“Nothing less than a paradigm shift in agriculture is required” UN report

Developing and developed countries alike need a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a “green revolution” to a “truly ecological intensification” approach.

This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.

We need to see a move from a linear to a holistic approach in agricultural management, which recognizes that a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods, but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services (e.g. water, soil, landscape, energy, biodiversity, and recreation)
UNCTAD’s Trade and Environment Review 2013 (TER13) contends

(My emphasis) This is a global call up for permaculture and it is about time too. All over the World there is a huge groundswell of interest (and lack of funds for alternatives) in organic, diverse systems. Working with nature means copying its patterns, its chaos, its diversity. These kinds of practices tend to regenerate not just soils but the whole ecology surrounding and supporting productivity. Permaculture, holistic, bio-mimicry practices, often called agro-ecology also sequestrates carbon and builds stable and sustainable revenues from the land. Large corporate and global markets also need to be kept out of especially developing world subsistence food market. The economics had be right as well as the farming practices.

It is a very powerful report, I urge anyone with an understanding in food security to at least read the key abstracts and summaries. 

Cuba leads the way in sustainable agriculture


Click to hear the interview with Roberto Rerez

Here is Cuban permaculturalist and agro ecologist Roberto Perez talking about sustainable agriculture in Cuba.

Roberto was a main voice on the successful and powerful documentary ‘The Power of Community’

The Pen Dinas Garden, one year on

The community garden at Pen Dinas is now a year old. We spent a week of July last year running our first Community Garden Design course here to design the 2 1/2 acre space here. One year on and we are getting close to having all the main elements of that design in place. It is hugely exciting and gratifying to see it all coming into place.

The potential for urban and sub-urban growing is absolutely huge. Organic techniques mean we are only really using what are currently considered waste materials and we are constructing highly productive and nature friendly environments in the process. And of course we have made lots of new friends… regular volunteers, students, apprentices, art classes and more.

Support the development of community growing via our Crowdfunder campaign


Please support our Crowdfunder campaign

Together with Cwm Harry Skills and Training, Sector39 Permaculture, and Project Dirt we are launching our first Crowdfunder Campaign

We want to invest in key project volunteers and participants by funding places on our up and coming Permaculture Design Course, in October. We have set the target of £2,000 to raise, over the next 4 weeks. Small donations and lots of them is what we are asking for!

It’s a great new way we can spreads the benefit and learning from great projects like Get-Growing. Permaculture and urban growing is the fastest grass roots movement around the World, help us play a more active part in that process.


There is a regular art club group who meet on Wednesday’s to sketch and paint in the Pen Dinas garden.


Bees on lavender, a contribution from this week’s art club


The tool shed is carefully placed where community gardeners and site crew can most easily access them, It s also in shady place that isnt much use for growing.


The Hugl Kultur beds have disappeared under the marrow, pumpkins and courgettes

Some of the crop, the box was too heavy to lift!

Some of the crop, the box was too heavy to lift!


Some lovely brassicae plants growing in the community garden micro plots.


Permaculture principles number 2: Catch and Store Energy. Water is a vital energy!


The wildlife is loving the garden, this slow worm is helping regulate garden pests,


One of our own designed raised beds with a bean tower which we made on one of the crafts courses here.


A regular contributor to the garden in Sue Stickland, who will be running day long workshop on Seedsaving next month, click image for details.


Finally the 2 polytunnels are going back up, Dave, Tom and Crew have been working hard on this..


Some of the community micro plots… it never ceases to amaze me how much produce can come out of a small space.


Catch and Store Energy #2. We copmp[ost everything, and are taking on all of the grass clippings from the next door college as well. It makes an excellent compost when mixed with card and shredded paper waste


Catch and Store Energy # 3. This is the water for the micro plots.. any excess will be channelled to the wetland area at the end of the garden.

The frist stage of gettin gteh Roundhouser back up is almost complete, thanks to all the hard work by Dave T and Colin

The frist stage of getting the Roundhouser back up is almost complete, thanks to all the hard work by Dave T and Colin.

