In one of the last issues of Permaculture Magazine I noticed a small add claiming a camp to be "The only eco-camp in Europe". Not being one to let it pass by without notice, I'll invite you to a tour of the PermaLot camp in Czech Republic on the following few pages:
Permalot is a small ecovillage initiative beautifully nested in the North Moravian hills of the Czech Republic. Initially we bougth 10 hectares of land, 8,5 of which is now certified organic and all of it has been accredited as a Land Trust. We still don't own any buildings [fighting the remains of the socialist bureacrazy for building permits], and we have had to focus on what we were able to do on the property, while at the same time facilitating enough 'through-flow' of people that we may be able to hook up with about 20 people who would want to stay here and realize the vision of an ecovillage. In short: we needed a camp. A camp with a clear message. An eco-camp.
In November 2001 we organized a public meeting and received a lot of ideas of how to design and use the property. We narrowed it down somewhat, organized another meeting for orchard experts, permaculture designers, seed savers and a Feng Shui architect in January 2002. The concensus of the meeting is what shaped the use of our orchards, especially in regards to the camp and garden.
As you may remember from an article in Permaculture Magazine, we told how we hosted our first international youth camp in '02, which renovated the nearby village pond, turning it into a permaculture oasis. The youth exchange was our first involvement with international youth education, and many more projects have followed, among others in co-operation with Youth for Environment Europe, Brontosaurus (a Czech youth organisation) and lastly the Czech organisation for Fair Trade.
The area of the camp is an old rowan berry orchard, with the black rowan bushes being grafted onto stems of wild orange rowans. The trees were planted into holes blasted with Semtex explosive (quite rocky here!), stringed onto steel wires and frequently sprayed to produce a maximum. In other words; the spirit of the land is in need of quite a restoration.
Quite early on we had the idea of building in a way so that the shelters for kitchen and community/meetings would rest on the existing trees, (avoiding the touchy subject of a building permit). We had a hard time figuring out how to get the head-height, onto someone suggested that we dug down 80 cm into the ground! And so we did, (well, a Bob-Cat Digging machine did). The picture shows how we used poles from our forest to shape a [ED: Please write the technical name for the "That Roundhouse" joint!], and later clad it with boards from the sawmill 1,5 km away. We shored the ground up from within to around waist height, made double wide planter boxes, which gets watered from roof run-off water, the exterior of the planters being a low pile of rocks from the dug-out, which stores a bit of heat to the strawberries growing there.
We had the bob-cat leave the center of the kitchen dug-out, which we later shored up with a commercial Rammed Earth shuddering system (Kindly donated by Hjortshoj Ecovillage, DK), and rammed the exterior walls of what is now a large Lorrena-type cook stove, heavily insulated with ashes (from the nearby towns new central heating bio-mass plant). A young volunteer made the internal metal work, and we only had to pay for the steel covers on top.
Our kitchen cabinets are partly large painted army crates, nicely decorated, or it's large barrels which can secure the vast amounts of organic grains, rice, pasta etc. which we go through. One of the boxes got dug down deep into the North side, covered with dirt, and the interior tiled up, serving as a modest cold storage, however only about 5 degrees cooler than the exterior temperature. - Outside the kitchen we have a 2 meter tall, 1x1 meter deep cabinet dug into the ground, with a sawdust insulated door. Last winter it served to keep our apples fresh onto May. The kitchen was equipped with a large wild pigâ€¦well actually an earthen bread oven, made by PM writer Jessie Mercham and another couple of volunteers through our first earth building workcamp in '02. We received an old kitchen table from a local school, picked up a large part of the inventory from a privately run waste-recycling-antique project in Denmark; Aarhus Klunserne, who's always happy do donate their treasures toward our project.
Water for the camp has been a long voyage; it took us a year to get a Czech well driller on site, along with the permission to drill a hole in the ground! The well got drilled, tested, and we have some of the best spring water around, good enough for babies! The next issue was how to get the water up to the ground, and Grundfos sponsored a solar pump [SQ Flex], which along with a battery bank (sponsored by Varta CZ), a water tower and 100 meter of polypropylene pipe[Not PVC!] makes up a satisfiable system. Naturally it took investing in 1 (soon 2) 100 watt photo voltaic panels, and we're grateful for the Cottonwood foundation for their contribution towards some of the costs, which has ensured that even though we don't have electricity on site, we're able to provide food, wash and shower to all of our visitors, several of them whom gave a hand towards digging the pipes, constructing the tower, setting up the solar system etc.
