Rod Hughes had been working in environmental management for nearly three decades, including half of this time in his dream job running the Swan River Trust before moving into permaculture. After leaving work to study a Diploma in Permaculture with Ross Mars at Candlelight Farm, he joined Perth City Farm as Farm Manager, and started a consulting business, Leafcutter Permaculture. He is also a PA professional member. Martina Hoeppner of the PA Education Team chats with Rod about starting out in permaculture, the impact of accredited training, and his life motto – “be nice and grow things”!
Could you tell me why you left your job and how you got into permaculture?
I had always been drawn to the natural world and had grown veggies about the place since I was a kid. I picked up a second-hand copy of Permaculture One and then was given the Designers Manual. This crystallised my thinking and I committed to doing a PDC at wonderful Fair Harvest in Western Australia. I followed this up by doing the Advanced Certificate with Ross Mars and Graham Bell, did two permie earthworks courses (one at our place in the Chittering Valley) and then decided to take the leap, quit my job and enrolled in the Diploma in Permaculture. My whole career has been in figuring out ways for us to have good lives while either keeping the environment good or making it better. I became increasingly impressed with David Holmgren’s thinking and how permie concepts can be applied to pretty much all aspects of our lives.
You have a Diploma in Permaculture now. How is it helping you in your current work?
Doing a series of design projects with other Diploma students really helped give me confidence to start offering design services to others. So I set up my Leafcutter Permaculture business. I’m now really enjoying engaging with folks in helping them design garden systems which are nice places to be, grow good food and help heal planet earth. I find the design process really creative and love that your skills grow with each project. I am very happy to keep doing that, with a view to getting more involved in rural and peri-urban projects.
Of course, having a permie background is a great help in my role as Farm Manager (other job of dreams) at Perth City Farm, which was built all those years ago by some seriously clever permaculture thinkers. The teaching angle emerged for me this year and I feel extremely honoured to have been on the PDC teaching team at Fair Harvest for the first time in January. I have just started offering permie workshops at City Farm – something we will definitely build in the year ahead.
What would you say to someone who is just discovering permaculture and interested in working in this field? As I stress to clients and students, permaculture is so much deeper and wider than growing veggies. But getting engaged in growing good food is a great place to start because it connects to so many other aspects of our lives. So…come and volunteer with me in the garden at City Farm! I would tell anyone to read lots, do an intro [to permaculture] course, read lots more, then do a PDC – it will change your life!
The last year has been an interesting one. Has this changed your thinking about permaculture? I don’t think the pandemic has changed my thinking about permaculture at all. I have been convinced for a very long time that being kind to each other, looking after mother earth and ensuring fair share is critical to our survival. My motto: “Be nice and grow things”.
Rod Hughes is a professional member of Permaculture Australia, the national member based organisation in Australia. Sign up as a member here today to join hundreds of members across Australia advocating for permaculture solutions.
MartinaHoeppner is a professional member of Permaculture Australia and an active volunteer with the PA Education team. More information on the Accredited Permaculture Training, including the Diploma of Permaculture completed by Rod, and the PA education team can be found here.
Perth City Farm is a 26 year old half hectare urban farm that provides space and opportunities to build community connections, and educates and enables people to live sustainably. Further information on how to volunteer with Rod and the team can be found here.
“We’re realising all of these environmental and economic problems now and we’re working out what we can do for ourselves. You can start anywhere, but it’s a lot better if you have a holistic design principle that you can use.”
Read Nevin’s insights into water and heat management, urban permaculture and why its popularity is surging in the pandemic as he chats with PA volunteer Julia.
PA professional members Brett, Nici, Trae & Bronte from Limestone Permaculture Farm, are based in the picturesque Stroud Road Village on the mid-north coast of NSW. The property kicked off in 2010 initially as a project to move rural, design & create a productive small acre permaculture farm. Ten years on, the farm demonstrates that a thoughtful design process, based on permaculture ethics & principles, is essential to achieve a balanced, healthy & bountiful farm, homestead & garden. PA’s Kym chats with Brett and Nici about permaculture living, the importance of community networks & the determination to continue to build resilience, skills and sharing
Tell us about the journey of Limestone Permaculture.
