Pi’s Forest: Permaculture Put into Practice in India

Natural Leadership

henna hand

Nestled into the southeastern coast of India there is something amazing happening: permaculture with a conservation purpose. Since 2003, an eclectic group of volunteers and permaculture super-stars have been working and living together in a planned, sustainable community called Sadhana Forest on the outskirts of the city of Pondicherry (or Puducherry). Pondicherry was put on the mental maps of many North Americans as the hometown of the main character in The Life of Pi written by Canadian author Yann Martel, 2011.

Sadhana is used colloquially by yogis to mean “spiritual practice” but, perhaps more fitting in this example, the word in Sanscrit means “an effort exercised towards the achievement of purpose”. The Sadhana Forest project has an admirable yet daunting purpose: to rebuild the surrounding forest and get the land back into beautiful, working condition. When Sadhana Forest founders, Yorit and Aviram Rozin, first moved onto the barren 70 acres of land eight years ago (almost to the day!), their goal was clear: rebuild the indigenous Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF) out of what was ostensibly nothing, and at the same time teach as many like-minded people how to live in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner. The intention of the project is to draw attention to the endangered TDEF ecosystem and put forward the case for its conservation.

A healthy TDEF forest contains many types of trees, shrubs, climbing plants, and thousands of animal and insect species. Though the forest that the members of Sadhana build and grow will never match the original indigenous forest – for reasons far beyond their control, such as the lack of larger, predatory animals integral to the natural eco-system, chased away by humans long ago – the forest they build will be a reasonable facsimile, and designed with the local population of humans in mind. In this way, hopefully the forest and its natural inhabitants will be more adaptable to the growing, and changing world. The rebuilding requires that the residents plant new vegetation, work to increase the water table, develop a system with which to foster the re-population of near-extinct animal species to the region, the education of humans in the area about sustainable living, veganism, and respect for the environment. One of the main activities that the residents and volunteers of the Sadhana Forest spend their time on is the planting and nurturing of the indigenous plants that will grow, and repopulate the vegetative landscape of the forest. These plants include mainly evergreen plants such as Atalentia monophyllia, a hardwood tree with beautiful green, waxy leaves, and many medicinal properties. By applying permaculture principles, the Sadhana Forest project will thrive and grow, and help to alleviate poverty in the area by offering villagers a place to cultivate their food and prevent the all too common exodus to nearby slums.

Some full-time residents and many volunteers, who come from all over the world in order to learn how to live sustainably and share new experiences with a multinational community, populate the Sadhana Forest. Currently, the Sadhana Forest is developing a daughter site in Haiti, to pass along lessons learned and to help empower locals to help themselves. Volunteers are welcome at the Sadhana Forest at almost any time, for almost any duration, and will receive lodging and certain other amenities in exchange for a 25 hour work week, and a few rounds on the “exercise bike” that helps to provide energy on cloudy days when the solar panels aren’t getting enough light. To learn more about permaculture, consider taking Permaculture and Design, a 5-week, fully online course offered by MCAD’s Sustainable Design Program over the summer. Permaculture design uses holistic principles to design living systems that yield benefits without depleting resources. Students will learn the Holmgren Principles of permaculture design and build examples following each. Students will map the environmental relationships and ecological requirements of their lifestyle resulting in more opportunities for self-sustaining permaculture design.

Courtney Algeo is a freelance writer working in Minneapolis, in addition to her work as an Administrative Assistant in the Online Learning department at MCAD where she saves the day for the Sustainable Design Program nearly on a daily basis. Check out the various Sustainable Design Program offerings designed to cater to the distinct needs of busy working professionals: 30-credit Post-Baccalaureate Certificate, 18-credit Professional Certificate, and 9-credit Topic Series offered in Sustainable Design. Courtney is always happy to help!

Tree and community image courtesy of CC Share Alike 2.5 India @Sadhana Forest. Hand image courtesy of Flickr CC @Meanest Indian.