Even though I had completed a similar seminar last year, the 15-day permaculture design course this September at Mali Veni in Athens with Darren Doherty from Australia, was something else. Of course, because I have a relatively small experience on the topics of permaculture, the learning curve was quite constructive because I was building on existing foundations of knowledge and experience, but still, I feel that certain messages were planted deep in my consciousness that hadn’t settled within me before or I somehow saw things from a new perspective this time. This is in addition to expanding my family with all the people I met there!
How did it all start? With a suggestion from my Italian friend (thanks Elena P!) and one email to Darren in January 2011 where I asked him if he would be interested in teaching in Greece. It was his dream to come to Greece with his family and although it didn’t appear that there was much space in his calendar, it didn’t take much to convince him. Many people ask which company organised this event. There is no company as such, just a small team of people who’s passion is to spread permaculture and each of us worked voluntarily on an important piece for the realisation of this event. Constantina had organised a similar course with English teachers in March in Laconia (Peloponnese) and this started a strong base of permaculture this year. Then Constantina and I ran two introductory one day seminars in April and when she left for Edinburgh to close off her obligations there, I continued to run free introductory seminars in Thessaloniki, Athens and Peloponnese for five months, while Elena took on the administration management throughout the whole preparation period and each of us did what needed to be done when it needed to be done in order to complete the puzzle of this seminar. And when Constantina returned from Scotland, she and Antonis took on the concurrent translation of the entire course and offered many permaculture books for our reading pleasure from the library she built from the profits of the March seminar! And I was more than pleased to see quite a few of the participants of our introductory seminars, so I felt it was worth the work!
The PDC (Permaculture Design Course) is based on the fourteen chapters of the co-founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison: PERMACULTURE – A Designer’s Manual. We dedicated one day to each chapter, upon which Darren built with his own experiences, detailing what worked, what didn’t work and why. We had a day of rest in the middle (much needed!) and one day to say our goodbyes and announce what we intended to do with our new-found knowledge. Sixteen days in total. It sounds like a lot and it is a lot, but perhaps it’s the best way to dive in the deep end and familiarise ourselves as much as we can with the topics of permaculture and cohabitation.
After a PDC you receive a diploma that is recognised by the Permaculture Institute of Australia and you are told that you can also teach a PDC with this, but it’s obvious that someone needs plenty of experience to reach such a level of educating people. Darren gathered experience for at least ten years before he started teaching approximately ten years ago. Essentially, a course like this is a very good entry into the world of permaculture.
We were thirty-five students, one from America, one from Canada, one from Uruguay, most from Greece (fantastic!) and plenty from Europe (Italy, England, Switzerland, Germany, Bulgaria). Our teacher came with his wife and three children. During the last week, we had the pleasure of hosting Costas Georgiadis, the most famous Greek in Australia who has his own TV show there called “Costa’s Garden Odyssey”, through which he passionately and energetically designs gardens in collaboration with his clients on a bed of permaculture.
The participants ranged from 20-something to 60-something. Many of them have their own land and they wanted to learn how to design it. Some had left their jobs and had already based themselves on their land or they’re in a transitional phase, where they have bought the land and they go there every weekend until they find the right time to make the move. Others didn’t own anything, but they intended to collaborate with someone who does have a piece of land. Others simply wanted to be prepared. I personally wish to continue teaching and spreading this knowledge through workshops, consulting and practice. Incidentally, I’m also moving to the countryside this week to collaborate with someone who has land! In any case, everyone had one very good reason to be there: to learn how to live and cultivate in harmony with the environment.
Darren surprised us with his boundless energy and armed us with his endless knowledge. We started strong at 9am on the first day and didn’t stop till the end. We learnt about the philosophy, ethics and design principles of permaculture, how to design with maps and also with the patterns of nature. He taught us about climates, trees, plants, animals, water, aquaculture and land and most importantly: how to create fertile soil! He showed us the most appropriate machinery for the preparation of the land (if we decide to use machinery) and for the production of alternative energy types and he shared a few strategies for an alternative nation. And much much more….
In amongst all the permaculture lessons, there were a lot of lessons about communal life, since we shared many of the duties of the kitchen and maintaining the space in general. We had issues with the internet, which was conducive to us becoming a lot more social…so we stayed up late some nights with conversations, song and dance. And we laughed a lot on the last night, because we all had to give some sort of performance…from dance to poetry and songs and theatrical performances…and that’s where many more talents were revealed!
From all of this experience, the most intense (and most urgent) messages that I received from this seminar are:
> Water: we have to slow it, spread it and sink it as much as we can into the soil with various harvesting methods. The most constructive technique involves trees and perennial plants in general, that help water retention in the soil. And of course: “The best way to save water is to use less!”.
> Soil: 100% cover, 100% of the time. This means that we must cover the soil with plants in order to increase the organic matter in the soil and therefore the amount of carbon. Carbon is the sponge that absorbs and retains water in the soil. If soil doesn’t have carbon, it can’t retain water. Every time that we plough, we release carbon from the soil and kill the microorganisms that are available to create good soil. We have cut, burnt and dug and that’s why our mountains are eroding and have become naked and our soil has become infertile. Water is falling, but it’s not staying. And if we don’t have soil, we don’t have food….
> We have to practice regenerative agriculture, in other words we have to help the soil to regenerate. Darren says that sustainability means to keep the earth at a stable level, but regeneration means that we give the earth the ammunition it needs to regenerate and evolve. We use only what nature gives us (natural materials) and we return it to her. We close the nutrient cycle and we don’t throw anything away.
> Have fun with it! Yes, we have a serious job to to but that doesn’t mean that we have to be serious and not have a good time while we do it. It’s important to take action, to enjoy every moment and reach the point we are reborn to become one with mother earth, because only if she’s well can we get better!