Friday, 30 January 2009

A new seedling

On the first day of our permaculture course we met in Pegasus farm, an organic farm run by young Tanya and Gede, in Kayuputih. It was my second day in Bali and I had just started to appreciate the island's beauty. I was enchanted by the place and the two young people working hard to make a difference. Later on during the day, I realised the enormity of the task and I decided that I would try to give a hand to this young couple with my own modest means.

So I offered to make a website for them, in an effort to give them some visibility and promote their business to the tourist market of the island. We formed a pretty unique crew, who worked very well together, was very efficient and in two days (!) the website/blog was ready. Thank you Gede, Tanya, Martin, Manni. I think we did a great job and we had a very good time, too. And the organic meal, cooked by Gede himself and his mother was truly delicious, I don't think I have ever eaten such tasty sweet corn in my life!

Have a look at the Pegasus website and tell us what you think, we will be grateful for your feedback.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Morphological Analysis

After we had collected a list of around 10 potential community projects of KEV, I wrote into my notebook the question: How to integrate different projects without going crazy? We probably all were a bit intimidated by the complexity of the task. But with the guidance of Norman we went through all the 9 permaculture design principles from the second day and eventually came up with a satisfying result after a few battles with papers and pens. As a former Software Engineer I thought there must be a method to avoid the paper-pen-battles and so I did some research. I remembered a method which we once used in a very complex project. It was called Morphological Box. I googled for it and found the Swedish Morphological Society which had done a lot of research on Morphological Analysis and even developed a Computer Program to support the method. On their site you can find a tutorial about the method and how to apply it. You will also find that the name is derived from "morphe", which is - surprise, surprise - greek and means form. The method was developed by Fritz Zwicky, a swiss-american astrophysicist.

"... within the final and true world image everything is related to everything, and nothing can be discarded a priori as being unimportant." (Fritz Zwicky: Discovery, Invention, Research through the Morphological Approach, 1969.)

"Morphological analysis is simply an ordered way of looking at things." (Fritz Zwicky: "Morphological Astronomy", The Observatory. Vol. 68, No. 845, Aug. 1948.)

Doesn't this sound like a permacultural view?

I wrote this posting because Norman reminded us several times how useful it would be to have a Softwaretool for Permaculture Design. Maybe Morphological Analysis could be a start.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Sustainable communities, day 3

Today the ongoing exercise about selecting and designing community projects for the Kalisada Ecovillage based on the permaculture design principles did help me stay coolheaded and not too sad that this was the last day of the workshop. It was actually great to apply all the permaculture design principles to potential projects and some great ideas emerged. From the long and rich list of ideas we had, Norman suggested that we all selected individually the ones that seemed most appropriate, of higher priority and also feasible, to come first to the KEV agenda. It was very interesting to see that we did not have many differences among us about which projects could be realised first. We also concluded that a set of guidelines and rules should be put together for all the members of the KEV project to agree upon.

The most confidence inspiring and motivating part of the day came last: once we had the list of projects that we figured would be the best kick-start, we set off to determine the beneficial relationships these projects will generate among all stakeholders and among the projects themselves. It was fascinating to see the results: a rich web of connections and links, that revealed the advantages of each project and justified their realization almost without any effort.

What the teacher did not let us say in the classroom

As we were approaching the end of the session and the whole workshop, I was really frustrated that Norman asked us to give him our feedback about the workshop via email rather than 'live'. I felt so grateful to him so often during the workshop that I was really looking forward to expressing this gratitude in the 'class'. And I am a Greek, on top of everything, so I love being dramatic and emotional. My frustration went away quickly, though, because I thought "he he, I will write it all on the blog, Norman, I haven't said my last word yet". And so I will.

