There is no such thing as a Permaculture ‘garden’

The first stage of implementing Permaculture at a school–Observation

Over the years, Never Ending Food has received numerous requests from schools, organizations, and businesses to help them set up Permaculture ‘demonstration’ gardens.  Unfortunately, no such thing exists.  Permaculture is a holistic ‘design’ system, which takes into account the entirety of the site being designed.  Small areas can be converted to Permaculture practices, but these small areas need to be seen in relation to the ‘whole picture’.  At school campuses, a good Permaculture Designer would begin with a process of ‘Observation‘.  Observation is one of the most important parts of Permaculture design, and many people speak of Permaculture being comprised of about 80% observation and 20% implementation (or 100 hours of thinking for 1 hour of work).  Good observation requires a thorough analysis of things that can be seen, heard, and smelled on the site.  It also a directional orientation of where North, South, East and West are in relation to the site.  This helps to determine sun and shade angles, wind direction, down-wind smells, dust problems, fire threats, and other ‘sector’ influences.  It requires an investigation of seasonal changes in the climate, as well as the identification of micro-climates which may be found throughout the site.  (A micro-climate may be influenced by the presence of water, shade, sun, structures, vegetation, etc.)  Observation also takes into account soil and water considerations (e.g. is the soil healthy and soft or hard, infertile, and compacted; is there slope to the land that may influence the flow of water during rainy seasons; where does the water flow off of buildings, parking lots, or other structures, etc.).  Designing requires a look at how the site is being used and accessed (e.g. what are the main activities taking place; where are the roads, footpaths, car-parks, streams, bridges, etc.; what are the main purposes of the buildings (homes, kitchens, school-blocks, bathrooms, toilets, storage areas, animal pens, etc.); what are the needs and desires of the stakeholders; are their future plans for expansion or changes to the site, etc.).  Observation also needs to take an inventory of plant and animal species (e.g. trees, foods, natural medicines, fuel sources, seed-stock, insects, birds, wild and domestic animals, etc.)

The second stage of implementing Permaculture at a school–Mapping.

When this process of observation has been undertaken (it is never actually ‘completed’, as observation is a continual process even during the implementation process), the next phase is to make a ‘map’ of the site.  This map should be a record of what is already existing on the site.  Apart from the visible structures, don’t forget to take into consideration what is above and below (above may be electrical or telephone lines, and below may be water mains, gas lines, or underground cables).  By mapping these existing resources to scale, it allows a good designer to then assess which areas can be improved in accordance with the needs trying to be met by the site.

The third stage of implementing Permaculture at a school–Design.

The third stage is the ‘design’.  This is where the Designer begins to look at the site in terms of energy conservation.  Through the use of Permaculture ‘Zones’, things that take more work can be located closer to the hubs of energy.  For instance, if a home or classroom (Zone Zero) is using water for mopping, plants which like water can be located close to these sources.  If there is a kitchen with left-over food scraps, things like compost bins, worm-farms, or kitchen gardens may be located in these areas (Zone One).  The further away one moves from the sources of water and energy, the less water and energy should be required.  In Zone Two, a designer may plan for orchards, small animal production, compost making, shade trees, windbreaks, etc.  Zone Three becomes seasonal and rain-fed areas, where water-harvesting, staple foods, or larger animals may be located.  Zone Four is generally comprised of managed woodlots and can be designed to meet the needs of fuel, building materials, income generation, animal grazing, fodder, food, bee-keeping, or even eco-tourism.  Zone Five is the ‘forest’ where areas are allowed to regenerate naturally without much interference from humans.  In agroecology, this is sometimes referred to as ‘rewilding’.

This process of observation, mapping, and design is the very same process that a person would use for a small home, a large farm, a community, or even a large urban area.  The ‘Zones’ may be scaled up or down, but the thinking stays the same.  On one site, a Permaculture Designer may identify or plan for multiple Zone Zeros, Ones, Twos, Threes, Fours, or Fives.  Some Permaculture courses even teach about a ‘Zone Zero-Zero’, which is the human body.  Without good nutrition, natural medicines, fresh air, clean water, etc., it is difficult for our bodies to implement the work required in the other Zones.

So, the next time you hear somebody asking about setting up a Permaculture ‘garden’, ask them if they’ve taken into consideration the ‘whole picture’.

International Students learn about Sustainable Design!

Never Ending Food Manager, Peter Kaniye, describing Permaculture designs at his house.

This week we had a visit to Never Ending Food by students from the Bishop Mackenzie International School (BMIS) in Lilongwe.  These are all year-11 students who are doing an 8-week unit on sustainability.  They will be developing projects for the eight weeks which focus on the theme of ‘sustainability’, and may include issues of climate change, agricultural production methods, food security, poverty reduction, nutrition, energy use, waste management, pollution, animal management, value-added products, water management, etc.

Looking at Zone 3 transition ideas to make maize fields more nutritious and sustainable.

During their visit to Never Ending Food, we tried to expose them to as many different solution-based ideas as possible.  We are hoping that this gives them some inspiration for the creative designing of their school projects.  They were exposed to ideas such as worm farming, fish farming, water harvesting, diversified planting systems, natural medicines, sustainable building, organics, composting toilets, solar drying, and how to use the concepts of ‘guilds and zones’ for the creation of sustainable Permaculture designs.

Making use of the brand new Permaculture Discovery Center!


This was just the first of several visits which have been planned for the group.  In addition to learning about Permaculture, they will also be visiting a bamboo farm which makes biochar, a farm practising conservation agriculture, and an industrial hemp project.  This is just the first of three groups who will be visiting, and we wish them all the best in their continued studies!

