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    Permaculture Online Course Update

    In a previous post I wrote about the positive experience we were having taking part in Geoff Lawton's Online Permaculture course. Having completed all the online lessons and the quiz we are now working on the practical assignment which is due by the end of August.

    The course continues to stimulate us and our enthusiasm for the material remains strong. Even on evenings when we were tired from a busy day the prospect of some "Geoff time" was appealing and we had little trouble keeping up the momentum and staying more or less in line with the proposed course outline.

    The course is well structured and its clear that Geoff has given it many times. His great depth of experience serves to ground the potentially abstract materials and to "keep it real"1. For me the only time this focus was lost was in the final section "Creating an Alternative Society". Geoff still had plenty of relevant experience to relate however the videos for this section felt looser and had a more rambling character than the bulk of the course. For students at the end of an intense two weeks this is probably a relief as Geoff kicks back and the amount of material being relayed eases off.

    Random notes

    • As we start on the practical exercise, studying maps and design options on paper and then taking that onto a plot of land has been revealing and exciting

    • We didn't make extensive use of the forums however whenever we had a question we could usually find someone else had already asked it. My wife and I watched all the video's together and effectively formed a small team, this was very valuable as we continued to discuss the course content beyond the time spent "in lectures".

    • The regular uploads of videos with answers to participants questions are excellent and provided an opportunity for him to reinforce core concepts

    • The course included a DVD set with all of the lectures plus the full set of DVD's previously created by Geoff. So far we have watched a few of these and I can see they will be a very valuable resource

    • While being very positive about the online course, I can see that the regular on the ground practical work integrated into the learning experience of an onsite course along with a gifted teacher and located at a well developed demonstration site would have many benefits. The quality of the teacher, the depth of their experience and their ability to communicate this would be a key factor in deciding which course to take

    • Key learning - the mainframe design. The course has transformed the way we view landscape and has us spotting dam sites and swale opportunities everywhere. Walking around the site we are using for our practical assignment, a place we had visited many times before, revealed a completely new landscape potential to us. Geoff says the course will permanently change the way you view the world and I believe he is right.


    1. Another great benefit is that the course text, Bill Mollisons' Permaculture Designers Guide which I had previously found heavy going, has undergone a sort of decoding and now reveals itself as and incredible useful manual which supports the course content with additional depth and paths to study. ↩︎

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    More on chicken tractors

    Since my post about chickens which mentioned the Linda Woodrow inspired chook dome. I have noticed that people are searching in google for information about chicken tractors. This post provides a few more links to information on this subject.
    The Chicken Tractor gallery has over 140 pictures with many different types shown. As the construction skills required are very basic, a good picture will often be enough for you to build your own using materials to hand.

    DIY

    Commercial Chicken Tractors

    before Permaculture they were generally just known as moveable coops or arks)

    General Chook Matters

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    Urban chickens

    Eating Locally: Backyard Chickens at Treehugger.com. Keeping chickens in the urban backyards was commonplace in Australia during the depression and war years and is making a welcome comeback. I wonder how many people are actually able to kill and eat their chickens. I have tried and it takes some getting used to!. Having the chooks for eggs alone is the easier route and very worthwhile as we have posted about before.

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    Seasonal Eating

    The way to keep the food miles down is to eat in sync with whats in season for your region. Its a simple idea that would once have been the only option for most people. In modern first world countries it now requires an effort to know what is in season and to track down local producers. If you have a local farmers market then patronise it well so the producers keep going to the trouble of turning up.

    Slowfood Sydney has a useful blog that regularly posts information on seasonal produce, here is the latest entry.

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    Prioritising organic foods and challenges to paleo

    Mark Sisson runs a business that promotes a version of the Paleo diet and philosophy (Primal). He writes some excellent posts on his blog that I often find myself nodding in agreement with. A recent post that suggests a prioritised list of what to buy from organic sources is an example.

    What Foods to Buy Organic

    I like this list. In addition, its also important to consider

    • Animal welfare. Always look for evidence of best practises in animal welfare and support these growers and suppliers
    • Sourcing food outside of the large supermarket monopolies. These organisations are the front line for the globalised industrial agriculture hegemony that places profit above environment, health and people, see (Supply Chain complexity, UK Supermarkets ranked). Favour local shops, farmers markets and online retailers that support small farms and food diversity.

    Its also worth noting that some of the tenets of the Paleo belief system are being challenged by research, as reported at MacDrifter today -> Paleo Dream.

