As part of National Volunteer Week we are celebrating the amazing diversity and skills of the volunteers that keep Permaculture Australia running. This includes the Board of Directors – six extraordinary women volunteering their time and skills for the next twelve months.
PA’s Kym chats with three of the Board of Directors – Virginia Solomon, Greta Carroll and April Sampson-Kelly about how they got involved with permaculture, plans for 2020 and how they ‘walk the permaculture talk’ in their daily lives outside of PA.
Firstly, how did you all get into permaculture?
Virginia: I first got into permaculture through reading the Mollison Designers Manual from cover to cover… twice… in one wet beach holiday. I was instantly hooked and started looking for a farm house with an acre of land on the urban fringe of Melbourne. Little did I realise I had been living within walking distance of Permaculture Melbourne (now Permaculture Victoria) too! When my daughter was in Year 9, her school proposed a permaculture program. I had just helped write accredited courses in permaculture which was the start of my long journey with APT (Accredited Permaculture Training), with which I am still involved.
April: When I saw the ABC Documentary Grave Danger of Falling Food I was hooked. I grew up in a politcally active family. My family had grown food and I loved gardening but permaculture gave me the chance to be politically active in my personal space. I find that very empowering.
Greta: I got into permaculture after spending a few years living in the Middle East working in humanitarian response. Returning to Australia, I enrolled in a PDC and felt almost immediately a strong sense that the magnitude of suffering might be reduced if our communities were more self-reliant, resilient and connected. I went from there to leaving my job in the NGO world and moving towards permaculture education. I currently work as the Education Coordinator at a regenerative farm in northern NSW.
Where do you live, and on what sort of property?
Virginia: I live with my husband, dog and cat, but also with two other households under the same (very large) roof – a young woman, her partner and her dog; and a young man and his two children week about. The big old family house is still adapting itself as we change. We have 3000m2 of gardens and orchards with the only grass being the road verge which we have adopted anyway to supplement our compost system. We have chickens, bees, compost system and mushroom-growing system. We have a blog and are featured as a Retrosuburbia case study. We have 3 cellars: for ferments, honey and preserves; for wine and for art and costumes. We have a pizza oven and a slow combustion stove to supplement our standard cooking appliances, I make cheese, vinegars, preserves and dehydrated goods (including hoshigaki – Japanese persimmons). I make clothes, toys, shoes and patchwork quilts… anything I possibly can. I love to know how things are made and to make use of unwanted or ‘waste’ materials. I grow everything I can, but I no longer try to keep alive the marginal or the unsuitable, I prefer to trade at markets and with people who can grow things I can’t.
One of the cellars at Ecoresilience
April: My partner and I raised our sons on 1/2 hectare in Mt Kembla Village near Wollongong. The food forest is now 26 years old. It has some emergent trees such as existing Pines and Eucalypts and Macadamia and clumping bamboo. The main canopy contains lots of varieties of Mulberry, Jackfruit, custard apple, fig, mango, citrus, smaller trees include Tamarillo, Pomegranate, Persimmon and Jabuticaba. Shrubs include hazelnut, sages, lots of berries and herbs. The darkest areas have Monstera. There are glades with veggies and flowers. Dragon fruit and grape are profilic. Sugarcane is a good, low windbreak. Bananas and Taro love the protected edges. Ginger, Tumeric thrive in our big wicking pots. Native raspberry, Walking-stick palm and Davidson plum are our main native foods. There is always something happening. The food forest is dynamic and engaging. Above all, I keep chickens and love drawing them into old masters. I use my art as a tool to urge people to question the role of chickens as pets. I also do designs for people and a lot of my designs and illustrations are used in magazines and texts. I have come to realise the power of Illustration not just as an education but also as a political commentary.
Greta: I currently live and work on an organic, regenerative farm in Myocum, NSW. The site is around 230 acres with a pumping market garden and food forest, fruit orchards, and holistically managed cattle and chickens who cell graze through pasture and fruit orchards. We’re currently experimenting with different models of integrated annual and perennial systems building on successional agroforestry practices. We cycle nutrients through our compost, biochar, and worm farms. We save most of our fruit, vegetable and tree seeds and are now setting up a dedicated seed saving plot which I’m really excited about!
