Category Archives: Agriculture abroad

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David and I have both returned from globe trotting filled with new knowledge and experiences gleaned from around the world. This time spent abroad has motivated us to rethink our contributions to the agriculture movement, and we are in the process of completely re-envisioning the Amyitis project.

I spent a lot of my time overseas working on a reforestation project in Tamil Nadu, India: Sadhana Forest, part of the larger community of Auroville. I once overheard Sadhana Forest described as, “an amazing group of people, good work ethic, good energy, and good vibes.” Absolutely true. Founded by Yorit and Aviram Rozin in 2003 Sadhana is a model sustainability project striving to recreate indigenous Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest that once grew in the area.  When Sadhana project first began, the land was completely barren, and now there are more than 20,500 Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest plants of 150 different indigenous species, with an average survival rate between 80% – 90%. More than 1,600 volunteers, interns, and students from India and around the world have lived and worked in Sadhana Forest for periods of 2 weeks to 24 months.

Sadhana Forest volunteers, March 2010

One of the foundational elements of Sadhana Forest is that community support is vital to the success of the project. The Rozins and their volunteers are constantly striving to maintain close ties with the local community.  Without the community’s support and commitment to the forest, the trees would simply not survive. This is one of the reasons why the relationships between the volunteers, the community, and the forest  are at the heart of the project. As one volunteer famously said, “may there be more forests to grow people!”  This connection to the community being invaluable to the overall success of the project is the most valuable lesson Sadhana Forrest has taught me. Sadhana India and their brand new sister project, Sadhana Haiti, are always looking for new volunteers. It’s a most invaluable experience, trust me. If you would like more information on the experience of volunteering, feel free to contact me through the comments.

Around the time I returned from Asia, David triumphantly returned from an intensive permaculture course at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. Motivated by a life changing experience with permaculture in San Francisco, David  journeyed to the motherland of modern permaculture near The Channon in NSW Australia.

From the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia:

David had such an amazing experience at the Institute that he plans on returning in the fall this time to teach with world-renowned permaculture pioneers Geoff and Nadia Lawton.

He made this video chronicling his experiences:

David continues to imagine new and better ways of bringing permaculture practice and knowledge to San Francisco. One such project he is involved in is Hayes Valley Farm– a community garden and permaculture demonstration site here in San Francisco.

David discusses this project in the podcast, Confessions of a Permaculture Aid Worker, Episode 5: Paul David Stockhausen.

You can listen to it here:

Recently, David was a major contributor at the Greener minds summit 2010, an active, collaborative meeting of the minds of “Bay Area sustainability movers and shakers.”

David @ the GreenerMind Summit 2010

We have many other projects and ideas in the works as we contemplate our next steps. As always, we’d love to hear any suggestions and feedback from our readers in the comments.

It’s great to be home!

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Back and kicking it!

Before venturing to Australia and The Permaculture Research institute this past January, I’d found myself answering the same query over and over again “……O.K, wait, tell me again, what is Permaculture anyway?” And now, since returning from the PRI to the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve encountered the same questions from friends and family though now with more of a peppered interest in where Permaculture might lead me. My answer is often less about where Permaculture is going to lead me, but instead us.

Being a trained observer of natural patterns, it’s pretty difficult not to notice an obvious dearth in awareness around the subject of Permaculture. Furthermore, I feel that it goes without saying that there’s an urgent need for permaculture education that is a direct conduit to action. Once one knows and deeply understands our global state of affairs and environmental situation through the educational lens of a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), it is difficult to not have a sense of urgency about permanent cultural repair. To me, it appears that this type of urgency isn’t often shared by those who don’t see the issues and the solutions through the lens of Permaculture and whole systems thinking.