NHS Report on the imperatives and potentials of Urban Food Growing. Click to enlarge

NHS Report on the imperatives and potentials of Urban Food Growing. Click to enlarge.



Sustainable agriculture.. a visit to the Wakelyns

Every facet of the modern industrial economy is predicated upon cheap energy. Not only that but an expanding supply of cheap energy, to enable economic growth. A key facet of the economic growth paradigm is that we free the workforce from the chore of food production by creating vast surpluses via industrial mono-cultural food production systems. Agri business. There is of course a fundamental flaw in this system.. or several in fact.. that the energy supply can endlessly grow is an obvious weak point in the plan, and the thought that by replacing the complexity of biology with the simplicity of monoculture that we could actually build something sustainable using these methods. Agribusiness burns 10 times more energy in the form of fossil fuel than what it produces in food and it does it at the expense of diversity which turns out to be the key mechanism by which nature and evolution flourishes.

The Wakelyns, is no ordinary farm, it is one where they have been exploring the alternatives to monoculture, and more importantly they have been producing the data to back up most of the key premises in permaculture design. That diversity gives resilience, that feedback and natural selection allow plant populations to evolve and respond to a changing environment. So it was tremendously exciting to be invited there to speak on  the subject of Permaculture, agriculture and energy to help set the context for the vital research and experimentation they are doing there.

Wakelyns is no ordinary farm, as you can see in the picture below the narrow strips of horticultural land is protected by strips of agroforestry, in this case 2 rows of hazel trees each side, forming a living barrier to wind and pests, also providing habitat for beneficial birds and insects and contributing significantly to building an ecosystem rather than a constantly degrading agricultural system.

Wakelyns field trip.. 20 years of agroforestry research underlines the importance of biodiversity for long term sustainable farming methods

Wakelyns field trip.. 20 years of agroforestry research underlines the importance of biodiversity for long term sustainable farming methods

The fields are all trials of different aspects of working with biodiversity.. exploring the relationship between crop yields, nature and wildlife, soil stability resistance to disease and much more. Apart from anything else their work challenges the idea of ‘produce’ – we only usually measure the yield of a farm in terms of how many KG per acre.. rather than in terms of what we have produce sustainably, or what is the yield in terms of how much wildlife have we also supported, or top soil accumulated, which in the longer term are of course much more telling measures.


I am particularly fascinated by the work being done by the Elm Farm Research trust at Wakelyns as they are generating the data, the statistics ad research work that provides the evidence to support the core of the permaculture design theory. Sharing a platform with Dr Wolfe speaking a few weeks ago was very interesting as our talks almost cross referenced each other.. i provided all the bigger picture examples that he had the data and research to support. It is this academic rigor that in many ways has been the missing ingredient in permaculture.. we havent had the time or resources to do the hard research.. not least because first you have to build the farm or project before you can collect the data. This is very fruitful ground to be exploring, and of course the other dynamic is that permaculture is catching up as finally the academic work is being done as the subject matures and reaches ever wider appeal and involvement.

Emma Maxwell, lead horticulture tutor at Get-Growing visiting the Wakelyns organic rwsearch farm

Emma Maxwell, lead horticulture tutor at Get-Growing visiting the Wakelyns organic rwsearch farm

Emma Maxwell, above is an experienced RHS grower who is currently doing her MsC in Organic Horticulture at Schumacher college. SHe is moving moving between a world of research and scientific papers whilst bringing a huge body of practical and observed first hand experiences to the academic world. The edge between bological and horticultural research and small holding and community growing and as well as urban and guerrilla permaculture is a very interesting and potentially fruitful one.

Martin Woolfe, outstanding in his field.

Martin Wolfe, outstanding in his field.

