Each fortnight we’ll provide a wrap up of some of the fabulous activities our PA members are involved with – noting there are many, many more!.
We’ll include a selection of media articles, new book releases, blog posts, videos and events to name a few.
Got some great items to share? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can include next feature.
PA life member and permaculture co-originator Dr David Holmgren has released his latest opinion piece on Permaculture during the time of pandemics here
Happen Films Podcast #5 features PA members Brett and Nici from Limestone Permaculture. This inspirational listen includes tips on what they wish they knew when starting out, and life after the recent fires and drought.
The latest Pip Podcast features Victor Steffensen, a Tagalaka man from Northern Queensland and expert on Aboriginal fire management here
PA professional members CERES have a great series of winter webinars launching in June, with the first one featuring PA member Dr Keri Chiveralls. Bookings here.
Fiona Blackham, Tim Darby, Shani Graham, Martina Hoeppner and Marina Grayden.
Permaculture Australia is the national permaculture member based organsiation and we are run nearly entirely by volunteers. This includes skilled and experienced team members working in education, Permafund, fundraising and social media.
To celebrate National Volunteer week, we are putting the spotlight on a number of our wonderful volunteers. Today we are featuring Education team member Fiona Blackham.
After working in the oil and gas industry as a project manager for quite some years, Fiona Blackham started her landscape and gardening business Gaia Gardening in 2010. While she loved being outside and dealing with clients, she quickly realised how unsustainable the industry was. Badly designed gardens often led to more work for her or the necessity of using chemicals. In 2012 she attended a PDC with Ross Mars and found the solution to her growing concerns: A sustainable way to design gardens that work, don’t need massive amounts of maintenance and produce yields without chemical inputs.
Eight years down the track, Fiona has completed two permaculture teaching courses, a Certificate IV and a Diploma in Permaculture. After almost ten years on the tools, she has given up on gardening but not on the business. Now called Gaia Permaculture, her work is split between designing, consulting and teaching. Fiona educates at council workshops, Permaculture Intros and in the accredited system. She taught Certificate I at Rockingham Senior High School and Certificate III and IV at Candlelight Farm, taking over from Ross Mars. She is co-founder of the Permaculture Educator’s Alliance, where she teaches Permaculture Design Certificate Courses with Marina Grayden and Martina Hoeppner.
A *huge* thank you to all of our wonderful volunteers who keep Permaculture Australia running, we couldn’t do it without you.
Want to get more involved and help us advocate for permaculture solutions too? Don’t forget to sign up as a member here to get involved. We’d love to have you join us.
“I am constantly inspired by how aware people are becoming of their food systems and interested in healthier ways of living”
PA member, permaculture educator and design consultant Tonielle Christensen on living in far north QLD, the importance of sociocracy in permaculture education and how to get started on the permaculture journey.
Growing up in a tin shed with a veggie garden, a composting toilet and one solar panel in south-west WA, Charlie lived the low-impact lifestyle from a young age. In 2011, he completed a PDC at Djanbung Gardens and soon after, formed Formidable Vegetable – with the hope of inspiring people to grow food, keep chickens and make the world a better place. Formidable Vegetable have performed at global festivals including Glastonbury and at the United Nations, and were described by Vandana Shiva as “connecting the creativity of nature with the creativity of music”.
PA’s staff member Kym spoke to Charlie about living at Melliodora, creative collaborations that promote permaculture action, and ‘Climate Movement’, their new song with “a serious vibe and message of hope.”
For those who may not be familiar – tell us a bit about yourself – and how you ended up living at Melliodora?