Our awakening began around 2003 when Nici became increasingly unwell with an immune-related illness whilst we were residing in Newcastle. This fuelled our need to provide a more organic life for our family & re-ignited Brett’s childhood gardening upbringing. So it started with growing, eating & living organically and grew ‘in abundance’ to encompass sharing, community gardening, researching and not long after… permaculture! In 2020 we are enjoying working as a family on our beautiful farm providing permaculture principled education & demonstration, homesteading skills & farmgate Co-op fresh produce. We also implement permaculture principled projects within our community, schools & wider region. For us at Limestone Farm, permaculture means embracing a ‘Whole of Life’ living system with an essential ‘Evolving Design Process’ at its core, fundamentally striving for a naturally sustainable & resilient life, guided by Permaculture Ethics & Principles. In addition, permaculture organically & mutually integrates human needs with climate, landscapes, plants, animals, structures & community.”
There are many examples of permaculture principles at your property – what are your favourites?
Some of our favourite principled design elements include: Catch & Store energy: our outdoor woodfired oven that gives us at least 3 days cooking from one initial burn. Design from Patterns to Detail: the orchard on water harvesting contour swales, provides a range of fruit year-round and is an evolving habitat for our farm’s wildlife. Use Small & Slow Solutions: the duck pond doubling as a silt trap that overflows into a series of smaller swale silt traps for slowing water movement, collecting nutrient dense silt/soil for re-use in surrounding gardens. Use Edges & Value the Marginal: the Hybrid Shade House for tender sub-tropical production that doubles as the Quail Amazon. Integrate Rather than Segregate: the main poultry run that integrates duck layers, duck breeders, chicken layers, exclusion grow tunnels, firewood storage and micro food forest.and not to forget Produce no Waste: the ‘Gentleman’s Pissatorium’ that inoculates hay bales in readiness for hot composting.
Your website talks about building a positive future for yourselves as well as the community. How important are community networks and what activities are you involved in?
Permaculture micro farm, Gloucester High school. Photo credit: supplied by Limestone Permaculture
Our regional network groups are the anchor to build community resilience & a skilled & sharing community! We have many hard-working groups including other permaculture educators, Permaculture Hunter,Young Farmers Connect, Hunter Organic Growers, Slow Food Hunter Valley, local Landcare groups… just to name a few. These groups along with Limestone Permaculture & our local town groups underpin our community engagement, inclusive planning, local skill development & volunteer strengthening. Our latest community initiative is the design, planning & implementation of a Permaculture Micro-Farm at Gloucester High School (NSW) with stage one earth works nearing completion.
It’s been a rocky 2020 so far for many. How has this impacted on your property – and did you make any changes in your property design?
Aerial photo of Limestone Permaculture. Photo credit: Limestone Permaculture
There is no doubt that the last twelve months has many reassessing their current way of life and future goals. Debilitating drought, devastating bushfires & pandemic isolation has proven to be an important time for observation, analysis & interaction. The pandemic reinforced our determination as a family unit to continue to upskill & educate ourselves, make & create, grow, produce, preserve and share all that we do. It also further emboldened our passion for resilience, yet reaffirmed the importance to be part of a supportive & regenerative regional network. During the drought & bushfires, the overall design held true and it made for a great opportunity to take note of the farms various systems & elements, what survived, what thrived and what failed.
Some of the changes we made and are still making include:
Additional north to west facing deciduous trees to eliminate afternoon summer sun
Additional bio-fertiliser barrel spreaders & overflow water storage to enhance water security & soil life
Overhead Animal Arbours to promote shade in summer and expand growing areas
Additional exclusion tunnels to assist shading annual crops as part of the function.
You’ve been doing Zoom presentions for community groups during the pandemic and in lieu of payment, asked for groups to donate to Permafund instead – thank you! Why did you choose to donate to Permafund?
Apart from charitable groups & individuals, Permafund offers those making a living from their Permaculture Ethical & Principled Businesse to share the abundance on another level, not unlike sharing produce and knowledge within your community. We may not always have the opportunities or capabilities to assist with projects outside of our region but donating through Permafund, which is part of our Fair Share Ethic, is a way we can help to support those that can. This support assists projects to ‘Care for the Earth’ & ‘Care for People’ & life in general.
What is coming up for the rest of 2020 – and any final messages?