Potato intercrop at the Wakelyns

Potato intercrop at the Wakelyns

Permaculture at Pen Dinas

Permaculture is a design system that mimics the patterns of nature to create diverse and sustainable landscapes. We hold regular courses which follow an internationally recognised curriculum, the full design course is 2 weeks of intensive study incorporating a mix of theory, practicals, site visits, slides and video. On our recent 2 week residential course we were based at Treflach Farm in Shropshire with site visits to Pen Dinas, the Welsh Spring Fair, A local housing coop, a mill and undeveloped site near Caersws as well as the Garth Community Garden at Glynceiriog


These forest garden beds have been mulched with composted grass clippings to kill off the grass and support the trees. This is a typical permaculture technique

The group came to Pen Dinas here in Newtown for horticulture practicals where they mixed with members from another course we are running from here already. It is always good to get a wide mix of people and this Spring’s course attracted individuals (lready in the UK) from Argentina, Portugal, Cyprus and Tunisia as well folk from Wales and England. Look at www.permaculturedesigncourse.co.uk for more info on up and coming courses
Here is a study group looking at the raised beds here at Pen Dinas where we have been trialing different growing methods.

Forest garden, planted in 2009 at Llanfyllin Workhouse as part of a permaculture design course

Forest garden, planted in 2009 at Llanfyllin Workhouse as part of a permaculture design course

Permaculture courses always involve practicals… and on a previous course we planted this forest garden (above) which is starting to mature nicely. It is mixture of canopy and under-story fruit trees, along with fruiting shrubs and herbaceous plants and will yield lots of fruit with a minimum of maintenance required.

April in the garden and a late spring

Pear leaves unfurl

Pear leaves unfurl

It is always a special and wonderful moment when the trees first break bud and the young leaves emerge.. signalling a new season. Especially when it happens rather late like it has this year.. having being plunged back into deep winter for three weeks with that late March snowfall.

We have been busy all winter getting the garden established, so in some ways the late spring has given a couple of extra weeks of getting ready for the growing season to be fully upon us.

Plants for sale

Plants for sale

We have been busy propagating plants and we have a selection for sale from the Newtown garden. They are quality plants from organic seeds, mainly peas and broad beans at the moment as well as salad, with more coming.

Dave with the rotavator

Dave busy with the rotovator

No dig gardening
We are keen to develop a minimal tillage growing system and also want to minimise the use of fossil fuel powered machines but when it comes to establishing a new garden and breaking through long term pasture then there are not many options. We have had the ground covered for as long as we could manage to knock back the grass but it would probably have to be covered for the whole season to get it clear and we are of course impatient to press ahead and plant. It has turned out be quite a challenge, the first machine we rented simply wasn’t up the job, the ground was too heavy, compacted and wet for the machine to et through it so we had to go up a size to a mini tractor sized rotovator. Finally we have gone over it all again, with the machine pictured and with the soil having dried out a bit as well is breaking up into a finer tilth.. much more useful for what we need.

If we maintain this well, and keep it covered when not in use we should not have to plough it up again… hopefully this will give us the head start we need to get on top of and and develop our no dig system.



Of course we have also built three Huglkultur beds.. inspired by the work of Sepp Holzer and these we have covered with permeable garden fabric, which will kill off the grasses whilst allowing moisture to penetrate. The plan for these beds is to plant through holes in the fabric with strong plants like pumpkin, courgette and squash.. which again will help establish a veg growing system and suppress grasses and weeds. it is a big experiment for us, these beds but many others who have tried this method are reporting successes, so although it has been a lot of work to establish them it should be well worth it in the long run.
Here s a very healthy looking asparagus plant.. this crown was grown from seed a year ago and is now ready for planting ou in a dedicated bed where it should produce regularly for 10 years or more. Again this is something that takes a lot of work to establish.. but should be well worth the work in the long run.

Clay oven

Clay oven

This picture is from another project where I was working at the weekend, it a fabulous clay oven which works by thermal mass and clever design to get a roaring fire inside to heat it all up. We are planning to build something similar to this at Pen Dinas.. and we are already dreaming of pizza parties and the like.. enjoying some of our produce. There will be a course and opportunities to join in when we make this… so keep a look out for announcements.

