More than a Permaculture Design Course: The Sustainable Living Course in Golden Bay, New Zealand
The Golden Bay Sustainable Living Course, or GBSLC, is an immersive course that has transformed someone’s life, mine, from being a life-long metropolitan to a confident rural homesteader today.
The nine modules were as important to the students’ experience as the synergies amongst peers and tutors. This was proven when we watched a couple transform from reserved and exhausted to passionate, full of direction, and happy. And it developed deep friendships that felt like family. Time and dedication makes this course truly stand out brightly against the backdrop of pop-up permaculture courses.
As a previous student, these stories exemplify for me the top three reasons that the Sustainable Living Course is far more transformative than a traditional permaculture design course.
1. Transformation by duration
Habits need time to form and without time you simply don’t change as much.
There’s a popular adage that estimates it takes one-month to create a new habit. Although not particularly well-backed, we can all agree that making new, lasting mental pathways takes some patience and discipline. Longer still, one needs to transform those new habits into independent thought; hence, the three-months allotted for a traditional semester in school. The course’s two-and-a-half months of instruction and focus really does access new ways of thinking in regards to nature, sustainability, and alternative methods. For many years, I read about how to use less plastic in various blogs. This simple topic subtly came about in every subject, and by three weeks in, I was substantially better at insisting against any single-use plastics. Although small, it’s clear that these small changes individually have a ripple effect on those around us and on our ecological footprint.
And our habits are ever important to our lives. No one states more starkly how often this is dismissed than Mary Oliver. "In the shapeliness of life, habit plays its sovereign role… Most people take action by habit in small things more often than in important things, for it’s the simple matters that get done readily, while the more somber and interesting, taking more effort and being more complex, often must wait for another day...
Thus, we could improve ourselves quite well by habit, by its judicious assistance, but it’s more likely that habits rule us.“
Mary Oliver, Long Life: Essays and Other Writings
Her words strike me as accurate, and in their truthful nature, intimidating. To overcome the habits and truly become the person we hope to be is a powerful life. To be choiceless in our habits, only mere projections of our cultural training is something of a deep personal fear to me.
Yet, we can always change our course in life. It’s of my opinion this is especially encouraged by immersion and focus, which necessitates time. Furthermore, theres an implication for positive atmosphere, an open-minded perspective, and community.
2. No matter who you are, you can learn how to live a more environmentally-sustainable lifestyle.
All ages, all heritages, all walks of life, all changed - the breadth of individuals who have attended the course is exceptional.
The most touching experience was one of personal nature. My partner, Ilya, has been a resident of Berlin, Germany for nearly 30 years. This booming metropolis is known to be alternative, and even totes the title of the Greenest City in Europe. As a life-long city-dweller, though, there is apparently an abundance of cultural teachings that one gains. To say the least, he was in for a culture shock by moving to the rural Golden Bay valley. Yet, the joy of a backyard full of vegetables made its mark. Now, happily living in an ever-more rural homestead in the U.S., he wouldn’t be caught buying new when something could be reused or remade. Most of all, he definitely wouldn’t do something like this without first experiencing the SLC.
I know this personal experience doesn’t stand alone in the trophy case of sustainable-converts. An elder couple, Clint & Petrina Bramley, shared with the class one of the most amazing perspective changes. In his gruff, thick New Zealand accent, Clint recounted with tearful joy how he changed.
“I remember the first time I showed up to the (Golden Bay Sustainable Living) gardens. I looked around at the fields and thought, ‘oh my gosh, these hippies! That looks like a mess!’"
"Now, I see it totally differently. Like the scales from my eyes have been removed.”
He shared this at the closing ceremony with the entire group of tutors and students. He then made a joke and brought laughter to everyone, then finishing with a Maori mantra of respect. This wasn’t the first time he shared his amazement. He once thanked Robina McCurdy for her thorough classes on topics like permaculture principles and native trees.
“We see these principles everywhere! Our car conversations would be silent before; now, every road bend offers a conversation. We start discussing how the overstories create microclimates for the understories, why this tree grows there. I see my homeland so much clearer than ever before.”
3. A strong connection with a community amplifies personal growth.
Introverted, isolated, shy, or unaware; the power of community will awaken anyone. During the 10 weeks of our course, friendships formed that ran deep like family. And of course, there was a lot of opening up between interactive learning, spending days-on-days in nature, and sharing intimate personal projects. The individual personal growth demanded us to bond.
And so amazing was watching the results of intimate sharing.
At the final personal project presentation, Sara Singer led a beautiful group meditation that left the entire room cooing. She featured none other than Clint Bramley, who shared with visual arts how much lighter and freer he felt as he continued his journey.
A local couple who attended workshops with the course recruited a younger French student to help them build their newly deepened homestead visions. Months later, she still remains with them, working and living like a family.
The word Sustainability has become over-branded and capitalized, like a bad sing-along radio advertisement that plays mental reruns. It is a buzz word and it is often only spoken theoretically.
Anyone who seriously values the quality existence of humanity on this planet and their relationship to all life forms surely knows that appropriate practices to foster sustainability needs to be implemented in all aspects of life. One means to begin this is through education, not just factual education, but one that inspires and guides participation to become part of the progressive solution. The collective of experiences at the Sustainable Living Course is more than a certification; it’s a different, deeper way of learning. The SLC team is not advertising a hip trend; they’re advocating for changed lives regardless of the time and money they sacrifice to make it happen. If you’re looking for personal change, consider the impacts of immersion and community. They’ve got what it takes to transform your perspective, maybe even your life.
[Fall 2019 GBSLC graduate, 24-years-old, new homesteader of a 5-acre property in beautiful, rural Southern Arizona.]
p.s. My first very-own garden is growing great, despite the heat. I use things I learned everyday to make my dreams grow. Sending so much gratitude to you all, SLC!