27 Life Hacks for Permaculture Living

Story and photos reposted from PA members — Milkwood, 25 September 2017

Want to design a better, earthier and more rewarding life with permaculture? Solutions-based thinking is not just for big design projects. Permaculture can also be used to improve the everyday, the little things, to create a happier you.
Over the last 10 years, we’ve been gradually using permaculture principles to create better daily lives for ourselves – in lots of small ways. Habits, hacks, call them what you will – they all add up, and they make a difference. To us, our family, and our impact on this planet.
Having lived on rural properties, in deep Australian suburbia, and now on a peri-urban permaculture farm in these last ten years, I can confidently say all these life hacks are doable in some form –  no matter where you live.
Whether you do all of them – or just some, or one, or some others of your own, depends on where you’re at right now.
Because permaculture design can be used to create a worthwhile, kick-ass life – that benefits you, your community and the wider world, out of small habits. Little, tiny changes.
‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can…’
No big absolutes, no ‘must do’s’.

Forming habits is not easy, and not often quick. This is slow work.

But it’s worth it, and the changes that emerge – with no special training, equipment, knowledge or permissions –  are beautiful. A recipe for life worth living, with less impact and more connection.

Permaculture principles

Permaculture is a design system and approach that challenges us to engage in whole systems thinking to create better designed stuff. It can be used to design farms, gardens, houses, community structures, accountancy practices or kitchen drawer layouts. Here’s the 12 permaculture principles, as outlined by David Holmgren:
| 1. Observe + interact | 2. Catch and store energy | 3. Obtain a yield | 4. Apply self regulation + accept feedback | 5. Use and value renewable resources | 6. Produce no waste | 7. Design from patterns to details | 8. Integrate rather than segregate | 9. Use slow and small solutions | 10. Use and value diversity | 11. Use edges and value the marginal | 12. Creatively use and respond to change |
In addition to the above, there’s 3 permaculture ethics: Earth Care | People Care | Fair Share.
So what does using this thinking look like in real life? Many habits and choices, some that you’re maybe already doing. Big things and small things. Everyday things and sometimes things.
Spend less – do more real stuff – sleep well.
So. Here’s a bunch of permaculture habits + hacks that we use to get the most out of daily life, while creating the least impact we can. These are just a few, but they’re all dear to our hearts. You’re probably already doing some of them, which means you’re already in motion! Yeah. Keep going.

Grow food

Even just a little bit. A pot of parsley, or chives. Or a whole, year-round garden full of potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, herbs, peppers and greens.
To grow some of your own food is to create a relationship with the soil, the weather, and the ecosystem where you live. Whenever we’ve grown food we eat much more seasonally, based on what’s available today. And if it’s just spinach, then that is what’s for dinner, with a little help from the pantry in the form of gains, pulses and preserves.
Growing food slows us down, and makes us look at ANY available homegrown veg as a treat, and a meal. No matter what it is.
Food miles reduce, resilience increases, and so does our understanding and knowledge of where we are, and what that place can provide – whether that place is a riverside fibro shack, in a small suburban backyard, or on a rural property. Growing food helps us to eat where we are, and be thankful for what that place (or sometimes pot) can provide, no matter where it is.

Chop + gather wood

Taking responsibility for our fuel needs is a big one – especially now that we’re in a cold-temperate climate. Learning how to gather wood regeneratively (forestry thinnings, fallen branches, stickwood) as well as how to cure, stack and chop it so that it lasts all winter is a learning curve, to be sure – but worth the effort.
Alongside this energy gathering goes how we use it – as little as possible, in a well-kept woodstove that also heats our water and warms our home, as well as providing heat for cooking and baking. The small amount of charcoal generated is stored for adding to garden beds (biochar), and the ash is stored for soap making, cleaning and other uses.


Minimise clothing. Minimise kitchen gadgets. Minimise farm infrastructure. Minimise shopping trips, and devices, and anything we can. Being happy with less is powerful. I find I want far less ‘stuff’ now. City trips involve doing things, not buying things. Advertising makes me laugh, not want.
The most powerful thing about minimising, for me, has been a great lessening of want. Want is an insidious feeling. It can be used and manipulated to skew our days, our paychecks and ultimately, how we live. For our whole lives. It’s been an enormous relief to have figured out (largely) what I do and don’t need, on an everyday level, and to live within those limits. There’s much more time for doing cool stuff now, whether that’s helping out at our community garden, or going for an evening swim down in the lake.

