It’s supposed to be springtime here in Taiwan but I’m wearing a puffa jacket to ward off the 8-degree chilly wind. Climate change, they recon. After the Philippines, Taiwan feels like the arctic! Toto, my 17-year-old Taiwanese apprentice, is my guide on this training mission. We are off to Hualien, Taiwan’s second largest city to run 3 workshops for the Green Warrior group here.
The train is beautiful and clean compared to what I’ve experienced in other countries. Speeding through the green countryside it feels almost like an aircraft. It even has a stewardess of sorts! The mountainous terrain is mostly forested but I see its mainly secondary growth. Previous colonial regimes have caned a lot of Taiwan’s natural resources. Taiwan is an island nation that’s centre is rugged misty mountains with some flat spots around the coast. We pass right through some mountains via long dark tunnels. 3 hours later we arrive at our destination.
In Hualien I spend the first night in an accommodation block for Catholic priests. My room is comfortable and I see in the cupboard several empty bottles of scotch. Maybe the priests like to party here when they are away from their dioceses. I see a few ashtrays too so maybe the
God business is very stressful.
Celia and Yen, the diehard Green Warrior mentors of Taiwan, take me to their new field school just outside the main city. It was previously a huge nursery site and the owner died over 10 years ago leaving the nursery to become overgrown. Just over a hectare of land is covered in overgrown nursery stock with what seems like thousands of plastic pots interwoven into the vegetation and the soil.
It’s a hard-core job to cleanse the site of this plastic rubbish but this land has the same problem as a lot of land in Taiwan that has been polluted by the garbage left over from conventional agriculture. Yen and Celia show me the newly renovated warehouse, which is now a beautiful Zen-like classroom with modern kitchen and toilets.
Outside are a compost toilet, a tool shed and a shit load of plastic rubbish excavated from the land as they slowly claim back the soils for organic food production. I’m glad they have chosen such a site, as we must learn to repair this type of terrain and in fact repair the entire Earth eventually. It seems the best land for agriculture has been damaged the most.
The outside of the building has a large concrete apron and looks positively industrial. Yen and I butt our heads together to design the first 5-day hands-on workshop, which includes earth, bag construction. I see the classroom looks great on the inside so we must create the gardens around the outside to match. An idea forms in my mind and I visualize the gardens we can build in 5 day at the entrance to the school. A good hands-on trainer can design a project that teaches, makes something sustainable and leaves the students with a sense of pride. It can get tricky when you are in an overseas project with a different language and culture.
The ground is mostly gravel and stones. I sense the students wont like a workshop where they are forced to mine the ground for material to fill earth bags so we need a source of soil asap as the students arrive in the morning.
If you have flat ground and you need soil then its time to dig a pond. Soil from the pond site will easily supply the fill for the earth bags and gardens. We site a fishpond at the lower edge of the concrete apron so the run-off will fill the pond. A small 2-ton excavator arrives within the hour and very soon we have a huge pile of soil and a new hole that will need lining to make it into a pond. Yen and I go through the checklist of materials for the next day’s workshop, tools, earth bags, cement, sand and a vertical concrete mixer, which I’ve never seen before. Got everything, time for a beer!
The 25 students look eagre and I see a few old hands from previous master-training workshops. Koala, the best permaculture interpreter on the planet, is backing me up and his wife Ellen is also on board as interpreter. Getting the right interpreter really makes the course effective, as some concepts are difficult to explain in certain languages and cultures.
We always start our workshop with the African Clap, which is one, two, three CLAP!!! Everyone is switched on and ready to absorb the training. After the usual introduction we move out into the cool country air and mark out the first task.
At the front of the building in the car park is a lovely deciduous tree. Old disco lights and cables are nailed into the branches and I can see many scars from abuse including metal rods banged into its root structure. Poor thing! I decide this tree needs some love and a new role.
After the removal of the nails, disco lights and other tree trash we mark out a sitting area under the tree as I see once the leaves return in spring this tree will provide a great outdoor meeting space in the shade.
The students are divided up into several teams and begin their various tasks to complete today’s mission. Some are filling bags and others are transporting them 20 meters to the first site. Toto is leading a team to lay the bags and ram them flat with 2 rammers we had made yesterday. Thump, thump, thump goes the rammers as we lay the first curved walls around the base of the tree. Every time I yell an instruction, Koala has to relay it in Chinese. I run around like a sheepdog between the teams making sure everything is done correctly. Everyone has a role and I feel the first stirrings of the spirit of co-creation! Lots of laughing and talking as the rammers thump the bags. In the distance green steamy mountains rise up and I wonder what it was like here before colonization.
Multifunctionalism is one of my favourite permaculture principles so we build an icebox into the earth-bag seating so they can chill their beer on a hot day. I find an old stone counter top, which we use as the lid and it is hidden nicely in the earth coloured seating.
As the days slip by our teams build more gardens and plaster the bags with a simple mix of local sandy soil and cement. We tried all kinds of complicated blends initially until I did and experiment with the local soil. There is just the right mix of soil, sand and clay in the material dug up out of the pond site so in the mixer it goes with a few handfuls of coco peat fibre and viola! Earth-crete!