We also had to provide accommodation! The instant solution was our 3 tee-pee's made by a local organic farmer colleague. Each one of them can house 15 people comfortably. Another solution is our small wooden pyramids, which rest on a frame suspended on the low rowan trees. We chose the pyramid form as it's easy to make mobile, only consists of roof and floor, and is esthetically pleasing. I case it provides holistic energy to our volunteers; we simply view it as an added bonus J. The reason for the suspension is again the building permit issue; it does not occupy agriculture landâ€¦
Having provided the basic needs of food and shelter, we also had to deal with the output! Our choice, [due to economy: Don't do this at home!], was to copy a Clivus multrum design, however we made it out of inexpensive OSB wooden sheets, covered with plastic to avoid direct moisture contact. It has worked well for 3 years now, never had to empty it, and the building inspection was surpriced to find that there's virtually no smell, as a couple of cut-to-fit funnels, re-direct the urin to a large exterior barrel, which gets diluted and emptied on our apple trees and field. The shelter around the compost units was created during workshops, and utilizing the old techniques of wattle and daub, and leight loam, along with a roof made of heavy-duty cardboard, covered with old linoleum flooring from the local university (faculty of ecology!) and hay from the surrounding field. The design was partly determined to the fact that making it in panels would fulfill the building inspection as it's mobile (you already guessed it, eh?), however the roof is an adjustment, as I learned this issue of Permaculture siting when the previous roof twice flew off! The present roof allows the wind to passJ The curved log was cut in the woods 2 km away and carried here with 7 people, after a nice cutting ceremonyâ€¦
Last years international permaculture course, taught by Patricia Konockova and Marcel Susko from Slovakia, brought forth a fair amount of new ideas. The course was partly taught in our new custom designed flying circus tent; it's designed to keep rain and sun out, however allowing for a beautiful view and a fresh breeze. Apart from 2 large poles resting 10 cm in the ground it's help up by the design and off cuts of climbing rope (donated by Lanex.cz) tied onto the surrounding rowan trees.
This year we implemented quite a few of the suggestions for water conservation; the central idea was to move the dishwashing area some 20 meters to a slope above the garden, this allowing for a natural flow into the garden.
The picture depicts our new "Watergate": In this case not a presidential scandal, merely a gate made by ex-industrial apple trees, with the rock path actually being a filter and stream from the dishwashing area, meandering into a plant filter, continuing through the raised bed garden and ends up in the tyre-pond, (made at last years permaculture course). The garden is a chapter we'll leave for a later article, lets suffice to say that it serves to feed more and more of our camp needs every year. Notice the fence made by main branches of apple trees, creating a suntrap and a biotope, especially as the birds firtilize and plant new berries, flowers and weeds.
We also moved our shower area to concentrate the run-off to the garden. The shower area consists of 4 movable panels, with a large (free) teak framed mosaic window seperating the boys and girls; (sorry guy's; there's still blinds mounted onto the windows). We have tried numerous primitive ways of creating hot showers with little success. The basic problem with most solar heated systems seems to be that they rely on pressurized water, whereas we only have gravity fed water. We'll likely get it right some day; this year we tried out pre-heating the water in a copper pipe behind an old window, before it flows through 50 meter of compost situated in a temporary poly-greenhouse [built of left-over material from a student doing a Ph.D. on counting frogs!]. The end result so far is hot showers on hot days, -and cold showers on cold days L. At least it's good afer an evening in our sweatlodge!?
..however, some of us take the extra effort to fire up under the cob-covered old bathtub in the garden, which functions as a delightful hot tub.
During the past 3 seasons we have had more than 600 visitors, with about 450 of them being volunteers. Many of them has put in a piece of their spirit in our project, some has remained good friends, some not. In which ever case, they all need something to eat, and the food and material has to be brought from a far, as the nearest town is 15 km away. We have had to install an information trail, information boards and I suppose we soon have to have regular guided tours. It's getting to the stage where we at times miss having the opportunity to close the door! We have had to learn how to deal with short and long term volunteers, we're hosting EVS (European Voluntary Service), though wouldn't recommed it, and luckily have not signed up for the 'Woofing' deal: 'Luckily' as we're present at a stage where we're considering not having any temporary volunteers at all, and instead dedicating our efforts to hosting paying students of a 'Traveling School of Life', an arrangement which we're developing with other eco-villages and initiatives. Why? Simply because of the human ressources it takes, as we too often have to be social-pedagogues, teachers and parents of too many of the volunteers, usually on our personal expense.
On the issue of expenses: It's been hard for some of the locals to accept the strange approach of planting tee-pee's and signs instead of spraying and picking, however a simple calculation tells us that with about 300 organic rowans we would max. be able to pick 800 kg of berries, which at the present rate, after picking wages, would provide us with an income of about 100-150 Euro. This income should cover the pruning, spraying, grasscutting, transport and management.
Our appoach has this year supplied us with 170 liter of rowan juice, which we hope to mix with apple juice and thus create a final product, increasing profit. In addition we have had an income, 3rd year in a row, of about 15.000 euro on the camp activities; that's 100 times as much as on the berries, without degrading the land and in addition supplying education to youth and locals.
The amount sounds high and it's important to know that it includes travel expenses for international participants, organic/fair trade food and wages for cooks + further investments in infrastructure, safely ensuring that once again this year PermaLot remains a 100% non-profit organisation!
It's no secret that we have benefitted economically from hosting youth exchanges financed through EU's youth program. It's not a reliable source of income, it requires much time with applications and the processing takes long with several rejections resulting in vacant facilities. During 2005 and beyond, we hope to change this unsustainable practice and host more participant paid events: particulary events and courses arranged by and for YOU! Please contact us if you're interested in rentingâ€¦ "One of Europes few Eco-camps J"
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