Catch water

Catching and storing water is catching and storing potential energy. We capture all the water we can, from every roof and surface where we live. Some is pumped up high, via a solar pump, for it’s energy to be used as pressurised water in our home – for drinking + washing. Some water is caught and stored in dams that catch runoff through the landscape, to be used for watering gardens + fruit trees.
When we lived in suburbia, we caught rainwater in simple recycled plastic barrels, under downpipes – the chance to have clean, clear rainwater for water kefir making, fertiliser tea and a billion other uses was too good to pass up.

Eat together

This is a small one, and also a big one. No screens, nothing else happening. Just eating, and talking, and being. Together. Inside, outside, wherever.
Because humans, and love, and family, and friends. We deserve each other’s undivided attention. And so does the food on our plates.

Buy second hand

As we committed to buying anything we needed secondhand, our rate of purchasing slowed hugely – for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we needed to plan ahead – if new shoes (or whatever) were needed, they needed to be sourced by multiple trips to op shops, or the tip shop, or by buying second hand online.
Secondly, no more impulse purchases. Do we actually need that? Can we be bothered to source a good second hand one? If not, that was that. No purchase actually needed.
And then, of course, there’s the hugely lessened impact of sourcing an existing item, rather than buying new. The second time around, this item generates nothing to make, because it already exists. No footprint. No production. No slave labour. Better for every living thing. Including us.

Reuse packaging

Another little thing, and also a big thing. Very little packaging that can be reused leaves our house as rubbish now. Not a plastic bag, or a newspaper, or string. Yes, I do remind myself of my Nana – she did this also. She treated any and all reusable resources like they were valuable, because they were. Now, we reuse and reuse everything we can. No matter what it’s made from – if it’s reusable, we cherish it, store it, use it.

Break up with big supermarkets

We’ve worked to find other ways to source the food we need. All involve far less packaging and a far higher standard of food ethics. We make basics from scratch, source wholefoods from our local co-op, buy direct from farms and use our beloved local family-owned fruit and veg shop for the occasional extras.
Choosing not to go to the supermarket was a big step for us. I was CERTAIN we’d still need to go back, regularly. But no. There’s certain things we can’t get anywhere else, so now, mostly, we just don’t get them. In return, no more walking through isles of plastic-wrapped, processed things (i can’t call most of it food, really) from far, far away, full of ingredients I can’t even pronounce. No more deciding which is the least-impact country of origin to buy this week’s pre-wrapped fruit from. No more kids-eye-level endless lollipop displays.

Reuse all nutrients

This is our goal. We’re getting closer. The nutrients in our kitchen scraps go to the chickens, and turn into both eggs that come back to the kitchen, and manure that cycles through the garden soil and fertilizes next season’s food.
The nutrients in our poo goes into compost toilets, and then into compost piles, and then around the roots of fruit trees. Then it transforms back into cherries, peaches, apples and all the rest.
The nutrients in our urine goes into buckets (or directly onto gardens) and is then diluted and used around plantings that need a nitrogen boost. Yes, we wash our veggies before eating them. No, urine is not yucky to use if you add water to the bucket and distribute it out every 12 or 24 hours.
The nutrients in tree prunings get eaten by our milking goats, which turns into fresh milk for our kitchen, or manure for next season’s compost. Once the goats have eaten the leaves, the prunings get chipped into woodchip, which gets shovelled on pathways around the farm, slowly breaking down into the soil.

Take your lunch

A subset of not wanting. When I go to the city, the chances of finding a egg-salad sandwich with the same local provenance and taste as what i can make at home (or at a friend’s house, if I’m travelling) is virtually zero. So I generally bring lunch with me. It also saves buckets of money, eliminates waste, and gives me more options for places to be.
Taking lunch means the world is your restaurant – the train, the park, the harbourside, up a tree, you name it. With a small thermos and a good book, the public spaces of the city and I are now firm friends.

