Some time ago we inherited a very large garden. I was not a gardener but strangely enough I come from generations of farmers. So, I learned fast. I also wanted a method that would suit my wife who was injured in a car accident and sometimes found bending painful. Trawling the internet, I found Strawbale Gardening.
This was some seventeen years ago. I have experimented with the method, and it works very well. I have taught it in the UK, Australia, America and Canada.
Firstly, you do not need soil. So, it follows that you can start your new strawbale garden almost anywhere. On grass, concrete, on your drive, patio or in the backyard. There is no digging and best of all no weeds. There is no waste. When the strawbales are “tired” having had no soil borne diseases they make first-rate compost.
Speaking for myself and a few friends these seem to be the most popular vegetables to grow in strawbales. Pole beans, onions, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, spring onions, marrows, pumpkins, peas, beetroot, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower to name but a few. I have had extremely mixed results with sweetcorn so I would probably advise you to steer clear until you have mastered the technique. Strawbales fit in most spaces, you can grow on the surface of the bale, being careful to plant right to the edge, and vertically using poles.
One of my favourite strawbale systems uses three bales and seven canes. I grow three varieties of tomatoes up the canes and lettuce, cabbage and marrows on the surface. I have attached a bad drawing to illustrate. You can also plant flowers to act as companion plants. Strawbale gardening is not simply a question of throwing a few seeds in the bale and hoping for the best. It is a little more complicated than that. But it is very doable and very worthwhile. The main thing is to get the strawbales composting. You achieve this by adding water and a nitrogen-based feed over some time and in varying quantities. This gets the bales “cooking”. I have devised a seventeen-day “maturing” schedule and by the end of this time, the strawbales should be ready to plant and or sow into. This is a vital part of the whole operation and when done correctly ensures good crops.
Potatoes are great fun to grow in bales. There are two lengths of bailing twine going horizontally around the strawbale. This is one of only a few times I removed both the twines. It gives the potatoes a bit more freedom. Choose a potato that is not generally available in the shops. My favourite is Pink Fur Apple. It is a great little salad potato and super tasty. When you pull apart the strawbale to reveal your potato treasure it should come away in slices. If you lay this down it makes a great bed for marrows and pumpkins, so not a thing gets wasted. Incidentally, this method is great for children and makes a good classroom project.
One last thing, a strawbale garden looks great. I hope this has whetted your appetite to have a go at strawbale gardening. If you need any further information, please use the Contact Us page on my website. If you want all the lowdown, then I have written an e-book that covers everything.
by Greta Carroll – Permaculture Australia Board Member and Chairperson
The Permaculture design ethics and principles have always been used in physical landscape design. Growing in popularity and importance is their application in social landscapes and businesses. For example, Meg McMgowan used the ethics and principles to teach new officers in the NSW Fraud Squad, Permaculture for Refugees uses them for an approach to working with people who have experienced displacement, a museum curator uses them to set up new exhibitions, and PermaQueer use them to demonstrate the difference between extractive, reductionist cultures and more syntropic, regenerative ways of being in the world.
For the last five years most of my work has been in permaculture education. I spend a lot of time thinking about the way culture, methods, and tools create effective learning environments, and designing and delivering educational experiences in Australia as well as overseas.
Below is a non-exhaustive and constantly evolving list of some of the ways I use permaculture ethics and principles as a teacher. I’ve drawn on content from Rowe Morrow’s Permaculture Teacher Training Book where I think it’s useful.
Earth Care – What options do we have for catering in our courses? Can you passively heat or cool the venue to rely less on fossil fuels? Sitting under the shade of a tree is often much nicer than a hot, stuffy classroom.
Can I find teaching tools that are reusable, recycled, multi-functional, biodegradable and/or locally produced?
What does the language I use say about the relationship I have with the Earth? Do I speak from a power-over- or anthropocentric paradigm?
People Care – What are the roles and responsibilities of learners outside of the classroom, and how can we ensure we’re accommodating them in our course designs? A needs analysis might tell us we need to offer childcare, provide something for breakfast for students who haven’t eaten, not teach on a Friday or start and finish earlier to miss peak hour traffic.
In our facilitation, are we catering for a variety of learning styles, cultures and mobility needs?
