Dan Halsey, a Permaculture Research Institute designer and lecturer from Minnesota, never dreamed his experience working with earthworms would bring him to Lebanon. But in September 2014, his expertise in worm nursery design and vermiculture, the raising and production of earthworms and their by-products, brought him halfway across the world to serve as a Farmer-to- Farmer (F2F) volunteer.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, Hal- sey’s assignment was focused on supporting two universities with development of worm farms and establishment of proper supply chains. He also helped the host organization understand broader benefits of vermiculture. “All they were thinking about were the castings, but there is a lot more to it than that. The soil is great, but the juice is what you want.” Halsey describes the juice as a powerful and concentrated super-fertilizer. As a result of this assignment the host has built a vermicomposting unit based on Haley’s design and recommendations and they are in the process of producing this new product for farmers.
Teaching about worm juice was not the only way that Halsey broadened the host’s knowledge. Vermiculture is one way to help maintain a healthy soil, but he explained that it is only one of many practices within permaculture to maintain healthy soils. Halsey describes permaculture as a more holistic approach “about the relationship between biotic and abiotic systems, nutrient cycling and sustainable practices.” He adds, “It involves houses, building structures, plants, graywater systems, healthy soils and everything on a landscape.”
Eager to learn more about permaculture, one of Halsey’s host universities along with another private university invited Halsey back in April of 2015 for another assignment on permaculture. He introduced permaculture to the two universities and taught two one-week workshops to a total of 78 students.
Designing an agricultural space with sustainability in mind while considering the relationships between plants, people, animals and structures is the essence of permaculture. Thanks to Dan Halsey’s high impact assignments, agricultural university stu- dents have learned important new methods for low-impact, effi- cient and low-maintenance design.
During this second assignment, Halsey experienced interesting challenges in the Lebanon context. For example, due to fre- quent power outages, he was sometimes unable to use his pre- pared slide deck. Thinking on his toes, Halsey had students draw a map of their fields and the various plants growing there from memory. Together, they learned a lot about their space from their collective knowledge.
“In the end I had two new teaching tools that I didn’t have be- fore,” says Halsey. When asked if he plans to go back, he says: “I’d go back in a flash! Beirut is very cool and there is no lacking of anything.” He is now planning a third assignment to teach university class on permaculture next year.