Make bread

Making bread means we don’t need to buy it every other day. It’s a skill that allows us to nourish ourselves and others, with one of the best loved basic foodsBaking bread means we use every last crumb, because we made it. It means we just buy grain every six months or so and grind it as we need it, because the other ingredients; sourdough starter, clear water and salt – we gather ourselves. No packaging, no ‘may contain traces of fish’, no mystery ingredients. Just simple fermented goodness. Made in our kitchen. It’s not tricky if you’d like to learn how.

Swap the gym for the garden

Now look, I know this one sometimes means digging things. It’s true. But seriously – all that time spend inside an air-conditioned gym surrounded by crappy TV and consumer-centric activewear is… erm, not the only way to get fit, to put it nicely.
Our bodies are amazingly capable engines. Sources of energy that can either run in a circle or tread a treadmill or… turn a compost pile! Or prep a bed for brassicas, or prune, shape and weed, or shovel woodchip, or pot up seedlings, or chop wood, or make a garden bed surround, or go for a big walk to see what street trees are fruiting, or… many other deeply useful tasks. At your place. At your local community garden. At your neighbours house. The opportunities are endless.

Grow beans

Hooray for beans! They improve the soil with their nitrogen fixing abilities, can be grown as climbers if you have limited space, and can be eaten green, or dried for storage. Bean are self pollinating, so seedsaving is easy – which means more resilience and local adapted varieties for you, if you keep at it.
Dried beans store for literally years, and beans are one of the easiest, most climate-adaptable plant proteins to grow. And they lead to bean burritos. So, obviously, we grow beans.

Minimal meat

Since we moved to Melliodora, we’ve been starting to adhere to David Holmgren + Su Dennett’s ‘no abattoir meat’ rule of thumb. On a small farm, this means that now prettymuch the only meat we eat is surplus roosters that we dispatch ourselves, occasional fresh roadkill that looks like a good thing, deer meat hunted by friends, and an occasional piece of friends’ home-killed lamb. All up, and spread out over a year, that’s very little meat.
While this hack might be a bit too hardcore for some, it basically turns us into plant eaters with occasional bone broths, a very small amount of liver pate, and a sometimes meat dish here and there. And goats milk, which we milk ourselves. Plus a little butter from our fruit and veg shop. It’s great.
Having this relationship with meat also means that every tiny weeny bit of meat gets used. And then turned into bone broth afterwards. Living within our means.

Take the train

This one is big for us. Since we moved south from NSW, we’ve both (and Nick in particular) been travelling between Melbourne + Sydney for teaching a lot more. On the train. Every time.
Sydney and Melbourne are quite far apart. The equivalent of several european countries (and many indigenous nations) apart. Taking the train takes time. But the alternative is flying – which generates about 300kg of CO2 per return trip. Taking the train typically generates 10 times less carbon.
Taking the train is slower, it’s true. A whole day, or overnight, depending which train you get. So, a night of reading and sleeping, or a day spent reading and planning.
There’s some great little train hacks we’ve learned over the years – get a premium discovery pass if you’re travelling regularly to make trips mega cheap – much cheaper than tiger air, even, especially once you factor in all the add-ons of air travel, delays, airports and transfers.
Use the sleeper carriage when you need to, make full use of the free hot water refills for your thermos (to go with your DIY miso soup and tea travel packs), book early for the seat you want, and take a hamper of food and a book.
Trains take you from the centre of one city to the centre of the next one – no airports, no shuttles, no traffic jams. All up, it’s doable, and better than air travel wherever possible, in our books.

Support community

This means everything. Shopping local. Eating local. Supporting the local food bank when you have too many tomatoes. Showing up at community meetings. Helping out at the community garden. Teaching others to make sauerkraut and other simple, nourishing food storage techniques, for free. Showing up for working bees with the local landcare, or the local school, or the local whatever. Taking lemons to the local crop swap. Starting a local crop swap if there isn’t one. Giving what you can. Engaging where you live.
Even if it’s as simple as growing a few seedlings to take to your local primary school’s small garden. Do it. Get involved. Help out. Grow goodness in all it’s weird and sometimes warty but always wonderful community forms. And if there’s not enough to do, start something.

