As its end of the season highlight in October, Vale da Lama (VDL) – a permaculture farm and educational centre located in the Algarve, on the south coast of Portugal – hosted two courses: a permaculture teacher training and a full Permaculture Design Course (PDC) with Rosemary Morrow from Australia. If I were to describe in one word what happens on Rowe’s courses, the choice would be easy: transformation. The transformation is from student to designer during a PDC, or, on a deeper level, from permaculture designer into a facilitator during the teacher training. Then there’s the subtler transformation that trickles into the surrounding environment, the farm and wider community, that weaves together the learners and the space where the learning takes place. This manifested in the many exercises done on the land throughout the courses, a permablitz on the Zone I kitchen garden of the farm, and last but not least, in the final design project of the PDC, which took place in one area of the nearest village, Odiaxere.
Permaculture teaching matters
Teacher training, which Rowe calls, ‘Permaculture Teaching Matters’, is about learning how to bring about a transformation in PDC students, and it happens through creating a thriving permaculture learning ecosystem. After all, success in teaching is measured by the learning that takes place in the participant; in their ability to transform themselves into a person who can successfully communicate in terms of environment and design. Learner centred education in permaculture is what VDL continuously aspires to. It is sum of:
* The learning environment
* The course culture supportive of everyone's learning, and,
* Teaching methods that cater for different types of learners.
It also includes qualities like verbal and nonverbal communication. After that comes the actual content, the course curriculum. This is learned by working with it every afternoon and presenting a full PDC outline with flow and structure on the last day.
Content and learning
The content is necessary and essential, but it is the learning that takes place in the student that Rosemary teaches the teacher trainees to focus on. After all, sharing communication skills in ways that facilitate learning is the permaculture teacher's primary objective.
When it comes to sharing, what I appreciate through these trainings is that we are all teachers and learners. The group has a lot of knowledge already, and the teacher's task is to draw that knowledge out and assist in processing and organising it into concrete skills and capabilities within a permaculture context. This means achieving the learning outcomes set in the PDC curriculum.
Permaculture teachers create tangible learning outcomes for the students. Remembering to check during the sessions that these goals are being achieved is a key activity. Questions that I'll be asking myself next time I teach are: 'Do my learners know how to choose a location and orientation of a building? Do they know where to place water harvesting systems? Do they know how to choose the patterns and techniques appropriate for each of the zones...?' and so on. When you have ways to verify that this is the case, you've succeeded.
Village design for real
But let’s again look at the village development design task on the PDC course. When asked about the choice of design project Rosemary said: “Since one of my personal goals is to offer something real and useful to a community it seemed natural that the PDC select part of the nearest village and expose the students and myself to grapple with the joys and sorrows of the local community.”
At times permaculture projects and PDC projects may end up being insular ‘bubbles’ for the already convinced or just theoretical exercise. So, to demonstrate the credibility and true potential of regenerative design, there is solid value in connecting and responding to the real life challenges of the local community.
Three student groups were given the task. They observed, created site analyses, interviewed the passers by, listened to the stories of the old windmill in the village and the times when the people used to gather to grind their grain and picnic while waiting for their turn. Today the windmill stands still on the windswept hill and passers-by rush by in their cars, working in the bigger towns and only returning to the village to sleep. The task was therefore not easy nor evident.
The results of the work were remarkable, however. The students addressed the missed opportunity to harvest rainwater, designed edible landscapes, abandoned backyards were filled with productive gardens, and cooperative systems for using and distributing their harvest were created. These designs also created a niche for harnessing the expertise available in Vale da Lama.
As the climax of the whole experience, on the last day of the course, VDL organised an open day where the project results were displayed and shared with the local people. Rowe gave a talk about the importance of working locally where we actually live. Although a small step, discussion was opened up about what could be done locally and an email list of all those interested was collected. Who knows what magnificent proposals and initiatives will emerge from it in the future?
Mari Korhonen works for the Local Young Farmer’s Association in Finland. She has traveled the globe working on permaculture farms and projects using her environmental engineering skills. Mari has studied and worked with Rosemary Morrow for some years and is now investigating and writing about cold climate permaculture in Finland. Mari promotes permaculture through her Finnish blog, ‘Northern Permaculture'.
Rosemary Morrow is a highly regarded permaculture teacher and has been practising and teaching worldwide (most notably in Australia) for 20 years. Rosemary has worked across an incredibly broad range of environments, including community scale projects in Uganda, Somalia, Thailand, the Middle East and Bhutan. Her knowledge on how to create abundance, food security and successful sustainable farming models, no matter what the country, is perhaps unparallelled in permaculture education today.
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