As the plaster teams slap the mix onto the bags the students trowel upwards to make it stick to the woven rice sacks. If the mix is too wet it just slides off. The trick is to get it just right and that means the “baby-shit stick test”. We slap a blob of the plaster onto our palm and turn our hand upside down. If the material stays on the hand for more than 20 seconds, it’s ready. The student’s laugh as Koala translates while I do the actions. We all know what baby shit sticks like in every culture.
On the final day we build the “Tower of Power”. This device is a simple apparatus to draw the earth’s paramagnetic energy up out of the ground and radiate positive life force into the surrounding area. Some people call this stuff geomancy and others call it bullshit. I’ve seen its effects first-hand so we are building one here to recharge this abused land.
Paramagnetic materials such as granite stones and volcanic rock dust are blended and used to fill a 4-meter plastic pipe of 100 mm diameter. A meter deep hole is dug and the pipe is inserted upright as the hole is filled with rocks and gravel to hold it in place. Further support is added with a herb spiral built around its base to a meter in height. Once the operation is complete the students gather around it in a circle and energize the structure with a group sound, like an ohm. Very esoteric!
The next day the energy at the site feels noticeable different. Maybe the tower is recharging the land and us. Some of the students have left but a wave of new students arrives for the esoteric gardening workshop. This is going to be interesting, as I’ve never run this type of workshop before. In my 26 years of permaculture I’ve worked with indigenous peoples from many countries, Sharman, phycics and gifted sensitive people. I’ve have learned many previously hidden secrets of nature and the plant kingdom. I decided its time to put it all together and give out the information in a formal course instead of weaving it into my normal permaculture training. This is going to be very interesting!
Meditation is the key to personal transformation and understanding the inter-dimensional world, the real world, as opposed to the 3-D box we currently exist in. I teach the students each day to turn off their “monkey-mind”, and commune with their higher selves. The “rainbow method” works best, where we use the colours of the rainbow one by one to go deeper into inner selves in search of our higher self. Each day the group try a different variation of this method and most of them get surprising results.
The 36 students learn all kinds of new ways to see the world we live in. Plants are alive and react to people communicating with them, especially in a loving way. As the course progresses the trainees become more sensitive and receptive the subtle emanations from plants and nature. I’m surprised by the quality of the people attending. It’s so wonderful teaching aware people! We even learn healing and energy transfer. Two people experience the powerful healing force of the group uniting their energies and focusing them to heal. The 2 people we use for our experiment show amazing results in a short time after we zap them with our energy.
The final workshop is hands-on for permaculture people who want new skills for their farms or gardens. After the heady spiritual training it is a bit of a drop to go back to the hard reality of fixing the land around the school. Yen and I decide on one last garden with a worm tower built into a herb spiral as the centrepiece to be constructed at the entrance to the classroom building. We name it the “Vermi-Cano or worm volcano. It seems spirals are in vogue on this set of workshops. The students get busy once again filling bags and laying a new wall on the roadside of the schoolhouse. It’s the western side of the concrete structure and it needs plants to keep the sun from baking the building.
I run around as usual tweaking all the activities and mentoring different students. All good until I see a fat guy pull up in a government building. He begins pointing and arguing with one of the students. I find out he is the local village chief and he is not happy with our earth bag wall on the actual road edge. Actually our lease of the land includes half the road as it’s built in the wrong place so I’m confident this guy is going to lose this argument. Celia and Yen join the loud discussion and even Jevon pulls up in his car and dives into the squabble. Four to one, I see this guy doesn’t stand a chance but it’s hard to tell what’s going on because the whole thing is in Chinese. Watching the body language is the way I read the situation and the fat guy is slowly backing up towards his car as the Green Warriors give him the good news. Sure enough he jumps aboard his vehicle and speeds off. We all smile at each other and Yen gives me the thumbs-up. Done deal!
The end of the last day finally arrives. Certificates are handed out and each student gets a photo of me with a cheesy grin shaking their hand. I hate this photo stuff so I ham it up to make it more fun. They love it. We do a final African Clap and then its group photo time. My face hurts from smiling too much!
Taiwan’s agricultural sector is changing rapidly. Farmers are mostly over 50 years old or older. Taiwanese farmers use a huge amount of government subsidized systemic chemicals and hybrid seeds. Organic farming is just beginning to make an impact. Leisure farms are the only sector of agriculture that is growing due to the massive tourist influx from Mainland China. There is a growing group of young people that want to leave the city and work on the land. They know the risks associated with chemicals. Permaculture appeals to these young Green Warriors. As permaculture takes hold in Taiwan the new Green Warriors will have to work out how to occupy the vacant land that was farmed by their ancestors, as well as decontaminate and revitalise it. Chinese investors have boosted the land prices out of the
reach of the average person. Our permaculture students are all working on the solutions to this challenge.
As China looks for solutions to its pollution and feeding its massive population they will eventually turn to permaculture or something similar. Taiwan is seen as “clean and green” by Chinese so it’s only natural Taiwan will be the training centre for China when it comes to Permaculture. I will continue to train the Taiwanese Green Warriors over the next few years until they have enough trainers and field schools to begin training Chinese permaculture teachers and designers. The strategy is to have Chinese speakers training the Chinese on how to use permaculture to create a truly sustainable China.