Keep bees

Keeping bees naturally is one of the great joys of my life. They’re gorgeous to watch, great fun to steward as a hive, provide our gardens and orchards with brilliant pollination, and keeping them results in sweetness and light – honey and wax. You’re also helping with the pollination of your neighbours gardens, too.
One of the big aspects of natural beekeeping in a temperate climate is the appreciation of just how much effort goes into the creation of honey. Literally millions of flowers in each jar. In a society addicted to cheap sugar, it’s quite mindblowing to understand just how much effort goes into creating just one jar of this concentrated energy source. It’s definitely changed the way we approach sweetness in our diet.

Sleep well

Getting enough sleep is a very boring thing to say but jeepers it makes a difference. To our moods, to our health, to what we’re capable of the next day, and importantly, the amount of simulants we need to consume the next day to get things done. Want to limit your impact and do awesome things? Get enough sleep in a quiet room free from blinking charger lights.
(Parents of young children can just skip this one – please know that we feel for you deeply and wish you strength until unbroken sleep comes to you again one day – lucky they’re cute, hey?).

Live small

Living in a small house is, in some ways, an antidote to modern living. There’s no rumpus room, or teenager’s retreat, or cinema lounge. It’s all, and I do mean ALL, happening in the one room instead.
Living small means less heating, less cleaning, more interaction and more intimacy. I can’t escape Ashar’s starwars fingerpuppet origami project, because it’s happening on the one and only coffee table next to me. And he can’t escape the fact that we’re baking bread and talking about market garden planning just now. It’s all happening, in the same room.
I know exactly what books my family are reading, and they know exactly what I’m working on for milkwood education needs today. Because it’s all happening right here at the same table – along with breakfast, lunch, dinner, seedsaving, planning, and aforementioned origami fingerpuppets of Han Foldo.
While this can sometimes be chaotic, we generally do a pretty good job of creating extra space for quiet when needed – there’s a treehouse down the hill, and plenty of chores to do outside. Early mornings get used, and so does the quiet of late at night – time becomes an extra space, when you live small.
In return, we have drastically less energy costs, less housing costs, a great sense of where everyone’s at, a lot of fun and the ability to intermittently stir the stew while doing other things.

Work less

We’ve never been so busy as since our decision to work less. Because by work, i mean WORK work – ie the kind of work that earns a livelihood. When we moved to Melliodora, we decided to downsize our education business so we could spend more time growing food and being involved in the non-monetary economy of growing, swapping, sharing. The paycut that went with this decision was a bit scary, but we soon realised it was the best thing we could have done for our health, for our family, and for our everyday happiness.
Now, we grow and swap and forage and make and find a way to take care of most of our weekly food needs. We trade our gardening work for living in a beautiful small mudbrick home, so that’s rent sorted. We actively enjoy living in frugal hedonism. The money that we do earn is mostly set aside for when it’s truly needed, rather than spent on the non-necessities of life.


Moving any savings, super and other assets across from major banks + funds and over to an organisation that is actively un-fucking the planet is an obvious way to help create change. But many of us don’t seem to get around to it. Companies like Australian Ethical Super are fabulous for helping your funds make a difference – and there’s also amazing, emerging initiatives like ORICo-op which invest in just regenerative farming. Make the time to sort this out.

Forage wild food

The food is all around us. Foraging is a great way to fill your larder with seasonal deliciousness, for free. In Spring, it’s wild greens for our stews and soups and salads, and wild mushrooms like morels. In Summer, it’s greens and endless feral fruit – plums, apples, more plums, and so on. In autumn it’s hawthorn berries, blackberries. and more fruit, and the first of the wild mushrooms. In Winter, it’s back to wild greens, a few more mushrooms, and eating preserved wild fruit from Summertime.
Foraging connects you with your local hood in a way that few other experiences can. Get a good guide book for where you live, start talking to folks at the community garden, keep your eyes open and go for it. And if you’re not sure of a species, get a well-informed second opinion before munching on it.

