Learning Permaculture by Doing Permaculture

Rowena Bashforth
Friday, 3rd July 2020

Rowena Bashforth shares her journey into permaculture whilst travelling the world.

My first glimpse of a community based on environmental values was Hockerton Housing Project in Nottinghamshire. As a thirteen-year-old, it piqued my interest and made total sense to me to live in a low impact way. A seed was sown, and over the last year, that small interest has bloomed into skills and knowledge.

While I was involved in a variety of communities while I lived in Plymouth, my first venture into out-of-city community living was at Quinta Vale da Lama: a 43 hectare farm, learning centre and B&B situated on the south coast of Portugal. The scope of the activities within the land is vast, and the overall purpose is to ‘live and learn closer to nature’. I interned on the building and carpentry track, one of five tracks which include holistic farm care, farm product transformation, organic market gardening and education. I was one of the first round of interns on the farm, so it was a learning process for all of us.

Sheep rest in their permanent enclosure. ©Miguel Ludwick

The programme is unique in the fact that there is mentorship, which you wouldn’t necessarily find in a WWOOF or Workaway setting, as well as an opportunity to utilise your skills by completing a project over the second half of the stay. I think this adds huge value to the internship, as it benefits both the farm and you so you get professional level hands-on experience. Alongside the course we completed a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and it was a great privilege to see real-life examples of permaculture techniques on the farm. Reading about these things in books is one thing, but seeing the trials, tribulations and successes of systems in a landscape is another. I got to see examples of cob pizza ovens, thermal mass heaters, alley cropping, rotational grazing, large scale compost making, breeding IMOs (Indigenous Microorganisms - good bacteria for the soil) and worm farming.

Rowena builds cob sheep structure. ©Miguel Ludwick

I had a wonderful time, and think back with fond memories. From wine-making, fig and almond harvesting to Portuguese tiling and escaping animals, I very much recommend it. Admission is twice a year, in March and September, and you can apply on the Quinta Vale Da Lama website: www.valedalama.net/en/internships. Those looking for a shorter but still rewarding visit, please note that Quinta Vale Da Lama host Ecosystem Regeneration Camps twice a year. These are said to be informative and invigorating.

Kelsey and Ricardo herd sheep to new pastures. ©Miguel Ludwick

Rather than an experimental test lab of techniques, this is a place of thoroughly researched, well planned projects, with passionate, experienced staff materialising a grand vision.

Keen to continue learning, and enjoying the sun, I decided to travel to Israel, on recommendation of a couple I met in the Algarve mountains. This was to be my first time out of Europe, and I kept an open mind about what the experience might bring.

My destination was Kibbutz Lotan, located in the Arava desert. While the Kibbutz was not initially built with the purpose of being ecological, self sufficiency is needed when you decide to build a village in the middle of a desert. I joined a month-long course called the Green Apprenticeship – a PDC on steroids if you will; one of the best months of my life. The aim of the course is to give you the knowledge, skills and confidence to pursue a permaculture lifestyle in whichever avenue you’re most interested in. Graduates are proactive, enterprising and ecological members of society across the world, so they’re clearly doing something right!

The accommodation for the course is truly special. The ‘bustan’ area is set out as a little eco village. You live in straw bale dome bedrooms, with compost toilets, a solar shower, a biogas system and solar panels in front. Each day we baked cookies in the solar oven as an afternoon snack, and some evenings we cooked over fire. For those already living off grid, this isn’t extraordinary, but I felt blissfully happy to be living so aligned with my values of low impact living. There’s a nice balance of theoretical lessons and practical sessions covering organic food growing, compost and soil science, biogas setup, natural building design and techniques, Korean Natural Farming, alternative energy, water management and a permaculture project. The next course starting in June will be streamed online to account for present travel guidelines. Registration is http://kibbutzlotan.com/cfce/introduction-permaculture-online-course/?lang=en. It’s a lot to take in, the course is certainly intense in nature, but Mike, one of the incredible course leaders, will remind you frequently: ‘don’t worry, be happy’.

One evening in Lotan we were introduced to Maged, the owner of Habiba Community in Nuweibaa Egypt. It is a farm, learning centre and beach lodge which works with the local Bedouin community. It sounded interesting and so after the course had finished I visited for a few days. What they’ve achieved is impressive: the farm supplies organic vegetable boxes to the local area, and the learning centre educates local children. Maged has a vision of greening Sinai, and so I also met John Liu there! I see Habiba being a regenerative model for tourism in Sinai and can’t wait to see how it expands. www.habibacommunity.com

All in all, I had a wonderful year, and it was a real privilege to see so many communities actively making the world a better place.

Useful links

Read more about Quinta Vale da Lama in PM91, available to all subscribers with their free digital access

Earth Restoration Peace Camps