We both studied at Sussex Uni (having attended at different times). And we both shared a passion for food and justice. But we weren’t to meet until a climate change demo in London via a mutual friend.
Lauren, with her good friend (who is now doing a PhD on workers rights and food growing in Morocco), made a documentary film questioning the Uni’s food procurement system and asking the authorities to change how they acquired some of their food.
I was lucky enough to work during the last days of The Ecologist magazine before it folded and was relegated as a solely online publication. The then editor mentioned he was going to create a trio of step-down water catchment units, aka. three water butts. But the way he spoke about them and the quirkiness of their design piqued my interest. He handed me a large weighty blue tome that many will be familiar with as Patrick Whitefield’s ‘The Earth Care Manual’.
That was the first time I heard the word ‘permaculture’. I’ve still got the book.
With a shared interest in the provenance and politics of food, we were also attracted to Permaculture’s seemingly inviolable and down right ‘can-do-ness’. As Bill Mollison, co-founder of Permaculture, who sadly passed away in late 2016, wrote in his magnum opus, ‘A Designer’s Manual’:
"The text is positivistic, without either the pretended innocence or the belief that everything will turn out right. Only if we make it so will this happen."
And it was this solutions orientated, systems thinking, ecologically mindful perspective that brought us together with the Brighton Permaculture Trust and chums for an inspiring, giddying and full on Introduction to Permaculture course. And as time passed, friendship, work and many more courses with Brighton Permaculture Trust.
Over a long weekend we learnt about permaculture ethics and principles with the course culminating in a design exercise at Pippa John’s house.
After the first day of the course I remember sitting on the trunk of a grand old tree under a canopy of Yews just beyond the Brighton Permaculture Trust plot as we excitedly completed one of our exercises.
The Intro course with Brighton Permaculture Trust marked a significant chapter in our small lives. As someone once put it when describing the force of ideas that permaculture brings together “there’s the time before ‘permaculture’ and the time after ‘permaculture’. Everything changes.”
And so it does. But for some, like a seemingly dormant pile of autumnal leaves hiding an acorn soon to split and send a sprout toward the light or like a well behaved sauerkraut quietly fermenting away on the side, change comes a little slower.
Fast forward a few years later and with backpacks on our backs and a one way ticket in hand, we embarked upon what Lauren reminisced as, “one massive permaculture design course”: a two year overland tour of central and south America visiting, volunteering and studying permaculture and agriculture. Seeing water in all its stages locked up as glacial ice, melting away into streams and rivers clearer than a summer blue sky, joining the big wide sea, we breathed permaculture. We also had the good fortune to do a residential PDC with Scott Pittman of the Permaculture Institute US and Durga, a Costa Rican based teacher, at the beautiful Finca Amrita, a small nature reserve and a sustainable farm in the foothills of the Talamaca mountains, Costa Rica. Burying our heads into books and designs, our hands in rows of peanuts and piles of compost our travels were expressly concerned with learning about permaculture in practice.
But we knew that bananas and coconuts would have difficulty growing over here [watch this space however ;0)] so we extended our passion for travel, learning and doing with a six month, almost exclusively, hitch-hiked tour of projects and places in the UK. We were touched at how kindly and enthusiastically we were received by the many good people doing some great work.
We documented our travels in both the Americas and the UK . I even managed to get some articles published in Permaculture Magazine (in print and online) and we produced a series of nine films showcases permaculture(s) across the UK which has led to more work with the likes of the Fund for Enlightened Agriculture (the people behind the Oxford Real Farming Conference ) and Agroforestry Research Trust, based in Totnes.
Our shared passion also extended into our volunteering. We were kindly allowed to help and assist on a number of courses Brighton Permaculture Trust - and the Low Carbon Trust - run learning about natural architecture, mushrooms and fruits trees from the brilliant Bryn and Stephan and Mischa alongside a regular cast of excellent guest teachers. A great way to learn and continue our ties with Brighton Permaculture Trust. Volunteering felt like a real honour as I’d watch faces of course participants change with the ‘Oh, yeah!’ moment as they were taught something entirely new and exciting.
From there I’ve been lucky enough to assist with the Tap o’ Noth Farm, a small, diverse market farm situated at the foot of Tap o’ Noth hill in beautiful rural Aberdeenshire for their first PDC as well as having the honour of shadowing under veteran permaculture teacher, designer and author Aranya at the wonderful Land Matters in Devon. Teaching is such a great way to learn and learning is such a great way to knowin
Returning to the groove of sedentary living we’ve been good fortuned enough to pursue our passion for permaculture in our work.
Employed as the communications team for Lewes based Ecological Land Co-op we managed Brighton Permaculture Trust’s successful Fruit Factory Crowd-funding campaign and the Earthship crowdfunder in 2015. And despite our lives currently being largely computer based, our work continues to be around food, agriculture and access to land — all inspired by our initial interest in, and excitement about, permaculture. And, informing the next chapter of our lives: getting a piece of land and creating a smallholding. Thanks to Brighton Permaculture Trust we can clearly see the ‘time before’ and the ‘time after’ permaculture and we are forever grateful. Thanks guys.