Permaculture at the Derbyshire Ecocentre Summer Fair

By Permaculture Ambassador and member Mike Hutchinson

Mike Hutchinson and Matt Rawlson sharing permaculture with attendees at Derbyshire Eco Centre Summer Fair!

"There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather." So said John Ruskin. Although I've always suspected that Ruskin made this observation from the comfort of a warm, dry drawing room, the idea does square nicely with permaculture ideas. And on the day of the Derbyshire Ecocentre’s Summer Fair, the weather was, well... different.

We had been allocated a plot, between a stall letting people experience dry stone walling and a young man who was a tree surgeon but who also made some really lovely products from green wood.

Once our gazebo was up and leaflets secured inside A4 plastic sleeves, we were all set up. The rain crept in around the edges but we soon forgot about it. My colleague for the day, Matt Rawlston, had made the short journey from Mansfield with a selection of tools he’d made, using old and discarded items. These included his magnificent ‘cargo’ bike; a long-wheelbase version with a flat wooden platform at the rear and a range of 'safety' axes.

Use and value renewable resources and services: new tools from old

Matt's collection of items, many finished in a bright yellow, drew people to the stand. The safety axes in particular, intrigued people and following quick demonstrations all agreed that they were a very good idea. (The axes are made by reducing the length of old bolsters, then sharpening the blade. The handle fits into a ready-made hole in a log. Chopping is essentially reversed, with wood placed onto the blade then tapped down with a hammer, thus keeping fingers nicely out of the way.)

Matt talks to attendees about his safety axes.

Describing how these once discarded tools had been given a new lease of life then led easily into a discussion of permaculture in a broader sense. Some visitors had heard of permaculture; others hadn't. Whatever the level of knowledge, we had some interesting conversations ranging from the ethical principles via no-till gardening, composting and soil structure to forest gardens.

Display with cargo bike, safety axes, three sisters pot and broadfork.

Although still in their early stages of growth, the trio of plants I'd taken along in a pot - corn, beans and squash - let us illustrate how applying permaculture design means we can get so much more out of the individual elements. Perhaps the 'three sisters' combination doesn't always work out as well in Britain as in the Americas, but it makes an interesting talking point. People really do get the idea of how permaculture design gives you increased resilience.

Example of the very fuel efficient jet stove.

The other aspect of my 'three sisters' was that they were in a 'wicking' pot. Okay, this wasn’t the best of days to show a pot that has a built in reservoir but the idea was easy to get across - and given the rainfall, I could demonstrate the drainage holes easily.

Matt had also brought two jet stoves with him that he'd made from recycled steel fence posts. Given the weather it would have been great to have had one lit, but for safety reasons this obviously wasn't possible. People were genuinely interested in the stoves and we were able to discuss their benefits, including how the spread of efficient rocket stoves in the Global South can improve people's health.

After the samba band stopped and the last visitors had left we took the gazebo down and packed everything away. Overall, it had been a good day, which seemed to pass quite quickly - always a good sign, I think. And despite the rain, which was now falling harder again, and despite its obvious effect on visitor numbers, we agreed that it had been successful.

A decent number of people had stopped to look at the stand and we'd been able to talk about permaculture. And had John Ruskin visited the Ecocentre on Saturday, I think he would have definitely stopped at the permaculture stand - whatever the weather.

Share the benefits of permaculture

If you, like Matt and Mike, would like to share the benefits of permaculture with your local community, find out how you can get involved here.

There are many ways of helping to spread the word about permaculture, whether it be by giving a gift membership to a friend, signing up to hear about opportunities via 'Ambassador Alerts', starting a local permaculture group, or writing a blog post about how you apply permaculture to your everyday life. We'd love to hear from you, so get in touch!