Amelia’s Magazine | Studying Permaculture at the Maya Mountain Research Farm


On Thursday the bath-time lovelies at Lush supported one of my great loves, case troche by staging Climate Rush themed picnics outside all 89 of their UK stores.


As was detailed by Cari in a previous post, unhealthy my local Lush store just happens to be in Liverpool Street Station. Chosen as the flagship store for this event the picnic was attended by Lush superstar campaigners Sean and Andrew, here who have together helped us out in a very big way.



I sent the interns ahead on foot and arrived to find a fetching gingham tablecloth – bearing the timely ‘Climate Change is No Picnic’ slogan – being spread and upon it a yummy selection of vegan cake and cookies laid out for passersby to enjoy.



A trio of violins led by the Rush’s very own Deborah (her of sticky-fingers-in-parliament fame) struck up a tune as the lovely Lush girls, dressed in full Edwardian garb, handed out Trains Not Planes sashes to business men passing by and even managed to engage some climate change denialists in some productive conversation.




The police, as ever, were present. In fact I swear I recognised one of them from the “Riot Gate” at Kingsnorth during Climate Camp last year. Unlike then, they were eager to smell the soaps (all packaged in recyclable paper – Lush tries not to use excess packaging, just one of the reasons we love ‘em) and chat to the pretty shop girls. I wonder if they’ll be so nice to us on Monday…

As Tamsin did her best to butter up the passersby in those famous suffragette must-haves, fishnet tights and a miniskirt, we were pounced on by a person dressed up as a giant mobile phone.


A slightly surreal experience to say the least, as the Lush shop girls tried to dress the ungainly thing in some bright red sashes, whilst Sean did his best to engage the phone in conversation about how many times a year it flies. My interns finally arrived and proceeded to pose marvelously for the camera. We’ve been joking that Jonno and Roisin are evil twins – just check them out!


Over the weekend there has been a flurry of Climate Rush activity, both promotional and creative – we’ve flyered the South Bank twice, and approached friendly looking cyclists left, right and centre.



It seems that if you ride a bike you are generally a friendly soul, and all of them were happy to hear about Climate Rush bar a particularly unpleasant yuppie couple with a pair of fold out Bromptons that no doubt only see the light of day when the sun shines at the weekend. Fairweather cyclists, who’d have ‘em?!



In between accosting cyclists we have managed to print a mammoth amount of sexy sashes and flags to attach to the back of bikes.


I’ve discovered that I can still sew, and managed to knock up 5 pairs of fetching bloomers in record time (just don’t look too closely at the sewing, I was in a hurry okay?!) Made out of red and white striped fabric with lacey ruffles on the legs they look part clown and more than a little bit burlesque, but then whoever said we take the Edwardian theme too seriously?! I can’t wait to see what everyone else dons for out bike ride tomorrow.


Bring it on…. let’s show the government and big corporations that we won’t let them get away with business as usual when it comes to Climate Change. Collectively we can stop this beautiful world of ours from being buggered over, so make sure you come along and enjoy a stylish Bike Rush with a purpose. This is one cycle ride you’re sure to remember…

Read a past blog about this event here. What do you think about direct action over Climate Change? Let us know your views.
Rowdy – Never Smile at a Crocodile

Sartorial Contemporary Art
26 Argyle Square
London WC1H 8AP
June 4th – June 27th
Open Tues – Sat 1:30 – 7pm or by appointment


With work described as ‘Ren & Stimpy meets Goldsworthy’, shop this is the first major solo show for Rowdy in London to date. Mixing the Ancient with the Urban, medical Rowdy juxtaposes his trademark playful crocodile sculptures with the modern cityscape jungle. He also produces street art paintings reminiscent of caveman-esque cartoon monoliths.


Abstract America: New Painting and Sculpture

Saatchi Gallery
Duke of York’s HQ
King’s Road
Until 13th September
10am-6pm, illness 7 days a week


A new generation of radical American abstract painters and sculptors from the US, 35 of them in total, with work both daring and inventive, fresh and exhilarating.


Aditya Pande

Alexia Goethe Gallery
7 Dover Street, London W1S 4LD
Until 18th July
Monday – Friday 10-6
Saturday 11-4


New Dehli artist Aditya Pande’s first solo London show draws on both fine and applied art principles. What start as drawings on computer morph into paper prints or canvas creations, and then become starting points for three-dimensional narratives. Frantic, glossy, grand and descriptive.


