Story by Russ Grayson, December 2015
SOMETIMES, you learn something about people who you know in the most unlikely of places.
We were at last November's Permafund meeting in the verdant fold of the terrain that wedges Alexia Martinez and family's small farm, which they appropriately call Valley's End Farm, between steep ridges clad in warm temperate rainforest. During one of the many conversations that studded those two days of deliberation I learned that Alexia and permaculture educator, John Champagne, tithe a portion of the modest income they earn from teaching the permaculture design system to Permafund.
Permafund is Permaculture Australia's tax-deductible small grants initiative. It makes available to applicants that meet its criteria small amounts to supplement grants they obtain from other sources or to use as project seed funds. That funding is dependent on permaculture practitioners making donations to Permafund and, in doing so, enacting permaculture's third ethic of mutual assistance by distributing surplus resources.
In the late afternoon of the last day of the meeting I spoke with Alexia and John about their motivation in sustaining Permafund through tithing some of their earnings.
Alexia, the new kid
Alexia is a young, quietly spoken woman who, with her husband and daughter, has successfully made the transition from the medium density conurbation of Sydney's Eastern Suburbs (she does not miss it, she says) to the rural backblocks of the NSW Central Coast. There, she offers permaculture education through Terra Permaculture.
As we sat on her verandah and started to talk, I noticed that, compared to other French people I know, Alexia's accent is barely noticeable.
"I'm a new kid on the block", she said.
"Rowe (NSW Blue Mountains permaculture educator and author, Rosemary Morrow) trained me. My first training with her was in 2010 and I started teaching with her that year, in France.
"I didn't teach a PDC every year, but now that I'm on my own block of land I can do that. So that's five years of practicing permaculture behind me.
"I'd like to acknowledge another person who introduced me to permaculture. There's a guy called Russ Grayson*. He did a little talk on permaculture, probably in 2009, maybe earlier. I thought... wow, that's good stuff you know... I"d like to know more about permaculture.
"I have a small yield out of teaching permaculture and I think it's an ethical duty, as a permaculture teacher, to give a bit of that money back to someone in need, or a community in need... a small lump sum.
"I'd feel guilty keeping that money for myself. I want to apply the principles of permaculture and the ethic of care. One of the principles is to obtain a yield and the other is to distribute it."
John — it's about fair share
John has the looks of someone who spends much time in the outdoors and who is used to wielding a shovel. The battered leather hat he wears is seldom off of his head, inside or out. A resident of the Bega Valley of the NSW South Coast, John and family enjoy a rural lifestyle living and teaching permaculture design through Brogo Permaculture.
"I've been practicing permaculture since 1991", said John. "What's that?... a long time I guess.
"I've been teaching for 15 years?... the PDC (Permaculture Design Course)."
"I like the idea of tithing. It's the third ethic of permaculture… it's about fair share… about redistributing resources", he explained when I asked about his reasons for supporting Permafund in this most practical of ways.
"The idea is, if you make a living out of permaculture, then a percentage of that should go back to people in need.
"I think that as we're both — Alexia and I — in Permafund, then that's an obvious choice. By putting back into Permafund and gathering funds to distribute to people in need… I think that's an honourable thing to do."
So, two people living the ethics of the permaculture design system. How good it was sitting there that late November afternoon listening to their story. It made me think that even small donations to Permafund can go a long way in enabling others to meet their basic needs.Alexia and John are members of Permaculture Australia's Permafund team
* Author: this was an unsolicited comment.