It was a sunny and humid with summer storm clouds brewing in the mountains when we flew into Sofia last Wednesday morning. Having been smashing the UK tour pretty much non-stop for the past month with no time to do any research, Mal and I arrived knowing next to nothing about the geography, people or language of Bulgaria and emerged onto the streets of Sofia feeling like a couple of bewildered and illiterate kids.
Using a bit of mangled phrasebook Bulgarian and wild gesticulating directed at amused locals, we managed to find our way onto the train to Kalofer – our first stop at the foothills of the Central Balkan National Park.
The first thing that stands out about the small rural village of Kalofer, beyond the immediate natural beauty of the mountains were fruit trees growing on every street and the abundant vegetable gardens growing in every back yard. On the edge of town, plum trees grew wild and became part of the surrounding forest, while renegade pumpkin vines took off into the undergrowth from a haphazardly plonked pile of horse manure on the side of the road.
Life seemed a lot more chilled than where we’d come from and, despite Bulgaria’s ongoing recession and dodgy government, there was a sense that the people were onto it and this place was far more resilient than most western countries. While we were there, we’d even heard news that the prime minster had resigned after more than 400 days of people protesting his corruption (which should be an inspiration to all Australians if you ask me!)
At a guesthouse in Sofia a few days later, our host told us “In Bulgaria, our food is sacred, that’s why everybody grows food”.
EU Permaculture Convergence – Lake Batak (Язовир Батак)
Our next stop, and the reason we’d come to Bulgaria in the first place was biannual European Permaculture Convergence, held at Lake Batak in the mountains to the south.
With permaculturalists from nearly every country in the EU and some from as far afield as Israel, South Africa and Australia, Batak quite possibly became the most concentrated centre of highly-skilled individuals in Europe for those few days, attracting some of the most equipped people from around the continent in forming solutions for climate change & energy descent transition.
Workshops and discussions were held on everything from creative community facilitation and strategies for people care to forest gardening and teacher training, including many a brainstorming session on how to take permaculture to the next level in Europe and worldwide.
The greatest thing about the convergence, however, was the atmosphere of celebration and the fact that it had been designed to feel more like a festival than a conference. While some may have felt that the format didn’t cultivate enough ‘seriousness’ or ‘practicality’ needed to tackle some of these global issues, I felt that this was its strongest virtue.
Despite the heaviness of some of the topics being discussed, there was always the sense that most people were enjoying themselves, which not only gave the entire event a positive atmosphere overall, but clearly helped people to become inspired and reinvigorated about the projects they were working on in the wider world.
I feel that this festive spirit is something that can be of great value towards attracting the attention of a more mainstream demographic in permaculture and hopefully we can continue cultivating it through music, celebration and positive action in order to successfully get all hands on deck for a resilient future.