S39 Academy of Permaculture
26th October 2021

PDC day 01: Observation

Worm farm at PermoAfrica S39A

Observe and interact

oberve and interact
busoga garden, designing and planting

"Seeing things as we see them with our own eyes"

Permaculture invites us to work from our own observations, it encourages us to see the underlying patterns, not to be overwhelmed by the detail.

Another way of saying this “You get the best view from the top of the hill.”

This video, the Overview effect explores the impact of viewing Earth from Space has on those lucky enough to witness such a spectacle.

The Overview effect of course is the realization that we are all one, the Earth, our planet on a meta level is a single ecosystem, one which we are all a subset of, and from this perspective the notion of countries, nation states and boundaries become absurd. We are all swimming around in the same narrow film of water air, 30km wide the living skin of our planet if you like.

Key lecture: Observing natural systems

Nature is our teacher, the more we can interact with nature, and use active observation the more it teaches us.

  • Permaculture is based on experiential learning.
  • Actively testing our own observations against experience

Permaculture principle 1 is about observation. We are not asking you to ‘believe’ anything, we are not trying to convince you of anything or sell you anything. 

The challenge is to use your own powers of observation, to draw on your own experience. You are invited to test ideas, try things out for yourself, and gain experience from experimentation. Remember I am writing this in the UK, so where you are things might be different, or they may have changed, it is good to keep an open and inquiring mind.

We are interested in the observations that are true for everyone such as: 

  • Water flows downhill
  • Organic matter decays to compost
  • Plants grow towards the light
  • Everybody needs to eat
  • Solar energy is our only true income
  • Warm air rises
  • Sometimes, the most obvious things are hardest to see

One of the principle originators of permaculture came from the active and inquiring mind of Bill Mollison, he was an observer of nature, starting out as a forester, felling the old growth forest of Tasmania and rapidly changed to a conservationist and ecologist and a teacher.

He actively sought explanations to what he was experiencing in the real world.

As he reached out into the wider he encountered traditional systems form first nation people who had obviously been applying the very same observed principles t0 their designed systems. Presumably their culture and langue includes many if not all of the concepts considered by permaculture design within their cultural lexicon.

He also encountered farmers like Masonobu Fukuoka the Japanese rice farmer who had rejected the ‘green revolution’ and returned to nature based farming systems and evolved his own approaches and philosophy very much in similar way to permaculture.

Sepp Holzer an Austrian mountain farmers, after many years of trial and error and failure and frustrations learned how to work the challenging landscape of the Austrian Tirol in a similar way. You might say the landscape taught them permaculture, however it took many years and many trials and tribulations, the aim of the PDC is to accelerate your learning process.

Making Observations at Treflach farm

Observations from East African projects

Serving as an example from different contexts and climates here some observations we collected from various partner sites in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. It is always good to collect as many observations that you can from a project site. You can do this in many different ways, photos and videos are increasingly easily available to do this, but you can take notes, make drawing, collect interviews or many other ways.

Key lecture: Ethics in permaculture

Ethics function as a long term steering mechanism for progress.  If we cannot incorporate our core values with our designs they are unlikely to ever fully meet our needs.

Greening of religion

The Catholic church and now Islam are making increasingly strong statements regrading our relationship with God’s creation. Pope Frances has said that we should treat the natural world with the reverence we hold for our own Mother or Sister.

The question remains however, what is the right solution, how do we achieve these essential yet seemingly unattainable goals? To treat the earth as if it were our Mother, much easier to say than to do.

We are in an emergency and our response begins with observation, thoughtful and protracted and on-going, with humility as we cannot know the answers, and as we begin to try and implement wider responses, these in turn will shift our priorities and create unexpected outcomes. Permaculture’s vision is to unleash a tidal wave of small and slow solutions. of practical response based on observation and feedback. to be strategic  to find where we can have the most impact the most quickly, but also to develop a holistic long term view.

Permaculture is way to respond to this crisis from the bottom up, and by operating within a code or set of principles which guide us, but don’t constrict us, accepting the word is nuanced and complicated, and rarely black or white.

Reflect on your own journey

How did you get here? What were the major turning points and changes in your own life journey so far. What can you see on the horizon? Can you identify your own short, medium and long term goals?

Here are some notes of my own personal journey. Can you plot your own river of life?  It can be valuable to gain a perspective on your own life time line.

Zoom, audio and image captured from day 01

Pics from day 01, site tour

Images from our tour around Treflach farm afternoon of PDC01_observe. 26th April 2021

audio files to follow

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