Edited by James Turner
ARCAH is an NGO that helps homeless people in the form of social farm programs like Therapeutic Communities (CT). In 2014, ARCAH formed a partnership with CT, together offering even more opportunities. These included a permaculture design of the farm, it’s first year application, and weekly permaculture lectures.
We started our practical work in the vegetable garden, the area of highest need within the CT. In just a few weeks we could already see vibrant new colors and shapes all around the yard. An overall community level transversal interaction began to take shape; the people taking care of the garden were not the only ones experiencing a new outlook, it appears the general population was as well. The kitchen began receiving food and sending scraps to compost, all while discovering a multitude of different kinds of edible vegetables and new recipes. Fresh salad dishes began to be offered in the meals, enabling everyone to be a part of the permaculture process. These steps made classes even more tangible or “real”, creating higher levels of interest while aiding in concept comprehension.
By living what we were learning, the theories in class materialized into fresh and healthy food. Tasting the flavors of our work in every meal, enthusiasm continued to increase. As we say in Brazil, we all started to, “put our hands to work”. In a very literal way, we were actually all putting, “our feet to work”.
We had a dream to build, and not much money to do it. Without knowing exactly what part of the design we should start next, nature lent us a hand. A strong storm helped us to decide the priority. The small bamboo kitchen collapsed after an entire night of stormy weather. Food priority forced us to build a new traditional country kitchen with the material that we had around. With the help of Tomaz Lotufo, an architect and permaculture educator, we learned how to make an Adobe (raw mud brick) through hands on instruction.
The Earth is a wonderfully empowering entity. Once you start to create form with it, the physical connection becomes a type of therapy. Feelings flow and renew your energy as you mold and design. The lines between creator and creation become blurred . Through exploration of those feelings and possibilities in class, new ideas arose, such as curves through arches and other self portable structures.
Rediscovering the way our grandfathers used to build homes was an extraordinary experience. They achieved a far more valuable feat than we had previously realized. Some of us longed for more time listening to our grandparents “misty wisdom”, while others simply had their perceptions about their old homes altered in a positive way. A house of “mud and stakes” will never again be synonymous with misery. Our house is becoming the kind that people dream of, all while maintaining low impact, improving energy efficiency.
Overflowing with excitement about our new kitchen, we built in a stained glass window with recycled bottles. Oriented for the afternoon sun, it provides vivid color to the kitchen during dinner preparation.
We baked our first cake in the new stove with the same amount of wood that we once used to prepare soup,. Energy efficiency just got to a new level of comprehension and flavor. We embarked on a search for inspirational ideas about how to conserve more energy with low cost and renewable materials. We made three prototypes to help us be more environmentally friendly cost effective.
The CT reception room lights were kept on all day due to its bad design. To improve it, we decided to include natural illumination throughout the day by installing 60W equivalent PET-lamps. Reused plastic bottles with water and some chlorine drops refract external light inside, reducing artificial light from twelve hours to just around four per day.
Another great experience was the implementation of a low cost fruit dehydrator. We built a passive fruit dryer from a reused Styrofoam box. Using the energy from the sun, we dried out bananas to extend their shelf life and eliminate the need to eat all of them at once.
Still in energy saving mode, the next action item was a low-cost solar water heater. In Brazil, most people use electricity to heat their water, representing up to one third of their monthly energy bill. We realized there is enough sun to warm the water at least warm a couple of degrees before it gets to the electrical heater. We were astonished at the thought of waster as means to save energy and money.
Our design was changing the place, and with the changes, came new needs. One modification automatically called another. Sensitive to feedback, we kept redesigning and rebuilding our dream. The garden became the most frequently visited part of our house. We had to prepare it to be able to receive our guests in the best way possible.
Using the motto,
we acquired our neighbor’s old wood pallets and constructed a communal area for everyone to gather.
Every new design input is an opportunity to learn something different. We chose to make the Gazebo in a hyperbolic-paraboloid style. We learned that it’s best to harvest bamboo in waning moon, during winter. We treated it in the backyard stream’s flow, learning from and with nature.
We were already in love with permaculture to begin with. We understood that we had to change the way of thinking… A systemic way of comprehending reality took on new and powerful meaning. We named this different, and now obvious way of seeing things the, “permaculture look”. Permaculture was like a myopic putting glasses for the first time. Every thing around us got a new shape, color, and meaning. We now prescribe permaculture glasses to everybody, the permaculture look is one of longterm beauty none should be without.
For Part One of this series, please click here