The Arboretum permaculture course


The Coin permaculture group took part in the first module of ‘Education for Sustainability’, a series of interesting courses organised by ‘Arboretum’, a new project space dedicated to ecology and sustainabile education established by the foundation ‘mas arboles’ in Marbella.

This first module was an introduction to permaculture and its techniques, a total of 20 hours of intensive instruction. Prof. Julio Cantos is an experienced permaculturist, specializing in food and forests and is also the permanent project advisor for Arboretum. As he explained, permaculture as a design methodology applied to environmental sustainability projects (in this case Arboretum), and is one of the most important tools available: easy to understand, accurate and adaptable to specific conditions, using techniques that are appropriate to each case.

But what is permaculture? It is a discipline born some 40 years ago in response to the first signs of environmental degradation, resulting from the introduction of the intensive farming system – the so-called green revolution. It has a strong ethical base, including key pillars including caring for the earth, caring for people and reducing consumption as well as certain well-defined principles. We are (re)-taught to see the world as a system of interconnected relationships, where each element is connected to all others and to take advantage of these relationships to make our projects more efficient and as sustainable as possible. Permaculture presents a methodology for design that is both powerful and flexible, allowing us to come up with new solutions to design our environment by observing of nature and its ways, working with and not against it to achieve a model of life in harmony with our environment.

The techniques that are used are applied with consideration to the site, finding once that are most appropriate. One such technique is ‘Analog Forestry’, that aims to re-create forest vegetation – mostly edible and useful – according to criteria of equity and sustainability, but including in the design native species and respecting the patterns of the native forestry. This is, in fact, one of the criteria that has been chosen for the design of zone 2 of Arboretum.

After 12 hours of theory in the classroom with the engaging Julio, we then had an opportunity to practice what we had learned directly in the field. Split into small groups, and with the teacher’s help, we carried out the design of a possible project for Zone 2 of Arboretum. We had to include in the design a house, a space for poultry, a solution for the farm area that had erosion problems, some idea about the type of renewable energy that could have been used and, naturally, one of the tree planting programmes, using the Analog Forestry criteria. This part was complex, but very entertaining and creative. It was fun and interesting to see how each group integrated their knowledge to suggest different and creative solutions to the situations on the ground.

On Sunday we met at Arboretum for another practice, this time more physical: digging a swale (drainage trench) for storm water retention and to reduce the damage from erosion. Some parts of the property have steep slopes, where the rain washes the surface layer of the earth away as well as the problem of erosion. With the technique of drainage filters it slows water runoff and reduces erosion while increasing the iltration of rainfall into the soil, helping to recharge aquifers and surface water for increasing vegetation.

Participants have learned how to determine the exact position in which to dig the trench in a practical and simple way, using a ‘level A’, a device that is easily constructed to measure where the ground points are at the same height. After calculating this then the hard work began and in just half an hour it was already finished thanks to the energetic participation of everyone! To conclude the weekend’s work we planted a tree (a nice jujube) and many herbs (thyme, rosemary, lavender), to take advantage of the water retained by the ditch while holding the soil on the hillside with its roots .

In Arboretum’s Facebook page there is a video explaining how we made the trench and as there are photos of how effective our work has been after the first rain. Our hope is that this first contact will develop into a fertile new relationship among people who are committed to design a better, more sustainable planet and that the ambitious project “Arboretum” is a centre for the dissemination of this philosophy, accepted and embraced by the local community.

Chiara Zanotti
permaculture group facilitator of “Coin Transiccion.”

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