Planetary Permaculture Pilgrimage – Days 14 & 15

PDC teacher training with Rowe Morrow

by Tamara Griffiths, Ali Ma and Delvin Solkinson

Day 14

The birds were singing beautiful melodies as we got up at 6:45 to stumble by amazingly tame kangaroos and wallabies and into the community shower facility. By the time we had coffee, breakfast and email we were totally awake and excited for the day.

To start every morning we go round the side of the eco-building where the ponies were fenced in to eat the long grass. These fat little ponies came over for pats and to enjoy our energy as we started our days. Rosemary showed us how to breathe with horses and make friends with them. She starts every day with a song – she gives many examples of cultures that love singing and tells us to learn some good ones. The ponies don’t even seem to mind my singing.

Today we got the full program for Rosemary’s successful teaching units. Introduction, concept ‘bookend’, principle, teaching methods, body behaviour, language awareness, delivery including questioning and teaching tools as well as a conclusory application ‘bookend’.

The afternoon included integrative work on group sessions, managing groups and facilitating groups. We did group work to model, discover and critique this process in practical situations. Within this we looked at the value of group work and the placement of it in a successful class flow.

Teaching methods and processes were next in this amazingly comprehensive teacher training, by far the best we have ever taken. The importance of having teaching and learning outcomes which are assessed during the course was also evaluated.

Introducing teaching aids and tools, Delvin was invited to facilitate a module including the mapping toolset. He talked about how anything could be a teaching aid, and how mapping and design processes could happen with a game board made with found or created materials. As in other courses Rowe highlighted the advantages of using posters, white boards and butcher’s paper put around the class for reminding students of topics we have done.

We were asked to stretch our imagination to find 20 creative uses for a piece of paper as a teaching aid and we discovered collectively so may ways including a sector map, to demonstrate the reflective qualities of light and to show mushroom patterns.

Today we brainstormed with Rosemary some new additions to the PDC curriculum since the publication of the Designers’ Manual (which has never been updated). These included innovations in forest gardening, regenerative agriculture, transition towns, eco-footprint, carbon sinks, community resilience, and slow money. As a class we organized these into an order and storyline. She then uses micro-teaching to bring us advanced understandings of all these topics with our input in a number of engaging ways demonstrating many different teaching techniques. She is absolutely incredible!!

For example, she notes that the eco-footprint is a measurement of how much you consume of the world’s resources (renewable and non-renewable). These numbers are often represented graphically as a foot. The big toe is energy, index toe is water, middle toe is materials and structures, small toe is food and pinkie is transportation. An eco-footprint evaluation can be done individually, for a community or for a nation. It’s measured in hectares. She notes that there is enough resources for everyone to consume 1.8 hectares. Its a relative figure, not a fixed one, and should be an ongoing process.

Rosemary drew our attention to the work of Peter Andrews. She said that she uses his models to demonstrate river systems when she teaches a PDC. Peter looks at appropriate design strategies that work locally, with the concept of ‘terraculture’ — underground water that is moving and that plants can access.

We also talked about the emerging ‘slow movements’. The slow food movement focusses on local, seasonal, technology, artisanal, cultural preservation, cooking on demand, convivial eating (slowly), and localvores. Slow money often includes people who don’t operate on debt systems, live within their budget and participate in a permaculture credit union.

The end of the day saw us working on developing a curriculum document for a PDC, as we had done late afternoon the last couple of days. After dinner we got to practice some conflict resolution skills. In a circle we said what was good about the day, what was most difficult and what we would have done differently. After everyone had their say we moved on to a short film about the Solomon Islands and how to use film as a teaching method. Rowe instructs us that it is best to use short films with questioning afterward and for longer films stop every 15 minute to discuss the content and ground it in.

Day 15

Rosemary appears with a smile and a song as she has every day thus far. Her warm loving approach to teaching brings only smiles in return. We noticed throughout the training that she has been conscious to make personal one-on-one time with everyone in the class, giving them encouragement, affirmations and offerings of support. Truly her teacher training is empowering teachers to emerge after the course.

We revisited more touchstones in permaculture including the concept of ‘function’. For example we note the function of water in: transporting loads, generating energy, moderating temperature, being a heat sink, a key solvent, and for germination.

Rowe noted the importance of trees to sequester carbon and the importance of planting forests that cannot be cut down so carbon is truly sunk. If everyone planted 10,000 trees in their lifetime we would be good to go.

The day begins to climax with monitoring and evaluation processes. We did a very interesting set of evaluation processes using written, graphical, kinesthetic, artistic and creative ways to evaluate the course, as well as ourselves and the teacher in the course.

Personal evaluation was considered more important than any other evaluation type. Sometimes this can be done without interviewing the students, where the facilitator can simply walk around and glimpse peoples reflected progress, something special can happen when we recognise where we were, and where we believe we are now.

We take some time to imagine life after the course. Beyond the PDC people can go into the areas of permaculture media, education, site development, consulting, ethical economics, and aid. We brainstorm more about post-PDC permaculture in areas like urban restoration, transition, regenerative agriculture, and community garden development.

The final presentations were absolutely amazing. Every single person used questioning, class interaction and teaching aids. Tamara got to be one of Ali Ma’s teaching aids – and pretended to be a tree. As Ali Ma introduced ideas, audience members jumped up to participate in a role play without even being asked!! It was heaps of fun — Dave was mulch, Rosemary was the spiraling liquids passing upwards and downwards through the tree (me) and Kathleen was a big water tank. As an ending Ali Ma removed the mulch and water and Tamara began making sucking sounds, but to no avail — the tree could not get water! Slowly the soil blew away and the tree became more unsteady and finally fell over. The poor tree! Delvin jumped in as human intervention to water the almost dead tree and nurse it back to life. This activity was very illustrative of a tree needing an entire ecosystem to support it.

