Off-Grid Permaculture Apprenticeship … in a monastic rhythm

Mount of Oaks (MoO) is opening for applications for those who feel called to be part of our “Permaculture Off-Grid Apprenticeship” in 2023.

This idea has developed out of our own experience since 2006, hosting hundreds of guests, friends, volunteers and family.

We live in times when many people are seeking connection, and ironically, with so many developed technologies, social media and internet, people in “western world” seem to be the most disconnected… from each other, from God, from Nature and ultimately from themselves.

There is a lot of mistrust in many areas, in Governments, in education, in leaders, in health, in religions, and even within families.

What we have been realising, and the feed-back we have been receiving, is that life at Mount of Oaks has changed many people´s lives … thankfully for the better 🙂

Some got confident to move out of the city they were not happy in and started new lives in more quiet rural areas;

Some were already on a transition, but lacked some essential skills to have a good start, so they learned a lot here;

Some found here their passion for plants, for trees, for regenerating and building healthy soils, for producing food and build more sustainable houses with local materials;

Some got inspired, others encouraged by the hope this place brings, showing a way of living where is possible to find more balance with Nature, as well as more connection to Spirit ;

Some were reminded to rest and stop, and simply enjoy each moment, taking that reminder into their everyday lives;

Some found Home and Family, and they keep coming back;

For some was not easy, but it surely made them and us stronger, wiser and even more forgiving than before.

It is not easy to live in community so close to each other on a daily basis… we usually face the “not so good” parts of ourselves… and it is part of the experience as well – to love ourselves, forgive ourselves and accept how we are at any given moment.

MoO is at the moment a home for a couple, Barbara and Emma, the guardians who have been living here since 2006 and 2011 respectively. We have experienced community living (here and before coming here) in many different ways and the way we choose to do things today, is the way we found it works best for us.

We have learned the hard way to put clear boundaries to protect ourselves and our relationship as a married couple, and we will try to be as clear as possible so that no one take that personally. We are in transition still, in the process of building our own house, and having our own space with more privacy. We live in a bus for the last 11 years, with some privacy, but not quite retreated, no personal toilet, or shower or kitchen, so we use the common spaces we share with all we host… which means sometimes it is a stretch when we host people in our house 24/7. We would appreciate everyone´s mindfulness of this reality :-)… for that we are already thankful 🙂

It is quite intensive to welcome strangers (who mostly become friends) in our home on a daily basis… we need to find a balance between our time for ourselves, for our relationship, for our local family and friends, to give to all those we host as well as resting and replenish our own energies, our own physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Barbara loves doing as much as she can with her own hands and she loves finding solutions… she loves teaching and passing on the many skills she has aquired in her 48 years of life… she is a Permaculture design teacher as well as a Natural building teacher, passionate for trees, wild life, regenerating land and encouraging others to live more sustainably. She is very introvert at times and loves being on her own, but her calling is also to create and encourage community spaces and encounters 🙂

Emma is almost 44, she loves people and often finds the best they have inside… she has the biggest heart I have ever known 🙂 if she could, she would help everyone in need 🙂 … She loves plants and makes the most amazing wild salads… she loves healing plants, prapagating them everywhere or transforming them into oils, tinctures and teas… She´s a fermentalist freak and loves transforming our produce into delicious food, and her kombucha scobies into delicious and healthy drinks.

Living at Mount of Oaks you will naturally see and experience our many DIY, off-grid and sustainable solutions in a permaculture designed farm already with many systems implemented. There is much more that can be done and designed in our 5 hectare piece of land, but we already have a lot :

– different designs of dry compost toilets; many different natural building techniques (wattle and daub, strawbale, earthbags, cordwood, thatch roof with broom, earth and lime plasters, tadelakt, post and beam structures, adobe bricks, cob, simple carpentry, and efficient use of cement too) ; Rain water collection, diy sand filter for water, irrigation by gravity with efficient use of a simple locally built petrol pump; a 24v photovoltaic energy system and instalation (quite professionally installed by a local friend); sewage systems; worm farm; chickens; Hot water from solar or fire, and even sauna; Many productive raised beds, food forests on the go and different working guilds and companion planting.

