Reflections on a Tropical PDC

By Amber Lehrman, KPI Education Lead 

In October of last year, I was invited to help teach a PDC at Maya Mountain Research Farm (MMRF) in Belize this March. I happily accepted and traveled there for the first 2 weeks of March (what a time to leave the country!). It is hard to know where to start describing the almost other worldly experience of leaving the Kansas winter and traveling to a land of perpetual summer.

Maya Mountain Research Farm (Belize)

The first thing that struck me was the sheer variety of vegetation. There were palm trees, bananas, trees that look like something out of Dr. Suess and so many flowering plants whose names I never learned. The diversity of the ecosystem was rampant and abundant – every plant having its own niche in the forest. It was so beautiful.

Maya Mountain Research Farm (Belize) river hike

MMRF was a similarly amazing place. It was started in the early 1980’s by Chris Nesbitt. After he took a PDC around 1990, he started transitioning what was a citrus monocrop orchard into a permaculture food forest. The oldest sections of the forest are well into their 30’s and feel like a tropical rainforest despite being almost entirely food producing plants. The edges of the property are only now being planted, so by walking from one side to the other you get a time lapse view of the progress of the farm from early successional species to mature food forest.

Maya Mountain Research Farm (Belize) team

The PDC itself was wonderful. My co-instructors – Suzie Cahn from Ireland, Albert Bates from Tennessee and Chris Nesbitt – were all interesting and very experienced instructors. I have always said that the process of permaculture design doesn’t change, just the answers to the questions depend on where you are in the world. This experience solidified that for me. As we taught about succession and food forest design, we taught the same process as KPI teaches here in Kansas but the plants that do the different functions were very different. Permaculture design really does work everywhere!

My last take away from the PDC was around the universalness of the ethic of People Care. Belize is an incredibly diverse country for being so small (about the size of New Jersey). We had members of all 4 major ethnic groups in the PDC and the resulting conversations were rich and diverse. The hallmark of a PDC – acceptance of everyone and our differences – was more than present and in that safe space we had many deep and meaningful conversations about the challenges of working across cultures to change the way things are done now. It was so heartwarming to see students who were so shy at the start of the PDC open up and bond with their new permie community. As always, the hardest part was saying goodbye to everyone at the end of our 2 weeks together. Permie people are the best no matter where you are!

Team at Maya Mountain Research Farm (Belize)

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