I’m just a guy from South West WA who did a permaculture course with Robyn Francis once and instead of becoming a designer, started a band called Formidable Vegetable instead! During the session on patterns in the PDC, I had this ‘Aha!’ moment around the possibility of using music as a knowledge system for permaculture and next minute, I found myself on stage at Glastonbury! How did that happen!? After finishing my first album, Permaculture: A Rhymer’s Manual (which is an adaptation of the 12 permaculture principles in song), I sent it to David Holmgren and Su Dennett to see what they thought. I was so nervous showing my work to the very co-originator of permaculture, but when David told me that he’d listened to the whole thing and ‘didn’t cringe once’, I took that as a good sign! After nearly a decade of crazy gigging and international touring, a bizarre chain of events (involving a certain pandemic), has led me to lockdown at their place, which is proving to be the most wonderfully symbiotic situation!
Formidable Vegetable in action
It can be really tricky trying to describe permaculture to new folks – and convincing them it’s more than organic gardening. What’s your elevator pitch on what it is and why it’s important?
What does a typical ‘week in the life’ look like – and has it changed much since Covid-19?
Life at Melliodora is wonderfully organic (pun intended, as always) and way less stressful than touring constantly. The pandemic lockdown has turned my life from a hectic never-ending roadtrip (and prior to giving up air travel a year ago – a never ending World tour) into a healthier, more grounded permaculture co-creation opportunity. Apart from joining our community farm-days – where everyone is out in the garden or doing work specifically for the common good of the land and the people here – I pretty much spend the rest of my time dreaming up ideas that inspire me and flinging them out at everyone to see if they’re interested (“Hey Dave, what do you reckon about a livestreamed launch party with Formidable Vegetable for the RetroSuburbia ebook?”, “Hey Brenna, how about I write a rap song about Permaculture Climate Action and we make a clip with your illustrations?”. It’s a daily exploration into the principle ‘Integrate, rather than Segregate‘, which is a dream situation for a collaborative creative like me. I feel incredibly privileged to be here!
You’ve been a long term supporter and donor to PA’s Permafund (thank you!). Why did you choose Permafund to support – and how important is the ethic of ‘Fair Share’ to you?
For the first few years after starting the band, I channeled every bit of income I made back into producing more albums and touring in order to keep spreading the permaculture message. When I started making a small surplus from my music, it seemed like the obvious thing to do was to tithe some of my income to Permafund, so that the music could also directly benefit people practicing permaculture on-the-ground. Just singing and waving my arms around about how great permaculture is, without ever being in one place long enough to have a garden of my own started to feel a bit abstract and disconnected. So for me, Permafund was a great way that I could give back to the community and adhere a bit more to the ethics of Earth Care and Fair Share, while not having much of a built or biological environment available for me to work on at the time.
What do you think is the most important issue(s) we are facing at present – and how is permaculture positioned to respond?
Aside from the inevitable fallout from Covid, I still see climate change and biodiversity loss as being the number one issues of our time. I keep trying to remind myself and others around me that pandemics come and go, but the impacts humans have on our ecological systems is a far greater threat in the long run. I truly believe that permaculture movement (and the incredibly diverse range of people within it) has all of the solutions we need to deal with these problems. We just need to galvanise and integrate more as a whole so that we can take these solutions to the rest of the world, in both a top-down and a bottom-up way.
You launched a fabulous new song ‘Climate Movement’ this week which you’ve described as having a “serious vibe, but with a message of hope”. tell us more, including about the track and how folks can sing/dance along and get involved.
I’m pretty excited about this one! It’s a Call to Permaculture Action on Climate and a collaboration between Formidable Vegetable and our amazing producer, Spoonbill (who’s well-known in the world of dancy electronic beats) as well as renowned animator, Dropbear (who made our first clip for the song, Yield) and the amazing Brenna Quinlan, who has been taking permaculture into the stratosphere with her beautiful illustrations. I’ve been tweaking the words over the past few years as a bit of an ‘introduction to permaculture’, but it all came to a head last year, after reading the IPCC 1.5˚ report, which estimated that we have only one decade left to sort ourselves out, if we want the World to remain a habitable place. I thought ‘damn, we really need to take permaculture to the next level. NOW!’ and the rap turned into a bit of an anthemic manifesto calling for permies everywhere to unite, collaborate and collectively take their message, skills and solutions up the chains of command (in whichever areas they are active) so that we can make some meaningful change as soon as possible.
