The ‘aha’ moment, and how we plan to make a permaculture farm for real

How we ran into Permaculture ?

We first heard about Permaculture in the Moneyfix documentary, in spring 2011. Later, in a czech forest music festival, eating strawberries and raspberries from nature, living at the rhythm of music and forest, we had an ‘aha’ moment: the idea to make and live from a permaculture farm.

Between a Greek and Europeen monetary crisis and a Tunisian and Arab revolutions, as we lived and been raised there, we were convinced that, beyond simply making a farm, permaculture is what we all have to do in life, what is useful to ourselves and to the world, rather than the “normal” job we both had or was seeking for.

What is this permaculture farm idea ?

From that moment, we started learning what is permaculture and looking for places to implement its designs and prepare for designing our farm. We found places to try to turn into forest gardens holding both productive activities and creative social exchanges. We called Permaground, this experimental activity, of physically grounding permanent society culture. Our main permaground activity is our farm project, that is heavily influenced by this idea and by permaculture, natural farming, open source ecology as well as current distributed civil movements (Indignados, Occupy).

 The permaculture farm idea is to build a self-sufficient permaculture farm with several goals

  • Productive: produce enough food and energy for two persons, and sell or exchange the extra vegetables
  • Social: create relations with the local community and introduce permaculture practices
  • Scientific: experiment, document and demonstrates the value of permaculture designs
  • Personal: have productive activities ranging from farming to alternative culture

How  we plan to make a permaculture farm ?

In this project in mediterranean area, we plan to build a living forest garden productive and self-maintained, with composting, mushrooms, small animals, extreme water management, and ourselves. This means :

  • First element, the extreme food forest garden, or “fractal greenhouse”. Seeing Goeff Lawton eating from plants around while he walks and explains food forest design, was an impressive illustration of Paradise or Garden of Eden on Earth. We plan to stretch the seven layers of food forest garden to an extreme integration in our farm.  We are planning to plant all edible trees, shrubs, perennial legumes to fill all the layers, as basis to increase later the complexity and relationships. The system of plants must be complex enough to be a natural fractal greenhouse, with expected benefits similar to an artificial greenhouse : allowing the light to penetrate, while moderating temperature and moisture level change, and improving exchange with decomposers.
  • Second element, the underground life and nutrient recycling. We have now composting worms for years, and we learnt from them that no one takes without giving back in a way or another, and how to close the cycle and build the soil.  More recently we started to grow mushrooms, and with them we not only recycle, but we eat in the process. These two major actor will have a king throne in our farm.
  • The third element is the extreme water management. Mediterranean climate provide plenty of light and temperature is comfortable for us and plants. The major problem in this context is lack of water, and more specifically high evaporation and long summer dry season. These challenging conditions incite us to not only include water harvesting, but to push this aspect to its extreme, that no drop would go out of the system without our permission :p. This implies pimping up classical designs, such raised beds, swales and ponds.
  • Fourth element is the animals. A real ecosystem indeed include animals, raised and wild, essentials in  high brittleness conditions (see A.Savory). In our farm, pigeons, chicken, ducks, rabbits, goats, sheeps are already in the picture.
  • Fifth element is us and other people. This farm is also meant as a place for living and for creative activities and social exchanges, about permaculture and all other important things of life. This requires construction of small units of energy, production and life.

How we found a land ?

In november 2011, we tried to search a land to start our farm. We took Fukuoka suggestion to look for an acre (4000m2), sufficient to feed a family. We visited Tunisia and Greece to find an experimentation site for our farm project. We found that in our large families, there is always someone who has some land he don’t really use, sometimes in collective or undivided ownership. We also found that many farmers or land owners we visited, were very positive and few asked to try permaculture on a part of their land. Even if people didn’t know permaculture is exactly implemented, they felt compelled by its ecological and social ethics.

We also looked at the market in different countries. The most important factor for land prices seems access (to city or to touristic destinations) and then existing trees, water, etc. In Tunisia, we ultimately found 500 000 m2 for 25 000 euros, 20m2/euro, in good ecological condition, but a bit isolated and relatively hard to access. Finally, we decided to start with a 3000m2 land, owned by Sofien family in the north of Tunisia, and make it as both as living farm and as a demonstration site for permaculture value.

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