Interview with Helder Valente
for the Higher self expo
Permaculture Design Courses and sustainable design for your land or your community. Simple steps for ecological and social harmony using permaculture Design.
Applying the 12 design principles
in human interactions
Human networks are complex and intricate, they expand and branch out as far as our communication can take us.
Communication is an art that can be expressed in many ways, the verbal one being the easiest to process.
Or is it?
In 2021 we clearly see how challenging it is for most people to face each other’s differences of opinions and values.
The tendency is to separate, to isolate, to choose sides.
Perhaps, an alternative approach is most needed now, to ease us back into our human essence- we are beings of connection and care.
There is no separation, we are all connected in the web of life, there is a constant exchange and flow of energy, what we put in we receive back, in a continuous feedback cycle.
Permaculture is a mindset of whole system thinking, that has CARE at its core ethics. - Care of People, Care of Earth, and Fair share.
The 12 Permaculture design principles of David Holmgren are there to guide us through the process of designing or re-designing our environment and our behavior to create a harmonious Human-Nature system, where we all thrive.
Besides the practical approach for ethical farming, gardening, and land regeneration, the same 12 principles can be applied in human landscapes, social interactions, work environment, economic and political structures, communities, the methods vary according to the place and situation.
1.Creatively use and respond to change
As we learn from Nature, the "problem" usually is the solution- there are no "invasive" species, they are pioneer species with a certain role in the natural succession.
What we see as a conflict is an opportunity for positive change, an update of the old system.
In the context of the current world crisis, the way we respond to sudden or radical changes is decisive. Will we let our choices be governed by fear and old dogmas? Or will we use it to adapt and find the abundance within us to thrive in a new kind of world? Creativity is our highest nature.
We are all designers of our homes, our gardens, our inner and outer worlds.
How do we change our mindset to see the opportunity?
By following the next principle:
2. Observe and interact.
The first thing you do when you want to design with the Permaculture mindset is to Observe.
Take a walk with a beginner’s mind, in silence, don’t judge, just be, just observe your environment.
You will be surprised to notice things you wouldn’t normally notice. Youwill start to observe patterns.
Patterns are the essence of Nature. There are also human patterns.
When you step aside from your emotions and prejudgments, what do you see about this world and the people around you?
Is it all chaos, or is it another pattern of human behavior?
Patterns are predictable, once we finally observe them. When we observe and understand them, we are able to interact and make a positive change in our lives and the lives of others.
The seed of hope germinates in the dark, it’s never lost, it knows exactly where the light is and it will steadily push through the soil to create new life.
3. Catch and store energy
With the understanding that each of us can make a change, comes hope and excitement, but also responsibility.
How do we use our personal energy wisely? How do manage otherpeople’s energy? It’s easy to get carried away with our dream projects and forget about self-care. “Burnout”, “stress”, “anxiety”, “depression”, are words that became part of the “norm” in our modern society.
It’s each and everybody’s responsibility to manage their energy, mental and physical resources.
Catch it and use it when it’s abundant, but don’t forget to store some for later. You wont save the world in one day. Take time to rest, to begrateful, and to celebrate life.
If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.
4. Obtain a yield
If you don’t obtain a yield it’s also not sustainable. If you’ve been working hard for 3 years on your dream project, spent all your savings and all your energy but you’re still not earning a positive income or a substantial yield to justify the amount of resources you have put into your project, do you think it’s sustainable in the long-term? For how long?
Obtaining a yield is the feedback for your work. If it’s not efficient, maybe it’s time to change direction and try something new or try a new strategy.
This takes us to the next principle:
5. Self-regulate and accept feedback
Nature is efficient and beautiful. The feedback in eco-systems is constant and straightforward. If you plant a rare flower in a climate that is not suitable for it, it wont succeed. And that’s the feedback. Nature will grow whatever is more efficient in that certain climate and it will do it in the best way possible, through organic natural self-regulation and system feedback, that’s been going on for billions of years.
In human landscapes, it gets a bit more subtle and intricate.
At times it’s hard to accept feedback, from other people or from ourselves, because we have the complexity of all the human emotions involved. But then we need to remember principle 2 -Observe.
Be the Observer of your emotions, accept them, and then let them go if they no longer serve you or the others around you.
In the clear space left behind will be your feedback- that maybe it’s time to try something new if what you were doing so far was not successful.
