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. ↩︎


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.


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.


Seasonal Eating

Path To Freedom is the web home of the Dervaes family. It's an inspiring site with lots of useful information and examples of urban homesteading. Their recent blog post Seasonal Eating sets out to provide resources to help people in the US to eat seasonally.

Slow Food Sydney have published a guide for consumers in the Sydney bio region that not only shows what's in season, it also indicates whether the items can be sourced from the remaining farms in our local bio region. It's a small self published booklet that deserves support. Covering Fruit, Vegetables, Meat and Fish grown no more than 160km from the CBD, it's $10 and available from Slow Food volunteers at Farmers Markets and a small selection of shops. Check out this site for more info.

Another useful online guide to fruit and vegetables in season around Australia can be found here.


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.


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.


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.


In season zen cooking

Nice post here at Mother Earth News Stop Putting Off Chickens

In season down in Sydney at the moment (from the Slow Food Sydney newsletter)

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach and watercress
  • Valencia oranges
  • Asparagus

Ethical Eating book reviewed in the Eco Pages of the Sydney Morning Herald

We rented a great DVD - How to Cook Your Life should be very interesting to anyone who still has a yellowing copy of the Tassajara cookbook or bread book as it features Ed Brown who also wrote those books back in the 70's. Ed has been practising Zen and cooking for over 30 years and the video is full of insights.


Urban chickens

Eating Locally: Backyard Chickens at 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.