Sunday, 5 May 2013

Happy International Permaculture Day

Today is International Permaculture Day, and the Greenhouse team are celebrating with a new blog post. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly Permaculture is, or if you’d like to learn about Permaculture practices and volunteering opportunities here in Malta, read on!

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is sometimes thought of as a method of farming, but it is in fact a holistic philosophy. Bill Molison, the founder of the Permaculture movement defines it as:
“The study of the design of those sustainable or enduring systems that support human society, both agricultural & intellectual, traditional & scientific, architectural, financial & legal. It is the study of integrated systems, for the purpose of better design & application of such systems.”

Permaculture was developed in Australia in the 1970s by Bill Molison and David Holmgreen. Mollison spent years studying the natural ecosystems of his vast native land and came to realise that organisms naturally form mutually beneficial communities when left to their own devices. Why, then, do we find it normal to grow food crops in monocultural decontextualized crop rows, resorting to ever more environmentally destructive ways to sustain this artificial situation?

Where conventional agriculture seeks to pit man against nature, to chauvinistically tame the natural environment and make it serve us to its own detriment, permaculture works with nature, “looking at systems in all their functions rather than asking only one yield of them.” (Mollison)

At its heart Permaculture describes a symbiotic relationship in which all elements in a system interact productively to supply each other’s needs. Permaculture principles can be implemented on any scale and in any context from Spanish ‘ecoaldeas’ to the rocky hills of Bahrija, or even at home with your family. 

Permaculture in Malta

You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that Permaculture has been embraced by several inspiring and forward-thinking Maltese individuals. Greenhouse Projects Manager Sarah and myself were fortunate enough to spend time on two very different dedicated Permaculture facilities here in Malta – Bahrija Oasis and Dar Frate Jacoba in Marsaskala. 

Bahrija Oasis

Peppi Gauci’s Bahrija Oasis is perhaps the best-known local instance of Permaculture farming. Peppi works tirelessly not only to cultivate his rocky land but also to educate the public about the benefits of Permaculture and sustainable living, working with enthusiastic volunteers from the community and even running formal courses in Permaculture practices. 

We spent two enjoyable days helping to build wicking beds, a Permaculture mainstay. In this system, crops are planted in repurposed containers layered with small rocks, cardboard, compost, soil and mulch. Water is poured through a pipe to gather around the stones at the bottom layer. The roots of the plants draw on the water, which does not evaporate as in conventional crop watering because it is kept underground. This is ideal in a place like Malta, where water is so scarce and precious.
lovely smiling faces 
working hard
(credit to Greta Muscat Azzoppardi for providing pictures of the girls)
the view from Bahrija Oasis
the finished Wicking Beds

Dar Frate Jacoba

Dar Frate Jacoba is a very different Permaculture project on the local scene. Run by Franciscan Friars, this small farm is principally concerned with helping vulnerable people on the fringes of Maltese society. Young people who are suffering from family and other social problems are referred by Apogg and benefit enormously from the therapeutic effects of working the farm and living in a balanced and compassionate environment.
fields at Dar Frate Jacoba

Fr Mark Ciantar showed us around his facility and thoughtfully answered all questions, showing great passion and knowledge. Admiring the impressive crops raised without use of pesticides, I asked how the community deals with pests. Fr Mark pointed out that what conventional agriculture may consider pests are actually a part of the natural ecosystem. When we destroy so-called pests, we destroy with them the systems plants need to survive. For me this really drove home the paradigm shift we need to make as a society in order to embrace less environmentally and personally destructive methods of food production. Conventional farmers lace our vegetables with poison and destroy ecosystems – who is the real pest in this scenario? 

After many years of hard work, the Dar Frate Jacoba farm is self-sufficient – the inhabitants no longer have to buy food from outside. However, the real success story is the invaluable opportunity for personal growth and character development that this facility offers to troubled youth.

livestock at Dar Frate Jacoba
Get involved

Bahrija Oasis are currently looking for volunteers to dedicate one weekend each month between May and October, starting 18-19 May. Volunteers will have the opportunity to learn about Permaculture and get hands-on experience developing systems such as aquaponics and wicking beds, not to mention spending time in the beautiful Maltese countryside enjoying the company of interesting and inspiring people. If this interests you, get in touch by contacting
You can also visit the Permaculture Malta website to learn more about other initiatives and courses:

If you would like to volunteer at Dar Frate Jacoba, contact or call 20995249. 
The Dar Frate Jacoba project is mostly supported by the tireless work of volunteers and public donations are crucial to its continued existence. If you’d like to offer material support, donations can be made to the following account numbers:
Banif: 50067181, BOV: 40021015953, HSBC: 049013642001, APS: 20000820511

By Felicity Goodwin, Greenhouse Malta

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