MSc End of Year Presentation with Gaia U – Agroecology, Prison Aboltion and more

After five long, hard and incredible years, I am finally about to graduate with an MSc Applied Agroecology!

On the 13th November 2018 at 10am US Pacific Time (18:00 UTC), I will be hosting my End of Year Presentation.

The presentation is 45 minutes followed by questions and answers and feedback. The whole call is 1.5 hours but you can stay as long or as short as you like. I would really appreciate folks being there.

The call will go over what I have learnt during my MSc in the fields of agroecology, food autonomy, prison abolition and more. It will share outcomes of my projects, as well as key learnings. It will also share the back story of how I manage my learning pathway and my life to make things happen. So it’s a good chance to also learn more about Gaia University and its approach to education.

To register visit:



Deconstructing & Decolonizing Science for Agroecology

Deconstructing & Decolonizing Science for Agroecology

Next week I will be giving my Middle of Year Presentation with Gaia University. You are super welcome to join the webinar! It’s 4pm UK time.

“During this webinar, Nicole will share her work on deconstructing science – specifically how applied agroecological science, such as soil science or plant ecology, is inseparable from agrarian social thought and social movements. This call aims to begin conversations on deconstructing science, exploring its historical and contemporary relationships to the state, capitalism, and colonialism while still embracing critical research and inquiry.

There will be a short presentation follow”

Report: Education for Agroecology

OP2 Eduction for AgroecologyI am currently in the process of completing an MSc Political Agroecology with Gaia University. It’s pretty slow-going as a part-time endeavor amongst all my other projects and all the stressful challenges I’ve had to contend with at late!

However, I am excited to share my second Project Report for my Capstone Year. It’s called Education for Agroecology and you can find it here:

In this report, I share the key findings of my research exploring education and agroecology. I have sought to discover successful models from around the world that have been inspiring and supporting people to practice agroecology; the application of ecology to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems. Agroecology has been described as a whole-systems approach to agriculture and food systems development based on traditional knowledge, alternative agriculture and local food system experiences. The field of agroecology has been framed as both a science, movement, and practice.

This report shares the insights into how successful agroecology learning opportunities have been designed, structured and resourced. It also includes commentary on the various curriculums, as well as the common forms of pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching). Finally, it highlights the role of education in accelerating agroecology and gives recommendations to organisers and educators in this field.

I would love to hear your feedback. Drop me an email at

Learning Intentions Pathway Design

I have just submitted my  learning intentions and pathway design (LIPD) for my capstone year with Gaia University. (You can see work from my pre-capstone phase completed in April 2013 – March 2015 here.)

I am now half way through my MSc Political Agroecology . Political Agroecology explores the power relationships in our food systems. My strategic focus is how we can accelerate the speed and scale of the transition to agroecological practices around the world. To read more background information on my Masters and what I haves explored to date, please see my here.

The purpose of the LIPD

The purpose of the output is to share my learning intentions with my peers in my field. It is a way of communicating the personal and professional work I intend to engage with during my capstone year. It is an invitation for feedback from peers and professional reviewers.

The late Donella Meadows described how you can’t control systems – you can only design and re-design. My learning journey is itself a system, which I am unlikely to be able to control as unexpected challenges emerge in my life and projects. However I can gain strength from a design process that allows me to re-design and respond to changes. This LIPD is a dynamic document that I can continuously refer to as I engage in my pathway. It is a compass and a map that has emerged from conscious and intentional thinking.

What this output contains

This piece of work shares my goals – what I want to learn and achieve on personal, professional, political and project levels. I used these as a guiding point to design projects and self-education activities that can support me to achieve these learning desires.

In this output you will find detailed output packet designs and project plans that have emerged from the design process. The OP also contains a design for my own learning support system. Many associates find it difficult to achieve their learning goals while navigating the challenges of surviving capitalism, caring for others, engaging with demanding projects and so forth.

This learning support design is my attempt to design and cultivate a system that can help me not only survive but thrive, through optimising beneficial relationships, accessing support, anchoring positive patterns and habits and designing-in deliberate tracking systems that can accelerate my own action learning.

Essential aspects of implementation are also included, for example my SMART targets, a budget, resource lists and provisional timetable.

Finally, this output contains commentary on this entire process. The reflections centre on my experiences creating this output, the tools I used, my participation with Gaia University during the process as well as more in-depth reflection from entries in my learning journal.

Read my LIPD here:

Output 5 Learning Review complete!

After two years of work, I have finally come to the end of my first year completing my MSc Political Agroecology with Gaia University.

At the end of a cycle Associates produce a ‘Learning Review’. I completed mine December 2014 through to March 2015. Its aim is to document, evidence, review and reflect upon the diverse and powerful learning and transformation I experienced in my pre-capstone year.

