Category Archives: Erasmus+

The journey begins …

Text and photos by Kate Ambrose

This summer, I was lucky enough to spend some lovely days with wonderful, inspiring people at the Nordic Permaculture Festival – my first permaculture event outside the UK. I had just moved to Denmark and I was extremely pleased to discover that the festival was going to be held in the country – what luck. l could not have been happier – this was one of the first and most important steps towards me starting a new life here.

Re-starting my permaculture journey

At the festival I met my soon to be Diploma teacher, Cathrine Dolleris, which was one of the reasons I had been so keen to get to the event; I’d made a clear decision to do my diploma and knew this would be a pivotal moment for me in regard to making the contacts I would need to re-start my permaculture journey. Cathrine’s profile was a perfect match – the universe was, once again, conspiring to help me.

Towards the end of the festival I found myself in a workshop where it was mentioned that there were still places available through Erasmus+ to shadow a PDC in the UK with Aranya, and since my plan was to become a permaculture teacher everything worked out in my favour.

Aranya

I had heard good things about Aranya  even before I’d met him at the IPC in London in 2015. The friend of mine who first introduced me to permaculture, had done her PDC with him and raved about it, and like many, myself included, she seemed to want to download his brain and keep copy of it it in her pocket, handy at all times – like a magic permaculture 8 ball but with wikipedia style answers. I’m pleased he writes books.

So after no more than a few days, I was on my way back to my new home, with a new Diploma teacher in hand, many new friends, lots of inspiration and a new plan for the future, one that Erasmus+ was making possible.

Summer being over and autumn descending, I arrived in the UK for the PDC.

High Heathercombe

High up on Dartmoor rests High Heathercombe, beautifully silent above incredible views that stretch out for miles.

This was to be our home for the next two weeks. We had all gathered there to learn; some to learn about permaculture, other’s how to teach it.

I was there to shadow Aranya and Klaudia Van Gool. Mel Lamb was also very present; she runs the venue, leads sessions in social and regenerative culture and was also the client for the projects.

We were four apprentices in total, twelve students, two teachers and three other residents who all took part and played important roles. The number of apprentices there to shadow surprised me and seemed a little excessive, but it was a real blessing! The meetings that took place between us gave unexpected insights that I would never have had otherwise.

The prism of experience

The prism through which we experience things is so unique, so intricately formed by our variant pasts, that I believe it colours our perceptions in ways we often do not realise. Hearing others’ views of  sessions led me to question my own and to think more deeply about how and why I could or would present information.

Having three other apprentices to meet with and discuss different techniques, activities, learning styles and the running of the course in general, was invaluable. At times I was stunned to realise just how differently we perceived certain sessions, and how dependent that was on our own unique, previous experiences. It brought to light the vast differences in perception there must be throughout the class and that it must be virtually impossible to please all people at all times. Knowing this, though a little daunting at first, actually allowed me to relax and start looking at myself as a teacher. What aspects of my personality, strengths and gifts should I be aware of , what do I bring to the table? How can I make best use of my own resources? And to counter that, what are my weak points, what limiting factors do I need to design for in my pathway and as a teacher? It has become clear to me that planning is one!

These meeting also gave us a chance to question and discuss things in a safe space, without the fear of offending anyone. They enabled us to gather differing opinions, re-evaluate our primary ones, and move forward to a place where we could constructively feed back – without taking precious time away from the tutors, who were already stretched to capacity. This was another very beneficial lesson. As someone with, at times, a very limited energy supply realising that the generosity and desire to impart as much knowledge as possible is possibly not always that well aligned with self-care. I know when the time comes for me to run courses this is something I will need to be very aware of, especially if I do not want to burn myself out. There is so much to share, but time is a limiting factor and self-care certainly needs to be taken into account.