With only one PDC to complete this year due to restrictions & our shortened time frame, we are undertaking various on-farm projects & expanding upon our food production. We are constantly upgrading the farm to also enhance the experience for future students & visitors alike. Our usual busy schedule of farming, homesteading, educating, consultation, regional projects and community support continues as does our passion for knowledge & experience! We see 2020 as an opportunity for reflection and positive change for many. Daily life is no longer as dependable. We all feel the need for safety & degrees of self-reliance. From healthy soils to a healthy gut (and everything in between), we are making it our business to pass on as much of our knowledge & skills as possible to hopefully enable others to live healthier & happier lives.
Limestone Permaculture are a professional member of Permaculture Australia, the national permaculture member based organisation. Not a member? Sign up and join us here today.
PA’s Permafund has provided dozens of small grants to permaculture community projects in Australia and internationally. Donations over $2 are tax deductible in Australia and can be set up as recurring or one off donations. Find out more including how to donate here
Limestone Permaculture provide property tours, design consultancy, permaculture courses (PDC and intro courses), school farm tours and a farm gate stall. For more details check out their website, Facebook and Instagram page(s). Watch and listen to more about Limestone Permaculture via the Happen Films podcast and short film below.
Beck Lowe is a permaculture practitioner, educator, writer and editor from central Victoria. She’s been teaching permaculture for almost two decades and written in various publications including Pip magazine. She is also David Holmgren’s editor, in particular with RetroSuburbia, and manages Melliodora Publishing, which produces a small range of permaculture related titles. In her spare time, she spends as much time as possible on her farm. PA’s Kym chatted with Beck about life during COVID, permaculture as a solution, & living a frugal, productive & fullfilling way of life.
How did you get into permaculture?
I first got into permaculture in the mid-90s. Prior to that, I had gone straight from school into activism, protesting again the destruction of old growth forests amongst other things (I got my year 12 results in jail!). The world is full of things to protest about, and consequently my life was very focused on the negative. So discovering permaculture was a revelation for me – an articulation of a positive way forward, focused on the solutions rather than the problems. I’ve been on the permaculture path ever since. Permaculture is about creating a life that is resilient, regenerative and fulfilling, whilst respecting and working with nature.
David Holmgren and Beck Lowe.
You have a big involvement with Retrosuburbia, including editing the book and teaching. What advice would you give to those starting out, or who think permaculture is only possible with land and/or money?
Yes, RetroSuburbia has been a very big part of my life for quite a few years now! It has an emphasis on doing what you can, where you are. Permaculture is a mindset and a way of life – there are opportunities for everyone, whatever their situation. I would encourage people to look at the case studies on retrosuburbia.com, especially the rental properties, and immerse themselves in the ‘Behavioural Field’ of RetroSuburbia for inspiration. And visit some community gardens – these provide great spaces, and community, for those who can’t grow food at home. I don’t want to gloss over the fact that many things can be easier with more money, more space and greater security of tenure, but creativity and flexibility can blossom in any situation. Most Australians live in urban areas, so that’s where the transformation has to happen.
You’ve recently donated to PA’s Permafund – thank you! Why did you choose Permafund?
The permaculture ethics are intrinsic to what I do. Although I earn well under the average Australian wage, a permaculture lifestyle is relatively frugal and I’m conscious that I’m very wealthy by global standards. So it felt right to share some of this income, especially as my increased workload in recent times has left less time for volunteer activities. Once I made a decision to donate, Permafund was pretty much a no-brainer – it is a charity that aligns with my ethics and outlook on life and is run by volunteers with the maximum amount of money going directly to grassroots projects.
One of your many hats is teaching permaculture and volunteering with the PA Education team. How important is permaculture education as part of building more resilient communities?
I think permaculture education is critically important in building resilience – but this doesn’t necessary mean formal education, it might be kitchen-table-chat-type education. There is no one way that permaculture education should look. Diversity is key: some people respond best to one-to-one interaction with mentors, others to hands-on practical activities, others to formal course structures. This is the idea behind the RetroSuburbia Trainers and Facilitators Workshops. Rather than specifying a particular course format, we aim to give participants the tools and inspiration to tailor formats and activities to suit the groups they work with.
I have been involved with Accredited Permaculture Training for many years as it provides outcomes that other delivery platforms can’t. For instance access to funding and formal certificates recognised by a wide cross-section of society. That said, by far my favourite way to teach permaculture is on PDCs: a tried and tested format that has inspired so many people from all over the world for decades. It is long and/or intense enough to take participants on a real journey of discovery.
