Permaculture at the yoga farm

It was one of the most amazing weeks of my life: the week I spent at an ashram learning permaculture, practicing yoga, and living fully in the moment. It was the formative event of my 20s that put me on the permaculturist’s path.

I’m not sure how I first encountered the life- and perspective-changing subject of permaculture, but my journey began sometime in the late summer of 2010. After devouring every book the local library had on the subject, I then wondered if I should take a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course. But wasn’t quite ready to dive in with both feet and take on the time commitment (most PDCs are a two-week on-site experience) or the financial commitment (the average PDC probably costs about $1,500 USD excluding room and board). And then the perfect opportunity arose.

In November 2010, Midwest Permaculture hosted their annual week-long PDC at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm in Grass Valley, CA. And for the first time, teachers Bill Wilson and Wayne Wiseman decided to host a second week at the yoga farm as a “Permaculture Work Week.” This week was open to the public as a way to receive some instruction and experience on-the-ground permaculture for little more cost than room and board (or in my case, camping) at the ashram.

We made swales. We made hot compost. We made sheet mulch. We made hügelkultur garden beds.  We tended the food forest in its infancy. We cooked quinoa in a solar oven. We jury rigged a rocket stove out of found materials (and cooked quinoa on that, too). All this while we lived (mostly) within the daily schedule of the ashram: awakening by bell ringer at 5:30 a.m. to attend morning satsang (meditation, chanting, and lecture), attending daily asana and pranayama practice, helping to prepare garden produce for the ashram’s two vegetarian meals a day, and performing karma yoga (selfless service) by helping clean up the kitchen and grounds.

Bill’s infectious passion for permaculture made the experience all the more fun, and reinforced my own budding enthusiasm. We weren’t very far into the work week before I decided that yes, I did want to go ahead with a full PDC and become a certified permaculturist. Bill told me he was working on putting together a way for students who attended one of these hands-on workshops to complete the full 72-hour curriculum of the PDC in three stages: the workshop being on-site, the other two stages by correspondence. He offered to let me be the guinea pig for the program. I would go on to finish the program when it was ready nearly two years later, and I received my Permaculture Design Certificate in September 2012.

I will fondly remember this week of practicing applied permaculture at the yoga farm for the rest of my life  – to this day I still find myself singing parts of the kirtan from morning satsang. The techniques I learned have stayed with me because of the hands-on nature of the training. The people I met were wonderful, the work felt right, and the ashram was the perfect setting for a personal – and in some ways spiritual – growth experience.