Feel The Force

Cafe Gallery
By the Lake, Southwark Park
London SE16 2UA
Until 28th June
Wednesday – Sunday 12 – 6

Maja Bajevic, Benjamin Beker, Astrid Busch, Kate Gilmore, Immo Klink, Susan MacWilliam, James Pogson, Anina Schenker

Curated by Clare Goodwin and Liz Murray


Inspired by engagement in power and resistance, Feel the Force is a collaborative show from eight international artists and debates the psychological, the political and the physical. Investigating roles of victim and perpetrator, the artists approach the term Force through avenues diverse as obsessional first love and the military.


The Social Lives of Objects

Castlefield Gallery
2 Hewitt Street
Knott Mill
Manchester M15 4GB
Until 19th July
1-6pm Wednesday-Sunday


Hilary Jack, Lisa Penny and Dallas Seitz provide insightful examinations of society’s complex and perplexing relationship with material goods, from their beginnings in production to their inevitable obsolescence and decay. Everyday objects are recovered and represented and reinterpreted for our reevaluation of what role ‘stuff’ has in our lives and in our world.


The Butterfly Effect

ARCH Gallery
15 Resolution Way
London SE8 4NT
Until 20th June
Thurs – Sat 12:00 to 5:00pm


The well-known theory that subtle actions can and will ultimately alter the paths of world disaster is given a makeover by God’s gift to drawing Paul Marks. Using the system to create intricate line drawings in which each line added by hand effects the next one added. The comparisons are as varied as lunar landscapes, overtly sexual and flows of air, smoke or water.


ARCHIPELAGO – Gemma Anderson

Whitecross Gallery
122 Whitecross St.
London EC1Y 8PU
Until 6. June
Tues – Sat 11 – 6pm or by appointment


The final week to catch new work from Gemma Anderson including her signature drawings and newer etching work. Dream-like and fantastical depictions of fairies, land and seascapes drawing on her experiences of researching the Natural History archives in Canada, Japan and France her new work doubles as a personal travelogue.

Monday 1st June
Gang Gang Dance and About at Dingwalls, buy more about London

Gang Gang Dance are one of the most exciting bands around at the moment. They take inspiration from all over the world without erring into the Vampire Weekend‘s at times jarring pseudo-exoticism, by mixing everything through a furore of delay pedals and reverbs, to create a cyclical and danceable freaky electronica. With support from Hot Chip‘s Alexis Taylor’s improv side project About.


Tuesday 2nd June
Fanfarlo and {Stricken City} at ICA, London.

Amelia’s favourites Anglo-Swedish Fanfarlo, bring their grandiose but whimsical pop to the ICA. With support from {Stricken City}


Wednesday 3rd June
Post War Years, Milke and My Tiger My Timing at The Lexington, London.

The Lexington reminds me of that friend you had when you were 16 who introduced to lots of awesome bands. Tonight they host Post War Years, Milke, My Tiger My Timing. Come and boogie on down.


Thursday 4th June
Deolinda and Oliver Man at ICA, London

Get that summer vibe with some Portugese music… Deolinda, an excellent four piece inspired by traditional fado music. Australian Oliver Mann offers support at the ICA.?


Friday 5th June
Dan Deacon, Future Islands, Teeth Mountain, Adventure at ULU, London.

This Friday, Upset the Rhythm are serving up the finest Baltimore exports since The Wire, with the promise of more bells than Stringer. Dan Deacon headlines at ULU with the Wham CIty Collective, having loved his latest record Bromst with it’s melodic plinky plonky electro noise, I can’t wait to see him live apparently his shows are a sight to behold. He shares the bill with the Baltimore synth-poppers Future Islands, the noisy electro outfit Teeth Mountain, and “game-boy” soul band Adventure.


Saturday 6th June
Devo at The HMV Forum, London.

Q. Are we not men?
A. No we are Devo.

That’s right! Mega-group Devo play the Forum this Saturday, interestingly and even more awesomely member Mark Mothersbaugh also composes for Wes Anderson. They merge kitschy science fiction and a dark sense of humour- this is truly going be legendary.