It’s been a rocky start to 2020 for many – has life changed much for you with COVID-19 restrictions?
There were no big fundamental changes to my life – but restrictions did result in a lot more screen time with a greater workload and many more online meetings! Some courses I was involved in were adapted for online delivery; others were put on hold. There was a huge rush from the RetroSuburbia team to get the book online, to enable it to be accessed by as many people as possible at a time where it could have the most impact – this was very successful, but also very stressful. On a personal level, COVID-19 has reinforced to me that I have made good life choices. As the crisis hit, I felt resilient and empowered, with a strong sense of being rich in the things that matter: I have food in the garden, skills and knowledge to share, and a community of like-minded, supportive people (and no worries about what to wipe my bum on!).
There has been a huge interest in permaculture and calls to ‘not return to normal’. Will this interest continue – and how can we advocate for ongoing change?
Before and after – the transformation of Beck’s property
The increased interest in food growing, permaculture and Retrosuburbia has been inspiring and exciting, but even the panic buying and stockpiling exposed the lack of faith people have in the current systems. COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for many; a chance to reassess life and make changes. And critically, COVID-19 has shown that change is possible – not only from the bottom-up, with people rediscovering household food production and the importance of community, but also from the top-down, with those in power making big changes when they regard the situation as serious enough.
I would love to think that we won’t return to ‘normal’ and will voluntarily transition to a more resilient, sustainable, regenerative and connected society, but I don’t think this will happen easily. I suspect more people will be forced into frugal ways of living by the financial fallout of the crisis rather than by making the transition voluntarily. Whether change is forced or voluntary, the permaculture response should be the same – offering tried and tested solutions. The best way to advocate is to lead by example – go about our permaculture lives and through that, show people what is possible. And we need to articulate that frugal, productive living is a fulfilling way of life: meaningful work, more time with family and loved ones, more dirt under the fingernails… That said, there is a role for more formal advocacy too; we definitely need more permaculture voices in the mix as society grapples with the crisis.
What is coming up for you in 2020 and any final messages?
Melliodora Publishing is launching its first novel – 470 by well-known permaculture writer Linda Woodrow. And Brenna Quinlan, Richard Telford, David Holmgren and I have been working on a picture book adaption of David’s ‘Aussie St’ story which will also be published this year. I’ve been working on a permaculture animal book for many years, and this should see the light of day soon too. All going according to plan, another PDC is about to start through the Castlemaine Community House, and the RetroSuburbia Trainers and Facilitators Workshops should be running again soon. On the farm, I’m doing lots of work on my water systems and making the most of the recent rain by planting more trees.
My final message? Especially in this time of crisis, permaculture people are some of the most important people in the world – we have the skills and knowledge to guide people through the transformation to a more localised, sustainable and resilient society. Keep up the great work everyone!
Beck is a professional member of Permaculture Australia, the national permaculture member based organisation. Not a member? Sign up and join us here today.
Retrosuburbia: the downshifters guide to a resilient future is the latest book by David Holmgren and edited by Beck Lowe. Described as part manual and part manifesto, the book shows how Australian suburbs can be transformed to become productive and resilient in an energy descent future. It focuses on what can be done by an individual at the household level (rather than community or government levels). To obtain a copy of the book check out our supporters Permaculture Principles and don’t forget to use your PA 10% member discount too.
PA’s Permafund has provided dozens of small grants to permaculture community projects in Australia and internationally. Donations over $2 are tax deductible in Australia and can be set up as recurring or one off donations. Find out more including how to donate here
Robyn has worked in Australia and internationally since 1983. She was a founding director of Permaculture International Ltd (PIL) in 1987, editor of the Permaculture International Journal, designer and creator of Djanbung Gardens and founder of Permaculture College Australia. Robyn was involved in developing and the early delivery of the Accredited Permaculture Training™ (APT) vocational permaculture qualifications. She walks her talk on her property, Djanbung Gardens in northern NSW and is passionate about all things permaculture. Robyn has dedicated the past four decades empowering people to be effective agents of change. Her students include some of permaculture’s leading teachers and activists.
PA’s Kym chats with Robyn about preparing for the changing climate & pandemics, the importance of respecting Indigenous knowledge and local food security projects to build community resilience.
