The Four Seasons Course is a framework developed for adults. This complex course is designed to help those people, who want to live in rural areas – either plan to move in the near future or already live there. It is a profound course designed for the age group of 20-45, especially for those people, who want to be in connection with nature and community, grow their own healthy food, earn money locally and influence their surrounding in a positive way.
This document is prepared for multiplicators who also consider to run a similar course in their region, helping possible newcomers or disencouraged locals to find their way in rural areas. This paper introduces ideas for content, possible scenarios and useful advices. It is based on the experience of three pilot courses conducted in Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia throughout 2020 and 2021.
Participating organisations in these countries compile detailed curriculum in local languages – Hungarian, Slovakian, Slovenian. These documents are also available for the public. It is to mention here that the very name of the courses vary – to correctly describe the concrete content and best appeal to the local target groups. Four Seasons in the Countryside, Four Seasons in a Living Village, Four Seasons in an Ecovillage, etc. The nickname of the course among ourselves is Four Seasons Gazda Course – as we discovered the word “gazda“ in all the three languages means farmer.
We would like to emphasize that the Four Seasons Course is not a completely fixed set of events, and this English language basic curriculum is not a precise prescription either. The course has to be adapted to local conditions and take advantage of the specific skills of those people who run it. Therefore these pages focus on the most important elements of the course framework and besides that highlight what activities participants found especially useful and enjoyable🙂
The Four Seasons Course presents ingredients for an “alternative life path“. This life path is environmentally conscious, community oriented, economically sustainable, and luxuriously simple. A person walking this life path becomes multi-skilled along the way, with having the ability to sustain itself with food and simple comfort, and also successfully participating in the economy. The ability to organize into various kinds of communities is a very important aspect, as good community life means an increased potential to satisfy physical, social, economical, cultural needs.
The model of the Four Seasons Course invites participants for a Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter sessions – these face-to-face gatherings are typically weekends. These course events can be expanded to a week or if necessary, condensed to one-day lenght as well. The meetings are possibly enriched by an online process of interactive tasks, texts to be read for reflection, homeworks to accomplish throughout the whole year.
The 1-year-long course uses elements of formal, informal and nonformal education. It provides inspiration, hands-on experience, knowledge. Ideally, when the new year starts, participants commit themselves for a whole year of enrollment. This longer process and returning face-to-face meetings tend to create a strong group cohesion. The main organizer/facilitator of the course encourages this process with frequent flow of communication. There is also a chance that participants get emotionally attached to the place where the course takes place, if their averall experience is positive.
The concept of the course is simple and powerful: introduce people to the active and passive periods of the farming year, show them the beauty and challenges of rural life by experienced people. Participants can decide – is this kind of life what they really want for themselves? And they get insights how to realize their dreams in this direction, as our main target group is city people aged 20-45 wishing to move to the countryside. The secondary target group are village people aged 20-45 facing difficulties in this setting and open-minded enough to get some new impulses.
The Four Seasons Course is interesting and interactive, one can try lot of things from cutting grass with a scythe to preparing goat cheese, from dramatic group crisis game to tasting how is it spending an evening like greatgrandma, from designing of a rainwater collection system to plans of starting an environmental friendly business. It is a combination of a tourist attraction, a survival trip and a university seminar.
A new course needs a thorough design, it has to match local conditions and possibilities. It is important to find proper accomodation and arrangements for food, preferably from local organic ingredients. The program should be based on the knowledge and expertise of locals and present examples of partly self-sufficient life.
Participants get introduced to various private farms, or community spaces and gardens where they are taken around and are involved in interesting activities.
Each day of the Four Seasons Course the following “ingredients” are always present:
- “head”– sharing of knowledge about natural village life, processes, techniques and tools
- “hand” – activity, from planting to harvesting, from baking bread to building with clay
- “fun” – a few minutes of group games, for relaxation and laughing
- “reflection” – upon what has happened, sharing feelings and thoughts
Feedback circles at the end of the day / at the end of the weekend help organizers a lot. They show how to shape the course in the best way. They organize those kind of programmes for the next season, that participants are most interested in.
The 4 main themes in the course are Basics of self-sufficiency, Best practices of cooperation in a community, Luxurious simplicity and Ways to make a living. Paying attention to all of these four themes throughout the course is necessary to present a coherent picture to the “alternative life path“ we envisioned.
Within the framework of this international cooperation we developed the interactive Butterfly Village Game. This is a set of cards that can be used for the course in various ways. One can play with it during the face-to-face events or it can be used in the online communication. As we go through the four main themes, we list associated cards.
1. Basics of self-sufficiency: How to grow your own organic food, arrange heating, deal with water.
Participants get introduced to the yearly rhythm of traditional food production, they can discover the seasonal activities of vegetable gardens, fruit forests, animal farms. partly self-sufficient households of the hosts and involved partners in their neighbourhood. Participants can specialize according to their interest and eating habits. For example slaughters on animal farms tend to be distracting for people on a raw vegan diet, and we respect these attitudes. Participants discover sustainable ways of housing and environmental solutions in the household.
