1984: The bioregional association

The Lost Stories

Remembering Bill in print — the legacy of Bill Mollison from the pages of the Permaculture International Journal

The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison's articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.

All stories and other content © Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted. ..........

The Bioregional Association

1984, May, edition 16

THE BIOREGIONAL ASSOCIATION is an association of the local residents of a natural and identifiable region. This region is sometimes defined by a watershed, sometimes by remnant or existing tribal boundaries, at times by town boundaries, suburban streets or districts and at times by some combination of such factors.

Many people identify with their local region and know its boundaries. Ideally, the region so defined can be limited to that occupied by from 7000 to 15,000 people. Of these, perhaps only a hundred will be initially interested in any regional association, and even less will be active in it.

The work of the regional group is to assess the natural, technical, service, and financial resources of the region and to identify where leakage of resources (water, soil, money, talent) leave the region. This quickly points the way to local self-reliance strategies.

Compiling resources

Specialists inside and outside the region can be called on to write accounts of their specialties as they apply to the region, and regional news sheets publish results as they come in.

Once areas of action have been defined, regional groups can be formed into associations dealing with specific areas:

  • food — consumer-producer associations and gardening or soil societies
  • shelter — owner-builder associations
  • energy —  appropriate technology associations
  • finance — an Earthbank association
  • crafts, music, markets, livestock and nature study or any other interests.

The regional centre

The job of the regional office is complex and it needs four to six people to act as consultants and coordinators with others on call when needed. All other associations can use the office for any necessary use such as registration, address, phone and newsletter services.

Critical services and links can be built by any regional office. The office can serve as a land access centre, operating the strategies outlined under that section. It can also act as leasehold and title register and for service agreements for clubs and societies. More importantly, the regional office can offer and house community self-funding schemes and collect monies for trusts and societies.

The regional office also serves as a contact centre for other regions, and thus as a trade or coordination centre. One regional office makes it very easy for any resident or visitor to contact all services and associations offering in the region and also greatly reduces costs of communication for all groups. An accountant on call can handily contract to service all groups.

The regional group can also invite craftspeople or lecturers to address interest groups locally, sharing income from this educational enterprise.

Some of the topics that can be included in the regional directory are as follows. These can be taken topic by topic, sold at first by the page and finally put together as a loose-leaf notebook.

Topics to include in the regional directory:

  • plants and trees of the region
  • agricultural and market garden products
  • nurseries, growers, seed suppliers
  • social welfare services
  • finance, lending and self-funding
  • craft associations and retail outlets.

History and historical resources 

  • water sources and quality testing
  • soil analysis and mapping
  • recreational associations and reserves
  • building co-operatives and associations
  • volunteer organisations
  • medical facilities
  • legal firms and legal aid
  • secondhand goods and exchanges
  • health centres and retail outlets
  • books and information published in the region
  • computer facilities
  • educational opportunities
  • food co-operatives
  • markets and outlets
  • land trusts, land grants, public reserves
  • musical suppliers, musicians, venues
  • calendar of events in the region
  • political parties
  • skilled workers eg. carpenters, plumbers
  • councils, shires, railway and road reserves can be included.

Earthbank Societies

People interested in self-financing need to form a regional branch of an Earthbank Society, gather data on strategies and fashion these to suit local conditions.

A local Earthbank Society exists first to locate and inform its members of good products and systems, and second to set up ethical financial systems in the region.

On a federal level, the Earthbank Society collates and reports on alternative economic and legal strategies through the Permaculture Quarterly.

It is a great help to others if regional groups try out various local finance strategies, report on them at conferences and send accounts of successes and problems to the Earthbank Society.

Contact the Earthbank Society, PO Box 255, Crows Nest, N.S.W. 2065.

Land access strategies

The establishment of a regional office opens up the potential for offering a set of strategies enabling better landuse and suited to the finances and involvement of people using the service.

A selection of strategies follows but hybrids or other modifications can succeed.

  • Oxfam or land lease systems within built-up areas
  • city farms
  • city-as-farm and gleaning
  • farmlink systems
  • commonworks
  • farm and garden clubs.

Oxfam model

This is the least troublesome and is particularly suited  to young families in rental accommodation.

The regional office posts paired lists. List A is for those who want 200-1000 square feet of garden to grow food. List B are those (usually elderly or absentee landlords) who will lease 200-1000 square feet on an annual, renewable basis.

People list themselves and, as local land comes up, introduce themselves. The regional office prepares the standard lease specifying rental (if any), goods exchange, length and type of lease, access and the names of the parties. Councils, shires, railway and road reserves can be included.

Thus, many young families get legal access to garden land on an allotment basis. The regional office may need to map and actively seek land and should make a small service charge for registration of leases.