Can you tell us a bit about your long & varied career, including how you got into permaculture?
I came across permaculture in 1977 when I heard Bill Mollison speak at an Organic Festival near Sydney, promoting the soon to be published, ‘Permaculture One’. I had just returned to Australia after five years travelling and living in Europe and Asia learning about traditional cultures, farming and survival skills. I was back in Australia looking for land to do the self-reliance thing. Permaculture was a natural next step, bringing all my ideas and interests together as an integrated philosophy and methodology. Over the next six years I experimented from the book on my herb farm on the NSW mid-north coast, where I was also involved in numerous community projects and the Rural Resettlement Task Force (multiple occupancy & intentional community movement). In 1983 I left the farm, did a PDC (which was the first women’s PDC) then moved to Sydney in 1984 to get permaculture going there – the rest is history.
Opening the EPICentre in Enmore, Sydney 1986 Bill Mollison & Robyn Francis (Damian Lynch in background)
What have been some of the highlights, and also the challenges?
Some of the highlights in the early years would have to be the IPCs (International Permaculture Convergences) I attended, especially a) IPC-1 in 1984 with the earlier pioneers, collectively laying the foundational agreements for the permaculture movement, the PDC and role of the Permaculture Institute b) IPC-2 in 1986 which brought together Fukuoka, Bill Mollison and Wes Jackson.
Another highlight were the two visits to India as Bill Mollison’s assistant, including co-teaching India’s first PDC in 1987, and Bill’s mentoring throughout the 1980s. The exchange visit to Cuba in 2008, visiting 40 projects throughout the country, designing Jarlanbah (NSW’s first community title ecovillage), working with Aboriginal communities in NT and on the Murray River, teaching the first PDC’s translated into Mandarin in Taiwan and China and so many more. My life has been overwhelmingly full of exceptional experiences and opportunities to meet, learn from and work with amazing people and to see inspiring projects in so many parts of the planet.
There have been many challenges along the way, working long unpaid hours with sporadic income; turning up to teach PDC’s elsewhere with little or no basic resources and finding creative solutions (like the time I was provided with a little toddlers blackboard and half a chalk!); having the courage to jump into unknown and precarious situations and think on my feet; being let down and having to extend myself even further to get the job done; and recovering from a couple of major burnouts which helped me find more balance in my life and establish clear boundaries. There were also the positive, yet very demanding challenges of negotiating the labyrinth of bureaucratic requirements to create the Accredited Permacuture Training and deliver it successfully for 11 years here a Djanbung Gardens. I accept challenges as an opportunity to grow and even the most difficult have provided valuable lessons to take forward.
You’ve been active in food and seed sovereignty projects in your local area – why are projects like these are so important?
Building bioregional and local resilience is critical for moving forward, and as we’ve experienced, for surviving shocks. Over the years I have sought to balance my national and international work with grassroots action in my local community. I’ve used my community facilitation skills to guide collaborative processes and especially the initial meetings in 2009 that launched ‘Sustainable Nimbin’. The three priority areas identified were food security, energy and transport. I joined the Nimbin Food Security Group and mentored the involvement of my APT diploma students in these initiatives including raising awareness and conducting community surveys and consultation. The Nimbin Food Security group was a dynamic team of committed people under the umbrella of the Nimbin Neighbourhood Association. It has brought exceptional results including two local weekly farmers markets, a food processing library, seed exchange. With Robina McCurdy a series of workshops brought together farmers, food producers and retailers to identify challenges and opportunities. We formed a food co-op within a week to take over the local organic green grocers store in town when the owners closed it down.
We see much more local produce in local stores and cafes, farmers and growers that once struggled to make ends meet are earning a sustainable living, and a there has been a surge in small food processing enterprises. For the past five years we can source 80-90% of our food from within a 30km radius, including staples like our local Nimbin Valley Rice, Nimbin dairy products, local grassfed meats, tofu from local BD soybeans, coffee and a long list of fresh fruit, veg and other produce. During the fires last November and the pandemic lockdown, the community has been exceptional in the many ways people and organisations have pulled together, helped each other and ensured everyone was cared for.
Djanbung Gardens, from a barren cow pasture in 1993
Bushfires, droughts and the pandemic have shown community resilience and preparedness are crucial. Can you describe how you’ve designed Djanbung Gardens to cope with disasters and also any changes being made?
