Whilst in Rome, and aside from our memorable time exploring the city, a few other significant things happened. I finished writing up the design for my fourth diploma project, I received a copy of Aranya’s new book – Permaculture Design and Nina and I got an invite from our host Angiola to spend some time at her place in the country. She has a 12 hectare property that has until recently been managed by a caretaker. It’s been owned by the family for over 100 years but sadly they are now selling it off, piece by piece, as the running costs and upkeep outweigh any income generated by it.
The idea of inviting us to stay is to provide some suggestions as to how Angiola and her siblings might use the land in the future with the focus being on how it might self sustain itself. So whilst on the lookout for my next diploma project and equipped with my new book we left Rome on the bus for some time in the country.
One of the skills outlined in my learning pathway as needing improvement is mapping. Aranya’s book is more of a technical guide to design than a permaculture overview so I decided I would systematically try the techniques suggested starting with surveying and assessing. It’s helpful to try new theories and explanations and the more I try the closer I come to finding my own preferred combination.
As with any new permaculture design the first task is to observe. Just to observe. To gather as much information together using all of our available senses. Nina and I spent our first days walking the property and making notes of any observations. We used two new tools taken straight from the book to make sure most areas are covered. PASTE – Plants, Animals, Structures, Tools and Events. We Made note of these in relation to how often they appeared using another model, this time DAFOR – Dominant, Abundant, Frequent, Occasional and Rare. It was a great way to record a lot of information in a very visual and easy to understand way.
I’m enjoying drawing and colouring at the moment – it must be too long in my life since I really got involved in some arty hands on work. The maps were the next task and one that I loved. Using the rough field map created, some photocopies and a window I complied a base map of the whole site plus an enlargement of the built up area, a sector analysis for both areas to show energies that flow through the property and a zone map to show the current zones as they are used. These maps provide me with an excellent visual representation of the property but there is more to every design than meets the eye.
Through more observation, some investigation and by interviewing Angiola herself I completed the next stage of the design cycle – understanding the boundaries. These can be seen as physical constraints but also invisible limitations. Some very interesting points were discovered including a no dig limit due to archeological findings and the fact that there was no budget. None.
This brings us on to the final part of surveying a new project – the resources. Here we looked at every kind of available resource. If there is no money available then what do we have by means of natural resources or knowledge for example? These are often resources that a client will overlook but things that could prove invaluable to the overall design.
Before we continue with the design process we met with Angiola to discuss our findings so far and to make sure that our thoughts along with her ideas were on the same track. At this stage we assess all of our information before we start with any actual design work. It became clear that one of the focuses of this project was that of the financial aspect more than what they should grow. Without full transparency of the income and outgoings it is very difficult to create a full design and so at this stage we have agreed to produce a video with some ideas of land use for Angiola to present to a meeting in September rather than a full permaculture design.
We have had a great two weeks here and learnt a great deal from observing the land and how Angiola and her family regard this asset. Who knows, perhaps the opportunity for a full design project will come but for now it’s just at the ideas stage.
We did spend spent days at the local village, Montagano, to get supplies and have the odd coffee or glass or beer, we spent days in the garden helping Michael Angelo and Maria Pia plant the famous local tomatoes, we did an 18km walk to Limosano village which had a spooky abandoned feel, we made elderflower cordial to share and feel very grateful for the opportunity to stay for free in the Italian countryside and practice some permaculture surveying techniques.