Friday, October 5, 2012

Our first Permaculture design courses

We have just finished our first 3 Permaculture design courses at Casalinho and it has been an incredible, extremely intense and hugely rewarding experience.  There were some challenges, from the interesting balance of managing 18 students, Lowarn (our very sociable and energetic 3 year old son) and having any time for ourselves, to the fact that it was all based on another site so that we had little control over the space and facilities provided, to a whole series of different peoples personal dramas and issues which emerged during the course and had to be expressed, worked out and moved beyond… teaching these sort of courses is definitely enriching and a fast track to personal evolution!!  Needless to say though, the learning curve was very very steep at times.  For us, the most important part and the greatest reward was the responses of the students who all said they enjoyed learning with us and were, on the whole, extremely positive about us and our teaching.  Each person’s experience was different of course but some found the course reaffirmed what they were already doing, for others it opened their eyes to a new way of looking at things, some found it rekindled their inspiration and reminded them of their own potential to act and make a change.  Here are a few of their comments….

“It was a great deal of information for 14 days only but a balance between quality and quantity was definitely achieved.”

“Very well explained and enjoyable.”

“A great experience.  Mind opening.  I feel I can now design a permaculture plan and I know where to start, to start my own permaculture sustainable community.”

“It was a joy and an honour to spend the two beautiful weeks with you.”

“Amazing. Inspirational! I think you have changed my life.  Thank you very much.”

“A large amount of info in a very short space of time!  But the quality was high especially in technical details.”
A really marked feature of the courses was the very wide diversity of people in terms of origin, background and previous knowledge.  The nationality list is immense; Portuguese, Brazilian, Australian, Filipino, Russian, English, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Chinese, Hungarian, American, Italian, Belgian, Isreali, Spanish and Scottish.  Luckily they all spoke and understood English, although there was a fair amount of multi-lingual translation going on around the class to clarify terminology and some ideas.
We use different methods of teaching as different subjects are better suited to different teaching styles and we are also in the process of developing the majority of the theory sessions into digital presentations which gives us much more scope for including photos, diagrams and time for group discussion etc. We are still using the white board for some of the sessions and we will always use it at times as it gives an extra freedom to explain points further, give detailed diagrams and create group mindmaps.  We believe that practical sessions are the most clear and effective way to learn this subject and it is best if students can come away with hands on experience of this practical skill which is Permaculture design.  We include various practical sessions throughout the course, it is a fine balance as there is a huge volume of material to cover in the syllabus but we are working towards teaching as much of the course as possible in practical ways.  This will develop with time.  Even still, in these last courses, there were a lot of practical activities and a lot was achieved for the venue including:
  • ·         Swales surveyed and dug
  • ·         Net and pan system dug around fruit trees
  • ·         Herb spiral built
  • ·         Two worm compost bath tubs set up
  • ·         A series of both sheet mulch and synergistic raised beds built
  • ·         A rocket stove made
  • ·         With the experienced help of Nuno Mamede, the adobe brick circular base of a pizza oven was built
Also, every morning, we had a short energiser session which included many different activities and games to wake everyone up, get moving, focus and ready ourselves for a day of learning.  Activities included:
·         Yoga/warm-up stretches
·         Different games, to illustrate ideas and to build group cohesion and trust
·         Circus skills
·         Observation/Site walks
·         Meditation/Inward focussing

The final practical exercise in which all the elements of the course come together, is the creation and presentation of group designs.  In the case of the courses we have just done, the participants were split into three groups and each group, in one and a half days of design time, successfully achieved some excellent designs, expressing each students knowledge and experience gained from the course.  We were really impressed by the high quality of the final designs created in such a short time and found it encouraging that they had all learnt so much.  It gives us confidence in our teaching methods and general approach to the subject.  Below is a small selection of their finished work.  

Our hope is that, next year, we can run some courses here at Foz da Cova.  We are currently building some of the facilities for it now.  We are working on a big 4m3 twin chamber compost toilet, a shower/ bathroom and hydro powered washing machine room.  We are building a really good team here so things are coming along well.
We are also currently arranging to do an Introduction to Permaculture course at Quinta do Sabugueiro, Felgueiras near Porto at the end of this month.  Watch this space for further info.



  1. lovely post. Great to spend time with you on these courses. Good Permaculture work :)