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: http://portfolios.gaiauniversity.org/view/view.php?id=8129

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 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.

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!

Seed Security Workshop

The second workshop I attended was on Seed Security.

Ben Raskin from the Soil Association talked about how in reality we’ve created huge living gene bank all over the planet, with seeds historically all being open-pollinated.

Now we face changes such as climate change and inconsistency of weather, as well as new pests and diseases. Ben talked about how seed breeding technologies have changed, when in the 1970s hybrid breeding began, influencing the majority of our main staple crops. Then genetic modification came into play, and we now have 8 crops licensed for commercial use internationally.

All of this has come about due to corporate interests and the main focus on yield maximisation. New varieties often need high input systems to perform (such as herbicides, fertilisers and so forth), sacrificing biodiversity for monocultures. Inappropriate government subsidies has only strengthened this.

Ben emphasises what is wrong with the current system through the lens of inequalities. First there is the unequal distribution of benefits and power, which support and perpetuate the power of the few over the many, in the form of corporate control of agriculture and top-down government coercion of agriculture.

The top three seed companies now own 53% of the world’s seed market, and the top ten own 70%. Five of these top six are also agrochemical companies, so you can see where this is going…

One of the main effects of these capitalist changes of our food system is that we have lost 75-80% of our agrobiodiversity, and we now get 80% of our calories from only 12 crops.

Ben then introduced the new European Proposals which have been circulating the internet like wildfire. Their is a desire in Europe to ‘simplify’ policy, with justifications such as health scares for their reasoning. However another huge aspect is European colonialism that the EU government perpetuates, so that we can control the market, take sovereignty away from other countries. Companies are pushing for Europe to market itself as having the best seed in the world!

Ben also talked about the new testing plans, the costs for breeders and how ultimately the cost of seed will rise and small scale breeders will go out of business. Without resistance that is!

Following Ben was Peter Brinch from Open Pollinated Seeds. He talked about how in 1986 Monsanto started to buy seed companies and how the scenario is likely to continue in this manner – with large multinationals increasingly dominating the market.

He expressed how there are no open pollinated seed companies in the UK, as well as limited research. He said “Breeding programmes are breeding evolutionary dead-ends to meet market needs (hybrids),” which cut to the truth. He also emphasised that without open pollinated seeds we have no say in our nutrition, and are subject to what the market will sell to us.

In his call to action he said how we have to start debybridising, and free up our genetic diversity. We can support this by buying open pollinated varieties, saving seed, participating in grassroots research and establishing a network of seed producers outside of seed companies.

John English from the Community Farm in Chew Magna, Somerset talked about his farm’s participation in an open pollinated seed trial, comparing open pollinated varieties to the hybrids he uses. He talked honestly and frankly about the difference in yields and it was great to have this perspective from a grower.

Overall, all the speakers were very moving in their passion for seed sovereignty and this workshop had the biggest effect on me over the two days of the Oxford Real Farming Conference.

National Permaculture Diploma Gathering

http://www.yha.org.uk/sites/default/files/imagecache/medium/host_120712_losehill_hall.jpgThis November, I made it for the third time to the National Permaculture Diploma Gathering. Held ‘up north’ to me, the gathering took place at the YHA Castleton (apparently where Das Kapital was translated) way up in Derbyshire.

Having been close to accrediting for the last year, the gathering felt like a different experience this time. Having done the Diploma Tutor Training last year, I now had to put it into practice and undertook two Tutorials with apprentices.

The first was with three apprentices, looking at how they can re-design their action learning pathway so that is a useful tool to help them achieve their learning goals. The tutorial was structured around the GaSADIE design cycle, and I made sure that the Goals articulation element came first. When people really start to unravel why they are doing the diploma, their whole pattern of undertaking it changes. If your goal is to have a more resilient life and garden, then your designs will be centred around this, if you are desparate to learn a whole new skill set, then your chosen projects will be chosen to stretch and push you… if your intentions are to do the diploma simply to spend more time with people you love, then again, all your choices change.

We then looked at surveying where we are at, what is working well and what is challenging. In terms of analysis I looked at how people capture and document their learning so that they can make the diploma as low input, maximum output as possible.

Anyhow, thankfully the tutorial went really well and I got some positive feedback, phew! The second tutorial was a one-to-one with Katie Shepard looking at how to make those designs a reality and we looked at things like boundaries and time management tools such as Parkinsons Law (when an task expands to the time available to do it), so I got to totally geek-out and again got some really encouraging feedback.

I also really enjoyed the weekend for being able to get a little drunk and hang out with some lovely folks I only really see once a year.

