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Podcast

#028 Itai Hauben: Why Permaculture Design is The First Step of the Wise (Symbiosis Eco Design)

Mar 28, 2024

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Permaculture considers the contextual whole creating efficient co-supportive systems that maximize yield, minimize ongoing maintenance, and achieve regenerative symbiosis.

In this interview, I visited Itai Hauben at his lovely home and permaculture education center called Adama. 

Adama is nestled in the mountains of the Chirripo River Valley, where Itai and his wife Melina teach permaculture design courses to lucky students every year. It’s also the headquarters of Symbiosis Eco Design, their permaculture design and implementation business, serving land projects nationwide. Symbiosis is a powerful change agent in this country ecologically, socially, and educationally. 

Itai’s story is a testament to the power of permaculture in creating thriving, sustainable ecosystems and businesses, aligning with the values of authenticity, personal growth, and ecological stewardship.

Itai was a guest presenter at an event I produced in 2023 called the Regenerative Business Incubator for Landowners. He schooled us on project management and cultivating a healthy workforce culture. Itai was also a guest presenter during a PDC course I took with Ecoversity, teaching us how to make beautiful graphic images for our design clients.

 

Why Hire a Permaculture Professional?

We got together to chat about why creating a permaculture design is such a highly recommended investment BEFORE making any significant investments into any land-based endeavor. Itai gives several examples illustrating the importance of hiring a professional who can read the landscape and avoid potential pitfalls. 

In addition, Itai emphasizes the need to conduct proper due diligence before purchasing a property and hiring specialists to ensure the security of your investment. There are some things that just can’t be undone!

Understanding and integrating local knowledge into permaculture design can’t be overstated. We’ve delved into the critical aspects of water management, soil stability, and the creation of food forests, illustrating the importance of thoughtful, well-planned permaculture designs. 

Land Development Can Carry Heavy Consequences
Why go it alone?

Learning from our mistakes is ordinary, meaningful, and part of the journey. Learning from other people’s mistakes through research or hiring the assistance of someone further along the path is wisdom and an integral part of the permaculture design process.

The episode wraps up with talks on preventing burnout and pacing a project according to the client’s needs. 

Let’s carry forward the wisdom and inspiration from Itai’s journey. Remember, the path to successful, sustainable living and professional growth in permaculture is paved with patience, planning, and a profound respect for the surprises that can be found amidst the natural world. 

 

Permaculture Isn’t Just for Land Management

 

As a design science, the permaculture principles and methodology can (and should) be applied to our lifestyle, businesses, community development, and more. Permaculture calls us to step back and assess the bigger picture, the synergistic relationships, the edges, and the marginal so we can create systems comprised of elements that support many functions. 

One of my permaculture teachers, Stephen Brooks, refers to permaculture as the study of “Duh.” Many people study permaculture and find themselves struck by the common sense aspects of it all and dumbfounded as to why it’s simultaneously contrary to so many of today’s modern practices.

If you’re interested in studying permaculture, consider studying with Itai at his ranch, Adama, in Costa Rica. He’s a brilliant architect and teacher, and his place inspires all those who pass through its gates.

May we all embrace these principles in our own endeavors, nurturing a future where both our environment and our businesses can flourish in harmony.

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To follow more of Itai’s contributions toward a regenerative world, check out:

 

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Go to https://ko-fi.com/regenerationnationcr  to drop a few dollars in the bucket and let me know you care. 

 

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For transcripts of this episode, scroll down a little further.

Music: Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod

Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4291-rite-of-passage 

License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Episode Transcripts

[00:00:24] Jason Thomas:

Welcome back to Regeneration Nation Costa Rica. I’m your host, Jason Thomas. I’m here with Itai Hauben, and we are at the beautiful Adama, a permaculture education center. Here in Costa Rica, near the Chiripo river. Itai has a business called Symbiosis Eco Design, and he has been responsible for beautifying many parts of this country and making life better for the owners and visitors of those properties. 

So, Thanks for joining us today, Itai.

[00:01:00] Itai Hauben:

Hi, welcome.

[00:01:01] Jason Thomas:

Itai has been a permaculture designer for a couple of decades now, and we’re going to hear a little bit about Itai’s story, learning about permaculture coming to Costa Rica, but we’re also going to talk about the importance of permaculture design and why even bother why to bother designing your property or your business or your lifestyle, using this design method and principles versus just going for it. It will be a bit of the topic today, and we’ll get into it first. Itai, I would like to ask you that question. How did you get into permaculture?

[00:01:40] Itai Hauben:

In 2001, I went, uh, to take a vision quest in California. For me, it was a life-changing experience. And this is a different story. However, immediately after that, I was invited by one of the other questors to go to the Bioneers conference in Marin County, California. I went to the Bioneers conference, and it blew my mind. There were amazing speakers and amazing people. If you don’t know about the Bioneers conference, it’s really worth looking into. One of the workshops I took there was by Toby Hemingway, a permaculture designer who passed away a couple of years ago, and he inspired me. For example, I went into his four-hour workshop, and I left saying that’s what I want to do with my life. That’s exactly what I was looking for. That’s exactly the direction that I want to take. Soon after, I had to go back to Israel. As soon as I got back to Israel, the first thing I looked into was who was teaching permaculture.

I want to know more about it. I want to take the course. I want to apply myself to it. I found this one place that was teaching permaculture at the time. I went there, and I took a very extensive course. At the time, they were teaching a six-week, super-exhaustive course, which for me was great.

I wanted to absorb as much as possible, so I moved there. I left everything else. I moved to that farm. I stayed there for two years. My teacher guru, Rotem, was an agronomist who focused on the regeneration of arid land. So, reestablishing arid forests is a very interesting ecosystem, and I learned a lot about that.

