Hello my faithful readers I hope this finds you all well. For the past two weeks I have been in the woods of Western Massachusetts in the town of Rowe where I was taking a Earth Activist Training course taught by Starhawk, Charles Williams and Rushelle Frazier. What is the Earth Activist Training you might be asking? Permaculture, earth-based spirituality, organizing and activism… with Starhawk and a team of stellar teachers and designers.
A little information about my teachers. Starhawk comes out of the rebirth goddess Pegan circles of 30 years ago and is very much about bringing the earth based spirituality of Europe and the Middle East back into fruition. In the early ’90s she took a permacutlture class where she saw the missing link of most PDCs which is the spirit, so she got her teaching certificate and started the EAT program and brought earth based spirit into the permaculture world as permaculture is the physical way of doing earth based spirituality. She currently lives a little bit outside of San Fransisco, California on a beautiful farm. She is an amazing humble women who has wrote many different books including the highly raved about book The Fifth Sacred Thing.
Charles and Rushelle are her co-facilitators who are awesome! Charles is a farmer who is currently living on Starhawk’s land and will be having a baby soon with his partner who lives in Canada. He has been working with Starhawk for a while and knows everything you could ever want to know about plants and living among the earth. Rushelle is a talented dope poet who lives in Worcestor, Massachusetts who his just starting out teaching the EAT program about 3 years ago. Her poems are very emotion invoking and thought provoking. She also worked on a farm in Tennessee a few years ago called Future Farm and is big in favor of the humanor system.
An Earth Activist Training can set your life on a new path…or show you how to save the world. Green solutions are sprouting up all around us, but permaculture shows us how to weave them together into systems that can meet human needs and regenerate the natural world. EAT is practical earth healing with a magical base of ritual and nature awareness, teaching you to integrate mind and heart, with lots of hands-on practice and plenty of time to laugh. Our two-week intensives are Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) scourses, offering the basic, internationally-recognized 72-hour permaculture curriculum with an additional focus on social permaculture, organizing tools, and spirit.
Now you might be wondering what I did these two weeks with the EAT program? I did a whole lot of learning, building, meeting new amazing people, and living among the earth. The first week I was there was all about the science, planting, technological side of Permaculture and how you can apply it to a plot of land. The second week was more social Permaculture and activism where I learned about ways you can use Permaculture in everyday social situations.
My journey started off on May 31st, at 6:30 am as my dad drove me to BWI airport to drop me off to ride up to Rowe, MA with Aleya and a few other ladies in a rental car. It took us around 6 hours to get to the airport where we and a couple other women got picked up and shuttled to the Rowe Center. Once we got there we registered, ate some appetizers & got to know some people. The way Rowe is set up is, where you register and eat all your meals is called the Farmhouse and then they have different cabins where most of my class stayed. I stayed in the Farmhouse where they also have a living room area where you can get wifi and in the dinning hall is where you can make phone calls. After that we ate dinner. For dinner we had pesto pasta, salad, a roll, some kale, beans and a brownie. It was really good. Once dinner was done we had our first circle. We started by introducing ourselves and our teachers introduced themselves too. Then we played a couple games, got into our infinity teams which determined our kitchen clean up schedule as well as who we worked with in the class exercises for the course and learned the schedule for the course. To close the circle we sang a song and went to bed.
This is how most of the days went while I was at the UU Rowe Camp & Conference Center. We would get waked up by one of the staff people singing us a song outside our door at around 7 am then we would eat breakfast at 8 and then have our morning circle where we did a prayer for the 4 elements (Earth, Fire, Water and Air) plus Spirit and then sang a song about which ever topic we were learning about that day. The first song we learned was an old pagan goddess song called the Circle Within which goes like this “We are circle within a circle with no beginning and never ending.”
Then after our circle we had our morning class for the day which we learned about on the first day what Permaculture is and about the Permaculture principals. Then at 12:30 we went to lunch which was the same for the two weeks tuna, kinwa, fresh made bread, tea, salad and soup (which got old fast). We also had a kitchen cleaning chart which meant that if your team was on the list for that day you would clean up the mess of that meal and then set the tables for the next meal.
Then we took a break till 3 and then would go back and learn some more till 5:30 eat dinner at 6 and then have a break till 7:30. At 7:30 we would have our nighttime section and then by 9:30-10 we would have our closing circle where we would thank the 4 elements plus Spirit and then sing a little song and close out with the saying “May the circle be open then broken marry me, marry part, and marry meet again.” That was how most of our days where set up during these two weeks.