What do you do with PA – and what is the best part of your role?
Virginia: I joined the board in 2015. I have worked on the Education Team to promote the accredited training courses and I am now involved with the fundraising team. As Chair of PA, the best part of my role is the opportunity to connect people and projects and communities all over Australia, and to help PA grow. It has been my privilege to work with a succession of fabulous teams, and I am especially thrilled to be working currently with an all-female team. PA is a wonderful, nurturing organisation with a serious and professional side as well as a fun and joyous side as we work with our partners and friends in communities all over Australia.
Greta: I’ve joined PA as a new Board Director and the Permafund Liaison and am looking forward to supporting Permaculture projects in Australia and overseas. I think it’s wonderful to see the application of permaculture thinking in different contexts across the world!
What are your permaculture plans for 2020 – and beyond?
One of the productive garden areas at Ecoresilience, property of Virginia Solomon
Virginia: As this is my last year on the PA board, I am hoping to pass on the aegis to others without creating any sort of a rupture when I leave. So I will be working on succession, as well as continuing my fundraising and education roles. I am also interested in continuing to develop accredited training opportunities for permaculture, particularly in schools. Outside of PA, I hope to explore my sewing and textile interests, travel a bit within Australia when it is permitted, and enjoy my family and my beautiful corner of the world.
April: I’m enjoying interviewing elders and the quiet leaders of the movement via Permaculture Visions. I would like to progress our plan to build us a fire-proof home after watching my mentor’s home and beautiful garden lost in the fires earlier this year.
Greta: 2020 has been a wild ride already. We have been lucky enough to keep producing food for ourselves and the wider community, and to continue to provide education for our volunteers. It has been a very reaffirming period in that even when a large part of the world has been in stand-still, permaculture systems offer resilience, stability and sustainability. I’ve been working on a six month teaching curriculum based on permaculture and regenerative agriculture practices, and we’re rolling out the first round of that at the moment. This year I hope to keep walking along the beautiful learning curve I’m on, keep saving heaps of seeds, and I’d love to keep working with the Permaculture for Refugees team when travel becomes possible again.
And the final challenge – how would you explain permaculture in 20 words or less?
Virginia: Permaculture is a decision-making system which clarifies all our life choices and paves the way to a resilient future.
April: Permaculture is a design framework capable of linking ideas for a better future where everyone can be empowered.
Greta: Permaculture is a way of thinking about, and living in, the world through an ethical, systems thinking framework. It’s essential for the health of our people, our communities and our planet.
Permaculture Australia is the national permaculture organisation, working towards a diverse, resilient and thriving world. Sign up as a member and volunteer today to help us advocate for permaculture solutions.
PA’s Permafund provides grants to permaculture projects in Australia and internationally, with the next grand round focusing on disaster preparedness. Donate to Permafund as a regular or once off donation (donations over $2 are tax deductable) here.
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.
In the 2018-19 grant round, Permafund supported the Women’s Organisation for Rural Development (WORD) in India with a micro-grant for their project to help marginal farmers cultivate grains and indigenous millets and create a seed bank for future crops.
Based in the Indian Namakkal District of Tamil Nadu, the project reached 225 farmers in targeted villages where rain-fed agriculture is predominant. In the growing season 150 farmers were provided with sorghum and millet to cultivate on their land and 75 farmers sowed maize. All of the harvests improved food security for the villages.
Harvested seeds saved for the next crop
The farmers’ harvest returned double the quantity of grains and millet seeds to WORD’s seed bank ready for the July 2020 to February 2021 growing season.
WORD officially formed in 1991 based on an 80’s movement of young women inspired by the spirit of the Gandhian Boodan Movement of the 60’s. That movement had attempted to persuade wealthy landowners to voluntarily give a percentage of their land to landless people.
