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seed-saving-at-hubSATURDAYS during course time at Randwick Sustainability Hub there's buzz about the place… the buzz and movement of people doing things.

The last day of the mid-year Living Smart course was no exception… despite the noticeable onset of winter there were people outside talking derailers, tubes and brakes at the bike maintenance workshop, a group in the Permaculture Interpretive Garden extracting seeds from dried pods to save for next season's harvest and, of course, the Living Smart class.

Living Smart, a product of Murdoch University's faculty of behavioural psychology that was adopted by the City of Fremantle and the Meeting Place community education centre, is a comprehensive course in collaborative, sustainable living offered over six sessions. Someone once described it as “ … the course that permaculture should have been” because of the depth of knowledge participants gain about its topics and because of its comprehensiveness. Someone else described it as “ …the 'skilling-up for power-down' course for the Transition Town movement”.

For the Living Smarties, the focus of the day was water and community. Water consultant John Caley took participants through water systems rain, grey and black, basing his teaching not only on his formal expertise but on installing and monitoring water systems in his home.

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Living Smart participants with their Living Smart certificates

Living Smart participants with their Living Smart certificates

Participants brainstormed domestic sources of waste water:

  • kitchen greywater with its contaminant load of fats, blood from meats and meat packaging, salt from cooking — pretty mucky stuff, really, what we might call dark greywater that's best not for reuse though it could be used in the garden but not on food plants
  • then there's greywater from the bath/shower and though this can carry contaminants they're usually diffused, especially in the continuous water stream of the shower
  • there's the greywater from the bathroom basin with its own diffused contaminants and then there's that from the laundry.

How to deal with greywater from different sources can be confusing and there were plenty of questions and discussion around it. There are greywater reuse guidelines at the Environment NSW website. John also explained about rainwater tanks and how they work, using the different tanks at the Sustainability Hub as examples.

THE RISE OF COMMUNITY TRADING SYSTEMS

If there's one thing that the economic crisis in Greece, Spain and other Mediterranean countries teach us it's the value of informal, community-based systems to supply human needs. With the decline in economic prospects in those countries has come a rise in community food and trading systems. A component in community resilience in the face of hardship, the study of community systems has long been a module of the Living Smart course.

Annette Loudon is a smart young woman as much at home inside lines of computer code as she is in front of a class. Annette, an online systems designer, produced the software that powers mutual credit system, LETS (local exchange and trading systems) around the country and has been a critical presence in Sydney LETS. You could say she's a bit of an authority on both the informal and formal enterprises that make up the collaborative economies movement.

LETS TRADE

Annette took the class through the workings of LETS. Unlike its first phase, LETS, like the rest of the collaborative economy, is now an internet-enabled system, software having replaced the tedious hand maintenance and delays of manual transaction record keeping. It enables the non-monetary trade in goods and services with anyone in the system and not just with those that members obtain goods or services from. This gets around the limitations of barter in which things of comparable value are exchanged when they are needed and available.

It's not a new system — it was introduced to Australia in the 1990s by Michael Linton, who is credited with developing the idea, and the permaculture design movement. After its initial period, which saw Blue Mountains LETS grow to become the biggest in the world, LETS went into a decline only to be revived in more recent times by people like Annette. This boom followed by a decline and later rebirth in improved form can be common for new ideas. We could regard LETS' launch and early years as a period of rapid prototyping, the following decline a period of adjustment and the relaunch a reiteration of the idea for contemporary times.

THE JOY OF COMMUNITY SWAPS

If you've ever been to a community swap party then you will know they are a somewhat joyous, festive occasion.
To introduce the idea to the Living Smarties in the course, Annette set up an imitation swap party in the class, with participants taking on the different roles in organising and participating in the event.

There's been a number of swap parties at Randwick Sustainability Hub, the most recent as part of International Permaculture Day, the next coming up this November as part of National Recycling Week.

THE COLLABORATIVE ECONOMY

What does the carshare company, GoGet; the peer-to-peer carshare scheme DriveMyCar; Rent-a-driveway, the peer-to-peer goods share, Freecycle; the accommodation provider, AirB&B; Rent-a-chook; the peer-to-peer tools and equipment share, Open Shed; the various food and seed swaps around the country; the community supported agriculture initiative, Food Connect; and food rescue organisation OzHarvest, have in common? The answer is that they are small business, social enterprise and community enterprises that collectively make up the collaborative economy.

Based on the values of sharing, trust and mutual benefit, and including the LETS system, the collaborative economy is an internet-enabled system of formal and informal initiatives. One of its most important applications has been in those Mediterranean countries presently afflicted by the economic policies of the European Union and its lackeys. In Greece and Spain communities have organised to supply food cheaply, much of it sourced from regional farmers, and to set up trading systems that look remarkable like LETS.

It is interesting that although the tradition of home gardening must have seen an increase with the economic crisis, it is the collaborative economy systems that have become a focus of community organisation. This is understandable when you realise that home gardening requires a home to garden in and that evictions of people unable to meet their mortgage payments has been a feature of the crisis as has an increase in homelessness. Food gardens take time to plant and cultivate, so if you don't have a home and your near future is uncertain then you are less likely to plant and maintain a garden.

What we can learn for the southern European economic collapse is the value of collaborative economy systems to community resiliency. This is one reason why it is part of the Living Smart course.

UNTIL NEXT TIME

There's another Living Smart course coming up later in the year, so we'll see another bunch of people learning how to live sanely and creatively in our world of turmoil and confusion and how to seize its opportunities to do things better.

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