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My Permaculture Internship at the PRI’s Zaytuna Farm

Can the human race build an environmentally sustainable culture? Can we disprove the myth that humans are inherently destructive? Here at The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, myself and 18 others are a part of an intensive internship in an attempt to answer these big, big questions. We have asked ourselves, "If not now, when? If not us, then who?" It’s clear to us there is a way, this is the time and we are the people we have been waiting for.

Diving Into My Permaculture Internship

I struggled for a long time to write this post. How do I encapsulate 10 weeks of courses, of learning, or meeting and living with 18 other people from 12 other countries?

Trying to explain permaculture alone has been a work in progress. Every time I answer what permaculture is I feel like a smith hammering away, refining and refining.

At first I tried to to explain permaculture by saying it was hard to explain. (Such a cop out, eh?) But I would follow that by saying it’s many fields (such as watershed management, horticulture, animal husbandry, landscape design, medicine, cooking, farming, architecture… the list goes on). To be more specific, permaculture is about making meaningful connections between those fields in order to address the world’s problems.

But that wasn’t enough. It lacked punch. It was longwinded. But more importantly, I found that spewing a definition at others didn’t really generate conversation nor did it convey my passion.

"What do you do?"

Trial #1: "I repair landscapes and facilitate creative life events to return function back to the land".

Though satisfactory for a time this definition also wasn’t enough; to change the world I needed to change more than landscapes, i needed to change people!

Trial #2: "I empower people to make meaningful connections so they can live with the land and build a regenerative human culture."

This resonated with me. I am an educator. I can be a catalyst for positive change.

So what did I learn while here? The course included six week-long courses, plus I got an extra one in on a weekend. They included:

  • Earthworks — I can now survey, can design various earthworks (such as dams, swales, gabions, lemonias, terraces, ditches and diversion drains) and can call in and direct large machines.
  • Consultancy and Urban design — I can now design and implement small property designs. Using this skillset I can be a consultant, a designer and a landscaper.
  • Bio-intensive gardening and seed saving — I can now put in a garden that maximizes outputs, minimizes inputs and grows nutrient dense food. I also know about the importance of seed saving.
  • Permaculture Teacher Training — I can now competently and confidently convey the key content that makes permaculture what it is.
  • Soil biology — I now know how much we don’t know about the world we cannot see with the naked eye. Dirt is not soil. I can now make healthy soil, compost and natural fertilizers.
  • Aid work — I can now confidently walk into an aid project and apply permaculture to help others and their landscapes.
  • Community Land Trusts — I now understand how to set up a community that builds relationships between people and their land.

Sounds like a lot of information? Well that was only half of it! Outside of the class hours and during the remaining weeks I helped manage a farm unlike any on this earth. I was taught how to kill a goat, a duck, a rabbit and a cow. We processed as much of those animals as we could and, over time, we cooked them. I learned how to plant and manage a forest that feeds you. I ate the bounty from those forests. Guava, passionfruit, jackfruit, rose apple, chocolate pudding fruit, koko yam, sweet potato, aloe vera, mango, avocado, coffee, caramel sapote… the list goes on.

Each morning I started the day by doing a chore, which was also a significant part of my education. I learned how to:

  • manage main crop, urban garden and a kitchen garden
  • work in a tree/plant nursery
  • manage animal grazing cells
  • feed, milk and look after goats and cows
  • Feed and care for rabbits, ducks and chickens and put them to work in what we here call "tractors"
  • manage utilities — solar energy, water, rocket stove (hot water) and garbage.

Do you see what I mean when I said I was having a hard time encapsulating my time here at the Permaculture Research Institute? I hope you have enjoyed the brief glimpse.

But what about weekends? I climbed to the highest point in Australia and had the sunrise touch me before anything else in the land. I hiked a rainforest and swam in subtropical waters. I ran on beaches in the rain and sunsets. I got to stay in a log cabin on the edge of a rainforest next to a babbling creek. In that magical cabin I met amazing people and slept next to a wood fired stove. I went to markets and ate so much food I made myself ill. Weekends? They were all right.

But now my 10 weeks are coming to a close and when I send this out I will be on my way to do a 10-day sea-kayak trip to Fraser Island — the largest sand island in the world. Talk to you when I get back.

9 Comments

  1. Congratulations Kenton…. Sounds like it was a great experience for you. Good luck in your travels buddy

  2. That sounds like a great experience. I’ll be going to Australia for a working holiday soon. I’m also going to try to take Perm. Cert. course, and an internship would be great too. I’d like to ask you some more detailed info. than comments. Is there a way I can email you?

  3. Thanks all!
    Kirsten: thanks for being a springboard for my Australian Permaculture Adventures! Hopefully I will see you again soon!
    Ryan: You can post your email address and I will get in touch with you or you can add me on facebook (Kentron Zerbs)

  4. Wonderful Kentron, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. An experience of a lifetime and you are not finished yet…in fact, I believe that you have only just begun. Happy travels ahead going out to share your permaculture knowledge with the rest of the world – they will absolutely love you for it

  5. Hey Kenton,
    thanks for shearing your experience!
    Im saving and planning on doing the same next year, as well as getting involved on some volunteering work on a farm, to keep on with the practice!
    do you think is possible to make the contact for this right there or better before landing in Australia!?

    Dennis

  6. Hi Dennis,

    If you are going for the course, book WELL in advance. (also as a tip if you go for a course and the housing blocks arent built, show up at the farm early so you can nab one of the shelters) If you are going to go for volunteering check out there website as some of the key people to learn from may be in another country. Its a good idea to ask them at least 1 month in advance to come WWOOF, just because of response times and in case they have enough WWOOFers already. Hope the tips help! Good luck!

    -Kenton

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