Here are the slides from my presentation at the National Permaculture Diploma Gathering 2014.
Here are the slides from my presentation at the National Permaculture Diploma Gathering 2014.
To give it a framework I have used the four action learning questions:
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 www.wildheartpermaculture.co.uk (transitioning now to www.emptycagesdesign.org) 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.
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!
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.
Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting deeply on the past year, what’s been achieved, what hasn’t and why and how I can re-design for 2012. I’ve used the 4 action learning questions :
What’s been going well?
What’s been challenging?
My long term visions & goals?
Next Achievable Steps – will be in my Zone 00 Implementation Plan
Decisions I’ve made following this year of learning:
Related to livelihood
– I don’t want to do consultancy work until Brook End is well developed
– I want to maximise opportunities & yields from Brook End before working in the community or for others
– I want to focus on projects that are truly regenerative (no domesticated animals)
– Rather than designing for individuals or families I want to empower people to become designers themselves e.g. PDC training, growing training rather than any ‘expert’ or consultant mentality
– I want to work on community projects that support my community to uses resources regeneratively & reduce inequalities, that are aligned with social justice aims
– I don’t want to do designs for farmers or smallholders with animals, don’t even want to be part of this world indirectly, these are oppressive systems
– I don’t want to design just for rich people e.g. landowners, I’d rather spend my time working for wealth re-distribution & access to land
– I’m not attracted to working at an agricultural level, after several months of reflection I still hold the belief that horticultural systems are those that are truly regenerative, agriculture is not my design niche or focus
What I’ve learnt about myself:
– I need to focus on regenerative animal-free systems, I feel its my calling. Animals don’t have a voice in farming circles and their oppression is still a central theme of permaculture
– No matter what job I get, what income it brings, or however many events I attend that are full of well educated, influential people, I am recalled over and over to my radical roots. I cannot loose hold of this vision.
– I am pagan, I feel a spiritual connection with the land that will always permeate my work & perspective. No matter how much of a reductionist scientific angle I use through my design work, I still fall back on my intimate relationships with the land and my self.
– I need to be working all day outside at least 2 days a week to recharge myself & support my mental health
– I’m a natural organiser & communicator, I feel like I’m alive when I’m busy & working with others for social change
– My role in permaculture is better suited to its implementation & scaling up rather than working as a land based designer
– I need to re-learn my relationship to wealth & prosperity
– I want to do more spiritual development work in 2012, i feel trapped in the left side of my brain sometimes
– That my learning pathway is never ending, re-learning all of these land based skills is going to take a long time! But that’s great!
– I need my work to be tangible and effective otherwise I feel disillusioned & disempowered
– My biggest fears are growing old with these radical politics & looking back wondering if I’d achieved anything at all
– I’ve learnt what I really love: organising for change, writing, designing, connecting with people, being on the land & what I’m good at: organising, writing, documentation, ‘getting things done’, maintaining focus & vision
– In answer to Derrick Jensen’s question ‘ Whats the biggest and most important problem I can solve with my unique gifts and skills?’ – ending animal agriculture & promoting plant based systems across the planet. Reclaiming food production & creating a horticultural society
– It doesn’t have to be one or the other, working for animal liberation can and does mean working for more regenerative, libertarian systems that benefit all life
– My role as a herbalist is that of a grower, kind cultivator and sharer of DIY herbal living
What I’ve learnt about permaculture:
– Its not just about producing attractive finished designs, its the process, the pathway
– There is a gap between the ideas and their implementation – what are these energy leaks? How can I support them?
– We need political organising to get ideas like permaculture implemented
– We still need resistance to industrial agriculture
– Every movement, set of ideas have their blindspots
– My role in permaculture is probaly best organising to spread it and build networks rather than any consultancy focused work
Therefore I want to re-orientated my pathway to focus my learning on:
– Skills & experiences that support me to develop Brook End successfully including practical land-based skills such as arboriculture & mushroom cultivation as well as how to design curriculums & livelihoods & lead Brook End as a successful place of learning
– Skills & experiences that will enable me to complete a productive, strategically effective masters on liberatory systems
– Liberation permaculture, liberation ecology and any ideas that embrace my radical edges
– Skills & experiences that will develop my work as a community organiser (paid & unpaid)
– Skills & experiences that will develop my teaching pathway
– Skills & experiences that will support my permaculture niches such as social design work, herbal medicine, animal free systems & community development
Courses & Learning
Maintaining an Orchard, LILI
Living Willow Sculpture
Social Media training with Cosmic
Fruit Tree Grafting, Karuna
Living Landscape talk with Patrick Whitefield
Ecological sewage treatment, CAT
Eco rainwater supplies, CAT
OU Env Science Field trip
Food Coop workshop
Aranya Diploma Support Intensive
Community Consultation, CSE
DST with Steve
Start with GALA/GAia uni
Regenerative Agriculture with Darren Doherty
National DAPD Gathering
Pagan Federation Wessex conference
Feminism in Action seminar
Food & Planning workshop, London
London Permaculture Festival
Geovation day, Southampton
Oak Dragon camp
Built WHP site, business cards etc
Talked at Parish Council
Positive News – 4 editions
Permaculture Mag – 2 x articles
Article in Herbfest
Re-edited oak dragon website
Brook End website
Food Group re-ignited
Designed Transition Glasto website
SCF Spring conference
Fruit trees for all
LAND visit to MWC
Reclaim the Fields Gathering
Allotments week press coverage
Fruit preservation workshop
SCF west somerset conference
Food Sovereignty Event in Somerset
Food Sovereignty Event in London
Transition Glastonbury health group world cafe
Carparthian, Defeater @ Croft
TRC @ Fleece
Rucktion Show @ Croft
Chains of Hate
Trial & Anchor
Trips to Cornwall x 2
Stayed with Greg in London & saw shady
Dad & Tarini visiting
Uncle Barry staying
Visiting Sam in HMP
Mates staying while Mum & Ian on holiday
Visiting Bridgend x 2
Last weekend I had the pleasure of hosting a Permaculture Diploma Support Intensive at Brook End tutored by Aranya. The weekend was an opportunity to have six lovely permaculture designers stay at my smallholding and give me lots of useful feedback and ideas of how to design around Brook End. It was also a chance to see how I would find being hostess, how much work it takes to keep everyone fed for the weekend while staying on top of the garden.
