2016 Program (20 December – 20 April : recommended minimum stay 6 weeks)
A fantastic opportunity to gain detailed, practical experience in building all the permaculture classics and much more, and in a beautiful part of rural Morocco. Ideal for those who know the theory but are daunted by the practical work and know-how involved. With us you can learn the skills you’ll need later when you perhaps start your own project: in designing, planning, building in steel, wood, stone, ferro-cement, brick and adobe; testing, using and monitoring the results. We will also be practicing holistic management and getting stuck into some interesting building projects in and around the eco-lodge. It’s going to be hard work but we like to play too and there’s lots to see and do in the area.
The Projects Ahead
We are at the point right now where the main emphasis starts to shift away from the construction of the eco-lodge and onto the charity and it’s work of bringing regenerative agriculture to the local community. This year we want to turn an embryonic ‘garden’ of 1.5 acres (0.7Ha) into a functioning, dryland permaculture demonstration site. We also want to turn a 2 acre (1Ha) patch of sandy, coastal grassland into an alley-cropping and pasture-cropping demo site, from scratch. Plus, we aim to introduce the local community to wicking beds, by building one for as many families as possible. Finally, we want to have a lot of fun and laughter while we do it.
Who are We?
I am Mark Anstice, director of Fertile Roots. My wife, Ayelen and I are the owners and builders of the Azrou Issa Eco-Lodge. I am not a qualified permaculture teacher or designer. My own permaculture qualifications amount to a PDC and a REX course in regenerative agriculture, both taught by Darren Doherty. But in addition, I have spent the last 6 winters trying to grow things at Azrou Issa with almost no water and know an awful lot about what doesn’t work! I am also an experienced builder in natural construction materials as well as steel and ferro-cement. But I don’t know it all and we will be doing a lot of things this winter that are new to me. So I will be learning alongside you, teaching you whatever I can and hoping to learn things from you too. Any gaps in our collective knowledge we will fill from books and the internet.
A Short History of the Site
I bought the land on which the eco-lodge sits in 2005 (photo right). Along the beach it’s 15kms north of Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic coast; by road and track its 30kms. There was no vehicle access back in 2005 and it took 3 years to dig by hand a water mine 200ft/60m deep. We had a team of local stonemasons build the walls and most of the roof in 2009. Then I lost my job and the money was never the same again. Since then we have never had more than €5k per year to spend on it but slowly the lodge and the garden have progressed, the work being done by ourselves, occasional volunteers and one or two neighbours.
In 2011, I met Darren Doherty and realised that permaculture was the key to growing anything in such a difficult environment. In 2013 I gave a presentation on it to the local farmers and the idea for Fertile Roots was born.
Our first demonstration site is the garden of the eco-lodge. In 2005 this was a field of dust and rocks. It is now terraced and there are some 500 trees and shrubs growing there. Many are difficult to see!
It is a very windy area and we can do little there without first growing a serious windbreak. A lack of available water for several years meant that this went very, very slowly. My first efforts at a permaculture design for the land were forgotten and lost as tree after tree died. Though much had changed from the field of dust and rocks it once was, until last year this ‘permaculture demonstration site’ still looked more like a desert dotted with a few struggling olives and figs, with line of mimosas on the windward side.
The turn-around came in 2014 with the combination of three years of drought ending, the finishing of a huge rainwater cistern to capture water from the roof and the construction of the eco-lodge starting to consume less water from our well. Capitalising on what we had learnt we planted another 300 windbreak trees and now have a small forest of mainly casuarina and mimosa growing up that will soon protect us from the wind. The eco-lodge is not yet finished but it’s at a stage where I can pass over the finishing works to local professionals.
Also in 2014 we acquired, on loan from one of the local farmers, a second demonstration site. This is a 1-hectare field just above the beach and about 600m away from the lodge. Due to lack of funds not much has happened here, however it was fenced off in early 2015 so the perennial grasses growing naturally there will have had two summers free of marauding sheep and goats.
It’s a very unpromising site, blasted by a strong wind, no trees, very close to the Atlantic surf and almost entirely sand. In a wet year, however, the local farmers do manage to grow a little wheat in this area and the very deep sand there acts as a water storage for rainwater that’s run off the hills behind. Some trees and bushes could grow well there and our intention is to demonstrate that alley cropping and pasture cropping might work. This is regenerative agriculture at it’s most fundamental: turning a virtual desert into a viable, drought resistant income stream.
So, this winter we will have both the water and the time to concentrate on our plant and animal systems, on both demonstration sites.
