August 2016: 2 Week PDC: Terra Alta, Sintra, Portugal

Each summer for the past few years I have been dedicating the summer to something, giving it a theme of sorts.  I guess with the busyness of this summer and all the change going on for me I guess I forgot, eh.  But in the end I guess it was the summer of evolution, the summer of being.  A lot was on my shoulders over the last months in the Permaculture world, preparing gardens in the rainy May of Terra Alta, taking on a new project in Spain with big plan of keyline and reforestation in June, and then the internship leading up to the PDC. The challenge was there and in the end, so was I in a relatively good way.


With the culmination of our six-week Permaculture internship ending in the two-week PDC, it was another interesting fold to the group of 36.  The 13 interns had been at the land for sometime now which made them a family unit of their own but through Pedro’s encouragement and inclusion they also become hosts.  We all did really and the group gelled and really preformed when it came to the design time in the second week.  They also did big pushes in the gardens, on the building projects, and it was good times of learning and sharing; even at the beach of Praia de Ursa with our earthworks landscape build.


The group was big, ok, 36, two past our highest number before but I wouldn’t trade it for a smaller group and not having this cast of characters.  Spread from around the world, it was indeed a cultural sharing, immersion into communal living in essence.  With feeding 56 people on the land, we had a big crew of VolunDeers which also deserve a big shout out in the moment as well.  The team was fluid and the work put into keeping nourished, the gardens cleaned and weeded, materials flowing for hands on and the like was truly amazing.  And Pedro and Henrik, my teaching mates there, along with the guest facilitator Ruka, also were huge supports and additions to the flow and interaction of the course.

Pedro watching in on the design presentation from Chris and co. on reciprocal roof
Pedro watching in on the design presentation from Chris and co. on reciprocal roof

With that, yeah we moved through theory, we had interactive exercises to change it up, we did our hands on, had a festive design presentation, and in essence, in the backdrop of BOOM festival about to start, we had a conscious festival of sorts.  Pedro stressed this atmosphere along the way complimenting the everyone is a host culture.  Terra Alta grew mightily this year though this vibe, through the hands on, and through the seeds of knowledge that are already sprouting back around the world.


For me, the hands on felt like the culmination of a work that really started in September 2012 with our first food forest course.  Back then it was roots style but as the trees have grown and gotten even more additions in the other courses, well, we have seen the need to keep revamping spaces that we simply we weren’t vibing with and not productive.  The culmination part is that I feel the mainframe of the garden design and implementation is done.  Is there more spots to dot in trees here and there, develop guilds, rework a this or that?  Yes there is, but the mainframe is done, so simply put, I can walk away feeling proud of all that I gave there.  And while I dont walk away fully as I hope to never do that at terra alta because of the love for the people and the place, well its time to be back on the road a bit more for me.  We did the pioneering thing, now the succession of the site is set for some new sprouts to emerge and take over the day in day out (or at least as full time as I could) management over.  So thank you to all the students who gave to this in this course and all the others along the way including all those fantastic volunteers we have had there over the years.

the soil built from the years of hard work
the soil built from the years of hard work

This year we had a different format to facilitate the hands-on which was to have them back-to-back on three different days. There were some days in between, which was also complimented by the fermentation session.  So as always in a PDC we built hot compost piles which took up half of the session for me while Pedro and Ruka made a move on the new timber frame house with light clay straw and Henrik and Nellie took on plastering his new reciprocal roof house and some in the guest house as well.  The compost piles built in this time will compliment the other project we did, Earthworks.  The piles built by the interns five weeks before were added to these earthworks in this time but they will need more for sure.

Thus our digging and mounding was to do this revamping work and really dial in some of these last spaces.  So we took on four projects in that time of having around three hours with 36 people on those three different days.  So we expanded our staple garden quite dramatically, terraced for herbs, created sunken beds for even more raspberries (I believe, subject to change), and made four new pit gardens to augment the evolving rain garden system in the serpent garden.  The last two groups got to finish some stuff from the group before and also to create new things, which was quite a fun process.  Thus we did the layout, the digging, the adapting as we went, the reseeding of microbes with compost extract, the compost laying and in some places mulching.  It was an intense workout for most, people getting used to new tools and how to use them with the whole body, but at the end of the two hours Pedro always marveled at how much we had accomplished.  And I was quite impressed as well with this design as we go and have fun while learning through the body methodology.


Another evolution in the course was Pedro taking on pretty much full responsibility of the design project and keeping with his mission to make it more and more holistic.  He did a great job of this through blending land based design with the permaculture flower to launch a one single final design for the whole of the 36 people.  We imagined terra alta with nothing but it got revolutionized and people got to plug into what they felt compelled to research, design, and share.  Some choose mushrooms, some pond / social space integration, some housing, and lots of people care elements.  This is actually what communities thrive on and how a lot of people are getting energized to take next steps in Permaculture.  I applaud his efforts for taking the design presentations weight out for the most part and for inspiring people to dig into their passions and visions.  I applaud the students for their cooperative work and for most to really approach this with the same passion and drive as other design projects I have seen.  For sure the atmosphere was festive, body painting, bike tour, juice drinking, and oh yeah, the guilds from Tom and Soren being made through food combining; fantastic approach.

In the end, I want to say thank you for this time, for me to be me and learn about well, me.  It may sound selfish but the need for me to grow, to go through succession, it was important in this moment in time to recognize and feel all of it.  I will be forever in gratitude for the journey I have shared with the folks at terra alta, and simply put, it doesn’t end here.  It goes on, the journey continues, I hit the traveling road of permaculturelandia but the stories and all I learned there will never be lost.  And to all of those smiling people who came together as strangers and left as a family, thank you, you are an inspiration to live communally and with an open heart!

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