At the same time, I felt like food production was a little lax in that context; it was also climatically challenging, but I felt like we’re doing amazing work in regeneration, planting food, forest, and fruit trees, managing water, but, uh, for me, the, the, the bread and butter, the vegetables and the grains and the tubers, we’re not, then, the strong, um, suit of that, of that farm. And that led me to explore a little further. I know if you want me to keep going or

[00:03:55] Jason Thomas:

Yeah. If it’s relevant to what got you excited about permaculture, that’s fine. I, you mentioned the regeneration of arid, 

Ecosystems, and I know that’s something that really sparked me many years ago when we first bought our farm. I found some of the work further being done in Jordan and other areas to legitimately turn deserts into forests. And so this is what you were. This was the foundation of your studies.

[00:04:24] Itai Hauben:

This is the foundation of my studies.

[00:04:25] Jason Thomas:

It’s just fantastic. I’ll have to share some resources in our show notes so people can learn more about them because they’re truly magical. 

It’s magical to see the before and after of a decade of turning a legitimate desert into a forest.

But you’re saying that the focus wasn’t so much on growing food as it was on reforestation.

[00:04:50] Itai Hauben:

I mean, I don’t think there was not enough focus on growing food because it was a small community and we were trying to grow a lot of food, but Gore’s focus in life and knowledge and experience were not there for food growing. He was not a farmer. 

He was a forester. It was a great learning experience. We did natural building and earthworks for water conservation, and he was very knowledgeable about a lot of that. But I was just curious to know more about growing the food we consume daily.

This place was an educational center, so we had permaculture courses. I participate in several other permaculture courses during my time there.

All these other workshops were coming in, and one of them was a biointensive workshop, which spoke right to my niche, which was lacking there. Right. It was like, all right, how do we grow vegetables? What we consume most are tubers, vegetables, and grains.

At the end of the workshop, the teacher said that if anyone is interested in learning more, the center in California, where the research center initiated this system, offers scholarships. I was like, all right, that sounds great. I wanted to know more, so I applied for the scholarship.

It was the last date they were closing. I didn’t. I learned about it the day before. Luckily, I got a scholarship to study with John Jeavons in Willits, California, in the Common Ground Farm, a 6-month program. That was also very life-changing for me for many on so many levels.

One of them is that this is where I met my wife. Also, it gave me a much broader understanding of how to grow food. This is crucial to what we’re talking about in permaculture: how to, you know, be more resilient—decrease our footprint. We want the food to grow just outside our kitchen, not thousands of miles away.

Growing food is essential for permaculture, for me, at least. So yeah, this was a life-changing experience that eventually brought me to Costa Rica.

[00:07:11] Jason Thomas:

So after two years in Israel, studying mainly reforestation and ecosystem transformation, you went to California, where you studied six months of biointensive food growing. And then you ended up in Costa Rica. How’d that work out?

[00:07:32] Itai Hauben:

Well, I fell in love with this cute Colombian girl who was also on a scholarship in the same program. She came to the program from the Earth University. She was Colombian but studied agronomical engineering in Costa Rica at Earth University. In their third year, the students of Earth University take a semester abroad, right?

So, finding their niche depends on their focus and interest. She was interested in regenerative or sustainable agriculture. We met when she applied and got a scholarship to the same program. I didn’t speak a word in Spanish. She had a vocabulary of about a dozen words in English. 

And it was really, really sweet.

And, you know, I told her, with my non-existent Spanish or in English, and, for friends helping to translate that, I’ll meet her in Costa Rica. I’m going to finish my program and hitchhike. And she had a flight back to Costa Rica, but I said, yeah, I’m just going to hitchhike my way down and find you at Earth University.

 There were no cell phones at that time, you know, 2004. I had a little note in my notebook, her dorm, and a number from Earth University. And I literally started hitchhiking from Willits, California, with my backpack, just like on the road. I got into Berkeley but couldn’t hitchhike my way out of the city.

It’s tough if you have ever tried it. I know you have had a lot of traveling experience. You stand on the main lane with a sign saying Costa Rica, and nobody stops. It’s just, 

[00:09:16] Jason Thomas:

Costa Rica from Berkeley now; definitely in my experience, I learned that when you’re in the city, always get on a bus, like a public bus, that can take you to the furthest distance out of 

town first. And then once you get to that furthest distance out of town, you can get on the public bus, start hitchhiking, and always fly a sign for the next state or border, but no, that’s hilarious. I could totally see it. 

[00:09:44] Itai Hauben:

Yeah, but I was trying to figure out my plan. I was staying with some friends of my brother living in Berkeley at the time. And I was trying to find the right out-of-town, basically. And they invited me to a synagogue for, uh, you know, the Sabbath service, which I never went to.

I’m not a religious person. I never in my life did a bar mitzvah. I didn’t, you know, attend to any of that, but I was kind of bored, and Stachka was like, all right, whatever, let’s go just to get out of the house. It was actually a very beautiful alternative community that they were a part of.

At the end of the ceremony, I randomly met this really enthusiastic guy who told me that in four days, he’d be living on a vegetable oil-powered bus to Costa Rica. He has a permaculture farm there, and his name is Steven Brooks. 

And I said, “Listen, man, I have to get on the bus.

It was like, no, sorry. We’re full. We don’t have space. The crew is already set. I was like, no, listen, man. I told him the whole story. I fell in love. My girlfriend, who is in Costa Rica, will wait for me at the university. I have to get there. And he was like, listen, it’s like, I’m really sorry. I would love to say yes, but we were full.

