A story by Russ Grayson in praise of a really good idea, December 2015
IT IS NOT every weekend that we get to have a two day meeting. I'm sure most people would run away at the mere suggestion. Let me explain.
I'm talking about late November 2015's meeting that successfully mixed the business of disbursing small grants among applicants from Australia and overseas with a good dose of conviviality. It was a meeting of Permaculture Australia's Permafund team, a crew who are practicing the third ethic of the permaculture design system — the distribution of surplus resources — by voluntarily giving their time, knowledge and skills to administering the Permafund small grants program. They distribute the tax-deductible donations of permaculture practitioners for whom donating funds is the most practical way to implement the redistribution ethic.
I was there as an observer from Permaculture Australia's communications team, so I didn't vote on the allocation of funds. Being there gave me a better understanding of how Permafund works and of the dynamics of the team managing it. Megan Cooke, a smart young woman from a couple hours drive up the coast at Pacific Palms, and an up-and-coming permaculture educator through her small business, Garden To Table Permaculture also attended as an observer.
At Valley's End
Alexia Martinez' Valley End Farm is well named, for that is where the road stops — right at her farm gate. She's tucked away there with her family in a lush fold in the ridges that climb steeply either side, clad in rainforest that was once logged and that has now been regenerating for quite some years.
Days at Valley's End run to a soundtrack of bellbirds. They're all around, concealed in the trees and their bell-like twinkling call is a constant through the daylight hours. This was a pleasant soundscape for those of us otherwise serenaded through our days by the gently hum or urban traffic and the whoosh of overflying aircraft.
On taking us on a tour of her sloping valley bottom land, Alexia warned us about leaches, those black, squishy legless little looping creatures that clamp themselves to your legs and gorge themselves as they expand and fatten on your blood. There's the usual ticks about, too, just as you find anywhere in the Australian bush. And there are the everyday snakes as well — Alexia's young daughter showed me a drawing she had recently made of a red-bellied black snake on the property.
We encountered none of these creatures. What we did encounter was lines of white-painted sticks that Alexia and family have used to mark out the contours across the sloping land as part of their planned Keyline water management system. What we also encountered was a large flock of chooks, a loud and bold mottled-white rooster, a gaggle of big white geese taking up a defensive formation and honking loudly as the family dog dashed around their enclosure, a clutch of vary-coloured ducks in their pen above the vegetable garden, a very young orchard and some wheeled, mobile enclosures in which white rabbits grazed the moist, succulent grass.
Permafund — a means of supporting local self-help
Permafund builds community resilience through making small grants, and Permafund was the focus of our business that weekend. It is fuelled by the generosity of permaculture people worldwide, who donate even small amounts that accumulate in the account (tax deductible to Australian taxpayers). When there is sufficient in the kitty, a call is made for those who could use the small grants as seed capital or to further existing community development work. Then the Permafund team meets to consider the applications and distribute the funds.
As you might expect, there are usually more applications than there is money. This means worthwhile projects miss out or receive only a portion of what they ask for. That is why projects that are scalable, that can make a start with less than the amount applied for, are in a better position.
Most applicants are in lesser-developed countries such as Africa and parts of Asia, and this is good because the small amounts available go further in those places then they do in Australia or other more-developed countries.
For most Australian or developing country projects that receive funding, the small amount received can only be supplementary to larger funds from other sources. By way of example, a few years ago the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network (www.communitygarden.org.au), an unfunded, voluntary organisation, received a Permafund grant to assist in holding its national gathering in Sydney. That helped, and it supplemented the donation of community centre space by a local government and attendance fees. Even small amounts can go far when well spent.
For November's allocation, applications for grants came from Africa, India, Asia, East Timor and one from Australia.
Conviviality the key to successful meetings
I've long been an advocate of fuelling meetings with conviviality. Food, banter, conversation and chilling out with friends and colleagues goes a long way in improving the usually-dull and sometimes boring process of organisational meetings. I don't want you to get the wrong idea — this wasn't a party nor some kind of indulgence — it was a meeting that prioritised the business at hand, and that business started on Friday evening and took most of the following day and a half, including evenings.
Alexia supplied us with what can only be described as an over-abundance of food, some of the veges and all of the eggs of which were produced just outside the front door. Crusty breads, tasty desserts, yummy salads and, for those who like farm-fresh eggs, there were plenty to fry for breakfast. Come evening, this was washed down with the rich red wines that, with true New Zealand foresight, Virginia Littlejohn had brought with her. Being a physiotherapist, she obviously has the medical knowledge of human nutrition and what is required to sustain it during long meetings in the country - tēnā rawa atu koe.
While the permafund team were deliberating when it was getting close to meal time, Alexia, Megan and I sliced veges for meals (and so did others, I must add), thus taking me dangerously close to the limits of my culinary skillset.
Pemafund — an enabler and an opportunity
for the cost of four of Sydney's favourite daily drink a week — cappuccino, that is, at AU$3.50 a cup — you can contribute $14.00 a month to PermafundPermafund enables permaculture people (and others) to assist the self-help development of people who they might never meet. It is a practical, useful way for those too busy with their work-a-day life and who are time-poor to contribute small amounts of money in the knowledge it will be fully used to assist others in assisting themselves.
Put it this way: for the cost of four of Sydney's favourite daily drink a week — cappuccino, that is, at AU$3.50 a cup — you can contribute $14.00 a month to Permafund. Extrapolate that over a year and you get the idea that even small donations add up. Now, I'm not suggesting you sacrifice your daily caffeine hit as that is often its own opportunity for sociability, however many coffee drinkers might well be able to afford that coffee equivalent value every month. Those receiving Permafund grants will put it to good use.
there is also the opportunity for community organisations to assist communities elsewhereThere is also the opportunity for community organisations to assist communities elsewhere in meeting their basic needs so that they become more resilient to the economic, political, social and environmental changes sweeping the globe and so that they can create opportunity in their own communities. Organisations might hold fund-raising events for Permafund, for example. Some might even take on making small, periodic contributions to overseas projects and thus make direct links between practicing permaculturists in Australia and those elsewhere.
And let's not forget business. Already, a few permaculture educators tithe a portion of the income from their permaculture design courses to Permafund. Alexia Martinez's Terra Permaculture and John Champagne's Brogo Permaculture, for instance (see story on the Permaculture Australia website). Based in Seymour in rural Victoria, Richard Telford of Permaculture Principles has been a long-time contributor through sales of the Permaculture Calendar.
There is also the potential for permaculture businesses, educators and organisations outside Australia to donate to Permafund. Although we can't offer you Australian tax deductible donation status, Permafund can act as a sort of global permaculture granting entity in which you and your organisation or business can participate.
After that convivial and well fed Permafund meeting at Valley's End I now better understand how the vision and energy of even a small group can provide effective assistance to people who want to lead their own development, and that each of us can assist even though the assistance we offer might be small.Make your money count...