Monday 1st June

1.Meet in St James Square, visit just off The Mall, from 5pm (we set off at 6pm).?
2. Bring bells, banners, Suffragette style, a picnic to share.?
3. If you miss us then you can come and join at any point along the way, or just for the picnic, call 07751 805 275 to find out where we’re at.


On Monday 1st June the UK Parliament returns from recess for the summer sitting. We want to give them a warm welcome and remind them of the heat they can expect if they continue to ignore climate change.
Ed Miliband (Secretary of State Energy and Climate Change) is in Bonn that evening, discussing with other ‘world leaders’ the agenda for the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen. Let’s give our ‘leaders’ a taste of the civil disobedience they can expect if real climate justice fails to materialise.
It is also the first evening of a coal conference at the illustrious ‘Chatham House’. Everyone who’s anyone, at least in the coal world, will be there.
We’ll begin our bike-ride outside their conference before winding our way ?through town.
Meet us from 5pm on St James Square, SW1Y 4LE. We’ll then move off at 6pm and take our bikes for a relaxed tour through London. Labour might think that investing in electric cars is the solution to climate change but we know that cars using electricity from coal-fired power stations is yet another red-herring.
Have you ever needed more reason to leave the house, embrace the sunshine and join the pedal-powered as they move about town?
Come along and make your impact felt.

Tuesday 2nd June


Illustration by Faye Katirai

Entering an Ecological Age,
RIBA, 66 Portland Place, W1.
Peter Head explores how the world can begin to make the transition towards an ecological age of civilisation. focussing on urban areas and inefficient food production methods which consume land and non-renewable resources, 6.30pm, £8/£5
Info: 7580 5533/

Celebrating World Environment Day – towards a new concept of development,

Francisco Lozano Winterhalder, 6.30pm, Instituto Cervantes, 102 Eaton Square
SW1. Info: 7235 0353


Wednesday 3rd June

?‘Meltdown The End of The Age of Greed’?with Paul Mason

?Housmans Bookshop?
5 Caledonian Road?
?N1 9DX,?UK?

Newsnight’s economics editor Paul Mason discusses the financial crash and explains why, love it or loathe it, the neo-liberal era is over. Followed by Q&A and book signing.???’Meltdown‘ tells the story of the financial crash that destroyed the West’s investment banks, brought the global economy to its knees, and began to undermine three decades of neo-liberal orthodoxy. Covering the credit crunch and its aftershocks from the economic front line, BBC journalist Paul Mason explores the roots of the US and UK’s financial hubris, documenting the real-world causes and consequences from the Ford factory, to Wall Street, to the City of London.??In response to the immense challenge now facing the existing economic system, he outlines a new era of hyper-regulated capitalism that could emerge from the wreckage. Paul Mason writes: “The book tells the story of the events of September-October 2008: I’m the economics editor of BBC Newsnight, so I had a ringside seat. It explains how we got here – from the shadow banking system, to subprime, to the commodities speculation that forced a billion people to go without meals in mid-2008. It also explains why, love it or loathe it, the neo-liberal era is over.”?
About the author: ??Paul Mason is the economics editor of BBC Newsnight and has covered globalisation and social justice stories from locations across the world, including Latin America, Africa and China. His previous book ‘Live Working, Die Fighting‘ was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.??Paul’s blog on the unfolding financial crisis ‘Idle Scrawl‘ can be found at



Thursday 4th June

The Gate of Heavenly Peace,
Prince Charles Cinema,
7 Leicester Place, WC2 .

Tickets £6.50 / £5 Students / £4.50 Member – Q&A
Starring: ?This extraordinary three-hour film…is a deep, powerful and rivetingly complex study of Tiananmen… THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE will prove controversial in the West as well, for it shows that the student movement was divided against itself, with some its most influential leaders hoping for carnage. The student leader Chai Ling, shortly before the crackdown, announces in an interview that `only when the square is awash with blood will the people of China open their eyes.’ We have a special Q&A session with Antony Thomas (director of The Tank Man) and Tian Ai Zhang soprano soloist.

