Permaculture design – it’s deep

I just finished an intensive permaculture design course (PDC) through the Caribbean Permaculture Research Institute (CPRI) in Barbados. The course was held at Walkers Reserve (a sand quarry that is being turned into a nature reserve).  My goal was to earn my permaculture design certificate, but I gained so much more. 

The course opened my mind and senses to the natural flow of elements and the man-made obstructions that disturb this flow. I began to understand that resilience to climate change is all about enabling natural processes to work; and that permaculture is more than just a way of farming, it is a philosophical position that is in harmony with our natural ecosystem. 

The formal definition of  permaculture states:

Permaculture it is a set of agricultural design principles that focus on natural ecosystems and simulates patterns found in nature. 

Permaculture principles provide alternative techniques to the destruction caused by intensive commercial farming.

Permaculture includes regenerative agricultural techniques that focus on bringing life (microbes) back to soil destroyed by the use of chemicals (fertilisers and pesticides). Regenerative agriculture strengthens the health of the soil, and healthy soil is much more resilient to extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change. We learned to see that everything living is energy, from dry leaves to grass clippings and all organic material. Mulch is energy that can be used to cover the soil (keep moisture in) and feed the microorganisms below it.  We touched on syntropic agriculture as well, but with so much to learn that topic will be for another course. 

Our instructors – Erle Rahaman Noronha (@FarmerErle) of Wa Samaki Ecosystems and multimedia artist and ecologist Johnny Stollmeyer (@johnstollmeyer) – led us through everything from water harvesting, composting, and root crop planting,  to grafting, layering, and social permaculture. 

We were taught to see patterns in nature, to read the land and use all of our senses to discover them.  We were told about people so tuned-in to nature they could understand bird calls, one predicted the arrival of a red-tailed hawk 10 minutes before it appeared because he could distinguish the warnings sent by other birds.

Understanding natural patterns requires connecting with all of your senses and waking your intuitive perception. 

One morning Erle sent us to find a spot to sit and open our senses to the land around us.   I closed my eyes and could smell the sweet scent of warm grass and hear bees buzzing close by.  I remembered doing this as a child on our farm in southern Ontario. The fields and the smell of the long grass – and running through it with arms stretched wide as an August thunderstorm rumbled in the distance; the chatter of birds and the silence that settled over the woods warning a predator was near.  I caught the scent of the ocean and could just make out the low rumble of waves pounding on the beach in the distance. A cloud passed over the sun and the birdsong lessened, like a pause in music, it pulled me to listen for sounds further off. The tapping of banana leaves and call from a parakeet looking for friends reminded me of the distance I have travelled since those days on our farm. 

I caught hold of something there at Walkers Reserve – something deep inside me, the intuitive voice that informs my perceptions. Years spent surrounded by concrete, traffic, and cement structures has dulled it, but with a little nurturing I will learn to rely on it again.

The course was filled with practical learning as well, but I was drawn to the social side of permaculture. Social permaculture is defined as the art of building community and relationships.  It is about designing social structures that favour beneficial patterns of human behavior – earth care, people care, and fair share are some of its principles.  Climate change is forcing society to adjust our behavior, social permaculture offers an outline on how to do it.

Mother nature has a way of always balancing the earth – we pollute and destroy her ecosystems and she throws extreme weather that lowers food production and forces us to change. 

Someone in the class asked Erle why he didn’t use the word sustainable but instead always seemed to use regenerative. His response,

It depends… would you want a sustainable marriage or a regenerative marriage?

We learned how to create permaculture designs, and were assigned the job of designing for clients who had very unique challenges. As we went about our work  I realized we were able to come up with designs and solutions easily because Erle and Johnny had taught us to see the world differently, to feel it living and breathing around us. 

The destruction that humans are doing to the natural world, the loss of wildlife, and topsoil; the pollution and devastation humanity has caused … can be very depressing,  but learning about permaculture as helped me see that there is hope. There are others who care and they have found a way to regenerate the soil we have killed, and the ecosystems we destroyed.

If you are feeling a little short on hope please take the time to find a permaculture course near you, learn how to use all your senses, and build healthy relationships and communities. 


Wasamaki Permaculture in Trinidad is currently offering internships and you can also earn your Permaculture Design Certificate here: https://www.wasamakipermaculture.org/internships

CPRI will be offering a Syntropy course next spring. For more information: https://www.cpribarbados.com/ 

First published Nov. 2019 in Womens Post Media

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