The end of our first season at Applewood North

It’s the end of August, September is on the horizon and although we still hope for hot, sunny days they are now considered a bonus. Me and my family have completed our first season at Applewood North and it has been an extraordinary adventure. Over 50 people have sat around our hearth, and shared stories, songs, visions, laughter, inspiration, tools for change and delicious, nourishing food. Time for a bit of a review as well as taking down marquees and getting things ready for the next part of the adventure.

Looby, Jon Young and Pete McCowenround the fire

This season has been part of my pathway design that I completed at the beginning of the year. Although at the beginning there will still some big uncertainties. In particular we didn’t know that we were even going to look for a smallholding. In 2014 we had brought a piece of land, which we had started to develop into a permaculture learning and demonstration centre. My partner, Chris Evans and I had previously done a ‘land search’ design which was very successful in finding land – but we still hadn’t resolved where to live and houses near the land were very elusive. While doing my pathway design and other designs in my life, it became very apparent that the projected uncertainty, risk and timescale for getting planning permission was a fundamental base limit to most of my designs. With this recognition came the clarity that it needed solving a.s.a.p. We were incredibly fortunate in so many ways to find our new home in North Herefordshire so quickly, and for it to have enough infrastructure that we could begin courses immediately. And lucky it has been owned by people who had an interest and knowledge about permaculture, and has many mature and useful plantings and resources.

We moved in at the beginning of July and only a few days later we were joined with a pioneering group of 26 people ready to skill up to be Cultural Emergence leaders, with myself and Jon Young from the States.

Doing something so quickly has been an important lesson in just going for things. So many times in our lives we are held back by waiting for things to be ‘right’ – the right time, resources, support, level of confidence, anything can be seen as not quite ready or right. Two of the principles of Cultural Emergence can help free us from needing things to be right and gain momentum towards our goals; allowing for the possibility of the impossible and trusting the process. Everyday when I sat down to write People and Permaculture I had the quote from Tomas Caryle on my wall begin and the impossible will become possible. Sometimes we just need to begin and learn through doing.


What followed on the Cultural Emergence Leadership Training (CELT) was an extraordinary culture of co-operation, shared leadership, care, connection and emergence. Not everything was smooth but there was a commitment to being flexible, trusting the process, supporting everyone, being innovative and working with what we have. The times and ways that we needed to flex often provided the deeper learnings.

What is Cultural Emergence_

The next part of the Cultural Emergence adventure has begun with Cultural Emergence foundation courses happening across Europe this autumn by those that came on the training.  I too will be running one that brings together Cultural Emergence and the design web in Italy. The Cultural Emergence framework was a synthesis and evolution of my work and Jon’s. We consciously brought them together to see what could emerge, and we were looking outside of the space that both of them hold currently to co-create something that pulled our work forward. There are many stories, photos, poems, songs and drawings to share from our time together, and over the coming month the new leaders will be sharing daily on our Cultural Emergence facebook page. (If you aren’t on facebook then you can still see the stories via my facebook portal on my page)

Next came an introduction to permaculture course, which was a more intimate course allowing for deep conversations and debates to develop. One of my profound insights over the weekend was during a session on the ethics of permaculture. Sam asked about what the story is that we are living with the ethics of permaculture – is that we believe it possible to live in an abundant, connected, fair world where the ethics of Earthcare, Peoplecare and Fair shares are met? Or are they just an unattainable ideal? This related very well to a realization that I had had last year at the Social Permaculture course, when one of the limits for the growth and acceleration of social permaculture and permaculture was identified as the belief that about whether we can and will make the difference we want to see in the world. If this is the limit then in permaculture design we turn this around to become the function of the design. I have made a personal commitment to show the effectiveness of permaculture design through my own designs and supporting others in their design work.

Following this was the Empowering Women with Permaculture course with Maddy Harland. After Maddy’s first night here, she was sharing her feelings about the land and the story of the parliament of owls who called their stories through the night, Maddy felt they were calling ‘we are here and we are many’. Maddy described how she felt the land here as a sanctuary, a place for healing. This led us to reframing the earth-care ethic as not just about us caring for the earth, but allowing the earth to care for us. Wow what a potent reframe. (as I write this at 9.30 in the morning a owl calls to me!)

Applewood studio

Our journey with the group of women was nourishing and empowering. Right from the start we thought about our individual empowerment and the collective empowerment of women. We built a wood shed and shared experience with tools, and broke through limits of confidence. We explored patterns, danced, sung, painted, laughed, played, designed, stretched our edges, shared stories and rewrote stories of ourselves.


Each course and event has had it’s own culture, but a thread of culture has followed through. A culture of co-operation, giving, sharing, honouring each person, harvesting from the collective wisdom of the group and allowing the magic of place and people to come through.

I still have wonderful things coming with my pathway design this year. I am off to Italy to join the European Permaculture Convergence and run a course Designing our Cultural Emergence. And I am delighted that we will be sharing the venue with Rowe Morrow and her teacher training course. There will be rich synergies, cultural emergence in action and connections for being together. It is also a reassuring symmetry for me. Last August Chris and I co-taught with Rowe on a training of teachers course at our land. Then Rowe shared the Sustainability Centre with Robin Clayfield and myself. And then the conversations flowed about the Next Steps of Permaculture at the International Permaculture Convergence. I am grateful to be meeting some of my international collaborators and friends again.

When I come back from Italy I will be self-publishing a poetry book Strands of infinity. The poems have been whispering to me saying it is time to share them.

And then in November I will be running the third People and Permaculture Facilitator’s Training with Peter Cow. It was during this course last year that I formally began my pathway design, and I will in November begin the next cycle of reviewing, dreaming and designing.

One of the seeds from this season I want to take forward is the power of manifestation through design and action. The design brings belief and pragmatism together while allowing for emergence, flow and responding to life. Collaboration is a recurring theme in my designs, and I am going to take this seed forward as well and explore it more deeply within the next steps of my pathway design.

My pathway design mandala

It has been wonderful to already be able to plan many of the courses for next year so easily as we have our venue now. I am looking forward to running 2 PDC’s next year after not having run one at all for many years. Also in 2017 will be a training of teachers, forest gardening, Empowering women with permaculture, permaculture for development workers, and more Cultural Emergence courses. (Our facebook page)

I think over the coming years there will be even more expansion, scaling up, collaboration and emergence, and I am intrigued to know what is around the corner, and trust their are many blessings already on their way.

(photo credit 1st and 3rd photo Kathleen O’Hara Farren)

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