In relation to that, delegation came to mind. At the moment this feels like an important resource to be called upon until I am confident enough to teach all areas of a PDC, which anyway is still a long way off. But even on an introductory course the benefits of  bringing in other people with specialist knowledge would be beneficial in many ways – some time for the teachers to take a back seat and possibly learn things they previously did not know, maximising the cross-pollination of ideas, expanding networks, exposing students to more experiences, views, knowledge and perceptions. Also, to illustrate the multitude of ways permaculture is and can be used, understood and practiced depending on your needs and field of interest.

Regenerative culture

The benefits of having a variety of teachers was evident on this PDC. Aranya and Klaudia’s different personalities and styles complimented each other well, both enriched the other and created something new – which, I believe, is what regenerative culture is all about.

Regenerative culture and Social permaculture sessions were held in the evenings, almost everyone attended these session, something that drew us all closer together and helped form a community and sense of trust.

There were sessions that some people found very hard. We were invited, within a well held and safe space, to ‘show up’, dig deep and communicate from the more vulnerable places within us, places many of us are probably used to hiding from others and possibly even ourselves. None the less, these are the spaces we need to recognise and connect with if we are to create strong communities, new healthier cultures and a better world.

In this and other ways social permaculture and regenerative culture were woven through the course and though designated to the evenings and always as a voluntary extra, they were ever present. From the start of the course, opening with the lighting of the ‘Children’s fire’ and of us thinking about the generations to come, to the daily check-ins and the creation of house-keeping groups – Community was formed. It happened at times, and in ways, invisibly and almost imperceptibly, but was sustained throughout. It made us feel safer, stronger and more trustful; allowing us to open up more and more in those vulnerable spaces we bravely shared with one another in the evenings – on the sofa, around the fire or in the held spaces created specifically.

Shadowing the course I learned and expanded my knowledge of so many other things; soil, forest gardens, planting apple trees, working in and with groups…the list goes on.

The experience gave me so much, including many good friends. And even now, a month on, I am still realising on an almost daily basis what other gifts it bestowed on me.  

It has deepened my connection to others, to nature and to myself, for which I am truly grateful. And – very importantly – taught me about the importance, realities, challenges and joys of running a course. Of trying to fit a lifetime of experience, and not just permaculture, into the long, but limited days that draw us all together on these magical things we call PDCs.

Time to make the world a little brighter.

Participating in Permahabitat

Article of Ania Lawenda and Gabriele Sutera. Permahabitat project funded by Erasmus+ program. Location: The Southern Lights, Greece.

Between the end of September and beginning of October 2019 me and my partner took part to a PDC (Permaculture Design Course) in a 2 hectares farm in Greece. The farm is located in the mountainous peninsula of Peloponnesso, in the Lakonia district, not far from a small village of about 3.000 people, Skala. The course was co-financed by Erasmus + program and coordinated by Naumanni permaculture migrante, an Italian organisation working with adult education in the field of permaculture, agroforestry and landscape management and the Southern Lights the non-profit organisation started by the group who is managing the farm. The farm has been already managed in organics regime for more than a decade and now they intend to grow following agroforestry principle and transform the farm into an  educational hub, for young and adults.

We are both in our 30s and in the past months we have been working in a non-profit organisation that runs and maintain and old wooden sailing boat built in 1935, Hawila. How is this project related to permaculture if it does not concern designing for land management and why we decided to take part in the course in Greece?


One of us has a University degree in agricultural development but for the other one the practicalities of cultivating the land and the world of plants was a completely new world to be discovered. Nevertheless, for both the content of the course was bringing new knowledge.


Permaculture is not only and agricultural method, as one of the definition says, permaculture design is “a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components in a pattern which seeks to benefit life in all its forms” (by Bill Mollison, the “father” of of permaculture). It’s a complex and holistic science that researches and let’s us understand not only how to regenerate lands, plant food forests and make nourishing composts for our soils but also gives us designing tools that helps us to both benefit life and create more than we destroy. Permaculture is a science base on ethics, respecting the 3 main principles of earth care, people care and fair share. The knowledge gained during the PDC can help us reflect on how designing systems in which every element benefit and support one another in a functional way. This design approach can also be applied in social design, being a great tool to design organisations’ structures or plan projects.


