Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Permaculture DESIGN COURSE!

May 30 2012, Te Moata, Tirua, New Zealand

You know you've found something good when you sit enthralled in a classroom for 6 hours, and then stay up till 3AM with a pile of colored pencils, as if you were a kid doing an arts and crafts projects.

For the last 2 weeks, I've been in a place I do not soon want to leave, with people I do not want to leave, and I've experienced magical, life-changing things here at Te Moata.  However, it's not just the people, and this place which has inspired me, it's what I've been doing here: a Permaculture Design Course.

Earlier in April, I worked at the Annual Permaculture Convergence, which lit a fire in my mind about the possibilities of Permaculture.  So when I heard there was a 2 week permaculture design course
happening in May, I signed up without a second thought.

 At first, I was somewhat dissapointed that I wasn't able to take my first design course with Permaculture Super-Celebrity Geoff Lawton, but I was still extremely excited for what might be in store.  After spending two weeks in the steel beast known as "Auckland", I was craving nature like a Southerner craves Jenkem.

Geoff "Cool Guy" Lawton

Geoff "The Bulldozer" Lawton, smoking green as he greens the desert.

The drive to Te Moata took me through through backroads, sheep trails and leering Woodsmen till I finally arrived in Tairua, home of the super flash Wharakei caves, which I might have spelled wrong.

Sweet caves

After climbing over large hills and valleys, my car finally reached the elusive Te Moata, guarded by a large, warm-hearted giant named Dave (who runs the place), along with his wonderful wife Jessie.  The trip down the driveway to Te Moata is like an Indiana Jones ride, with giant boulders, mossy ancient rocks, and Faintails darting over your head. Once you get to middle of Te Moata, it takes a moment before you take in how truly beautiful the place really is.  

The Goddess pool, or as I call it, frozen-ass water pool.

The retreat, which looks like it belongs in a movie about Buddha, is right in the heart of native bush forest.  The entire place is surrounded by fantastically unreal streams and moan inducing trails. You can spend a month at Te Moata, and still see only 1/2 of what it has to offer.

I was nervous at first to meet everyone.  Though I saw a few familiar faces, I knew it was going to be an interesting challenge to maintain a good connection with 10 strangers in a retreat for 2 weeks straight.  However, with a bit of conversation, I saw how a shared sense of concern for the future guided us all there, because we wanted to learn how Permaculture can restore the environments and lives which the modern world has put in jeapeordy.

Our instructors were two amazing teachers, Daniel Tohill and Trish Allen, who had been practicing permaculture around New Zealand and Australia since before I was born.  These two were Permaculture pros, and our job as students was to absorb as much information into our spongey brains as possible until we needed to run out into the garden like compost junkies.

I can't remember the last time I was truly excited to learn something in college, but each lesson on Permaculture perked my interest and imagination into what could be possible.  Swales, contours, and ponds can be used to turn deserts into lush forests and grasslands, entire orchards can thrive with just rainwater, zones can be planned to make your property nearly self sufficient in food.  The list of things we learned extended far into the realm of possibility, but every lesson was extremely useful, and made complete sense.  If our country's farmers, community planners, and government officials were forced to take a PDC, they might finally emerge with a better understanding of how systems work together.  Better yet, if the world used Permaculture principles to re-imagine society, we could tackle climate change, food shortages, and poverty while restoring our environment.
*pleasurous moan*

Measuring contours, like a boss.
The cozy classroom

Each day, we would spend about six hours in the classroom learning everything there is to know about permaculture.  Though there is no way to become an expert after 72 hours of learning, it gives you a great grasp of the basic principles, and an idea of what is possible.  The other parts of the day we spent socializing with the rest of the folks who attended the course.  

At first, I was scared that there was no way I could keep building a positive relationship with all these people over two weeks, and that my personality would  eventually wear thin on them.  Luckily though, I was wrong.  Being at the center for 2 weeks with the same people forced me to make deep connections to everyone, and get to know their character, and their story, instead of just having a conversation for a few minutes, and then retreating to the ol' comfort zone.  It was absolutely amazing to feel that I was strengthening my relationships with these people the longer the course went on, instead of drifting away from them. We soon realized that we were all kindred spirits that were here for the same purpose, though all had different ways of reaching our goals.  There was Tomoya from Japan, Lien from Belgium, Tom and Sara from Taranaki, Colby and Eric from Oakland, Justin, Stefan and Noura from Wellington, and Wendy from Papamoa.  Everyone had something to share, and something to give, though I was the only one who couldn't play guitar :I

This Kid learned how to work
the Derivatives Market,

This kid learned guitar

It's an amazing how much you can learn about a subject when you are absolutely enthralled with it, and have good teachers, good partners, and a great atmosphere.  This PDC was like an entire year of Enviornmental Studies crammed into two weeks, though the best part was when we got to get our hands dirty; making compost heaps, building a pizza oven, and crafting a new design for gardens throughout the property.  Oh yes, and there was some possum skinning for good measure.  They're invasive species over here, so it's alright to gat them en masse, as long as you feed their precious innards to the hawks.

Before the final stages


So as the PDC wore on and on, the focus turned from permaculture to people. As we were given our assignments of Te Moata garden, we had a flurry of inspired heads clashing together, and collaborated in a great way to come up with some far-out designs.

This is my first attempt at a permaculture design, don't y'all judge too harshly.  I felt pretty good for both of these, considering I had 1 night each to do the designs.  
I wanted to make a leaf shape for the garden, but instead it looked more like a mad octopus eating a clown, should work well though.

My freehand design for Dave and Jessies place, Mushrooms, strawberries, and fruit everywhere! Bwahah ):p

What's not shown, a mountain of colored pencil shavings.

As the PDC drew to a close, we were left with one event which cemented how beautiful working with folks in Permaculture can be, and that was our concert night.  We each had to come up with a big performance for the final night, and we were just as interested in the performance as the design.  

As Tom and I were the hosts, I figured, what better way to introduce the concert than as a Monsanto Shareholders conference!

I was Tim Poots, senior vice executive of multi-level marketing for Monsanto, along with Doon Strunts, my assistant.  We had to give a very important corporate powerpoint on the dangers of permaculture, along with pumping the crowd up, like a freakish, Tony Robbins seminar gone wrong. 

Either way, the event was amazing, and it was incredible to see the things that people could come up with in such a short period of time; skits, rapping, jason mraz'ish songs, and games galore. 

Though the 2 weeks at Te Moata was over before I knew it, the lessons, and connections I had stayed with me.  I found a new path I wanted to go down, and ways of living and working which can support my future, help people, and help restore our degraded environment.  There's few things as eye-opening as a PDC, and few things as inspiring.  It's time to jump down this rabbit hole, and plan something big with my permaculture lessons; perhaps one day I can consult worldwide, create a Biochar industry, and even reconstruct entire communities.  The sky is the limit, and the world needs everything that I saw in those two weeks.

Thank you everyone at Te Moata :)
 May 26,

Later in the week:
After the PDC, I stayed at Te Moata a few days with Kuiyka, Eric, Colby, and Tomoya doing some woofing.  Little did I know that Maria was actually, and completely randomly, 10 minutes away from Te-Moata. Now I have to pick her up, and convince her to come with me, so we can see some amazing sights, and do some woofing along the way.  Hopefully I'll be able to share some more awesome adventures soon.

-Raleigh (& Maria)

Also: skinning a possum to make comfy shoe insoles, and hawk feed.

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