When I was searching for land, the capacity to design for disaster resilience and climate change were key factors. Not just the property but the location, climate, and community were all top considerations on my list. Where I am in the Nimbin valley is well above 1:100yr flood level, classified as low fire risk, sheltered topographically from severe wind loadings, has the highest rainfall area in NSW and I am easy walking distance from the village. Although I designed fire breaks into the property, fire has not posed a major threat or concern until last November, when Gondwana rainforests on Nightcap that have never burned were on fire and hundreds of friends evacuated from the Tuntable valley, just over the hill. This was a wake-up call and for the first time in 25 years we went through a full fire prevention cleanup and preparation, and are revising our plans regarding future fire vulnerability. We can experience massive rainfall events around here, with the greatest so far being 515mm in 24 hours. I designed our water systems to cope with this degree of flow through the property to prevent flash flooding and water damage. The water collection systems (dams and tanks) are designed with the capacity to get us through historic droughts however we will be augmenting water tank storage in the future as dry seasons are lengthening and getting hotter.
Our greatest disaster challenge is climate breakdown, these other shocks are simply symptoms of the big one. Climate resilience has been a guiding factor in my design and our operations, however the rapidity of climate change and it’s manifestations is relentlessly accelerating. The last three summers have been exceptionally severe with extreme dry and heat, and progressively more severe each year — even tropical vegetables have shrivelled despite regular watering. Most of our summer production now needs to be under shade so we’ve built bamboo shade structures over part of our gardens. This is a big topic, and apart from what we doing on Djanbung, the most critical part of disaster preparedness is collaborating on a community level.
There has been a lot of media coverage about cultural burning and the importance of First Nations and Australian Indigenous knowledge for caring for country. How do you incorporate learnings from the local Indigenous communities into your permaculture activities?
I think local knowledge is incredibly important and unfortunately so much has been lost. This bioregion has been intimately micro-managed for tens of thousands of years and there’s much for us to learn. Relationships with our local elders and original communities need to be developed with deep respect and it’s not simply about taking their knowledge for our own use. Relationships need cultivation and nurturing over time to build trust. Here we have been in contact with our local mob since the outset, being gifted the name of our permaculture centre by the senior Lore/Law) keeper of the Bundjalung Nation. Part of building this relationship is getting to know some language, the ‘real’ names and stories of local mountains, rivers and special places, our local bushfoods and their seasonality, these are all integral to cultural learning, it’s not only about fire.
Caring for country, which includes cultural burning, demands an intimate daily relationship with the land, the local plants, animals, seasonal cycles, it’s not a one-size fits all or single cart blanch recipe. In this part of the country there was historically very little burning, mainly used to maintain marsupial pastures in the open forest of wider valleys and small targeted burning of the walking trails along the ridges to keep them open. Here we are in wet rainforest country and many of our forest ecosystems have never been burned culturally or by natural causes (until last year’s fires). In drier country there’s already strong evidence that cultural burning is effective and reduces fire vulnerability while keeping the ecosystem healthy and wildlife abundant. Listen, learn and observe.
What are the most important issue(s) we are facing as a at present – and how do you see permaculture positioned to respond to these?
This is a big question… our biggest challenge is halting the accelerating biospheric destruction favoured by governments and their corporate sponsors/beneficiaries. The problems we face, such as climate, social and economic breakdown are symptoms of the deeper rot of the growth-obsessed consumer society. As permaculturists we can respond on many different levels and in many different ways. We mustn’t lose sight of diversity, including the diverse situations people find themselves in and what factors they can immediately influence and change in their daily life, in their work, in their community and on a political level. We have a huge opportunity right now to reach out on a community level, especially as we deal with the aftermath of drought, fire, flood, pandemic, and we know there’s more in store. The single most important thing we can do is to reach out to our neighbours, regenerate community, not only for self-reliance and resilience, disaster preparation and response, but for abundance, conviviality and inspire through creativity and celebration. And we can all lend our voice to support others regionally, nationally and globally as ambassadors for the earth and for justice.
What does 2020 have in store for you and Djanbung Gardens and your other ventures?
2020 has been a difficult and challenging year with the pandemic forcing cancellation of some major courses and events and we seem to fall between the cracks regarding eligibility for government financial support. Despite some financial hardship, we have so much to be grateful for and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else during such times. I feel safe here and know we have created a place to survive these shocks and am surrounded by a caring and supportive community.
