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Delvin Solkinson


  • Joined: 08/02/2011
  • Last Updated: 08/02/2011
  • Location: Elphinstone , British Columbia, Canada
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Adventure Log : Planetary Permaculture Pilgrimage Part 2

Posted by Delvin Solkinson about 3 years ago

The remaining half of my learning adventure doing advanced courses and teacher trainings. This could be useful to anyone teaching or interested in permaculture education.


Chapter 18 : The Heart of Permaculture

It was a beautiful spring day in this incredible eco-village when we met with our hero, the inspiring and resilient godmother of permaculture. Teaching and traveling since March, Rosemary Morrow seems to tirelessly teach with little sleep, choosing to teach in the most intense wartorn and disease riddled locations on the planet like Etheopia, Uganda, Cambodia and Afghanastan, bringing permaculture to countless global nodes to set up a strong grassroots permaculture web taking root across the far reaches of our planet.

Rosemary's beautiful grandmother energy makes us feel at home and comfortable in the first instant we meet her. She encourages us right away to begin thinking like teachers and not like students.

Our food comes from organic growers at Crystal Waters or just down the street at a Biodynamic market farm. 230 people live here in 80 residences on this permaculture eco-village. The eco-classroom we meet in is a grid interactive system which generates more power than it uses, extra power gets sent down to the kitchen below.

As she takes us through an introduction and logistics, we see that everything we do is modelling how we might facilitate a course. Every word and action is stacked in space and time, marrying content with process to both teach us and show us how to teach.

As teachers we are modelling and setting the standard for our students. Ways to get around schooling people with suggestions that are general (ie. sleeping people - we all need to see each other instead of no sleeping). Importance of monitoring students the whole time.

Immediately Rosemary says she hopes some of us in the class take great notes and intend to teach the teacher training course. Truly the world is in more need of permaculture teachers than it is students, and indeed the original intentions of Bill Mollison seemed to be focussed more on generating teachers than it did students.

We reviewed the ecological model of learning with the classroom as an environment. This included good learning spaces and blocks to learning in classrooms. Following this we evaluated adult education and noted blocks to adult learning as well as different teaching styles.

Rosemary's teaching outcomes in teaching a PDC is to prepare students be able to do site analysis, to design in such way that can impose patterns, zones and sectors, and make connections between elements. Her metaphor for adult education is not building foundations but making scaffolding around already existing knowledge. She represented zones in a new way for me, relating them to nutrient, energy, work, water and access.

On the first night we did small presentations relating a principle of permaculture to a topic in the designer manual. My presentation was about the multifunctions of plants. Ali Ma and Tamara gave astoundingly wonderful presentations as well.

We retired under the stars warmed by the loving glow of Rosemary's stunningly beautiful humanity.

Chapter 19 : Permaculture Teaching Practice

The day began by the shetland ponies. We learned how to breath from our noses into their noses to gain their trust and affection. It was beautiful to befriend these kind creatures.

Today we learned about getting to know learners and student types. In particular we explored adult learning types, environments and styles. We noted the importance of dynamic teaching appealing to all the senses and using different techniques to be a holistic communication to a wide ranging group of people. We also talked about learning retention and were reminded that 15% of learning happens through simple listening while 85% happens through learning experiences that include hearing, smelling, talking and doing.

With gentle eyes Rosemary talked about living the virtuous circle as the heart of all permaculture practice. She illustrated how the ethics we model as teachers will inspire more positive learning than the information we convey or how intelligently we convey it.

The afternoon focussed on what makes a good teacher including qualities, essentials and learning/teaching objectives. This led into actively brainstorming and demonstrating the roles and responsibilities of the teacher as a manager, communicator and motivator.

Our evening presentations included the contextual 'bookends' of the night before as well as principle anchored pdc topics, but also included learning methods and styles talked about during the day. In addition we added a more focussed constructive criticism feedback loop that all the students took turns giving.