So I took his email and number. And I started nagging him like five times a day until he was desperate to get rid of me, probably. So he said, I can’t really take this decision. There is a whole crew. It’s not me, but if you want to come to the departure party, it’s going to be in San Francisco in that place and talk with the rest of the crew.

And if everyone is saying yes, then OK, but I can’t make that call. So I was like, all right, I’m going. I packed my stuff, and I went to the party. The bus was on display outside, with the doors open so people could see. The party was terrific. Live music, circus and food, and exotic fruit. As you can expect when Steven Brooks 

is around, and it was my first durian experience.

 And then, at 4 AM, everybody was partying hard, and I just went on the bus, put my sleeping bag on the end of the aisle, and went to sleep. And, uh, that was it. During the night, I met most of the crew. It was loud and hard to speak, so I don’t know if they understood what I was trying to say.

Like I was on the bus, they were like, who are you? Um, um, I’m part of the crew. Oh, do you know anything about mechanics? I was like, yeah, a little bit. I can help. I can learn. So I became the second hand to the mechanic installing the oil system there and helped a lot with the maintenance of the engine part, which was a little bit of carpentry. I’m not a carpenter, but I can, you know, put some shelving on the bus.

So, yeah, I just jumped on and made it to Earth University in one single hitchhike. 

Epic. Yeah, 

[00:12:57] Jason Thomas:

Epic. 

[00:12:58] Itai Hauben:

Probably. I can qualify for the Guinness Record of the Best Hitchhike Ride ever. 

[00:13:03] Jason Thomas:

Wow. Okay. Okay. Yeah, that beats any of my rides. 

Awesome. 

So you made it to Costa Rica. You made it to Earth University. You met up with Melina and that was what year?

[00:13:19] Itai Hauben:

That was the end of 2004 or maybe January 2005. Yeah,

[00:13:24] Jason Thomas:

Uh huh. And when did you move here to Adama?

[00:13:29] Itai Hauben:

Oof, that so many years later. We moved here in 2000, in December, 2018.

[00:13:35] Jason Thomas:

Okay. So, over that time, you taught permaculture courses in various countries.

[00:13:42] Itai Hauben:

Yes. In 2006, I started teaching permaculture courses in Costa Rica, at Punta Mona, primarily teaching with Stephen Brooks, twice a year, um, teaching in other places, in the Pachamama community, in Fuente Verde at the time and here and there, you know, where people were asking me to teach. I didn’t have a venue of my own to be hosting. Courses. Also, in 2006, I started working as a project consultant and designer. My first project here in Costa Rica was what is now called La Ecovilla. In the early days, it was called La Ecovilla. It was called the Kopali Communities.

[00:14:29] Jason Thomas:

Oh yeah.

[00:14:29] Itai Hauben:

I worked there for two years, between the design and implementation of the permaculture systems, the gardens, the dome, the fruit trees, and water retention ponds.

[00:14:42] Jason Thomas:

How would you define the difference between a permaculture designer and a consultant?

[00:14:47] Itai Hauben:

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I guess a consultant can be within the vast field of permaculture because permaculture is very broad, right? We talk about the seven domains of life. Permaculture has to do with all of them; a consultant can be an agricultural consultant.

For example, my wife is an agronomist who graduated from Earth and is highly knowledgeable about regenerative agriculture. A lot of her work in the company is agricultural consultancy. We have other consultants in our company who are architects, for example, and they do bioclimatic and natural building designs for natural buildings.

That kind of stuff. They’re designers but also consultants, sometimes for that specific field. We do some work similar to yours for our clients evaluating their business. Sometimes, when they 

require that, it is part of our services. We have Leonardo, a master’s in business administration and a graduate of Earth University.

He sometimes develops this kind of business plan for our clients. So he’s a consultant on that specific thing. The permaculture designer is a more macro function within our crew, of understanding enough about all the different components, not the nitty-gritty of every little part.

However, we work very close together, so I understand pretty much all the nitty gritty, but having a macro understanding of how things work and reading the land, which is, for me, very important as understanding the client’s needs and creating a design that is harmonizing these needs of the client and needs of the land. So, this is one of the key points in what we are doing in permaculture design.

It is bridging the needs of the land, what the land needs in order to be more regenerated. What can it offer without sacrificing the well-being of the land, not erosion, landslides, or contamination, right? Enhancing the well-being and welfare of the land while meeting the client criteria.

So, this is where it comes down to, and I don’t know. Does it answer the question? 

[00:17:27] Jason Thomas:

Yes. Permaculture design is more about Symbiosis, the symbiotic relationship of everything in context with everything else. And then the consultation would be along a specific vein or focus of the…

[00:17:45] Itai Hauben:

Yeah, that’s a pretty good definition.

[00:17:48] Jason Thomas:

Okay, 

When you say that you do consulting, what specific vein do you find is your specialty? Is it the food growing?

[00:17:58] Itai Hauben:

I’m very enthusiastic about water management, so water retention prevents runoff and erosion. This is definitely one of my strong suits. So, I’m a pond builder. I build dams and create ponds, which I’m very focused on and excited about.

And the amazing benefits—I can talk for the next three days about all the benefits of doing correct Earthworks or water retention and management, and the other thing is food for us. I’m really excited about food forests. I love installing food forests and planting trees. So when I go on consultancy, usually it’s going to be along these two lines.

[00:18:44] Jason Thomas:

All right. So we’ve got the background of how you got into permaculture and your place in permaculture. You’re working with a fabulous team.

You’ve been doing installations here in the area for quite some time with this team, and with a large project, there’s in my experience working with people and having my own project, even after years of helping others with their projects. Once, I had my own project, and we started it thinking that we had a good plan. When you get into doing a permaculture design specifically, it transcends most people’s tendency to make a plan.

