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.
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 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.
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.