July-August 2016: 6 Week Permaculture Internship: Terra Alta, Sintra, Portugal

Source: July-August 2016: 6 Week Permaculture Internship: Terra Alta, Sintra, Portugal

Here is a past course blog from the dynamic 6 week program that I co facilitated with the crew at Terra Alta. It was quite an experience and the deeper learning was there for sure. Many projects manifested during this one as well, from food forest layers to insect hotels and natural building. great format for going deeper straight away in the beginning journey of Permaculture studies.

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July-August 2016: 6 Week Permaculture Internship: Terra Alta, Sintra, Portugal

The summer of 2016 was a summer to remember at Terra Alta for the intensive schedule starting on June 1st and running until Mid August.  I was away for the first few weeks working in Spain on a new project, Suryalila Permaculture, while the reciprocal roof/ natural building course was on there at Terra Alta. Without break i did manage to catch the last few days of to help out. From there we went almost straight away, after a teenager school visioning process, to the six week internship.  It was a program I was asking for as the need to go deeper with students and have more contact time with them for sure was there.  So it happened and we ended up with 13 Interns, 11 who stayed the whole six weeks and two who joined us for the last four remaining weeks.  Overall it was a great experience, trying, full of learning and sharing, but indeed rewarding.

It started with an introduction that involved heavily on tours of Terra Alta.  After spending many years on and off developing the site it was really great to be able to teach through the walk and talk medium in depth.  It’s amazing to see the difference in the before and after pictures in different areas of the site and i was happy to be able to story tell of what is used to be, what we did alone the way, and why it is the way it is now.  We also contributed to that change straight away, first by feeding ourselves with ferments that we prepared, and next by hot composting.  We also got a beach afternoon in for the students down to the amazing beach, Praia de Ursa, to help them get acclimated to their local surroundings.

After just a few opening days with myself and Henrik, Ruka, a guest teacher, came in and led a ten day timber framing course to build an extension house for Pedro and Rita and their daughters.  It was a much needed project and the interns enjoyed jelling with a handful of other students who joined for this specific course.  The timber framing was challenging for sure on everyone but the laughs were definitely there each day.  The students got to know chisels, terminology, design, mathematics; in essence a holistic introduction to timber framing.  Along the way i helped to cook, to garden, to prepare for the next month after that and try to and rest a bit along the way.  I was in more of a host role, which was fun for me to not be the lead teacher but rather one more person in the support role.

After some days of rest once the course finished, with of course beach time in there, we then began the next phase of the course which myself, Pedro, and Henrik shared the teaching responsibility of.  We were joined by students helping with the cooking, complimenting the amazing crew of volunteers that were around all summer to help with cooking, gardening, building; actually you name they helped!.  My main focus in these days in between the timber framing and the upcoming PDC was to essentially hold two weekend courses. One of them was the normal weekend food forest course that was instead spread over a few days.  Although summer, beyond the theory and walk and talks, we got out there in the field and planted in some more layers, some more guilds, and stayed on watering them over the next month to keep them alive.  We did the digging, the sunken beds, the terracing, the putting microbes out, the mulching, the whole process really.  The unique thing was that the vast majority of the plants that we were planting were ones i had propagated myself and had managed to keep alive over the many months to get to a summer plantable size.

I also led a weekend aquaculture course that the internship students had to open themselves up to being with a new expanded group.  Also this course was down at the local coop, Quita dos Sete Nomes, where I have taught food forest course before as well.  Thus we talked a lot about these 4-20 times more productive systems when done right but also got to get in the pond and stream to help with the coop’s missions.  We added more edge along the pond and planted that out one hot summer day. It was a lot of work but the pond will for sure benefit from the terracing and planting.  The next day was focused more on stream systems and inducing meandering.  Having now stopped back at the coop a couple of times since this weekend, we did exactly that through our Gabions and Gabion Planting basket.  Both have increased edge and the stream seemed to have benefited over just the few weeks with signs of young fish schooling and organic matter accumulating.  read more here.


Also in the internship time the students got to explore subjects like social permaculture with Henrik and Pedro.  This was really focused on unlocking their potential and bringing forth a vision for the their next steps.  They also got in-depth on subjects like bee keeping.  Out of that one, the hands on project was the insect hotel.  It was an ongoing project for about ten days leading up to the PDC that a few dedicated students took the time to manifest a beautiful creation thus adding a very central element to garden.  It brings edge and diversity and much needed habitat!

insect hotel
insect hotel

As that wound down, the PDC ramp up was happening in the background, the volunteers (Soon to be VolunDeers) were arriving, and the next group was being anticipated.  With the interns already quite united, they again had to open themselves up to another new group.  This time 23 more, for the large number of 36 students, 13 volunteers, and a crew of 7, making the grand total 56 on the land each day.  It was a big production but again we did the theory, the interactive, the hands on, the designs, and we formed community along the way.  We ended with a Design presentation fair that capped the summer of 2016 and all the grand learning and site transformation.  To read more about the PDC go to this link as it is just too big to describe in just a few sentences. read more here.

Overall, phew, it was a fantastic experience with for sure a greater level of understanding of permaculture shining through at the end of those 6 weeks.  It was a growing phase for me as well to have the stamina to go to the end and to go through all the changes that were happening for me along the way.  I really appreciate the characters of this group and how we made it through it together, how we all adapted, and how we all contributed.  It was a great cultural exchange and thanks to all who participated as the land and spirit of the place has been altered forever.

Me and the last slide of the patterns presentation
Me and the last slide of the patterns presentation, the biggest journey of life
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