technologies and older traditional technologies like a root cellar and how they can seamlessly function together. Working with the resources you have access too.
The first lightbulb moment was seeing Richard demonstrate productive elements in marginal spaces as he explained the planting of Salix species (Willow) along one of the wet farm boundaries to form a alternate row coppiced wind break that will supply a material resource for fencing, baskets and biomass. From a longer term perspective he’s also planted an avenue of Oak as a future investment for his child's financial interest. This is Permaculture; "future-proof" (as Richard calls it) conscious design being demonstrated at a highly functional level.
With a hearty lunch in our bellies we commence an in depth investigation and discussion of existing global issues people from all corners of the globe are experiencing and the converging crises on the planet. From environmental pollution to educational institutionalization to water catchment and ownership to human health and the existing fascination with pharmaceutical therapies, we brainstorm our way through problems we can see building, but hold back from developing any solutions too quickly. Richard tells us that is for the following days.
“It’s amazing how many ‘super foods’ are transported around the planet, when we have ‘super foods’ that can be grown in every climate. Clever marketing." We hear about the "medicine cabinet" planting on the east of the site and the importance of stocking up on high potency medicinal foods before the long winter to maintain optimal health & resilience. Most modern farms don't eat much of what they produce. Richard explains how the farm is designed to meet it's own consumption needs first, then supply a surplus. The rapid development of this project begins with providing it's own needs which provides a platform for research & data collection to really understand the specific land characteristics before scaling up production next year. The ticking of the brains in the room can be heard from the neighbors barn; the discussion continues well into the afternoon and before we know it the dinner bell is ringing.
Our facilitator concludes the day with an evening presentation titled "10,000 year history of Agriculture" which explores theories put forward by Jared Diamond (Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel), who purports it is geography & luck, not biology or race, that have determined the cultural disparities across the globe. An interesting set of theories and certainly ones that deserve to be studied further. We explore James De Meo's Saharasia and how these two propositions mesh and discuss how extreme and rapid climate change may well have given rise to major cultural & societal shifts in history. While recovering from how many times is my mind has been blown today, I wander off to hit the sack.
Just from this first day I imagine the incredibly comprehensive journey into the realm of Permaculture Design this course might be, it is priming up to explain the greater workings of the planets complex inter-related systems, with clear descriptions of highly practical strategies that can be applied across all climates. Just what I'm looking for, Gravy! Here we go :)