National Guard Learns Permaculture Skills to Take to Afghanistan

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Northern New Mexico, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and Afghanistan all share the same type of unique ecosystem, that in turn gives rise to particular land cultivation traditions, types of plants and animals, and cultural approaches to natural resource management.  This is why Oklahoma National Guard selected New Mexico as their training ground for their Agricultural Development Team (ADT) deploying to Afghanistan in the Fall of 2010. In addition, ADT leadership determined that permaculture with its diverse range of topics and its holistic approach to design was a good match for the needs of their mission.

Permaculture Institute, with its 20+ years of experience of teaching and practicing permaculture in this bioregion, created a special, and practical permaculture intensive training to meet ADT needs. A team of instructors, farmers, landscape ecologists, orchardists, beekeepers and permaculture practitioners was called to action. A dynamic and informative 15-day course had information that was very broad and deep in the areas required by the Guard.

The training included a five-day introduction to methods and
approaches of permaculture design, ethics, methodology, pattern understanding, reading of the landscape and landscape ecology. This was followed by a ten-day intensive hands-on training using the permaculture tool kit (see topics listed below). National Guardsmen participated in farm chores, harnessed draft animals, plowed fields, turned compost, harvested chickens, made goat cheese after milking a 15-goat herd, opened bee hives and much more. They also received formal classroom instruction and a long list of resources to take along (see side bar).

We didn’t expect the Guardsmen attending the class to retain all the information thrown at them but hoped that at the end of the course they would have a very strong background in the field of sustainability for their projects in Afghanistan.  It was an honor to work with these 10 men and 4 women who show such dedication to their mission to help the villagers of Afghanistan. Surely they will succeed!

Course Topics (not listed in order):

    • Soil fertility, mulching, composting
    • Landscape ecology – water on the land, soil conservation – in the field
    • Broadscale land restoration techniques
    • Flood Irrigation (Acequia System) Use – in the field observation + hands-on
    • Use of animals for land restoration & weed control
    • Food forests – field trip to 2 sites
    • Animal forage systems – in the field observation + hands-on
    • Pollination Hedges, Windbreaks, Plant Guilds
    • Food storage – field trip
    • Using draft animals, tilling/cultivating the earth with animals – hands-on
    • Chicken forage systems, harvesting chickens – hands-on
    • Sheep shearing – hands-on
    • Introduction to spinning wool, weaving – hands-on
    • Using herbs as dyes – hands-on
    • Using herbs for animal health – observation
    • Topbar beekeeping – hands-on
    • Orchard pruning – hands-on
    • Grafting on existing fruit trees – hands-on
    • Layering berry plants, plant propagation – hands-on
    • Milking goats – hands-on
    • Cheese making in field conditions – hands-on
    • On-farm seed breeding and seed saving
    • Small scale farming – observation
    • Crop Rotations, Use of Cover Crops
    • High-altitude Farming
    • Daily Farm Chores – hands-on
    • Attendance and Observation of Three Farmers’ Markets

    Special thanks to Scott Pittman, Arina Pittman, Toby Hemenway, Joel Glanzberg, Rebecca Belletto, Lynda Prim, Martha Davis, Mary & Charles Zemach, staff of Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center, Liesel Orend, Bob Davis, Gemini Farm, Greg Nussbaum, Patricia Pantano, Seeds of Change Research Farm, students and staff of Camino de Paz Farm & School, Les Crowder, Lots of Life in One Place Farm, Karen Koch & Luminaria team.

    Follow 2-45th in the news: Farm Help on the front line – National Guardsmen Learn Agricultural Skills to Share with Afghanis


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