Very often during these twelve days of the course I could not help thinking how great it would be for kids and young people to have teachers like Norman at school, how inspiring it would have been for me and for people like me to have teachers like Norman in the university. Teachers who are enthusiastic, inspired, engaging, full of energy, teachers who lead a life consistent with what they preach and live a happy and fulfilling life for this very reason. The way I understood it, permaculture is a way of life, a truly alternative solution to modern man's dead ends, an invitation to wise action even if the results are not perfect, since life itself is not perfect. Thank you Norman.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Sustainable Communities, day 2

Before we started today's session we got armed with two important permaculture principles, that actually apply to any project design:

  • Spend more time in planning and design than most people do in order to avoid wasting time and resources later.
  • Try as a strategy to build beneficial relationships between as many components of your project as you can.

We also mentioned the basic steps towards the realisation of a project:

  1. Create the project concept.
  2. Design and budget the project.
  3. Identify the funding sources.
  4. Plan for adequate management and sufficient follow-up.
  5. Initiate the project.
  6. Be happy about what you have accomplished :-)

It proved relatively easy to select between the community projects we had proposed yesterday: the Kalisada EcoVillage has been in the centre of our interest during quite a few sessions of the whole course and many people from the course are involved in it. So we chose to focus on the KEV (let's put this acronym to the test, shall we?) community projects.

When we actually put all the ideas for community projects in Kalisada on the table, or more accurately put on the white board, the whole endeavour seemed intimidating, especially to people like me, who are not involved in the project and have not been involved in building a business from scratch (and of this size and scope and with so many stakeholders, wow!) But the attack strategy that Norm proposed was so interesting that I almost forgot my cold feet. The idea was to apply the eight permaculture design methods to the design of the Kalisada Community projects. Impressive, eh?

Impressive, yes, but not so easy, especially on a hot, humid afternoon like today's! But we were brave and inventive and the brainstorming worked pretty well and we managed to come to the middle of the exercise, that is, apply four of the eight methods of project design to the ten (!) broad categories of community projects the Kalisada EcoVillagers could take up. Tomorrow it the last day of the course and we will go on with the exercise. I am eager to see how we will combine all the elements discussed and what criteria we will use in order to chose the projects that will be actually initiated and curried out! The excitement should help me forget the sad fact that tomorrow is the last day of the course and that this wonderful experience will soon end, hopefully giving way to new, exciting collaborations and endeavours.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Sustainable Communities, day 1

When coming home from the course today, I started browsing a book that Norm recommended, Managing the Non-profit Organization and I stumbled upon the phrase "Good intentions don't move mountains bulldozers do". It's quite interesting that Norman started today's session by writing on the white board "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". I think that the message is clear, good intentions are not enough to make this world a better place and sometimes they can even cause more harm than good. We may not want to move mountains at all (and permaculture-wise I wouldn't think it is a good idea..) but, in whatever project we engage we should try to get our act together, follow certain rules and principles, and go out there and realise it!

Some things to remember when considering any community project, or any personal project for that matter, would be:

  • Check the social, financial and environmental sustainability of the project (does this ring a bell?).
  • Check if the project is need-based.
  • Involve the beneficiaries in the process from the beginning. A community project is not worth doing if you don't have cooperation with the locals (in other words, don't knock on closed doors).
  • Avoid, if possible, complicated structures in order to get funding and try working with your personal network.
  • Do a cost-benefit analysis.
  • Do what you are good at or what you have passion for.
  • Focus on your local community. Buy locally, employ locally.
  • You don't need to say yes all the time, if you think you cannot handle a project or carry it out properly, don't promise to do it or don't start doing it.
  • Make yourself aware of legal issues, so that you avoid getting exposed to unnecessary risk.
  • Be patient and have long-term commitment: things don't change from one day to the next.
  • Work with people who care.

Reef Protection Markers in the Whitsundays, a marker of a successful project that Norman took up in Australia with OUCH volunteers.The first of the Toblerone generation?

We also talked about real-life projects and why they succeeded or failed, about different kind of structures that could be used to run projects and about different types of projects pertinent to the Balinese context.