Friday 5th June

Food for All?
George Alagiah introduces the first in a series of debates on the big issues of our times, free, St. Peter’s Church, De Beauvoir Rd, Hackney


Saturday 6 June


Climate Camp Benefit Night
7pm -1.30am
Cross Kings Pub,
126 York Way,
N1 0AX
Are you interested in doing more to highlight the urgency of climate change? Are you intrigued but feel uncomfortable about going outside the mainstream political process? Would you consider getting involved but don’t know how? Are you nervous about the consequences?
Climate Camp Benefit Night
Poetry, Comedy and Bands

WDM’s London campaigner convention

When: 10am – 5pm, Saturday 6 June 2009 ?
Where: The Resource Centre, 356 Holloway Road, London N7 6PA

Join the World Development Movement in discussing just and sustainable solutions to the financial and climate crises, and learn useful skills for campaigning for a better world.
Speakers include:
Andrew Simms (New Economics Foundation)?, Emily Thornberry MP, ?Nicola Bullard (Focus on the Global South), ?Paul Chatterton (Author, Do It Yourself: A handbook for changing our world)? Plus WDM policy officers and campaigners.
Another world is possible
For 30 years, free market dogma has dominated official politics the world over. Now that dogma has brought us a financial crisis, a climate crisis, and for thousands of the world’s poorest people a crisis of soaring food prices too.
Yet all over the world, people are responding to these crises by challenging vested interests and proposing alternatives. Alternatives which seek to build a just, sustainable and peaceful world, and which put people before profit.
Think Global is about making those alternatives a reality, by helping you to spread the word, understand the issues and learn the skills you need to bring about change.
Sessions include:
What is climate justice? ?Working with diaspora communities?. Stop Europe’s great trade robbery. ?Practical activism: Making change happen in your community. ?How to lobby your MP or MEP. ?The Green New Deal? Economic alternatives from the global south.
Plus bookstalls, lots of free educational and campaigns materials and refreshments.
WDM’s Annual General Meeting will take place during the day, and all WDM members are welcome to attend. There will be a parallel session for non-members during this time.
Email 7820 4900


Saturday 6th June

Eco-village occupation London

In May 1996, 500 The Land is Ours activists occupied 13 acres of derelict land on the banks of the River Thames in Wandsworth, highlighting the misuse of urban land, the lack of provision of affordable housing and the deterioration of the urban environment. That action grew into far more than just a simple land rights action.
A community grew up on the site called Pure Genius!! over the 5½ months that the occupation lasted for…..
Then and now:
“Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars” Martin Luther King.
In the first three months of 2009, nearly 13,000 Britons lost their home to repossessions. Now, perhaps more than ever, the ideas of peaceful land reclamation and eco-villages are becoming recognized as the solution to problems such as overcrowding in cities and the destruction of the land due to harmful agricultural practices.
In the spirit of Pure Genius, On June 6th 2009, hundreds of activists will converge on a piece of derelict land close by to Hammersmith in south west London to create an eco-village community based entirely on sustainable technology and construction techniques.
Come and be a part of this eco-village community.
The exact location of the site will be revealed on the day. The meet up point is at Waterloo Station (under the clock in the middle of the station) at 10AM on Saturday 6th June. Please try to be on time as we don’t want to be hanging around all morning.
If you would like to speak to someone regarding the campaign or the occupation, please contact Carolyn on: 01727 812369 or Gareth on: 07515 166011 or email:


Sunday 7 June

3pm – 7pm
Green Sunday
Arcola Theatre, 27 Arcola Street, E8.
Drop in between 3pm and 7pm for tea and cake on the roof, activities with the Secret Seed Society, a swap shop, market, debate about ethical consumerism with Neil Boorman and Morgan Philips plus music, film and books.
Find out more here
Mowgli. Ace Ventura. Romulus, buy Remus. Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls – there’s a number of individuals across the board that have lived their lives shoulder to shoulder with the animal kingdom. Whether these life experiences amounted to much creative cashback for the above is unknown – what we do know is that it certainly did for Dutch jeweller Felieke van der Leest, pharm who grew up next door to a zoo. She has spent years making collections of animal- inspired jewellery that has been exhibited in a whole lot of museums, including the International Museum of Applied Arts in Turn, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Montreal, the Modern Art Museum in Arnhem, and the Dutch Textile Museum in Tilburg.