Permaculture Design Group

Graduates from our latest Permaculture Design Course, held over 6 weekends at Underhill farm, Llanymynech.

Permaculture Design is a system you can expect to hear more and more about in the future. It is a design system modelled from nature that enables the development of sustainable, resilient and nature friendly systems. It applies to gardens, homes, businesses, pretty much anything as it is the study of interrelationships and systems.

Those with an enthusiasm to study it are encouraged to take the 2 week Permaculture Design Course.. this covers an internationally recognised curriculum and visit sites working with those principles and brings yo into contact with other people with similar interests and convictions. Sector39 are a group of people who have delivered 20 of these specialist and inspirational courses and they are now coming to be part of the Cwm Harry organisation and are offering training, talks and introductions into this area. More details to come.. but anyone who would like to know more should visit the Sector39 website.

Combatting climate change with Carbon Farming

Has anyone noticed the unseasonable weather? We had three feet of snow in Llanrhaeadr in late March this year and nearly 2 weeks later it sill lies thick on the ground. You don’t need me to tell you how much of a disaster this has been for farmers and growers, these random weather patterns and wet/ dry warm/ cold extremes are creating havoc and making planning almost impossible. Needless to say this is exactly what has been predicted we can expect as a result of our changing climate.. caused by releasing billions of tonnes of stored carbon from the ground back into the air each year. This extra trapped warmth is causing a more energised weather system, which is the root cause of these weather events. As the temperature differential between the equator and poles changes, due to this warming effect this in turn is affecting the jet stream and other high thermal currents of air, which in turn is shifting weather patterns.

So what can be done, how can we as gardeners protect ourselves form these extremes and what responses can we be encouraging to at least begin to challenge the problem at source? Well of course the key response is that we simply have to stop pumping so much carbon into the air, we need a rapid shift in energy use and a major disinvestment in the oil coal and gas industries. this being the major focus of 350.org’s divest in oil campaign.

The key to solving this, aside from a rapid shift to low carbon and renewable energy is going to be to learn how to take CO2 from the atmosphere and get it back into the soil. where it belongs. Something that is not so well understood is just how much of the climate damaging carbon in the atmosphere has come from soil carbon, oxidised as a result of soils being ploughed up and the original vegetation being removed. It is this soil carbon that is going to be a key component to addressing the problem.

carbon effect

There seems to be a huge scope from encouraging a change in the pattern of land use to make carbon sequestration the key objective in conjunction to yields of food. There is a massive potential to put carbon back into the soil in a stable long term form that in turn will have many other benefits.

Soils with a high carbon content – this can be in the form of humus  compost/ biochar etc are less prone to erosion and have much improved soil structure. This means there are more air spaces which allows water to be absorbed much more effectively which in turn mean there is a much more soil life in the form of microbes and fungi which makes it much more fertile. It is the soil biodiversity of micro flora and fauna that holds nutrients in place, prevents them from leaching out and keeps them available for plants. Healthy soils of course mean healthy plants, which means happy farmers – so it is a win win situation. It seems that much more thought needs to go into realising the massive potential of storing very much more carbon in soils and to use plants to put it there.. further studies also are showing that correct use of livestock for grazing and the application of their manure to the soil is also an effective way to build up a carbon bank in the soil. These are the kind of strategies which we can expect to be our front line of defence in combating climate change.. healthy soils will produce healthy plants which will be better prepared to resist the stresses put upon them by our unsettled weather, but more importantly we will be building strategies and process which will return carbon the soil in a long term stable form in an on going process that will allow us to reduce the amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Changes in farm incentives, land use, much more community gardening and many other strategies will be required to make the changes required.. but it will start with having a clear plan and strategy in mind which is what makes this kind of understanding essential in  finding a viable way forward.

