by Tamara Griffiths and Delvin Solkinson
Delvin and Tamara have condensed a few days of class into one blog for you, this one is about the substance of the course and the design of the farm (with some cool bug pics thrown in!).
The second day of our Zaytuna Farm adventure began with the traditional Halal killing of an 8-month old calf, but we were nestled in the dreamtime for hours after this was long complete.
If we eat meat we have a responsibility to know where that meat comes from and to know that it has had an ethical life and the best death we can give it. It was in stark contrast to what was exposed on the Four Corners program earlier this year – where cattle exported to Indonesia watched while the cow in front of them was slaughtered, without stunning, with their throats cut and other horrific violence. The live export trade ceased briefly due to public outcry after this but it was resumed with new rules that are designed to supposedly protect the cattle from this experience. It wont be long before live export is banned altogether.
The ethical treatment of animals is one of the reasons we practice and teach permaculture. A chicken deserves to be used for its natural labour – scratching, pooing, collecting bugs and basically doing the work of the gardener in a chicken tractor vegie bed system. Ethical eggs and potentially ethical meat is better than a short life in battery cages or a barn full of chickens with no access even to sunlight outside.
Nearly bedtime – the chook tractor is enclosed in a movable electric fence
so they can clear the ground for new kitchen garden beds.
Our day began with the yellow tail black cockatoos celebrating the morning. Truly there is nothing like early morning farm coffee with fresh raw milk.
Okay, on to the classes! Geoff took us through teaching techniques in the morning – beginning at the end of the PDC, with the traditional final night party, where students do a performance for their classmates. It is a raucous occasion, we have been to one and love it. It is an emotional and transformational night but demonstrates that we can still be self sufficient in fun and entertainment.
Geoff discusses the importance of indicators on many different levels. Plants and animals are indicators of soil and climate, and the reverse is also true, as soil and climate are indicators of plants and animals. In practice and in teaching there are many indicators of success and failure, earning warning signs or reassurances about the results of our designs. He even talks about body language of students being indicators of successful teaching. Geoff’s style of clear, condensed information and fascinating facts stacked with information and illustrating many different points at once is pure genius.
Here even our trips to the bathroom were educational! All toilets are composting toilets and all greywater is cycled using permaculture reed bed systems. The property features bamboo construction and straw bale housing, and there’s a beautiful dam to swim in right near the house. It’s truly a permaculture paradise.
A new water lily leaf, filling with water
as permies swim in the dam in hot weather.
Stacking functions like no other teacher we have ever seen, Geoff demonstrates teaching techniques and successful blackboard writing while reminding us of his key Principle of Water: Channel water along the longest path over the most distance, traveling as slowly as possible, over the most time, rubbing up to as many things as possible, with the most passive friction, to create the most fertility. It’s less about the amount of water you have than it is the amount of times you use it.
Geoff has “must touch points” on each topic over a 90-minute lecture. He tells two stories, two analogies, two laughs and two serious or tear-jerking moments. He also ran us through some blackboard diagram and timing techniques – and developing a repertoire of symbols for explaining concepts and designs. He reminded us of mapping and sun-side depending on which hemisphere we are teaching in, and drawing contours and plans. He explained an interactive game he used to do with students using a zone map, plasticine animals and building a design.
Geoff explaining his creative design exercise using a zones map
Surprising us with an impromptu presentation assignment, with only 30 minutes to prepare, we all have to teach from The Designers’ Manual. Everyone sweats it for a bit, stretching their skills to the limit with this surprise assignment that takes up most of the afternoon.
The nearly full moon rising over the
campground and one of the tropical windbreaks
In the evening we watch all the filmed presentations as a group once again, but this time there is very little critique, mostly supportive comments and a few particularly apt students note the improvements and follow ups on the critiques of the previous night. People did much better at their presentations than yesterday. We both felt very supported after what we had considered to be bombed presentations.
Standing under a beautiful waxing moon and bathed in starlight, we counseled about another day full to the brim with learning and growth. It’s only the end of day two and we already feel like a global permaculture family bonding over both our weaknesses and our strengths while gaining momentum to take our permaculture experiences and put them into practice.
Sam and Alex firing up the rocket stove.
It needs to burn quickly for 20 minutes to heat
up the drum of water inside. A copper pipe
runs through the hot water in the drum
giving us over 20 hot showers.
The mornings come very early here with a cacophony of birds announcing the sunrise at 5am. Freshening up is via a hot shower fueled by a large rocket stove. This entire property is set up as a permaculture demonstration site.