One of the main premises of a permaculture design is the definition of waste: a product of an element that is not used in a productive way by another element. It’s a simple statement yet it carries a message that can be applied in many levels. Wouldn’t it benefit all of us to have our eyes open for what is being wasted in our organisational, community work and try to see if we can make it become functional instead?


What is especially mindful about permaculture is that it teaches us not to give simple, premade answers to challenges. The solutions always depend on the specific case. In the times that we live in we offer search for instant remedies, instant cures, whereas a permaculture designer will first answer “it depends” and then will take time to observe the object of inquiry, to come up with a functional solution, taking into consideration the planet, the people and fairness. Isn’t it beneficial to all of us and all aspects of our life, all organizations and human conduct we engage in?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apart from finding universal chords in almost all permaculture design content we were also introduced to the permaculture related social studies researching on deep democracy theories, holistic management, community based decision-making practices like dragon dreaming or alternative economies.

Permaculture design course is rich in knowledge and tools that can benefit all of us, regardless of occupation, passions, relations to land and plant world. For the times we live in it offers an interesting alternative to the mainstream ways of designing our life, teaches us how to make the world a better place recognizing how its elements are interconnected and dependent on each others well being.


We will definitely use some of the ideas and tools not only to take more seriously our dreams of cultivating a land but also to make the organization we are engaged in now stronger. We are grateful for being able to take part in the course, it was a delight to be a part of it!

Everything Gardens

Permahabitat Training, funded by Erasmus+ KA105
Partner organization: The Southern Lights, Greece
Dates: September 23rd - October 9th
Article of Line Skov

The permaculture design course with Giuseppe Salicandro in Southern Lights in Greece, was simply amazing. I learned so much, I gained so much, and I felt healed. When invited for the course I was intrigued, but doubting, as I lost my father just 3 months before and my level of energy was generally very low. However, after a few days at the magical place, all doubts vanished completely. The group was incredibly warm, the teacher so inspiring, and the place very beautiful.

Picture of Line Skov


The first morning, just like every following morning, we gathered in an “awareness circle” to listen to each other’s dreams, experiences and projects. In the first morning circle I told about the loss of my father, and I shared some very tasty apples that I brought from his garden in Denmark. It was important for me to tell this to the people that I would share everything with during the following two weeks. The reaction from the group was very warm and welcoming. Several persons came to me afterwards and gave me long, healing hugs, and this feeling only grew during the next weeks, as the group grew closer.

Picture of Line Skov


Our teacher, Giuseppe, facilitated this warmth-sharing, as well as the teaching, very well. His energetic person inspired people to follow him from explanations of solutions to global environmental problems and all the way to nerdy agroforestry details. He gave us an overall but thorough introduction to the giant world of Permaculture, with loads of practical tips, vivid explanations, and inspiration to further readings/literature. The course was theoretically heavy, with some great practical sessions blended in. If I should point at one possible improvement, I would have wished for even more practical exsercises – preferably one every day. But overall, the teaching was splendid and I definitely recommend Giuseppe as teacher.

Our host, the Southern Lights, did a big job making us feel comfortable. First of all, the place is just amazing. I appreciated how the farm already implemented permaculture in a big part of the land, so we received the teaching in a living example. Inclusive the swimmable fish pond, which cleared the minds during breaks. There was some problem hosting indoor teaching, but we managed, and the Southern Lights have plans of building an indoor common area. But generally: super nice to receive teaching outdoors.


The food was good and vegan. Could have wished for some more variety, local recipes and break-snacks. But I enjoyed the food a lot. There were an issue with the cook though. After a mid-way feedback session, where he was asked to explain his principles, he stood up and spoke very aggressively to everyone for almost an hour. It was very unpleasant for everyone. So it is important that everyone – also the cook – understands the idea of compassion for others and the principles of non-violent communication.