Chapter 20 : Teaching from the Heart

Affirming the importance of songs and music in setting the tone for the day, I actually stepped out of my comfort zone and led the only song i know from camp councellor days 'Johnny Appleseed'.

Today we focussed on successful teachers and teaching techniques. Offering many practical techniques, methods and strategies for being a great teacher. This included sharing stories of great teachers we have had in the past. For example we noted how great teachers have a conversational style, are aware of students strengths and weaknesses, supply study pleasure, support and motivate, give reasons and present alternatives, offer reassurance, make praise personal, make information relevant, assist in success, know material well and never ever punish, blame or patronize.

To sink this all in we did some role playing of poor teachers using unsuccessful techniques.

Teaching aims were the next thing to explore in a comprehensive and dynamic way. Included in this was ways to monitor and evaluate students energies and comprehension. Non-Violent communication and language issues came up here as a way to encourage a respectful learning environment.
A module on questioning as a teaching tool was next. We discussed, modelled and practiced different ways of using questioning to convey information in an active, engaging and empowering way to students. We found this to be a wonderful way to teach inclusively and empower students to also be teachers.

Tonite our presentations were even more integrative and included the use of language and questioning in addition to the other dynamic presentation components.

Due to the small class size and my own luck, I got the chance to spend quite a bit of one on one discussion time with Rosemary, feeling my love for her and her work grow and grow. She offered me lots of practical advice, enlightening teachings, illuminating stories, teaching tools and so much personal encouragement and empowerments. Wow, I have never felt better about myself or my life path as a young permaculture teacher. In one such discussion she had an amazing teaching about guilds as master patterns for decentralized networks and their importance of grass roots organizational strategies for the permaculture movement. By having webs of linked organizational nodes instead of a central permaculture institute, the movement as a whole has become incredibly resilient and complete indistructable and uncorruptable.

Chapter 21 : The Soul of Education

The birds were singing beautiful melodies as we got up at 6:45 to stumble by amazingly tame kangaroo's and wallabies and into the community shower facility. By the time we had coffee, breakfast and email we were totally awake and excited for the day.

Today we got the full program for Rosemary's successful teaching units. Introduction, concept 'bookend', principle, teaching methods, body behaviour, language awareness, delivery including questioning and teaching tools as well as a conclusory application 'bookend'. 

The afternoon included integrative work on group sessions, managing groups and facilitating groups. We did group work to model, discover and critique this process in practical situations. Within this we looked the value of group work and the placement of it in a successful class flow.

Teaching methods and processes were next in this amazingly comprehensive teacher training, by far the best I have ever taken. The importance of having teaching and learning outcomes which are assessed during the course was also evaluated.

Introducing teaching aids and tools, I was invited to facilitate a module including my mapping toolset. I talked about how anything could be a teaching aid, and how mapping and design processes could happen with a game board made with found or created materials. As in other courses Rowe highlighted the advantages of using posters, white boards and butchers paper put around the class for reminding students of topics we have done.

Today we brainstormed with Rosemary some new additions to the PDC curriculum since the publication of the Designers Manual (which has never been updated). These included innovations in forest gardening, regenerative agriculture, transition towns, eco-footprint, carbon sinks, community resilience, and slow money. As a class we organized these into an order and storyline. She then uses micro-teaching to bring us advanced understandings of all these topics with our input in a number of engaging ways demonstrating many different teaching techniques. She is absolutely incredible!!

For example, she notes that the eco-footprint is a measurement of how much you consume of the worlds resources (renewable and non-renewable). These numbers are often represented graphically as a foot. The big toe is energy, index toe is water, middle toe is materials and structures, small toe is food and pinkie is transportation. An eco-footprint evaluation can be done individually, for a community or for a nation. Its measured in hectares. She notes that there is enough resources for everyone to consume 1.8 hectares. Its a relative figure, not a fixed on, and should be an ongoing process.

We also talked about the emerging 'slow movements'. The slow food movement focusses on local, seasonal, technology, artisanal, cultural preservation, cooking on demand, convivial eating (slowly), and localvores. Slow money often includes people who don't operate on debt system, live within their budget and participate in a permaculture credit union.