While many of us are well-intentioned and passionate about change, we’re often at a loss to know how to tackle such large problems. As though many of us seem to be caught in the rapid current of a positive feedback loop, a lot of us have learned helplessness thus driving the problems deeper into the proverbial carpet. And as these problems become deeper and embedded so does our sense of frustration, confusion and ultimately apathy. Now the need for an interruption in this feedback pattern is evermore timely as an eponymous oil disaster in the American Gulf of Mexico sounds the environmental alarm. As each moment passes, the adoption of scaled design solutions, not only for disaster relief and aid work but for community organization and skills trading, become needed with increasing urgency. Though, despite this, It would appear that a lot of us are eager yet unprepared to make even the small changes that might set forth a pattern of positive change fueled by real solutions. And still, for so many Americans, it is easier to spend $20-$30 on an afternoon at the movie theaters than it is to spend hard-earned dollars on personal development. For instance, rentrack.com reports “Twilight: The Eclipse” generated nearly 70 million USD over July 4th weekend alone.

Well..” I asked myself “…how does one prepare for battle?”. “How do you get from couch potato to a sprightly spud?”. “You go to Boot Camp…Permaculture Boot Camp!” Actually, to be completely transparent, the design process didn’t exactly fall into place with such cinematic drama. In fact, the Permaculture Boot Camp at Hayes Valley Farm (HVF) in San Francisco, CA is an ongoing design project between myself and Chris Burley that aims to teach Permaculture to the masses in three short hours. The design for this class developed out of a design project for our Permaculture Design Certificate in 2009. Leaving the PDC we felt strongly that the needs of our community were expressed in its interest in positive change, but apparent lack of direction and cohesiveness to see results. Our desires to teach the lessons that were so powerful to us in our PDC experienced several evolutions before an opportunity aligned with our intent. Now with the Hayes Valley site, an experimental urban farm, getting deep community and media attention, we’ve found the it is the perfect platform for mass education. As the design continues to evolve, we’re getting indicators of success, full classes.

The real success has been in the timing. When Chris originally proposed the course as a one hour lecture, I almost thought he was mad. “Teach Permaculture in one hour? We’ll be lucky if we finish introductions in an hour!” Though after a few emails back and forth, we settled on the current format of two energetic 90 minute sessions. Feeling that it would be disingenuous to call in an “Introduction to Permaculture” we settled on Boot Camp. “Put em through the ringer!” we thought.

With the three-hour BootCamp, Chris and I offer a rapid-fire introduction to the basics of Permaculture. We begin with an active lecture on evidence followed by a Permaculture ethics and principles site tour where we demonstrate how HVF fulfills and acts on each of Holmgren’s principles and Mollison’s ethical framework . Teaching the course on site invites the students to activate their new-found perspective immediately. Our aim goes beyond the theory of Permaculture to introduce and actively forge a community through sharing and understanding the skills and resources of the people sitting next to one another. With interactive classroom exercises the students are encouraged to form quick bonds to leave empowered and active.

One of the biggest issues students mentioned as being problematic in their worlds is a feeling that their community has been lost. Our answer is part of the course design. The class is typically offered on Sundays twice per month just before the weekly public volunteer workday at HVF. By the time the class ends at 1:30pm the urban farm is buzzing with bodies from all over San Francisco digging, raking, sheet-mulching and planting.  The Boot Camp appears to be a perfect entrée to direct action; incentivizing community collaboration over more commercial forms of entertainment. As the students get to know their class and their classroom we remind them “Your lack of community ends here!” Moreover, because the Hayes Valley site has been almost entirely built with volunteer labor and community support, it quickly is becoming the community. It’s drawn hundreds of volunteers and visitors on weekends since January 2010 when its gates opened, and continues to need helping hands to make it truly demonstrate the capacity of Permaculture design solutions. The design of the BootCamp allows for people energy to be delivered to the site and ensures continued support for the site, not to mention a little revenue. What’s more, is that now with three BootCamps offered since May, we’ve taught nearly 60 students, 7 of which have gone on to take the Urban PDC with Kevin Bayuk and David Cody, and many more of which are now regular volunteers at Hayes Valley Farm.

The course costs anywhere between $60-$75 dollars with scholarships available for eligible applicants. What’s really encouraging is that there are a great number of people willing to spend that money on a weekend learning to help save their community. In a city known for its love of hedonistic options for ways one can spend a dime, it is nice to know that there is a growing number of hedonists turned activists. The next BootCamp is being offered at Hayes Valley Farm in San Francisco on Sunday, July 11th. For more information or to spread the word about what’s happening in urban permaculture visit hayesvalleyfarm.com.

David Stockhausen