Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Learn, teach, grow!

Christina Crossingham (Patrick's sister) teaching a group at Easton Community Garden in Bristol
Since I began teaching permaculture I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing teachers, including Patrick Whitefield of course, his wife Cathy, Sarah Pugh, Matt Dunwell, Mike Feingold, Martin Crawford and more recently Klaudia Van Gool, Mel Lamb and Aranya. I have seen the core message of permaculture taught from many different perspectives with varying focuses and interpretations. It is fascinating to see how something can be so rooted in natural law that it can maintain its essence in so many different manifestations. The more interpretations I see, the more my faith in permaculture is confirmed.

I trained with Patrick and Cathy, so my interpretation was heavily influenced by Patrick’s practical land-based approach and Cathy’s sensitive, intuitive and spiritual approach. Both of them spoke to me in different ways and I have recently become aware of my own approach having been somewhat polarised. On the one hand I have a background and keen interest in soil, growing and cooking food. On the other hand I have spent time living in intentional community and have been well served by insight meditation and ‘deep ecology’ philosophies. Although these things are interconnected within myself, they have often felt more separate when I teach.
Patrick teaching students how to get to grips with soil

As I begin to work with more and more permaculturists I can see my approach broadening as the dots continue to be joined in my mind between permaculture and every aspect of our lives – as individuals, as families, communities and the world as a whole.  A couple of phrases that one seems to say frequently when teaching permaculture are ‘everything is connected’ and ‘it depends’! Permaculture enables us to see that these things are true; complexity, relationships and nuance are what our world is about. But this need not be daunting when we have such an effective tool box with which to make the very most of these characteristics and work with them rather than against them.

I have just finished teaching a 2 week residential permaculture design course at the beautiful educational centre High Heathercombe on Dartmoor. The centre is run by Mel Lamb who has evolved an enticing programme of events with a focus on the ‘people care’ side of permaculture – one could say the very foundations upon which the movement depends. Mel is an enthusiastic inspirer, offering everyone who passes through the centre an opportunity to grow, to glimpse potential and feel empowered to fulfill it, whether it be personal, practical or social. Perched high upon the rugged moorland with breath-taking views and huge starlit skies there could be no better backdrop for such work to take place. The combination of Mel’s energy and vision, with the awesome natural surroundings is fertile ground indeed.

Aranya teaching permaculture design at High Heathercombe

The lead teacher of the Heathercombe PDC is Aranya, a well-known, and respected teacher who 
has been a key member of the UK permaculture community and beyond for many years. Aranya has an incredible scientific mind, a wonderfully light-hearted teaching style and an infectious sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. He is able to dive into the depths of how water behaves on a molecular level or the intricacies of the soil food web with such ease and clarity that there is a tangible sense of ‘wow!’ in the room. He can then make connections and comparisons which allow us to realise that everything is operating by the same universal laws – we see the same patterns unfolding time and again, on every conceivable scale. When we understand these laws something can open up in our minds which has been long since buried beneath layers of conditioning which make us feel separated from the perceived chaos of the natural world. We start to think in spirals rather than straight lines, and suddenly everything makes sense.  
Steve Pickup teaching the wonders of willow at Ragmans Lane Farm
The core syllabus of a PDC is based upon guidance by the Permaculture Association which leaves a lot of room for variation between courses. Having worked on 3 very different PDCs I can see that the variation between courses can be huge and yet there is no real way of expressing and celebrating this variety….yet. It would be great to find a way to communicate the flavour of each course to prospective students so they can choose the course that appeals to them. For me personally I love having the chance to work on different courses and learn and grow from different approaches. Every single course that takes place is unique as there is a different group of people attending, each bringing their own flavour and wealth of knowledge, experience and skills to share.  I constantly feel humbled by the wonderful people I encounter in my work and it’s great to be reminded that, contrary to what mainstream media would have us believe, the world is full of wonderful people.

On that note I’d like to direct you to an inspiring videoclip by Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest.


  1. Beautifully written Cari. It was really great to teach with you for the first time too. :)

  2. It is very important to take gardening classes for your garden. meet and greet Heathrow

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