Chapter 22 : Integrative Teaching

Rosemary appears with a smile and a song as she has ever day thus far. Her warm loving approach to teaching brings only smiles in return. I have noticed throughout the training that she has been conscious to make personal one on one time with everyone in the class, giving them encouragement, affirmations and offerings of support, truly her teacher training is empowering teachers to emerge after the course.

We revisited more touchstones in permaculture including the concept of 'function'. For example we note the function of water in transporting loads, generating energy, moderating temperature, heat sink, key solvent, and germination.

Rowe noted the importance of trees to sequestre carbon and the importance of planting forests that cannot be cut down so carbon is truly sunk. If everyone planted 10,000 trees in their lifetime we would be good to go.

We all do our final presentations. Mine is on suburban permaculture and involves a short talk and interactive suburban art design project.

The day begins to climax with monitoring and evaluation processes. We did a very interesting set of evaluation processes using written, graphical, kinaethetic, artistic and creative ways to evaluate the course, as well as ourselves and the teacher in the course.

We take some time to imagine life after the course. Beyond the PDC people can go into the areas of permaculture media, education, site development, consulting, ethical economics, and aid. We brainstorm more about post-pdc permaculture in areas like urban restoration, transition, regenerative agriculture, and community garden development.

My eyes light up as we begin to talk about the Permaculture Diploma. In Australia there is a formal pathway through TAFE (Technical and Further Education) in Riverina called N.E.C. including Cert 1,2,3,4 and Diploma where you can get recognition of past learning. This is done through assignments, marks and evaluation. This is a fee structured formal education model.

Regulated by associations of permaculturalists include UK which has two modes to do a diploma. One method is by action-research with mentors. The other is done through coursework. The other option is the Permaculture Institute of Scandia which has a diploma done through work and action research. You have a monitor/mentor then presented to the bioregional body for review and then it is put up on the web. 

Private institutes include Gaia University whose higher degrees are done through action-research and coursework. Next there is the Chaordic Institute which does something similar with action-research and high standards of evaluation where diploma works are put up on the web.

Portugal is opening up a boot camp for 12 weeks to enable students to be empowered to become teachers.

I jumped up to present on the original Permaculture Academy model through Bill Mollison, the new iterations of Permaculture Institute USA, Permaculture Visions and soon to come Geoff Lawton

Rowe would like to see a network web of specialist institutes that are all connected by each with their own niche. This way students can go to institutes depending upon the post-PDC areas people want to go into (ie. media, education, tropical sites etc etc). This would be a co-operative model where all the institutes got together to agree on policy, evaluation methods and requirements. She suggests a mentor model where people are supported by guides then present at the end of the two years to a bioregional institute and then this goes up on the web. She wants to make diploma's accessible to the developing world. Rowe is my hero!!

As a beautiful parting inspirational note that gives me a delightful shiver of energy, Rowe says "What you are part of is nothing like an organization, its a movement. It's like a universe expanding in all directions."

Chapter 23 : Post-Meta

Certainly this was the pinnacle moment in my permaculture study. Morrow is truly the grandmother of the movement, an entirely inspiring and dedicated Quaker, whose selfless work for our world in some of the most devastated parts of the planet has transformed my perspective of permaculture in deep ways that I am still in the process of integrating. Her course was a masterful middle path between information heavy 'chalk and talk' and the sometimes information sparse 'creative facilitation' methods. Anchored in a lifetime of hands on work in wartorn and diseased biomes across Africa, Asia and Oceania, her knowledge of the permaculture paradigm is astounding. Unlike any of the other teacher trainings I have taken, Rowe has a fully facilitated evening session each night, so our day starts at 9 am and goes until 9 pm. Not only this but all the tea breaks and mealtimes Rowe's teaching continues with special stories, vignettes and rich information sessions as valuable as the formal classtime. In addition I noticed she took the time to give personal attention to each student in the class. I was touched to have almost a couple hours of one on one's throughout the week together, incredible! Critiquing this course is more challenging than any other since it was run with such grace, wisdom and tolerance. We were assigned 3 short teaching projects at the same time as a masterful project to collectively build a curriculum for a PDC. With only a short time to prepare for our short presentation, little attention was given to the group project which did not end up being completed. The presentations were responded to by Rowe in detail, however like the other teachers, her comments were short on constructive criticism and high on supportive comments and inspiring affirmations. The days were filled with laughter and learning, and I was absolutely fascinated with all the course content, surprisingly it was quite different from all the other teacher trainings. The more I learned about this incredible human, the more admiration I had for her and for the permaculture path. By the time the course had finished I felt more dedicated than ever to become a permaculture teacher. Truly this course was a life highlight for me.