City farms 

These can be areas from one to 100 acres in (usually) poorer or industrial areas of the city with a long lease of from ten to 30 years (renewable or purchase-lease). A management group os appointed.

On this land the following activities are promoted:

  • demonstration gardens
  • garden allotments where permits
  • domestic animals, sheep, cows as demonstration and breeding stock
  • recycling centre for equipment, building materials (income-producing)
  • tool rental and access
  • gleaning operations
  • plant nursery
  • seminars, demonstrations, training programmes, educational outreach
  • seed, book, plant, and general retail sales.

City farms are spreading rapidly world-wide and usually serve 1000 or so suburban families. They can become financially independent within five to six years by sales and membership subscriptions, and seek to serve the interests of the community.

Some specialise in, for example, herb or fish products or as domestic animal supply centres. Others offer design, consultancy or implementation services to the city area and undertake house insulation, contract gardening and so on. The one essential is a long term, legally binding lease.

City as farm

This needs a tight, small (two to four person) management group.

Surplus city product is collected, sorted, packaged and retailed. Some groups collect, grade and sell citrus or nut crop and may provide young trees to gardeners on contract for later product off the trees. Others range sheep, duck, or geese flocks for fire or pest control.

All seem to make a very good income by treating the city as a (specialist) farm. A processing, shearing or like facility may be needed by the group. Glasshouse crop is another possibility.

Farm Link (producer-consumer co-ops)

These are appropriate to high-rise or rental families in an urban area. From 20-50 families link to one farm in the nearby country.

They can purchase and manage a property but usually come to an arrangement with an already-established market gardener. Quarterly meetings are held between both parties to work out what products can be trucked direct from farm to families who use the product and can retail surplus to others on pre-orders.

The farmer adjusts production to suit family needs and as the link grows, the system can also accommodate:

  • holidays on the farm
  • educational workshops and teach-ins
  • city help on the farm at rush periods.

Commonworks

A farm held by a land trust near the city or a country town arranges a whole series of special leases for forestry, livestock, crafts, teaching, flowers, fish, bees, dairy, mudworks and other complex enterprises. Some of these need land (area) leases, some only activity leases.

Urban or village people can lease and develop separate enterprises. If about ten percent of nett profit is returned to a commonwork fund, then the land can be developed for further leases.

On one such place in Kent (UK) up to 20-30 people obtain a living from one nearby farm. This is one of the best models of farm use at the highest level.

Farm and garden clubs

These suit families with some capital to invest as shares, with an annual membership (shares can be sold).

A farm is purchased by the club or society on a public access route one to two hours from the city. Depending on aims and share capital, people can lease small areas or appoint a manager. Rich clubs develop motel accommodation and recreational fisheries. Worker-based clubs usually develop private plots with (caravan-style) accommodation for weekends.

A management committee plans for the whole area (access, water, fences, rates, etc) and can be selected by the club. This, too, suits condominium or high-rise groups and provides a rural outlet.

The essentials to remember are:

  • firm, legal access organised; this is very basic to success
  • lean management (two to four people plan for the rest)
  • no frills
  • arrangements based on friendship and ethical social values.

Summary

Regional association membership fees can be kept low and regional groups charge only normal handling and service fees for work done.

A bioregional office should be able to make its own way providing it is staffed by a small group who usually offer services in energy-efficient architecture, permaculture design and implementation, legal aid, accounting, Earthbank (money management) or ethical investment advice.

Given that any small group in a region can come together to set up such an office, then the results on local unemployment, food supply and investment capital can be striking.

Normally, via international corporations and banks, money, monocultural food or mass manufacture are exported out of the region, reducing residents to what is effectively an unregarded work force dependent on centralised share-market whims or distant managerial decisions.

If only a proportion of capital and skills are used to produce the food, shelter, energy and finance needed locally, employment and goods become controlled by the region itself via resident owners.

Many residents become small shareholders in local service or provision industries which are no longer susceptible to external manipulation and, by providing for local needs, command loyalty as a matter of self-interest.


Accompanying article

A short story accompanied Bill Mollison's The Bioregional Association:

Valley Farm, which is on five acres of land owned by Sutherland Homes for Children, is at present providing work for five people under the federal government's Community Employment Program.

Coordinator Peter Chambers, project officer Tony Watkin and three project workers started work following the allocation of $60,000 in late January.

By the time the project was opened officially they had already begun to implement the permaculture design prepared by Mr Watkin.

If the design is a success, the farm workers will not need to bring in food for the animals or fertiliser for the plants. Instead, all facets of the project will be beneficial to each other.

Mr. Watkin said the design incorporates the planting of vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruit trees. The workers also plan to establish forage systems for chickens, sheep, bees and other livestock at the farm, which means the animals would be able to find all the food they require in the areas to which they are confined.

There will also be a solar-powered greenhouse and a building incorporating an office, resource centre and food co-operative.