There’s this depth to the assessment and the analysis that takes into consideration more than the function of each specific part. Right? And so that was something we wanted to get into. It may be the easiest way to describe why a holistic design is essential. I’m sure you’ve got some stories of places you’ve gone into that started without a design and were like, “Oh my gosh, what did we do? We need somebody to help us out of this jam and give us a more holistic design.” 

Through that lens, describe to our listeners the importance or value of investing in a permaculture design. 

[00:20:27] Itai Hauben:

Um, Earthworks like road placement, road work, benches for construction, leveling construction site, plantels. In the orientation of the house, as well as on an architectural level, we see many things that could be improved in the design, such as not taking correct considerations of the elements, the wind direction, and the sun direction. The problem is that these kinds of errors are almost irreversible.

For example, once you bring in a bulldozer into the property, and you cut the road, and it’s cut in the wrong way because of a lack of understanding and lack of eco-literacy. Deepak Chopra speaks of eco-literacy, and I like this concept.

Knowing how to read the landscape is a skill that, um, I don’t know if it’s lost on humanity or just, not many people today learn how to read the landscape. And, so it’s essential to tap into someone who knows how to read the landscape well and get their opinion if you need to hire them to design what you want to achieve because these mistakes are irreversible and very costly.

Right, like installing a road in a bad position on the slope with bad water management is just throwing down the money. It’s a money pit, right? It’s what we call in permaculture type A error because it’s irreversible.

You’re not going to undo the Earth cut. It’s impossible. You can mound dirt back on the cut, but it’s just going to slide back off and the cost is going to be prohibitive. Because you already invested so much money in making that road in the wrong location, for example. And then, on top of that, you might either lose your investment on that road or be committed and married to that road and have to throw money at it every year for the rest of your life to maintain it.

So, something so fundamental as placing a road, not even making it, just placing it correctly, is a crucial factor. And many times, unfortunately, people call us after the fact, and then please help us fix that road. And many times I’m like. You know, I’m not a magician, right?

I’m a permaculture designer consultant, but I’m not a magician. I can’t undo, you know, you can’t like command Z, the Earth works. It doesn’t work like that. 

So I think this is really like if anyone is listening and they have some, any project in mind where they. There is heavy, expensive, nonreversible infrastructure that they want to place.

It’s a small investment to get someone that is knowledgeable. I’m not necessarily trying to push myself, like should find someone, you know, Jason knows a lot, there are other people in the country get someone that is a, that knows how to read the land and can give you sound advice on, or design on how to place your mainframe components.

Um, yeah, this is one of the main things.

[00:23:57] Jason Thomas:

Man, I hear you on that. I have seen some devastating roads put in this country, and I’m not a pro. If somebody asked me to help design a road, I’d call you up. Even then, I’ve taken a first look at a number of roads in this country and just shook my head.

Like, how, how, why, why, how did that end up being the decision? And, we all have our gifts, you know, a lot of people get excited like one of the first things they think about is, I want this view. And so, based on my desire for a view, I’m going to put my dream house right here. And because my house is right here, I’m going to get, you know, the shortest road possible because I don’t want to spend too much on the road.

So, I’m going to make a direct path with my road. That’s many times the case. Also, I mean, I don’t know if you want me to go a little into some nitty gritty stuff, but if you have an ocean view on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. This is what a lot of people are looking for, right? To be on the ridge or on the hillside and have an ocean view.

Eh, if you have a view to the west, to the sunset, which is very desirable because it’s really beautiful to see the sunset. But here’s the issue. From 1 PM until sunset, you’re going to have two suns blazing into your living room through the big pane window because this is usually the case when you want to see the view, right?

Um, and it’s going to turn into a solar oven. The solar gain in that situation is ridiculous, and no amount of air conditioning is going to be able to contradict that. If you have a pool in front of your deck facing West, you’re going to have three suns blazing into your living room.

The one from the 

sky, the one that reflects from the ocean, and the one that reflects from your swimming pool.

[00:26:15] Jason Thomas:

My gosh.

[00:26:15] Itai Hauben:

I’ve seen that many times and these houses are almost unlivable,

[00:26:22] Jason Thomas:

Uh-huh. 

[00:26:23] Itai Hauben:

Because they get so crazy hot, they’re solar ovens. I mean, you get it. 58 Celsius degrees inside, and it’s sunset. So you have to put these, you know, bulky bamboo shutters on the outside of the windows. Then you don’t see the view because you have to put the shutters or you put shade nets and vegetation. There are all kinds of solutions that are now trying to hide that view because this view is bringing way too much solar gain inside your house. The intelligent design of bioclimatic houses can help; you can enjoy a view, but you also have to be smart about it. How do you do it, and how do you not fry yourself in the process?

[00:27:12] Jason Thomas:

That’s it right there. Just that tip could really help some people out. Give them, give us another nitty gritty. What’s a common assumption that people make on how they want to design their property that you come in and you’re like, well if we take all things into consideration, I would suggest not doing that.

 Let’s do it this way.

[00:27:34] Itai Hauben:

Um, there are many things, but one of the main things we see is people coming from other climate zones who are not accustomed to living in the tropics. And one of the things that is overlooked broadly is water management—runoff management, to be more specific. It’s essential to realize that when it rains here, it rains.

It really, really rains like here. Just last week, I measured 308 millimeters in 24 hours.

That’s a lot of water. That’s a foot of water in 24 hours.

[00:28:20] Jason Thomas:

Wow. 