When presenting the cycle of rural activities we follow the order of changing seasons. For example, participants can see a plant bringing fruits in the summer that they planted in the spring before. They get the jar with the delicious food in the winter that they cooked together in the autumn. Participants can see with their own eyes how ancient-traditional and innovative-ecological ways of treating the soil, water, flora and fauna can bring sufficient harvest with healthy food. These small-scale methods respect nature and save its scarce resources.
Butterfly Village Cards associated:
Waste – On a permaculture farm there is hardly any waste.
Home – We are at home in nature.
Kitchen – Your kitchen can be a source of independence.
Garden – My garden follows patterns of the forest.
Animals – If a goat is touched by a friendly human, it gives better milk.
Diversity – There is much more beyond corn, soy and wheat.
2. Best practices of cooperation in a community: Organisation of groups, community processes, caring for generations.
Group energy is the strong aspect of this course. The central idea is that participants commit themselves for a whole year of experiences at the very beginning, at the enrollment for this course, with people of relatively similar values. Organizers should invest in the beginning of the course quite some attention to the establishment of a group atmosphere, to make sure that people feel comfortable, group processes are encouraged and nourished. Regular feedback circles make the mood and opinion of the group heard and seen. At the end of the course towards the Winter session one might already feel as if it was some kind of family.
Throughout the course hosts share all good community practices available in their rural life, teach tools of community formation and “maintenance“ with the help of the CLIPS guide, practice communication tools such as deep sharing circles, teach about empowering leadership, and introduce conflict resolution techniques.
Butterfly Village Cards associated:
Communication – When you speak with me: observe, feel, need and request!
Community – Coming together and retreating alone – this is community breathing.
Childhood – Children need 100 parents.
Leader – A good leader inspires, informs, pays attention and shares power.
Cooperation – To go fast, go alone. To go far, go with others.
Support – When women support each other, the whole community is fine.
3. Luxurious simplicity: The philosophy and practice. How your possibilities grow if you reduce the level of your needs.
This aspect is running through the course. To discover opinion of participants one can initiate common discussion about values. What is important in life? What level of income is necessary to sustain a family? How much comfort am I able to let go? How to make and use properly a compost toilet? These and other similar questions appear throughout the course.
One of the participants of the Hungarian pilot course shared in the final feedback circle that the most important “learning“ for him was in this course to realize not everybody is poor who he thought was poor, on the contrary. As one of the families from the organizers seemed for him to be completely poor in the beginning, and later he understood it is their choice for a simpler life for richer and happier inner experience. This was a real discovery for him: consciously simple and modest life and being surrounded by an amazing ecological habitat can be really empowering.
Water – One can have a gorgeous day with 15 liters of water.
Barefoot – Free your feet, free your mind!
Latrine – Close the circle!
Mindful – Doing less, but doing it with more presence.
Outdoors – Tonight I sleep in a billion stars hotel.
Fun – If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.
4. Ways to make a living: Options to generate income, offering sustainable services or products.
One of the central questions of the newcomers to dispriveleged rural areas is “How to make a living here?“, as employment opportunities tend to be relatively low. In the course we present positive examples of making income in the region and give ideas how to run a personal business, how to take advantage of nowadays common distance working possibilities. If there is a need, we provide certain space and time for individual enterprice ideas to be developed with the creativity of the whole group.
This 4th theme is in close connection with the 3rd theme, they are logically interlinked. The concept behind this is that a modest rural life reduces the demand for high levels of income. With your own food supply and clever, saving energy solutions you are less dependent on the outside world, and some of your needs can be fulfilled bypassing the market, without money exchange.
Butterfly Village Cards associated:
Bake! – Do what you like, and money will follow.
Herbalist – There is a herb for every trouble.
Skills – In an ecovillage you become multi-skilled.
Creativity – Do it yourself instead of buying it.
Wealth – Rich is the one who doesn’t need much, not the one Permaculture that has a lot.
Flow – The ability to give and receive go hand in hand.
The Four Seasons Course is not closely associated with any ideological or theoretical background, it follows a practical approach when presenting sustainable rural life.
Nevertheless, if organizers are experts of Permaculture, they can integrate this approach throughout the whole course. Permaculture is a design system based on the ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. It provides a worldview and logical thinking. To introduce the design system is possible for example in the beginning with an “Introduction to Permaculture“ block. To thoroughly present this kind of thinking demands a lot of time that might go beyond the time limitations of the course. The Hungarian pilot course included two days of Permaculture within the one-week-long summer course, that proved to be very successful.
All Four Seasons Courses shall integrate the aspect of Celebration, as gatherings and rituals make the natural flow of life meaningful and enjoyable. We encourage organizers to integrate Tradition and Folklore in the programme, in the level they feel like. Folk dances and songs for example can help a lot to connect to the roots and those ancestors who lived in much closer relationship with nature than us, people of the 21st century.