Mr. Chambers said the farm would be operating in three different areas — employment initiatives, community education and as a food co-operative. The farm will eventually provide fruit and vegetables for Sutherland.

The long-term aim of the project is to give all members of the community the opportunity to pursue an interest in farming, working on a co-operative basis.


Editor's note

Notes on Bill Mollison's The Bioregional Association

Dimensions:

  • 1 square foot = 929.0304 square centimetres
  • 1 foot = 30.48cm
  • 1 acre = 0.404686 hectares.

The Oxfam model

The Oxfam model mentioned in Bill's article is similar in principle to the landshare schemes set up in Australia and the UK in recent years. Neither appear to be operating now and their websites appear to be closed.

Essentially, the landsare model of land access provides an online platform through which people seeking land for food production and those with land they are willing to make available make contact.

It would now be regarded as a type of platform co-operative within the Cooperative Commonwealth model of social organisation.

In March 2011 Australia's Milkwood Permaculture reported on the Landshare model of land access: https://www.milkwood.net/2011/03/14/my-land-is-your-land-the-landshare-concept/

Another report appeared in the same year: http://www.pigswillfly.com.au/2011/03/landshare-australia-up-and-growing/

Historic note on bioregionalism in Australian permaculture 

Bioregionalism became a topic in permaculture design courses in the 1980s. In the 1990's the late Peter Berg from the Planet Drum Foundation, a US-based bioregional organisation, visited Australia, spending time in Sydney where he met with the then-Permaculture Sydney Association at Lurline's Permaculture Cafe in Annandale.

Bioregionalism was also a deep influence on the Australian Association of Sustainable Communities, set up following the 1994 Aquarius Festival-ten-years-after event in Nimbin, northern NSW. Permaculturist, Stephen Ward, was a leading figure in the organisation in Sydney, which published the periodical Evidently/Sustainability, an "alternative news agency" press clipping service compiling reports of environmental and social challenges and solutions.

Planet Drum Foundation: http://www.planetdrum.org

Other notes 

Consumer-producer associations

The consumer-producer associations mentioned in the story are more commonly known today as CSA — Community Supported Agriculture. They link farmers in a region to food buyers in nearby population centres, providing access to, usually, organically produced (certified and uncertified) foods produced in the region.

In larger cities, distributing regional farm produce has proven a transportation challenge, so intermediatery social enterprise and small businesses have established as food aggregators, services to which farmers deliver their produce, where it is boxed and from where it is delivered to subscribers. These are variously known as hybrid CSAs, food hubs or food box systems. Examples include Brisbane Food Connect and Sydney's Ooooby (Out Of Our Own Back Yard).

Brisbane Food Connect: https://www.foodconnect.com.au

Ooooby: https://www.ooooby.org

Earthbank Society

The Earthbank Society was a permaculture initiative set up to promote the ethical investment movement that was emerging in the 1980s as well as related social investment initiatives. More at:  http://pacific-edge.info/2009/09/earthbank-and-permaculture-a-productive-nexus/ 

Ethical Investment Comes of Age ….finally

The new economy reborn in Sydney

The man who brought ethics to investment

City farm

In Australia, city farms have evolved within the same urban agriculture/sustainability education context as community gardens. Generally, city farms are larger social enterprises than community gardens and incorporate a wider range of activity. Australian examples include Northey street City farm in Brisbane, Perth City Farm and CERES in Melbourne.

More on city farms and community gardens: http://communitygarden.org.au

City as farm

The city as farm model was implemented in the US where people made their gardens available to a food aggregator for a fee. The produce was then sold to a community food system.

Owner-builder associations

Owner-building was a characteristic of the alternative or back-to-the-land social movement of the 1970s. The movement both influenced permaculture and was attractive to permaculture practitioners in the 1980s. Earth construction, usually mudbrick but also pise or rammed earth in suitable climates, were popular as they were low cost, providing the builder had the time to make the bricks and to build.

In the US, Lloyd Kahn and his Shelter Publications was and continues to be a documenter and educator in owner building. Lloyd with Bob Laston produced the influential book, Shelter, in 1973.

Shelter Publications: https://www.shelterpub.com

Shelter: https://www.shelterpub.com/building/shelter

Owner building became a significant enough approach to affordable housing, more so perhaps in rural areas, to spawn The Owner Builder magazine in 1981 http://www.theownerbuilder.com.au/

Regional directory

The regional directory, sometimes called the bioregional directory, was a compilation of regional resources published by bioregional groups in an unknown number of locales in Australia including that produced by AASC — the Australian Association for Sustainable Communities — in Sydney.

Commonworks

The commonworks model of livelihood creation through small business or social enterprise on shared land and with shared infrastructure was implemented by the Permaculture Institute when it was based near Tyalgum, in northern NSW's subtropical Tweed Valley, in the 1990s.

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