We have been focusing a lot on all the buildings we need for storage or to host guests and events, and now we want to upscale our food production, propagating even more the plants we already have, planting more trees, introducing more animals in the system, and even design sustainable pastures to set an example to the many sheep farms around us. Our soil is so much fertile after years of “letting be”, “chopping and dropping” and introducing species and animals to help. It´s definitely way much easier now to plant trees than it was 16 years ago.

We are inviting those who feel called to come for 3 or 6 months to live with us and this land, bringing their creativity, love, service and working hands.

We´ve realised that people are more motivated and end up growing more as humans when they are given responsibilities, more than just doing what they are told to do.

With this in mind, as there is always something to do and we don´t have time for everything we would still like to do, we are offering 3 areas of responsibility other people could easily take on. These are :

Kitchen and food transformation:

  • Maintain the main Kitchen clean and organized;
  • Plan meals, go shopping in local market;
  • Transform and preserve food ( fermenting, drying, pickles, jams, sauces, Kombucha,etc);
  • Pick and dry flowers, herbs and fruits;
  • Make infused oils and tinctures for medicine;
  • Collect wild food; etc…
  • Cooking with fire/grill and using the bread oven 🙂 (we do have a normal gas cooker);

Annual Garden and Perenial Food Forests:

  • Food production (plan and practice);
  • Plant propagation (seedlings and cuttings);
  • Design and research for medicinal gardens and food forests;
  • Prepare raised beds (kitchen garden, food forests and guilds);
  • Collect and store seeds;
  • Worm farm (maintain and improve system);
  • Irrigation (Maintain and improve);
  • Prepare and use liquid feeds for garden;
  • Plan and sow green manure in new plots;
  • Collect animals manure from neighbors when needed ;
  • Use of chainsaw and strimmer

General Maintenance and Natural Building :

  • Build and improve fences;
  • General maintenance of buildings (lime wash, fix plasters, treat wood);
  • General maintenance of electric plugs and switches;
  • Maintenance and improvement of irrigations (pipes, connections and taps);
  • Water pump, keeping filled and general maintenance (check oil and spark plug);
  • Use of chainsaw and strimmer (and maintenance of machines and tools);
  • Install and maintain guttering for each roof;
  • Repair and improve diy solar water heater;
  • Build and research on solar ovens;
  • Road and Stream maintenance
  • Natural Building (helping Bárbara)
  • Chop and store firewood

Being responsible doesn´t mean doing it all, but means planning, delegating and even finding help outside as we have quite a large community around and not so far with many helping hands looking for opportunities to be involved :-).

All these might be things you already know, others you will learn. Me and Emma are here to teach and guide when needed. Every area is connected to another, so we need to work together, plan together, communicate the best we can and suppport one another.

There are other areas that Apprentices are welcome to help only if that is not affecting their main responsibility as they are not as much of a priority. These are : Organic markets (we can sell our produce weekly); Web site and social Media (could need some attention but is not a priority);

We will have community meetings fortnightly to check in the progress of each one and what can be done differently. The first week or two is mainly for each Apprentice to “arrive”, get settled and get used to our rhythm, receive instructions and some teachings, and plan the goals of their Apprenticeship time for evaluation.

I envision a group of 3 or 4 Apprentices who could organize themselves for daily tasks (cooking, cleaning, washing), and could plan and work together as a team to accomplish our common goals.

Me and Emma are prepared to teach each one what we have learned so far, and we would also like to invite some of our friends who live nearby to teach their skills in “open classes” (it´s an idea, lets see how it flows).

As I mentioned, all this will require some skills on planning and organizing, as well as clear communication of plans and goals with the rest of the team and us.

I have learned on the way that if I just do what I´m told (which is really nice sometimes), I don´t really exercise myself to think of solutions and make a plan to achieve goals. Having clear goals gives us many opportunities to celebrate our accomplishments, as little as they may be 🙂… or we will realise we were trying to achieve more than we could 🙂 …

I am sure we will celebrate many achievements :-), and we want to include that as part of this time, maybe every 2 weeks or so, inviting friends over, preparing special meals, having fun together, etc…

LET ME TRY TO BRING UP SOME OF THE THINGS WE WILL EXPECT FROM AN APPRENTICE?