You can read it here:


End of Year Presentation

I’ve finally finished the first year of my MSc Political Agroecology with Gaia University. Its taken me over two years to get through this first phase. Studying, documenting, researching and sharing my work while in the midst of starting a workers cooperative, organising projects & campaigns and managing four acres of land has been a challenge! Thankfully with its liberating structure and abundant support networks, I have never felt alone. Please see some of my key learnings in my end of year presentation below:

Meet the Designer: Benjamin Vidmar (Svalbard, Arctic Ocean)

Inside a spare hotel room, on one of the most northern places on earth, something magical is happening. Plants are growing, worms are composting waste, and people are feeling re-connected to food in a world of mining and monetary extraction.

Meet Benjamin Vidmar, Director of Polar Permaculture Solutions. Benjamin has been working on creating a permaculture system in Svalbard, part of a group of Islands in the Arctic Ocean. A maze of bureaucracy and complexity, with contested land use and a transient population, are some of the challenges he is facing.


Benjamin’s passion for food runs deep, going to culinary school aged 19, then traveling his way round the world by cheffing on ships.

“For a long time, I felt like I had been practicing permaculture, but I didn’t know it was called permaculture,” says Benjamin.

In August 2013, Benjamin finally signed up for a permaculture design course, with Whole Systems Design in Vermont. Soon enough he was hooked, enrolling in the International Diploma of Permaculture Design in September 2013 with Gaia University.

Since beginning his diploma, Benjamin has been focused on developing closed-loop systems on the Island. Its ecology is fascinating. Home to 3,000 polar bears, for 3.5 months of the year there is 24 hour daylight. For 3.5 months there is total darkness.

The busy season between February and May consists of people visiting and playing with dog sleds and snow mobiles. In June and July cruise ships visit the Island. There is a town, school and shopping centre, which everyone goes to. Imported vegetables are in plastic and there is no fresh food.

Everything here is flushed down drains. Nothing can stay here. All the rubbish needs to be shipped back down to Norway and then sent by trucks to Sweden. There is so much energy and resources tied up in simply dealing with our waste. — Benjamin Vidmar

Benjamin is experimenting with some of the ways to close the loops and save energy and resources. His experiments started with simple coffee grinds, and growing mushrooms on them in a spare hotel room. Having imported hydroponic resources to grow fresh salad, Benjamin, once again challenging the logic of it all, decided to try to make his own compost instead. Now he has wormeries eating the food scraps from the hotel, and slowly but surely, he is creating a medium to make the production more sustainable.

“It’s like living on the moon,” says Benjamin. “We don’t have anything growing; no trees, only rock and snow. Grass and flowers grow in the summertime but you always feel like something is missing. You get depressed and you miss what other people take for granted.

Everyone makes so much money but people are still not happy. People walk around like zombies in this tax free place. The only things that are cheap are the bad things — alcohol, cigarettes and so forth. Good food is very expensive. I’ve asked myself, “Why are we not happy here? I think its because we’re out of touch with Nature.”

Benjamin describes that moment of joy when kids come and see his worms, feeling and re-establishing a connection to the earth.

Learning about permaculture has helped me to focus my energy. Now I observe more and watch and wait before making decisions. Before I would just want to dive into everything so quickly. I can see now that everything is patterns and it can take time to put things in the right place.

Benjamin wants to convene a Permaculture Design course on the island and his long term plans are to develop a Permaculture Research Centre, that could experiment with how to make the island, and other similar places, more sustainable.

I’ve been here six years and fallen in love with it. Its such a magical place. Everything is extreme, there is no in-between. It makes you appreciate life.

For more about Benjamin’s work visit:

Meet the Designer: Laura Kaestele

Laura Kaestele

Not many 20 year olds would be embracing permaculture, traveling the world and taking action to gain the skills they need for people care and ecological restoration. Laura Kaestele from Germany is an inspiring exception to the rule.

At 16 Laura moved into an intentional community, supporting it to grow from an idea into an established community, where she would develop a deep awareness of community life and what it means to be human.

My story is in parallel with humanity in general; growing up from being a teenager, not seeing the bigger picture, to being more responsible and caring.

As a teenager, permaculture was in the background of Laura’s life, as different courses were held at the community where she lived. She caught glimpses while she was still busy attending school. Finally she participated in a course and never looked back.


We are so tied to competition, consumerism, capitalism and oppressions. Learning about permaculture enables us to shift our mindsets. For me permaculture is not just a concept, but a lived reality in everything.

Like many school leavers, Laura took a ‘Gap year’. Except she’s still in the gap, and unlikely to set foot in conventional education again. She said she didn’t like the system, it felt neither comfortable nor appropriate, and she craved something more, that linked her passions for design, nature and community.

In 2012, Laura found Gaia University, an alternative institution focused on integrative ecosocial design. It sees design as the primary tool for accelerating social change and personal growth. Learning is self-determined by the learner or “Associate”, who completes a series of ‘output packets’ documenting their real world projects, reflections, design decisions and more. The whole model is based on an action learning pedagogy.

