Permacultourism Interview with Brandon Bodhi Denton
Hey Brandon, before we get into the details of your work, tell me a bit about your journey. When did you discover permaculture, and what events led to your role as a respected permaculture design instructor?
· When I was studying Botany at the University of Texas in Austin, I became interested in Organic Gardening and began making my own gardens. During this time I traveled several times in Central America, volunteering at Organic Farms, and was first introduced to the ideas of Permaculture. When I graduated I began teaching Organic Gardening at a charter high-school in Central Texas called the Katherine Anne Porter School. While in this position, I was fortunate to take a Permaculture Design Course with Caroline Riley Carberry, and at the same time, began relaying the concepts and practices of Permaculture Design to my students. In the summer of 2012 I left this position to travel, volunteer and continue my study of Permaculture in Asia. My experiences during that six months really clarified to me why I am doing all of this, and helped to streamline my skills into actionable goals. This is when I first made connections with the projects/people in Nepal, Thailand, and Bali who I am now working with, to help establish and build Permaculture systems, and educational programs. When I returned to the US, I co-facilitated a PDC course along with Theron Beaudreau, Ashley Write, and Thomas Waymouth in California. At the same time I was in the process of creating the PermaculTourism Initiative, and Theron, Ashley, and Thom joined my team to help create the first PermaculTourism program in Nepal. In the last year and a half I’ve been focused on co-facilitating educational programs through the PermaculTourism Initiative and in other Permaculture Design (PDC) courses. I’m currently in Asia now co-teaching courses in Thailand and Nepal. I love it. There’s nothing else I’d rather be sharing with people.
The name of your project is called PermaculTourism. What exactly does that mean to you and where did you get this concept?
· The term PermaculTourism first came to my mind as I was driving a motorbike around Bali, visiting different projects and doing some design consultation in summer of 2012. I was observing just how destructive the influence of tourism has been on this place (amongst most other tourist destinations I’ve been). I thought, what if the influx of people into these areas could actually be utilized to benefit the land and communities, or even to repair some of the ecosystem damage which has come through modern development (in these cases, due to the influence of tourism). What is unique about permaculture design as a discipline is it’s focus on creating solutions to systemic problems for the benefit of ALL life within the system. In my experience, much of the “eco-tourism” operations you’ll find as a traveler are more focused on having an experience with the tiny bit of nature which is left, or the tiny bit of culture which is left, but often not doing anything to help regenerate the damage, or put solutions into action. So the idea of Permaculture based tourism came to mind, and the term “PermaculTourism” lit up in my mind like a light-bulb. The purpose of this Initiative is to create a replicable model for tourism which goes beyond sustainability, into “Regenerative-Tourism”, and to go beyond the “leave no trace” mission of eco-tourism to leave a beautiful trace through the practice of Permaculture. This idea of PermaculTourism then came to fruition through my connection with a few small mountain communities in Nepal, and has turned into a group service-learning adventure in the Himalayas which occurs every spring.
What types of events and courses do you host, and where in the world can your courses be found?
· I am co-facilitating Permaculture Design Courses (PDC’s) in various parts of the world now. In January I co-facilitated a PDC in Northern Thailand at a project called Kailash Akhara, along with teachers Ben Dunn, and Brian Newhouse. In March 1-14, I’m co-facilitating another PDC course in Nepal with Govinda Sharma, a well respected and experienced teacher in Nepal, at HASERA Organic Farm (www.organichasera.org). Then in April I’m hosting the 2nd Permaculture Adventure (PA) in Nepal. The PA model I’m developing is more of a practical immersion course than the PDC. It’s a great way to experience the local landscape and people, while getting the basic theory and mostly learning through practice. A Permaculture Adventure can be a great introduction to Permaculture as well as a continuing education opportunity for the already experienced Permaculturists. There will be more PDC and PA courses scheduled in Thailand, Nepal, USA, and potentially Bali. You can find out about upcoming courses through my website: WovenEarthDesign.com or through The PermaculTourism Initiative website: PermaculTourism.com
Describe your upcoming PermaculTourism Journey in April. Where is it being held, and what can participants expect?