This is an important time of transitional change for me on both personal and professional levels. We now have three generations living here at Djanbung so there’s the inevitable ongoing adjustments in living arrangements and our physical environment for my twin grandkids as they grow. Most of my peers have retired many years ago and I’m not ready for that yet, although on some fronts I intend to slow down to make space for other things I’ve not had time to complete or embark on. We are in the process of planning our collective priorities for the coming years and decades here at Djanbung, it’s a work in progress. The one constant in life is change, it’s how we respond that’s important.
Where can I find out more?
Check out the range of permaculture courses (online and face to face), property tours and events by Djanbung Gardens and Permaculture College Australia here. Permaculture Australia members get a 10% discount on courses offered by Djanbung Gardens and the Permaculture College Australia.
Not a member of PA? Sign up here to access a great range of member discounts and to help us advocate for permaculture solutions.
Kirsten Bradley, Co-Director of Milkwood Permaculture
Kirsten founded Milkwood with Nick in 2007 – dedicated to teaching and sharing permaculture skills for living like it matters. She is author of the best-seller ‘Milkwood’ and is known for her permaculture advocacy, and workshops in permaculture skills – from fermenting to natural beekeeping to foraging for wild food. Kirsten, Nick and their kiddo Asher are based in Cygnet, Southern Tasmania.
PA’s Kym chatted with Kirsten about life in Tassie, building community resilience, the privilege of teaching and sharing in students learning, and life after the bushfires.
Thanks for chatting with me! Can you tell us a bit about Milkwood and how did you end up in Tassie?
Thanks Kym! I run Milkwood with my partner Nick Ritar and a small team. We started off as a little farm up in Mudgee in Central New South Wales which was attached to a larger family farm. And then over the years we became hosts of amazing permaculture educators, running courses and got hooked on the idea of skills transfer and enabling people to change the world and their lives with good information – and we haven’t really stopped! We’ve been going 14 years and we were planning on making our way down here [to Tassie] 4 years ago but got side-tracked living at Melliodora for three years – helping grow food, and learning a lot which was an amazing experience. Then we decided it was time to put down some roots and have our own patch, and so we moved to Tassie, the best place in the world!
Milkwood family: Kirsten Bradley, Nick Ritar and their son Asher
Milkwood has run courses and projects across different parts of Australia for more than a decade. Besides shifting to Tassie, what are some other highlights?
We’ve been so blessed over the years working with some amazing knowledge keepers from all over the world. Working with incredible teachers like Sandor Katz, Rosemary Morrow and getting to marinate in these amazing people, their knowledge and the networks that come with them and getting inspired with what people are doing. We were lucky to try our hand at starting a permaculture farm which was a highlight too. We’ve also been lucky meeting so many incredible students over the years who get the courage or time to come to a permaculture or cheese course which is part of their journey, and we get to interact with them. People like you [Kym was a Milkwood student] and being part of a movement of people who for a million different reasons are wanting to reconnect with their landscapes, and their ecosystems and their communities. Finding ways to do that is just a huge privilege to be part of peoples journey, that’s probably the biggest highlight.
Kirsten Bradley seedsaving at Melliodora, Hepburn Springs
It’s been a rocky start to 2020, highlighting gaps in resilience and preparedness for many. Can permaculture play a role here – and should the focus be on self sufficiency or building community?
I think we both know it should look like building community resilience 😊 Growing enough food and building a fortress or whatever it is – while your community goes thru tough times around you is not fun and not a good way to live for your community, or for you. I think permaculture has got so much to give during these crises. Through the bushfires and the lockdown there has been so much skill sharing and information that permaculture has been able to offer our communities. In some ways it is more about [permaculture educators] standing fast and being emotionally available to people and to help them access the skills, design info and new ideas, as it as much about facilitating things. I think a lot more people are hungry for knowledge right now or realizing priorities, and as permaculture educators, the best thing we can do is stay open and be available for those people and communities as they come in the door saying “Um how do I do this” or “Ah, do you have any strategies on how to do this?”.
You and your family were in Mallacoota during the bushfires which would have been incredibly tough. Firstly, how are you all going? And secondly, do you think the fires led to greater climate change action?