It was high time we'd had a brainstorming about possible projects this group could take up! We came up with quite a few ideas, which we'll discuss tomorrow. Yes! Permaculture in action!

P.S. Sri from Adinda Rose joined the team today. She had a lot of interesting input for us, being a Balinese active in community work and wild animals' protection. I hope she enjoyed the course as much as we enjoyed her participation.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Permaculture exercise

Yesterday, we went with Evelyn for lunch to Gina's place in Selat, Sananda Centre, a lovely place with bungalows and a seminar centre.
We budding permaculture designers went around the property, trying to see it from the permaculture point of view and trying to suggest solutions to problems or beneficial changes that could make a difference.

I felt a bit like an apprentice magician, struggling to apply my limited knowledge on a real-life case and without Norman's guidance. It was fun! We talked about the position and design of the swimming-pool that Gina plans to have built, changes and improvements in the garden and in the buildings. We saw what termites can do to wooden structures and that was impressive! And costly to fight and repair!

I don't know if we were good consultants (although the ideas we had were pretty good, don't you agree Evelyn?) but we certainly gave all our good energy and best wishes to Gina with her nice project. And I think she appreciated it, too.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Sustainable building, day 3

It's hard to imagine a better way to finish the 'Sustainable Building' workshop than we did today.

In the morning we went to Kalisada to see to the completion of the Waste Water Garden piping in Lynda's and Glen's house. Mr Murphy forgot us today, and the works progressed very well.

The working crew went on with the pipe connections, put the tank in its place filled with water and also positioned accurately the pipe on the leach field. I was very happy to see the physics principle of communicating vessels (Prinzip der kommunizierenden Röhren :-) in action, more than two decades after learning it at school :-/. We used it to position the leach field pipe flat (not sloping) on the ground.

After Kalisada we went to Annete's place and we had a unique opportunity to reflect on one of the permaculture design principles that are harder to grasp: that of random assembly. The way I understand it, permaculture is about working towards a certain quality of life, about meeting our 'non-material needs in a sustainable way' and for this to be attained, intuition, art, our personal vision and philosophy of life join forces with scientific method and technology. (I tried it to make it sound not so cosmic, Norman!)

This is what Annette and Nyoman are doing, building Annette's wonderland.

Norman tried hard to keep us on the ground, faithful to the permaculture principles (Stay on the ground, be practical) and he asked us to interview Annette as if we were permaculture designers and she were our client. We discussed concrete solutions about the most important issues in the property, like water storage and quality. We then made a tour of the property, we finally visited the snake and the new house they are building entirely from natural materials, like earth bricks, wood, mud and thatch and we discussed a bunch of interesting ideas about natural materials and building techniques.

Since we were on a coastal area, Norman did not miss the opportunity to talk about the global warming effect on areas like this, that will probably be apparent in the not-so-distant future. Although this is quite gloomy prospect, I remember how Norman opened this workshop, by saying that 'yes, the future may not seem so bright, but there are things we can do and there are ways out of the mess we have put ourselves in. We just need to go ahead and start doing something about it!' And this is exactly what we are aiming for in the next Workshop about 'Sustainable Communities', do something about it....

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Sustainable Building, day 2

Today the day was about how much theory differs from reality, about Murphy's law and about how you get Norman stressed.

We went to Kalisada to follow the construction of the waste water management system of Lynda's and Glen's house. The drill was not working properly, the glue pistol was not working properly, there were missing parts without which the septic tank could not waterproof, the slope of the pipes leading to the septic tank was not enough, the septic tank was not high enough so the vegetated leach field had to get a bit deeper, the ground water was constantly filling the bottom of the septic tank pit, at one point it started to rain.

We were all bombarding Norman with questions and suggestions while he was trying to organise and give instructions to the working crew and give us the course of the day.