Among the motivations for WORD has been the appalling plight of the Dalits, who are among the most marginalised and deprived populations. Another challenge is the rising degradation and depletion of the natural resources which marginal villages rely on for their livelihoods.
Permaculture Australia’s Permafund is very grateful for your thoughtful, kind and generous donations over the past days, weeks, months and years.
We are pleased to announce that the focus of Permafund’s 2020 grant round will be on the recovery from extreme weather events, including bushfires, plus designing for disaster in preparedness for the future. The recent crises here in Australia and internationally demand a response and a donation to Permafund is a meaningful way to contribute.
Permafund Chair, John Champagne of Bega Valley explains, “Permafund has been active over the past eight years assisting small NGO’s around the world with their permaculture initiatives. It’s important now to focus on the crisis we’ve experienced from extreme weather events and assist local permaculture groups effectively assist their communities in this time of need.”
Echidna hunting for water during the bushfires
The total of the donations made to Permafund at present is just short of the amount that triggers a micro grant round.
The Permafund team is calling for donations to help boost this total as high as possible before the 2020 grant round is opened for applications.
In the 2018-19 Permafund micro-grant round an application by Faulu Productions to establish a permaculture food production system in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya was supported with AU$2,000 to help combat malnutrition in the camp.
Faulu Productions is an organisation that consists of refugees, volunteers and supporters from all around the world. Their mission is to promote agriculture and education, to help create a safe, sustainable living for refugees and to empower them to improve their lifestyles.
The project has established a multi-site permaculture system with 200 participants establishing 5 by 10 metre garden plots in their own compounds and contributing to the maintenance of the larger Kakuma community garden and central Turkana permaculture community gardens.
Preparing garden beds for seeds
The gardens are modeled on natural ecosystems combining ecological, engineering and environmental principles. The designs have used integrated natural water resource management systems and sustainable architecture, so the project is self-maintaining, regenerative and an ongoing source of fresh produce and biomass.
Newly planted beds and maturing crops
The objective has been to help the refugees to become self-sufficient. The key component of the plan was water conservation with an investment in water storage (40 water tanks to harvest 2,000 litres). Digging tools and bulk seeds were purchased and watering cans to help prevent splash erosion and the destruction of young seedlings.
Preparing the harvest for sharing
The participating workers have been resourceful collecting mulch materials and manures and contributing earth building skills.
Making mud bricks for house construction
Trees were planted in the gardens for shade, erosion protection and to provide chop and drop material to assist with mulching & soil creation.
With no “qualified” experts inside the camp the participants are using YouTube to learn the practical skills of permaculture, including watching videos by Australian experts including Geoff Lawton and Morag Gamble.
This project is viewed on the ground as 100% sustainable because it has created job opportunities among refugees, improved the quality of the camp’s environment and helped improve community health and well being. More permaculture inspired enterprises and initiatives are being undertaken following this ground-breaking project.
The community appreciates all donations.
The Kakuma Refugee Camp suffers from regular, severe flooding, the most recent being in early February 2020. Houses have been destroyed and belongings and food washed away.
Supporting capacity building and the establishment of permaculture food gardens to improve nutrition and a place to demonstrate and learn.
Introduction to permaculture workshop in a demonstration permaculture garden, Kambiri Kenya
Introduction: Thank you to Permafund and all those who contribute to it, for supporting programs that help vulnerable women and children in East Africa with a $1,000 grant.
In December 2018, I was invited to Uganda and Kenya by small community-based organisations to support local permaculture education programs particularly with women and children. I went as a volunteer and took my two eldest children, Maia and Hugh (then 12 and 10). As well as being helpers along the way, they also graduated with their PDCs from the course held at the Sabina Primary School led by young people from Uganda, Kenya and Liberia. The core goal of this course was to teach teachers.
(Note: As volunteers, my children & I paid for all our expenses & received no payment for our work.)
My children meeting the women’s self-help group leaders who are sharing permaculture in the local village and schools
Goal: The overall goal of this project was to enable communities to vision, design, implement and manage permaculture food gardens for education, food security, and sustainable livelihood capacity-building.
