I am deeply committed to co-creating the space for 20 people living together for 15 days and supporting the growth of a caring and resilient community where teaching and learning from each other seamlessly occur. It is also called a Permaculture Course! It is difficult to describe what actually happens in that time. Yes, we have a diverse and rich programme and yes we are a team of skilled and experienced teachers at two beautiful venues (first at the Hanawera farm and then the Waihoanga centre, both in Otaki).

However, it is the participants coming together which make the course unique and each year very different. It evolves and transforms as we go.

We can describe the intentions and inspirations behind it all: “Permaculture involves the application of guiding strategies, through design process, to give abundant life for communities, which reflects and is grounded in the natural character of their local terrain and landscapes. It brings together the apsirations and culture of people with the conditions and character of place, to give resilient and healthy living of people in their place.” (Gary Williams “What is permaculture?”).

We strive to ‘live the permaculture principles’ in this course, at the same time as we teach them. Many parts become co-created through rich conversations and the course flows like a natural river.

The content of the course is not ’delivered’ in a one way manner, and is not predictable like a ‘tamed’ flow of an channelised river. Permaculture principles such as ‘celebrate diversity’, ‘respond creatively’ and ‘integrate’ come alive when a group gathers, the sharing of individual stories begins and the skills and talents begin to surface. What then actually happens, all the little and big miracles between people every day, that could not have been planned by way of a ‘programme’.

When you warmly invite and encourage creativity, in a safe, nourishing, naturally beautiful and stimulating environment, most people come into their ‘flow’, and ideas planted as seeds fall onto fertile ground, grow quickly and turn into initiatives on the spot.

We emphasise ‘observation and interaction’ to recognise patterns which give understanding and appreciation for the wider context. Living together creates an abundance of situations, covering a wide spectrum of experiences, from funny, challenging, heartening and delicate to the sacred. There are plenty of opportunities to practice and implement ‘problem solving’ (“how shall we…..?”) and develop systems (“we need to invent a system to keep the dishes flowing as they seem to keep stranding on the bench…”).

A permaculture course strives to bring the principles and ethics alive and teach them by experiencing them. There are modular ways for this course but I enjoy the 15 days residential format. Our teaching methods broadly are:

  • ‘from experience to concept’
  • embracing ‘ako’ style (ako as the Maori word standing for both, teaching and learning, acknowledging the rich learning from each other that happens in an inter-generational community)
  • engaging ‘hands, heart and head’ in a balanced manner (practical, artistic and academic).

In this course, we began with the most practical modules on Gary and Emily Williams’ farm to experience a living farm in its astounding diversity, and to build comunity by ‘doing’.

After four days we shifted to the Waihoanga retreat centre where we continued with experiential modules but also complemented the hands-on learning with more theoretical classroom time.

Despite Bob’s large photo collection, it is never comprehensive and can’t give crediet to all tutors and modules. They are just meant to create some impressions and give a sense of our experience. Some aspects were not captured, for example: Rachel Pomeroy sharing her wealth of knowledge about stars late at night, Denis Grennell helping us to comprehend the ways of Te Ao Maori (the world view of Maori), Jessica Hutchings describing the Maori approach to food growing and Hua Parakore, the beautiful process how a community certifies/witnesses each others’ striving towards an organic way of growing food. The visits with Dean and Maureen, and then Matt and Corey, hearing their amazing stories. The warm and generous welcomes from our hosts, first at Gary and Emily’s farm and then from Andy and Rhian and georgeous little Georgia at the Waiohanga Centre.

And then of course the evening at Steve and Jenny’s…, on their land and around the fire, so precious and deeply touching. That heart feeling stays as deeply internal feelings and images.

For the last two days it is project time with its climax of the project presentations where participants demonstrate an understanding of the permaculture principles through a design project. This is ideally a real idea/project/example that could be implemented. In this course they all were! We are hoping many aspects will actually transform into reality. Diversity was also strongly evident:

  • Creating an educational programme on a family farm to refuse/reduce/recycle waste;
  • Designing a process towards a big vision of the community life in an existing community hall;
  • Designing a vision and process for an affordable housing cooperative, based on tiny houses, centred around a community house, drawing from an existing community situation;
  • Designing a small scale home garden, demonstrating close cooperation between two neighbours;
  • Designing the development of a lifestyle block towards a sutainable lifestyle for a family, applying bio-dynamic methods.
  • Applying the permaculture principles to a social question: What’s next for Toru Education? Creating a self-designed strand for Toru Eduation of a cohort of adults supporting each other.

One group approached the Toru Trustees as ‘clients’ and took the question of ‘What’s next for Toru Education?’ as their project, applying the permaculture principles to ‘landscaping’ the next steps of our initiative. Their presentation deeply touched us Toru Trustees!

It resulted in that group ‘enrolling’ themselves at the emerging, self-organised Toru Education ‘University of Life, as the first cohort of ‘life long learning, self-responsible adults, supporting each other on their authentic and courageous unfolding journey called life!! Watch the space as this is a whole other story! Permaculture approach to landscaping your life!!

In the morning of our last day we planted a tree for Waiohanga. 2 year old Georgia was deeply involved! No wonder!! We learnt about sustainable living as a way “to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations to meeting their needs. Yes, two year old Georgia and all your buddies of the future, we are trying!!

And then it was time to say good bye: “So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Au Revoir, Adios, Tschau and “Haere Ra”…..

It wasn’t easy……., to let go.

Thank you to all, named and unnamed, who contributed to create our precious time together. It was truly magic!