6. Use and value renewable resources
Your personal energy is a renewable resource.
Family and friends’ help. Community support. People are our greatest resource, and it’s abundant as long as we tend to them gently and lovingly, giving back in a fair exchange.
7. Produce no waste
Waste comes in different forms when we fail to manage our resources, which also can be expressed in different forms. Our personal energy is a resource, our health, our time, our creativity, our voice."Be impeccable with your word” says one of the 4 Toltec Agreements.
Produce no waste with your words. When you speak, ask yourself “is it true”, “is it necessary”? Does your communication with yourself and the others bring love and support or does it come from a place of Ego?
When we manage our resources in a conscious way, with care and integrity, there is no waste.
8. Design from pattern to detail
When it comes to social structures, project management, communities etc, designing from pattern to detail is essential for a successful outcome and a fair share of tasks and responsibilities between the members.
We would start by setting “the pattern” or the core values of the project- the vision, mission, and objectives, they would act as a guideline for all the participants.
The efficiency and feedback for the work will always go back to the pattern.
We would then continue with the details such as timeline, roles, and responsibilities, schedules, logistics, management of resources, etc. Details ensure a balanced workflow and steady progress, where every part and person is equally important and valued.
9. Integrate rather than segregate
We have a cultural tendency to separate things, veggies from flowers, forests from gardens, animals from people, one culture from another, left and right, black and white.
However, agricultural monocultures bring pests and land degradation, and so cultural separation brings repression and conflict.
Learning from Nature, the more diverse a system is, including human systems, the more fertile, abundant, and resilient it will be.
10. Use small and slow solutions
Every little thing we do on a daily basis will have a considerable effect on the long-term, habits, hobbies, making someone laugh, supporting other people, doing our best at any given moment.
“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world.” Any act of kindness is like a small ripple that over time can turn into a tidal wave touching the lives of many people.
11. Use and value diversity
As we know in Permaculture, biodiversity is key to a healthy and abundant ecosystem, starting with the microorganism in the soil, continuing with the different layers of plants, trees, insects, birds, animals. The same goes for our gut microbiome, the more diverse it is, the stronger our immune system.
When we value our human diversity, including but not limited to age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, talents, experience, etc, we create a strong and balanced society, resilient to changes and challenges, empowering people to be designers and co-creators of a wonderful world.
12 Use edges and value the marginal
In nature, an edge is the meeting point of one or more different ecosystems, which equals more diversity, more relationships between different elements, more opportunity for all kinds of life forms.
An example of "human" edge could be the space between countries or continents, where different cultures meet, to merge the cuisine, languages, arts, traditions, etc.
Cultural diversity encourages new ideas and perspectives, higher creativity, a communal sharing space of old and new wisdom, a collective dream for a better world.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” (John Lennon)
Banana palmito harvest
Principles also in French, Spanish and Portuguese
September- October, 2020
One thing was clear for me from the beginning- if among all this world pandemic chaos, all these people are still coming for the internship, across the middle of the Atlantic- it’s going to be a special one! I felt inspired, supported, understood, challenged, encouraged. As they say, every conflict is an opportunity, and if we see this pandemic as a global conflict, then it could indeed be a great opportunity- for change, for slowing down, for going deeper not further, for (inner) gardening, for Permaculture!
I’m grateful for all the amazing people I met during the courses, so many laughs, hugs, spontaneous dancing, building and burning our first fireplace. Our Perma-tribe was led by our eco-shaman Helder, the most unusual, non-conformist teacher I ever had, with his great sense of humor & observation skills, he knows how to bring out the best in people. Lots of cool (horror) stories from his many experiences around the world. Bring popcorn.
And so, brave people from 10 different countries, so different from each other, yet we got together for the same reason or cause- we want to shift from an outdated broken society model to a conscious, harmonious co-existing with Nature, where we can all be involved, from growing a pepper on your urban balcony (and maybe some guerrilla planting shhh) to regenerating soils, forest, and rivers. It’s a change of mindset where you realize (or more like you are being reminded) that ANYONE can make a change. Anyone can grow food, in any conditions. Each of us plays an important role, wherever we are, and whoever we are- a farmer with many lands, or the weirdo of the family, backpacking around the world- we are all connected in this web of transformation and we are the influence in our community or family, and nowadays, influence is power. So this Permaculture internship was for me, among other things, about Empowerment.
