It’s hard to know where to start - perhaps something personal? It’s a funny thing, but there is a strong Hong Kong connection within Circle Permaculture. I was raised there, and only left in the last decade. Wally was born there. Hong kong is an interesting place, not least for the growing environmental movement. Unsurprising really - it is a global centre for the legal and illegal trade of endangered species - everything from manta gills to shark fins, ivory to rhino horn. I often wonder if Hong Kong has more environmental organisations per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. There are local and international organisations dealing with everything from the protection of country park trails to plastic pollution in the South China Sea, to the endangered species trade to air pollution. It was of some interest therefore that we received a student from Hong Kong in the middle of the desert in Spain. Made me miss the people of Hong Kong quite a lot - they are responding to dramatic challenges, sociologically, politically and environmentally. By some measures, Hong Kong is now the 9th most polluted city on the planet. Our dear student, Joyce, had worked with the Jane Goodall Institute and worked with a local organisation to promote a vegetarian diet - Hong Kong represent! Then we found out there was a neighbour in the village also born in Hong Kong - uncanny!
We had a passionate talk on the second night by the activist David Dene, who is campaigning relentlessly for water rights in the area. This tied in powerfully with the early conversations about permaculture ethics, as BIll Mollison wrote: "We are fast approaching the point where we need refuge for all global life forms, as well as regional, national and state parks for indigenous forms of plants and animals." Dave’s work and collaboration with neighbours has seen the issue of aquifer exploitation in the local area taken to the UN and the EU. The village life that continues here is under direct threat - the last oasis of Europe is genuinely at risk of drying up within the next decade. It is the home of a wide variety of species - the river needs rights!
Dave produced a video - Every Drop Counts - late last year. Please watch and share https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1GKniiA-QA
As with all our courses, we follow the codified structure laid out by Bill Mollison’s encyclopaedic work, Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual. Local environments and people on site can create some interesting accents. We were lucky to receive some interesting talks, including one on the work of Janine Benyrus on biomimicry, a key concept in permaculture design. Check out her excellent Ted Talk. We seek in permaculture to use nature as a guide - possibly the best known example of this is biomimicking natural forest systems to create anthropocentric forest gardens.
The climate of the area is cold semi-arid, receiving less than 300mm of rain a year. A short time ago almost a years worth of rain fell in one day - catching water on site is a key strategy for the future survival of this village, especially in the face of the ecocidal agricultural activities a short distance away. When the rain falls here it can be devastating to the community, causing landslides and blocking the spring - water needs to be managed very carefully.
For now at least, there is a stunningly beautiful river. We were lucky to have a couple of classes there, as well as in the 'meditation garden' of tall white poplars, in a nearby cave and of course in the fabulous new dome Sunseed has invested in for spreading ecological education. We loved it! Circular learning environments are right up our alley, so the dome provided an excellent environment for interaction.
We like to get to know our 'bible', the illuminating work of BIll Mollison, A Designer's Manual. Almost everyone had a go at picking something to read from it over the fortnight, but this is perhaps the one that resonated with a lot of people:
"In the USA , it is estimated that 16 million acres were devoted to the lawn by 1978.... at that time lawns were considered to be the single largest 'crop' system in the USA, requiring 573 kilocalories per square metre to maintain-more than the production of corn or vegetables. The yields of this agriculture create a massive public disposal problem, consisting as they are of poisoned grass waste, rich in Dieldrin, DDT, biocides and nitrogen.
Millions of litres of petrol are used in lawn and turf maintenance. By 1978 lawns used 15-20% of the annual fertiliser production of the USA; equal to that used on the total food production of India... 44% of domestic [water] consumption in California is used for lawns....
Let us now say that every society that grows extensive lawns could produce all its food on the same area, using the same resources, and that world famine could be totally relieved.... Thus we can look at lawns like double garages and guard dogs, as a badge of wilful waste, conspicuous consumption, and lack of care for earth or its people."
I digress. But this whole book is quotable.