[00:28:21] Itai Hauben:

And it wasn’t like, you know, some insane rain event, like one in a hundred years. It was just the regular Costa Rican rainy season. 

So, when you have so much rain, you really have to consider very, very carefully.

How do you manage the water? Now, we’re in a very mountainous country. Most of the properties are on slopes, and you have to be hyper-conscious about what happens on the slopes because if you’re not, then it’s going to create erosion, and it literally can take out of your road. It can take out the foundations of the house.

It can take out the hillside, so this is serious stuff. And if you’re in the lowlands, you have other issues of flooding, right? You really don’t want to be building close to a river. You come here in the dry season, and it’s beautiful, and you’re like, oh my God, I want to be next to that river.

Well, you should spend a whole year before you make that decision because that river can be really scary when it rains hard in the rainy season and really dangerous when it’s a one-in-20-year or one-in-50-year rain event, right? So these are things that people often lack the sufficient experience, knowledge, and acquaintance with the climate and with the land to be able to foresee.

So 

This is to answer your question. One thing that we pay a lot of attention to when we do our site analysis is hazards, risks, limiting factors, and how we design to take into consideration and mitigate. All these hazards and limiting factors to the extent possible 

reduce the risk factor.

[00:30:13] Jason Thomas:

Yeah, and that’s, yeah, that principle of, uh, you know, within, within the problem is the solution, it’s, you have to design, especially when making these significant investments, you have to design for the worst case scenario. And if you’re new to the country or a seasonal, even if you’ve been here for 10 years, seasonally, and you’ve heard stories about the worst-case scenario, it’s still so invaluable to hire somebody to come in who has 10 years of living here year-round and seeing multiple properties and all these things gone wrong because the investment into hiring somebody to come in and help you make those decisions could save hundreds of thousands of 

dollars because I’ve seen some houses go down from the landslides 

and it’s just. 

It’s tragic. 

[00:31:04] Itai Hauben:

Yeah. 

It’s tragic. Another critical thing, and one of the services that I love doing the most, is due diligence. We go to the property before you purchase it and vet it out to give you approval or information that allows you to make an informed decision.

Maybe sometimes I’ll tell you, listen, don’t buy it. It’s a bad investment. I might tell you, listen, you have to consider A, B, C, and D. because we see that many times people hire us to come to do a design in a property that’s not adequate for what they want to do and trying to do. 

Balancing the needs of the property and the needs of the client is an impossible task, right?

It’s like you said, many people are falling in love with a certain view and it, and they buy the property, not because the property is any good, but because the view is good and view is all great. But if you have no. If it is a feasible location for house construction on that property, then this view isn’t worth anything.

If anywhere you’re going to build a house is a hazardous location, it’s not worth it. 

[00:32:18] Jason Thomas:

Or illegal, 

[00:32:19] Itai Hauben:

Or illegal. 

Definitely. 

[00:32:20] Jason Thomas:

Something a lot of people aren’t aware of how far you need to be away from a waterway or how not cut a downable that tree is that you think you could just cut down to, you know, you’ve got places that get entirely closed down and all their permits pulled and then forever because they cut down the wrong tree and somebody found out and then all of a sudden and I just put a lockdown on everything and it was like, Oh, that was 

[00:32:47] Itai Hauben:

I’ve seen that happen many times.

[00:32:48] Jason Thomas:

It’s a poor assumption to make.

[00:32:50] Itai Hauben:

Yeah. If it’s a site that won’t get permits for various reasons, many people hope to build without permits. Costa Rica is not the wild west. It used to be, but it’s not 

anymore, and municipalities have drones, and they’re on top of it.

So it’s not as wild West as it used to be. Anyway, I think due diligence is a very good investment. Many times, it’s just knowing what you’re going to face. Many times people are attracted to a property because it has good assets, but it’s really cheap, but they don’t understand sometimes that this cheap cost per hectare comes at a very high cost later when you’re trying to develop it.

There might be a balance there, like, okay, it’s really cheap now, but to bring a road and electricity water system construction will cost you this much more. And it’s really not worth the price. Sometimes. It’s not always the case, but it’s something to take into consideration.

Okay.

[00:34:02] Jason Thomas:

I know several people who have properties that built a bridge that was washed out. And it’s like, okay, well, you want to sell it now and get out of that, but you have to put it in there for the next person. Your bridge is going to cost $30,000. 

The other thing I’ve seen in due diligence is lingering, unsettled paperwork.

stuff Old Old owner liens or dead person can’t sign something, or you got to do the due diligence because there’s a lot of people that happily sell your property and then you close on it and you go to do something and then some lawyer comes in to look deeper into giving you your permit, and they’re like, Hey, wait a minute, this never got taken care of, and you’re 

like, well, that wasn’t my fault.

And they’re like, well, it’s your problem now.

[00:35:00] Itai Hauben:

Yeah. Or, it could go as deep as losing your property. I know people who have bought property, for example, that is not registered with a promise of the family. Yeah. 

Where, you know, it’s just a matter of going through the motions, you know, of running the paper through war, the paperwork through, and you pay the money, and it’s cheap. So it’s attractive because it’s not registered. Then, some other family member comes and claims ownership of it. 

And they have the right to it. And you might be losing all your investment in that property. 

[00:35:40] Jason Thomas:

Topography is another one. I’ve seen friends build houses closer to the fence line than they should have. But then they do the topography and find out the fence line goes through the living room. Yeah. And now they’ve got to buy extra property from the. Yeah, that’s another thing: the old and new topography lines are not the same.