Accomodation was in own tents in the food forest. It was very lovely. Super cosy and green and good.
I am very happy for the opportunity, for my choice of taking it, and for the outcome. I have learned so much more than what I can describe here, and created connections in so many places. Thank you very much!

Picture of Line Skov

Baltic Ecovillage Network – Seminar

The Baltic Ecovillage Network (BEN) organized a 1-week Seminar in Hallingelille ecovillage, Denmark. This Seminar was organized by BEN and LØS and funded by Erasmus+ (a funding of European Commission). And me, Rubén from PKDK board living in an ecovillage (Ananda Gaorii) member of LØS, I got the pleasure to participate in this seminar. 

This Seminar, called “Make Youth Work”, focused on connecting people and projects, equip communities with knowledge about European Solidarity Corps and start creating some projects together.

There were more than 25 participants from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In between other activities, we went to Copenhagen to be part of the demonstration Fridays for Future, went to visit Karise Permatopia ecovillage and had social activities with the locals from Hallingelille, as for example, dinner, playing music or having saunas.

Thanks to LØS and BEN for organizing this Seminar, which strenghten the network and inspire youth.

Here you can see a video with some pictures and listen to songs we were singing:

 

Permaculture Teaching Matters

Text and photos: Krista Klijzing

Hej, my name is Krista Klijzing and I would like to share a bit about my experience at the recently held “Permaculture Teaching Matters” course, 18-26 August 2018, Sösdala Sweden.

The venue, Ankholt, Sösdala Sweden

This PTM course serves as a training course designed to assist PDC holders to become effective and inspiring teachers, and as such, to have a multiplier effect in spreading and sharing permaculture. It is designed by a woman named Rosemary Morrow. Now, I had never heard of this woman, so I did a bit of googling and you tubing, only to find a truly inspiring, compassionate, pragmatic and down-to-earth woman with an IN-credible amount of experience. Suffice to say she’s been around and walks the talk. She currently dedicates her time to travelling alone around the world, mostly to war-torn nations, and offers to learn people -who have otherwise no opportunity to do so- about sustainability and food growing. How is that NOT amazing? What also stood out about her was the fact that in many pictures, she was sitting on the floor with such ease and grace. And this is a woman who is well into her middle age. The reason why that kind of thing strikes me is because I teach whole-body, multi-planar movement (and lots of it, yes, on the floor) on a daily basis, as a way for us people to age dynamically and gracefully.

Back to the course. In total, 12 participants from different parts of the world, came together at the venue: Ankholt, a cooperative farm located in Sösdala, south Sweden. There we were met by the teaching tandem; Alfred Decker & Candela Vargas. I can warmly recommend these people if you ever have the chance to follow a course with them: they are experienced and gifted facilitators, with a huge toolbox to draw from. And not to forget funny! I laughed my hat off J. Anyway, they are also humble people and very well equipped for the task, which was to teach us about facilitation (aka the art of communication). How to make your teaching effective (as in: resulting in appropriate learning outcomes) and lasting (as in: beyond the moment)??

When it came to the content of the course, they really made us think about how to create a learning community, in which trust, confidence and exchange can emerge, whilst respecting each other’s abilities. So basically, how to integrate people care in your teachings? And that both the learning environment (physical setting) and drawing out a course culture/or class code amongst learners (how do we like to treat each other??) are really important to this end. These topics were eye-openers for me.

    

Our learning environment

Furthermore, we looked at the learner, the teacher, and how does a teacher inhibit and stimulate the learning in others? Next, we discussed the kind of teaching methods one can use (f.e. chalk & talk, Q & A, group work). And how we have a variety of teaching tools to our disposition, ranging from; field trips to objects, to games, to your own body. Only your imagination sets the limit as to how you, as a teacher, can appeal to a broad array of learners. And the take-home message is; how to choose and use your teaching methods and tools appropriately in order to facilitate the learning in others whilst making the teaching as effective as possible?