· This years Permaculture Adventure in Nepal will take place April 1-18, 2015. We will all meet in Pokhara, Nepal, and then make our way into the Annapurna region of the Himalayas, trekking between a number of small villages, including Tatopani, Paudwar, Khopra, Kobang, Chhairo, and Marpha. Within these villages we will learn and serve alongside our community partners which includes Rainbow Organic Farm & Children’s Home, Prakriti Himal Permaculture Center, Shree Jana Adarsh Secondary School, and the Tibetan Community of Chhairo. An exiting new addition to this years itinerary is trekking through the village of Paudwar, where our participants will have the choice between four different hands-on skills workshops taught by local people. This year, these workshops will include: 1) bamboo weaving, 2) natural stone/timber building, 3) small-scale intensive farming, and 4) Traditional Nepali Cooking. Then from Paudwar, we will ascend to the remote village of Khopra to experience one of the best panoramic views of the Himalayas in Nepal. In Tatopani, we will continue to develop the Prakriti Himal (Nature Mountain) Permaculture Center, and soak in the hot-springs, which are known throughout Nepal for their therapeutic properties.. In Kobang, we will continue learning Permaculture through practice at the Shree Jana Adarsh school, and participants will have the opportunity to teach their newly gained skills to the students, ages 14-17. This Agriculture school, a pilot project of the Nepali Government, is the first of it’s kind to have allotted a “Permaculture Demonstration Area” where they are beginning to employ the methods, strategies, and techniques of Permaculture Design with the long-term goal of creating a model Permaculture system for their region. At the Tibetan refugee settlement of Chhairo, which was formed upon the Tibetans fleeing Tibet in 1959, we will get an introduction to Tibetan culture and spirituality, and learn about how their community is operated. This adventure is a unique opportunity to come into close relationship with the land and local people, in a way that is not usually accessible to tourists. Our team includes myself (Brandon Bodhi), Michael Smith, and our native Nepali guides, Bhupen Pun, and Buddhi Ratna Sherchan (the Apple-Father of Nepal). Last year we had 11 participants, and this year we expect to have between 10 and 15. More info on this adventure can be found at www.permacultourism.com/nepaladventure
What would you like to see permacultourism do this year? Any goals for 2015?
· Well, yes, there are a few goals on the horizon. Number one of course is having maximum regenerative impact in Nepal this April. Beyond that, I am currently in Bali this month (my 3rd visit in the last 3 years) looking at the potential of creating another Permaculture service-learning program, similar to the Permaculture Adventure in Nepal. It’s a bit too early to be announcing anything about this, but there is a great potential for this in Bali, and a great NEED to help steer Tourism in a different direction, from destructive to regenerative. Every day in Bali there are large, consumptive resorts and hotels being built on what used to be farm land or village. Then the tourists that come and stay see these glorious photographs of terraced rice fields and villages, and want to go on day trips to see what remains (what I call “cultural window shopping”). See something wrong with this picture? Tourism can actually support a sustainable lifestyle of the people if it’s shifted around a bit, and people can actually have the authentic experience they are looking for. Like I said earlier, Bali is where the idea of Permaculture-Tourism or Regenerative-Tourism first came to my mind. There is also the potential of creating such a program in Thailand, traveling between the many, already well established permaculture projects, learning from each of them, and lending our hands to help develop these sites further. There is so much potential for progress when people from different cultures come together with good intent, ready to share knowledge, and create. This is the purpose of The PermaculTourism Initiative. You can take the word “Tourism” out of the equation, and what it really comes down to is inter-cultural exchange of knowledge and skills for ecological and social regeneration/progress.
Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions Taylor. I’m grateful to be working alongside Project Nuevo Mundo, and co-creating a better world.