[00:36:07] Itai Hauben:

Well, a common mistake is that people think that the cow fencing

[00:36:13] Jason Thomas:

That’s the line, 

[00:36:15] Itai Hauben:

nd it’s not. Usually, it’s not accurate. It’s just a convenient line to

[00:36:20] Jason Thomas:

It was an agreement between a couple of neighbors

[00:36:22] Itai Hauben:

For example, or just where the trees were easy to plant for the post.

[00:36:27] Jason Thomas:

Yep. Yep. Yeah. That’s another big one. So yeah. Hiring somebody to come in and do a 100 percent good job of due diligence before purchasing the properties. 

 And this is the best investment. The best investment anyone can make is to do reasonable due diligence because you are paying a couple of hundred dollars, and you might be saving yourself a couple of hundred thousand or a couple of million, depending on what you’re looking to buy.

[00:36:57] Jason Thomas:

Yeah. So we’ve got due diligence, we’ve got somebody who really knows the elemental sectors of sun, water, wind, et cetera, and how that plays through not only the course of the year but the worst-case scenarios. What are some other really big reasons to hire a permaculture designer that someone might overlook?

[00:37:21] Itai Hauben:

Soil is a huge one. Again, people, most people, and I don’t blame anyone. I don’t expect people to be soil scientists, but, this is an excellent reason to hire someone. Costa Rica, because of the geological context of the newly-formed volcanic landmass, a lot of the material has either spewed out of a volcano in the last 30 million years or otherwise eroded from a volcano in the last 30 million years. There are a lot of soils that are unstable, specifically silt, and if you want to get to the nitty gritty silt soils, there are whole regions of the country that are mountains of silt soil.

[00:38:13] Jason Thomas:

What is that silt? 

Ah-huh 

This is very loose. 

Is that sandy? 

No. What’s silt 

[00:38:19] Itai Hauben:

In the triangle of soils, there is clay sand, the 3-grain size constituents of soil. So sand, we can imagine sand. It’s like on the beach. This is sand clay. It’s like when you do pottery. It’s clay. It’s very sticky. Right? Holds water. It’s excellent for making dams and great for holding water. Silt is a loose material that might feel like clay when soaked, and when it’s dry, it might feel more like powder.

[00:38:52] Jason Thomas:

Mmm. 

[00:38:53] Itai Hauben:

And because it doesn’t act quite like clay, there’s no cohesion between the particles and doesn’t act like sand in the sense that the particles of sand are loose, but heavy. It settles quickly and is not carried very easily with water. silt … This is a permaculture class on soils. This is why you say silting off a pond, because this is the particle that carries the most with water, and it’s going to settle in the banks of rivers in ponds, in, in your filter in their water system, and the problem with silt is that it’s an unstable soil, and when it’s on steep slopes. It tends to slump. So, this is not erosion. This is not runoff running on the material and creating crevices. Also, it’s a very erodible material. But even scarier is that you might see no erosion whatsoever.

It’s all vegetated and nice. And when it’s really saturated with water, it might lose integrity and slump. So it’s a kind of motion that becomes a porridge and just slides down. You see that very often in Costa Rica. It’s super common. You see it on the roadsides.

Landslides usually consist of loose rubble and rock, but they’re often mud. They’re silted, silt soil, not stable, and building on lands that are very steep is very common because we’re in a very mountainous country that is very silty. You already have a slope, and it’s part kind of unstable by itself, and you’re adding more weight on it by building.

You’re creating a hazard because this is just wanting to do that. 

Right. 

When it gets saturated, it just wants to do that. Making a cut to build a house, like a very vertical cut behind the house, is a hazard and can collapse on you. And we’ve seen that.

[00:41:08] Jason Thomas:

Yup. Mm hmm. 

[00:41:08] Itai Hauben:

So understanding soils is another thing that most people don’t have in their vocabulary, and that’s fine.

But this is an excellent reason to hire someone who can observe and take a soil sample, which we do when we do a site analysis, and tell you, okay, this slope is hazardous. Or it’s stable, it’s safe, and there are certain regions I can tell you even before going there that don’t buy there.

This whole region has been declared a life-threatening zone by the government of Costa Rica, which doesn’t tend to spend much time and effort on declaring stuff like that. But if that area has been declared a geological fault or instability, you shouldn’t be building on unstable soil because it’s just a disaster waiting to happen. Unfortunately, every year, we hear of some terrible collapse of some development. 

This year, it was in Punta Leona. I don’t know if you were aware. Punta Leona is, north of Jaco. It’s an old, one of the oldest, beach development, fancy villas on the, on the shoreline, on the cliff, and the whole seafront collapse, like seven villas or something pools and everything just because of that, precisely that, that kind of situation building on unstable soil.

[00:42:39] Jason Thomas:

Wow. 

Awesome. Well, this has given me and a lot of other people some new things to think about. Before we end our conversation, I wanted to touch on something we talked a lot about: the land, like building on the land, things you design regarding the Earthworks, and so forth. Let’s talk about how you work people care and future care into your permaculture designs.

[00:43:14] Itai Hauben:

People care is inherent to what we’re talking about. Balancing the needs and wants of the client is the first step. The second is making sound recommendations. Protecting my client’s investment is important for me so they don’t dig themselves into a hole. Making sure that they’re not doing something hazardous for them is very important to me.

It is making sure that their decisions are building durable, long-term resiliency, right? I encourage my clients to make things that last, that take good decisions. These are going too slowly but eventually bring them to a place of prosperity, stability, and resilience.

 This is very important for me. Also, our crew is very, very warm, like warm, loving people. We really care. And I think it really shows in our long-term relationships with our clients. We like to engage with clients that we end up being friends with and invite them over for a potluck and to their house.

