Slideshow from my Permaculture Diploma Presentation

Here are the slides from my presentation at the National Permaculture Diploma Gathering 2014.

My reflections on completing the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design

IMG_0248This piece of writing serves as a reflection of my experience completing the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design in the Permaculture Association GB model.

To give it a framework I have used the four action learning questions:

What went well?

The Diploma came into my life at a time when I really needed it. I had been out of prison only a month or so and was trying to find my place in the world again after experiencing heavy state repression. I was unable to talk to 99% of my friends or anyone concerned with ‘animal welfare’ for the next 21 months of my life. I had completed my permaculture design course in prison and as such, had never met anyone into permaculture. I had never interacted with the permaculture movement.

Completing the diploma gave me an opportunity to connect with others, find meaning and purpose, re-design my life and heal.

Unlike Gaia University, which is hugely international and where face to face interaction with other associates is limited, the diploma has an established network of apprentices in the UK. There are annual ‘National Diploma Gatherings’, where sometimes over 100 apprentices get together. You can also meet people at other events and online.

The highlight of the diploma for me was cultivating this supportive ecosystem – developing nested networks of friends, comrades, associates who like a web of mycelia, all support each other, share information and help each other to grow.

I have had the privilege of meeting many incredibly inspiring, skilled and compassionate people.

The diploma gave me the impetus to document my work, and therefore create a portfolio of evidence of everything I was doing towards my goals. My website (transitioning now to generated new opportunities, contacts and paid work. Being able to document your work in a unique way, has allowed me to create, and increasingly optimise my own niche. At the beginning of the Diploma I was scared of wearing my heart (and my politics) on my sleeve, in case I ‘put off’ potential clients, or triggered my probation officer! However, over time, I grew in confidence which allowed me to increasingly integrate my political worldviews, history and passions with permaculture.

Many people are intimidated by the freedom of the diploma. For me however, it supported me to thrive. I had found traditional educational models repressive and struggled with my kinaesthetic learning style to enjoy academic essays or laborious coursework that only a teacher reads. The diploma allowed me to gain the skills I needed in a way I wanted to.

I could follow my passions and follow the ‘desire lines’ of my personal and professional goals.

In terms of what went well, financially I was able to very skillfully manage my pathway. I was hugely supported by the Vegetarian Charity, who paid for the diploma (and PDC). I also accessed grant funding from the Prince’s Trust to do a RegenAG course and RHS horticulture course, amongst other grants. After volunteering with local charity, Somerset Community Food, for 6 months, a position became available and I got it. So I landed a well paid, part time job aligned with my ethics. Being at Brook End meant I could host design courses and events in exchange for free places. I used my skills as an organiser to organise workshops and events, where I could up-skill myself at the same time. Over the few years, I managed to increasingly develop my agroecological and design skillflexes. My Auntie Edna passed away when I was in prison and left me a couple of grand, which also opened many doors in terms of being able to buy books etc and not just be on the breadline like I had been historically.

Finally, there was Brook End. I came out of prison to a permaculture paradise. My mum had married again when I had left home, together they needed somewhere where they could look after my Step Dad’s elderly mother. She had the finance and they had the will. They found Brook End and built an annex for her. This beautiful land has become my home. After never growing up with access to land and after two years of being in a cage, this place impacted my soul in a way I cannot describe. It allowed me to see the cycles of nature every day, allowed me to gain real-life design experience and navigate the complexity of communal living. I could experiment and build relationships with plants. We could create the teaching tool and demonstration site that makes everything possible to achieve our family’s dreams and visions.

Above all, the diploma really did embody the design process for me. Now it feels completely natural to start from a survey, observation and work through the process before making decisions. Every part of my life is touched, from how my bedroom is laid out, to how I design campaign work. I have fallen in love with learning again and I feel more consciously able to interact with the world.

What was challenging?

For me, the diploma came at a challenging time of my life. My license conditions meant that I was extremely socially isolated for nearly 2 years. I had a constant fear of being re-called to prison. I was unable to talk to my closest friends, including my co-defendants. I was on benefit and didn’t think anyone would employ me. I had just gained a certificate in horticulture and permaculture design, however had no other qualifications except school level ones and I had dropped out of college. All my work experience was in care work and it was unlikely I would work in this area again with my criminal record.

At first I found interacting with the permaculture movement challenging. No one can disagree that it is an overwhelmingly middle class, white movement. I initially felt quite politically isolated. I found the ethics quite weak in terms of a framework. I found there to be little attention to power relationships, or the systemic root causes of social and ecological problems. I find a lot of lifestyle politics hard to swallow and the positive/everything is great attitude can sometimes really grate me!! My worldviews around animal agriculture have also made the permaculture movement incredibly challenging to interact with.

Over time, however, I have learnt to be less judgemental. I have accepted that the edge is where the action is, and remained open to what can be created where these two lines cross.

I have found some real allies and permacuturalists like Graham Burnett have been a continuing source of inspiration!