THEN we got to put all this to practice J. What would a Teacher Training course be, without trying to teach?? On 5 occasions we had to present a micro-teaching; 3 times on your own, 1 co-teaching, and 1 group teaching, presenting permaculture related subjects. So, real hands-on experience; trying out different teaching methods and tools, whilst modelling pleasant behavior, thinking about your body-language and using non- violent communication. Each micro-teaching session would end with a round of feedback, so we also got to train our debriefing & appraisal skills

Now, I would lie if I would say this week was easy-breezy. The days were JAM packed; with learning sessions, AND working on your own micro-teaching, AND finding time to also work on the group assignment AND participating in chores such as washing up and keeping the place tidy.

Washing up and filing buckets was part of our daily activities

But you know, it was perfect. We came there to learn, and to be inspired. And we had fun. And there was an atmosphere of solidarity, we were amongst peers and could find mutual support in one another. New friends and networks were created. It made me think about all the teachers I have had in my life, both in the formal and informal education system, and drawing out which were the ones I enjoyed most and why. And I am definitely also reviewing my own ways of teaching and how to put into practice the things I’ve learnt at the course. No doubt about it, it was a worthwhile & lasting experience!

The Erasmus+ mobility project supported the participation in this course.

Erasmus+ mobility- Job Shadowing a PDC in England

Text: Charlotte Louise Langdon
Photos: Aranya

Job shadowing for Aranya and Caroline Aitkens PDC course this spring has given me a great deal of inspiration for developing my teaching. This I would like to share with you here.

We were about 18 people who spent two weeks at High Heathercombe Centre: this included a teaching team of 3, plus me as the shadow, 2 working in the kitchen and 12 participants.

Here I have collected some of the things that made the teaching on this course so effective.

  • What we teach- is the content relevant?

Questionnaire was sent out before the course beginning- covering participant’s previous knowledge of permaculture, their interests, expectations and future plans for using permaculture in their life. The teaching group read through the questionnaire replies together, on the day of arrival. This meant we were able to see who in the group had previous knowledge and who were beginners. This helped in organising groups and making the content relevant to all participants.  Other methods could be a show of hands, where educators ask the group about their interests.  The questionnaire also helped to flag up and unknown circumstances like health problems, shyness or learning difficulties.

 

  • How it’s taught- is the process engaging and interactive?

Course days were filled with activities and opportunities to relay content to suit many learning styles.  Visual learners were met with slideshows, free standing pictures, as well as pictures and clear mind-maps on the whiteboard. Linguistic learners could talk it out in pairs or groups, kinaesthetic learners got the opportunity to move their bodies and complete practical activities, audio learning was aided by discussion and presentations. Participants were invited to work in groups, in threes, pairs and often came back to the whole group presentation in order to share the individual experiences from the activities to the whole class. This meant that the course felt dynamic, but also that participants could compare their own findings to the findings of others, thereby broadening their understanding.

 

After-lunch sessions were particularly reserved for practical and outdoor activities, since this is usually a time of low-energy when sat in a classroom situation. Activities included soil-testing, observation of natural systems, water audit for the teaching centre, measuring slope with bunyip and A-frame.  Handouts meant that it was possible for small groups to go and work independently while still receiving guidance from the educators. On the handouts were questions which should be filled in for later presentation to the whole group. How is the soil where you have taken your test? How does this compare to the other test site?

 

 

It was very clear that the educators had been inspired by multiple intelligences, the Action Learning Cycle and Accelerated learning in their teaching. (Participants are prepared by offering a safe group working environment and building on previous learning. The content is presented creatively and interactively and the participants then have the opportunity to practice the learning in real-world situations. They are then offered insight into their performance through peer support, coaching, personal observation, evaluation and feedback)

 

 

  • What relationships does this information make with our
    existing knowledge- does it connect with previous learning?

