It was July 2008 on Vancouver Island. We were half way through the intensive six month season of natural building that I was up to my knees in, quite literally. It was time for a break from the building to stretch out our arms and embrace the empowering, immense world of Permaculture. This was a two week intensive, held at O.U.R. Ecovillage, that set out to show us how different systems interact together to become one, unifying, whole system. What we, the interns in the natural building skillbuilder program, had been doing thus far, was just one piece of the larger puzzle. This was sustainability 101 for all.
I can imagine that many of you are wondering just what "permaculture" is, and then again, many of you probably already know. Here is a quote from one of the founders, David Holmgren:
"Permaculture is a design system for sustainable living and land use. It came out of awareness about the limits of resources, especially the energy crises of the 1970’s. The work started between myself and Bill Mollison " http://www.sbpermaculture.org/talkstory.html
Our course included an impressive lineup of teachers and speakers who covered just as an impressive spread of topics. One of the first things we did was learn how to set contour lines the old fashioned way, with A-frames and a plumb bob. Yan demonstrates this fine art for us. In this way, one can lay out a level contour to later come in and dig some birms and swales for planting. Brandon is seen leading the group in digging out and forming the swales, then placing different fruit and nut trees that will grow into a beautiful and plentiful orchard.
To feed all of our new and already established produce, large receptacles were reclaimed and given the new task of creating compost tea. Every part of this system was created from parts that had accumulated in the barn, as barns have a great knack for accumulating things that may some day be useful. Anything that we couldn't find in the barn was purchased at a great price and saved from going to the landfills. The compost tea will be pumped through the garden for irrigation, filtered through the land, and end up in the duck pond, giving the ducks a place to swim and hunt for bugs. The digging of the trench from the barn to the garden was effortlessly accomplished by such a large and energetic group. A great example of how many hands make for light work.
To further assist the ebb and flow of life in the luscious gardens, the group got together, laid down some serious mulch, and moved some compost heaps. We lined the paths with old cardboard boxes to keep the weeds at bay, once again demonstrating how efficient and fun working with a team of enthusiastic and motivated people is. I was not afraid of digging into the compost heap that needed to get spread out amongst various beds patiently awaiting the rich nutrients and minerals that had been created by slowly collecting our food scraps and organic matter. What once came from the earth and the garden was now lovingly being given back in a form readily usable by the plants, which will again find their way back onto our plates, fulfilling but just one circle of creation and re-creation.
Most of all, what I took away from these two weeks was the message to go slow and really take a close look at what is around us and how it behaves.
Observation is perhaps the most important thing to remember to do when it comes to caring for our land, and when caring for ourselves as well. And this, my friends, is not something that we can rush and expect to get good results from. We must slow down and really take our time, really pay attention to the little details and all the effects, both obvious and hidden.
I am so grateful to have been a part of these magical two weeks and this amazing group of people who really care about what we can do to make life more sustainable and fulfilling.