Take care of your ecosystem

We help manage the gully at the back of where we live. It’s not a massive project, just clearing underbrush in readiness for fire season, grazing down the blackberries with goats, stewarding self-seeded trees that are useful, grafting edible fruit onto wild rootstocks that are not.
Previously, we’d clean the beach, or the riverside, near where we lived. Picking up little bits of plastic as you walk down the beach once a month is not a big deal. But it helps. It all helps.

Make treehouses

Or cubbies, or forts, or whatever takes your fancy. From solid wooden beams, or sticks from down the side, or junk or branches or whatever you can find. Collaborative building projects allow us to learn major life skills (for big people as well as little ones!) that aren’t always easy to acquire otherwise. An appreciation for shelter and what it takes just to keep a basic roof aloft, let along waterproof, is a good appreciation to have.

Pass it on

This is a big one. Sharing abundance – of fruit, of clothing, of knowledge, of eggs, of whatever – has been one of the most powerful ways to build community and ALSO to build a sense of ‘enough’ within ourselves.
Once you lower the bar of what you’ve decided you need, it’s more easy to be satisfied. And being satisfied and content is a feeling many of us aspire to with all our hearts.
To pass on, to pay it forward, to share your excess around, is a gift to both your community and to yourself.
Even just choosing one thing, and sharing that. Try it sometime. It’s a great feeling. And it makes goodness grow, all around you.

Share skills

A skilled community, one capable of looking after themselves and each other, is the sort of town we want to live in. Who doesn’t want to live in a place where people help each other and make things together and fix things for each other and generally know how to do excellent stuff? We do!
Making this happen can be as simple as opening your kitchen on a Wednesday afternoon to anyone locally that wants to learn how to make cheese. Or it might be holding a seed raising workshop outside your local library. Or, if you need help learning, it might be finding someone to give this kind of workshop. Skillshares build confidence and community in the most unlikely ways and places. The subjects don’t need to be complex. The venue doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to have heart. And you’ve got one of those, so you’re perfect for the job.

Rise up

We live at a time on earth where silence often equates to violence – against minorities, women, asylum seekers, equality, protection of natural ecosystems and resources, human rights, animal rights, and so many other things. These injustices are not ones that we can purely garden or bake our way out of. Nor will only protesting and organising against injustice solve all the issues. It must be both, always, at once and together. Part of living simply and in a permaculture way is to do as little harm as possible, and using our time on earth to do the best we can, with both our hands and our voices.
Part of this work is speaking up, showing up, rising up. Part of this work is looking down to the soil and getting on with planting. Part of this work is establishing tool libraries. Part of this work is helping your community to thrive.
Permaculture design encourages us to design and create the world we want, not just the garden we want.
Being ready to speak up when needed and help out where necessary goes hand in hand with foraging for plums…
So, there you have it. Want to help create the world you want? And a community worth living in? Start with just one thing, habit or skill, and nail it.
And then, choose one more thing. And go forwards from there.
If you’re able to take on just one new permaculture practice a month, within a year you’d be incorporating 12 new practices into your daily life.
Or, if you’re super keen, one new practice a week. That’s up to 52 changes in a year! That’s a lot of change, lessened impact, stronger communities, happier you and general awesomeness.
Sounds like a good way to spend your time on earth, to us.

This post is kind of a short version of one of their sessions in their popular Intro to Permaculturecourse, where they unpack how you can get started incorporating permaculture principles into your life from all angles.
Milkwood run this course in NSW and also at our home in VIC if you’d like to join them!

Some further reading from Milkwood…

Here’s their articles + free how-tos from, Milkwood, on:

And what about you? Taken up any ‘small but big’ habits to change your world lately? Please do comment below, we’d love to hear about them…

Funding grants for Women's Leadership Development

logoIn 2016 Women & Leadership Australia is administering a national initiative to support the development of female leaders across the agriculture and horticulture industries.
From September 21st 2016, the initiative will provide women in the agriculture and horticulture sectors with grants for leadership development. More specifically, grant applications are open for women at three levels. Please click on the preferred program link for details.  The deadline for expressing your interest for this funding in your sector ends on December 15th.