Teachers must be expected to model best People Care practices, including avoiding using sarcasm, ridicule or violence towards their students. There is never ever any excuse or reason to exploit the power a teacher is given by virtue of their role as a teacher. No sexual approaches by teachers to learners are ever OK. When they happen, a serious breach of trust and permaculture ethics has been committed (Morrow).
Fair Share– This can be expressed in many forms; from sharing questions among all participants rather than allowing one or two people always to answer, offering scalable fees or scholarships to allow people of all resource levels to learn, and sharing the boring work of cleaning and washing up.
Acknowledge the local knowledge, custodians and history of the land (Principle 0) –
What is my relationship to the land we’re teaching/learning on? Do I have permission to be on that land? Have I acknowledged the history and the custodians of the land we’re gathering on?
Sometimes I teach in places where rightful custodianship has changed many times throughout history, and I acknowledge all the people, plants and animals who have passed through that landscape, carrying and sowing seeds, cleaning water and building soils over time.
I think about the blindspots I have due to my social/cultural background. Is there someone better placed than I to share knowledge of certain things? Who can speak to the local languages of regeneration? Can others share their own story?
And especially when I am in cross-cultural teaching spaces; What cultural ways of knowing, being and doing are in the room? How can I maintain and support existing ecological knowledge rather than imposing my own learning, opinion or culture? What are your seasons? How do you build soils? What foods do you like to grow? How do you store water and seeds? Can you draw your grandparents’ house?
Finally, whose voices, knowledge and perspectives am I referencing and sharing through my teaching? Are they all of the same straight-male-settler demographic?
Observe and Interact –
Who are your learners? What do they already know? Can you observe what is happening in class and adapt to better suit their needs? This might mean returning to a topic to explain it more clearly, changing the class plan to better suit students’ learning edges and interests. Change lunch hours, or opening and closing times, speak louder, slow down, use graphics not words. You can think of more.
Catch and Store Energy –
Education itself is a practice of catching or gathering energy (information, skills and even physical resources) from people, projects, and landscapes around us and storing it in our communities and relationships for future use.
As Tyson Yunkaporta says “relationships are the only way to store data safely in the long term”.
Integrate rather than Segregate –
Learning in groups is an effective teaching method that functions to accelerate learning and produce creative solutions and ideas. When the right conditions are created, cross-cultural exchange enriches learning environments and can build confidence in students. Are there opportunities for peer-to-peer learning?
Did you know that group discussions are a highly effective tool for creating attitudinal change? When peers share stories in small groups, attitudinal change is more likely to occur through than through lectures (Morrow).
Design from patterns to details –
Can you design learning experiences using this principle? Start with a needs, functions and products analysis of the learning ecosystem or community you are in. This will help identify your overall course objectives as well as the structure (length, days, times etc). Next consider the flow of the learning journey; the order and layering of topics or information. Write the session learning objectives, and finally choose teaching methods and activities to match.
Obtain a Yield –
I teach to learning objectives and ensure I can measure them. We know learning has happened when participants can explain it, make it, draw it or do it. Our yields in education are the competencies we see demonstrated by the end of a session and at the end of a course. This is critical.
Produce No Waste –
Linked to the two principles above. How can you minimise wasted time? When we have structure and teach to learning objectives, we reduce the likelihood of going off on tangents and wasting students’ time.
Also linked to Earth Care, can I choose learning/teaching materials that aren’t polluting? Such as refillable markers, pencils over pens, crayons or pastels over textas, masking tape and bulldog clips over blu tack or sticky tape (Morrow).
Use and Value Diversity –
We need the student who always answers first to help us break the ice, we need the person who just gets on with the task just as much as we need the contemplative who asks us why we’re doing it. We need the enthusiast, the analyst, the artist, the expert and the critic. A healthy learning ecosystem recognises and values everyone; what they bring and where they are on the path.
Value the edges and the margins –
The ecological edge is often the most productive. Our social edges are also just as abundant when they’re properly resourced. Can we build learning environments that welcome and support people of all genders, abilities, religions, worldviews, languages, and incomes? I consider whose life experiences aren’t included in the mainstream content or when I say ‘we’.
