Permaculture Design Course, Blatusa, Croatia, Spring/Summer 2010, reviewed by Laura Waugh
This article originally appeared on the website of Transition Tynedale, many thanks to them and Laura for their kind permission to reproduce it.
Over the past few years I have become more aware and interested in Permaculture; Permaculture to me is designing sustainable ways of living which mimic the relationships found in the natural world ; I had heard of a course taking place in Croatia, which was recommended to me by a friend. This spring I travelled to Croatia to take part in the course whilst staying in an eco-community. The place is called Ekosense in Blatusa, and it is in the mountains south of Zagreb. It was organised by a man called Rakesh from London, who has bought 18 acres of land nearby and has the hope of introducing sustainable farming techniques to local Croatian people. There were 18 of us on the course, mainly from Croatia but also Iran, Australia and Poland.
I met the tutors on the way over there, Graham Burnett and Stefan Geyer, both trustees of the Permaculture Association in the U.K. When we arrived at Ekosense we found it to be a small community of only seven people with two main buildings, a compost toilet, greenhouse, tipi, vegetable gardens and a large geodesic dome. We spent most of the course in the geo-dome sitting in a circle on giant beanbags but when it got too hot we moved outside and had our discussions on a grassy bank whilst looking out over the hills with Bosnia in the distance.
We covered a lot, including principles, ethics, design methods, fertile soil, forest gardening, surveying, fungi, micro-climates and bio-regions, transition towns, pests, resources, dry-land strategies and systems thinking. The course was made to be as experience based as possible, for one session we took a walk to a local site of scientific interest, which was a swamp with carnivorous plants due to low nutrient levels in the soil. The area was covered in deep layers of moss which were acting as a mulch for other opportunistic plants, we spent a lot of time outside observing the land and asking questions. The ‘accelerated learning’ teaching technique was used by the tutors throughout the course, this fitted every-ones learning needs and made every session memorable. One that stays in my mind was when we were learning about how a tree functions; we each acted as an individual component and we formed a human structure of the tree to an imaginative narrative from Graham. Another session was spent making swailes around Damir’s vegetable patch’s using an A-frame. It was interesting to see that the shape they took was completely different to how we imagined them to turn out.
During the last week we spent time in our design groups, taking everything we had learnt and using it to design a permaculture system for the community we were staying on. In the client interview we found out that they want to be self- reliant and sustainable, and among other things they wanted to have an outdoor summer kitchen and facilities for adults and children’s courses. A couple of our suggestions were to have a willow hedge planted in position to protect the area from the north-west wind, this would also be near enough to drain some of the excess water coming from the outside kitchen. It could also be harvested to make tunnels, arch’s, and dens for the children’s area. We also placed David Holgrem’s twelve permaculture principles in visual forms around the site to create an educational treasure hunt for the children (and of course the adults!). On the last day we presented our designs to each other and the clients were more than happy, making plans based on all of the designs. That night we all celebrated by having a big fire which not only brought us together for the last time but also kept the blood thirsty mosquito’s at bay!
Now I am back in reality I am trying to find ways of implementing what I have learnt into my everyday life, which I must say is not that easy! I have however been given a new positive perspective on issues such as climate change and peak oil, which I have often found too daunting to act upon as an individual. I have learnt to start at the end of my nose and build upon my ways of living harmoniously with the natural world using permaculture techniques. If anyone reading this is considering the course I would really recommend it.
© Laura Waugh. Images courtesy of Laura Waugh and Dada Subuddhyananda.
As well as being an activist with Transition Tynedale, Laura also runs Firefly Forest, an excellent educational project for children and young people.