  • Senior management and executive level women leaders can apply for $8,000
    part-scholarships to undertake the Advanced Leadership Program
  • Mid-level female managers and  leaders can apply for $4,000 part-scholarships to undertake the Executive Ready Program
  • Aspiring talent and emerging women managers can apply for $3,000 part-scholarships to undertake the Accelerated Leadership Performance Program.

Expressions of Interest

Should you wish to discuss the initiative in more detail please contact Ian Johnson at the office of the National Industry Scholarship Program, Women and Leadership Australia on:

  • P: (03) 9270 9016 or
  • E: ijohnson@wla.edu.au


Permaculture Noosa is turning 21!

A history of achievements

It’s hard to believe but twenty-one years ago Permaculture Noosa Inc. had its humble beginnings at its first public meeting held at the Nippers’ Club in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Geoff Lawton started us off and has been an enthusiastic supporter ever since. He is now our patron.
The group has many fine achievements. Our strong points include regular monthly activities, the well-attended evening meeting held in Cooroy on each third Thursday, a permablitz at a member’s property and our PDF newsletter, the Permanews.
We have also helped other groups and community gardens get started, providing design advice , helpful workshops and often volunteers. We’ve run and been involved in many environment festivals plus garden and sustainability expos including the very successful Future Ready Expo.
Many people involved with Permaculture Noosa have come and gone over the 21 years, with some of the original members still with us.

Gala dinner planned

On the 15th of August we are celebrating our 21st anniversary by having a grand dinner with special guests, Geoff and Nadia Lawton and many members from the past. All of our former presidents and office bearers are invited to come long to meet and reminisce over old times.
An enjoyable evening of fine food, music, comedy and guest speakers is planned.
Qld-Home-Garden-Expo-display-PAEntry to the event, sponsored by Permaculture Noosa, will be $10.00. Entrance for those traveling  a long distance to the event will be free. Billets with members will be arranged if accommodation is  required.
A DVD on the history and characters of Permaculture Noosa is being compiled to show on the  night.
People are invited to submit any photographs and written material they may have about their  involvement with Permaculture Noosa, its members and events, whether it’s a set of property  ‘before and after’ photos or a short video.  Photos and documents in digital format would be  preferred.

Contact info

For more information and to submit archival materials please contact Mark Fry:

What's up in Permaculture Victoria?

What’s in a name?

The change of name from Permaculture Melbourne to Permaculture Victoria some 18 months ago seemed simple enough, and far better represented the spread of members further out than Melbourne. What was not anticipated was the effect this would have on membership and activities within the association. We now have members right across the state and pushing, and perhaps even over stepping, the limits of the state boundaries. With that comes new local groups in Donald, Geelong, and South West Victoria, with more groups imminent as the enthusiasm for Permaculture continues to grow.
The Facebook Group has also exceded expectations, blitzing the old Permaculture Melbourne group of some 300+ members, to reach a membership of over 2000, and heading towards 3000.
As part of the growth, we have exhibited at three expos/festivals so far this year:-
Seymour Alternate Farming Expo (SAFE) – a change from our normal promotional activities these last few years. SAFE was very successful as a first showing and expectations are that it can only get better as we fine tune for a more rural demographic.
We also attended (f)route, a niche festival in Bairnsdale, which was arguably more successful than Seymour with new members and loads of interested in the East Gippsland region.
The Caulfield Sustainability Festival was an in-house festival, organised through the South East Suburbs local group, by group convener Miriam Baxt. With speakers Bruce Pasco talking about Aboriginal Agriculture, and Vasili Maresi talking and answering questions about growing your own food, the attendees were kept well occupied and informed. And despite being a cold and miserable Mother’s Day, the attendance was gratifying and constant. Congrats to Miriam!
So, all in all, Permaculture Victoria is going from strength to strength, with many interesting plans for the future – but that is a story for another day.
Warwick Bone
Permaculture Victoria

Students of Sustainability (SoS) conference focused on Permaculture and connecting with our roots