Once it’s built, for example, this is important for us. It is also an essential part of people care. It might be funny, but self-care like this is important for us in our crew. It really shows in our weekly meetings that we care for each other. Our meetings and workflow are very humane.

Making sure that everyone is heard, all concerns and doubts have been cleared out, and making sure that we don’t burn ourselves is really important. This is something I learned the hard way because I got burned out several times, projects and clients and that, and there is this feeling of ooh, overwhelming.

And I’m like telling my crew to listen, just breathe. I’ll say to the client that it won’t be submitted this Friday. They’re going to understand, and we’re just going to relax and take another week and finish it, but taking care of ourselves as well, we can’t just burn ourselves. And this is important. I believe this is important for everyone,

[00:45:46] Jason Thomas:

Yeah, even the clients. I know a lot of people who are building their projects, and of course, it always takes twice as long as they think, if not longer. And they didn’t plan for that. They didn’t design the extra time and the extra stress. They believe they can conceptualize; oh yeah, I know it’s going to take longer and cost more, but it takes more than conceptualizing. You need to design in ways to handle that.

[00:46:22] Itai Hauben:

Yeah.

[00:46:23] Jason Thomas:

And that’s an important thing for people to keep in mind when they’re developing anything of size: really anticipate those stress levels coming to a point where you need to remind yourself to just.

Take a break. 

I’ve had it at my place where I was just like, we’re just like hit our point. We’re like, you know what? We’re closing the doors, or we’re going to give the workers the week off. We’ll pay them the minimum amount of time or give them some stuff to do. We don’t have to think about just some perimeter maintenance that we don’t have to check in with, but we really need a break from making decisions.

 Making decisions is hard when all of them are so important. And that’s a really important piece to keep in mind.

[00:47:14] Itai Hauben:

Yeah, I think now that you’re bringing it up, this is a very valuable point, and many times our clients are coming with a rush.

Whether driven by financial fear or some other factor, the urgency is never in you; it’s never working for you.

 

[00:47:38] Itai Hauben:

Never. Like the urgency because the world is going to end.

Because we install permaculture homesteads and farms, we have many clients who come with this fear. And I mean, yes, you know, it’s like things are pretty bad in the world and getting worse. I’m not in dispute with that assumption. Is the financial system going to collapse tomorrow? I don’t know.

I hope not, but this urgency of, like, I need to be self-sustaining tomorrow kind of thing is never working for anyone. It drives you to make horrible decisions that will take you much longer to finish the project instead of shorter. It costs you a lot more. And I’ve been dealing with clients who were sure the world would end in 2009 or 2008, even before the financial color meltdown. And then 2012 came, and we had a lot of business that year because everyone was sure that the Mayan prophecy was going to be right.

And obviously covid and whatnot. It’s like

I always tell the client yes, things might get bad, but the world is not going to end. It’s not going to be a sharp cut, and if it does, then all that we’re doing is not going to help. That’s the honest truth about it. It’s not going to help if it’s going to end tomorrow, but making bad decisions is never a good policy. Whether you’re rushed or not, it’s never a good policy.

 Being rushed always drives you to make bad decisions. So, taking time to design, plan, and act accordingly is always the fastest. It seems slower, but it’s always the fastest route to success. Rushing and doing things without a plan is always the best way to spend more money and more time because you’re going to make mistakes, and mistakes take a lot more money and a lot more time to fix than doing it right the first time.

I can’t emphasize that point enough. I’ve seen it. So many times, and it pains me to come to a project that is, it’s like in this existential rush to get things accomplished, and everything is backward, and it’s basically a shit show, and you try to step into that and make sense, out of that shit show.

It’s a very hard place to be. And I have said no to clients stepping into a situation like that. Listen, I’m not interested.

[00:50:44] Jason Thomas:

Yeah, and that’s your own self-care too, because, I mean, it’s one thing when the physical problems, the logistical problems are heavy, but when the emotional problems with the client are 

so heavy that person’s not willing to slow down enough to see 

that their emotional problems and projections are actually the cause of the other problems.

And if they’re unwilling to step back, breathe, stop, completely take the time to redesign, reassess, take a year off if you have to, but close the gates and redesign, there’s no starting point. There’s only jumping into the raging river.

And it’s not going to do anybody any good. 

When you came to the Regenerative Business Incubator for Landowners event that we hosted last year, and you were presenting on project management, that was one of the things that stuck with me. The thing I got most from that event was your illustration.

I actually teach that now to my clients. It’s one of the things I make sure to remind people you made that triangle, and you’re like, there’s time, cost, and quality. And if you try to lean 

into one too far, you’re going to take away from one of the others, try to do it too fast, either the quality and, or the cost is going to go up and down, in relation, and you can’t have some, you can not do something that’s fast, cheap and high quality. 

It doesn’t work that 

way. And that is so simple and as elementary as that is in a simple triangle, a triangle diagram, you presented it in a way that had significantly impacted me.

And, like I said, I teach it. I made a graphic for it that I present to my clients because when creating their business model, it’s the same thing. That’s why I stepped back from just consulting people and helping them implement their business design. 

That’s why I do a six-week design process with them before we implement anything. I don’t want to work with anybody who’s like, okay, I have some money, so help me get this business going so I can make some money fast. I’m like, you know, actually… not my client. 

No, actually, I only take my time to ensure we’ve talked about everything before I help you implement anything. Because I’ve learned that when I’ve been in a hurry just to get a launch out there, just get it, it doesn’t work.

And I just wasted time and money. And even if I do pull it off, it’s a poor quality, and I’m stressed the whole time, and not willing to do it.

And, yeah, that comes up again and again for me. So thank you for that.

Awesome. 