Look outside the walls of the classroom to use often overlooked teaching environments. For example, erosion by the side of the road, the effect of boundary fences on vegetation, the moss growing between pavers.
In the middle of Kuala Lumpur – a densely populated and disturbed urban landscape – Rowe taught part of an environmental water class standing around an open concrete drain. Sure enough water snaked along the drain creating tiny riffles and pools, just like a river or delta.
Practice self-regulation and accept feedback –
Self-regulation is different for everyone. As educators we might ask ourselves some of the following questions: Was I telling people something, or asking for their knowledge? How long did I talk for in that session? Am I taking on too much in the coordination? How accurate is my content for this subject? Is ego getting in the way of being able to say “I don’t know” when I don’t know? Can I stay open to receiving feedback from participants and other co-teachers? If participants are not understanding a concept or task, can I be attentive, humble, and responsive enough to ask a different question or change the teaching method.
Creatively use and respond to change –
When things don’t go according to plan – which happens at least once every course – how can I best respond? If it’s raining and the workshop can’t be in the garden what are the other options? What if the projector doesn’t work or the power goes out, how else can I move through this content? Adaptability is the greatest asset as an educator.
Each element is supported by more than one function –
According to David Kolb, there are four modes of perception/processing (audible, tactile, kinesthetic, visual) and four ‘learning styles’ (reflective/analytic, creative, commonsense, active). Every person has their preferred or dominant combination. Knowing this, how can we design learning opportunities to suit all learning styles? Include a combination of facts, theories and evidence, discussion and reflection, active learning (such as group tasks, observation, videos, experiences) and practical skills (such as doing, designing, making). Using multiple teaching methods within each session will increase the number of students able to connect with new information and improve the quality of all learning in the class.
Memory is scattered throughout the brain. To assist memory, learning in two or more modalities is very important, e.g. listen and take notes, see and try, do and discuss. (Morrow).
Cooperate don’t compete –
We need as many teachers as possible. When someone emerges in your geographic area and wants to teach, can you welcome them? Consider how you can work together to create more effective education experiences for potential learners. Think of resource sharing guilds and distribute your work in different spaces and times. For example, someone offering design courses spread over weekends whilst someone else offers full-time residential courses, or working in different social demographics. Also remember no one can teach forever – can you embrace social succession?
Further exploration and discussion on these ideas is welcome.
“Sociocracy is like permaculture for people”- Erin Young
Article by Alex Aguilar – Board Member
I think back to my first corporate experience as an intern for a prestigious company in Mexico. Although the pay was great and the work was relatively easy, I quickly realised there was a lot of toxic politics at play – I would hear whispers in the corridors about management, complaints about meaningless processes and how no one’s opinions were valued or needed; a rather dreary feeling that nothing would ever change. Back then, I wished there was a different approach to this ‘traditional’ corporate world.
I’m happy to report things weren’t that bad after that experience, and I have had my share of excellent supervisors and coworkers. Even then, sometimes it seems intrinsically hard to work in a group. At worst, I have inevitably ended up feeling like my voice didn’t matter all the time. I’m sure some of you will agree with me: this feeling that our voice doesn’t matter is detrimental to us as individuals, and also to the group’s work.
Dreaming of something different is what first led me to find permaculture. I think we have an obligation to do better for every living being on the planet, and yes, that includes ourselves. I also feel a tremendous sense of urgency. We’re at a time when climatic instability is affecting the world’s energy systems, which are becoming overwhelmed more often and with more serious consequences.
I don’t know about you, but ’overwhelmed energy systems’ is not how I want to describe 2023. The bucket is already full. Our traditional models and ideas need changing with the times, and they need to adapt as fast as possible. And this my friends, is where sociocracy and permaculture intersect, as options to try something different right now.
Permaculture is based on simple, core ethics and principles I resonate with – the foundations of Earth care, People care and Fair share. It is a framework upon which everyday actions align with ethical values and vice versa. It can be practiced anywhere in a myriad of different forms. Jonathon Engels wrote it beautifully in an article for the Permaculture Research Institute on “Why permaculture?”.