  • We request each one to bring their own accomodation (tent, tipi, yurt, car, van) and if possible their own transport (we are 40 minutes walking from the nearest train station);
  • We request each one to respect the others´ space (this is a time for self reflection too and we will encourage that);
  • We request each one to respect our differences of opinions, ways of doing things, spiritual practices or beliefs, sexual orientation, cultural approaches, etc;
  • We request acceptance of the rhythm and routine that has already been working for this place; (we can make a plan together on our first week, but this is what we usually expect : working 4 hours a day for 5 days a weekresting 2 days, in or out of the land… participating in our praying / singing circles and any check-in circle, participating in our fortnight celebration, participating or at least respecting our weekly praying/singing circle with local community and any event we will host at MoO);
  • We will encourage each one to develop their individual spiritual practices (they may be different from others) as we consider this to be fundamental to help each individual process
  • We obviously request some skills on working in a team ( I do love to work alone sometimes and that is ok too as long as it is communicated… working alone can also be working in team and for the team);
  • We also want to invite those who are willing to work through the hard “issues” that might emmerge. This is almost garanteed in community life, as there is little space to “hide”… Misunderstandings are very common even when we are doing our best to communicate clearly. Transparency is a must and we will encourage each one, including ourselves, to communicate what we feel and think, to confront and accept confrontation… It has been one of my major areas of growth and I still feel I have so much to learn. It requires everyone to help.

We all desire to live in Peace and Love, and one way to reach that is with honesty and transparency, and willingness to resolve and repair where is needed; Not leaving any little annoyance becoming too big we cannot handle it; Not taking things too personally, but acknowlege that we all may trigger each other for us to work on it and grow… If we don´t deal with it, we miss an amazing opportunity to be free and set others free.

This includes me and Emma, who are not free at all from faults and mistakes or hurting others. We may be older than some and more experienced in some areas, but we will fail and trigger some of you, and we will welcome your honesty as we are here to grow too.

  • We require some leadership skills, as well as willingness to trust and be guided by others;
  • We want to call entrepreneurial spirits, those who take initiatives and responsibility for the results of their actions and the effect that has on others, on themselves and the environment around them.
  • We will encourage improvements when we decide is a priority and there is willing to do them … I don´t necessarily like when people just want to point at “problems” without bringing viable solutions… The reason is that I will want to find a solution, sometimes when that is not our priority at the moment 🙂 .
  • We request that each Apprentice already have some experience of community living and sharing spaces;
  • Preferably we would like to invite those who already have the 72h Permaculture Design Course, or at least an introduction course, as these are ethics and principles we follow and practice on a day to day basis. Knowledge and experience on organic farming, regenerative and syntropic farming are also very welcome as most principles are similar. We know and trust “Vale da Lama Permaculture centre” in Algarve where Lesley Martin, my teacher lives :-), as well as “Aldeia do Vale” where Silvia Floresta lives and “Eco-aldeia do Soajo” where Yassine and Joana live. I have also heard good things about “Terra Alta”, and I’m sure there are many other good places where you can take your PDC.

If you are still reading, there is a very good possibility that this is your time and this is a calling for you.

As I said earlier, you could come for a 3 month block (February to April , or June to August), or embrace 6 months.

Even though we will have to read your application and maybe have an online meeting, the first 2 weeks will still be a trial, for us to know you and for you to know us and the land… if it is not working for you, you will be free to go. If it is not working for us, or if we have reasonable reasons to believe someone is not fit for this experience at this time, we could ask any apprentice to leave at any time.

  • We will request that, in the month of May we have a break and take a rest, go travel, go visit other places or local projects which you will surely know about once you are here. These lands have been booming with many new people with very interesting visions and projects. Communities of parents, Permaculture farms, Organic Markets, Educational projects, Eco-tourist projects, City projects with migrants and refugees, etc… We will encourage you to get involved in the local community as you wish.

This is roughly it… I can´t give an exact program and plan because we will make it together depending on who will join us , each one´s skills and desires, and of course the land´s needs. Each season has it´s priorities, so the first block will be different than the second… The early one is all about preparing beds, seedlings, managing forests, planting trees, fixing things, organising and cleaning, designing and researching, chopping wood and keep us warm, etc… the summer block has more natural building, events, retreats, hosting guests, spending siesta at local rivers and lakes, long evenings, watering , watering, and did I mentioned watering 🙂 It´s a beautiful and dynamic dance, and I assure you, you will learn and grow a lot if you come open for it.