After brainstorming ideas with Brenna, we decided the best thing we could offer would be a video that we could hopefully send viral around the internet to inspire, motivate and activate people to go out and use what they have to bring the change. So, here’s your opportunity folks! Get sharing! Click here to see on YouTube and Facebook.
What does 2020 have in store for you?
Well, until Covid is over, I’m not planning to venture far from Melliodora, but it would be good to reconnect with the rest of the band (who are down in Melbourne) once things ease up a bit. I think local action with a global focus is the theme of the year, so I’m pretty happy here collaborating with world-famous permie rockstars on educational materials, music, art and gardening until something else calls me! Brenna and I have also been working on creating a deck of permaculture action cards for teaching the principles. There are a few packs left! Check them out and grab a copy here
Photo: Brenna Quinlan and Charlie McGee with the deck of permaculture action cards designed as a joint collaboration. Photo credit: supplied by Charlie McGee
Fair Share and how to support further:
You can support Formidable Vegetable with their music by becoming a Patron on Patreon here and purchase one or all of their fabulous albums here and here
Permafund provides small grants to permaculture projects across Australia and internationally, and the next grant round will be opening soon. To make a tax deductible donation before the end of financial year, or set up a regular tithe like Charlie McGee please click here.
Remember life before corona virus? We interviewed Mark Brown from PA Professional member Purple Pear Farm in Anambah NSW back in early March. Read his take on moving on from the drought, the role of community gardens and the importance of permaculture education for all ages.
Tell me about yourself!
I, Mark Brown, am privileged to manage the farm at Purple Pear and to work with Kate Beveridge to bring a model of Permaculture to people looking to ensure their future and that of their families. Our slogan of “Permaculture in Action” comes from a deep ethical perspective driven by Kate towards following the Permaculture Ethic.
I did my PDC with Bill Mollison back in the mid 1990’s at Tyalgum and have since been involved in the Local Permaculture Hunter Group as well as teaching the PDC with Faith Thomas in Dungog, and running a few Community Gardens in the Hunter Valley. Kate and I have been offering the PDC since our move to Anambah in 2006 when we also set about designing the Mandala Market Garden and developing the property as a model for small scale farming along permaculture principles. We were fortunate in the establishment of our property given the work Kate had done previously in tree planting in particular.
What was your first interaction with permaculture?
My first contact with Permaculture would be not dissimilar to many in that it was the Global Gardener series on the ABC. I think “In Grave Danger of Falling Fruit” was a specific aha moment and though it was several years till I got my act together, I decided then to look further into this crazy new way to do living.
What’s happening at Purple Pear Farm? Paint me a picture of what it looks like around now!
Purple Pear Farm has just started out from a very trying period. Over the last couple of years we have failed to get the rains we rely on and the winters have had severe frosts that we rarely if ever get. In our normally warm temperate climate we can expect winter rains and one or two light frosts but these have failed us in recent years. Summer storms and showers in Spring and Autumn round out the water needs in a reliable year. Recent good rains have bought new life to very tired gardens, trees and pasture. Plants we were able to nurse through the big dry are now producing with great potential in Capsicum and Eggplant as well as a return in Kale and some of the greens that persist such as Rocket. We are blessed also by the “weeds” such as Fat Hen and Purslane that provide a nutritious addition to meals even in the dry times.
Our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has dwindled over this period with a group of subscribers who have been with us for many years supporting us through a difficult time of low to no production and now are able to once again enjoy the bounty of the Mandala Market Garden. Weed dominance in this period of regrowth has been a challenge though we are up to such a challenge with many opportunities to make biodynamic compost from the rampant biomass.
Kate Beveridge at the farm
What made you move to Maitland from Dungog? Were there any big adjustments that had to be made to your practices?