Well, we are coming to the end of our hour, and I haven’t even looked at the clock, but I’m sure we’re getting there. Before we go, though, I want to make sure we have a chance to let our listeners know about your classes because not only do you provide permaculture designs for people, but I highly recommend you to anybody who’s looking for a designer or consultant, but you have been doing, at least twice a year courses up here. And I’ve talked to several of our mutual friends in the mountain.

We’ve come to do your courses, and everybody raves about them. Not only is your location a gorgeous place and to see high-quality examples of permaculture techniques being done, but you as a teacher, and Melina also, your guys’ temperament and how you work with the students come back in the feedback from people that have talked to me about taking your course.

[00:54:49] Jason Thomas:

Do you ever do courses that are longer than 2 weeks?

[00:54:52] Itai Hauben:

No, we used to many years ago. We had these more extensive programs, but the internationally recognized 72-hour course is what we teach. Over the years, I’ve felt that it’s hard enough for people to take two weeks off of whatever they’re doing and come. I appreciate, deeply appreciate people for our students who take the time to come and learn.  

I feel like asking people to take even more time is hard. Actually, I would love to make shorter courses, and we did. We sometimes do workshops, but they’re more specific on, for example, biofertilizers and compost, animal husbandry, bio-intensive, or something like that. Not a permaculture design course. The permaculture design course, I think for me, was life-changing because it’s not about agriculture. That’s the beauty of it. It’s about life, about designing our life, each one of us, and potentially also our property, potentially also our garden, but it’s about, it’s giving you this brilliant mental toolbox on how to work through it.

Problems and solve them in a way that is regenerative, sustainable, healthy, and creates prosperity. And I had students—I always tell you on the first day of the course—coming from so many different experiences of life and taking that information and applying it in their field that I have no experience and no knowledge of whatsoever.

And doing remarkable things, whether it’s engineering, financial systems, or educational systems for younger children.  It’s not what specifically I teach or what I do. But the toolbox that I provide applies to everything.

It’s just a good, solid mental toolbox to work with. And this is the true value of the permaculture course. It’s much more than learning to grow your own food or design your property, which is also part of it. We teach biointensive composting and biofertilizers.

All these things are part of the course, but this is just the cherry on the top for me. it’s not the meat. The meat for me is the, is that toolbox that is being developed.

[00:57:26] Jason Thomas:

Yeah, and the toolbox isn’t in the techniques; the toolbox is in the principles—the ways of thinking, looking, and considering in a more holistic way. And that’s why it’s applicable to business, family life, and community development. I told you before we started that I’ve got this group program that I’m putting together for permaculture students who want to become designers.

and I’d love to get you to present on that and do a whole piece, but I guess it’d be nice to offer our listeners that there might be some people who are permaculture students who have already taken the PDC and might want to get into doing designs professionally. Do you have any advice for those people on how to best get started besides just volunteering at somebody’s place for three years, hoping to get enough experience?

[00:58:14] Itai Hauben:

Well, first of all, getting experience is the most crucial, I would say. One good way is to look to work in a company that does that. You know, as an assistant initially, and then, as you get more experienced, hopefully, climb or just find your own path individually. Once you get enough experience, our company, for example, would love to have more experienced permaculture designers that I could hire.

It’s tough to find, to be honest. Most of the people who work in our company come from different fields, like agronomy and architecture, and they took a permaculture course late. Now, they are through their work with me and with Meli, and they are learning how to design and implement permaculture systems, but this is on top of their previous experience as architects, engineers, and so on.

I’m training a lot of the crew as we go, and I think it’s the profession of the future. It must be. I mean, if we have any future, it must be. We need more experienced permaculture designers who know what they’re doing. It’s crucial.

[00:59:36] Jason Thomas:

Yeah. With the permaculture students I’ve worked with, I help them start their design business. One of the things that I share is that you don’t have to get started designing a 20-acre property. Really, you can find someone with a small home site who wants to take some first steps.

Yeah. It’s applicable in these smaller settings where someone just has half an acre or something like that that they want to design. Another great way to begin designing is to find these small-scale clients where the stakes aren’t super high, get them some short-term needs met, and…

[01:00:23] Itai Hauben:

Yeah. It could be someone’s parents’ house, for example, in a suburb or something like that, or in an apartment in the city. Just gain experience and apply yourself. Also, there is an infinite amount of information, books, YouTube videos, and websites that teach all kinds of techniques.

So it’s not necessarily giving you experience on the broad scale design, but understanding how the techniques and components work definitely helps you understand the broader design because then you know where to plug and how to interact between the different systems and components.

What are the requirements, and what are the outputs of each one of the components? So these are great ways, as we mentioned, to get more experience. Yeah.

[01:01:14] Jason Thomas:

Awesome. Before we go, please share your website, social media, and the best way for people to find you if they want to hire you for a design or attend any of your future courses. What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?

[01:01:28] Itai Hauben:

Yeah. Our website is symbiosiscr.com. We are also on social networks like Instagram and Facebook. @Adama. We’re on Instagram @adama_permaculture, and you can also reach us on WhatsApp at +506 +8712 4215.

[01:02:00] Jason Thomas:

Okay. Awesome. Any closing thoughts for listeners?

[01:02:05] Itai Hauben:

No, I’m thrilled that we had this conversation, and I hope that our conversation will be of help to anyone listening. We touched on some really solid things that happen a lot in Costa Rica from both our experiences. So, if anyone is inclined to make better decisions because of that, I’m super happy, and I hope to do it again. Maybe on some other topic, we can

[01:02:37] Jason Thomas:

Me too. You’re brilliant. I’m definitely going to be bringing you into more of my program. So, thanks so much, Itai. And we’ll see what comes next.

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