What you will get practice in:
Demo Site 1
After many years of trial and error the eco-lodge garden, our first demonstration site, has over 300 windbreak trees now growing well. It will be a few years more before their effects can be felt but they no longer need watering, so we can use our precious rainwater elsewhere. It’s time to put in all the permaculture classics and more:
- Kitchen garden from a building site, (ie from scratch and virtually on rock)
- Sheet mulching
- Soil PH adjustment
- Worm farm
- Herb spiral
- More rainwater collection
- Composting (normal & humanure)
- Vermi-compost toilet
- Grey-water recycling system & pond
- Building a brick dome
- Building a cob and bottle wall
- Building a catenary arch in brick
- Planting and building windbreak walls & hedges
Zones 2, 3 & 4:
- Plan and plant fruit tree guilds
- Compost tea brewing
- Wicking beds
- Chicken system and tractor
- Amphorae keyhole gardens
- Building a workshop (this will be stone & lime and/or straw clay) with a palm leaf thatched roof
- Finish, test and use our DIY no-till seeder
- Green manure crops (choosing, planting and care)
- Alley cropping system (planning, laying out, boundary plant selection and planting
- Irrigation systems
- Access (paths) design
- Managed grazing with locals’ sheep and goat herd
- Drystone terrace wall building
Demo Site 2
The next step here is to make a contour map, a plan and then plant windbreaks and natural fences accordingly. But we will need to be able to water these for at least the first winter & summer, so this winter we will also be building a 20-30,000 liter water cistern in ferro-cement to take water from a nearby wadi, or from a tractor and trailer. Once this is done we’ll install an irrigation system and start planting. We will also be planting a cover crop with our prototype no-till seeder.
Wider Project Area
If the funds are available we also plan to offer the local community free wicking – beds of 2m2 so that as many families as possible can see for themselves how water efficient these things are. This, as with many of the projects listed above, will involve working closely with the local people.
Working in a small, hand-picked team you’ll be helping to brainstorm what needs to be done, decide which technique is going to work best, choose materials and then build, test and implement what you have made. You’ll get tuition and/or practice in:
basic techniques, how to select and use the right wood, and both manual and power tools
- Metal work
welding, basic mechanics and construction techniques, etc
water cistern and large plant pot construction
we have a hive and will be going all out this year to attract our first swarm
- Holistic Management
We will be practicing this in our daily meetings, learning and getting used to the thought processes involved.
The design of the both demonstration sites is very much open to change and you will have an active hand in shaping their evolution, from deciding where access paths go to designing the chicken tractor. We will carry out design exercises wherever possible.
surveying using dumpy level + gps, contour mapping and marking
Dry stone wall construction, stone walls using subsoil and lime as a mortar, lime slaking, lime rendering, palm-leaf thatch, tadelakt (observation only), straw clay & (possibly) cob, grey-water recycling, naturally cooled food store.
- Normal building
Use of cement, concrete & steel, brick laying, plumbing, electrics
sheet mulching, preparing beds, planting, pruning, compost tea brewing, cane shading structures, natural pesticides, composting,…
Pipe work and drip systems, amphorae, simple pumping systems, etc
- Animal systems
Chickens, electric fencing with goats and sheep, worm farm
It is said that ‘starting something is half the battle’. For many aspiring permaculturalists, it’s very difficult to start the physical work they know they must do because they simply don’t know how to start and are not confident about what things they will need. They worry that they might get it wrong and waste money and time. So they procrastinate and time drifts by anyway. After only 4 months you will not leave Azrou Issa as an expert in any of the above, but you WILL come away knowing, or able to confidently assess what’s needed to start any given project, and how to start it. And that’s all you need, because the rest is simply gaining experience as you go. At the end of the day all that permaculture theory of what works where and how and why isn’t worth the paper your PDC notes are scribbled on if you can’t pick up the necessary tools and put it all into action.
Who Are You? Is Our Program Right For You? Are You Right For Us?
If you are the proactive type who is where you need to be on time, listens carefully to instructions, doesn’t wait to be asked to do something that obviously needs doing, looks for ways to help, doesn’t like to sit around watching others work, doesn’t feel the victim if something seems unfair, and is self-reliant and inquisitive, then you’ll fit in just fine with us and the local community.
If you find getting up in the morning very difficult, think it’s OK to keep people waiting, have a tendency to ignore things that need ‘fixing’ and pretend you didn’t see them, find working in a team difficult, or tend to think ‘why me?’ when asked to do something you would rather not do, then this experience is probably not for you.
What we want for this important and exciting phase is a strong team of dynamic, self-motivated people who are keen to learn and know how to work hard and laugh at the same time. We are serious about all of this and have worked very hard to get where we are. We are not hippies and dreamers who want to sit around discussing metaphysics or conspiracy theories; we are practical people finding practical solutions to physical problems and we will be picking our team carefully. Successful applicants will have been spoken to on Skype or WhatsApp several times.
Be absolutely clear: this is a fantastic opportunity for you to get hands-on experience in building all the classic permaculture elements from scratch, but you will be working hard. Read this page carefully before getting in touch with us.
These 4 months are going to be especially suitable for somebody who has already done a PDC but if you haven’t attended one and do not have the time to do so before 20th December you are not automatically discounted. We are more interested in personality than paper and in any case, there is a great variation in the quality of ‘PDC’s currently available around the world. Get in touch and we’ll take it from there.