Empowerment and understanding the Essence- whatever the question is, the answer can be found in Nature, by observing, interacting and experimenting. We humans, as Observers, can change the world around us, thus we are creators of our own worlds (inspiration from quantum physics). When we slow down and observe Nature, we see problems as solutions, we understand the natural succession of things, where each part plays a role in the cycle of life, where there are no invasive species, just pioneer soldiers doing their job to balance something our or to regenerate damaged soils or ecosystems. By understanding the Patterns in Nature, we understand ourselves, and by understanding ourselves we move upward in the spiral of Life.
I’ve learned that Permaculture is about compassion, for all life forms- it’s empathizing with the Earth, with Nature, with the plants, with the animals, the insects, the rivers, the soils, but also with ourselves and the other humans beings across the globe. It’s a holistic approach on Life.
I’ve learned that techniques and recipes are useful but once you understand The Essence of a process, you don’t need the recipe anymore. You can make your own fertilizer, you can make your own vinegar!
I’ve learned that when working with Nature, as with people, being gentle is more important than having a lot of knowledge and experience. Mindset and attitude are more important than any material resources.
With every course of the internship it felt like I’m putting a puzzle together to finally see “the bigger picture”:
PDC design course: the most intense course in my opinion, touches many aspects of our lives, from good design of our gardens and lives, to patterns in nature. We started by learning about Permaculture classics and their methods, like Bill Mollison that said:
“Permaculture is a dance with Nature- in which Nature leads.”
We continued with Natural Succession, understanding the process and purpose of an eco-system, from Gramineae to forests. We studied soil composition and the importance (VERY important) of soil health in relation to balanced systems, abundant yield and sustainable agriculture. Of course we also touched classic topics like different types of composts, dry toilets, water management and household efficiency.
It wasn’t all hard work and taking notes, we also had chill open space at night and occasional movie nights when we would watch inspiring films about Permaculture projects around the world, for example the virtual tour around David Holmgren’s farm (another classic), or the online interview we had with Brian Laufer and his amazing plant collection.
Finally, we got to designing our first Permaculture project, for our first “client”- our dear host Ana, understanding her needs, vision, mission and objectives- great teamwork and very efficient Design Plan Process (OBRADIMCE)!
Another important aspect of this course for me was working on our dream project, design to details, because our dreams are the seeds of change, waiting patiently in the darkness, to be sprouting in the right conditions (inspiration from the Seeds Workshop with Pablo).
Social course: challenging for me personally, as it requires A LOT of extroversion and getting out of comfort zones, but I survived apparently! Playing games (the games saved me) as a way of learning and rediscovering the inner child, the true source of creativity. We learned each other’s gifts, talents, fears and dreams.
We talked about eco-villages and community projects, their challenges and perspectives, and how decisive communication methods are. Alternative economies were also touched, as well as event design & celebration in the context of a successful Project Management.
The “World Café” method of group work really inspired me, to see my colleagues brain-storming on world problems and their solutions, like how to introduce Permaculture in poor areas, in refugee camps, to the elderly and to the children, and how we could get everyone involved in making this world a better place.
Another cool moment I’d like to mention is learning about the role of a Teacher (Permaculture teaching or other)- we tried different approaches and methods of teaching, and my personal discovery was that as long as you teach about something you’re passionate about, about something you personally enjoy, teaching becomes fun, a game of “take and give”, where the “master” becomes the “student” and the other way around.
Again, we had inspiring interviews with Permaculture friends, like Silvia Floresta and her Food Forest ; or Pedro Teixera with his Urban Permacultue project “Espaço Compasso” in Porto in the north of Portugal, talking to us about Sociocracy as the alternative healthy “politics” of the future.
Water course: the secrets of Water (8 magical words and they all start with an S, good luck guessing!) and all kind of biodynamic aspects (witcheries) on how to understand and explore this primordial resource, that is being shaped not only by climates and landscapes, but also by planets and electro-magnetic fields (nerdy, I know), a resource so ancient, powerful yet so fragile under the impact of irresponsible human activity.
We discussed global water problems & ethical solutions, water landscape, quality and filtration systems, but also about more complex systems like Aquaponics, Hydroponics, Aeroponics and DUCKPONICS (yup, it’s a thing and I love ducks even more now... also geese).