Suggestion for content + Highlights from the 3 pilot courses
SPRING – You reap as you saw.
Spring marks the beginning of the vegetative year. plants are coming alive.
Theory and practice: spring works, sowing, planting, early and late plants, loosening of the soil, organic seedlings, ecological home-made fermented plant protecion juices, spring herbs, successful plant combinations, manure, compostation, fruit tree grafting, sowing, starting of the seedlings, glass house, tools and technique for planting
Celebration: Welcome the start of life, Spring Equinox, Greeting of Soil and Biodiversity
- Silent walk in the forest garden (HU) – We introduced this ritual in the Spring session, and later it became a returning habit to start the course. A meditative walk through the farm with the forest garden. Tune yourself to the season, focus your attention on colours, smells, shapes, tastes, sounds of the season. Bring back a little piece (for example a leaf) and share your experiences in the circle.
SUMMER – Diversity is wealth.
Summer is the peak point of the year, it often challenges nowadays with extreme heat and draughts.
Theory and practice: fruit haverst, vegetable harvest, grain harvest, colourful variety of ingredients, cooking and drying – preservation for winter, bread making, collection of herbs, drying of herbs, herbal mixes, mowing, mulching, collection of hay, proper tools for mowing/mulching/hay, cheese making, grazing of animals, water management, climate issues, environmental solutions to rough climate conditions.
Celebration: Summer Equinox, Greeting Sun and Water
- Collective compost pile building (HU) – It was a great fun to build the frame and collect the different layers for a compost pile
- Summer Equinox celebration (SL) – A beautiful celebration to mark the longest day of the year with all participants dressed in white colour
AUTUMN – Abundance and gratitude.
The whole year work brings its results, and we celebrate the gifts of nature, it is high time to prepare for winter.
Theory and practice: Variety of vegetables, working with seeds, preparing for winter with the animals, creation of ecological habitats for wild animals, second wave of plantings, planting of trees, circular economy
Celebration – Autumn Equinox, Giving thanks for the Harvest
- Seed pictures (HU) – Participants prepared beautiful pieces of art from natural materials, seeds of the garden
- Creation of ecological habitats (HU) – Birds, insects, hedgehog get new shelters in the garden
WINTER – Going inward.
When light does not come from outside, we shall find our inner light and share it with each other.
Theory and practice: storing for winter, storage spaces, seasonal nutrition in the winter, sprouts, heating with firewood, chopping of wood, insulation, cleaning some territories in the forest garden, ecological solutions to housing and insulation, pruning of bushes and trees, cleaning of seeds, system of seeds, planning for the garden, visions for the next year, storytelling
Celebration: Inner Reflection, Winter Equinox, Birth of the Light, Community
- Fresh vegetables in the winter (HU) – How to ensure that we always have raw, fresh vegetables for the table from autumn until spring as well (out of the main season)?
- How to start my activities on a completely “weedy“ territory? (HU) – I have bought a house and land in an abandoned condition. What‘s next? Lecture from an expert.
- Visualisation Where shall I live? (HU) – Those who dream to make a step and move from the city to the countryside but haven‘t make up their mind where to, can gain a lot from a programme that starts with a visualisation, and is followed by a logical group analysis of this subject.
Needs of the target groups
When designing a concrete course, one has to be conscious of the needs of the target group. As if you can satisfy these needs, your course will be a successful one. Therefore in this paper we present a list compiled by our team about the needs of the two target groups of the Four Seasons Course:
A. Those people in the age group of 20-45, who are dreaming about moving to the countryside to have a natural life.
Describing the needs of this target group, we mention the results of the research conducted by organisers of Gyüttment Festival, as this Hungarian Festival attracts exactly this target group. According to Miklós Tóth, head of this survey-research characteristics of these people are the following:
- They need physical, mental, spiritual health
- They need community
Another characteristic of this group that they are considerably well-off, they can afford a bit more than the avarage.
According to the experience of the Hungarian-Slovakian-Slovenian team:
- They want to do something with their hands, as in their daily routine usually they are having too much computer tasks and are intellectually overwhelmed
- They want to get back to nature, have a healthy lifestyle integrated to the natural environment
- They want to see practical examples, and have their own real experiences
- They like to socialize, community is a really important aspect for them.
B. Those people in the age group of 20-45, who are relatively poor people, live in the countryside and have difficulties, need assistance in sustainable farming, community competences, making a living. Needs of this target group:
- They want to learn about new alternatives, ways to make a living, interested in income generation
- They are looking for inspiration as their life is not satisfactory (from several aspects)
- They need that not all of their counterparts disappear in the city looking for employment and better life
- They need to recognise opportunities and potentials in their environment
- Their interest is to learn ways of effective farming and gardening
Expected impact for the participants of the course
Experience and knowledge. Deepening relationship with nature – animals, plants, humans. Increased self-esteem.“I will not starve, just in case…“ If one plants the seed, nourishes the seedling – health and increased emotional balance. Braveness to start a life in the countryside, enthusiasm for further research and practice.