By the time the rainbow came out, Norman was a nervous wreck. Well, I am exaggerating a bit, but I think that today we finally managed to exhaust out guru, who seemed inexhaustible.

Apart from the practical, hands-on part of the session, which was really interesting, we talked about building in areas prone to earthquakes, like Bali and how we brace our buildings, about protection of houses against fire by planting fireproofing trees close to the buildings, and even about protection from volcano eruptions (!). I found this really exotic but Norm did not go into a lot of detail. Maybe we'll have a chance to get him to talk to us about it some more!

I have to say that we are very good students, indeed! We actually thought about the 'Windows to the world' school in Buanasari in our little spare time and came up with quite interesting ideas.

  • Make 'living' huts and mazes by real trees and plants, for children to hide and play in.
  • Make a vegetable garden.
  • Introduce animals, like rabbits or ducks.
  • Stabilize the land (does this ring a bell?).
  • Let more sunlight reach the garden by cutting some tree branches
  • Make a pleasant, colourful compost pit and rubbish bin area.
  • Plant more beautiful and appropriate plants for a school garden, that would attract butterflies, birds and other animals.
  • Make a kind of fitness or adventure path, so that the kids get some exercise.

We concluded that any feasible project for this school should have a small budget, be easily maintained and be carried out in a short time by some volunteers.This could very well be the first project of the 'Permaculture in action' team.

From the clients point of view

Hi guys
I just would like to share a few thoughts and feelings I experienced yesterday when I was in the position of a client and you visited our place. Some worries popped up in my mind like "will they like my place? what will they think about it? Have I done it right?". You know, silly thoughts, but very often we can not control them and owners can get quite attached to their projects. So I was a bit nervous about the visit. But then, when you arrived and I felt your enthusiasm, joy and respect my nervousness was quickly gone and I could open up to all your advice and comments. So, a big compliment to all of you for being such sensitive and respectful permacultural designers and thank you for giving me the opportunity to be in the position of a client.
We will start removing the suckers from the banana trees and leave only a mother plant which produces fruits and one child plant so that the energy of the mother can go to the fruits and not to the suckers.
We will focus more on stabilizing the terraces so that the rocks do not grow any further although they looked nice to me. I start now looking differently at things!
And we will definitely consider to put a pergola in front of the west wall to protect it from excessive heat from the sun.
Yes, and we will follow another principle that Norm shared with us:
In every situation there are things we can do to make things more sustainable. There is always something we can do.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Sustainable Building, day 1

Wow, what a busy day! Packed full with interesting sites and useful information. But don't feel overwhelmed, guys, as the guru would say: it is principles that count most, and not so much information, which you can get from quite a few sources.

First stop was Evelyn's and Johan's construction site in Selat. It was quite exciting to see a house being built and to talk about different options, possibilities, choices and from many different points of view: the point of view of the permaculturist, of the land developer, of the clients, of the local workers and builders, of the other westerners who have built houses and businesses on the island.

Again, there were principles and issues emerged from the actuality of the construction:

The house we are building should be energy-efficient and, ideally, self-sufficient energy-wise.

Orientation and shape matters. A good shape is a rectangle, positioned so that the narrow sides face east and west, which will make it cooler in a hot climate like the Balinese.

Try to reduce the energy-intensive materials, like concrete, and try to use more natural, eco-friendly resources, preferably found around the area you are building, like timber trees from local farms.

My favourite for today was: think what home means to you, freedom, security, privacy, protection, and try to keep this in mind while you are building it. Something like a mission statement for your house. Actually Evelyn and Johan wrote down their mission statement for their house, cool!

Our next stop was Victor's grass roof-top house . This was an impressive construction of two concrete buildings with rooftops covered with grass. Victor explained how grass is good for the environment, because it produces a lot of oxygen, filters water and acts as a great insulator which keeps the house really cool, but I will not go into any more details because I risk to get dismissed from the workshop by the guru. (For those who don't speak Indonesian, 'guru' means 'teacher' in Indonesian, not only 'spiritual teacher', although Norman can be pretty 'cosmic' at times..)