We had a wonderful morning featuring another brilliant talk with Geoff Lawton. He talked about running a PDC and outlined the flow between different topics. After teaching so many courses its no surprise that he has an intimate understanding of the psychological, emotional and intellectual journey most students go through as they pass through the different modules of the course.
After tea we had a wonderful surprise and a guest teacher: Nadia, Geoff’s amazing traditional Bedouin wife who shares with us all sorts of fascinating and practical information about teaching in other cultures. In particular she shares about being a female teacher in traditional cultures and how she has learned to integrate into all sorts of radically different teaching environments than we have experience with. This is pertinent to both of us as we tend to have about 80% women students. Tamara dreams about teaching on women-only PDCs – one is happening just up the road from Zaytuna right now!
The amazing Nadia by the home dam interns and students love to cool down in
Today we are surprised yet again with a 5-minute presentation on topics given by Geoff for which we had only 30 minutes to prepare. He asks us to focus on telling a story, making a joke, sharing a serious moment and including an analogy.
We meet in groups to organize ourselves and the tension and stress was high. My group seems so intense that they have group gelling and instead people break off into their own individual space to prepare in the little time they have been given.
After class Delvin was blessed to meet a sweet fairy whose name means kind gentle one. They spent a small eternity wandering around the compound with her tiny hands grasping his so she could balance enough to walk. He told her that he was an elf and he could see in her eyes that she already knew.
The gorgeous Latifa striking a pose
We finished the day with a walk around for Tamara to take photos of this stunning property. Down in the food forest, on a citrus tree covered with Lichen, she found a mother bug laying her eggs.
Mother bug laying eggs. Can you correctly identify the insect?
The laying end. Awesome!
Not exhibition quality but the cool capping of the eggs
is so awesome they had to be shown!
The morning was a real highlight of the course as we launched deep into the heart of teaching permaculture. You really have to come and take this course to benefit from the incredible lifetime of experience, hints, successes, techniques and strategies that Geoff has power-packed into this empowering training course.
We learned how the PRI permaculture education system works, surfing the Worldwide Permaculture Network website and exploring all the amazing google earth integrated functions providing foundations for this growing planetary movement. Just seeing all the people and projects all over the world is an eye opening experience in itself. Like a seed ball, permaculture has truly taken root in all corners of our little blue planet.
Geoff is an incredibly dynamic speaker and presenter. Each of his points are multifunctional, demonstrating how to teach, whilst teaching how to teach, and while giving us the experience of receiving pertinent information-dense permaculture teaching. Truly Geoff is a student of Bill Mollison.
Our eyes sparkled and mouth fell open as we found ourselves totally fascinated by the story of how Bill Mollison first handed control of the old Tagari Farm to Geoff Lawton, instructing him to set up the ‘Permaculture Research Institute’. It connected us to this amazing lineage of permaculture and anchored us into all the incredible history that we were inheriting by choosing this path in life.
Geoff reminds us that the PDC is a course for the planet, not a course for the location. He also cautions us to anchor large global concepts so they are relevant for people on the ground. In a moment of brilliance, he says that as permaculturalists we are a constantly moderating pattern, navigating between specificity and generalization. With emphasis on the first four chapters, Geoff takes time to illustrate how the rest of the course is affirming and showing this in context of the world.
Delvin et al, Curriculum for 90 minute lesson on “The Home Garden”.
The next section was how to write curriculum. Geoff broke us into groups and had us brainstorm the topics to cover and do the timing for a 90-minute session. Tamara’s topic was “structures” – not one she would have picked, and Delvin got “The Home Garden”. We did the curriculum writing in the afternoon — what we want our students to walk away with knowing on the topic. It was very hot and not so easy for Tamara and her group to do the work required, but Delvin had some awesome bro-ments with Theron and Pat (Canada) and their presentation back to the class totally rocked.
Delvin, Theron and Pat (Canada) working on curriculum
in the food forest, surrounded by ducks.
That evening we heard a sound in the grass next to Delvin’s tent. Tamara slowly walked over to see if it was a snake – and we discovered a beautiful big cane toad. It looked at us with wonder and we looked back. This toad, often mistreated by people since its an invasive species disrupting native habitat, seemed happy to have found some kind humans to share a friendly moment with under a nearly full moon. After this a tiny frog arrived dancing joyously under the starlight. Just spectacular.
The Cane Toad we hung out with