Land as Teacher: The Permaculture Campus

When students enrol in our PDC internship programme they soon learn that human instructors take a backseat to the real teacher: the farm itself.

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Farm life often revolves around problem-solving: restoring degraded soils; stabilising vulnerable slopes; re-establishing a former wetland; planting riparian corridors; mending fences; caring for animals; dealing with drought; dealing with floods; clearing drains; digging drains; addressing pest outbreaks; treating diseased plants; protecting chicks and ducklings from predators… The list, at times, seems endless.

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But it makes for an endless stream of teachable moments over the course of our 8-week residential PDC programme, alongside other projects such as erecting new fences, putting up wood for the winter, propagating grape vines, harvesting garlic, pruning fruit trees, ringing pigs, clipping goats’ hooves, processing cockerels, building chicken tractors, scything tall grasses, dehydrating fruit for storage, or breaking in new annual beds.

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These experiences are overlaid on top of daily and weekly chores: turning the compost; feeding animals; collecting eggs; milking goats; harvesting fruits and vegetables; weed management; solar cooking; making cheese; baking bread; and, starting seeds.Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 6.04.56 am

Interns come to Kaitiaki Farm from around the world – most with little or no farming and building experience. For many, English is a second or third language. Some have already completed a PDC elsewhere. Some left well-paying jobs while others are military veterans. They may be vegan, vegetarian, or paleo.

But what they all share is the desire to learn in an authentic context. This creates an amazing community of highly motivated learners. It’s serious business.

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While we follow the PDC Curriculum, the way in which we do so is responsive rather than prescriptive. In other words, we let the land cover most of the topics and we step in only to round it out. Interns not only learn by doing, they learn the how, why, where and when of managing a permaculture farm.

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Above all else they learn four-dimensional design thinking that can be applied to all aspects of their lives after leaving the farm. In other words, what we really offer is a two-month immersion programme in systems thinking.

Connecting the dots, I believe, is the most essential skill to address the many challenges facing humanity. Not all of our graduates will go on to become organic farmers or green builders, but they all have a role to play in creating a better world through holistic understanding and creative problem-solving.


Peace, Estwing

Late Summer Permaculture Update

It has been a long and hot summer – great for growing tomatoes and basil, but hard keeping many young trees alive. We’ve spent a lot of time hand watering but have managed to keep up with it. This is a shot of part of our young orchard.

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Here is the flax windbreak for the orchard that is now two and a half years old.

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This blackbody peach tree had two spring flushes this year. Weird. I have never seen anything like it.

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Not a lot of peaches but they are large.

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A huge number of Monty’s Surprise apples came down in the wind last week. We are storing them to feed out to the birds and pigs over time.

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We’ve had well over 100 muscovy ducklings hatched this year with more on the way.

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Unfortunately not many hens so far.

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These cockerels will be ready for processing in another 2 to 3 weeks.

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Our bee guys came to harvest the honey this week. Sadly, it’s the second bad honey season in a row.

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And of course it was a terrible growing season for garlic, but we have survived as one of the few organic growers in the country with a half-decent crop.

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Some good news is that Rosie has had twins that are doing well.

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And we’ve been potting up tagasaste in the nursery.

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That’s all for now, Estwing.

Guest Post: Turning Grain into Goats’ Cheese

Editor’s Note: Avery has just completed an eight week internship on the farm.


I’ve been reading this blog for nearly five years, so when I began the PDC Internship I wondered how the experience would differ from what I’d been reading about on my computer screen. Besides the drastic difference between learning by reading and learning by doing, there has been one major activity that only began when myself, Sarah, and Karen arrived – goat milking!

Susan’s babies finished weaning two months ago, allowing us to try goat milking for the first time. Dani and Nelson taught us the process, and the Goat Girl Gang has perfected it with time, now getting two liters per day from each goat. Here’s what you’ll need:

First – goats with udders ready to be milked.

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Susan is skittish and Francis is calm, but all goats will let you milk them in exchange for one thing: maize. They will barrel across the field and trample their own babies for the chance to get even a sniff of that good stuff.

Since setting up the milking stand our job has become infinitely easier.

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Wrangle them into place and get your milking hands ready. Make a tight ring with your thumb and forefinger at the top of the teat to prevent the milk moving back up into the udder, then squeeze it out using your other fingers.

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Milk in hand, it’s time to make cheese! We’ve tried a few variations, including attempts at mozzarella (marginally successful) and halloumi (incredibly successful – hail Sarah), but our standard is a ricotta/chevrĂ© that can range from soft to crumbly. Slowly heat about 8 liters, or 2 gallons, of goat’s milk to 180 degrees F or approximately 80 degrees C. An instant-read thermometer would make this step much simpler.

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Then add 2.5 cups lemon juice, or half that much white vinegar, depending what you have on hand.

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This acidity will coagulate some of the milk proteins, separating the curds (what you eat) from the whey (use in other recipes or feed to the pigs!). Let sit off the heat for ten minutes, then mix in salt (~ 2 teaspoons).

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Pour or spoon the curds into cheesecloth and hang to drain between 30 minutes and two hours, depending how dry you want it.

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Time to dig in! We’ve used this cheese in lasagna, on pizza, and with crackers. It’s especially nice with rosemary sprinkled on top.

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Cheers from Whanganui, Avery