Victor has built a water storage system of great capacity and he shared with us how he has clearly seen the water supply deteriorating in the area due to human activity and climate change.

Next stop was the 'Windows to the world' school in Buanasari. A small school for local and western kids, aiming to bring together children from the two 'worlds', and give them diverse education in language, art and sports.

A nice little school with four classrooms a playground and a garden, which will serve as the ground for our first exercise as budding permaculture designers: think about how this place could be redesigned or improved in order to become more interesting to the children from a permaculture perspective. Let's see what we'll come up with...

Last stop was Satya's house and land in Buanasari. Satya has an ongoing project to build a small number of villas which will share a garden, swimming pool and spa centre. There we saw a real example of what termites can do to a structure, a nice lumbung Satya has built in the property. Norman looked for possible paths that the termites use to get into the house from the soil; remember, the most efficient pest control is environmental management and not pesticides' use.

This was a really long and full day, but Norman had not quite finished with us yet. He took out the trunk of his car a pile of new interesting books for us. I only managed to borrow a couple, which I added to the books list. The rest will come in the next two days, when I manage to get hold of them, yummy!

Oh yes, we had new students today, Annette and Gina (I hope I got the names right :/), who came together with their builders and workers. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen! And a warm welcome to Linda, Lynda and Glen, who are joining electronically, for the time being!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Permaculture inspirational video 'Greening Jordan'

Hi there ,
What a wonderful idea. I'm looking forward to meeting you all next week.
In the meantime I wanted to add this link to the permaculture inspired U Tube video on greening Jordan, here's the link

See you soon

Norm saying thank you to Elena, our Greek Goddess :)

Elena, you rule!!!
A really great job, I'm truly impressed, thank you.
How do we keep you in the 'team'? Even though you'll be travelling again sometime, I wonder if we can keep you in the loop via the wonderful world of the 'web?
It's skills like yours that help keep things moving and God knows, if we're going to save Bali (and the World as we know it) we need to do just that...
To everyone else, Elena has set us all a great example of 'just doing it'. She did something!
Let's all try to do something, it doesn't matter if it's something small... (although as I've said to you before... 'when it comes to protecting the environment, small is beautiful but bigger is better') long as we're doing something good in the real world, our time and our work is meaningful. Everyone has a sphere of influence, as a minimum, let's do good things within that sphere.
I'm very much looking forward to our next trainings.
See you on the 16th at Evelyn's mountain hideaway :)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Books you want to read

Here is a list of books that have been mentioned during the course. I am sure that during this pause between classes and with such a rainy weather, all the students are reading and studying with enthusiasm!
  • Permaculture Manual, by Bill Mollison, Tagari Publications
  • The ecology of Java and Bali, Periplus Editions
  • Collapse, by Jared Diamond, Penguin
  • Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond, W. W. Norton & Company
  • Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, HarperCollins Publishers
  • Prescencing, ??
  • Earth User's Guide to Permaculture, by Rosemary Morrow, Kangaroo Press
  • The Permaculture Home Garden, by Linda Woodrow, Viking
  • Plant Resources of South-East Asia: Essential-oil Plants, Bamboos, Edible Fruits, Vegetables and Nuts, Prosea Indonesia 1999
  • The Seed Savers' Handbook, by Michel and Jude Fanton, A Seed Savers Book
  • Plant Science, Growth, Development and Utilization of Cultivated Plants, Regents, Prentice Hall
  • The Australian Vegetable Garden 'What's new is old', by Clive Blazey, New Holland
  • Environmental Geology, by Carla W. Montgomery, Wm.C.Brown Publishers
  • A collection of zen and pre-zen writings, compiled by Paul Reps, Penguin Books
  • The man who planted trees, by Jean Giono, Peter Owen Publishers

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Water Management, day 3

We visited the beach near Burkhard's house all the way up to Yuli's family ricefields, to observe the beach erosion due to human activities.

