The Folk High School of West Jutland (Vestjyllands Højskole)

 

A permacultural LAND-center which demonstrates land-based and social permaculture in continuation of the traditional Danish folk high school movement.

Project leader: Rebecca Nordbo and Justine deValicourt

Address: Skraldhedevej 8, 6950 Ringkøbing

Email: rn@vestjyllandshojskole.dk

Phone: +45 60 25 62 38

Website: www.vestjyllandshojskole.dk and www.forundringenshave.dk

Area: 10 ha

Started: The folk high school opened in 1969 and “the Garden of Wonder” (Forundringens Have) opened in 2004.

LAND center accreditation: 19th of November 2017

Key words:
Open garden, self-sufficiency, kitchen garden, demonstration project, teaching project, forest garden, permaculture orchard, alley cropping, social permaculture, culture and education/formation, work community, health and well-being, biodiversity, permaculture, organic production, biodynamic produciton, sustainability, composting, rainwater collection, beneficials.

Description:

We are creating a permacultural powercenter in West Jutland, where we try out, demonstrate and develop permaculture in the West Jutlandic context with strong west wind and sandy soil.

Locally as well as in the folk high school world, Vestjyllands Højskole is in the forefront when it comes to transition, organic food and renewable energy (the school has achieved the highest standard within organic certification in Denmark and is self-sufficient with CO2-neutral energy and heating).

At the school, we have worked focused on permaculture since 2015, as the natural step for its green profile. The work entails development of the demonstration garden “The Garden of Wonder” (Forundringens Have) and education of the students in permaculture. We are also planning on convert the remaining areas of the school into permaculture.

Since 2004, The Garden of Wonder has received guests and it demonstrates a great variety of methods of permacultural, organic and bio-dynamic cultivation. Apart from cultivation of annual and perennial vegetables, berry bushes and trees, there is an orchard co-op, a forest garden, a community garden and an orangery. In order to create a social space for the guests and students to enjoy the area, there are also shelters, compost toilet and outdoor kitchen.

At the moment, we are converting the existing bio-dynamic orchard into a permaculture orchard with alley cropping. In the spring 2018, we are starting a forest garden in southern-most areas of the school.

Ethics

The three permaculture principles are clearly seen at Vestjyllands Højskole. As folk high school, “people care” is a central value and we have special focus on community, cultural formation (the Danish concept of “dannelse”), relations and personal development.

I the design of both indoor- and outdoor areas, there is a focus on social common spaces and small, cozy corners for conversation, immersion and reflection. The students live together during their time at the school and encounter a community of shared values, in which many find lifelong friendships. Moreover, the food served at the school is healthy, organic food of good quality.

“Nature care” is practiced in our everyday life, among other through our CO2-neutral energy- and heating system (wind-, solar- and geothermal energy), organic and locally produced food as well as the organic care of the entire area. We concentrate on biodiversity and have activaly incorporated areas that accommodate this, e.g. insect hills and -hotels, shelter belts, birdhouses and areas of untouched nature.

At the school, we approach sustainability in various ways, e.g. at the common morning assemblies, at evening events, by use of informative signs and through the Garden of Wonder as a recreational as well as educational space. Moreover, we offer several green classes, such as permaculture (with possibility to take a PDC), gardening, green entrepreneurship, cooking and outdoor class.  This is part of forming the students as aware and active citizens with a green mindset.

In the Garden of Wonder, the soil is cared for according to bio-dynamic and permacultural cultivation principles, which aim to build up the humus layer and bind CO2. For example, the we use no-dig cultivation as well as ground cover plants and sheet compost. Nutrients are applied through compost and nitrogen-fixating plants.

In addition, the kitchen of school has focus on using the seasonal produce, avoiding food waste and reducing the amount of meat in the diet. All appropriate kitchen waste is composted whereby nutrients are circulated back to the garden.

“Fair share” is integrated in several aspects of the school, both in the operation of the school and in the garden. The kitchen uses primarily locally sourced food products and hereby support small, organic producers in the local area. We educate the students in green awareness, among other by not using more than we need, and we have had clothing swap markets and “repair cafés”, where you can get help repairing your things.