Students of Sustainability Conference in July 2015

From 7-12 July 2015 the Students of Sustainability, ideas, arts and action Festival will be happening at Flinders University in Adelaide. Students of Sustainability (SoS) is the largest and longest running environmental & social justice conference in Australia and brings together environmentalists, social justice advocates and activists from all over the country to share ideas and action. Beginning in Canberra in 1991, SOS is now the premier event on the calendar of the Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN).
The theme of this years SoS is Nourishing our roots and will have a focus on community and grass-roots activism as well as a strong focus on permaculture, community gardening and sustainable building.
The facilities at Flinders University offer a great opportunity to explore Permaculture during SoS. For over ten years the Flinders Community Permaculture Garden has been operating on campus and is one of the largest student run community gardens at an Australian university. Its the perfect place for participants to get hands on experience in practical permaculture skills as the garden offers established fruit trees, garden beds, compost heap and a worm farm. The garden is also a great place to relax and escape the busy conference.

Students of Sustainability Conference 2015

Students of Sustainability Conference 2015

Exciting workshops and discussions planned

So far a variety of permaculture related workshops are planned for the conference on subjects including, permaculture 101, composting, seed swapping, upcycling, tiny houses, local produce and the gift economy.
During the conference, garden club president Kegan Daly will be running hands on workshops at the gardens gazebo site, (which will include learning techniques around earthships, straw bale and earthbag construction) and lead discussions around how to go about developing off-grid projects based upon ecological principles and materials.
SoS strives to offer a comprehensive conference that is affordable and accessible to as many participants as possible in a format that offers do-it-yourself solutions to many of the problems our communities and planet is facing.

For more information on SoS:

Both inspiring and instructive: Vandana Shiva in Sydney

vandana-shiva-in-sydney-3Story by Russ Grayson, February 2015

I ATTENDED two of global food sovereignty advocate, Vandana Shiva’s appearances in Sydney this February. It was the second event that I found most interesting, but more on that later.
To walk past the display tables at Vandana’s Friday evening presentation at the NSW Teachers’ Federation hall was to pass by some familiar faces. There was Alana Mann from Sydney University and Fiona Campbell who does IT and communications support for the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance below the organisation’s banner. There was Nick Ritar from Milkwood Permaculture at their table. And there were other tables with faces I did not know, mainly those of the anti-GMO lobbies. And, as is usual at such events, there was a plethora of familiar faces in the milling audience before and after the event itself.
Vandana’s presentation followed that of innovative US farmer, Joel Salatin. I’ve seen Joel before and he didn’t add much that was new—he was the supporting act, after all—other than to say that his neighbouring farmers didn’t much like his approach to agriculture. Milkwood had scheduled Joel for a weekend of specialised courses in farming.

A familiar message

What Vandana said would be familiar to those who have heard her messages before, on the importance of maintaining the food sovereignty of smaller and medium scale farmers worldwide, of maintaining the supply of traditional, non-hybridised agricultural seed through seed saving and distribution and of the danger of corporate control of our food systems. I was happy that she addressed recent allegations by a US-based pro-GM advocate that she received US$40,000 per appearance and travelled first class, among other alleged misdeeds that read more like an attempted character assassination. She ridiculed the dollar sum without disclosing what it is that she actually receives for her appearances.
The US advocate also alleged that Vandana misrepresented her scientific qualifications and that they were in social sciences. She repeated what has been widely reported before, that she was trained as a physicist specialising in quantum mechanics.
Vandana started the Navdanya movement, a seed and farming education organisation. She is a middle aged woman who wears her dark hair tied back in a bun and dresses in traditional Indian clothing. She wears the traditional Hindu tilaka on her forehead. Her reputation and work brings her what I can best describe as a commanding presence (cliched I know that term is, but it does describe the perception of intellectual authority that she emanates). This is reinforced by a paced delivery, neither too fast or too slow, her voice adopting a suitably deepish tone.
The impression that comes across is that Vandana is delivering a serious message. She uses emphasis but does not indulge in the name-calling, blatant condemnation and emotional rhetoric that so mars many the messages of anti-GMO advocates. Vandada does not pull punches when it comes to the machinations of global corporations and their seeking control over our food systems, but she does so in a measured way that affords greater credibility to what she says. You get the impression that Vandana calls upon the objective, analytical part of her brain in delivering her messages, rather than the emotional.
The secondary benefit of events like this is networking, catching up with friends and colleagues, and there was plenty of that, the organisers wisely having built the opportunity into their program.