Apart from the obvious human interventions, like the building of walls to protect parts of the beach in front of individual properties, one possible reason for the beach erosion is the destruction of the existing coral reef and one possible long-term solution for the prevention of the erosion would be to create artificial habitats for corals and, subsequently, fish. This idea was warmly welcomed by the students and Satya coined a term for the concrete pyramids that Norman suggested to throw in the water: Toblerones! Guess who will be asked to sponsor this project.

Back to Warung Bambu, our most preferred classroom, partly thanks to Beate's and Nyoman's warm hospitality. Norman presented us with some design ideas for Kalisada: a proposal of road design, a herb spiral for the Silvia's restaurant garden, a complex-edge pond and a palm polyculture.
A mini library started to form from Norman's books photocopied for the students. I was left hungry looking at all these wonderful books, which I cannot carry in my backpack, for the time being ;)

Friday, 9 January 2009

Water Management, day 2

We went to Kalisada to see the building of a waste water garden as it is happening!

A few problems delay the costruction: we need better quality pipes and glue than the ones found in the area and there cannot be any compromise in the quality of these materials.

The students of this course proved to be remarkable. Beate and Burkhard suggested an improvement in Norman's invention of the anti-sludge septic tank. Budding permaculturists in action! Norman didn't know if he should be proud of his students or if he should start wondering about his invention.

We also talked about water storage, water tanks and fish ponds, ways to make fishponds waterproof, shapes, water quality, etc., etc. Another full, inspiring, exciting day!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Water Management, day 1

This day our classroom was Beate's and Nyoman's restaurant, Warung Bambu Pemaron. We watched videos with Bill Mollison saying in a warm, bass voice that "Permaculture really starts with an ethic, earth care and care of the whole systems of earth and species. So we actually devise model systems; much of the design is drawn from nature. The end result that we aim for is to produce a system that is ecologically sound and economically profitable. It can get as sophisticated or as simple as you like..."
If you start to understand the meaning of these words you also start to wonder why modern agriculture keeps developing towards monoculture, genetically modified crops, using biocides and chemical fertilisers. It just doesn't make sense...

Apart from the philosphical contemplating we had more specific topics to discuss, the water management issues in Kalisada and in Warung Bambu. Norman gave us another interesting fact, that nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are the number-one pollutant in water. We discussed about the river that goes through Silvia's land, drainage systems and common mistakes in drainage design, water flow forms.

We then learned the design principles but also the nuts and bolts of a waste water management system.
We worked on the concrete example of Beate's and Nyoman's house and restaurant. It was fascinating to actually be able to apply the principles and rules to a real-life case.

From these exercises more principles came out:
Make the least change for the greatest possible effect.

And I like this one very much, although I am not exactly sure how to use it: Be opportunistic!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Basic Principles, General Land Management and Organic Farming - Day 3

First stop was Satya's land in Yeh Anakan. A hill-side where Satya plans to build a number of villas. Again today we had a very pretty classroom and the cows around us were very interested in our little gathering, at least in the beginning.
Once more we established the first and foremost need of any project, which is to stabilize the land. Since this was a sloping area, a good strategy would be to make swales to collect the rain water and plant trees to keep the soil from washing away and start generating the precious shade for the houses and other elements of the property. Another important permaculture principle emerged from the discussion: the cheapest and most effective way to store water in IN THE LAND. Norman keeps repeating it tirelessly: spend more time in planning and design than most people do.

Our list of local plants grew more and we had a chance to see young and old neem trees and their fruit, one of what Norman calls the miracle plants.