After Dave used Robin Clayfield’s cards to teach pattern, Ali Ma used the cards already placed down to look at the function of patterns and then the uses of patterns.

Delvin’s presentation was a suburban permaculture creative design game where we redesigned a generic suburban area into a permaculture community.

Our eyes light up as we begin to talk about the permaculture diploma. In Australia there is a formal pathway through TAFE (Technical and Further Education) in Riverina called N.E.C. including Cert 1, 2, 3, 4 and Diploma where you can get recognition of past learning. This is done through assignments, marks and evaluation. This is a fee structured formal education model.

The UK has two modes to do a diploma. One method is by action-research with mentors. The other is done through coursework.

Private institutes include Gaia University whose higher degrees are done through action-research and coursework. Next there is the Chaordic Institute which does something similar with action-research and high standards of evaluation where diploma works are put up on the web.

Portugal is opening up a boot camp for 12 weeks to enable students to be empowered to become teachers.

Rowe would like to see a network web of specialist institutes that are all connected but each with their own niche. This way students can go to institutes depending upon the post-PDC areas people want to go into (i.e. media, education, tropical sites, etc., etc.). This would be a co-operative model where all the institutes got together to agree on policy, evaluation methods and requirements. She suggests a mentor model where people are supported by guides before presenting at the end of the two years to a bioregional institute — and then this goes up on the web. She wants to make diplomas accessible to the developing world. Rowe is our hero!!

As a beautiful parting inspirational note that gives me a delightful shiver of energy, Rowe says "What you are part of is nothing like an organization, its a movement. It’s like a universe expanding in all directions."

At dinner we sat with Rowe discussing the aid work needed. She encouraged us to step up and help – and let her slow down a bit.

Saying goodbye to friends is never easy but we hugged each loved one tightly before jumping in Ali Ma’s car for the drive down to her place to catch a plane to Melbourne the next day. What a Crystal Waters adventure!


Certainly this was the pinnacle moment in our permaculture study. Rowe Morrow is truly the grandmother of the movement, an entirely inspiring and dedicated Quaker, whose selfless work for our world in some of the most devastated parts of the planet has transformed our perspective of permaculture in deep ways that we are still in the process of integrating.

Rowe welcomed us in and treated us as colleagues and imparted her knowledge to us as fellow teachers. She gave us an opportunity to assimilate the information using such a variety of different methods for indoor and outdoor use. These incorporated learning approaches to suit a spectrum of adult learners and different learning styles. Rowe showed us why informal education is just as important as formal education, and can be far more accessible and appropriate in many cases.

We began each morning with a song and open circle check in, outside in nature by the ponies, listening to the birds, feeling the breeze, the earth underneath our bare feet.

Rowe’s teacher training was a masterful middle path between information heavy ‘chalk and talk’ and the sometimes information sparse ‘creative facilitation’ methods. Anchored in a lifetime of hands-on work in war torn and diseased biomes across Africa, Asia and Oceania, her knowledge of the permaculture paradigm is astounding.

Unlike any of the other teacher trainings we have taken, Rowe has a fully facilitated evening session each night, so our day starts at 9 am and goes until 9 pm. Not only this but during all the tea breaks and meal times Rowe’s teaching continues with special stories, vignettes and rich information sessions as valuable as the formal class time. In addition we noticed she took the time to give personal attention to each student in the class. She seamlessly gave so much of herself to us.

We were assigned three short teaching projects over the week, while preparing a masterful project to collectively build a curriculum for a PDC. The presentations were responded to by Rowe in detail, however like the other teachers, her comments were short on constructive criticism and high on supportive comments and inspiring affirmations.

We had enormous amounts of freedom to approach personal study time and presentations however we worked best. For our presentations we focused in on: subject, application of principles to the subject, method, use of questioning and group participation for our presentations.

We discovered even when a maestro is facilitating a subject, conflict can arise. Not every method will suit everyone all the time. When conflict arose “in the storming stage” of group dynamics, we watched Rowe lead as we engaged in conflict resolution to ease a tension that appeared. We learned about Non Violent Communication, and the empowerment of the words to guide us through difficult moments…. “When I observed you do ‘that’, it made me feel…". Critiquing this course is more challenging than any other since it was run with such grace, wisdom and tolerance.

Rowe has chosen to teach the earth’s most disadvantaged – for 27 years she has worked within prisons, refugee camps, war-torn, disease- and famine-riddled places like Ethiopia and Uganda, Vietnam after the war and Cambodia after Pol Pot. This last year she has been working with women in an Afghanistan village. With the war still raging and with armies pulling out she found it very difficult but is going back again next year. She walks a path of peace and tolerance. If we can achieve half of what she has, we will have created a better world indeed.

We learned that life doesn’t need to be a constant battle against Monsanto and mining companies. It can be one where people matter, where family and friends come before the rage at the destruction of the planet. Looking at Rowe and her incredibly difficult and often lonely life we saw a deep conviction of working for peace, non-violence and compassion. It has given us an opportunity to think deeply about our relationships and examine how we are in the world.

Our days together were filled with laughter and learning, and we were absolutely fascinated with all the course content. Surprisingly it was quite different from all the other teacher trainings. The more we learned about Rowe’s incredible humanness, the more admiration we had for her and for the permaculture path. By the time the course had finished we felt more dedicated than ever to teaching permaculture. Truly this course was a life highlight for us.


  1. Jenny, I think that link is some sort of intentionally skewed false trail to somewhere not relevant to this story at all.
    A pilgrimage can simply mean to take a journey, as did the people who wrote this story. These guys went on a journey, and learned heaps and have been good enough to share it with us.
    There is nothing startlingly metaphysical about the story, the people who wrote it or the content the teachers taught on these courses.

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