We recently welcomed August 2015 PDC graduate, Pippa Buchanan, back to Laya Point. We took the opportunity to find out about what’s she’s been up to since the course and what she’s planning for the future…
I’m Pippa Buchanan, an Australian/British citizen based in Linz, Austria. I came to Laya Point Permaculture in 2015 for their Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course run by John Champagne. I plan on returning to Australia one day, so it was important for me to have an Australian teacher. As a child I also read a lot of books set in the Lake District, so staying in Ulpha was like a dream!
How has your life changed as a result of the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) last year?
At its simplest, it changed how I look at the world. I see opportunity both in the physical and the social. On the train south from Cumbria after the PDC I kept on planting imaginary food forests in the bare land beside the railway tracks and growing nut trees in between sheep runs!
I live in an apartment, but in addition to my windowsills I share growing space on the edge of a harbour off the Danube River. It’s been a busy year so there’s been small and slow progress so far, but I’ve already planted more perennial species with benefits to both humans and biodiversity.
Permaculture gave me an emotional grounding too – it connects with the facilitation practice I have studied with the Art of Hosting and informs how and what I teach my students. I try to learn from permaculture in my personal relationships, which is a very slow process!
Overall, the permaculture ethics and principles have strengthened how I think and make decisions – whether that is about how I critique the media, make purchases or arrange my apartment. Permaculture design tools, ethics and principles are core to my Masters dissertation research, while they aren’t the core topic, they are informing my goals and process.
What have you been up to since the PDC last August?
Immediately after the PDC and the International Permaculture Convergence in London, I started my MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation Planning at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth, Wales.
In the MSc we are learning to (re)design settlements that mitigate and are adaptable to environmental change as well as encouraging social transformation. It’s an interdisciplinary course, there are architects, computer scientists, educators and artists who are altogether learning about green politics and economics, ecosystem services such as green roof and reed bed sanitation, urban planning and energy provision.
There’s a light thread of permaculture running through a lot of what we do. There are many useful approaches to the work of climate change adaptation, but I’ve found my background in permaculture to be an asset. Over the year my permaculture thinking has become more scientific, but at the same time, my science thinking has been strengthened and made more holistic through the permaculture systems approach. The issues of social and environmental change can be very depressing: permaculture thinking has given me a lot of hope.
The MSc SAP is a very hands on course – in May we worked with sustainable building materials such as straw bale, timber, hempcrete and rammed earth. Just before I came up to Laya Point this June we had a module focussed on supporting (re)settlement and shelter from a humanitarian perspective. We discussed the broader social needs of preparing and responding to environmental and conflict emergencies and at the same time helped prototype a timber frame system for further deployment in Gaza.
How did it feel to be back at Laya Point? What did you give and gain from your revisit?
I’ve just finished all the on-site course requirements for my Masters so I wanted to check-in with myself at the same place where this year of learning started. It was a good decision to make the journey up to Cumbria.
It felt amazing to be back at Laya Point. Much quieter though – I missed all of my fellow learners and the teachers, not only John, but Alan Charlton, Tierney Woods and Jennifer Burtt Lauruol. It was lovely to see Tom again and to be reunited with Angelo – another PDC student. There were wonderful new people to meet too!
I also came back to see the animals and garden – Mia the cat and Mageika the dog are very special. There are now chickens as well as ducks! The garden is looking great – 10 months has made a big difference to the food forest. The new willow fences around the pond and separating the Zone 1 garden bed are wonderful.
Being back at Laya Point gave me an opportunity for good reflection, both as an individual, and in conversation with Tom, Angelo and Lucy. I gathered strawberries and rhubarb, made tea with fresh herbs and was nourished by good food. I only had time for some small walks, but going up the hill behind Laya Point with Mageika was very special.
I tried to give back as much as I could! I helped out Angelo and Tom on the new workshop build – I helped salt neutralise and tank the foundations. I was surprised by how much I’d learnt about timber framing and construction the week before at CAT. I hope Tom found some of my fresh knowledge useful and that the use of bracing techniques keeps the workshop standing. I studied green roof technology back in November, so was able to share some ideas around supporting biodiversity, such as using local meadow hay as part of the growing substrate.
And I moved another four barrows of cow muck from the pile that is still out the front. I think I win the PDC 2015 competition!
What are your plans going forward?
Well, at a practical level I have university assignment work to finish off! I’m in the early stages of my dissertation planning, but in February next year I hope to be back in South Australia running workshops supporting households and communities developing sustainable heat wave preparedness plans. My research is how a facilitated process can both support households in responding to increasingly severe heatwaves and provide input to policy makers regarding climate change adaptation.
My partner Tim and I have spent the last couple of years renovating a small plywood sailboat, The Runcible Spoon. We’re interested in the growing movement of sustainable sail cargo / fair transport projects like Tres Hombres so we’re going to make a micro-sail transport project bringing beer 20km down the Danube. It’s very small-scale – but as an artistic project it’s intended to discuss the sustainability issues surrounding international shipping.
Later this summer I’ll undertake my permaculture teacher training course with Rosemary Morrow. I’m still in the very early stages of my own permaculture practice, but I keep finding myself sharing this knowledge with other people in both formal and informal contexts. I’m looking forward to getting support in this evolving role as a permaculture educator.
In my head I am nourishing an avocado tree in my one-day garden. I hope that in a couple of years I’ll celebrate my birthday by having a permablitz and planting trees together with my friends!
Do you have any useful nuggets that you’ve learnt over the past year about permaculture and sustainable living that you’d like to share with us?
I will share two quotes which focused and sustained me this year:
“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
– Ralth Waldo Emerson
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”
– Rebecca Solnit