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Permaculture Design Course @ A Quinta da Lage
Finding my people and putting a name to my purpose
I have to assume the A Quinta team planned for our Permaculture Design Course (PDC) to start immediately after the Virgo Full Moon and Saturn’s entrance into Pisces and end just after the Aries New Moon & Spring Equinox as Pluto entered Aquarius. I’m too lazy to explain what this all means, but if you know you know. Basically, a new chapter—nay, volume—is starting (for myself, but also the collective), and after the PDC I feel I’m at least one step closer to understanding how my story will unfold.
What the heck is permaculture?
It’s okay, I didn’t really know either. I think I first encountered the term last year while browsing Italian properties for sale and found a listing for a “Permaculture Estate.” (I would link to it but I’m actually shocked that it’s still available and even though I think Portugal is where I might end up, I’m not ready to write off Italy and my Under The Tuscan Sun dreams just yet.) The description contained a link, which I clicked and briefly skimmed—enough to understand that permaculture was “good.” I bookmarked the 20-acre listing, but didn’t think much about permaculture after that.
A few months later, when I’d decided that I should go to Portugal, I started browsing options for WWOOFing. A few places described themselves as “regenerative” which I recalled was also “good”, having seen—and wept through—The Biggest Little Farm. I decided to Google “regenerative farm Portugal” and that’s how I discovered A Quinta da Lage. I went to their Instagram and saw that a guy I went to college with also followed them, which I took as a good sign. At first, I reached out about volunteering on the farm, but didn’t get a response. Undeterred, I signed up for their email list and continued to stalk their social media. A few weeks later, I received a mass email about their upcoming courses, which included a permaculture design certification and a natural building course. I still didn’t really know what permaculture meant, but the PDC sounded like it could be a good way for me to dip my toes into a variety of life skills (including natural building), so I emailed again. I eventually heard back, had my various questions answered, and paid a deposit for the PDC. (I’m nothing if not persistent!)
Ok… but what is permaculture???
It’s a lot of things! And it can mean different things to different people. But here were some answers that resonated with me:
It’s about observing nature to better work with it—and help it work better.
It’s a swiss army knife of indigenous land management practices, community governance, and modern sustainable technology.
It’s about regenerating landscapes—not just the physical ones, but internal and community landscapes as well.
It’s an ethics-based design approach to creating human settlements and embedding ourselves back in the food web.
Regardless of exact definition, permaculture is based on 1) Earthcare, 2) Peoplecare, and 3) Fair Share (which means redistributing surplus to other people or the planet once our needs are met). It spans land stewardship, built environment, finance and economics, education and culture, tools and technology, health and spiritual wellbeing, and community governance and land tenure. Basically, it’s a better way of approaching EVERYTHING!
The twelve principles of permaculture are:
Observe and interact
Catch and store energy
Use and value renewable resources
Obtain a yield
Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
Integrate rather than segregate
Use and value diversity
Design from patterns to details
Produce no waste
Use the edge and value the marginal
Creatively adapt and respond to change
Use small, slow solutions
My favorite part is that anyone can be a permaculturist! (Even you!) “You don’t have to be a farmer to take care of the land, and you don’t have to be a therapist to take care of people.” We can all do something. But I obviously like to do the most. :)
Fascinating! Inspiring! Transformative!
As an Econ and Communications major at the University of Michigan, I took “Bio 102: Practical Botany” my very last semester to fulfill a lingering Natural Science requirement. We learned to identify different conifers, that tomatoes are berries, and even how to make pickles! It was one of my favorite classes that I ever took, and I still rave about it to this day. My only regret is that I didn’t take it sooner, and I sometimes wonder how my trajectory might have changed if I had. In any case, Practical Botany planted a seed that would one day grow into the tree of me signing up for a PDC despite barely knowing what I was getting myself into—or how much I would love it.
Each day of the PDC was orange-marmalade-packed with a mix of “classroom” sessions and hands-on practical applications, broken up only by beautiful vegetarian meals and tea & pee breaks. I’m a high-achieving nerd, so I didn’t mind the hours of note-taking that happened most days. What did challenge me was my decision to rent a bunk bed versus a room, which made it hard to recharge my introvert batteries during our extremely limited free time. (After 6.5 years of living alone, I’ve recently swung to the opposite extreme of cohabitating with a variety of different people—which can be great, just as long as I can get adequate alone time to balance it out.)
