Diana Arhire - Moldavia
S.Miguel - Azores - Portugal
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countries, so different from each other, yet we got together for the same reason or cause- we want to shift from an outdated broken society model to a conscious, harmonious co-existing with Nature, where we can all be involved, from growing a pepper on your urban balcony (and maybe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 out 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 human 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”:
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).
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 in the north of Portugal; or Pedro Teixera with his Urban Permacultue project “Espaço Compasso” in Porto, Portugal, talking to us about Sociocracy as the alternative healthy “politics” of the future.
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!
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!
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!
If you want to know more about what Diana learned
about mushrooms on the internship CLICK HERE