The community spirit of Sunseed provided an excellent nurturing environment for learning. We had several great practical experiences to show people how permaculture in practice can really work. Consider housing - it is possible to build a house with minimal financial commitments on a small area of land. As homes have become ever more expensive, particularly in urban and suburban areas, it is important to share with people that there is a clear alternative. It can also be awesomely fun building! To drive this home, we rolled around a bit in the mud and slapped up a cob wall. Ok, ok, the teacher got a little carried away. Permaculture has a lot to do with empowerment - with an emphasis on eco-building we like to remind people that it is absolutely possibly to build beautiful homes on very low budgets, and break out of the debt structures that people often find themselves blindly led into. We like to break up our courses with fun practicals. In all we had the opportunity to introduce students to eco-building, fermentation (yield extension), hot composting, vermicomposting, measuring contour, mapping and a fabulous wild foraging exercise for a lunchtime salad, with wonderful Liselotte, the Sustainable Living Coordinator - the best things in life are free! Have you ever had a borage flower melt in your mouth? Liselotte finished our PDC course a year ago and stayed on. As always it was absolutely wonderful to see her in action, spreading her positivism and enthusiasm for earth care!
Another PDC graduate was on hand too - Jon, the gardens coordinator introduced the class to mapping, which was a lot of fun. In fact, observation is the key in permaculture, and between A-Frame building (for contour measurement), mapping, and a third observational exercise, the group got to know the area they were set to work on pretty well! Jon will be with us in August in Portugal at the Cherry Pond Quinta for the first PDC there. We're really excited that he's moving towards education, and that we can play a role in assisting him teach others about permaculture.
Perhaps one of the most interesting talks given was by Armelle, Facilitation Coordinator, an
artist and cognitive scientist with a PhD in the dynamics of change. She broke down into small pieces the three dimensional structure of Sunseed brilliantly. With a small white board and a pen, sitting under the trees she captivated the group for almost 2 hours with an explanation of the how the community works, sociocracy, legal issues and the economic challenges faced. It's always important to remember that many well-meaning individuals/ groups/ associations/ organisations inside and out of the world of permaculture fail due to neglect of these issues.
The design challenge on this PDC was a tricky one. Sunseed has an abandoned terrace, and they have built a dome on it. It is intended to be the educational heart for all future courses. The terrace measures about 750m2. The challenge was to design out the area so that it would be a self maintained perennial system supporting education for the future. What incredible results we had - exciting, implementable plans for the site! The teams worked really hard on their first permaculture projects, and for us as teachers it is immensely rewarding to see great presentations.
But a residential 2 week intensive PDC is not complete if it doesn't include 2 essential elements. The first being food. Sunseed consistently served up excellent vegetarian feasts - thank you to all the folks who spent time preparing delicious food over the fortnight! Second, time for celebration is really important - there was always room for spontaneous jamming sessions, hikes and time by the river. We had an excellent jam night with Timbe at the end of the first week at Pita Escuela, an organisation dedicated to raising the profile of the magical agave plant. Timbe produces amazing products, including didgeridoos made from the magnificent stem of the flower of the plant, produced after 25 years of life, and just before it dies. The course was topped off with an epic 'no-talent' show that failed to live up to its name. Everything from songs, to stand-up, to shadow puppets, classical guitar performances, space-drum hulahoop combos... It was a truly memorable evening.
Connections were made, peoples lives changed for the better. Some inhibitions were shed. Dots were connected. No one who took this course will ever forget their two weeks at Sunseed. The words of the late Gil Scott-Heron come to me:
Planet Earth; third from the Sun of a gun, 360 degrees.
And as the new worlds emerge
stay alert. Stay aware.
Watch the Eagle! Watch the Bear!
Earthquaking, foundation shaking,
bias breaking, new day making change.
Accumulating, liberating, educating, stimulating change!
Tomorrow was born yesterday.
From inside the rib or people cage
the era of our first blood stage was blotted or erased
or TV screened and defaced.
Remember there's a revolution going in in the world.
One blood of the early morning
revolves to the one idea of our tomorrow.
Homeboy, hold on!
Now more than ever all the family must come together.
Ideas of freedom and harmony, great civilizations
yesterday brought today will bring tomorrow.
We must be about
earthquaking, liberating, investigating
and new day making change in
We look forward to returning in early September - we love you Sunseed!!