By Katy Faye Desmond
On the first morning of the 10-day Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course at the Permaculture Research Institute Sunshine Coast, teacher Tom Kendall stands before myself and nine other wide-eyed students and takes a broad step to his left.
“By this end of this course, many of you will have crossed an invisible line,” he points to nothing on the ground he just stepped over. “Once you’re over here, you’re never to return.”
Over the line lies the permaculture way. The statement is a little harrowing. And exciting.
A functional family
A big part of the permaculture way is function. “Go into any beehive or ant nest,” says Tom, “Have you ever seen a dysfunctional bee or ant? No, each has a function.”
And so it is with my course mates. We’re a motley crew of 10 students who have turned up to the course. Our ages span over five decades and we hale from across the globe. Each of us arrived here from a different path and each of us brings something different.
Many of us have done Wwoofing or work exchanges on farms and have an interest in fixing what we see as broken agricultural system. Some already have land and projects – from back gardens to 7000-acre expanses – and are here to get good ideas and practical skills on how to develop it sustainably. Others are here to learn the design principles to incorporate in other fields, from architecture to creative arts. Myself, I arrived here from a love of food – liking to eat it and noticing it tastes best when it has been prepared in fair, honest, sustainable ways.
Living and working together for these two weeks, we each bring different skills and experiences, from the fiercely practical to the unwavering academic. Next week, we’ll begin to work on projects and see each of these functions in practice. I’m excited to see the results.
1000 hours of thought, 1 hour of action
One quickly learns when doing a PDC that studying permaculture is not learning a fixed set of technical practices. It’s a way of thinking – one focused on function, conservation and community.
Still, it’s no philosophy course. We’re in the gardens and the fields learning practical skills: building compost, capturing methane from manure, surveying land for swales and dams and helping the volunteers maintain the farm.
But the 72-hour course work is meant to speak to everyone, from farmers with 30 years of experience working land to city-dwelling travelers like myself looking for ways to live more sustainably in cramped, urban spaces. From the techniques we each take what we need.
For myself so far, it is the permaculture practice of slowing down and looking around that I feel myself learning most. The ratio should be 1000 hours of thought to one hour of action, Tom tells us. Many of these 1000 hours are spent in observation: looking at what is already present, noticing patterns and asking questions. Where is the sunshine shining on a winter morning? Why does the weed grow here and not there? What makes the concrete floor erode along its edges?
When you start questioning everything, then it seems you’re doing permaculture. And that’s when you can’t seem to stop seeing form and function everywhere. This, I suspect is what Tom was talking about that first morning.
So, halfway through the course, have I crossed the line? I think I’d have to get off the farm and start applying the theory in my daily life to find that answer. But I begin to notice a mental shift – posing more questions about the world around me, evaluating more closely what’s working what isn’t.
And I’m not alone. On our weekend off, many of us ventured into town. One course mate said she found herself watching passers-by and wondering, “What is your function in this beehive?”
©2015 PRI Sunshine Coast and Katy Faye Desmond for Do It Yourself Food and Health Hub incorporating Permaculture Research Institute Sunshine Coast, Katy contemplates the first week of her PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) experience…