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    A look behind the increasing prevalence of supermarket-organic-products

    Is Organic Supermarket Food a Lie? Revealing look behind the supermarket green wash. The example is from Europe however it is surely just as relevant here in Australia. The call to action

    Here is what we can do starting today
    * Stop supporting industrial food by buying it. Organic is better than conventional, but still not good.
    * Build relationships with small local farmers that believe in quality and practice sustainable agriculture.
    * Learn to grow our own food.

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    Slow food university

    When Slowlane joined Slow Food recently they sent a booklet outlining their various initiatives, The Slow Food Companion. Two ventures that sounded particularly interesting were the University of Gastronic Sciences (UNISG) and the Terre Madre. The university is based in Piedmont and claims to be the first academic institution in the world dedicated to the study of gastronomy. Subjects include Botany, Food Technology, History of Agriculture, Sensory Analysis and Anthropology. The curriculum combines humanities and sciences with food technology and culture. An article appeared today in the Sydney Morning Herald about a local man who is studying at the UNISG, he is living a simple life in the local village, going to the market three times a week and practising what they are learning by cooking for fellow students in the evening. Also mentioned in the article was the Terra Madre, an annual Slow Food gathering in Turin that bring together thousands of artisanal food producers, farmers, fisherman from 150 countries, cooks, academics from over 200 universities, representatives of NGOS, journalists and of course slow foodies of other descriptions. This years Terra Madre promises to be huge, I hope to attend one of these in the next few years. Sounds amazing.

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    Permaculture and online learning

    After years of exposure to Permaculture and having spent several years a decade ago implementing a disparate set of its common patterns at our previous property in Northern NSW, I am now taking a much deeper dive into it after enrolling in Geoff Lawton's Online Permaculture Design Course. Its been running a few weeks now and my partner and I are both finding it a revelation. So many concepts and themes that we had previously read about but not really understood are suddenly making sense. Geoff's an excellent teacher and the online format works perfectly for a couple of introverted types. We can take our time and review material as we go.

    There were elements of classic internet marketing1 wrapped around the promotion of the course that had me a little worried, those concerns have proven groundless and I can understand that using the marketing approaches that work makes sense when your goal is to get this material out to the widest audience and in a sustainable way.

    As a taster, check out this video Absolute in Abundance, they will want your email address however if you are at all interested in this stuff you will get a steady stream of really good links and content as a result.

    I would highly recommend that anyone who has been interested in doing a PDC but not found the time or the right teacher consider taking one of Geoff's courses.

    Meanwhile, check out the many videos and resources that are freely available at the Permaculture Research Institute. The links to several excellent related documentaries can also be found here. The site is an aggregator of several of my favourite authors including George Monbiot who has a new book - Feral - A manifesto for rewilding the world.

    Surfers interested in Permaculture should enjoy this chat with Geoff about the links between surfing and permaculture.

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    Organic vs local

    These days we have a reasonable range of organic food available to us locally whether through the supermarket, our local shops and/or box deliveries. However, in common with nearly all modern food, much of it travels substantial distances before it gets to us. In addition it is often out of season for our local environs. This has created a modern conundrum where shoppers seeking to buy organic must often choose a product with many air and road miles included in its true cost of availability. From a purity of food perspective the decision is easy, always choose the organic or biodynamic product. But if you are concerned about your carbon debt or eating in season, its sometimes seems that buying locally grown non organic is a better choice. This dilemma is nicely captured in a cartoon by Mike Adams.

    The article accompanying the cartoon at www.naturalnews.com is worth reading and goes into some detail to explain the options shown in the cartoon. Here in Australia we are relatively less affected by this problem than Europe in particular, where a great deal of the fruit and vegetables available seem to have been air freighted from the Mediterranean or the US. The ideal arrangement is to grow some foods yourself (homesteaders may grow nearly all their needs) and also to live near a variety of small farmers who produce the other products that you need. It is then possible to enter into schemes like Community Supported Agriculture where farmers and consumers establish direct trading relationships. The next best thing is a local farmers market, which fortunately are starting to become more common and feature a expanding range of products. I recently found the web site of the 1466group, two couples who have joined forces to farm biodynamically and to setup a Community Supported Agriculture system on the mid North Coast of NSW. As someone who tried to move away from the city and eventually came back for various reasons, I admire their efforts and wish them every success. Check them out here.

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    Chinas rising soybean consumption-reshaping-western-agriculture

    Disturbing article by Lester Brown on the PRI website

    "..Put simply, saving the Amazon rainforest now depends on curbing the growth in demand for soybeans by stabilizing population worldwide as soon as possible. And for the world’s more affluent people, it means eating less meat and thus slowing the growth in demand for soybeans…"

    Where was once pristine Amazon rainforest, soybean harvesters march across the landscape instead.

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