Now it was time to leave Crystal Waters after a transformative time with Robin Clayfield and Rosemary Morrow. I hope I get to meet them again one day.


Chapter 24 : Source Information

It was so amazing to be with the co-originator of permaculture at his fabled home property.

We met up at Melliodora for a breakfast of biodynamic rice porridge with preserved fruits and nuts from the land. It was a circle of 30 people including 20 men and 10 women, a nice change from the almost entirely female courses at Crystal Waters.

David was joined by Steve, another incredibly experienced and poignant permaculture educator. David and Sue had lived here since 1985 and focussed on their land and the Spring Creek Community Forest neighbouring the property. Sue started the Hepburn Relocalization Network, a transition movement inspiring local change and helping land people at their home and in their communities.

For the morning talk on principles, everyone was given 4 bits of paper representing 4 comments or questions. This interesting technique limited the input from those who talked more and inspired those who did not talk as much to contribute. David noted that a large part of the magic of PDC's are what the students bring. The participant centered learning experience was a great balance of David's talks illustrated by well organized and dynamic power point slides and broken up by student comments, questions and illustrative examples of the principles in action.

After an outstanding meal of local food, fresh cheese and salad, we met again and went into breakout groups to discuss the principles in light of understandings, challenges and points on confusion. Our group had some interesting discussions as we found that the principles some found the most easy to understand where the most opaque and challenging for others. The group returned together and some of the challenging and confusions were brought to David who addressed them. A wonderful exercise in participant directed learning.

Our group questions the 'produce no waste' principle as an unreasonably challenging (or arguably impossible) goal that may create judgement and self-judgement in people who would like to be in transition but are overwhelmed by the challenge of living without producing any waste.

In a design sense, framing things that could be waste as resources. More about application of design than it is about the function of the design or the result of your efforts. David has this more about the higher goal we are striving towards than the process we are in now. Seeing this in balance with the other principles.

Although David did read directly from notes and powerpoint screens in some instances, he is also a very confident and passionate speaker who knows the material well enough to speak without notes.

We did another group breakout session where groups of 6 were each given a topic, ours was sustainable business, and we were asked to apply all 12 principles to that topic. Our group did a creative mandala process, all contributing individually then collectively to create many ideas linking this together. We found the process helpful in learning more about the principles and thinking about how we could evolve a business with permaculture.

The day ended with a wonderful and comprehensive tour of Melliodora including its history and present challenges as well as countless permaculture methods, strategies and techniques in action.

Here is the house designed with permaculture principles

Here is the gardens in zone one with lots of raspberries.

There are bees

A chicken tractor

A chicken mobile home

A pond


A new mudbrick house.

Here is the map of the property.

There is even a rainbow for our tour.
Chapter 25 : Letting the Land Teach

The day began at 6:30 am with a hot breakfast the warmed us up to the very cold day. We reviewed the group evaluation. Most people in the western world have been disabled through media scrambling their pattern language.

We talked reading the landscape observe using as many senses as possible. Listen for bird songs, smell plants, feel dampness and be aware of our feelings and emotions while we are on the land. He is careful to say we must avoid moral judgements about what is good or bad during our reading as these are disabling and distracting for our flow. He instructs us to take lots of samples and photographs, and look for signs of natural and seasonal cycles that might tell us about hidden, subtle or past processes.

