A tribute to Alpay Torgut

ALPAY TORGUT (died January 2020).

By Linda Philp

This is in memory of an amazing man who would not I think have called himself a “permie”, and yet he did so much for the permaculture world. Alpay had been living in West Wales for the past few years with his partner Claire and their daughter Isabelle, where he continued on his permaculture path. Others I am sure will have plenty to say about all the good stuff he managed to achieve in Wales, but I would like to remember him from our London days.

I am eternally grateful to Alpay and our mutual friend Rosemary, for introducing me to permaculture when I moved to London in 1991. I had previously been living and working as a gardener in Somerset and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of permaculture until I moved to the City!

Alpay and some friends had started a small organic gardening group called Naturewise and at that time was convening an Introductory permaculture weekend to be led by co-founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison himself! This would be followed by a full Permaculture Design course in North London – the first urban PDC held in London, I believe. It was led by Andy Langford and I was lucky enough to be a participant. After that I joined the team of volunteers helping Alpay with running subsequent courses, which were led by a variety of different teachers, including Patrick Whitefield (also now departed) and his partner Cathy.

He was also very interested in People Care, (which was Andy Langford’s main emphasis), and had himself studied many therapeutic practices. He liked to play the money game on the permaculture courses - where he asked people to put an amount of money into the centre of the circle, then to take out an amount that felt right to them. Some people were not happy with this game!

In terms of practical permaculture, Alpay will be remembered for the Forest Gardens he set up in North London. He even organised a Naturewise trip to Robert Hart’s Forest Garden in Shropshire so that we could learn from the pioneer of Forest Gardening. We brought back some of Robert’s methods in our work in the City. 

Alpay had this brilliant knack (sheer single-minded determination?) of being able to persuade local councils and schools to give him a piece of land which would otherwise have been just a patch of grass. He would acquire all the tools and the plants and a shed to store them in. Then, coordinate the work with either PDC students, volunteers or school children and their teachers, to create a beautiful and productive forest garden. In the middle of a housing estate, which was open to local residents or the school children, to walk through and pick the produce. I believe one or two of these sites still remain, although of course the area is much changed now. Later, Alpay was also involved with the London Permaculture group (at OrganicLea) and an allotment (Plot 21) they took on near Alexander Palace.

Alpay carried on the good work as soon as he moved to Wales, his latest venture being a 5-acre site on the edge of Cardigan, not to mention the Eco Shop, which funded the forest garden. His Naturewise website includes a recently published short film about his work.

Thank you, Alpay, for being a good friend and an inspiration to so many. I will always remember you with your (vegan!) dogs and your many visitors in your Housing Co-op flat in Crouch Hill, where I spent so many happy hours. As they said at your memorial in London, you sowed many seeds.