My name is Sam Parker-Davies. I am a young man currently traveling the world helping permaculture projects through my labour, design work and teaching skills. I have taught and assisted on 14 different permaculture courses, and worked on over 17 different projects in 10 different countries in the last 12 months without buying any plane tickets or starting with any spending budget.
After over a year living on Zaytuna Farm with Geoff Lawton I was given a ticket to the UK by an English traveler who learnt of my story and desire to help the world. When she bought my ticket I began my travels through Australia, with contacts from Geoff. The mission was to teach my first solo Permaculture Design Course and to assist in the yearly PDC and internship at the Greening the Desert site in Jordan. I began travelling without using money but as I travelled I gained the resource of money from kind people who wanted to support me and from jobs I did for others. Seeing the possibilities for this resource in the third and first worlds if used ethically I became intent on using it for the greatest good I can. Over the year I have been traveling I have survived solely from permaculture work, and I have become very aware of just how much of it there is to do.
These articles are an invitation for any person about to take their next step to consider an education and career in permaculture. There is a huge need for it in every corner of the world; the jobs are endless, high class, low socioeconomic, refugees, towns, bedouins, billionaires… there really is no limit or end. Whether you’re a high school student, having a midlife crisis, have a comfortable job, don’t know what you’re going to do next, want to do permaculture but don’t know how to make it a focus or are already a practicing permaculturalist, may this writing serve to inspire you in your next steps.
My Permaculture Journey in Greece
“The rich soft soil has run away, leaving the earth nothing but skin and bone. But in those days the damage had not taken place, the hills had high crests, the rocky plain of Phelleus was covered with rich soil, and the mountains were covered with thick woods, of which there are some traces today.” – PLATO
The meeting point of Europe and Asia, a land of ancient culture that has been foundational for the modern western world, Greece is truly a land of edge. Today with a blossoming movement in regenerative agriculture and ecological building practices, it is a land with a rich history but not a regenerative one.
Plato watched ancient Greece fell its trees and mine its topsoil until the modern landscape of rock and bare ground arose from the once forested and fertile earth. The rising population and degradation of their own land led to the need for the conquering of the surrounding areas, areas that remembered its fertility. As these areas degraded too the destructive agriculture of Greece ultimately led to their collapse as the population of their cities rose, and the demands became too much. Today similar problems continue in Greece, but this time on mechanised and chemical scales. Dropping water tables, soil erosion and water contamination are problems becoming less invisible to the modern farmers as multiple cases of groundwater salination have caused towns to become abandoned.
The work ahead of the regenerative movement is big.
My reason for coming to Greece was to teach my first solo Permaculture Design Course. I had been invited by someone from Greece who I had met at Geoff’s. After this I knew I was heading to Jordan but I had no idea what I was doing in between. I was just focusing on what was in front of me.
I came to a project called Αειphoria, known to most Greeks as cob.gr. It is one of the most famous sites in Greece for eco building. They have been demonstrating extremely cheap and environmentally friendly building methods for about 20 years. There are many students of the father and son, Kostas and Christos Kontamanos, who own and run the farm. They have spread this information under a guiding ethic of broad availability, charging very little for every course they teach.
Surrounding the demonstrative buildings of the farm is a food forest inspired by Fukuoka’s approach of natural farming. Taught by one of Fukuoka’s students, Panos Manikis, they exercised minimum interference and a trust for nature.
The farm itself was very beautiful, full of hand built cob houses and a wandering food forest of natural character. But despite the beauty of their work and of the philosophy, the expression of the food forest was unfortunate. The trees were diseased and the soil was relatively poor after 20 years of compaction from the feet of building workshops.
Through the PDC we observed the farm and thought of how we could redesign the space given what was already there and what soil building and disease prevention techniques we would apply. With live online lessons from Geoff Lawton, Graham Bell, Bunya Halasz, Lis Bastian and Tina Lymberis and some very interesting and inspired final designs I was very happy with the result of my first PDC.
Geoff often says that your success as a teacher is marked by what your students go on to do. Still only having taught one solo PDC I watch these students very closely, and I must say I am extremely impressed with the speed at which many of them are implementing what we explored together, with many already digging swales and retrofitting orchards all over Greece. I am watching others knowing their potential too.
Agroforestry/food forest systems were a big focus in the course, given the food forest we were surrounded by and the teachers that were invited to speak. Christos had been studying agriculture and had moved to a desire for productive agroforestry on new land they had bought next to the farm. We explored ideas mainstreamed by the syntropic method, interacting in the system with much greater interference, helping the forest create soil through disturbance.
In our design of the new production agroforest at Αειphoria we designed for many species that would produce abundant biomass (organic matter) to aid in soil creation (if pruned heavily), a seasonal diversity of interesting food plants, wood trees for future builds, and an easily manageable row system. Then to start we began collecting organic matter and making compost like crazy.
The plan became to plough up the field to loosen the compacted clay soil, spread compost and organic matter and cover in cover crops. Once rainy season came we would plant nitrogen fixing and good biomass producing species in dominance, along with hardy food producing species in the spaces in-between.
After a few months in other countries and projects I returned to Aειphoria Farm to implement the design we had created in an 8 day workshop.
With 30 different participants ranging in age from 4 to 70, we planted over 3,000 trees in the new agroforestry system and in the old food forest (in a space where conventional monocultures could only fit 90). Many were support species, so only about 900 will produce food. We added swales and other water harvesting systems, and created a system for controlled flooding of the agroforest in times of excess water.
For quick money the agroforest is mixed with market garden rows for the quick cropping of annual vegetables. As the system evolves these beds could become shade tolerant berry rows.
Amongst all this I also travelled around Greece for the 3 months I was there, visiting some very exciting projects and meeting some great teachers (Mazi Farm, Southern Lights, Giuseppe Sanicandro, Pedros Zografos, and Theodoros Morias just to name a few). Greece is the place I began to relax further in my ideals around money and stopped being so rigidly the “moniless traveler”. Something very important had started to dawn on me. During the first course I had heard about Lesvos and Moria Camp, one of the biggest refugee camps in Europe. Wanting to learn more and help I made the decision to buy a ticket to the island of Lesvos and back for 100 euro, more money than I had spent all up in my trip so far. It was easily the best financial decision I have ever made.