By Laura Ann B

On 8th of December 2017, over 50 young people from over 8 countries gathered in Cavagnola, Italy to take part in the first Youth in Permaculture project, in collaboration with Gaia Youth and supported by Erasmus plus funds. The Italian exchange was spearheaded by Monica Mano, and the week was designed and facilitated by dynamic and talented team leaders from each country. We all worked together to make this week a collaborative, fun and non-hierarchical project.  We got much more than we could have imagined, forging lifelong friendships, creating connections and sparking ideas. We left the exchange with an abundance of hope and excitement for the future of youth in permaculture. Activities included design work, utilising permaculture guilds, practical workshops, learning about sociocracy, exploring problems and solutions, sharing our cultures, connecting with nature and planning for our future.

What did we do?

Explored the design web process

Exploring the design web process enabled us to present our projects and ideas, and to visually situate our projects in different zones. Many people said they would visit other people’s homes and projects, continuing the theme of connection, and solidifying the endurance of Youth in Permaculture as a real shift in the permaculture movement.

We looked at the permaculture design process, considering Looby Macnamara’s (author of People and Permaculture) anchor points to help ground our designs. These anchor points included growth and integration – it felt as though we were really growing together as a team and individually throughout the whole week. The overriding aim of youth in permaculture is to integrate young people into permaculture, further offering hope, fresh ideas and dynamic perspectives. So, not only did we consider these anchor points in relation to our designs, we integrated them into our lives by planning our next steps in our permaculture guilds.

Utilised permaculture Guilds

The guild time was a big part of our week and really solidified all of our learning and growth together. Every evening we would split into our home countries, where we made space to discuss the day, check in with one another and air any concerns we had with the process. By the end of the week each country had a plan for the forthcoming years, which on the last day we presented to the rest of the group. This exercise really helped us to be productive and to plan beyond the exchange. I believe we will all see our ideas through and will continue to inspire and help each other along the way.

Explored problems and solutions

We brainstormed everything that is wrong in the world – from climate change, to plastic, to ill health, and then we broke off into smaller group to brainstorm solutions. This exercise felt quite bleak to begin with, as we touched on some scary stuff. However, when we shared our ideas and hopes for the future, everything felt lighter and more hopeful. The overriding sense of hope was felt quite profoundly across the week.

Learned practical permaculture

As well as learning about the design process, and planning for our own projects and our place within permaculture, we explored permaculture through practical workshops. We explored our energy consumption, social economies, upcycling, composting, and practised using reclaimed materials to create useful and cost-effective structures. We explored sociocracy, a method of communication that enables people to work together efficiently and effectively, and a practise integral to youth in permaculture, as it has been utilised within the founding group.

Shared our culture

Every night, after a full day, each country would present their homeland in unique and creative ways. This included dancing, singing, music, storytelling, games and the sharing of delicious food. This was a huge learning opportunity for us all, as it encouraged us to open our minds, consider inclusivity, increase our knowledge and challenge cultural stereotypes.

Connected with nature

As the week was jam-packed with learning and doing, we occasionally took time to recharge our batteries. We did this by creating nature art, exploring nature whilst discussing our hopes for ourselves and permaculture, and by meditating whilst overlooking the sun-drenched, snowy landscape from the balcony. At the end of the week we had a big party, topped-off with a beautiful fire – much merriment was had.

Planned for our future

This week was far more than just a group of young people hanging out. We created solid, doable designs for our place in the permaculture sphere and world, and will go on to teach and inspire people with what we have learned on this exchange. We left feeling energized, hopeful, empowered and ready to take on the problems the world faces – together. We will be sharing resources, creating opportunities and exchanges, equipping people with knowledge and skills, attending the European permaculture convergence, taking PDCs, running PDCs, and much more besides!