For those attending the Diploma Support Event it had been promoted that the weekend would help enable us to:
I would like to feel that all of us who were there felt these were achieved and indeed we learnt more. The Friday session began with all of us presenting our ‘rivers of permaculture’, these are basically records to show where we first heard the ‘P’ word and how we’ve ended up working towards our Diploma’s in Applied Permaculture Design. I was a bit nervous as I have to introduce my own ‘P’ word – prison, but everyone was non-judgemental and thought it was great that I had done a PDC to make use of my time in jail. With introductions out of the way. Aranya took us through what we were going to explore over the weekend.
We were also given a preview copy of Aranya’s book about the design process , already in the days since the event in working on my designs its proved invaluable. No longer do I have to continuously cross between different authors, now I’ve got a summary in my hands of how we go about designing systems! Watch this space for a full review when its released.
Following a tour of Brook End, we collectively chose a part of the land here to design around over the weekend, either so we can add it to our portfolios, or as a learning experience to get to grips with the design process (or both). We chose the orchard, which certainly gave us a lot of challenges in creating a base map. Soon enough we were outside measuring angles and distances and all sorts until we could draw a reasonable plan of what we’ve got growing.
Aside from saving me masses of work, it was great because I’ve never designed
around a site I know so well or that I am a client for! With our base map and site survey completed we moved on to the client interview, which was my chance to sit in the chair and put a spanner in the works of everyone’s ideas! Gary, a course participant, emphasised that if the design doesn’t meet the needs of the people living there then its not permaculture. So we could design the most complex, detailed, fantastically productive forest garden style orchard but if my Mum, Ian or I don’t have time to do it amongst everything else then its simply not going to work. So that was a really good learning point for me – to make Brook End manageable and feasible, it doesn’t have to be rammed to the rafters. Aranya emphasised getting the specifics out of your clients so you can develop SMART goals e.g. when they say they want to grow their own food.. how much? What varieties?
We then got set on processing all of this information with the design tools available. This analysis stage is invaluable. Part of this is looking at the difference between systems, functions and elements/components. Functions for the orchard included food production, social facilitation and access. We then explored all of the elements related to these functions. We did a whole web of connections between the orchards different elements e.g. me, chickens, trees and how often they’ d be connected – for example I visit the rescued chickens every day to let them roam free. Despite at times appearing like a brain drain, the web of connections is a really useful tool.
On the Sunday, with a completed plan in toe (and me being a happy kid for sure) we then spent the remainder of the time going over the diploma process. As Aranya has all the inside information on this malarky it was great to ask loads of questions and compare pathways with everyone else there. I realised that my moon in capricorn may be coming across as I pulled out all my charts and mind maps of what I wanted to achieve pus the insanely long list of goals (6 pages?) for my diploma. I realised when learning from everyone else that I need to break it down and keep it more focused – small and slow that’s for sure. I also realised that maybe I was too hard on myself and that actually I’m not doing too bad with my site and my first commission. I need to enjoy this time!
Part of the evening sessions was peer reviewing – that is looking at each others designs and diploma related work. I really enjoyed this and it was great to see some impressive and creative design work from those who came to stay. The second part of evening sessions was a glass of wine or quick trip to the pub, its not all hard work eh?
Another key learning point about the diploma is that it doesn’t have to be 10 perfect designs at all. Its a record of your learning journey of using the design processes, as soon as this clicked everyone was like ‘ahh’. I’d had visions of having to produce perfect amazing productive designs but its not what its about at all. Other key points I took from Aranya and other diploma apprentices who are further on their journey than I:
Some other totally random things I learned:
So now I look forward to really designing Brook End, this autumn following my full cycle analysis. I’m going to set aside loads of time with my family to really scrutinise what we want and design for it. I’m still on the look out for clients to add to my portfolio however, so if you are interested please get in touch.
As part of my pathway undertaking the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design each month I am reviewing my progress by answering the four ‘action learning questions’.
– What is going well for me as a permaculture apprentice?
– What’s been challenging for me as a permaculture apprentice?
– What are my long term visions and goals as a permaculture apprentice?
– What are my next achievable steps towards these visions and goals?
Below is my review for March.
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