We’re pretty good thank you. We came out of that experience thinking “wow that was the most bizarre summer ever” and everyone feeling all the feels about climate chance knocking on the door. And feeling hopeful there would be a silver lining that would rally and motivate people to change gears on the response to the climate crisis. And then of course we then had this current interesting time [with Covid].
There was a similar community response to Mallacoota in Bega and lots of other communities affected – you saw communities be their best selves in and after the crisis which reaffirms everything that permaculture stands for. I think we are still fed this popular narrative “oooh you better look after your own because as stuff hits the fan no-one is going to come and help you”. But as we’ve seen time and time again, and Rebecca Solnit writes beautifully about this, communities in crisis are incredibly powerful meta-organisms – we out do ourselves lots of the time if left to our own devices and I’m hoping that out of those experiences from the fires, though I know many people are still experiencing the immediate fall out from them, I hope that it is inadvertently skilling up our communities to support each other and respond awesomely in the future. So that’s what I’m hopeful about.
Image by Brenna Quinlan, Permaculture Illustrator featured in the ‘Pay the Rent’ blogpost written by Kirsten Bradley.
You write lots of blogs for Milkwood to share info which is amazing, including one earlier this year about ‘Paying the Rent’. What prompted you to write this and why is it important?
I wrote this blog as we started our Permaculture living series – one action/week you could take as a household to create every day climate change. I was quite embarrassed with myself as the first one was not what needs to be considered first – which is our relationship with the Indigenous people on the land on which we live. When we begin any Milkwood course we begin with an ‘acknowledgement to country’, and then the first part of our permaculture courses we discuss Indigenous Australian culture and agriculture, and an overview on what that means for the country we live in, the stewardship of the land, topsoil, biodiversity etc. It’s always about half the class saying they hadn’t thought about this concept before – it’s amazing that this needs to be said in some ways but it does. So that’s why I wrote it – to provide actual action you can take within that sort of context for acknowledging country and also acknowledging the disparity, ongoing oppression, racism and these big actual problems being experienced by Indigenous Australians.
The ‘pay the rent’ idea is paying a small weekly or monthly tithe to your local Indigenous organisation – we live on their land and in Australia it was never ceded. This concept has been gathering a lots of steam in North America too. It has had some ups and downs with how community responds to it, but it’s simple and plausible and has a direct economic benefit to your local Indigenous organisation – so why the hell wouldn’t you? It’s an acknowledgement of country in a form of currency that for better or worse we all understand. Our local Indigenous health organisation who do amazing work didn’t have a mechanism set up to pay the rent, which is telling in itself in that it wasn’t happening that much. But once it was set up we were able to pass their details on to a bunch of other families who were keen [to pay the rent] too – we are very happy and proud to do it.
The Permaculture Living online course teaching team – Nick Ritar, David Holmgren and Kirsten Bradley
You’ve now moved your courses to an online format – tell me more about your courses and how are you finding teaching online?
Last spring we launched our first online course called Permaculture living – a 12 week program to kickstart your permaculture life. The teaching team are myself, Nick [Ritar] and David Holmgren – which is fantastic as the course is based on his 12 principles. We lead you through a series of actions as well as the theory of permaculture and the principles, and you develop a plan on what you can change in your every day. With a longer view on your new habits impact on your ecosystems, health of the planet and your self reliance – all the good things basically!
It’s a differ kettle of fish to teaching a 2 day or 2 weeks course, we were concerned that it might not feel as real, or be as useful in an online format. And we worried about that for a long time before we did it, and as it turns out while it is a different beast, there is a huge amount to be gained by good communication and online support. And the fact that people can do it in their lounge room, nursing their baby or after everyone has gone to bed – you make up for in accessibility. We are all really enjoying it and watching the students interact and show off what they are doing. We feel very privileged being part of these students journeys and being part of a better household and community.
What else 2020 hold and any final messages?
Ah yes – before lockdown we were making an online mushroom growing course – which we are still making but our filmmaker is in Victoria so can’t physically get here to film us as yet! But we are looking forward to sharing knowledge on mushroom growing and a bunch of other permaculture design, gardening and other courses over the next year or so. We are trying to be super flexible at the moment to keep creating this learning content in a way that actually works and keeps everyone safe. I’d like to also say how amazing Permaculture Australia is – and Permaculture Tasmania too! And also everyone should keep going, and you are all doing great 😊