That trip was serendipitous for another reason - I was en route to Vale da Lama to meet Rosemary Morrow, and attend a course on how to structure PDC’s. On that trip I had the fortune to meet the wonderful Wally Toughill, and we have formed a strong teaching partnership since early 2016. Unbelievably, we attended the same primary school in Hong Kong (though he is somewhat younger)!
Quinta da Fornalha is very beautiful, featuring orchards of figs, carob, olive and oranges, as well as a lovely lake and several annual vegetable gardens. Products sold from the farm are certified organic, and they have pioneered a variety of products including carob spreads and fig chutneys. Attached is a small B&B. Animals abound, from the chickens and ducks that roam freely spreading their fertility (“I need to fence in the chickens and let the vegetables go free, not the other way around,” Rosa quips, referring to the chicken tractor concept) to the amphibians, reptile and bird life, to the abundant insect life all the way to the microfauna that is so essential for the survival of an ecological farm. Inside the farm house, a converted stable, there is a formidable library about all things sustainable, including a 1984 Portuguese translation of Permaculture One.
Carob is a particularly interesting product that is making a comeback. With the rise of tourism across the Mediterranean, this once great pod fell out of favour. Ironically associated with poverty in some parts, the Cypriots considered the Carob to be ‘black gold’ such was its value. In fact, the word ‘carat’ used to weigh gold, derives from the carob seed. Organisations like Casita Verde (where we held courses in 2014 and 2015) in Ibiza are helping to make carob cool once more.
As always, we followed the 72-hour course structure as codified in 1984 by Bill Mollison. The content on this course was particularly rich, and punctuated with fun practicals and site tours, including a hot compost, tree planting, contour measurement and fermentation. In fact, the group made one of the finest sauerkrauts I’ve ever had. All our courses are supported with our mobile library featuring core texts from Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, Masanobu Fukuoka, Brad Lancaster and the work of Elaine Ingham to name a few.
One of the classes that really thrilled everyone was the social, economic and legal structures required to organise a farm of this scale (32ha, fig main crop). Rosa’s talk on the reality of farm life ensured that this PDC was based in the real world. Often people come to PDC’s to learn what to do with a piece of land that they have bought or intend to buy. As we like to frequently remind people, being self-sufficient does not mean being totally cut-off. Or as Bill Mollison wrote:
A basic question that can be asked in two ways is
“What can I get from this land, or person?” or
“What does this person, or land, have to give if I cooperate with them?”
Of these two approaches, the former leads to war and waste, the latter to peace and plenty. [A Designers’ Manual, Bill Mollison, 1.2 Ethics]
Rosa could not stress enough the importance of reaching out to community, partnering and influencing local government, working with traditional farmers to show them how to shift out of industrial agriculture, and reading law as it pertains to your land in your country. Her knowledge after years of study and practice is encyclopaedic. Indeed, the people working at the quinta often commented that they were like family. The triple bottom line is important - but never forget that there is always a bottom line necessary to get the wheels turning.
As well as this, she recalled how prior to the economic crisis her peers mocked her for her adventures into ecological farming. She built into the farm resilience by spreading her income across multiple platforms - food production and processing, eco-tourism, salt harvesting, government subsidies and one or two other revenue streams. When the economic crisis last decade took hold, though things were not easy, their farm survived, and she was able to manage old loans to the bank that had threatened the very existence of the farm. It has been a long process, but one she has learned a lot from - so much so that she now mentors farmers across Portugal.
A blog on the course would not be complete were we not to mention the wonderful Maria Joao, who prepared everything we ate during the course. The food was excellent - hearty soups, tasty mains and consistently delightful in-between snacks of cakes and savoury bakes. But Maria Joao became particularly relevant as we used her forthcoming house move as the basis for the final design project - in effect, she became the client. The challenge for the participants was to design in groups a small scale intensive system that would take into account all of Maria-Joao’s needs and provide her with comfort, mitigating the blistering hot Algarve summers and cold wet winters, the strong coastal winds and other energies that will pass through her site.
There was a poignancy in the group as well, with some very personal shares of loss mingled with the frequent reminders of rebirth - there were 3 mothers with their children on the course. I found this common reminder of motherhood very special, for it was the passing of my mum some years ago that led me down the road of permaculture. On the course one participant announced she was pregnant! Another mother and daughter combo worked on their final design together. And finally we had baby Bodhi, who enjoyed frequent lake visits and excursions through the farm whilst his dear mum smashed her way through the challenging 2 week curriculum. We often receive requests from mothers with young children to attend our courses and are rarely able to accommodate them, an issue worthy of a blog itself on inclusion - on this course alone we had 3 such requests.
So a number of firsts on this course - our first PDC at Quinta da Fornalha, our first time being able to accommodate a mother and child on a course and our first time awarding Permaculture Association UK endorsed certificates.
The PDC at Quinta da Fornalha was avery special experience indeed, and one that nearly didn’t happen. We scraped by on attendance - in total we had 6 students - our smallest PDC to date. But 6 started, and 6 finished: a resilient lot. We are very thankful for everyone that attended the Circle Permaculture PDC at Quinta da Fornalha and wish them the very best in their future endeavours in earth care!
We plan to repeat this course in early October 2017 - see you there!