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Review of ‘Introduction to Permaculture’ residential weekend at Ragman's Lane Farm, Gloucestershire

I have just been thoroughly inspired by the above Permaculture course led by Ruth O’Brien Ruth (standing in for Sarah Pugh who is on maternity leave). I find it difficult to recommend the course highly enough without sounding like I’m taking a kickback…

I went along to the course for several reasons. First I’m a member of the Transition Hay-on-Wye steering group. As part of the Transition Townmovement (founded by Permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins), steering group members are encouraging to attend a Permaculture design course. Transition itself is of course directly based on Permaculture principles.

Second, I have been reading a lot about Permaculture over the past year, including books by Patrick Whitefield (who I believe is involved with Ragman’s in some way) and David Holmgren. Seeing their ideas being put into practice seemed like a logical next step.

Third, I have been attempting to grow vegetables for the past few

years with very mixed success. Some kind of conscious design seemed to be called for, rather than planting at random.

In all areas the course exceeded my expectations. A huge amount of information about Permaculture philosophy, ethics and design tools was conveyed clearly in a very short space of time. There were opportunities for practical work. On day one, a rain-drenched nature observation walk around the beautiful farm, and then on the second day some mulching for the new CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project onsite the next day when the weather was better – literally making hay while the sun shone. There was also lots of group work, e.g. coming up with an imaginary Permaculture design for a patch of land at the farm, giving us a chance to put all the ideas into practice. The handout materials were clear and comprehensive with extracts from loads of relevant books.

The other attendees came from diverse professional and personal backgrounds, and from as far away as Kent. The course was apparently oversubscribed by 50% and one of Ruth’s opening points was the growing need for more Permaculture teachers.

I came away with many ideas about how to use what I had learnt in my Transition efforts. For example we were given a slide show with photos of various Permaculture projects, one of which was the Bristol Permaculture Group’s Permaculture garden at the Glastonbury Festival. It would be great to explore something like this here in Hay via the Transition group, with the organizers of the Hay Festival.

Ruth lives in Bristol and had some good ideas about how to apply some of the Permaculture tools to an urban setting. I would pick out her application of zoning principles to an urban environment as particularly useful. Although I now live in a very rural area I have a kind of urban mentality, having spent most of my life in towns and cities so this approach was very useful. Her ability to switch between the high-level ethics and very practical examples was very impressive. Every now and then she would make a passing comment like ‘put your energy where it’s wanted’, a kind of observation that triggered a whole load of realizations for me.

Ruth worked incredibly hard even though she had a cold the whole weekend (conducting a nature observation walk in the driving rain was way beyond the call of duty) and had lots of support from Laura O’Regan from Shift Bristol.

If this review tends towards the hagiographic it is because I genuinely find it difficult to identify areas where the course could have been improved. I have been on some truly disastrous residential courses, conferences and workshops which lacked focus, were poorly structured, and unresponsive to the audience. This was not one of them. Inevitably with such a large subject the coverage was superficial in some cases, but this only whetted my appetite for doing a full Permaculture design course – I’m looking around for a suitable one right now. (Does anyone know of a good Permaculture course done via correspondence?)

My longer-term plan now is to make some kind of living via Permaculture. I don’t yet know what this will look like, but the introductory course has shown me that it is not only necessary, but it is feasible.

Dave Prescott

Links:

http://ruthobrienPermaculture.wordpress.com/

http://www.wyelocal.co.uk/index.php/news/transition-hay-on-wye

http://www.shiftbristol.org.uk/

http://www.transitiontowns.org/

http://www.ragmans.co.uk/

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