As a system, there were also a few challenges with the diploma in and of itself. In hindsight I wish I had received feedback after each design as a stand alone project. I found the feedback too little too late, and was unable to really stretch my edges as a designer because of this. The tutorial support I did have was definitely always valuable however. I found the design support events and peer feedback some of the most useful ways of accessing feedback to improve my design skills.

Finally there were the accreditation challenges! I feel like its taken me about two years to accredit! I would organise an accreditation event for about 6 months time, and then something would happen to either myself or my tutor Aranya. Once I’d lost that window, the diploma was then sent straight to the back of the to-do list.

I guess this was the biggest challenge of all – doing the huge amount of documentation necessary while trying to survive capitalism, be a good friend, grow food, organise and resist. Small and slow solutions kept me going and design by design I made it through!

Long term visions and goals

Nature is my learning pathway. There is so much to learn!! I will strive to keep learning from the land, being an observer and interacting with care and humility.

I want to continue to develop my design skills. Being a diploma tutor, means that I am committed to continuously documenting my design work. I am also still completing my MSc Political Agroecology with Gaia University.

I would like to now focus on tutoring and supporting more people to pro-actively engage with the diploma in the South West, perhaps organising more focused events and peer support.

I am planning to develop my new website so that it is more of a learning resource for apprentices and others interested in permaculture, agroecology etc. In terms of developing skills, you can see my MSc learning pathway design here. I would like to learn how to use computer software to improve the quality of my design work. There are also huge areas of permaculture that remain unchartered territory for me, such as natural building or energy systems. I know that my skill flexes around these will develop when needed (like when building a home for myself in the future at Brook End maybe!).

Overall, my long term vision is to support a thriving community of learners that are building a new world from the bottom up, one rooted in ethics, ecology and equality. Where design is an accessible toolkit to more than the privileged that supports communities to meet their needs in socially and ecologically just ways.

Next Achievable Steps

  • Complete my Tutor Portfolio on the Permaculture Association website.
  • Better advertise my tutoring and advising services.
  • Do my accreditation presentation at the National Diploma Gathering!

Designing for the long haul

When I’ve been doing design work for other people recently I’ve thought, how come I can manage to set aside the time to design their gardens or smallholdings but struggle to do everything I desire in terms of designing my own? This has been a pattern for that last year and a half. The first year I put it down to the need to observe for a year before interacting. But then a year came and I got a massive body of work done, mainly relating to zone 1 systems such as the veg patch and herb garden but the orchard and woodland remain undesigned when I’d expected myself to dive straight in to creating a forest garden paradise and medicinal woodland – its everything I’d ever dreamed of.

But then it occurred to me. It feels like I’ve almost left the best until last – these are some of the most perennial systems in our smallholding, trees that will outlive me and be there for my grandkids (or my sisters, ha!). The systems least designed in detail are also those with a relationship to my livelihood – something that is hanging in the balance of a grant application that I will know the results of next month. If we’re unsuccessful it means growing becomes a core part of my polylivelihood and how I relate to the land will rapidly change to the present where I currently mainly grow for family self-reliance.

I feel like this observation of my learning cycle has turned a problem into a solution. I’ve gone from feeling disempowered (still haven’t done that, my portfolio isn’t complete, why am I prioritizing other systems etc) to feeling empowered – I am honouring the time it takes to design deeply – to interact with the land with a lifetime in mind. I am still so much at the beginning of my learning journey, still meeting & befriending trees that will grow old with me, still learning of the medicine of plants and their roles in our ecosystems. Still figuring out what I really want, what my family really wants underneath the formal design questionnaire. Still trying to see the connections in my head and my heart.

So, you haven’t got pen to paper either? Honour it, flow with it but keep recording everything that is surfacing and when the time is right it will come. I’ve started to trust the design process now on my diploma journey. When I’ve been worrying into the night about a paid client and that I can’t vision a solution for their system, I’ll wake up and its there, and I roll with it and through all that design analysis, left and right brain, a design is born of the process. So all I’m saying to any other designers, or diploma apprentices, is trust the process! Give design work time to breath, honour it and value just how much time it takes to design a system that will hopefully regenerate for a lifetime beyond your own.

Zone 00 Design Review – Analysis & Re-design

Wow that is a hell of a lot of projects! I have even surprised myself!!!

But what has been the inputs to achieve all of these outputs? What has made the difference between making the above happen and not? What hasn’t been achieved that I would have liked to achieve? Which elements have I enjoyed the most?