 

Reviews of the previous day’s content were carried out by each of the groups in turn. They would prepare a review for the rest of the group and were offered inspiration for how to do this with some “idea cards” The idea cards were based on the multiple intelligences- so it invited the review team to refresh their peers memories through mime, logic puzzles such as word scrambles, kinaesthetic activities including recreating the forest ecosystem with their body poses. Linguistic methods were also used in reviews where the participants could talk about their memories of the previous day with a partner. One fantastic review was auditory/musical and consisted of the group singing some very funny songs about the previous day’s content.  Very memorable!

 

End of week reviews consisted of the whole group drawing in image form, what we had learnt throughout the week, trying to match the memories to the day that we covered the content.

 

  • How does it lead us forward- what can we do with this new knowledge?
    The educators gave many practical examples of how the new knowledge could be used by the participants, introducing them to agroforestry methods, small-scale home sufficiency, national and global organisation and alternative economy. There were 3 visits to sites where practical examples of the course content could be found. Martin Crawford’s forest garden, LAND matters community and Odd-Job community recycling station.

The teaching crew had a library of relevant books on the subject matters covered. They would lay the relevant books from the library on the floor, so participants could see them, have a flick through or borrow them to read while staying at the centre. This gave a great deal of inspiration for further reading and where to go next. Participants also got the chance to go deeper into what they feel is relevant for them, outside of session time.

 

Participants gained the ability to actually start designing whilst on the course, presenting their design to their peers and receiving feedback from the educators and teaching apprentices. Achieving this learning outcome was made possible by the creative presentation of course content, group dynamics and support systems, and opportunities to practice design techniques.

A good example of this is the presentation of principles of permaculture (in slideshow form) and principles of ecology through drawings on the board and discussion, always asking the participants to contribute. “What is the difference between these two ecosystems?” Through inquisitive questioning, observing the image and thinking, the group cement the principles in their knowledge.

After being introduced to the key planning tools, participants were given a small design exercise to work on in groups, starting with a simple problem solving exercise: where to place a compost bin in a small garden. The course culminated in detailed group design work and finally presentations, feedback and celebration.

 

  • Teaching styles, individual sessions and the course as a whole were reviewed, both between the teaching team (when participants were busy with practical activities) and by the participants themselves through the opportunity to write feedback on post-it notes and pin them up- while the teachers were out of the room.

 

 

Design of Teaching Structures

What else can we learn from seeing, interactive, well-planned, quality practical and theoretical courses that are held in the UK. Part of the learning can come from looking at the course itself: teaching techniques, tools and the fantastic online and print learning resources available to students.

But we can also learn from the overreaching structures that support these courses, in the form of teacher’s guilds, mentoring opportunities and common teaching resources which make it possible for a group of educators to offer the same high quality education and worth to participants across the country.
Aranya is part of a teacher’s guild called “Designed Visions” which consists of Looby Macnamara, Chris Evans and Hannah Thorogood. They have worked with creating course materials, course timetables, improvement of courses and teaching, support, inspiration and peer review. They also have a common webpage where courses can be posted publicly.

Caroline Aitken had been working under a skilled mentor: Patrick Whitefield, where she had learnt many of the interactive teaching skills and techniques that came through on the course. These strategies make a great deal of sense, especially when working with permaculture. We know that an integrated system is more resilient and stable than segregated elements (The group outlives the individual)

So on your next workshop or course, don’t forget:

  • Prepare well with lesson plans and learning outcomes
  • Prepare the learner by creating a comfortable and relaxed learning environment and nurture a cooperative group culture.
  • Find out about participants previous knowledge and make the content relevant to their needs.
  • Allow opportunities for group, pair and individual working.
  • Keep the course dynamic by including lots of different teaching methods.
  • Get the participants to review and refresh content often.
  • Guide participants to actually start putting the learning into practice, and offer feedback or peer-2-peer sharing following these exercises
  • Cater to the multiple intelligences