Fun practical class on swales and efficient water systems- we got together at Peer’s land (one of the students), on the mountain side of the island, amazing ocean views and vast open space, surrounded by forests and rolling green cow pastures. And we digged. Then we had some pizza, then we digged again, music, laughing, party-mode team work swale digging. Result- amazing terraces that catch the excess rain water to guide it, save it and safely store it down the valley, to feed the plants and trees, preventing land erosion and flooding. Beautiful!
Soil and Mushrooms course: my fascination with the mushroom world started in my childhood, but during this internship I was astonished to learn just how interconnected everything actually is, and how “myco-permaculture” integrates fungi into the eco-system to maintain healthy soils and improve plant growth, or what we now call “wood wide web”. We considered different methods of growing delicious mushrooms in our food forest, garden beds, around trees as companions, innoculating tree logs with different species of gourmet but also medicinal fungi.
Especially interesting (extra nerdy) to me was to learn about mycorrhizal symbiotic relationships between fungi and plants, trees- it’s a whole underground world there beneath our feet and most of us are not even aware of it!! Soil and fungi go hand in hand like good old friends, and we’re only beginning to understand the complexity of this relationship, how fungi could stimulate plant growth and better reach of resources and nutrients, an invisible landscape under the surface, what a trip! Dip your baby trees in a mycorrhizal solution before planting and in a few years you have Boletus growing in your orchard- garden of Eden vibes, or more like Alice in Wonderland vibes. Speaking of which- that’s how it felt to me when we went for a hike in the island’s old forest around Lagoa do Congro, a magical place filled with myth, mossy blankets, fallen old trees slowly decomposing into the soil, devoured by beautiful clumps of mushrooms, popping up here and there along our path, Armillarias (edible btw), Ganodermas, Russulas, Amanitas (that first Amanita Muscaria made my day) and even a rare white Coral mushroom. The fungi working slow but steady in the darkness and silence of the forest, balancing out human impact, contamination, deforestation, monoculture, it all gets processed into the Natural Succession of the forest, by these quiet sentinels of Nature, spreading their mycelium fractals deep into the soil, connecting Life and Death, decomposition and rebirth. I can only come back to learn more on this!
Food forest course: finally, all our questions answered, because everything goes down to 1 thing basically- and obviously I won't say it here!
Starting with the basics- how to plant something (you gotta start somewhere); companion planting (what goes where and who likes what); tips on trees (excuse the pun), from planting to mulching, pruning, grafting, and harvest processing; importance of bio-diversity (F* monocultures!); soil quality and funky fertilizers (one rule- use what you have in abundance); natural pest control; to more fancy stuff like creating Mandala Gardens (or any other poetic shape), following natural Patterns to incorporate efficiency with beauty, because that’s how Nature likes it (if you didn’t know now you know).
Special class with our sweet Pablo from Tenerife- he talked about his passion for seeds, being part of a local seed bank association, he had much to share on the importance of seed network, selecting, processing and storing seeds of different species, to preserve, maintain but also encourage local bio-diversity as part of our cultural heritage.
Fascinating to see how all the layers interconnect and interact with each other to create a healthy garden or eco-system, for the body and soul.
Speaking of body and soul, we took a few days off to enjoy the island of Sao Miguel and its magical beauty.
The old forest at Lagoa do Congro welcomed us with an abundance of mushrooms, moss and ferns that made me feel like Alice in Wonderland (look for the mythical “portal” above the lake).
Terra Nostra botanical garden enchanted us with its ancient trees and rare plants, blue lotuses and monkey puzzles (you can eat the nut). Bonus- there’s a thermal lake in the middle of the park and we soaked our bones there for a well-deserved happy end.
We also visited local permaculture warriors and their beautiful farms: Ricardo’s amazing veggie gardens and orchards, plus tips and tricks about commercial gardening; our dear Peer’s land (one of the students), on the top of the hills where you can see the endless ocean and glimpses of the other island, and where we learned about swales and their importance in land regeneration and water use efficiency; last but not the least, Ana’s orchards, our brave host that had us camping between her fruit trees during the internship, sharing her knowledge and inspiring visions. Side note- her cuddly cats were also a personal inspiration to me.
And here we are, 1 month completed, we all made it alive, more or less, tired but super “inspiraled”. Some intense study, some feet in the mud, some funny road trips, some staring at trees, some seeds smuggling….but what happens in Azores, stays in Azores. Ok people, moving on. Time to save the world!