Also based upon basic principles, sociocracy focuses on the social aspect, covering the delicate intricacies of communicating effectively with other human beings in a group that aims towards a common objective. Much like Permaculture Australia’s mission of supporting, promoting and advocating for permaculture ideas, solutions and strategies. This is why the PA Board decided to look at sociocracy more in depth.
Enter Erin Young, member of The Sociocracy Consulting Group (TSCG) and a fellow permie. Erin helps organisations to be adaptive, responsive and effective by consulting in collaborative decision-making and governance, based in sociocracy. In August, she facilitated 2 sessions to a small group of volunteers and paid staff as a taster to sociocracy (Thank you Erin!).
The beauty of working in circles
From the get go – this felt different. We kicked off with an opening round where each of the participants got a turn to share their name and location, a word that described how we were feeling coming into the meeting, and a sentence that enshrined what we hoped to achieve through sociocracy. I had a turn to speak and a turn to listen. This opening round allowed a space for our collective intelligence to be informed for the meeting.
Erin defined sociocracy as a living design systems approach for organising work and making decisions to guide that work so it is effective, transparent and equivalent. A simple definition that carries a lot of complexity – much like people whenever we gather in groups!
We humans are influenced and bound by our past experiences with organisational culture. We are naturally wired that way. Therefore, sociocracy’s realm exists within invisible structures of power which are inherent to any group. These sessions with Erin served to “point to the fish, the water they’re swimming in”. Sociocracy allows us to envision a possibility where we can distribute leadership and design that organisational power effectively, transparently and equivalently.
We were encouraged to think about a system that changes and adapts. Since creating adaptive and effective culture requires long-term application & steady discipline (not always so attractive!), keeping it simple and working in small steps are key. Much like slowly building back up a parcel of degraded soil.
Communication sets the bar to how well we can work with each other –imagine how much we could achieve collectively with a very clear sense of purpose and existential equivalence.
1. Existential equivalence can be felt in our human bodies. Each of us operate as a living system riddled with feedback loops, made up of self-organising parts doing their job in order to stay alive (achieve its purpose).
As we continued, we were introduced to the 3 principles of sociocracy:
1. Circle organisation: any defined team or department with a specific aim and domain
2. Circular feedback or double-linking: keeping the whole system informed, adaptive and responsive to changes
3. Consent-based decision making: make decisions together that are “good enough for now, safe enough to try”, with clear measurements and timeframes, and no paramount objections
Contrary to a regular top-down system, Erin mentioned the importance of reasoned objections. She drew the example of someone going on a hike with a sore knee or ignoring the oil light in a car – without feedback, the system blows up. Specifically for the Sociocracy Circle-organisation Model (SCM), objections are welcome. However, objections are not an argument or a feeling, they are a reflection of how well the aims of the circle are being met. I personally loved that the process of giving/listening to feedback is built at every stage of every policy and decision being made.
Elements are the fundamental qualities of the sociocratic infrastructure, with a contribution that’s clearly observable. The most basic and implementable pieces of this governance model. Without going too much into details, Erin shared 9 elements with us:
1. Circle: A container for members to adapt & respond to their area of responsibility. “When members are defined, colleagues are aligned”.
2. Aim: Gives each circle a clear & visible purpose – aligned with organisational vision, mission and aims. It orients policy meetings and is essential to reach consent. “Clear with purpose we decide what to produce/provide”.
3. Double-link: Consists of an elected member & operations leader. “Connecting people & information for cohesive perspectives”.
4. Policy: Enshrines collective intelligence. We trial, track & measure each of them for improvement. “Co-designing guardrails for working together”.
5. Operations: Activity that gets it done. Effective, clearly defined & aligned with circle aims. Designed by circle members, feeding back to policy on effectiveness. “Getting stuff done with oversight and action”.
6. Round: Speaking turn-by-turn without interruption, it is the pattern of the sociocratic process. Creates opportunities for honest, transparent and safe feedback & for relevant info to be heard in a tempered & useful way. “Turn by turn to focus, share & discern”.
7. Consent: Lubricant that allows an organisation to be greater than the sum of its parts. Brings collective ownership & clears the way for group intelligence to respond to areas that each circle is responsible for. Objections are for realising collective aims and to be separate from personal opinion. “Safe enough to try – on track with the Why”.