An Update on our Sustainable Classroom!

Permaculture Discovery Centre

Things have been moving along on our sustainable classroom here at Never Ending Food.  Due to the growing number of visitors that we are receiving each week, we decided to work with a local sustainable building group–Grassroots Ecobuild–to construct a classroom made from a combination of rammed earth, earth-bags, and recycled materials.  This helps to eliminate the need for cutting down trees to burn bricks and the purchasing of cement.

This classroom, dubbed the ‘Permaculture Discovery Centre‘, will be able to comfortably seat 50-60 participants, as well as having a small store-room for keeping our food and resource display.  We are hoping to be able to use the space for teaching about Permaculture, conducting demonstrations, showing videos, and even allowing the public to use it for various events.

We broke ground for the foundation back in May of 2016, and the first rammed-earth construction began in October of the same year.  The pictures below are from those beginning stages:

Breaking ground

Rammed-earth walls

Rammed-earth foundation







By November of 2016, the crew began to construct the earth-bag walls.  Both the earth-bags and the rammed-earth were made from soil dug on-site, mixed with sand, water, and lime.  The earth-bags are filled with this mixture and used like large bricks.  A strand of barbed wire was used between each layer to help hold the bags in place.  We also used the earth-bag technique to create the foundation for the auditorium-style seating for the classroom:

Earth-bag walls

Earth-bag seating






By June of 2017, we were able to begin the process of plastering the walls.  Again, this plaster was made with a sustainable mixture of soil, sand, and lime.  We were also able to start creating recycled bottle windows, which provide security while still allowing sunlight to shine through:


Recycled glass bottle windows







Along the way, we’ve had a few setbacks due to the rainy seasons, but we are now steaming ahead again full-throttle!  In the past few months, we have been able to finalize a lot of the plastering, flooring, framework, and roof supports.  We are now quickly approaching the point where all that remains is to put on the roof and hang the doors.  The roof will be made with a combination of corrugated tin sheets, recycled tin cans, and recycled plastic bottles (to create a sunroof effect for natural lighting within the classroom).  We are also using the area where all the soil was dug during construction to create a large fish pond that will eventually become an area for fish-farming and the raising of ducks and chickens!

If you would like to help support the work we are doing at Never Ending Food, and donate to the construction of the Permaculture Discovery Centre, just click on the PayPal tab on the right of this page.  Every little bit helps, and a little bit can go a long way in Malawi!  A HUGE thank-you to so many of you who have already given us support!  Below are a few pictures of the current status of the classroom:

Inside classroom

Fishpond area

Inside wall

Permaculture Discovery Centre

Recycled glass bottle window

Outside wall

Front door


NEF’s Newest Intern–Kondwani M’dale

Kondwani M’dale

Never Ending Food’s newest intern, Kondwani M’dale, comes from a nearby village known as Mazoni.  He was introduced to Never Ending Food through his interest in reading about Permaculture.  We maintain a small lending-library of resource materials, and Kondwani was coming every couple of weeks to check out new books.  Seeing that his passion to learn about Permaculture ideas was genuine, he began spending more time with our Manager, Peter Kaniye, and our other intern, Jacob Jumpha.

We took Kondwani on as an intern back in March of this year, and for the past five months, he has been coming three days a week to learn more about the implementation of Permaculture designs.  His practical experience has involved learning about Permaculture ‘zones and guilds’, regenerative soil management (e.g. compost making, mulching, worm farming, the making of liquid manure, etc), water management (building swales, rain-water harvesting, banana pits, etc), nursery establishment, seed-saving, solar drying, eco-sanitation, and much more.

Kondwani speaking about plastics and Permaculture

In June, Kondwani was part of the team which represented Never Ending Food at the anti-plastic campaign held in Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe.  At this function, he gave a public address on how Permaculture aims to achieve ‘zero-waste’ and the importance of reducing, reusing, recycling, and refusing plastics.  He was also able to show the audience some of the products that he and Jacob Jumpha make using recycled plastic bags (e.g. mats, hats, bags, shoes, etc).

At Kondwani’s own home, he has been working to establish Permaculture designs.  Despite several challenges, including neighbors who continue to over-sweep and burn organic matter, poor community animal management, and a reluctance by many to try new ideas, Kondwani has started small and is working every day towards bigger and better things.  Below are a few of the design ideas that he has been able to achieve:

Zone One–protected from chickens and using hanging gourd pots!

Eco-sanitation–a composting toilet using two 1-meter pits and a movable wooden platform.

Recycled Chairs–using old cement bags, soil, and recycled plastic mats

Over 50 Lutheran Pastors Visit Never Ending Food!

Whoa 001aThis past week (June 14th), over 50 Malawian pastors from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Malawi (ELCM) visited Never Ending Food to learn more about how Permaculture ideas can be integrated into their mission work.  These pastors were able to get a glimpse of the true potential that Malawi has to turn itself into a literal ‘Garden of Eden’ and bring an end to things like ‘hungry seasons’, malnutrition, and poverty.  During the visit, the Never Ending Food staff tried to emphasize that church leaders have a moral responsibility to make sureWhoa 015a that people who are worshipping a ‘Creator’ must also be proactive in protecting and conserving creation.  Nature gives us all that we need for life: food, medicines, energy, building supplies, etc.  Humans must do everything in our power to make sure that we are caring for the earth, caring for people, and sharing resources equitably.

These pastors represented Lutheran churches throughout the entire country of Malawi, so we hope that the sustainable and locally-available solutions that they were able to learn about will travel home with them and be turned into action!  The ELCM has also produced a short video on Permaculture activities in Malawi, and can be viewed by clicking here.