So what did I learn during these two weeks? So much where to begin. First thing we learned was what Permaculture is and what it means. Permaculture means the art of designing beneficial relationships. Taking ancient knowledge from indigenous communities from all over the world and making it available to all. The “Father” of Permaculture is Bill Mollison from Australia where he started to gain this knowledge in the ’70s along with his friend Holmgren. He came up with three core ethics people care, earth care, and fair share (or care of the next generation).
Mollison also came up with some core principals about 25 different ones which you can find here http://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/. A few of them are observation: use protracted and thoughtful observation of natural system rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; the problem is the solution: we are the problem, we are the solution. In permaculture the focus is on turning constraints into resources. Every Element Supports Many Functions; Every Function is Supported by Many Elements; Diversity; Stacking & Make Least Change for Greatest Effect among others. All of these principals can be used not only in the land but when dealing with everyday social situations. To learn these functions a little bit we played this silly game called Cougars and Joggers where you have one cougar and a bunch of joggers who can go in groups but after five seconds must find a different group of joggers. The goal is to get all the joggers to become cougars.
We also learned a lot about patterns and seeing them in nature and how in all permaculture designs you must add a herb spiral because its not permaculture with out an herb spiral lol. Another thing that we learned was about the actual design process of permaculture which starts with observation then you have your site-analysis then lastly your goals. With this process you must start off with a design concept or big idea then draw up a design schematic of the land or space. Then have a consultation with the client and where you explain your ideas for the space and get feed back from them and you make changes if you need to. After that you set up a time where you can come start and you implement the design to the space and then come back later and maintain the design.
Now many factors go into designing a space for someone. First you must find out where your 4 directions are then where your wind and sun will come through to know where to plant what kind of crops. Then there are these things called zones which determine how far or close that your design elements will be from your base. You can have up to 5 zones which can work in both rural and urban areas. For example in a rural area you can have your house be in zone 1 then have maybe depending on where your driveway is be zone 2 then you have zone 3 & 4 and 5 might be the road.
Whats cool about this also is that even if you live in a little apartment you can still permaculture your space. Take the kitchen of the apartment and you add a worm bin and an aquaponics tank as well as a mushroom bin by the window. You can have bees by your window outside and be able to get honey directly from them as well as planting container gardens and have living walls or roofs. Also you can use your roof for rainwater catchment and for heating and purifying your water. Of course composting your food scraps in the kitchen is great and also you can have compost toilets or humanor toilets that you can also use for manor for the plants and using the greywater system as well.
The next thing we learned about was mapping. In every good design you must include a few maps like your base map, then a cleaner version of that and it must include a key, border, scall, tidal, date, location and coordinates which can take you a while to do so take your time with it and don’t rush the process.
After learning about the design process we started learning about the different elements starting with water. This is when “magic” and the elements came into play. Now Starhawk had a really great definition about what the word magic means in her eyes which “is shifting peoples consciousness at will.” I feel we learned a lot about this during our two weeks there. When we started to learn about water we learned a song called Born of Water which goes like this “Born of Water cleansing powerful, healing changing we are.”
During our water unit we learned about how water runs down hill and about how to build a swale and a pond. On our land that we were learning permaculture on and turning into a permi garden for Rowe to use, we build a swale by digging up some of the land in a downward facing slope. On Tuesday the 2nd, we had a full moon ritual in which we each got a pinch of black salt and each thought or said a thing that we personalty felt for the earth or its people then through it into the bowl filed with the waters of the world that people brought from all over. After that we took the water outside and let the moon shine into it and sang songs in honor of the moon. Another thing we did with water was build some bio-brew in which we incorporated the waters of the world from the moon ritual and even add a little more of our good vibes into the water as well as some molasses and a few other ingredients. For this brew we need the water to bubble so Starhawk bought a fish tank air pump from PetCo and let the brew go on for 48 hours. We then used the brew once it was ready in the seeds we planted.
Once we went up to the hill where our permi garden site is we started off by observing the site and seeing what is already there and what we invention for the space. There were a lot of really cool ideas of food forest to hanging benches to sound gardens and an alter out looking the water fall. The next time we were out there we learned about how to make an A-Frame to measure your scale of permanence. How you make a A-frame and use one is, you take 3 branches and put them in an A shape and then use string to tie them together. Then you use some string and a string to messure your middle point which once you move the A frame you wait till the string balances to the middle point that you marked off and then you have your point.
