It’s been awhile since my last post – my new position has made my life at the permaculture centre quite a bit busier. I can’t complain though, I’ve been enjoying the intellectual stimulation of taking on new roles in project and organizational management while still finding time to get outside and get my hands dirty.
While these past few weeks I’ve ended every day exhausted and wondering how to find a work/life balance when you live at your work, last Thursday provided me with yet another opportunity to reconfirm my belief in what I am doing here at the Centre (we’re trying to phase the “Nature’s Gift” part out of our name and start using the “Kusamala”, meaning to cherish or conserve in Chichewa, more – it’s been an uphill battle).
That day we piled 14 interns and staff into our Toyota truck and headed across town to visit the other permaculture site in Lilongwe, Never Ending Food. Stacia and Kristof Nordin, two former Peace Corps volunteer who came to Malawi in 1997 and decided not to leave, started building Never Ending Food in its current iteration in 2003. More than just an organization for promoting permaculture in Malawi, the site is based around the Nordin’s home and is a working demonstration of how permaculture principles can be applied at the household level to improve livelihoods and health.
The name they’ve chosen is no false boast – utilizing basic design principles such as intercropping, water management, plant guilds, permanent beds, and liberal use of perennial crops they have managed to create a household-based food production system that provides them with ample quantities of nutritious food year round with a minimal amount of labor.
It would be impossible to describe in one blog post all of the systems the Nordin’s have designed around their house (I’d recommend perusing their website) but the implications are clear. With a smart design and limited resources, any household in Malawi has the potential to eliminate the hunger season, improve the health of their family, and increase their income. All it takes is a bit of creativity, a basic understanding of sustainable agricultural practices, and a willingness to shift behaviors (therein lies the rub).
While changing behavior is incredibly difficult, it is not impossible, as we saw when we visited Biswick’s house – one of the Nordin’s most successful, motivated, and inspiring students and the Centre’s newest employee.
Living in a neighboring village, Biswick visited the Nordin’s for the first time as an early twenty-something year old. He was inspired by what he saw and decided to try some of what he had seen at his parent’s house.
Rather than sweeping the ground bare every morning, Biswick began piling leaves and other organic matter around the base of their fruit trees to feed nutrients into the soil. He planted climbing vegetables, such as chayote and air potato, to utilize the vertical space and provide diet diversity while at the same time planting root crops, such as sweet potatoes, around the trees to dig the soil for him. He also began thinking about water management and planted bananas and papayas behind his bathing shelter to catch the water coming out.
At the time many in his community considered him eccentric and his mother feared he would never get married. However now his family has enough food to share with their neighbors and others in the community have begun experimenting with some of the practices that Biswick pioneered.
While I was excited to see all of the amazing systems at the Nordin’s and anxious to figure out how we might apply some of the principles to our systems back at the Centre, it was visiting Biswick’s home that had the strongest impact on us all. Seeing all that he had accomplished gave me hope that permaculture does really have the potential to make a substantial impact at the household level.
This trip also convinced me that the staff at the Centre is our most important resource. It’s through them, though increasing their capacity to apply what they see at work, through helping them with their own permaculture systems at their houses, that we can actually make a lasting impact.
*Note: along with my flashlight, Nalgene bottle, running shorts, favorite necklace, leatherman, and a kitten, I lost my camera last week so these photos are courtesy of Oli Cripps, our accounting whiz volunteer (I did eventually find my leatherman and the kitten, unfortunately everything else is still missing).