8. Aim Realisation/Workflow: Order of actions/operations. Allows circles to coordinate & self-organise.
9. Domain: Sets clear territory & describes terrain of circles. Establishes autonomy to achieve aims. Avoids overlaps with other circles to prevent conflict & duplication of effort. “Distributing work & responsibility in the terrain”.
For the 2nd session, using the information provided, Erin had us practice a policy proposal as an example. Even here, I noticed the differences with the traditional approach – she gave us the option to opt out as no one was obliged to participate. Stay tuned, as we’ll make sure to share around the outcomes of that proposal.
At the end of each of these sessions, we closed up with another round. This was a fantastic way to gauge how everyone was feeling after the meeting and the key takeaways from the group – something I had never experienced in a corporate setting before!
In a nutshell, the sociocratic governance model is based on circles/teams with well defined goals and membership, that are interlinked together, and that have several feedback loops built into all decision-making processes; all circles cooperating together towards the aim of the organisation as a whole.
Much like permaculture, sociocracy is a living, learning journey. Erin has simply opened the door to a new way of thinking about group work for me. I can wholeheartedly see the sociocratic governance model as something worth studying more and pursuing in my personal life.
During my time as a Board member, I have seen the passion and determination from each and every single one of our members to improve the status quo. It is what binds us together, our common objective.
There is still much to know about how this process will look like for PA, and the Board knows there’s many questions on the implementation of sociocracy. However, it is clear to me, that the PA Board believes that embodying and embracing the principles and elements of sociocracy in the organisation will allow us to reach our potential towards better policy and decision-making processes, interconnecting existing teams with the whole, bringing in different ideas and helping us achieve our goal, to further permaculture everywhere!
There is a shortage of VET (permaculture) teachers and assessors *1
Several longstanding permaculture VET teachers have retired in recent times and many are happy to provide advice/assistance to new teachers
Permaculture units and knowledge is included in various other qualifications (mostly agriculture and horticulture) *2 post the reaccreditation process completed in 2022 *3
The agriculture and horticulture sectors have a shortage of qualified workers *4, 5
Cert I and II in Permaculture can, and are, taught in various schools *6
You need a Cert IV TAE to be a VET teacher, but you don’t need the equivalent Permaculture qualification to teach into a course. Now a PDC or other training, relevant industry experience (relevant to the units you teach) is sufficient *7
The Education team has been working with Linda Woodrow this year to develop a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (Cert IV TAE) with a strong focus on accessibility (mostly online), student support and interaction, incorporating permaculture units where possible and face to face teaching practicums within existing permaculture course offerings.
This is a very exciting project as the last time a Cert IV teaching qualification with a focus on permaculture was offered, was in 2010 at Crystal Waters Eco Village with the teachers being Virginia Solomon and Robin Clayfield. I participated in that wonderful course and was exposed to very creative and inspiring teaching practices. The photo accompanying this article, with a background of Virginia’s garden, is a picture of the quilt that was used in that course. Students created an avatar on the first day and placed it/moved it on the quilt each day in accordance with how they felt and where they were at in terms of progress. It was a fabulous way to check-in and have a visual of where everyone was at any point in time.
We have reached the stage in the project of now seeking an interested Registered Training Organisation (RTO) to partner with to offer this permaculture focused Cert IV TAE, developed by a very experienced teacher of this course for many years. Do you think your organisation could be that RTO or do you know of an appropriate RTO that may be interested?
Interested, need more information?
Also, let us know, if you haven’t already, whether you’re interested in potentially doing this Cert IV TAE for permies. We need evidence of demand, so spread the word. Anyone, with an interest/experience in permaculture who wishes to teach VET in any field would be suitable. This course will be engaging and very different from current offerings in the market.
We’d dearly love to get his course going from next year so any ideas, relevant contacts, assistance, would be much appreciated.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org Wendy Marchment Convenor, Education Team
Jessica Perini – from the Permaculture Australia education team – is combining local and refugee learners in a new model of online learning. She hopes to create long-distance connections, funding for refugee projects, and lasting memories and opportunities for all.
Elijah and I have been friends for a while now.
