August 2015: 2 Week PDC, Sintra, Portugal: Terra Alta

To look at ecosystems and find inspiriration for how we evolve as a society leads us to the permaculture principle accelerate succession and evolution.  As is above as is below as I say as we look at how succession in the plant life above is equated to the soil life below.  Now its time to say as we look outside of ourselves the work of unfolding layers of growth msut also occur.  How does a disturbance provide growth?  Well fire really sets things back while a herd of bison can really push it forward.  So with that we all stepped into the always growth inducing journey known as the two week pdc at terra alta.


It was a lovely group that once again was very international as Portugal seems to attract quite an array of people.  In early august of 2015 we learned and laughed, processed and imagined, chilled and worked hard.  Overall for the 26 students it was a cultural exchange, learning towards environmental literacy and an immersion in a new setting, Sintra, Portugal. The old teaching crew of myself, Pedro Valdiju, Henrik Ellenbrook, and Kartsen Hinrichs were joined by Robina McCurdy for the first few days as she contributed to the classroom and overall ambiance with her elder presence.  The four of us have been working together for years and we all emerged into different roles and inspired from the teachers training that i helped to co-facilitate with Robina the week before. Also a big thanks to course assistants Jan and Martina for continuously adding to the course through helping hands.

Thus this pdc was much like any because each one has its own unique journey but rhythms of up and down.   This course we continued to accelerate succession on the land with lots of great hands on activities as the weather was sunny portugal for almost the whole course.  From compost pile making to cob bench building, to food forest pushes, well the site as always gained quite a bit from the will to learn and need to move the body.  Learning through the body is a really great exercise and thanks to all who helped leave terra alta a better place, an even more dynamic example of a small scale intensive permaculture center.  from the work of past students we enjoyed the delights of fruits from the gardens and trees! And thanks to Henrik and Karsten once again for leading the hands on session, its what makes a teaching team strong.  everyone getting to give what they do best and help the students along the way.

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And Pedro lead the design project with a unique evolution of the already innovative global network of ecovillage design project that we do here.  with no onsite land to design, we take people through a social/ cultural/ environmental context in a foreign country but with terra alta as a base map.  Then they get to apply the climate specific knowledge in the course and still observe a physical piece of land and how water would flow for example.  Then other sectors are adapted for the climate and the rainfall patterns accounted for.  The community vision is a big part of the exercise and the design flows through that.  From there as the design process unfolded students use various tools for easily coming up with the final design and also had the space to create their individual designs.  This years next steps was to reduce the stress of the presentations through pedro’s design of doing a fair where each group got to set up their communities design and individual projects.  i toured each station and was much like the normal pdc presentation for myself but with less pressure and nervousness from the students for sure!

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We also got a chance to go back to Praia de Ursa after our natural building hands on and do our earthworks in the greatest sandbox ever exercise.  In July last year at our first of two courses in 2014, we had an epic time with each person creating their own little landscape.  In august it was high tide and no beach! So it was nice to manifest this one again, go swimming and relax and take a bit of a pause day in week two with not so much heady work. Learning through the body but in a different way, kinesthetic learning, moving sand to form a landscape, creating earthworks for infiltration and access, planting trees through the little tops of trees that i cut on the way down.  always good fun to see each person design evolve then zoom back out and se all of these landscapes together  it looks like the future, green patches of land regenerating, people living and thriving and happier days through more fulfilling regrarian lives.

Overall it was a great course and to see the types of groups that come here year after year and their evolution is fantastic.  Growing concerns in the realm of social permaculture are obvious yet the constant desire to regret the planet is there.  I learned and laughed a lot with this group and hopefully accelerated succession and evolution in my own life and the lives of others.

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