I have decided to use the PNI tool:

– Being more strict about garden time (anchoring 2 days per week min) has meant more work being done on the Brook End design implementation = better mental health, more rest & sleep from being at home, improved family harmony from making progress at Brook End
– Reclaim the Fields work – is really taking off!
– Having 4 days off in Cornwall with my partner = really nourished my soul & our relationships, recharged my batteries

– Other than No Dig gardening workshop, transition food group work has felt like its gone out the window recently = too many projects, lack of attention to some that involve leadership & then suffer
– Exam revision = felt like I could not do what I wanted to do as I had to revise, stress led to bit of a bad temper, other projects went by the wayside
– Diary on 24th Feb shows I was nervously exhausted, why? = exam stress, grant application (working way more than set hours at work), hardcore show & late night, bus travel, no time for rest  or switch off.
– Stress associated with fruit trees for all = orders not picked up, lots of work created

– I actually really enjoyed organising the fracking meeting, I felt ‘in my element’ doing resistance type work & actually the whole night didn’t feel like it work because it was also generating social yields (hanging out with lovely new people)

Zone 00 Re-design or ‘Tweak’

– Don’t do exams or courses that I am not fully engaged with!
– Batch process certain tasks as suggested in the 4 hour work week e.g. website updating
– If I know I am going to have a full-on week, honour it & keep the weekend free for a lie in!
– Keep to my work hours & log time accurately
– Be very clear about voluntary energy for projects
– Stack in social functions to make projects & group work more enjoyable (e.g. why do I enjoy doing RTF work – because I click with the age groups, histories, passions of the people etc)
– I need to allocate more time or be more realistic about how long journeys take & cost financially & energetically & try to reduce the number of them I take e.g. Oxford, Brighton, Bristol
– See my girl more because it chills me out & keeps me focused!

Zone 00 Design Review – Survey

As we’ve move into March I’ve taken the opportunity to undertake some design reviews. My aim is to evaluate the implementation of my designs so far as to best harness my learning. With so much going on I need to be more focused & effective then ever so I’ve broken down all of my projects to help identify the work that is remaining & help me capture and store this learning for the future.

My Zone 00 Design has been the most prominent design this year, climaxing at Imbolc when I submitted it as an output packet for my Gaia Uni pathway. Zone 00 is the self – so basically the design looked at all of my different areas of interests, passions, fears, patterns and so forth (it will all get uploaded online soon) & I aimed to re-design my life to be:

  • more focused
  • more effective in my productivity (so not just busy but effective)
  • more balanced (designing for self care, rest & rejuvenation)
  • more congruent with who I am & to express all sides of my self (including the radical politics, earth based spirituality, sexuality and so forth).

3 months in and its time to review. So how can I best design a review?

Survey: A review of outcomes & projects from January 2012:

Community Organising
– Spoke about Reclaim the Fields at the Oxford Real Farming conference
– Attended Transition Glastonbury 2011 review & strategic planning day
– Distributed 60+ trees in Glastonbury for Fruit Trees for All project
– Organised public meeting about fracking in Glastonbury, formed local group & gained TV coverage
– Organised no dig gardening workshop in Glastonbury attended by 15 people
– Helped plan & promote the Reclaim the Fields spring gathering which I unfortunately could not then attend due to legal reasons (super frustration!)
– Initial meeting about Somerset Earth Skills Group, local DIY skill sharing group

Self Care & Spirituality
– Did ceremony for Imbolc at Brook End, bought new Brigid pendant
– Visited stone circle at Avebury & had ceremony with oak dragoners
– Ink sessions – new sleeve, half finished!
– Spent 4 nights in St Ives, Cornwall with my partner for rest & rejuvenation

Learning Pathway
– Undertook first half of permaculture teacher training course
– Submitted 4th Gaia Uni output about Zone 00 design
– Undertook 2 whole days (& 2 weeks of revision!) of RHS advanced certificate horticulture exams
– Attended Gary Finch’s permaculture diploma accreditation event in Dorset & was on the peer review group
– Main recent self ed has been around: popular education, community organising vs activism, new agroforestry book

Brook End
– Had site visit & interview from Permaculture Association about Brook End becoming a LAND centre
– Finished installing paths around veg bed
– Weeded fruit bed & sowed red clover, built strawberry beds
– Divided veg bed & laid internal paths
– Pruned all fruit trees in Orchard & elsewhere
– Cleared fruit cage area
– Ordered root stocks & took scion cuttings
– Planned rotation & seed order with Mum

Wild Heart Permaculture Work
– Did site visit to land for community project in Bristol
– Undertook site visit, survey & design questionnaire for new client on levels near Glastonbury, very exciting & enjoyable!
– Commissioned new logo
– Have been working on website re-design
– Opened new bank account, ready to register self employed
– Have become part of the Research group with the permaculture association

Work – Incredible Edible Somerset Design
– Launched Incredible Edible Somerset ning website
– Attended action on poverty meeting
– Planned Get Up & Grow – therapeutic horticulture day & other mental health training with South Somerset Mind
– Held 2 public meetings in 2 Somerset districts for people looking for land
– Helped fund community forest garden in Axbridge, gaining local media coverage as well as other projects
– Undertook epic grant application!

Dissemation/Radicle Writes
– Wrote diploma article for Permaculture Magazine
– Wrote book review for Permaculture Magazine
– Wrote documentation article for Permaculture Works
– Wrote articles for Positive News: one on Oxford farming conference, 3 other permaculture articles (column, interview with Looby on people care, DVD review of the growing edge DVD)

Peter & the test tube babies, Fleece
Antisect, Fleece
Sheer Terror/Knuckledust, Croft
Deafheaven, Croft