Together we do yoga sessions over Zoom, even though he’s in Nakivale, among the largest refugee camps in the world, and even though his internet is … well, rubbish … But we laugh over tree pose, and the constant internet dropouts. Laughter is the ultimate remedy.
Having worked with refugees remotely since COVID, I’ve come to understand that connection is among the most important things for people like Elijah.
I know this because around 4 pm Sydney time I am inundated with messages that tell me East Africa is waking up. ‘Hey Jess, how you going?’ ‘Hi big sis.’ ‘Hi Mum.’ Followed by copious photos of mulching, worms, and food forests flourishing. Mostly from refugees in settlements in Uganda, and Kenya. My group, Permaculture Partners, has built these connections since the pandemic through numerous workshops. Generally covering the topics most requested by refugees. (Maggot farming being one of the most popular – go figure!)
This is just my observation as an outsider, but having contact with the outside world seems to sustain these refugees. And when it comes to permaculture, this also means hope.
What does all this have to do with mushrooms?
A few months ago, I was running a training session for Elijah’s group (Biogreen) on the three most important soil properties – physical, chemical, and biological. Their main question (apart from ‘What do you mean “chemicals”? Aren’t chemicals bad?’ – translating English to Swahili is fraught!) was ‘When can we learn about mushrooms?’
A 15-minute discussion on soils quickly turned into a one-and-a-half-hour Q and A about the best types of mushrooms, whether refugee farmers would be able to grow them, how quickly they grew and how much they’d have to spend to get the business going. From these people who had little experience with mushroom farming, the fascination was palpable.
Many conversations ensued. Elijah went on a mission to the nearest big local town, Mbarara, 42 kilometres away. I’d found trainers there, but the cost was many thousands of dollars, so we looked at alternatives.
Knowing of his love and knowledge of mushrooms, I asked Nick Ritar of Milkwood if he would volunteer to teach a two-hour introductory session online.
Having worked with Milkwood on and off since I did their Permaculture Design Certificate in 2010, and having completed their excellent Home Mushroom Cultivation Course, I was delighted when they said they’d help. The workshop was set for 1 June.
The model I’ve developed over the years is simple. Put on two-hour training for local Australian audiences and refugees in camps concurrently; charge the locals, and the refugees attend for free. The locals finance materials for the refugees. Everyone gets to mingle and connect. People grow more food. Beautiful connections are made.
As we sold tickets to the June 1 event, I sent the funds to Elijah. Mushroom supplies were hard to come by in Mbarara, so he had to go further afield – to the capital of Uganda, Kampala. This involved numerous buses and boda bodas (motorbike taxis with whole families precariously perched on them, and, sometimes, astounding amounts of furniture).*
Working his way through the markets and squares, Elijah found the materials he needed. Grain spawn, alcohol for cleaning, gloves, gypsum … all the bits and pieces he would be hard-pressed to find in the refugee camp.
Together we workshopped a few ideas and adapted them.
Finding clean water and materials to burn in a refugee camp can be challenging. Boiling water was going to be a problem. So we explored steeping the substrate in cold water overnight.
For a time we couldn’t locate hydrated lime, so we considered using wood ash to raise the water’s pH. Although it doesn’t have all the same properties and functions as hydrated lime, it was a good alternative – provided Elijah’s group could get the pH to around 12 or 13.
They just needed pH strips … Another hurdle! We needed low-tech solutions. Think, think! Red cabbage water! Did they have red cabbage? Yes! A workshop for another day.
When the June 1 workshop rolled around, Elijah and his team had found everything they needed; it had been a Herculean feat. But we still had the dodgy internet to contend with.
The various refugee groups would be gathered – around 15 people per group – projecting the computer screen onto their walls, and we had no way of knowing whether the internet would hold up. If it rained, or if someone sneezed strangely … goodbye workshop. We met a few days pre-workshop to run through the process. Worst case scenario, Elijah could show them all the materials and play back the recorded session later.
On June 1, the refugees and locals came online to hear Nick speak. The participants from Uganda were thrown off the call by their weak connections, so we stumbled around for solutions. I considered WhatsApping, beaming my screen to them through two platforms. But eventually, the internet picked up, and most people hopped back in.
