Earthworks St Albans: Permacultural Training for People with Learning Difficulties
Permaculture just keeps on cropping up on the pages of TreeHugger. We've written about permaculturists greening the desert in the Middle East, and we've carried details of a small urban permaculture garden in NC. Last month we brought details of an innovative permaculture project in the UK called Offshoots, and now, thanks to an article in the latest issue of the ever-inspirational Permaculture Magazine (the article is unfortunately unavailable online), we bring news of another important project in the UK.
Earthworks St Albans was started as a reaction to a spate of closures of state-owned residential care homes for people with learning difficulties in the mid-ninties. It is now a registered charity that offers trainees, often with learning difficulties or mental health problems, work experience and training in horticultural and land-based skills. It has a two-acre site that is managed along ecological principles, and the organization is involved in conservation efforts, and in growing food for the local farmers' market.
Horticulture has long been a traditional occupation for people with learning difficulties, but Earthworks considers itself different from many other horticultural training centres due to its rejection of the top-down management style, preferring to encourage input from the whole team. The main focus of the project is people centered, and the organization recognizes that production sometimes has to come second:
"Our primary task is to develop people's skills and abilities. Production comes second. Unlike a commercial horticulture operation we have to accept a very high casualty rate for the plants we grow and a less than perfect build quality for the things we make. Seeds trickle through fingers or get buried under inches of compost; those that germinate may get mashed up or turned upside down. [ ] These may well be some of the most expensive (in terms of person hours) vegetables and herbs in existence! But growing and selling them gives many of our people a sense of pride in growing something as fundamental as good food."