The project: The funds donated by Permafund were spent on helping to develop the practical land-based centres for learning about permaculture at two main locations.
A: Sabina School, near Rakai, south west Uganda
The school at Sabina is important for a number of reasons.
It is a place of learning for hundreds of local children
It is a becoming a teaching garden for permaculture teachers
It is becoming a teaching garden for school teachers
The funds were used to buy tools, fruit trees, seeds, building materials for compost systems, animal enclosures and animals, and provide educational materials.
This school was also the site of permaculture design course in December 2018 followed by local farmer training and local school teacher training programs.
The ongoing management of the project is the responsibility of the school, with the permaculture trained teachers and school students who attended training. A local permaculture organisation, BEU Permaculture is regularly checking in with progress.
Children at Sabina School learning permaculture with my children.
B: Women’s Self-help Group, Kambiri Village, Kakamega, Kenya
This region of Kenya is experiencing prolonged drought and the women have come together to find solutions. Permaculture makes good sense to them. Through additional crowdfunding, Ethos Foundation sponsored 5 people from this region to attend permaculture design courses at Sabina School in Uganda.
In December 2018 in Kambiri I offered an introduction to permaculture workshop and undertook an assessment of the area to understand the needs for developing a permaculture education centre. During this introductory workshop we undertook a collaborative process and drafted a design for the demonstration gardens. We also helped start a seed-exchange program.
The demonstration gardens are now being developed and a Permaculture Design Course was held in August 2019. Participants of the PDC were mostly women and they have returned to their communities to share permaculture design ideas and strategies.
Jane Amunga – the initiator of the Women’s Self Help group at Kambiri.
The Women’s Self-Help group leaders, Kambiri Kenya in their permaculture demonstration garden
The Permafund funds were used to purchase a water tank and seeds, set up for the permaculture training, pay a local translator and distribute educational materials.
Ethos sponsored four local leaders to complete their PDC in Sabina School, Uganda – principal, agriculture extension worker, support worker for girls health, disability advocate. These people are now teaching locally and supported the Women’s group PDC in August 2019.
Permaculture and the government: It’s also interesting to note that while in Uganda, we met with the East African Minister for Agriculture and the Ugandan Minister for Education, as well a number of local and regional officials. All of them are very keen to see permaculture developed further in the region. One particularly interesting discussion was around having permaculture taught in university to teachers, and there being a series of schools around Uganda where teachers could go and learn in-situ. It was identified that support was welcomed in helping to develop curriculum and teaching those who can lead such programs in university.
Meeting with the Minister for Education at her home in Uganda.
Permaculture and the refugee council: Also interesting to note is the community resilience work of the Danish Refugee Council, particularly that of Natalie Topa, in her role of Resilience Officer. I spent some time with her in Nairobi and was delighted to hear about how much her work is based on permaculture throughout East Africa and Yemen.
Natalie Topa with Morag Gamble in Nairobi. Natalie Topa works with the Danish Refugee Council and implements permaculture throughout her work.
Ongoing: Ethos Foundation is continuing to provide some additional support for the development of these gardens and is dedicated to sponsoring permaculture education programs that will help people implement and manage more of these types of local permaculture demonstration gardens. The aim is to create a network of permaculture gardens in local communities – places to learn, to demonstrate, to access resources and connect with others wanting positive change.
Impact: Several gardens have been renewed and/or established where people can come to learn about permaculture. Gardens and systems are developing for the seeds and plant materials to be freely exchanged. New networks of local permaculture teachers are being established.
About Ethos Foundation: The Ethos Foundation, a sister organisation to the Permaculture Education Institute, is a small registered permaculture charity dedicated to:
supporting the spread of permaculture education through practical community-based projects led by local people to address local needs in their local communities
mentoring, enabling and supporting local permaculture leaders and educators
providing micro grants to local projects to access the resources needed to implement sustainable food garden initiatives.
A sincere thanks again to Permafund for supporting these communities. I encourage you to continue donating to Permafund. The difference that can be made with a small amount of resourcing is quite phenomenal.