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the session, and we were so thankful for Nick’s help and guidance. He answered a barrage of questions and has continued helping us over the last month.
Since then, Elijah and I have been growing our mushrooms in tandem. Mine have bloomed, but Biogreen’s first attempt has been patchy, the Nakivale team struggling with conditions in the camp. The heat, combined with the tin roof of the mushroom growing house, is not ideal. The new plan is to purpose-build a structure, with a leafy roof to mitigate the extreme heat. Maybe low-tech air con. More workshopping to come.
As the mushrooms reach the fruiting stage, the team will also have to contend with theft due to starvation. In a similar situation in Kakuma camp, my refugee friends have had to create a separate garden, with strong fences and 24-hour guards to protect their harvests.
Fair share is well and good when you’re not starving. But when you’re surrounded by a mounting refugee population, and your United Nations Food Program rations have gone down to a paltry $5 a month, or 1.5 kilos of flour, who can blame anyone for stealing food?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the problems faced by refugee communities like Elijah’s. I’ve sat on this story for almost a month, trying to think of the perfect way forward.
But yesterday, I saw a photo of Elijah. As much as he smiles and jokes, his limbs all twisted into Eagle pose, and rushes about on these crazy quests, and tries to grow mushrooms in non-ideal conditions, he’s still skinny as.
Still disconnected from the bounties we enjoy here. Still struggling.
We can’t wait for the perfect answer to these big issues. Nor can we stumble at all the hurdles.
Elijah and his team have started a second batch of mushrooms, learning from their issues the first time around.
And we’re pressing ahead with small solutions. We have $100 left from the workshop sales, which is enough for transport, food, and 3-days of business and mushroom-growing training for Elijah in Kampala. After that, he’ll be equipped to teach his Nakivale group and the villagers beyond.
They’ll still need close and ongoing support from someone who’s not 11,000 kilometres away.
In the last month, we’ve met several people who are growing mushrooms not far from Nakivale. Some are even preparing their own spawn, despite the limitations of an African setting. A few have very kindly offered to come to Nakivale and help the farmers establish a mushroom-growing enterprise. We just need to set the farmers up with a few basics and they’ll be on their way.
So the plan is: get Elijah to Kampala. When he comes back, at some stage ask a kind individual or group with experience to come and help them get set up. Create a secure building, well suited to mushroom growing. Buy some materials. Milkwood has very kindly offered scholarships in its online mushroom-growing course – ongoing education is key.
Two days into the new grow, Elijah texts me: ‘I have good news.’ I’m on a call with someone else, so I can’t answer. ‘I have good news!’ That exclamation is a good amount of energy from Elijah. I have to check-in. When I get him on a video call, his eyes are shining. The second batch of mushrooms is growing! I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy.
We’d like to give our heartfelt thanks to Nick and Kirsten from Milkwood for giving us their time, knowledge and patience as we work our way through this process. We’d also like to thank everyone who came along on 1 June and donated to this wonderful venture, and the countless individuals who help conduct workshops, and give their time and experience free of charge to help refugees in these camps. A big shout out to BioGreen and all the groups that attended on the day. Individuals such as Elijah volunteer for such groups purely for the benefit of their communities, and we are inspired by their persistence, grace in the face of extreme difficulty, and big smiles when things go well.
If you’d like to help us set up a group of 25 farmers with a secure building and enough spawn to get them cracking in mushroom growing you can donate here.
*Photo of boda boda used with permission courtesy of Elizabeth Fekonia, from her June 2023 permaculture workshop tour of Kenya and Uganda. Thanks to Elijah and BioGreen for the workshop photos.
Permaculture South Australia hosted an incredible three-day event celebrating permaculture, sustainability and urban food movements from across Australia. Featuring inspiring keynote speakers, workshops, stalls, hands-on activities and more, it was a weekend of learning, connecting and sharing. Held at the beautiful Mount Barker Waldorf School, at Yaktunga / Mount Barker in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills and with the autumn sun shining, it was an APC for the memory books.
22nd to the 24th April, 2023
With special thanks to the incredible team at Permaculture South Australia and all their amazing volunteers, who put in months (years even!) of energy, hard work and passion to create a wonderful event that will be celebrated for years!
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