Hours of work
Monday – Friday (ideally)
7 – 7.30 Chores (composting, plant watering, moving chickens, etc)
7.30 – 8 Breakfast
8 – 8.30 Morning meeting
8.30 – 10 1st session, morning tea break
10.30 – 12 2nd session, lunch
13.30 – 3 3rd session, afternoon tea break
3.30 – 5 4th session
5 – 5.30 clean and tidy tools and workspace if necessary
Saturday & Sunday
Weekends are free except for basic chores such as emptying compost toilet buckets if necessary, letting out chickens, etc. You might choose to come with us, and usually a few locals, to the local farmers market on Saturday where we stock up on food and work supplies. We might also organise some recreational trips where we all pile into the truck and go to do something fun. Otherwise there is lots to see and do in Essaouira just a short bus ride away, the coast to explore, water sports in Moulay Bouzergtoun, etc.
Note that there will inevitably be times where the above schedule is not possible; (ie when we’re rushing to finish some ferro-cement work before it gets dark). This is just a fact of life on a busy project such as this. Some days will be longer than others; some meals will be eaten late and cold. If you’ve forgotten a tool down by the beach perhaps it will be just you eating that meal late. That’s just the way it has to be; tools are expensive.
Sleeping accommodation will be camping in the garden for which you should bring your own tent. Recreational space is the dining room and main hall in the eco-lodge and we will also have an extra space (either a large tent or a room) that is for interns only; to read, research or just get away from us and the children.
Breakfast may be porridge or besara, eggs, bread, butter and olive oil. The lunches and dinners are prepared by local women and will largely consist of traditional tagine dishes and couscous. Sometimes these will include meat or seafood. We can cater for special diets within reason but if you follow a vegan or otherwise quite ‘extreme’ diet you may need to bring some of your own ‘supplements’ with you. The fish and meat we buy is organic but we cannot claim that the vegetables and fruit we eat come from an organic source. The farmers market looks like an organic place and everything goes bad very quickly, but Moroccan farmers love their chemicals. One of our aims this winter is to become as self-sufficient as possible in vegetables.
Drugs & Alcohol
We have found that it just makes life easier to have a policy of zero tolerance on drugs. We want a dynamic environment at work and at home and marijuana or any other recreational drug is not compatible with that. You will be asked to leave immediately. Please don’t make us go there.
Alcohol can be consumed in the eco-lodge but only on Friday / Saturday evenings and again we have zero-tolerance towards excessive drinking. This is our home, we have young children, we work hard and we don’t want to have to deal with a drunkard at any time.
So What Will It Cost?
The early bird price is €13 a day if paid in full before 10 November, or 40 days before your planned arrival.
Thereafter it’s €15 per day.
If you do not have the necessary funds to pay now, a deposit of 25% will secure your place, but the early bird price will NOT apply and the balance must be paid before 40 days from the start of your stay in order to avoid forfeiting your deposit.
Why are we charging money at all?
Because we want a team of committed people who see and appreciate value in the experience and will stay the distance to take maximum advantage from it. Looking around at other internship programs in permaculture I have not yet found one for less than €25 per day and those with such an educational program as ours cost much, much more than that.
What do we do with the money?
Your money goes into the Foundation’s bank account. Apart from paying for food your contribution will cover incidental costs such as replacing broken items, and it will also help us to fund some of the projects that you will be taking part in.
What rights does your contribution give you?
During your stay with us we would like you to think of the eco-lodge as your home. The only rules in your rest-time are those necessary in any household to maintain a comfortable living space and atmosphere for everyone.
During the working day, however, there have to be some rules. You will generally not be able to pick and choose the tasks you get involved with; you will be expected to be present and on time for everything that is going on. Having to wait for people is just boring. Of course we will endeavour to match people to jobs wherever possible but there are many tasks ahead that we will tackle as a team, wherever possible finishing each before starting the next, ticking off one task after another. We want to have a happy crew and that means everyone must pull their weight, at everything. And we also want you to go away having built upon your weaknesses as well as your strengths.
How to Apply?
Email me at email@example.com to register your interest. We will want to speak to you via Skype or WhatsApp, perhaps more than once.
What to Bring
Your own tablet or laptop for research.
2 season sleeping bag or blankets (mattress and pillows will be provided)
2 x full sets of working clothes for hot and ‘cold’ (12°C) weather, including sturdy boots and sandals, and several pairs of good quality work gloves. It never really gets cold but when the wind is from the east or it’s raining it can feel cold enough.
A pocket knife or multi-tool
Sun hat & glasses
Notebooks and writing materials.
500Gb hard drive to take away whatever resources we can give you.
BIO soaps and toiletries
We do get internet at the lodge but it is by USB modem (which can be turned into wifi) and is generally frustrating. At certain times of the day it is enough for basic research however. Sometimes we can watch a Youtube video. At other times of the day it is difficult even to send an email.
There is a good mobile phone signal at the eco-lodge.