We started market gardening outside Dungog while I was supervising the Community Garden there. We were renting a beautiful garden on a property owned by Helen Graham and we found after a while that much of the food we grew was going to Maitland and most specifically the Steiner School there. We thought we could cut down food miles by growing the food on the current farm owned by Kate and run as a horse property at Anambah. The move facilitated the establishment of the Mandala Garden inspired by Linda Woodrow and her book “The Permaculture Home Garden” Going from a garden inspired by Elliot Coleman to the Mandalas was a great experience and I was keen to let the chickens do so much more of the work especially seeing as they seemed to enjoy it. It was difficult at first to get an orientation in the garden but soon we became used to the curves and the only real difficulty was finding the food on pick day for the CSA.
The chook dome
How has the drought affected you? What practices have you implemented to try and mitigate its effects?
The drought has been long and difficult. Feeding livestock has been such a hit on savings and keeping chickens and other vulnerable animals such as Guinea pigs alive in soaring temperatures meant huge attention to their needs. Lack of rain water has meant the cessation of production in the mandalas and gardening was confined to wicking beds. We continue to improve the water holding capacity of the soil and earthworks have seen swales and dams built to assist in holding water as high in the landscape as possible. We have also changed the types of crops we grow – such as swapping from our original “Purple King” bean for snake beans to better handle the change in weather conditions. We also include information to our subscribers on how to use some of the “weeds” we now include in the CSA shares.
Purple Pear Farm offers allotments for members of the community to grow their own food independently. What do you think of this system, is it successful?
The allotments have offered several people the opportunity to grow food in a cooperative arrangement. People working together is such a worthwhile way to share excesses and information and seeds. Several plots are taken by the Supported Employment Group MaiWel and two groups come on several days each week to grow food and take it to prepare while enjoying the open air and animal contact. Just getting hands into dirt seems to be a worthwhile activity and the benefits ensure they continue to come regularly to look after their plots. We have another young man who comes three days a week to garden and to do other work on the farm on the NDIS. Others have used the space to grow for a small CSA combining with other urban plots and a young single mum supplements her groceries with fresh food from the allotments. The drought has been hard on these participants and many have dropped out. There are now plots available. There are such possibilities for the scheme to work brilliantly given reasonable seasons.
Purple Pear Farm offers activities for kids and school groups. Why is this important? What do you want them to get out of visiting the farm?
Our tours for school groups, TAFE student and University students as well have become an important part of what we do here on the farm. From preschool and year 1 and 2 to year 9 and 11 all gain such a great insight into curriculum items from Paddock to Plate and studies on Local Food and sustainable agriculture. Regionalism and bio regions are popular aspects of tours for the older students. More and more University Students in Social Geography and sustainability are getting involved in our tours. We are keen to work with teachers to ensure the participants get the content they are seeking in line with their studies. The birthday parties continue to be popular with kids and word of mouth works a treat too!
Activities for kids on the farm.
What does 2020 have in store for Purple Pear Farm? Are there any exciting new things that are happening that we should know about?
The exciting new development for 2020 is the introduction of PDC Exchange at the farm. We are keen to support this initiative that allows people to complete their PDC through volunteering at a variety of permaculture sites (or just the one) with no up front cost but with working in exchange for the educational opportunity. We hope this provides access to this vital information for a wider group while providing relief from labour for us as we get older. It is done in a similar format to our internship with teaching in homesteading type skills as well as the permaculture curriculum but more flexible and not requiring a 10 week commitment. We are hoping for a succession to allow some young person to operate the Market Garden and CSA while allowing us to lead tours and workshops.
More time for cheese making and working with my bees would be nice too!
Check out Purple Pear Farm’s website for more information!
Notice to members of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Permaculture International Limited (trading as Permaculture Australia) to be held:
Thursday 30th April 2020 at 8.00pm AEST via Teleconference (see instructions in Agenda)
Members are recommended to read the Annual report including Financial statements before the meeting. Note that the Annual Report is for Jan 1-Dec 31 2019 and so the 2020 AGM accepts the 2019 report. The meeting will cover AGM business as per the following Agenda.