After a week and a half of my favorite educational experience to date, we were tasked with applying the permaculture principles and practices to real parcels of land. As someone who has no land (yet!), I never intended to propose a design project. But throughout the course, I kept thinking about my mom’s desire to revive her long-neglected yard and realized this was the perfect opportunity to make sure she did it in the smartest way possible. Long story short, Marta now has a kickass, permaculture-approved design and implementation plan—not to mention one eager laborer to help make it happen. (For me, permaculture design feels like a big, satisfying puzzle, so let me know if any of you landowners want to brainstorm!)
Despite being a writer, it’s hard for me to articulate how much I enjoyed the PDC. It honestly makes me well up if I think too hard about it. To quote my latest Instagram post: “I got to spend 16 transformative days on a Portuguese farm with a worldwide collection of fellow hippie weirdos learning about #permaculture and realizing that there is indeed a word that succinctly encapsulates my various fixations on sustainability, compost, food coops, sourdough, thrifting, pickling, lotions & potions, puzzles, TCM, etc.” It made me realize that, in many ways, I was already a permaculturist! Prior to the PDC, I just thought I was an annoying little alien who made her own deodorant and researched municipal waste systems for fun. But now I know that I’m not alone, and I feel especially grateful to have found this community of like-minded people.
Our facilitators, Kyle & Lola, were absolutely amazing, and I highly recommend their courses to anyone interested! We learned A LOT about a variety of disciplines, and yet there are still so many resources and rabbit holes to dive into. To say that I am ravenous for more is an understatement. Even though there’s so much more to learn, I already feel incredibly inspired—and decently equipped—to disentangle myself from the soul-crushing matrix of capitalism and #growtherevolution!!
Living slowly! Being present! Decolonizing the mind!
A Quinta da Lage is a regenerative eco farm nestled in the rolling hills of southwestern Alentejo (or Teletubbyland, as Kyle liked to call it). It was the ideal place for a PDC because we were surrounded by examples of permaculture in practice. The food? Vegetarian, fresh from the garden. The showers? Heated by the sun! The toilets? Outdoor compost toilets. (The best part: no backsplash; the worst part: getting mosquito bites on your butt…) On the last night, we had a big community dinner, featuring a special treat of lamb that had been happily grazing in the pasture just a few days prior.
For 16 days, there was no cell service, and wifi was limited to the communal building where we had our meals. But that wasn’t even an issue because my attention was so focused on everything we were doing. Work and city life all felt sooo trivial compared to the self-sufficiency knowledge we were gaining. Who needs money when you can build your own house from clay and straw and grow your own food?!
As we said our see-ya-laters on the last morning, I worried about maintaining the fire that had been lit within me. Kyle & Lola encouraged us to seek out relevant projects/workshops/volunteer opportunities to harness this post-PDC energy, but I don’t have anything lined up yet. I still fear returning to “real life” will cause me to lose momentum; but it’s also motivating me to get my business in order so that it can fund my eventual land purchase and laidback homesteading lifestyle.
To keep my carbon footprint relatively low, I decided to max out my 90 days in Portugal all at once. At the risk of culture shock, I returned to Lisbon for a week and it was truly weird to be around so many people and buildings. (After two weeks of using a compost toilet, flushing felt bizarre—not to mention incredibly wasteful.) It only took a few days of hiding indoors and binging all the TV I’d missed before I was back in a love-hate relationship with all my screens. I’m now back at the Cascais Dream Home for one last week before I head westward across the Atlantic. (I only went to Lisbon because the Cascais house didn’t have availability for the full two weeks.)
April 7 - 27 | 3 weeks at Tulum Outsite (mainly because it was the cheapest option outside of Portugal that was close enough to my next stop)
April 27 - May 9 | NYC for—you guessed it—a dentist appointment! Plus a much-needed haircut and storage unit visit to swap out my wardrobe. Oh, and to see my friends :)
May 9 - ? | LA for family stuff + hopefully to implement some of Marta’s Permaculture Paradise
Summer and Fall are up in the air, but I do want to go back to Portugal in September for this Natural Building Course, and maybe to explore Spain while my mom is there in October. I’ve also decided to start looking into the Portuguese visa process because, at this point, I can’t think of any reason not to. That would require me to secure a 12-month lease somewhere, but I still haven’t determined where I’d like that to be.
Here’s hoping more answers reveal themselves sooner rather than later! TTFN.