Most affronting is the seamlessly funny juxtaposition of ideas – like the rapper penguin with bling around his neck and diamond eyes (a brooch), rubber ducks squeezed into lifeboat rings (a necklace). Her creations are bit like neo-Sylvanian families gone Shoreditch: a testament to a wealth of spangly imagination channelling the uninhibited spirit of the animal world.



As van der Leest says, “animals are never boring”, and when they’re swinging from hoops, or squatting on their own little aeroplane runways, even less so. I think she accomplishes the same effect as Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton or Lewis Carroll, tapping into her customer’s childish sense of wonder that might have got replaced by cynicism along the way. It was her own childhood fascination that propelled her into her profession, having spent her family holidays indoors watching National Geographic and knitting clothes for her bears, even crocheting an entire mouse family along with a piece of cheese.



There’s something so perfect about them they are almost uncanny; you might be left scratching your head and wondering if Jack Russells hadn’t been nonchalantly wearing American football uniforms all along. She has also, amazingly, made much of it multi-functional, including the necklace of strolling lions whose leader can be detached and worn as a brooch.



This reaction, of course, might have something to do with van der Leest’s crazy good capabilities with her materials. Van der Leest, who originally trained as a goldsmith, combines metals with textile techniques – after studying metalwork in Amsterdam she became reacquainted with knitting and crocheting. She began to introduce metal into her works after she developed RSI as a means of combating the repetitiveness of knitting, although she has said she enjoys working with textiles for their variety and availability. It’s not all kittens and cupcakes though: there’s something masochistic about some of her work, in particular the dismembered animal parts hanging from a chain, or the decapitated giraffe with a nest instead of a head.


They’re startling pieces that seem to upset you with their disorder, making you wonder about the relationship between the animal world and the human one; how one can shape – and, indeed, destroy – the other.


Humanising animals is a tradition that goes so far back into children’s stories that it would almost seem unnatural to have van der Leest’s creatures without a narrative. Like the rollerskating diplodocus: since as the diplodocus was a famously slow animal, the next logical step was for van der Leest to allocate it with two pairs of tiny rollerskates). However along with this tradition comes a tendency to infantilise the idea as it happens, but what’s most striking about van der Leest’s pieces are their modernity and their sophistication – in short, it’s subversive humour for grown-ups. In a period of fashion where people are mercilessly bandying around words like ‘austerity’ and ‘practicality’, I think wearing a badge of a goldfish on a giant set of wheels has never been more necessary.

The smoking ban of two long summers ago that plighted many a filthy nicotine habit may be an odd choice for artistic inspiration, viagra 40mg but the marvelous Kate Jenkins took it as an opportunity to switch us from lighting up to lightening up with her quirky knitted collection ‘Soft Smokes’.


This was the follow up to her debut range ‘Comfort Food’ which launched her as an artist in 2007 and created a name for her, treat paving the way to many a wondrous thing, buy information pills including her ‘Cardigans in Bloom’ show as part of Brighton’s much respected annual Open Door exhibition season.


From there to being picked up by the Art Group publishing group to produce greeting cards of loveliness and offered a spot to sell her collectable Specimen Cabinets of bugs, butterflies and beauty in Liberty of London, a solo show at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery opens next week and considering her immense talent, is way over due.


Whilst many of us have ashamedly only become aware of knitting and it’s creative possibilities in the recent-ish upsurge of craft culture renaissance, Jenkins is no newbie to needles. Pre 2003, when her own label Cardigan was launched, she was turning up and casting off for the likes of Missoni, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs. Her new work entitled ‘Kate’s Café’ will be a feast to behold; knitted breakfasts on knitted plates, knitted cups on knitted saucers, and knitted condiments to go on your.. yep, you guessed it- knitted fish and chips.


As well as pieces to wear and give, Jenkins produces wall worthy art work that provide instant talking points and mood enhancers as they are simply impossible to not fall in love with. In fact, Kate includes in her philosophy ‘anything can be created from yarn as long as it is made with love’. There is definitely something intrinsic about knitting and a giddy devoted heart.


Perhaps it’s the fact that art which relies on incredible meticulous skills, as knitting surely does, is bound to enlist blood sweat and tears and a huge helping from the heart. The ones who succeed do so because they love what they do, and in kind reciprocation we love it back.


