As someone who has always felt a deep connection with the natural world, it feels right to harness that interest and launch into something that will allow me to “give back” to the environment and society.

When an opportunity arose to do a Permaculture Design Course at the Kulkul Farm in Bali, Indonesia – I could not resist signing up (thanks, Scott!). Since I have made a personal promise to only travel with purpose, Bali made it to the top of the list. Permaculture was a relatively new term to me, having delved a little bit in growing my own fruit and vegetables on a small plot of land while living in Bristol, United Kingdom…I was curious, and wanted to learn more.

Having trained as an Architect, Masterplanner, and Scuba divemaster, I always felt a great internal divide between the morals of development and the conservation of the environment. Just in my lifetime, I have seen so much degradation and destruction because of development; but while taking the course, I learned that profitable development and protection of the environment can in fact, go hand in hand. I felt immense relief and excitement upon this realisation and wanted to share how this is possible.

Going back to my farmer-girl roots is a delight…finding purpose and meaning in it is the icing on the cake!

Permaculture is not a new-fangled / hippy / hipster / yuppie / retiree way of life. It has actually existed for thousands of years, but it is only in the relatively recent past that the practice of permaculture penetrated the mainstream: being studied, taught, and replicated. I will not pretend that taking a 14-day course is enough to comprehend the depths of permaculture practice and thinking, but the foundation given to us to start with its principles will allow us to slightly tweak our lifestyles, businesses, and future plans.

I believe that acting on this foundation and taking small steps could, in fact, change the world…and we continue to develop this knowledge as we go along.

During the course organised and hosted by the awesome couple Orin and Maria of the Kulkul Farm, we experienced the enthusiastic guidance of Christopher Shanks[1] who travelled across the world to teach our diverse group. He took us on a journey, sharing his experiences and vast knowledge on how to utilise our land and water, plan, and design – while understanding the topography, ecology, and human aspects of any given site. His experience and knowledge from learning under great mentors and practising permaculture for over 16 years gave us a good foundation on what permaculture design entailed. It was not just about farming, but about designing in a system of resources efficiently, and adapting some traditional indigenous peoples’ practices in care for the land, whatever the scale may be.

Chris teaching us the Principles of Permaculture in the bamboo classroom of Kulkul Farm

Interestingly, having recently being initiated into a US-based charity that focuses on Indigenous Peoples[2] complimented my learning. The way indigenous peoples planned on their use of resources was based on looking to the past 3 generations – examining the successes and failures – and making decisions that would affect or help at least 4 future generations[3]. Today, we do not plan too far ahead. Many developments are built for a relatively quick turnover and profit, causing a long-term strain on limited and finite natural resources. I reflected on my profession as an architect and master planner, and how permaculture thinking could be applied to existing and new developments in the Philippines. I could not help but think that this is the way forward.

Before we move forward, we have to look back. The onslaught of insensitive rapid development, shopping malls, premium sports facilities (e.g. Country Clubs), golf courses, and severe lack of public parklands, kept green spaces away from the people apart from those that could afford a membership. Many of these places were planned to create a mono-culture of grass and few trees, much like the story of agriculture in our country; and not particularly being greatly beneficial to the environment or the local economy. Our most precious resources are arguably not in the mines or in oil wells.

Our most precious resources are our water and our soil. Without these, we cannot – and will not – survive. We have the ability to turn this into opportunity through applied design; and covering everything in concrete is not the answer.

Scott Godfredson, an Australian Landscape Architect currently based in Bali, ran a 2-day design workshop during our course. His work demonstrated how beautiful landscape design infused with the permaculture principles creates an aesthetically pleasing, functional, and productive site that goes hand-in-hand with thoughtful building architecture.

One of the definitions of permaculture given to us on Day 1: “Permaculture Design is a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components in a pattern, which functions to benefit life in all its forms. It seeks to provide a sustainable and secure place for living things on earth.”[4]

The most important take-away from the course in terms of the principles taught, was that everything is connected. To ‘provide a sustainable and secure place for living things on earth’ is our current challenge.

We are responsible for our survival – we care for the environment because we care for ourselves!

We need to break away from the linear way of living and planning, look at the bigger picture, and adapt a practice of cyclical thinking. For example: a forest cut down for development or mining will affect the fish populations, which threatens a great proportion of our food security. Unsustainable deep well digging for fresh water can eventually empty natural aquifers, potentially causing land collapse in areas with a particular geology – or can even draw salt water up into the water table in other places – this threatens our access to fresh water [4]. Bulldozing large areas of land to create flat agricultural surfaces destroys the topsoil and the balanced soil ecosystem – increasing the need for unnatural and chemical fertilisation. Perhaps some of us have experienced being in a flood or typhoon. The threats of erosion, water, power, and food shortages were part of my childhood, and I believe that these threats still exist in an even greater magnitude.

Through Permaculture Design, we can design for resilience, and move away from reactive solutions. We can capture water and recharge our aquifers while still designing or building a profitable housing development. We can farm in smaller spaces, use less or no chemicals and produce a higher biodiversity of varieties per hectare. Grown forests, through the practice of Agroforesrty, can still be treated as a productive resource while allowing endangered species to reproduce. We can give the land ‘back to the people’, whether they live in a crowded cityscape, high-rise apartments, in a village subdivision, or on a farm[5].

The definition of happiness will be found in self-sufficiency, and the human spirit of connection with Earth will be rekindled. The best part about this way of thinking and planning is that it is possible to apply these retrospectively.

We do not need to look far for solutions, but we do need to make sacrifices, which are rewarding in the long run. The government and developers must turn to more long-term planning and investment, seriously engaging experts who can help to create solutions that consider the cyclical nature of permaculture design.

Chris Shanks shows us how to design a site on sloping ground.

More and more I feel our mortality as the human species, and that our affinity to the outdoors and Nature must be renewed at every level…not just for the sake of Instagram likes, but for the sake of our future as a species on this planet.

On that note, check out #permaculture for inspiration. Have a look at @kulkulfarm (Bali) , @projectbonafide (Nicaragua) and @ranchomastatal (Costa Rica) to see what they are up to. You can also check out @karadlr (kara’s curiosity) on to see some previous posts on the daily activities of the Permaculture Design Course at the KulKul Farm with @christopher.shanks.

Follow @projectbonafide, @projectbonafide, @namastemesserschmidt for more on permaculture, agroforestry, and sustainable design.

If you would like to know more or have a chat about this, please contact me…I would be more than willing to share my enthusiasm for this awesome practice!

 

[1] www.projectbonafide.com

[2] Land is Life www.landislife.org

[3] (source: The Seven Generation Planning Sources – ‘Understanding Aboriginal Culture’ C. Havecker & Christopher Shanks lecture date 22nd April 2017)

[4] Christopher Shanks, Permaculture Design Notes April 2017

[5] An article on some case studies will follow.