The next thing we learned about was social permaculture and urban permaculture which I will get into later. After that we learned about soil. Soil is comprised of sand-clay-selt which is comprised of N= Nitrogen; P= Phosphate & K= Potassium as well as Prokaryotes, Eukaryotes and Glyaln. We also learned about microorganisms you can use for sheet mulching like cardboard, leaves, weeds pulled up, then more leaves, then more cardboard then blankets. We also learned about what animals compost is best starting with rabbits and alpacas then cows then chickens and bats. Next topic was learning about the greywater system which is excess water from the washing machine, dish washer, sinks and showers which you can use to water your plants as long as it doesn’t touch the edible part. Now just in case you cant install a graywater system in your home you can always use a bucket in your shower while you heat your water up, put a bin in your sink which you put soap into to wash dishes and using the dishwasher saves the most water. You can also support different policy changes on behalf of greywater.
Filtering Water was what we learned about next and the various ways you can use them. One way is to get a big tank like deer park water bottle (but it has to be foggy) you would have in a water cooler and add some course gravel and sand up to about mid way. You then attach a bio-char next to it and let it sit on your roof for 24 hrs. then bringing it into your house and let it sit for 48 hrs and let it filter out. This method can take up to a month to filter out the gravel and sand. Another way to filter your water would be to use a UV filter which can be a little expensive. Lastly is the diy table top filter which you get two stainless steal pots with tops and drill a hole in the top and add a spicket and put them together. Then get some ceramic water filtering candles that you put 3 or more which will make the filter go faster in the top one and bottom one and then put charcoal in the top of the top pot with a little hole in the top pot. The table top option is the easiest.
Humanore came next in which we learned how to put together a humanore pile. You get a 5 gal bucket and add saw dust, peatmass, leaves, mould, quar and can add hey in the middle and this system will last you for up to a year. Now you must add air to mix but doesn’t require steering and if necessary add more fill material if not separating 1 & 2. Now in creating the actual toilet you can make a humanore toilet where you take a toilet seat and then build a box around it with a bucket under neath it this way there is no splash back. You can also add toilet paper, newspaper, office papers ect. to the mix. Also depending on your climate you might have to separate your number 1 & 2 as wet climates will require less pee and dry climates more pee. They also told us a good resources to look at about all things humanore is the Humanore Handbook. Starhawk also showed us some awesome ways of taking this system on the road by having a bicycle transported toilet where the the top part moves while the bottom section sits and composts. She said this comes in handy at protest when you don’t necessarily want to get up and leave your post to go to the bathroom.
We learned about plants guilds next. First the nitrogen fixers: vetch, clover, pea shrab, legumes, alfalfa, lupines, gami-elagnus, autumn, olive, Russian olive, alder, black locust, mesquite, acacia, mimosa, ailanthus, sea berry, ceonothus, soybeans, pea family, field peas, broom, hog peanuts Second the dynamic accumulators: comfrey, dandelion, thistle- artichoke- carbon, sunflower, burdock, yellowdock, rhubarb, daikon, parships, yarrow, nettles, mullein, jerasalem, artichoke, reddock, wild rocket, sorral. Third Pollnators-Insectaries: marigolds, agastache, buckwheat, elderberry, milkweed, clover, aster, nastartium, beebalm, cosmos, sunflower, echinaccea, lavender, thyme Fourth Apiacea: dill, fennel, ect. Fifth Asteracea: aattract beneficial bugs. Labiacea: mint, lemon balm Lady bugs: apiaced trap Covercrop: grows through out the winter; field peas. Trees: hickory, pecan, mulberry Shrubs: canebrake bamoo, yaupon holly, American Plum, lowbush, blueberry Vines: groundnut After that we learned about animal guilds with chickens and pigs and some reference material is Ch. 13 in the Designer’s Manuel by Sepp Holter.
Aquaculture came next where we learned about fish ponds then we learned some natural building and natural energy. With the natural building we learned how to make cob benches. You take clay, straw and crushed rocks then you mix it all together with water by stomping it with your feet until it gets smooth which means you might have to toss it back and forth a few times. Once it is smooth you take it over to your rocks you will make the bench with and you gently slap the cob on top and poke holes in it. Once you have it as high as you want it on top then you take water and spray it to make sure it gets smooth on top then the next day or two you come back and add some drier cob on top and wait a few days and done. We also learned about alternative energy sources like a rocket stove and a haybox which is like a crockpot as well as windpower, A.C. and D.C. inverters.