Here´s our last year’s experience with Emi, if you haven’t read it yet on my previous post:

My journey at Mount of Oaks started in April 2022 and it was truly a life changing experience for me. I was welcomed so warmly and with so much love, not only by the residents of Mount of Oaks, but by the entire community in the area. I had an instant feeling of belonging. 

I came with the intention to be in charge of the garden. But it was so much more than just volunteering as a gardener. 

It was the life in a community, the consciousness of sustainability and the treatment of nature, animals and human beings that profoundly shaped my time at MoO. 

As a landscape gardener I was familiar with most of the work and after my PDC (Permaculture Design Course) I knew about the Permaculture Principles. But at Mount of Oaks I have seen these principles put into practice and I saw my work and duty as a gardener in a different way. 

At the beginning it was a challenge for me to work mostly on my own, but with time I knew the garden, I knew the land and gained more trust in me and my work. 

In a community it is very important to see the work yourself and come up with solutions and ideas which then can be shared with the others. This has contributed a lot to me becoming more independent and also more creative. Besides that, I had the space to make mistakes, which really helped me to learn even more. 

The everyday Life changed with the seasons. We would often welcome the day with a prayer and then everyone went on with the work for the day. 

We tried to have dinner together once a week to spend time with each other and share thoughts, ideas and achievements. So there is a balance between spending time with the community and having enough time for yourself and doing things you love. 

I could really write a book about the things I experienced and learned in these six months. After a while I started to make a list of all the things I did there for the first time. And this list kept getting longer and longer. So it is not easy to summarize my time at MoO here. 

It’s an absolutely magical place and the nature and this land kept me so grounded and alive and I have really found a family in these amazing people.  

And I know I always have a place to come back to.

This inspired me to make this call for next year and I am quite grateful for Emi and her kind and gentle spirit, as well as her hardworking enthusiasm. She was alone as an apprentice which has it´s benefits, but I thought a small group will be even better. Like I said, 3 or 4 will bring a more balanced dynamic.

Get in touch (use the contact form or e.mail in this web site) and raise your questions if you need to know more.

We can´t forget this is a 5 hectare farm land, and regenerating and developing this farm in a sustainable way is part of our calling too. We usually need to find a balance between “managing people” and “managing land”… We cannot seat all day speaking about our chalenges, or our passions, or our dreams, or how we are going to change the world… There will be time for that too 🙂 But this land needs our help too as we are part of this eco-system… We help the land and it´s beings and I assure you that She will help us individually and collectively, because that is what our Mother Earth does.

  • We would love to welcome those who are passionate to restore and regenerate lands and soils, those who are willing to bring healthy and sustainable solutions and are able to see the bright side when “problems” arise.
  • We would like to welcome those who are willing to work through the difficult and challenging times and will not be afraid to ask for help when needed.
  • We receive help, in order to help others… This is not a therapy program, but surely healing happens, when it needs to happen or when it comes to the surface. We would love to welcome those who are more willing to serve than to be served. We all have a lot to give and hospitality has been an important part of this place, so it is a request that each apprentice has already this desire. We will possibly host different retreats, events, healing ceremonies, workshops, etc. “Herbal Yoga”, that our local friend Daisy is pioneering, is already scheduled each month; possibly an 8 day residential shamanic retreat in Spring time and several building workshops in Summer… just so you have an idea of our possible activitiesWe encourage each one of the Apprentices to use our spaces too, for workshops, events, massages and other healing therapies, or what each wants to offer or generate income from. (as long as that doesn´t affect their main responsibility at MoO and aligns with our goals and principles)

Our faith and trust in a “much bigger than us” Being is very important for us as you might have noticed by now. This land, in a way, and in my heart, belongs to this Being we feel privileged to serve… The One who is in us and all around us, in whom we live and move and have our being. We are not affiliated with any kind of Institution or religion even though Jesus, as our guide, healer and teacher has been part of both of our paths for most of our spiritual journey.

We are part of an Association, White Stone, that you can already be part of ( here ). White Stone is the legal owner and guardian of this land we live in and look after as a service to Mother Earth and this Higher Being who guides us all.

Thank you for staying with me until the end, and looking forward to hear any feed-back… Please submit your FORM here

Blessings your way .

2022