Moreover, we share facilities and live closely together. In this way, the students and course participants experience first hand how you can live in community instead of in “silos”.

In the Garden of Wonder, there is a community garden and an orchard co-op, in which the residents of the area are included. Emphasis is placed on learning, network and the social aspects of gardening. Also, we have areas of untouched nature, where biodiversity can flourish and  an array of species thrive.

Principles

Several of the principles are visible at Vestjyllands Højskole, both in the land-based and the social permaculture. Taking point of departure in D. Holmgren’s principles, we will go through a couple of examples:

Principles  no. 2 (Catch and store energy) & 5 (Use & value renewable resources & services) are seen in our energy supply, which is based on 100% renewable energy, whereof some of the energy is stored in the form of warm water. The orangery is an example of use of passive solar energy for cultivation of plants that otherwise wouldn’t thrive.

At the school, learning and formation is our primary “yield”, also when we work with permaculture. In this way, principle no. 3 (Obtain a yield) is central in everything we do – and the harvest from the Garden of Wonder is rather a bonus than a goal, but one that we obviously value greatly. Hereby, the cultivation is an element in the design that has several functions, that is both as learning space and a way of providing food.

Principle no. 6 (Produce no waste) is practiced directly through composting and reuse, whereof the waste will become a resource again. We take the students dumpster-diving for surplus food products, cook with it and invite the local community for dinner.

As mentioned, community and diversity play a big role here, which in permaculture is described in principles no. 8 (Integrate rather than segregate) & 10 (Use and value diversity). We cultivate diversity and integration in the garden with polyculture, companion planting and biodiversity. Socially, the principles are seen among other in the close relation between students and teachers as well as the composition of the students (see “Social regeneration”) . Moreover, we collaborate across the subjects and try to see what happens in the fusion.

Lastly, we would like to mention principle no. 12 (Creatively use and respond to change) as a theme that everyone at the folk high school embraces. Here, the everyday life is dynamic with much energy and vitality and new possibilities often show up. Therefore, we use the creativity to relate to new ideas, input or change. We still have our eye on the main goal but the road there might be adapted.

Regeneration of natural resources

Regeneration of the elements energy, soil, water and wind are included in the following ways:

Energy – The total heating- and energy supply of the school is covered by renewable energy in the form of electricity from private windmill, solar panels and geothermal plant. Investments have been made for energy improvements, such as new windows, and continuously work on reducing our energy consumption.

Soil – Composting organic material from the garden and the appropriate waste from the kitchen. The soil is kept covered either by ground cover plants or sheet compost.

By not digging and by cultivating with polyculture, crop rotation and perennial plants, the quality of the soil is improved at the same time as we obtain a yield.

Water – We have rainwater collection, which is used for watering of plants, and a wastewater treatment with infiltration (build in the beginning of 2018). In the new corridor, rainwater is used to flush the toilets.

Air – We have plenty of plants everywhere, which contributes to cleaning the air, we use very few machines and overall, we have a small CO2-emission due to our energy system and fact that the students live together. Also, the teachers are submitted to residence requirement, which means that they should live in very short distance from their workplace and therefore, do not need to commute.

Social regeneration

At Vestjyllands Højskole, community and diversity play an immense role. At the moment, we have students from 12 different countries (3 different continents) and the age spans from 18 to 73. Exactly by virtue of the diversity, the students have a lot to learn from each other. Community is the focal point in the daily life here from morning to evening, both at the meals, the assemblies with communal singing and the activities outside of the classes. That community will develop into a network, which the students will enjoy long after their stay at the school has ended. We also emphasize creative classes, in which students will have possibility to explore new sides of themselves and get qualifications in an existing craft, like ceramics, painting or woodwork. The students in between also exchange many practical skills such as knitting and crocheting.

In the Garden of Wonder, both the community garden and the orchard co-op are good examples of how the locals have joined up cultivating a piece of land with vegetables and fruit for own use. Here, experience is exchanged and people are having a nice chat while weeding. Throughout the year, the Garden of Wonder hosts a variety of events such as harvest celebration, communal dining and apple juicing days.

 

 

Welcome to the Permaculture Association of Denmark!