Graham Bell reflects on the huge impact Permaculture Design Courses have had on participant’s lives and their journeys of ‘unlearning’ and ‘learning’.

First published on Graham’s website. 

Graham sat at tablesharing the bounty of Graham’s garden

After thirty years of engagement with permaculture it never ceases to amaze me how the Permaculture Design Course changes peoples’ lives.

This brilliant understanding of how to meet peoples’ needs, without working so hard, and at the same time learning to minimise waste was crafted by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren before I came along to connect with it. I’m also hugely aware that it has always been a fantastic effort of trawling wisdom from all across the planet contributed by unknown numbers of people.

Across my engagement I have noticed people being so enthused by the concept and the material that the first thing they wanted to do was rush out and teach it – something Bill encouraged. I have a great deal of sympathy with his approach: the need for change is urgent.  We need to spread this message as quickly as we can. The world may not be in danger, but we, the human species surely are.

David Holmgren took a more measured approach. You could describe this as ‘Let’s prove this idea works before we preach it’. I can see the value of that too.

I’m sure there are people out there who are much cleverer than me. What I’ve spent my life trying to do is make these welcome solutions accessible to people. You see – it’s not how clever we are individually, it’s about how effective we are. And ethics sit at the heart of permaculture. Create surplus and share it. So the surpluses we can create might be food… But what if they were happiness, insight or knowledge?

The point of the whole exercise for me is not about me being cleverer than anyone. It’s about building a universal understanding of a better way to live.

The basis for this for me is the curriculum of the Permaculture Design Course. A brilliant concept, which has meant that even newbies who just wanted to ‘spread the word’ without any great teaching skills could still contribute to growing the caucus of adherents.

The reality is in the modern world, where we are all short of time, that you’re much better off to learn from people who have been there and done it and are trained as teachers.

PERMACULTURE DESCRIBED IN WORDSwhat permaculture means to Graham

The first thing to notice is that this is as much a process of unlearning as it is about learning. Unlearning the misdirected concepts of how the world works which the conventional educational system has stuffed our heads with. That we are only valuable if we are academic achievers? Well that’s rubbish- we will die for want of vocational skills long before we miss any academics. The people who grow our food and cook it. The people who care for us and clean up after us. The mechanics who make things work. The people who make our transport work. The servants. Not the masters.

So one of our tasks is to correct this misbalance. We need to recognise we are all servants of the greater good.

Graham Bell's forest gardenGraham’s forest garden

The Permaculture Design Course reconnects us with what is essential for good human lives. It reconnects us to the importance of all living beings in making that possible. It uplifts our souls as well as our bodies. It teaches us about virtuous cycles of energy management including its conservation. It spells out to us the value of well-designed buildings, our essential dependence on the land and our ability to make it more fertile. We get a really good picture of the value of water and how to manage it.

We also realise that without clean air we are nothing. And then we start to see the significance of trees in managing all these things.

So why is this another way of learning?

Well:

  • It’s not all about doing stuff, it’s also about being
  • You’re not being talked at, you’re being encouraged to find your own pathway
  • It’s about the primacy of the living world
  • It recognises lots of kinds of intelligence not just the ones of conventional educational systems
  • It emphasises people skills in making a truly sustainable world work
  • When you walk away from this course you will feel utterly at one with the natural world in which we all live
  • You will know that you have a huge army of allies across the world to move our society to a new plane of: understanding, trust, mutual self-interest
  • You will see what you want to do, what you have still to learn and how to go about it
  • You see if you ever felt the educational system let you down, then you will discover that you are the best educational system you have and you can let all that stuff go.  And at that point you will join the company of thousands, well certainly hundreds of thousands (or maybe millions) who have already discovered this pathway. And you will be part of creating a part of a much more positive future for the human race.  Everyone who joins this understanding adds to it.  The only cleverness we ever have is all of us acting together.

I’d be delighted if you’d join us on this journey.

For more information on Graham’s work and teaching please visit: www.grahambell.org