by Liz Hackney
I have a confession to make before I tell you all about how wonderful the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at Dancing Rabbit (DR) was. You see, all the DR visitor sessions for the year were full, and I felt urgent about seeing it all in person, so I signed up for the PDC course because there were open spots for me and my 27-year-old son.
I didn’t do the homework reading beforehand, I didn’t watch any of the recommended videos. My son and I traveled together to St. Louis the day before the course started and on the way we confessed to each other that we didn’t really know what we were getting into! So we had a marathon of watching permaculture videos in our hotel room the night before we got to DR.
And minutes into the first video, the part where the course is described as looking at the meaning of our lives, I felt that familiar tug on my heart that signals something important is taking place. I had wanted to visit DR to infuse my life with meaning and purpose, and lo and behold I had placed myself in a course that would do just that for nine straight days. I had no idea that permaculture as a subject had such a broad reach!
Permaculture still suffers a bit from what is meant by the term. The way that it is used in the DR PDC course is that permaculture is our relationship to water, sun, buildings, food, health and ourselves, in convergence with common sense, indigenous wisdom, and appropriate technology for greater food yields, for natural systems that are less work to maintain and that restore local environments. There are practices for catching and directing water on land, soil enrichment, and dealing with waste in all its different forms. There are also community concerns for equal access to healthy food, water, soil and air.
The teacher is Bill Wilson from Midwest Permaculture. He’s a down-to-earth man, but impossible to pigeonhole. Talkative, friendly, aware, and funny, he works his message into every moment of the course. And he’s driven, like anyone with a mission. And his mission is to change the world and inspire all of his students to take on that mission.
Sharon Bagatell is the Dancing Rabbit resident teacher and coordinator for the class, adding her well-grounded knowledge of DR and its ecological practices. She also taught a unit on the eight forms of capital in permaculture, such as intellectual, experiential (skills), financial, and living capital (natural resources). And true to its holistic approach, permaculture also includes social, spiritual, and cultural capital that a community can draw on for strength, prosperity and resilience.
The classroom was packed with 20 students, ranging in age from early twenties to early seventies. Even with the age range we connected quickly, fueled by video clips each day that had us teary-eyed, or inspired, by the many permaculture pioneers who have shaped how it is practiced today. We also got out of the classroom to see examples of what we were learning in practice at Dancing Rabbit, and got our hands dirty helping build a straw bale house, building a rocket stove, or digging swales and learning how to plot land contours using an A frame.
The Milkweed Mercantile, the bed and breakfast at DR, served us our generous and delicious meals, and we spent time hanging out in the cafe and on the wraparound porch, comparing life stories and talking about what it would be like to live at DR.
After dinner, we could take a swim in the pond, hike, visit some more, or stroll through the village, looking at the beautiful straw bale homes: no two alike, each one an expression of the owner’s needs and sense of aesthetics. The warm evenings were sultry with a cooling breeze, the ssshhhhh sound of cicadas and wind turbines in the background.
The hours in the classroom were packed with information and the days were long. I would say that I totally and completely underestimated this class and I feel grateful that I landed in such an amazing experience. I ended up with a binder full of information to savor after the course. There was also plenty of support from class information and the Midwest Permaculture website for anyone considering becoming a professional permaculture designer.
If you’d like to experience this course for yourself, check out the information on DR’s website.
Note: The early bird registration deadline for the 2017 PDC at Dancing Rabbit is April 1st — you can save $400 by registering soon!
Liz Hackney is an acupuncturist and therapeutic chef from Berkeley, California, and soon to be Dancing Rabbit’s newest resident.