Her noteworthy collaborations include Jon Link and Mick Bunnage, the Mr and Mr of Modern Toss fame, who commissioned Jenkins to produce a knitted book for their exhibition ‘Museum of Urban Shitniks’ at London’s Ink’d Gallery. She is now represented by Modern Toss’ agents Agency Rush for her illustrated commissions, who also deal with Ryu Itadani, Emily Forgot and Natsko Seki.


Kate Jenkins
Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery
28 Charlotte Street,
London W1T 2NA

Monday – Saturday 10 – 6
Sunday – Closed
6th June – 27th June 2009


What’s for lunch today at Kate’s Cafe?

WEDNESDAY, and APRIL 22, 2009

Back To Reality

Into the Jungle

We are crouched in the dory, a traditional canoe carved from a solid tree trunk, being punted upstream through the darkening jungle. The vine covered rafters reach over us, blackening into the night sky. Jorge struggles valiently but weighed low with passengers we frequently grind to a halt and have to jump out barefoot and push. It starts to drizzle, only adding to the atmosphere.

Eventually we arrive, slipping precariously up the bank with our lumps of luggage, climbing a stepped slope until we arrive at a covered courtyard and calls of welcome from our fellow students. We’ve reached the Maya Mountain Research Farm (MMRF) ready to begin a two week Permaculture Design Course.


MMRF is the life’s work of Christopher Nesbitt, a forty-something New Yorker who in the eighties swapped the furious pace of a Manhatten cycle courier for a seventy acre damaged citrous farm in Southern Belize. From his early days living in a wooden shack, beholden to the sun for wake-up calls and lights-out, he has observed, studied, planted and nurtured his land into a lush and productive agroforestry system. Papaya, pineapple, breadnut, corn, beans, coconuts, eggs, vanilla, cacao, coffee… the list goes on and on. Solar panel by solar panel, stone by stone he has built a comfortable, light-filled home – complete with kitchen, book-lined study and panoramic vista’d bedroom – fit for the cover of glossy magazine.


Although the dreadlocks went decades ago he’s not shaved since eighteen and Chris could now be credited with creating the ‘Jungle Rabbinic’ look: cropped hair and vast beard, baggy Carhartt pants betraying his urban roots, wellingtons, army surplus rucksack slung over one shoulder and riffle or machete over the other. His face is open and kind but his large, sad eyes hint at the tough graft and personal tragedies that he’s overcome building his home in the jungle of this sparsely populated river valley.

Chris was the perfect host and his farm the perfect location to study something that I hoped desperately could offer a last minute reprieve to a world on life-support.


‘Permanent Agriculture’
Permaculture is short for ‘permanent agriculture’. It sums up the ambitious hopes of its founders, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who in 1978 launched it with the publication of ‘Permaculture One’. In 1988 the hefty ‘Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual’ was published, one percent ethics and ninety percent practical design instruction, where the definition given is “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive and healthy ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.” Still not clear? I wasn’t either.

Most of my fellow students weren’t entirely sure, but our anticipation grew during the introduction: we were to be learning a whole new vocabulary that included the mysterious ‘swales‘, the principle of ‘stacking functions’ and the crucial tool of ‘needs and yields analysis’. With it we could share ideas with the millions of other permaculturists around the world, in the common language of the ‘permaculture army’.

There were sixteen students, of all ages and backgrounds. Many were from the U.S. but there was a Canadian, some Mexicans, a Trinidadian and some Belizians on scholarship. Three teachers joined Chris – Albert Bates, Maria A Martinez Ros and and Andrew ‘Goodheart’ Brown – making an eclectic and experienced team who each brought their own angle. Initially teaching was theory-heavy as we learnt key principles of ecology and of permaculture design. Later in the week we practiced mapping out an area of the farm, using our bodies as rulers – our result was 2,000 square ‘Erles’ – and learnt how to use a simple A-frame to measure along the contours of a slope to dig a swale – simply a shallow ditch that catches and holds water, but a key tool to build healthy soil.

Piece by piece it started to make sense.

