This family-owned and operated permaculture operation in the United Kingdom is an amazingly unique and inspirational example of what can be accomplished over only a short amount of time, with even just a small team.
In just 10 years, Janta Wheelhouse, who calls himself, rather appropriately, a diversity specialist, and his family are making great strides to rehabilitate their land in Shropshire, despite a mountain of obstacles on every side. In the spectacular aerial shots found in the video below, it’s easy to compare and contrast Wheelhouse’s land and the neighboring sheep farms, which are all overgrazed green deserts. Wheelhouse says that his land, when first purchased, was exactly the same. It’s almost difficult to believe that it only took a decade to accomplish so much regrowth, creating a dramatic difference. As it stands, what you’re about to see is the largest forest garden project in the United Kingdom, with more than 10,000 trees of all varieties, as well as numerous plants, gardens, orchards and more.
The Wheelhouse’s project began in 2005, when Janta and his family outbid neighboring farmers in an auction for the small piece of land in Shropshire. Though the cost may have seemed unfounded to some, the Wheelhouses could see the potential that the land offered, and the long-term benefits. They sold their long-time home to cover the purchase and plowed ahead.
More than a business choice, though, the purchase of the land was a lifestyle choice. The Wheelhouses said they could feel an instant connection with the Earth there, and that they knew it needed the kind of care and love that another buyer simply would not provide. Their first project? To begin planting their forest garden, with nine acres of three different woodland sections. Then, they moved on to planting vegetable gardens, nurseries and orchards (which supply the community with apple saplings and fruit bush plants as well).
Such an enterprising endeavor, of course, required an equally unique and memorable name. Karuna Insight Design is inspired by the Sanskrit word for compassion. The word also makes an appearance in an Aldous Huxley novel, in which an island exists where residents live in harmony with nature, science and art. So, it’s a fitting name for the now 18-acre project.
Unfortunately, Karuna has faced various obstacles while attempting to grow upward and onward. Local governments and communities have not been terribly kind to the family and their endeavor. Generally, agricultural businesses of around the same size are given the rights to build both a shed and polytunnel. However, despite Karuna’s rights to build, he and his family were not granted permission by area planners and were forced to file an appeal.
Eventually, the family won their cases, but then faced a string of vandalism at the property, including the poisoning of more than 100 trees. At this point, the Wheelhouses did not personally live on the grounds, but moved to Karuna shortly after, and have lived there since 2007 onward. Even this, though, did not come easily, as complaints were filed against them for their residential use of the land.
Overcoming even still, the family started out living in a caravan, but has worked tirelessly to gain both the approval and funds needed to build a sustainable roundhouse. At one point, Wheelhouse noted that, sadly, until this, he had never felt the need to be motivated by money. He and his wife, however, knew certain funds would be required to continue their sustainable journey. The permaculture community surrounded the couple over the years and helped to raise funds needed, and also volunteer their own time to help the family build the beautiful, sustainable and still-evolving roundhouse you saw in the video above (a more in-depth look at the building process is featured in the videos below).
Today, anyone can pay a visit to the site, whether to volunteer or learn, or simply just to see what all the fuss is about (though they do ask that group tours are arranged). Wheelhouse hopes those who do visit will see that these kinds of permaculture organizations and forest gardens are vital to Britain’s rural areas, and crucial for providing the entire country with sustainable energy, housing and food sources. In addition, you can sign up for on-site courses on a variety of topics, on everything from scything to outdoor photography. Tours include valuable insight onto the organization and permaculture, based on your current knowledge, and shows the exceptional way these permaculture practitioners are healing the land. For volunteers, Karuna is a WWOOF farm (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and members may come to work and learn during the summer months, staying in the on-site caravan or in self-provided camping equipment.
When visiting Karuna, you’ll notice a few things right from the start. All of the energy is, of course, renewable and either solar or wine-powered. All rainwater and waste water is recycled. As much food as can be grown on-site is, and all organically. You’d be surprised at just how much of the food that you need to live can be produced without ever stepping foot into the grocery store. In addition, the forest garden provides not only fruits, nuts, vegetables and herbs, but also building materials and medicinal plants.
If you’re already familiar with the ins and outs of permaculture, and are interested in joining this movement that is currently sadly underserved within the United Kingdom, the Wheelhouses do provide consultation for building your own site. The organization’s experience speaks for itself. Actively involved on a day-to-day basis and experienced practitioners, they are not merely permaculture experts who are all talk and no action. Words without action are, after all fruitless (both literally and figuratively, when it comes to permaculture).
For the best consultation, it’s important to seek out those who are truly living the permaculture lifestyle, just like what’s found at Karuna. Wheelhouse and his familial team are always happy to invite interested visitors to the site to learn about what they need to do to set their own plans into action. In addition, Janta will even visit other sites to provide advice and help drawn plans, regardless of how large or small a project may be. They recognize the significance of spreading permaculture however possible.
At the end of the day, Karuna’s main goal is to become an inspirational eco-hamlet for others to learn from. In fact, this has been the entire goal all along — permaculture education and leadership. The entire operation is based on symbiosis, with the goal to not only heal the land, but also to heal people and social groups, with crucial changes needed in order for the human race to go on existing on this planet. From tours to classes to simple media intended to provide other permaculture practitioners around the world with easy-to-understand information, education is key to the entire operation. Without even visiting Karuna, you can learn a few permaculture tips yourself, like how to install an earthen floor or roundhouse construction techniques, which were both put into practice at Karuna, as the Wheelhouses built their own roundhouse, as you see in the two videos below.
Now, the organization hopes to begin the next step of their journey, by building an indoor facility in addition to the small workshop and outdoor classroom currently available. Eventually, they hope to fully demonstrate the remarkable effects of a group of people living and working together in a low-impact manner even further, as they reach as many people as possible.