Over the past three plus weeks myself and 15 other cohorts have been fully engaged in farm life. And, although there are several aspects of this lifestyle that you might expect out of a typical farm experience (i.e. milking goats, turning compost, planting veggies, etc…) this is far from a typical farm!
Zaytuna Farm stands apart from other farms in many ways… not the least of which being that it is the home of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. The staff at Zaytuna are growing more than just healthy veggies, they’re turning out crop after crop of new permaculture professionals.
This year my cohorts and I are lucky enough to count ourselves among the yield! Over the course of 10 weeks we not only engage ourselves in what it takes to run a permaculture farm, we also learn valuable skills such as the ins-and-outs of permaculture earthworks, how to run a permaculture landscape and consultancy business, the finer points of soil biology, permaculture teacher training and how to engage in international permaculture aid work. And, as if that weren’t enough, all the while we’re caring for livestock, pruning trees, harvesting food for our daily meals… the list goes on and on.
After the first week of introductions and orientation to the farm we got right into the heavy lifting… earth lifting that is. Well, earth moving might be the more accurate term.
In the Permaculture Earthworks Course, we learned about various types of earthworks systems such as dams and swales and how they would be implemented in a landscape. Then we got hands on and tested our surveying skills as we scoped out a location for a new dam (number 15?) on the farm.
Surveying, we learned quickly, is a very important skill in regard to testing our assumptions and finding a suitable site for a new dam or swale. The eye plays quite a few tricks on us and, at one point it took two groups of us swapping places on two separate ridges and looking across at each other from a different perspective before we realized that it wasn’t the equipment that was failing us, but our very own eyes.
After a bit of toying around and pegging out different hypothetical dam sites, it was time to get serious. The excavator was on the ground, ready to roll, and it was our job to direct him. Fortunately for us, Glen, our machine operator, was a very experienced earthmover that had put in many of the dams here at Zaytuna previous to this one in courses just like ours. He knew what he was doing, even if we didn’t. He also new how to explain what he was doing and share some of the insights of his over 20 years in the business… so long as you can sift through a deep Ausie accent to discover the gems of knowledge he doled out.
Glen pointed out many of the things we should know to keep an eye out for when going into a job and what to do should you encounter certain situations. We were very fortunate, in a rather strange way, that our dam building exercise was actually wrought with problems. Fortunate in that we had the expertise of both our highly experienced earthmover, Glen, and our highly experience course instructor, Geoff, to lean on. With their combined experience, all the issues we encountered as we excavated our lovely new dam created nothing more than a valuable learning experience… and a perfectly suitable, albeit odd looking, new dam. Check out the video of our project here.
With dams, swales, some pipe crossings, and a couple new camper sites carved out our earthworks adventure came to a close… but our internship had only just begun!
This week, our motley crew of Permaculture Interns (ranging from the Pennsylvania to Perth, Germany to the Caribbean Islands and about everywhere else in between) are taking on Urban Design and Consultancy with previous intern graduate, Nick Huggins. Another great adventure is just ahead as we prepare to install a permaculture garden for a real live suburban client in the neighboring city of Lismore. For the clients sake… let’s hope we don’t encounter quite as many “learning experiences” as we did during the earthwork’s course!