Permaculture design in Mid Wales

Permaculture is a global phenomenon. It is the fastest growing and most dynamic grass roots movement around the World. It is a bottom up development philosophy which focuses on empowering the individual to create change from the self outwards. Permaculture challenges us to observe and interact.. to actively observe the living planet and understand how it works and to accept that we are part of it, not apart from it and try and harmonise with its patterns and processes. The natural world is one of infinite bounty and possibilities.. and our current view of chopping it all down and turning into consumer durables is a very limited interpretation of what is possible.
pc 1

Permaculture One was a seminal book, one that literally started a revolution.. albeit a quiet, organic revolution. One that has been spreading its mycelium like tentacles under ground for the last 35 years.. joining together a growing body of people interested in finding sustainable and ethical ways to challenge and resolve the pressing problems of the era.

Climate Change, Peak Oil, economic turmoil, de-forestation, biodiversity, racism, gender inequality, the disconnect between the world of work and one’s own conscience and ethics. It all boils down to relationships and choices. .. seeing the problem or the solution, seeing the planet as a pile of resources ready to be exploited or a living natural system that we can harmonize with. Permaculture teaches us to value life in all its forms and to learn how to build a productive partnership with those processes that perpetuate nature.

The Permaculture Design Course (PDC) is a 72 hour curriculum that lays a foundation of understanding of how we can work together to build a society harmonious with the energy and requirements of the natural world. To discover abundance instead of scarcity, new possibilities beyond physical limitations.

Sector39 are a partnership of permaculture teachers, crafts workers, gardeners and horticulturalists working for sustainable world  built of social equity, cooperation and an active observation of natural organic principles. The Sector39 teaching partnership have been invited to become part of the Cwm Harry & Get-Growing family of enterprises working to create working solutions and responses to the challenges of the sustainability transition

PDC-advert-1 We are busy developing a series of courses for 2013 in a range of settings and with a slightly different target audience for each one.

A design course usually means 72 hours of study, camping or staying on a farm and enjoying a mixture of the Welsh countryside, theory sessions, practicals site visits and demonstrations. For many people it is a turning point in their lives, giving them the knowledge, tools and convictions to turn their aspirations in practice and to become part of that network of people working for change.

Permaculture is the study of natural systems and the application of that insight as a design system

Permaculture is the study of natural systems and the application of that insight as a design system

There are 2 week courses in May and October this year.. the May one is  farm based, and the October one is aimed at pioneers, project workers, key volunteers and activists working in the area of community growing, transition etc.. More of that later.. but we are working with The National Botanic Gardens of Wales to be able to offer 10 subsidised places for community activists and growers.


We will also be offering a summer special.. camping and activity based experience for families.. whereby there is an activity camp and learning by doing activity with a parallel PDC running for those who want to cover the whole syllabus. \more of this here. The fourth PDC of offer this year is based on a 40 acre small holding an we will using this as a focus for the design practical as we try to get to grips with the holding and find ways and opportunities we can use permaculture design to make a more productive, low maintenance and nature friendly environment.

Booking and more info here.
Permaculture Design Course

Get-Growing gets busy

February is a key month for gardening.. preparing the soil, sharpening tools, getting ready for the coming growing season.  We have been propagating our perennial plants, grafting fruit trees, making paths, training our crew, planning courses and events and meeting with partners and funders. A hugely busy and exciting time of year.. here are a few pictures giving insight into some of what has been going on at the project.


View of the Get-Growing organic garden Feb 2012

permaculture revolution

Permaculture is the fastest growing grass roots movement in the world, its simple philosophy of working with nature challenges the very foundations of current behaviour. Many of our ideas are informed by Permaculture design.