Now on the social learning of this class. So a few of the sections we learned about dealt with permaculture on a social level. First we talked about diversity and biodiversity. Now let me give you the demographics of this class it was 8 POCs (or POWs- People of Original Wisdom) and the rest where white or People of Palier. Of course the conversation become the POWs teaching the white folks about diversity and what it really means. They all put their heart and soul out there for people so they could learn this information. Starhawk through out the word alie a lot to start the conversation but that is a tricky word to say when talking about diversity. Now in our class there were mostly women who were queer, lesbians with a few men sprinkled and for the lesbians who were a little bit older it was hard for them to deal with race in the way they would feminism or the LGBTQ community because at the end of the day you might be able to deal with that but your still white outside of that issue. Out of this a few incidences happened with people in the class as well as with people who came or worked at Rowe which I think were real learning experiences for them all.
Then you had a guest speaker that Starhawk invited to speak on social economics Vicki Robbinson who about 20 years ago wrote a book called Your Money Your Life. This book being it was written 20 years ago and times having changed a whole lot plus the demographics of this group was lower to middle class with some upper class sprinkled in Vicki didn’t really reach her goal. She came and talked to us twice and the first time she was not prepared to talk to an audience like us and she even said that she was used to talking to people in nice hotels in Phoenix, AZ who basically have money. People in the class tried to come to her and tell her look you might not know this group well but here is some incite into all of this but even still when she came back to talk to us the second day she still didn’t get it. It was really hard to connect with her especially when she was trying to show us something about minimum wage and she spits out the minimum wage of Seattle which is like $15 and no one in that room could relate to that.
Another guest speaker that I personally didn’t find all that great about but was better then Vicki was a white lady who had taken an EAT program back in 2005 and then got hooked up with the Onondaga nation. Now she didn’t say anything too triggering but it still felt weird her being up there talking about First Nation things. The least she could have done was bring some one from the tribe with her. I will say I did learn a lot about the Onondaga nation’s history which was cool.
The last guest speaker she had come and talked was the best speaker of all. His name was Eric Toensmeier who came and spoke about many various topics like different plants to climate change to his book Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City.”
We also one day took a field trip to an incredible urban farm called Nuestras and to Eric’s home where we got to see his amazing garden set up. Nuestras was like a rural farm in an urban environment. It was located in Holyoke, MA where there is a big Puerto Rican population which are the people who farm there as well as people with special needs. They also have a few peacocks, a cow and a baby sheep. Coming from farms in their own countries the farmers there all know so much about growing. We also went down a little past this bridge to were you could see the river but sadly you can’t go into it because it was too polluted due to the paper mill near by. It was really an amazing set up. After we left there we went to Eric’s house where we ate lunch and took tours of his beautiful garden and saw his pond and chickens. He also had a really dope canopy which was done naturally with kiwi vines. It was a beautiful space.
During this time I met some incredible people at Rowe from Olivia Blu the budding fabulous folk singer/song writer/guitarist from Denver, CO to Mimi the fearless tattooed warrior from Portland, MA. From Khepe-Ra the beautiful Kemitic priestess with a big beautiful soul with so much love to give who is welling to speak her mind when she is passionate about something like The Fifth Sacred Thing to Mellisa and Nisha a couple who is welling to fight and teach through the ignorance. Mellisa plays a mean guitar and Nisha has the most beautiful voice coming from Toronto. Anahita my new Iranian friend who is quite like me but will speak her peace when she needs to be heard and Christi & Adamaah who I road up to MA with taught me new things everyday and Adamaah who was one of my roommates. Liz who Adamaah and I did a beautiful smudging and cleansing ceremony with during the Full Moon Ritual and who is also a beautiful poet.
Katie and Hannah the Earth bugs who could probably live in a pile of dirt and make awesome flower crowns and Amanda who lives in Bmore and does taro readings and is great for late night conversation. I also met Julia from Worcester, MA wh0 is so very passionate about many causes and Hannah from New Orleans who is a great alie and a wonderful person who cares a lot about her city. Narcise the funny and smart advit gardener and activist through and through from London, Ontario and Wanda from New York who always has the big ideas and wants to jump right into a project. Lori from Newfoundland who is just the nicest person and Alice who knows so much about herbs and tinctures. Kierra from DC is a hard worker, yet always cracking jokes and tells amazing stories and Amina who has a beautiful soul. We also had some classmates who brought there kids along like Safia and Chris which was a really beautiful experience for them and me. And of course to Aleya my big sister for hooking me up and inviting me to come along on this learning experience. And to all the amazing people who I met during this experience it was amazing to meet you.