Without any too bad hangovers, I also learnt alot from others. Tom Henfrey gave a workshop on Succession and Adaptive Cycles, which was super interesting, and I could feel my environmental science brain become enlivened again.

There was also a great workshop on Reflective Learning, which complimented one that I gave on Action learning, really well, and I intend to put some things into practice about how to improve my reflective writing to better capture my own learning.

On the Monday after I stayed for some Tutor CPD, which was a great chance to look at the new accreditation criteria, touch base with other tutors and get some more practice in assessing work.

Overall, a good weekend, which capped a fun northern adventure.

MSc Output 2 – Now Live

My second output in my MSc Political Agroecology with Gaia University is now live.

The aim of this output was to explore my own radical edges and optimise how I organise with others for social change. A large thematic area is prison abolition, as well as healing and resilience to repression on a personal and community-movement level.

You can read it all here: http://portfolios.gaiauniversity.org/view/view.php?id=3969

Permaculture Design Support Intensive

Last weekend, I hosted a Permaculture Design Support Intensive for a group of lovely ladies on their Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design Pathways. Teacher, Aranya, led the group through the design process, focusing on our field as a case study as well as offering personal design support throughout the weekend.

It was a fantastic event and we were blessed with sunshine! It gave me a brilliant opportunity to survey the field in detail and hear the ideas and feedback of other permaculture designers. Take a peak at some of the pictures from the weekend below:

Permaculture Design Support Intensive – not long now!

Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design Support Intensive

South West Diploma Support Intensive with Aranya

Dates: Thu 6th September (eve) – Sun 9th September 2012. Thursday evening to late Sunday afternoon (3 day option) or Friday evening to Sunday afternoon (2 days).

Are you signed up or thinking about signing up to the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design? Are you needing some design support, but finding it difficult to arrange?
This may be just what you’re looking for…

Summary: These two or three days offer you an opportunity to polish up your design skills in the company of your peers. It is intended to help both those just starting out and those who feel close to accreditation. Come to learn, share, make new friends and to be inspired!

During the event we will:
•    Demystify the Diploma process & recent changes for you.
•    Take a fresh and detailed look at the permaculture design process.
•    Add another design to your portfolio.
•    Share ideas and give valuable feedback on each others design work.
•    Create a mutual support network to help keep you on track.
•    Provide clarity on the criteria and the process leading to accreditation.

Diploma design support often takes the form of a two or three hour long one-to-one tutorial. Sometimes this is the most effective means of helping an apprentice with their design work. However, my own experience has shown me that more often than not, this isn’t enough time to really provide the support that is needed. This is an especially important issue when only one or two design support tutorials are taken during the whole learning pathway. There is a risk that an apprentice can accumulate ten designs only to find that they have been missing out some important elements all along, and this is not as unusual as you might think! A longer event such as this allows more time for issues to be identified and insights to be found. Learning with fellow apprentice designers also enables additional ideas and experience to be shared.

The core of this event will be to provide you with the feedback you need to become a better designer by taking you though another design process. Either bring a design that you’d like to finish (you’ll need to have done all the information gathering for it, such as site observations & client interviews), or come & start one afresh at the venue. The former option can be achieved in two days, whereas the three day event gives enough time for starting a design from scratch.

In addition bring two or three of your ‘design projects-in-progress’ (if you have them) for evaluation and we will assist you in gaining new insights and understanding. These projects can be at any stage; ideally bring one or two fairly well developed designs and maybe another started, but perhaps a bit stuck. No particular standard is expected, the Diploma is all about supporting us to become better designers and we all have to start somewhere. If we can help you, at whatever level, then you’re just who we’re looking for!

In addition to our feedback, you will also have the opportunity to gain extra ideas and inspiration from your peers. By taking another detailed look at the design process, we’ll remind you of anything you’ve forgotten and fill in any details that may have been overlooked on your design course (this is not as uncommon as we would hope).

If you are well into your Diploma pathway, you’ll be looking ahead to accrediting. If you are just started, it’s helpful to know where you’re heading. For that reason we’ll also examine the criteria and the process that leads up to this and to reassure you that it’s a lot less scary than you might think!

At the end of it all, you will leave with inspiration, a new peer support network (friends!) another design for your portfolio and a DVD of useful resources to help keep your designing on track.

Tutor: Aranya

Venue information: The course will be held at Brook End, a permaculture-run smallholding in Compton Dundon, Somerset, just outside Glastonbury. Accommodation includes camping but there are a small number of B&Bs locally, which would incur an additional cost.

Investment: Two day option ~ £130 (early bird £115 booked before 1st July).
Three day option ~ £160 (early bird discounted fee of £140). Fees inclusive of tuition, food, & materials.

How to Book: Please book through Designed Visions. Full details and booking form can be found here.