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Richard Perkins
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Karlstad, Sweden
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The Panya Project

The Panya Project

Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai, TH


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Water on the brain

Posted by Richard Perkins almost 11 years ago

Our journey has been revolving around water a lot recently it seems... www.impermanencefilm.org www.integralpermanence.org



After an interesting time in the North of Spain in the mountains we made a beeline all the way to the south of Portugal to the fledging Permaculture Institute being established at Vale De Lama, not far outside of Lagos on the Algave.  We decided to visit an old friend Seco here and as this is the furthest South thought it made some sense to get down here and work our way north again.

The 42 ha farm was bought and developed as an ecotourism destination in the busy Algave, but in the last year is converting over to become a flagship Permaculture project for Portugal.  The young community of volunteers and interns is headed up by a few dedicated long term managers busy establishing production systems of vegetables, fruits, cereals and food forests on this diverse and interesting site.

We stayed at this wonderful place over a week, the longest we have stopped in one place to date on this trip.  Europe has so much to see and is relatively very expensive, so we have prioritized moving fast!  With time for rest our natural curiosity for design and engagement with the situations arising led us to engage in design work with different people at the project.

Permaculture Design and Master Planning...

PictureAs the project transitions from a luxurious tourist spot to PC demonstration site and community there seems to be a lot of resources and people management needing clarification and refining.  Talking with the community, it’s a familiar story to nearly every other project we have visited around the planet!  As a passionate designer of holistic and integrated systems my brain was whirring constantly as I tried to piece together different perspectives on priorities and functions of the farm.  My natural design eye led immediately to investigating water on the site, the first “layer” I would always design from.  I ended up focusing on getting a clear picture of current systems and usage from past studies and data at the farm, then letting my thoughts out and observing.  I came up with a design which I presented to take the project in a beneficial direction with water management that involves multiple strategies for reduction in current use, capturing and storing what passes through the site as well as avoiding degenerative technology of pumps and the potential hazards of pumping up saline well water onto the topsoil.

Looking at water thoroughly, (well as thoroughly as one could in this space of time!) led to a deeper insight into management planning and processes.  Michelle shared some techniques for meeting and sharing as a community and I developed a management schematic suggesting a possible way to arrive at a functional and collaborative master planning for the whole site.

PictureWater catchment design to reduce reliance on degenerative tech. whilst maximizing use of gravity and natural flows
It is very common in my experience to visit Permaculture projects that have not been clearly and carefully designed and considered before implementation begins.  Rare too to find careful documentation as the project is established and maturing.  It relates back to the article I wrote about research and the value of data.  I believe to be even more the case for a PC Institute.  So why do so few projects have clear designed visions from the outset?  I think the answer is complicated and has many layers.
PictureManagement design leading to cohesive design work...Its common in my experience to find people who have taken PDCs who are not confident or competent in designing.  That’s partly the way PC is taught in many cases I have seen, and partly the obvious lack of experience at this point on the part of the individual.  The fundamental aim is to impart design science with a very broad range of understanding, techniques and strategies.  It is relatively easy to place things on a landscape in a functionally connected way.  It’s the people side of things, the financial planning, the prioritizing and planning through time that gets over- looked or side stepped.  People say, well we design in our heads and its always changing.  That’s fair enough.  But then it becomes quite energy and time consuming to communicate visions and missions to endless streams of volunteers.  Of the small handful of really strong projects I have seen that were thoroughly considered before their implementation, a lot seems to happen faster, cheaper and more efficiently.  That’s why I believe in design!  Permaculture Master planning is not about creating a rigid plan that must be stuck to at all costs.  It is about holistically integrating all factors and perceived influences into a coherent plan actionable over time with a clear sense of direction, leverage, priority and inter- connected functionality.  Permaculture is a consciously considered design science and thus grows and flows constantly, and there should naturally be room for that.

I think its definitely complicated to design sites in a fully integrated and holistic manner.  With the added dimensions of time, changing resources, wider political/ social/ economic situations, etc, it probably feels impossible or overwhelming for many people.  In my mind it makes a lot of sense to have a skilled designer and facilitator to lead a design planning over time with the key decision makers for projects of this nature.  I guess a lot of people skip this step as it seems like just another expense.  

I got turned down on a consultancy job in Laos because my day rate was more than the local engineers.  Quite right I said, I get far less days of “work” in my role, yet provide the blueprint, the cohesive framework that the engineer, the workers, the volunteers and community will work within to achieve their mission.  The organizing framework that connects all the dots.  Ive witnessed complex water systems with double the piping necessary to achieve the same goal, unmapped with ridiculous amounts of energy and resources used to pump water that could all be run on gravity freely.  Ive had to fix countless water pipes people have dug up because no- one thought to map the pipes they buried.  Ive seen years of intensive soil building dropped and left abandoned because actually the new water system that emerged makes this other space optimal.  It’s the same story in most places to more or less degree.  Eventually you end up exactly where you are headed, and if you skip this intense and complexing design process in the beginning I can see from experience that you spend more money, more energy, more time and suffer more frustration because of it!

That’s why we concentrate so much more on design in our PDCs now, and pull in any useful framework or material that leads people to effective, efficient, reliable, considered, careful and realistic design based on the same level of appraisal of all the connected layers around the project.  That’s what Permaculture Design is surely about!   


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Consultant Aid worker PRI PDC Teacher
My Permaculture Qualifications
Other course verified
Type: Other
Teacher: Darren J. Doherty
Location: Cowdray Hall, UK
Date: Nov 2011
Other course verified
Diploma in Applied PC Design
Type: Permaculture Diploma
Teacher: Rod Everett
Location: UK
Date: Aug 2008
Full PDC
Type: Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course
Teacher: Rod Everett
Location: Isle of Man
Date: Aug 2006
Other course unverified
Gaia EDE
Type: Other
Teacher: Pracha Hutanuwatr
Location: Wongsanit Ashram, BKK
Date: Jan 2009
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