Now of course these two weeks where not all learning but some fun times too. We had many bondfires while we where there and I think I went to everyone of them. We also took a few trips to the near by lake and went swimming during our lunch brakes. During the two weeks we did get one day off in which I went to the near by town Shelborne Falls with Aleya, Mellisa and Nisha and ate lunch and checked out the town which had a cute little charm to it. They have a space called the Bridge of Flowers which is basically just as the name says a bridge with flowers all around. Also that day off Olivia gave us a acoustic guitar show of some of the songs she had written for her album. She is super talented it was amazing.Then after the show we all went back to the Farmhouse and ate popcorn that Adamaah made. That was a great day.
We also on the day we took our field trip after it was over the people who where on my design project group went out to Northampton which is a very cute, cultured small city. I went with Christi to a few shops and then went back and went and had Moroccan food with Khepe-Ra, Anahita, Christi and Aleya. We then found a bike trail with benches and went and just hung out until the rest of our group came and we danced and hung out till like 8 or 9 when we finally made it back to Rowe we and then started a bonfire. That day was the best day and it was a lot of fun.
The last thing we did before closing out the program was our design projects. My teams design project was to imagine a rural space into an urban warehouse space. We each took one part of the warehouse and imagined it how we felt it should look. My rooms where the downstairs underneath the patio where I put an alter space next to a tool library and bike shop. I also worked on a library space and a workshop area. In our design we also had a greenhouse outside, a sacred space and healing room inside and the kitchen plus a kids play area permi garden among other things. I really liked my team and our project as we took this process of working together and made it work for us. We spent the first day of our meeting time just hanging out and having a good time getting to know each other and then the next day things just flowed naturally even the speed bumps.
On the last night we had what Starhawk calls our Passion Show where people came to perform their talents for us. We had some seriously talented people in our class from people who could write poetry to the singers to the guitar players to the storytellers and skit makers to Adamaah and Narcise the popcorn makers it was fun had by all. The next day was our closing out and certificate giving ceremony. We learned about how to get a job in Permaculture and what some next steps are. Then we all gathered outside and did our finale Spiral Dance and gave our certificates to each other. My group left shortly after saying our goodbyes bored a van and made our way to the airport where we picked up a rental car and headed home. My dad picked me up at 11 at BWI and we went home where I slept until 12:30 the next day.
This experience was a beautiful one that I will never forget and take what I learned and who I have met and cherish them and put them to good use.
So as Starhawk says: “May the circle be open then broken marry me, marry part, and marry meet again”
I hope you all enjoyed getting a glimpse of my journey the last two weeks and that you have learned as much as I have. Please check below for some pictures, links and videos from my trip.
Until Next Time Stay Wild!
Songs I Learned at Permi Camp:
“I am mother I am daughter too, put on my shoe take off my shoe and feel her, and feel her ahahaha”
“Born of Water cleansing powerful, healing changing we are”
“We are circle within a circle with no beginning and never ending”
“May the circle be open then broken marry me, marry part, and marry meet again”
“She changes everything she touches and everything she touches changes”
“I thank rivers for nurturing my body, I thank the fire for warming my bones and I thank the trees for the air that I breath, and I thank river for nurturing my soul”
“Midnight Owl hoot hoot, Fairy Dust (blow the fairy dust away), Thank you Earth for this food, You may eat”
Birthday Song: “Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday people dying everywhere, pain and suffering in the air Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday”
Prayers & Rituals:
Moon Ritual: take a bowl of water and some black salt and take a pinch of black salt and think of something you feel for the earth, moon and her people then put the salt in the water then take it outside and let the moon’s energy soak into it.
Put right hand in front and left hand behind and chant ankh
Clearing Aura by doing this exercise: take you and a partner and one person goes first and they think of an image then the other person sees how this image makes their aura feel and you do that to the other person as well. You can also do a chopping motion around their aura to get all the muck out as Starhawk says.
Grounding: Take a deep breath and imagine you are a tree with your roots planted firmly into the ground and you are feeling the earth beneath your feet. Then you are a tall tree whose branches are shooting out long and tall to the sky so you can feel the wind and the warmth from the sun. Take many deep breaths in between.
Rushelle Frazier: http://rushellefrazier.com/
UU Rowe Camp & Conference Center: http://rowecenter.org/