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

Sharing Skills in Food Storage, Harvesting & Preserving

This Autumn, Feed Avalon organised a series of short workshops on harvesting, preserving and storing food.

Participants learned how to bottle fruit and vegetables, experimented with fermentation techniques and more. As part of a day long Winter Food Storage course, learners explored how to make clamps, store vegetables in sand and safe freezing techniques. There were also practical workshops on jam and chutney making.

If you are interested in participating in the course next year, please email nicole@feedavalon.org.uk.

For more upcoming courses in 2015 visit: http://www.feedavalon.org.uk/projects/eat-project/

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Workshop Handout: Vegetable & Fruit Bottling

Written by Karin Shaw of Dragon Willows Farm: http://www.dragonwillowsfarm.co.uk/

For more courses organised by Feed Avalon visit: http://www.feedavalon.org.uk/projects/eat-project/

DSCF3423Most fruits and vegetables are able to be preserved by bottling.

Bottling is simply a way of sterilising the fruit or vegetable and sealing out air and thereby preventing bacteria making the produce deteriorate and go bad.

Traditionally ‘Kilner’ type jars comprising of a heat-proof glass jar, rubber seal, glass lid and metal screw on seal were used for bottling.  However these are expensive to buy and unless you already have some of these jars, it is much more economical to use largish jam and/or pickle jars and really environmentally friendly to recycle and reuse these type of jars.  Most of us will have access to used jars.

The priority in all cases is to ensure that the jars are very, very clean before use.  To achieve this wash them in very hot water and washing up liquid and then dry up-side-down on a backing tray in a warm oven (100°C) for around 20 minutes.  Then keep them upside down while they cool before use.  Alternatively, they can be run through the hot wash cycle on a dishwasher.

Apart from the jars you will need lids – they will not take oven drying as the plastic sealant inside most lids will melt.  Lids can be sterilised by immersing in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes before using to seal the jars.

Also required for bottling is a large pan if you are planning to sterilise using the top of a cooker, or a roasting tin if you are going to use the oven.  In either case you will also need something to place on the bottom of the pan/tin to prevent direct heat on the base of the jars, for example a wad of folded newspaper, some cloth, a folded tea-towel etc., or you may have a roasting tin or fish kettle which has a wire trivet in the bottom already.

You will also need a thermometer to check the temperature of the contents of the jars to ensure that the required sterilisation temperature has been reached.
A kitchen thermometer is worth the investment and does not need to be very expensive.


Small fruits and vegetables such as berries, peas, shelled beans, etc., can be bottled whole.  Ensure the produce is clean and any stalks etc., have been removed.  Large and or hard produce should be shelled/peeled where applicable and cut into junks that will fit easily into the jars.  For example apples should be cored and cut into quarters. Carrots can be diced or sliced, runner beans should be de-strung and cut into chunky slices.

Fruits/vegetables that can be bottled whole but have skins, i.e., plums, tomatoes, gooseberries, need to have their skins pricked with a skewer before packing into the jars to ensure they do not burst open during sterilisation

Pack the fruits/vegetables into the jars (give them a little shake to ensure that the produce settles in the jar to get maximum fill.)  For items like plums and tomatoes or chunkier vegetables it is sometimes helpful to use a long skewer or knitting needle to get them placed in the bottom of the jar.

Once packed fill the jars to within 1cm of the top with cold water.  Place the full jars into the pan or roasting tin having first placed either folded cloth/newspaper etc., as described above into the bottom to stand the jars on.

Ensure that the jars do not touch the sides of the pan/tin or each other or there is a chance they will crack during heating.

Then fill the pan/tin with cold water to come half way up the jars in the case of the pan, and sufficient without over-filling in case of the tin.

Then heat up starting on low heat either on top or in the oven and slowing increasing the heat until sterilisation temperature (see below) is reached. Use the kitchen thermometer to check the temperature by inserting it into the centre of the contents in each jar.

Once sterilisation is complete (see timings below) remove pan/tin from heat and remove the jars (use oven cloves or cloth as jars will be hot) and place them on a flat surface on either a folded cloth or newspaper – DO NOT PLACE THE HOT JARS ON A COLD SURFACE AS THEY WILL CRACK.

Then seal them with the relevant lids.  Place the jars in a cool, dark place to store.  Check them ever so often.  Any signs of fermentation (bubbles rising in the jar) can be stopped by emptying the jar into a pan and boiling the produce. It will however need to be used within a couple of days.

Other liquids can be used with the produce in the jars.  Salt can be added to vegetables (approximately 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 pint of water).  And a sugar syrup can be used for fruits (340 gms of sugar to 2 pints of water) – boil them together to make a syrup and then pour over the fruit in the jars.

The advantage of using plain water is that it is very economical and the produce can be flavoured with anything when it is used later – i.e., for soups, fruit puddings, pies etc.

Sterilisation Temperatures and Times:

Soft fruits and berries (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries etc.,) must be allowed to take 1½ hours to reach a temperature of 75°C and kept at that heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

Hard fruits and vegetables such as plums, apples, pears, beans, peas, carrots etc., should be allowed 1½ hours to reach 75°C and kept at that heat for 15 minutes.

Some of the harder vegetables will not necessarily be ‘cooked’ soft during sterilisation and cooking can be completed when the vegetable is eventually going to be eaten.

Soft fruits will almost certainly shrink in the jars during sterilisation and the jars should be topped up from one of the other jars being sterilised.  This may result in a jar less than full at the end of the process and the contents of this jar should be used as soon as possible.

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!

Avalon Abundance Course – practical workshops in harvesting, storing and preserving food

Avalon Abundance


• How to make jams & jellies
• Super simple soup making
• Low impact food storage including clamping, cellars & cool storage
• How to make chutney
• How to store beans of all varieties
• How to dehydrate produce
• Bottling & canning
• How to freeze & chill produce safely • How to make juices
• Techniques of fermentation

Workshops can be taken individually or as part of a longer course.

Workshop spaces will be on a first-come-first served basis. Individuals doing the longer course will be prioritised.

All workshops will take place at kitchens in Glastonbury & Street and be led by experienced tutors. Total beginners welcome!

Workshops are free for individuals on benefits or a low income. Suggested donation of £10 per workshop for those paying, or £65 for the whole course.

Dates, times & locations available on request. Interested? Register by emailing: nicole@feedavalon.org.uk

This course has been funded by Somerset Skills and Learning.

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: http://portfolios.gaiauniversity.org/view/view.php?id=5628

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.