Gaia University has really inspired, empowered and challenged my passion for learning. There is so much freedom to really go for it, but just enough structure supporting me to be more creative, productive and impactful.

Laura has enjoyed being part of a global community interested in similar work. Documenting and harvesting her learning has been a new approach to grasp, yet she is thrilled about the quantity, depth and transformative power of what she learnt so far.

My current pathway is centred on building a right livelihood around what I’m doing and continuing to creatively explore my life purpose. How can I live my gifts and share them with the world in every moment?

Exploring these questions propelled Laura to visit permaculture communities around the planet. This summer she returned from Thailand, where she has been working with permaculture projects, collaboratively designing land-based systems and developing natural building skills.

Laura participated in the 2nd Thai Permaculture Convergence, where she observed the abundant edge between Thai communities and their traditional knowledge, with foreigners like herself. Laura also visited Cambodia, Italy and Portugal. She has also played an active role with the organisation, Be the Change, that aims to support young people to respond to the crises of our time.

Laura is now focused on developing her social permaculture skills, exploring tools like the Art of Hosting and Harvesting Meaningful Conversations, cultural mentoring, facilitation and group decision-making methodologies.

For people of any age exploring their life purpose, the permaculture principle of ‘observe and interact’, may be one of the most useful. In her travels abroad, and land and community-based experiences at home, Laura is learning how she can best interact with the world to make a difference.

Whatever the future holds for Laura, it is likely she will be a leader in the field, making permaculture second nature to the next generation.

For more information about Laura’s work visit her portfolio.

MSc Output 3 – Energy & Economics

My third output as part of my MSc with Political Agroecology is now live.

The aim of this output was to gain a better understanding of alternative and anarchist economics, and how our economic system affects the uptake of agroecological practices, with personal focuses on personal finances and livelihood designs. There are also threads exploring colonialism and racism, self care and radical community organising.

To view the whole thing visit:

Meet the Designer: An Interview with Béla Beke (Australia)

This is the inaugural post in what will be an ongoing series where we’ll meet permaculture designers around the world.

Béla grew up in a village in the Hungarian part of Yugoslavia — a village where you had to grow all of your own food to eat, where bartering was the norm and where horse carts were the main form of transport.

Upon his arrival to Australia in the late 1970s, Béla heard of permaculture and instantly thought, “Wow, what a fab idea”. It was an idea that changed his life as he embraced all aspects of permaculture practice, building his family’s passive solar and mud brick house, creating gardens and re-learning skills for self reliance, including woodworking, metal casting, blacksmithing, tool making and repair and more.

“One of the jobs that I was always given growing up was to double dig the soil in my families market garden every autumn each year. When I learned of permaculture, one of my first thoughts was at least I can get out of all that digging!” said Béla.


In 1991, Béla convened his own permaculture design course, bringing together more than 45 people and in 2010 he completed a two-year full time Permaculture Diploma in Melbourne. In 2013 he enrolled in a Masters in Integrative Ecosocial Design with Gaia University to take his learning to the next level.

During his Masters, Béla’s project work has accelerated. “Without the Gaia University action learning and project-focused model, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the variety of projects I am engaged with and gain a Masters at the same time.”

Béla is currently searching for a site to build a community demonstration and teaching garden, where people could come to develop their skills and access plants and design support to create their own gardens at home.

Picture of a permablitz at Churinga,
a disability support service.

Béla is also collaborating to start a Community Supported Agriculture project on nine acres of land in Melbourne, to be used as an education space and permaculture social enterprise. This is all at the same time as forming a group to start creating Béla’s dream of living in an ecovillage.

When not gardening, building or crafting, Béla works with adults with multiple disabilities. In his 12 hour shifts he says, “I have tried to bring in more gardening and cooking together at work and the result is that we are all learning more about permaculture ideas and practices.”

Coming from Europe, Béla is passionate about fruit. He is in the process of creating a database of acclimatised non-native fruit in Australia, brought in by Greeks, Italians and others. He is planning to create mother trees which can support cuttings for plants long into the future.

He is also part of the Darebin Fruit Squad, a group of volunteers who harvest excess fruit from households in the Darebin municipality. The fruit is given to food security organisations who distribute it to people who most need it.

Despite all his activity, Béla still feels frustrated with the permaculture movement:

People don’t feel the urgency. Many people are too comfortable in their own lives and permaculture is more a social scene than a movement.

Béla craves action and wants to see permaculture applied across the planet. Doing his MSc was one way he could access that global network of permaculture practitioners, that could support each other in achieving this goal.

In 1998 Béla decided “Permaculture is what I want to do in my life”. 16 years later, he is as committed as ever, with still so much to learn and do.

For more information about Béla Beke’s work visit, his website: Fertile Oasis Original Designs.