Globalised production systems means there is no longer any accountability or traceability in the most important and fundamental of things.. food


Two of our project team, here on work experience and apprenticeship and learning how to grow


Work on the main path to the community micro allotment area


Project member Richard tends the fire at the centre of the garden


Fruit tree grafting workshop.. it is actually possible to graft the wood from several different trees onto a rootstock


As part of our grafting workshop, one of our regular Get-Growing courses we practised with cutting of dogwood to learn the various techniques required


Fruit trees are made by grafting Scion wood onto a chosen root.. you can see the scar and healed up area where the new wood has established and grown


I am fascinated by mycelium, that part of the fungus organism we don’t see… it creates a massive amount of surface area by branching and it exudes enzymes to digest its food


Another view of mycelium.. in the tree of life, our closest relative is fungus.. like us it breathes in oxygen and out CO2 and was possibly the first organism to live on land


This pic is for Matti, I am hugely pleased and proud to be see our Newtown made raised beds at the community growing project in Liverpool, made by our apprentices they are helping people grow in other locations

First draft of an advert for our raised beds

First draft of an advert for our raised beds, being made by the project apprentices as part of our community entrerprise project


Climate change is here, it is a real and present danger and we need to learn how to rapidly respond to this challenge


Permaculture founder Bill Mollison has an uncanny knack of putting his finger right on the pulse… the solutions to our problems are simple. we just have to do it!

Permaculture is the study of natural systems and the application of that insight as a design system

Permaculture is the study of natural systems and the application of that insight as a design system


Jean Pain compost system

Jean Pain was a French forester who has revealed the power of wood chip compost to produce heat and methane as a sustainable energy source. The underbrush from woodland, which is routinely cleared as a potential fire hazard in hotter drier places, when chipped is an excellent energy source. Pain calculates that he can get at least 10% more heat by composting the wood-chip than by burning it, whilst getting a biogas yield as well as a excellent soil improver/ compost residue which he can grow food with. His giant compost heap produced usable heat for 18 months as well as yielding a large quantity of usable compost!

(There is a part 2 to the video. The link will appear in the video window, top left at end of part 1)

Communities across Wales are Getting-Growing

Big thanks to the Garth community garden in Glynceiriog for inviting me up there last weekend to participate in their training weekend. Established back in 2008 this striking and productive garden was founded on a steep slope above the village,a piece of land that noone else could see the potential in, until local resident Jude Wright came along and spotted the potential of the overgrown gorse covered plot.

Project participants discuss the importance of the role of community gardens like this, as part of their 2 day permaculture training

With each year of cultivation the soils are building in complexity and fertility as well as the man beneficial organisms that live in partnership with the garden. No slug problems here.. with slow worms and grass snakes potential pests soon become food and therefore supporting the beneficial organisms further. The steep slope has also challeneged the gardeners to grow most of their nutrients on site, as carrying in farm yard manure is simply too strenuous.. and being off grid has challenged them to be very water efficient and to harvest rainwater from a barn roof above the garden where it can be usefully channeled onto the beds.

Careful observation of the site and its potentials, a sensitive design, based on permaculture principles and continued hard work from a growing network of volunteers has served to develop this site as surely one of the most spectacular community gardens in Wales and to serve as a positive example and inspiration of what is possible to people everywhere.

Permaculture design study group, Garth community Garden, September 2012

Here in Newtown at the Get-Growing project we are busy getting ready to start on our garden, which we have recently had to move from the Vastre estate to the Newtown Coleg Powys campus. We are open to volunteers, visitors, participants, students.. anyone who wants to help develop a site that Newtown can be proud of and can serve as an inspiration to people across the UK.

Why do we need local growing and to create examples? Well the bigger picture for the global economy, coupled with climate change and resource depletion means that we desperately need to be exploring alternatives to the current system, which is looking increasingly exposed to rising energy costs and the need to move away from fossil fuel based economic system. Here is a short video which illustrates these challenges in a clear way… please join us at Get-Growing and help us be an effective part of the solution to these enormous challenges we are facing.

The next permaculture weekend for anyone interested n finding out more will be held in Llanymynech on the last weekend of September. It will part part of a 6 module over 6 month course in Permaculture design, people are welcome to book and attend simply those weekends which interest them, or to complete the whole course. Permaculture Design is an internationally recognised, certificated course is applies sustainability and it focus on putting into practice our concerns and aspirations for a more sustainable World.