A Deficit of Ducks
There’s a story that one day a student was lamenting to permaculture’s founder, Bill Mollison, about loosing her lettuces to an onslaught of slugs. “You don’t have a surplus of slugs problem.” he replied. “You have a deficit of ducks”. It neatly illustrates the goal of permaculture – to think like an ecosystem and strive always to ‘close the loop’.

The carefully fostered illusion of consumer culture is that things magically appear and disappear to satisfy our needs. Yet every bit of matter passing through our hands comes from and returns to the earth’s ecosystem and is part of its cycles. (A point made brilliantly in The Story of Stuff). Extraction and disposal have consequences and these can only be ignored for so long before they return to bite us. Simply put, our waste is wasting us – most prominently, our waste carbon, which we thought we could walk away from. Surprise, surprise, we can’t. ‘Up in smoke’ should not be a synonym for disappeared.

Nature works in cycles and so permaculture rejects the whole concept of ‘waste’. Waste is a resource that we’ve not been smart enough to put to good use yet. No good use at all – spent nuclear fuel rods, for example – is a warning that whatever system is producing it has no sustainable place in the world. There’s no waste in nature as such.

So one of the key tools we learnt was ‘Needs and Yields Analysis’. Each element of a design has needs and yields and the aim is to match them up – to close the loop. The chickens on Chris’s farm are my favourite example. They need food, water, space to roam, a safe place for the night. They yield products and useful services: kitchen scraps disappear greedily, turned into tasty eggs and nutrient rich droppings. A big problem for tropical farmers are Leafcutter Ants, or ‘Wee Wees’. The fossil fuel solution: put poison in the system, pesticides bought from outside – a complex external industrial product. The permaculture solution: Wee Wees as chicken food. Having been chased from my bed by Soldier Ants I gained a new found respect for the chicken as I watched them gobble up huge-pincered ants streaming from an aggravated nest.


Nature Resplendent
So we are part of the loop, but everyday life constantly hides this from us. For me the beauty of studying at MMRF was that you couldn’t forget this basic fact: from the bug bites yelling “you’re part of the food chain” to the tasty meals cooked from ingredients plucked straight from nearby trees. For the first week I recoiled: used to a more sterile environment I was faintly flustered by it all, by bugs and bites and slippy pathways. Then I relaxed, the unseasonal showers passed, and I felt wonderfully and peacefully at home.

My favourite moments were stolen between classes: swinging gently on the hammock, cool after a swim in the river, just soaking in the sounds; cheeps, flutters, rustles, whistles, pulsing bug rubbings, the high pitched whine and zoom of passing flies; the jungle community going about its daily business, from soil to canopy top. There was a rhythm and intimacy with nature that brought a deep sense of calm.

“Normal”: Discuss
As the exotic became more familiar what struck me was that this ‘exotic’ was nothing of the sort. This is how it has been, day after day, for millions of years. My normal (our normal) everyday life is a freakish aberration: we drive complex machines over fields of asphalt, stopping at filling stations to pay pittance for fossilised sunlight, and then carelessly burn up this rich energy resource (equivalent to thousands of hours of human labour) on activities that we could often happily do without. All civilisations are temporary, perhaps as temporary as their foundations, and we have thrown in our lot with a dwindling treasure trove of inherited energy, egged on by blind faith in free-market capitalism whose priests insist that the mighty market will provide – “We’ll cross that bridge…”; “Don’t plan ahead (Communist!), believe”; don’t save for a rainy day…

The ‘normal’ has a way of lulling us into a false sense of security and permanence. For hundreds of years life was very ‘normal’ in this now jungle-filled river valley, when it was part of a bustling Mayan metropolis. One evening we climbed the ridge in the gold of the setting sun and through a clearing in the undergrowth looked at a beautifully set Mayan wall, 1200 years old. Chris told us that there are literally hundreds of house mounds dotted around the farm (his house is in fact built on one). At their zenith the Maya ruled an area from Southern Mexico to Northern Honduras for over 600 years before their civilisation declined and came to an end. But we’re smarter than them, right? We have Google and ATM machines. And cars. And toilet paper made from ancient forests. The Mayans might beg to differ and challenge us to last a little longer than the century and a half since industrialisation began.


