Written by Doug Crouch
With the heat of the summer raging on there in Southern Spain and me coming off my most intense teaching schedule of a summer thus far, I spent 12 days at Suryalila Retreat Center in Mid September 2016. As opposed to the first time when it was winter consulting and the second in the summer doing more project kickstarting and training, this time it was a blend of it all, better known as project management and design. In the summer, my second trip, we formed a great team for manifesting lots of positive changes in the field, which included Jacob Evans of Wizard Permaculture. He was hired on to be the farm manager and we were joined by Jon Valdivia of TheOpenDream project for my third stint there. With this constellation we were focused much more on the elements of the design fitting within the big picture of the project, but, of course we manifested some great change in the garden.
With the water crisis still dragging on there at the project, the summer heat, and the fading of summer energy, we all were looking forward to the rains coming and some relief from the brittleness of the climate. With that context, many, and I mean many decisions were on the table to address this water issue amongst a plethora of other interconnecting factors. The time there for me was about taking a step back and manifesting more parts of the design that I simply never had the time before to accomplish. Even still I work remotely to forward this plan, which is complicated with this projects complexity. But this is what it is about for us dedicated Permaculturists who live an nomadic life of sorts, moving around to contribute where the will and energy is there. To really forward a project out of the dust of the legacy of poor land and water management is quite a work but very doable with a vision and the sound design/ project management plan.
Thus with the design process we went back to the vision and had another session with Vidya Heisel, the founder of the project. It echoed what she had said in March, my first trip, but as the project was ballooning we wanted to just check if anything new had come up or what flavors were being added. Being a yoga teacher herself, the theme of education is definitely there and the desire to make a magical space for the guests to be immersed in also came in quite strong. The vision also connects to the farm-to-table/shop model as there is a big input of food that goes through the kitchen into the stomachs of the staff, guests, and volunteers. It’s quite a holistic vision in the end and we are doing our best to make this come through with our blend of the how and what to design and manifest. The why is set and the work to bring this forward continued with deepening the general land design and bringing detail to patch designs. (vision= why, how, and what)
Fun Finding Funding
One of the main questions that came up was how are we going to fund this development? Jon had shown up only the day before me as a volunteer for the next three months in more of an IT support role. That quickly changed as he was quite resourceful at looking for funding opportunities under Vidya’s assignment of this. He found lots of avenues and we are still exploring more of them since a non-profit for the permaculture education side of the project is being set up. We really want to show a viable model of production to the local and bioregional community since it is, in general, unprofitable and surely unsustainable farming. But the subsidies from the EU prop this chemical monoculture up and our tax euros are actually going to ecosystem degradation. And honestly its very alarming at what you see there with the desertification. We want the locals to get on board as well not just permies who are already into this and we hope the Sustainable Rural Development Funds can help us build the project and communicate it. More on the desertification will be in a coming blog, but indeed, the time to press play on a regenerative agriculture is now.
Design, Design, Design= Project Management Plan
Beyond that we were really fixed on phases of implementation, which in essence is a fusion of permaculture design and project management. Since development speed and direction is largely based on resources available and budget, we had many questions to follow through on to make them answers. It’s still not finished but when working from patterns to details and getting to know a new bioregion it truthfully can be a bit slow. But I am thankful I had the opportunity to be there for 12 days, an extended period honestly for me, and learn more about the nuances of the land and the project itself. So we are getting closer to exact placement and numbers of trees, exact dimensions and placement of earthworks, and deciding exactly our steps forward with the wheat field conversion into the keyline alley cropping system.
Field Work- Already seeing the Yields
We did also get out in the field and make some moves in the main garden and overall landscaping. First was the harvest of the butternut squash that we had put in exactly three months earlier when I was there leading the crew the last time in June. We had planted two oversized raised beds with sunken mini
pits filled with horse or alpaca manure. It’s amazing at how beat up these soils are and when we implemented these beds in June, we beat them up further with tilling. But despite that they are very productive due to the clay content and limestone base rock. It’s actually quite astounding that they still produce after all the years of mistreatment but it shows natures’ will for life to flourish. These two beds literally produced wheel barrows worth of squash.
Furthermore, with those beds cleared and a few others, in a visionary flash, I decided we were going to manifest some beds on contour, sunken bed style not raised. I really didn’t want to make them raised but was feeling a little stuck in the planning of this garden layout stuff amongst all the meetings and design work. But I got out there with some flags to mark the hedgerow we will be planting in the fall and began the process of space definition. From there we measured contour and got an idea of the lay of the land. With this image of the flags on the land, I had the vision and implemented the first bed as time was approaching for our help to come through on many projects around the place including the garden. That help came through a new initiative at Suryalila known as the karma yoga session of the final day of the three week teachers training course. And well they came through as I had eight students/graduates, all women by the way, come and help implement the sunken bed terraces that sprung out of my mind in that flash. We all had our tools and rhythms and just kept going parallel to the bed before because of the fairly even and gentle gradient. It was amazing how quickly we got through so many beds. We only really worked for an hour and half but got the vast majority of the implementation done. Over the next few days they were finished by the crew and we added a few raised beds as well to balance the winter time production as well.
Another hands on project we manifested when I got there ties into the larger landscaping and water cycling mission that we have there. Having already implemented three banana circles the last time I was last there for the greywater of the new outdoor showers and seen their success, we went again with the pit garden greywater design. The day before we did this we were at the local nursery purchasing and planning more fall purchases and we found tamarillos, which I had been asking for the last time we were there. Apparently they are known as tropical tomatoes with the translation, but they had five and we snatched them all up. So we implemented a nice sized Tamarillo circle leading the water from the composting toilet hand washing station inside the pit. We propagated the cana lily which has grown quite quickly on the banana circles showing natures abundance that in just a few months we already had extra planting material. It ended up coming out really as a standout feature and after the transplant shock wears off they are sure to end up looking fantastic! (read more about Pit gardens/ Banana Circles here)
Next Steps Conclusion
And as those days passed after my 36th birthday, we just kept going deeper and deeper with the funding process, talking how to communicate the projects incredible depth, how to get research accomplished through it, how to reach the locals and on and on. The details are emerging, the pattern is pretty set, and we extend out to audiences to contribute by volunteering, to sign up for courses, or contribute in anyway possible. The Sahara is coming folks and we need a massive green belt to stop it and we hope Suryalila can be a shining example of the power of ecosystem regeneration powered by Permaculture Design! It takes a crew to do such a thing and a big shout out goes to Jacob and Jon, the rest of the volunteers who were again a great social real-life network, and to the management and staff team. And thanks Vidya for holding this vision and letting me be there to contribute to this endeavor.
I will be back in mid November sometime to prepare for the Earthworks and Food Forest ten day course. With the observation of the rains movement on the land, the last tweaks to the design will be made. We will have the trees all lined up. Compost will be finished by then so we can spread some microbes. The gardens will be green and verdant again as Jacob and Neil work hard to plant them out now. So I look forward to sinking water, planting for biodiversity, reseeding the soil food web, and many other facets of the TreeYo Permaculture Holistic Development Model.