Alleviating the world’s environmental and social problems isn’t as difficult or complex as it sounds. It’s as simple as initiating a single action.

You just have to know where to start.

I took that initial step by attending the most recent Permaculture Design Course (PDC) hosted by VerdEnergia, a reforestation project and farm located in the mountainous jungles of Pacific Costa Rica.

What I discovered changed the way I approach everything.

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Permaculture is a compound term derived from the concept of creating “Permanent Agriculture” by its founders, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, in 1978. It is defined as, “an agricultural system or method that seeks to integrate human activity with natural surroundings so as to create highly efficient self-sustaining ecosystems.”

“The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited.”

One of the fundamental principles of Permaculture is “Care of the Earth,” a practice compounded by applying another key principle—”Fair Share“—which describes the returning of surplus back to the land. All energies brought into an intended environment should be kept within that system for as long as possible. These principles are the pistons to Permaculture’s efficient engine, perpetually reusing resources.

Permaculture is more than sustainable: it’s regenerative.

“The yield of a system,” as Mollison states in his book, Permaculture One, “is theoretically unlimited.”

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Social Dynamics

As an ecologically-minded person, I found all of this very appealing and exciting, but the biggest eye opener for me, as I was soon to learn, was the revelation that Permaculture has much farther-reaching effects beyond advancing agriculture and ecology. This all-encompassing and progressive ideology also teaches how we can improve interpersonal relationships as individuals within a community—and as communities cooperating as a network.

…to my total amazement, the principles were prevalent in all of the other topics and modules, too, such as social dynamics, self-regulation, and conflict transformation. They were not exclusively restricted to agriculture.

As expected, we studied modules in the PDC that comprehensively covered plants, soil quality, and how best to optimise land use. However, to my total amazement, the principles of Permaculture were prevalent in all of the other topics and modules, too. They were not exclusive to just agriculture and included self-regulation, social dynamics, and conflict solving.

Harmony of the earth in tandem with harmony of people. This was the subtext woven throughout the narrative of the course. Within Permaculture, the quality of human experience is also regarded as a resource.

Joshua Hughes, one of the founders of VerdEnergia, explains: “You know, it’s not just about providing food. Permaculture is a lot more than farming. It’s about how we approach almost everything.”

He went concluded, “We’re creating a relationship with the forest that will strengthen our interdependence on each other for the rest of our lives, the rest of our children’s lives.”

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Class Act

The tropical air hung low and still in the morning mist. Cicadas chirped lazily under the lush, jungle canopy. Large ceiling fans blew a welcome breeze across the wooden floors of the yoga studio where I and a dozen or so other participants sat expectantly each morning, sipping hot coffee and eating fresh local fruits for breakfast.

During the course, experienced course instructors, Mark Tobin and Steven Ganister, both based in Oregon, guided us through the principles of Permaculture.

The theory-based sections of the PDC were relaxed yet concise. Every theoretical lesson we took was followed up with a practical hands-on session in the field early the next morning to let us experience it in action.

The delivery of the classes was as entertaining as it was educational.

Marc and Steven’s teaching styles complemented each other to an alarming degree of satisfaction. Marc, enlightening, funny, and animated, balanced Steven’s, communicative, descriptive, and direct approach.

VerdEnergia’s PDC aims to bridge the gap between ecological passionate and knowledge. Both Marc and Steven actively narrow the distance between the two.

“We’re led to believe that the industrial farming model is the only way to sustain the maximum number of people on earth,” Marc said to me in a recent phone interview.

“The mainstream sees this as logical and just, but it’s ethically incomplete. It’s not just about feeding people. How can you sustain human life if you’re willing to have a mass extinction of biodiversity, to which industrial farming is culpable?

“Permaculture should be taught in schools. People need to be informed.”

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Observation underlies almost all facets of Permaculture practice. It is the cornerstone skill upon which every Permaculture project is built to ensure it is as energy efficient as possible.

One of our first tasks in the field had us head out with a classmate into Shangri-Lanas, an area of land adjacent to VerdEnergia, to observe the immediate environment and take notes to share with the rest of the group later on.

My field partner and I observed Shangri-Lanas at different intervals throughout the day and made some startling discoveries. We noticed the change of birdsong giving way to insect chorus; patterns of tree growth in gorges; the distant sound of a rushing river; clear microclimates at work in the distance; the density and quality of soil beneath our feet; the contours of the land; the smell of ozone and pollen in the air.

Permaculture methodology instils an acute sense of interconnectedness in everything we will ever do for the rest of our lives.

There were other things to consider, too. Was the weather seasonal, or sensitive to the time of day? If we built accommodation or planted crops here, where could we best source water using the least amount of energy? Would the land at the edge of this hill erode without planting perennial trees?

I’d obviously noticed these things before, but in a more peripheral state. Now I was acutely aware of my surroundings, and I felt closer to the environment than ever before.

It was as though I had just acquired the skills of a Jedi Knight!

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Game Changer

Everyone on the course—the students, the instructors, and the workers—was on hand to aid and assist each other. We were already applying permaculture disciplines in our interactions.

Living in a community in the far reaches of a tropical jungle taught me a great many things during the weeks of my PDC. Cooperation is imperative in today’s world. Competition has reigned for far too long. It’s antiquated.

In order to help the environment, we need to help each other. The other participants and I forged a strong bond along our Permaculture journey and developed an even keener respect for nature.

We really can help find solutions to our environmental and social problems with the single, simple action of orienting ourselves on the permaculture path. It casts such a wide net that all we have to do is pursue it; the rest will follow.

You will have an impact.

Moreover, the rules of Permaculture are not dogmatic—not set in stone. They are adaptable, fluid and organic, always open and responding to change. That something was successful a long time ago does not mean that it will remain successful in the future. Things change, and we need to be ready and open to change accordingly. After all, nature is not just more complex than we think; it’s more complex than we can think.

And when nature puts on a show, it’s worth attending.


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The next Permaculture Design Course at VerdEnergia runs from June 15 to July 7, 2018. Learn more and reserve your spot here!