In the afternoon we went to see Kalisada, a piece of land shared among a number of the students of this course, namely Silvia, Brigitta and Satya. Silvia is the driving force of a project of an ecovillage creation in the property. This coastal piece of land has distinctive differences from the hilly area that we visited in the morning. For example, here there is a need to break the salty winds coming from the sea, and the water management strategies will be totally different since the land is pretty much flat and the water table is quite shallow. We saw the vetiver grass that Silvia has planted along the river bank running through her land with the aim, what else, to stabilize the land. We were all excited to finally see another of Norman's miracle plants, vetiver grass, which has an amazing root system, perfect for bioengineering, rather than boring, and often not effective, plain engineering. (We don't like engineers very much in this group although we have a few among us...)

Monday, 5 January 2009

Basic Principles, General Land Management and Organic Farming - Day 2

We headed to Bebetin and Villa Manuk, Beate's and Nyoman's property, a two-apartment villa with a beautiful garden and magnificent view to the mountains and the ricefields. Although there is a big lawn area on the garden, Norman continued talking to Beate and still considers her as his friend. Beate's idea to have a swimming pool in the garden wouldn't have helped very much but, since there is an apparently clear stream of water passing through the property, there is a possibility to make a natural pool without chloride, so we avoided the diplomatic incident.

The task that day was to do a design for the garden based on the permaculture principles of garden design.
  1. Analysis: listing the characteristics of the components that comprise the site (e.g. listing of the plants we can grow on the land)
  2. Observation of the site (orientation, soil, wind, during heavy rain,...)
  3. Deduction from Nature (find out how the place would be in its natural state)
  4. Selection of Options based on Decisions
  5. Data Overlay
  6. Random Assembly (like the 'cosmic' stuff, as Norman calls it)
  7. Flow (of movement) diagrams (e.g. flow of movement in the kitchen while people are cooking)
  8. Zone and Sector Analysis
  9. Incremental Design

Basic Principles, General Land Management and Organic Farming - Day 1

Course Tutor: Norman van't Hoff
Organization, Catering: Silvia, Beate
Students: Beate, Brigitta, Burgel, Burkhard, Elena, Evelyn, Satya, Silvia, Tanja, Yuli, together with Balinese builders, gardeners and workers of the students who have property and ongoing projects on the island

Our first classroom was Tanja's and Gede's farm, Pegasus organic farm, in Kayu Putih Melaka. I don't have photos from this first morning session on the beautiful deck of Tanja's and Gede's house because I was shy to take them. Norman had been caught up in traffic, he arrived late and somewhat stressed. Nevertheless, he handed us out some notebooks and pens, he took out his white Mac and started shooting.

A new world was revealed in front of our eyes, although he assured us that we already know much more than we think we do. What permaculture tries to bring is new ways of thinking, based on a set of ethics and principles.

The Ethical Basis for Permaculture

  1. Care of the Earth

  2. Care of People

  3. Setting Limits to Population and Consumption

The 3 Questions we could ask ourselves considering any kind of action or project

  1. Is it Socially sustainable?

  2. Is it Economically sustainable?

  3. Is it Environmentally sustainable?

But what is sustainability?

Sustainability is the ability of current generations to fill all their needs and wants without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.

And who is behind all these ideas?

Bill Mollison developed permaculture in Australia in the '70s. In his Permaculture manual, you can find the definition:

Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems, which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.

By the end of the morning our heads were already buzzing with new terms, ideas, principles, guidelines, and perspectives, boosted by Norman's optimistic, yet pragmatic views and his charisma of conveying his enthusiasm to his students. We were asked to start making a list of plants we know or come across in Bali.

It was time for our first hands-on project: setting-up a compost heap in the farm. Norman explained the basics and we took over with Silvia supervising while he went to talk with the Balinese attendants (in Indonesian or in Balinese? Norman, in which language do you speak with the locals?). I think we did pretty well, although we came up with what Norman said it was an example of a not-so-perfect compost heap.

From this first day, there are some phrases that still echo like mantras in my head:

The problem is the solution!

Stabilize the land!