EuPC 2014, Batak, Bulgaria

img_2676The European Permaculture Convergence (abrv. EuPC) is a bi-annual gathering of Permaculture practitioners, teachers and enthusiasts representing the all countries and bioregions of the European continent and beyond. The decision to host the EuPC 2014 in Bulgaria was made following a meeting of the European Permaculture Teacher’s Partnership (EPT) in Vale de Llama, Portugal. The Partnership was a EU-funded initiative that brought together educators within this emerging field to set standards for the implementation of Permaculture education throughout the continent. It included representatives from more than a dozen countries. The first meeting of the EPT was held immediately after the EuPC 2012, which took place in Escherode, Germany. Since the project was part of a two-year funding cycle, it only made sense that that the final meeting should be held right before the EuPC 2014. Leading up to the decision, both the EPT and the Permaculture Council of Europe realized that the event had never been held in an Eastern European country, so the decision for it to take place in Bulgaria was rather obvious.

Bulgaria

The Permaculture movement in Bulgaria is still in its infancy, since the first official PDC courses in the country only began in 2011, and targeted mostly foreigners. This does not mean that “permaculture-like” methods were absent in our region. On the contrary, Bulgaria has a long tradition of organic agriculture and cottage industries that touch upon permaculture principles. What we are still lacking is the modern and well-structured methods and terminologies that could be re-harvested from the West.

For the organizers, our first challenge was selecting a location. Bulgaria is abundant with a rich history and beautiful landscapes, but the challenge was to find a venue that could comfortable accommodate more than 300 participants. We came across Eco-Camping Batak, a campsite on the shore of Lake Batak (a dammed lake constructed in Communist times) in the Rhodope mountains. There, we had forest, water and mountains all in one place. It also happens to be the most bio-diverse region of all of Europe.

Partnership

The event took place between July 25th and 30th, immediately following the final EPT meeting at the same location. The role of the EPT was crucial both logistically and financially to the success of the EuPC 2014. Since the Partnership is a gathering of individuals, who professionally teach permaculture, and the greatest number of partners were going to be present at the EuPC 2014, it only made sense to make the workshop program OPEN SPACE.

Various members of the EPT partnership took the lead on moderating the open space process, which allowed for flexible exchange between all participants. The first round was held the first morning of the EuPC, and the second round, two days later. The feedback of this process was that it was a total success and the best way to manage the kind of crowd that the EuPC 2014 received.

Workshops

The workshops offered were dynamic and diverse. From planning forums for specific interest groups to open discussions about specific techniques used in Permaculture, doing it this way not only saved the organizers work, but also offered the people innovative ways to participate and create a feeling of camaraderie. We were building something together, and that in itself was a lesson living in a micro-ecovillage for five days.

Music

The program was also rich and diverse in musical performances giving it an appropriate festival vibe –a celebration of the growing movement and new traditions blending with old. We included a local Reggae Band, Electronic music, Jazz, folklore ensembles, Peter Cow, and of course, Charlie McGee and the Formidable Vegetable Sound System, which livened up the crowd like never before. Charlie’s talent for performance might make him go down in history as “the best thing to happen to Permaculture since Bill Mollison” because of the fact that he brings the niche Permaculture message out in a very mainstream way. Because of acts like his, Permaculture has a chance to shine and reach an audience that it never had access to before.

Keeping in touch

Now that almost a year has passed since this event, people are still talking about it. People are still keeping in contact, collaborating and proliferating the permaculture message throughout their networks. The goal was to strengthen the bond within the permaculture community in Europe, and together with the EPT partnership, the EuPC 2014 did just that. We do still have a lot of work to do, especially in Bulgaria, getting the message across to established institutions. But now we have formed a continental coalition that will help bring this message to where it matters most.