Just not seeing it
When I first walked through Chris’s farm I saw trees. Just lots of trees. But walk through with Chris as translator and you start to see complex systems, carefully designed and incredibly productive: coffee and cacao shaded under breadnut trees and coconut palms, pinapple crescents catching water and building soil around sapplings. My illiteracy was shared by the ‘conquerors’ five hundred years ago, who lamented the ignorant slash and burn agriculture while missing the carefully managed agroforestry system of the ‘fallow’ land (see ‘Beyond Wilderness: Seeing the Garden in the Jungle‘).

Yes, we know more than the Mayans. Our scientific method is qualitatively different from what went before. It has given us great power. But perhaps we’re all the more stupid for it.

The fertile middle ground
For me the genius of permaculture is that it recognises this stupidity but refuses to fall into the opposite trap of romanticising past cultures. It respects both the natural systems that ultimately support all life and also the scientific method that has given us so much power to understand and influence them. My interpretation of permaculture as that it is a science-based design system. Ultimately we are completely reliant on nature, but if we approach it with respect we can understand and learn from the systems that keep our world alive. Then we can apply our intelligence and creativity to tweak and mould them to provide generously for human life. It is a middle ground between domination (destined to fail) and subservience (destructive of our humanity), aimed at creating a humane space within the natural world. A garden.

Spades out for the revolution
So that’s what it boils down to: permaculture is gardening. And to think as a boy I saw my Grandfather as such an anachronism, with his rows of raspberries and inability to operate a video recorder. If engineers ruled in the 20th Century then perhaps the 21st belongs to the gardeners: scientifically literate, socially influential and operating in their millions. We hope.

‘Everything gardens’ is a permaculture principle and it was illustrated every night as we carefully stepped over the torch lit highway of Leafcutter Ants, ferrying green chunks in their millions back to their nest. They use the leaves to grow mould that will feed the whole colony. They hardly ever kill a tree, Chris explained, but strip only some branches before moving on. They do not destroy that which they depend upon. The heart of permaculture is learning from nature, and we could take a leaf from their book.

I Will Survive: Permaculture Remix

It was a fun-filled night tinged with sadness, as everyone pitched in for the ‘No Talent’ show that rounded off the two week course. I’ll spare you the full version, but my group had ‘re-designed’ Gloria Gaynor’s classic ‘I will survive’ to include lines such as: “At first I was afraid, I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never live without these pesticides” and “But no, not us, we will survive. For as long as we know how to swale I know we’ll stay alive.” After two weeks we had all become quite fond of each other. I wondered where this group of radical gardeners would get to, and what difference we would make. And why the course was only two thirds full when the ‘normal’ world is so clearly starting to unravel.

Still, we left inspired, determined to plant and compost to a better future.


Back to Civilisation
The bus was pretty swish – air conditioned, reclining chairs, video screens – but I felt uncomfortable. A growing sense of agitation was making me desperate for the journey to end.

We stopped at Gautemala’s version of a service station. As I looked round at a forest of plastic, tin cylinders behind glass and bulging humans poking at synthetic food on polyester plates, I realised what I was suffering – culture shock. I was trying to place it all in the natural cycles I’d become used to and so little of it would fit.

It showed the change my fortnight at MMRF had brought. In my five years of ‘environmentalism’, first of study then work, I’ve heard lots of theory about living within the earth’s limits. Now for the first time I really felt it, in my guts. Permaculture might not be ‘the answer’ – there’s no such thing – but it taught me to see the fundamental logic of our place in the natural order.

More than this, perhaps it might allow me the audacity of hope for a reconciliation between humanity and the world we’re currently beating the crap out of. Perhaps environmentalism does not equal atavism. Perhaps MMRF hints at a way forward, rather than a retreat, as the interns check their emails under locally grown bananas: the Apple Mac sitting with the permaculture pineapple.

I don’t know yet, but I firmly believe that Bill Mollison was right in 1988 when he wrote that “in the near future we will see the end of wasted energy or the end of civilization as we know it”. I just hope that, over two decades later, another of his assertions still holds true: “What we have done, we can undo.”


Photo credits: Thanks to Erle Noronha for the second picture (Chris’s house) and Albert Bates for the group photo. All others are my own.

What permaculture can do – the mighty ‘swale’ in action. A great little video:

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This article originally featured on EyesLikeSaucers.

Categories ,Climate, ,Ecology, ,Environment, ,Student

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