David notes the indigenous understanding that the whole past is visible from the present perspective, that 'everything that has ever been is here now'. We watched a slideshow showing examples of reading the landscape. We saw how tree were indicators of wind pruning and direction, coastal rock indicators of high storm tides and wave erosion, tree ring counting to indicate age and the amount of growth in each year, leaf color indicating nutrient deficiency and plants indicating soil types.

Next we did a reading the landscape walk for an hour through Doctor's Gulley and had a few experts to help us identify the communications of nature. We did observation, identification and evaluation of indicators suggested by our integration of the observations. The gulley we walked through had signs of fire, flooding, mining and wind damage. It was fascinating to combine our powers of integral observation to see what we could read from the landscape. The groups returned together and presented their findings along with observations of the process.

David teaches us that paper and reading is so linear, its maps that add dimensionality and give the whole system perspective. We can illuminate the maps by building them of photos. From maps you can see patterns of forest, clearing, soil, watersheds, human activity, settlement, roads

In the afternoon we do a map reading exercise reviewing aerial photos to get a sense of Hepburn spring, reviewing where all the groups went in the morning and seeing where we would be walking on our 4 km afternoon reading landscape hike.

We hike up to a beautiful hillock overlooking Hepburn Springs. From here we can see patterns and landcape profiles. David gives a beautiful talk on the mountain with the landscape stretching out behind him.

Sitting at the top of the hill, David explains how the view contains the perspective of high level esoteric knowledge in addition to a view of all the resources laid out and the larger landscape patterns mapping out the resources of the community. It is both closer to spiritual transcendence and closer to the land itself.

In the distance we can see the volcano that created some of the soil profile here. Through the trees the cool southwesterly wind blazes through, giving the trees the shape that we talked about during the earlier lecture on reading the landscape.

The walk is directed by David's insightful landscape reading. He is so full of information that he seems to be able to stop at any point and make countless observations about the past and present, truly he is part of the landscape in which he lives. He points across the view pointing out countless observations about what we are seeing and what it can tell us. This perspective is overflowing with information, its an open book overflowing with all sorts of insights and information, patterns and processes.

David combines an interactive and participatory day walking and talking while also silencing us for segments of time to allow nature to communicate directly. Its a beautiful balance of teaching, allowing students to direct their learning and allow nature to teach as well. This guided learning environment is a great balance of formality and informality as well as human and more-than-human sources of experiential information.  

The day ends with a feedback session. Where David and Steve embraces peoples response to the course. We were given written forms to fill out to anchor this in. We sat in a large circle to mirror how the course began.

Chapter 26 : Synthesis

The two power packed days at Melliodora with David Holmgren will always be remembered. His depth and breadth of knowledge was stunning and coupled with his organizational thinking and way of synthesizing complex concepts into simple digestible chunks. He did well balancing talking himself, inspiring students to learn and share information and giving a voice to the land itself. The group was a bit bigger than could really be facilitated, an astounding 30 people, so some people missed allot of the fascinating information on the tour of Melliodora and the main reading the landscape hike but no one seemed to mind. The food was utterly amazing, almost entirely from the property itself, but due to the large class size allot of the special condiments were eaten long before the end of the line hit the food table however the food was so good again people did not at all seem to mind. The combination of David and Steve's facilitation was excellent. I learned an incredible amount during this short full power course, understanding that at the heart of David's practice was an applied ethical understanding of permaculture principles and reading the landscape. Through a comprehensive inner knowledge of the principles David could talk about any aspect of permaculture, in many ways these were the threads that wove it all together. Similarly by walking around nature, David has access to endless information that was hidden in the sights, sounds, smells and feelings that nature conveyed about not only the present but the entire past as well. This transformative experience was a touchstone in my permaculture practice and I highly recommend anyone interested in evolving as permaculturalists take this class next time it is offered.


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