Becoming the Real Thing

By Mark Anstice, Founding Director

The first moves towards physically starting this charity began as far back as 2013. As is usual, when one has what seems to be an inspired idea, I plunged ahead, accelerating like a greyhound out of the gate. Around making a living on one continent and self-building an eco lodge on another, I created this website, arranged our first educational course, recruited Trustees, cajoled the locals towards forming a cooperative and began filling out the application for charity registration.

At around this stage one of our new Trustees asked how on earth I found the time for all this? My somewhat self-congratulatory reply was that I ran everywhere, and it was true, I was a little on the manic side. But now I understand properly what he meant; I had the time for all this because our first child was not even yet conceived. Now we have two.


I’ve only just now submitted our completed application for charity registration, almost 2 years after I started filling it in.  And 15 months have passed since I last posted anything on this website . My personal blog has become similarly untraceable to the search engine algorithms. It’s been hard to pick up these things again, because failure and realism have elbowed their way into a space once occupied only by shining optimism and invincibility. And it’s not just the website; looking out of the window as I write my efforts to regenerate our own tiny acre seem hardly to have gained any ground at all. On starvation water rations, the 250 wind-break and shade trees transplanted last year are still under a metre tall, and most of the fruit trees have died. Some kind of beetle is killing many of the windbreak trees we planted five years ago.  Over the farmers’ fields around, there is no starvation ration to supplement rainfall and water our plans for re-greening, not one drop. In our main demonstration site, at least fenced off from goats all summer, none of my other deadlines have been met and the locals have taken note. Despair creeps in if I let it, and sometimes, momentarily, I do.

But defeatism is a luxury I cannot afford. I’ve put too much into this and my dreams still have force. I have found here a path so fascinating and enticing that to not spend the rest of my life working along it is something I cannot contemplate. I look at what they’ve done in Niger and Sudan, re greening the desert Sahel, and know it’s more than just possible here; it’s only time and effort.


That’s one of the things when you have children, perhaps especially when already in middle age as I am; time speeds up with a lurch. It’s put me off balance for a while, until the realisation begins to dawn that all this: family, land, community, the project, everything; each little bit is simply bigger than me. The aim, after all, is to build something lasting and I have, what, only 25 useful years left in me? My windbreak might take, no, it WILL take 10 of those, and every year there will be as many failures as successes, maybe more.

Learning to climb a ladder, my 19-month old daughter shows the way; a quick blub, pick one’s self up, dust off and try again. And who cares who’s watching the fall and then the sheepish restart.  This post is just that; a sheepish restart. I don’t imagine those search engine algorithms will show it to too many people anyway.

Fertile Roots finds a way through the rock.

Our first Permaculture Design Certificate course, taught by Darren Doherty of Regrarians, surpassed all our expectations here at Fertile Roots HQ. A wonderful mix of personalities – thirty four students in all, from as far afield as the US and Costa Rica – Darren’s superb teaching and two weeks of glorious weather made this an event nobody will forget easily.

Making a no-dig garden

Making a no-dig garden

We were particularly pleased to have a third of the seats taken up by Moroccan nationals as we had always felt this to be vital in helping enthuse the local farmers with the spirit and possibilities of permaculture. In the event, local participation was initially disappointing, however, three farmers did gain their certificates and many more came in to listen now and then. That’s a good start and word will inevitably spread.

Our local PDC graduates

Our local PDC graduates

The real result however, is that two of our graduates, Si Mohamed and Abdullah, are keen to start regenerating their land as soon as possible and have chosen adjoining fields down near the beach as the first experiment. This is the perfect place for a demonstration site, because it’s the least productive land and also the most public. The pressure is now on to make permaculture work there, in little more than sand, just yards from the Atlantic surf and fully exposed to the relentless north wind. If we can achieve a result on that spot, in full view of everybody, then all will have no choice but to sit up and take note.

Checking out what will be the first demo site

Checking out what will be the first demo site


Dinner time, presided over by Gaia at the head of the table

Darren has generously offered to continue consulting on this for free and it will be a fantastic and invaluable support to have his expertise there behind us. Regrarians have also offered to help bring in the area’s first sustainable technology in the form of a donkey-drawn ‘eco seeder’. Against all odds there’s a perrennial grass growing down there and the last thing we want to do is dig it up, as normally happens, with a plough.

Darren Doherty at the helm

Darren Doherty on stage

Another graduate of the course, Mehdi Cherkani, has offered assistance with seeds, grafting and other areas of expertise whilst another, our translator Ahmed Alami Aroussi, has also offered his services as and when needed.

An impromptu classroom

An impromptu classroom

At the source

And another: at the source, Ain l’Hajar

Taking a break from class

An occasional lapse in concentration

Armed with so much knowledge and with such support in the background, at Fertile Roots we feel a freshly strengthened sense of purpose and direction. We can also now show enough income in the Foundation’s first full year of operation to register with the UK Charities Commission and gain our ‘charity number’, which will be vital for future fund-raising efforts.  Permaculture in Morocco is growing.


Classes over for the day; off to join the evening football match

Our heartfelt thanks to Darren and Lisa Doherty and their super cool teenagers, Pearl and Zane; also to Ahmed Alami Aroussi for his professional translating and to Andrew Onreat who worked tirelessly and without reward throughout September to help us get the eco-lodge ready. And finally, thank you to all those who attended for making it such a dynamic and entertaining two weeks.


The team


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