One of the Pod Project at Carraig Durla, Wicklow. Permaculture Design Course.
Why permaculture? Like many people I have been feeling powerless to help against the avalanche of environmental crises facing the globe. The temptation is to believe that I cannot do anything as the scale of the task is monumental but if we all took responsibility for the things we can change that would be powerful. The question then is what can I do? Permaculture is a form of garden design but it is so much broader than that. It is about thinking about the systems, patterns and structures in your whole life and exploring how to optimise them to benefit you, your family and the environment. So I believe that permaculture offers me an answer for moving forward. I hope to put what I have learnt into practice at home and to share it with any others that are interested.
“Permaculture is a creative design process based on whole-systems thinking informed by ethics and design principles that feature on this site.https://permacultureprinciples.com
5 am and the cock is crowing. It’s my last day at Carraig Durla; I am snuggled in an orange sleeping bag that’s been to Everest (not with me but with a lovely friend who appreciates that being able to keep warm is key) looking up at the folds of the bell tent that has been home for two weeks, I am taking the time to reflect on the abundance of the last 14 days.
Abundance may seem something of an oxymoron to some when contemplating Carraig Durla but that is only if it is viewed through a narrow filter of modern standards. When describing the washing facilities and compost toilet to my family, my cousin observed that she admired me. I know this is unwarranted, there is nothing to admire as there is nothing to endure; I have never felt so free or so replete as I have done this last few weeks. This is life at its best, in nature, listening to birds (even the damn Cockerel who I very much wanted to add to the pot for the first few days), smelling the air after it has rained, working in the sunshine, learning both in the conventional sense and experientially to balance my use of resources with the needs of others both humans but also other creatures and the environment has been wonderful. This may seem as if I am being pretentious but this retraining of expectations and rights to use at will everything that is around me is part of the process to living a permaculture life, of whole system thinking.
Take the washing facilities as an example. Hot water is limited. Everyone on the course needs a share and the washing up for 30 needs to be done three times a day. My early thoughts on this was that OK I am going to be a bit smelly and there was no way I would be able to wash my hair but everyone else would be in the same boat so perhaps it wouldn’t matter. And it turns out that that it hasn’t mattered but not because there isn’t enough hot water but because everyone is taking a reasonable share; using less. It has really made me question how much do I really need?
When I have camped before it has usually been supported by the facilities of a campsite. What Carraig Durla has is a different support system. The site supports you to work as part of a community, to manage resources, to take responsibility and time to reflect on what is abundance. Enough it turns out is less than you think.
“Permaculture is a revolution disguised as gardening” (Mollison, 1985)
As well as an abundance of insights into my use of water and social permaculture I have learnt about the ecology around me. Soil it turns out is magic. The day we spent learning about soil was one of the best days on the course. This is not something I thought I would say, biology was mildly interesting at school and wasn’t something I followed up after leaving. Clearly I have been missing out! Now as an adult, looking at soil as part of an ecosystem it has become something to consider with reverence. The number of life forms living in the soil supporting the system (nematodes, bacteria, beetles, mycelium networks) enabling us to grow and harvest nutritious food was astonishing. Sadly, our misuse of it was also eye-opening and horrifying too. By using chemicals, tilling the soil and intensifying we have been reducing soil health and therefore our own ability to receive minerals and nutrients from our food. If we keep going like this then the number of harvests remaining to us are limited, perhaps to as few as 60, less than the life expectancy of our children.
Receiving this information did feel like being given a heavy burden, yet another problem to worry about to add to the huge problems of global warming, carbon emissions, acidification of the oceans, mass extinction of thousands of species including the pollinating insects and plastic pollution but just like all of these issues it something that I can do something about. I can choose to use my own garden, to manage my soil differently or to subscribe to one of the many local cooperative farmers that are springing up all over the place and are using different practices. I can aim for zero waste, consume differently, I can reduce my carbon emissions by looking at my house as a whole system and I can work with others, sharing skills so that making changes can become affordable and possible and I can share this information, my time and things that I have learnt so that maybe others will feel empowered to make changes.
There is a huge risk of sounding evangelical at this point and naive. It’s true that on my own my actions are not going to turn the tide. It is going to take all of us reducing our carbon emissions and changing our habits, reflecting on what is enough but there are many many people who are already doing this. I am choosing to join them as putting my head in the sand or waiting for the government to do something seems to much like giving up and for my children’s sake I am not going to do that.
I am really sad to be leaving Carraig Durla today but I am itching to get started on designing my garden, the systems I use in my house and the way I run my life. For the first time in a long time, I feel I have a direction and something other than my organisational skills that I can bring back and share as part of the Pod Project.
This PDC course has been designed with skill, thoughtfulness and whole system thinking. I have immense gratitude for Suzie, Hannah and Mike, all of the other tutors and all the participants. I feel as if I have been given an abundance of information and experiences upon which I can build further knowledge and skills and an abundance of permaculture friends and access to a huge network of like minded people. Definitely this has been one of the best things I have done.