Preaching or educating?

Vandana’s Friday night appearance would have been empowering for those who filled the hall—it was standing room only at the back. Hearing what may be now-familiar messages again is a reinforcing thing that keeps them alive in individuals and the organisations they participate in.
People might call this preaching to the converted. But that mistakes how social change works. That preaching is actually a reinforcing of message and motivation for those already involved. It is best seen as educating-the-educators and change makers who go on to enact those ideas in the world and influence others.

Saturday more focused

Saturday morning was one of those humid, sticky, late-summer days in Sydney and it was the morning of the invitation-only meeting that I found the most interesting of the two Vandana Shiva events I attended.
It took place in the Surry Hills Community Centre in the City of Sydney’s newish library building on Crown Street. It was a conversation with people who play some role in the fair food and food sovereignty movements.

How to structure a movement?

There’s a tendency even among organisations that would think of themselves as socially progressive to adopt old and conservative models of organisational structure and operation.
With this in mind I explained to Vandana that there are numerous small organisations focused on fair food but they often act independently and are scattered. I suggested this reduces the overall effectiveness of the fair food movement and asked her for any insights she has developed as to structuring the fair food movement in Australia.
I should have anticipated that her answer would be based on the model of the agricultural biodiversity she promotes and on a pattern in nature. First, though, she started with a critique of the conventional, old and tired organisational and movement model we are all familiar with.
“The pyramidal model of organisation is finished. The top forgets that the bottom supports it”, she said.
“The model for movements is biodiversity. It is like overlapping circles of organisations that are independent but that cooperate in working together.”
Sitting in the armchair in front of the 50 or so in the community centre, Vandana expanded further on this by drawing an analogy with multicellular organisms.
In life, she said, “There is no master cell. Life happens through self-organisation”.
Here was Vandana the scientist speaking, drawing on systems theory in explaining how life, nature and all complex systems self-organise. There is no master cell, no CEO, no board of management, no planners, no central committee. It is life emerging from the interaction between elements in a system and between those elements and their environment. And so should it be with organising a social movement, was the message. It would have been good to spend the rest of the session on this topic alone, to open it up and explore its innards, but there were plenty of others with their hands raised to ask their own questions.
One of those questioners was a young woman from the Youth Food Movement (YFM), an organisation that has now expanded interstate beyond its Sydney origin. Her’s was a similar question to mine, about how to proceed and about their relationship with commercial entities. Vandana advised that the constituents might be rather young to offer advice to others as their age might reflect a lack of experience. She asked the YFM to be humble. My thought was that she was suggesting caution while being supportive of the YFM’s work in food sovereignty.
Another young woman (yes, it was a female-dominated event, not that there’s any problem there—it’s like they say in organising Open Space events— the people who come are the right people, and that’s irrespective of gender and other characteristics often the focus of the politically-correct mindset) asked whether GMO’s have potential based solely on their science and devoid of the politics of patents, seed ownership and control around them.
This is a frequently-encountered question often coming from those in science and technology or who make use of those approaches and mindsets. It’s a fair question because it breaks down the complexities around GM—ownership, control, agrochemical dependence, farming systems, any potential for GM to adapt crops to the conditions of climate change, the drift of GM materials and so on. The value of doing this is that you can explore the nuances of GM technology and it can lead to the conclusion of many that the scientific potential of GM is separate to its economic, cultural, environmental and cultural impacts.
Being a scientist with an understanding of systems, however, Vandana answered the woman with a simple statement: “The reality is you can’t separate the science form everything else. They are part of the same thing”.
Another participant asked for a short video clip of Vandana voicing support for the March Against Monsanto his organisation was planning. This she did after the meeting.

Too short a time

There, in the Surry Hills Community Centre that sticky summer morning, we had only an hour with Vandana. Far too short for the depth and range of topics on people’s minds.
In afterthought, How good it would have been to organise a follow-up gathering of those there.
Vandana’s visit was made possible through the support of a number of organisations through the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance and was smoothly organised by Catriona McMillan, a veteran of the organics industry in Australia and a fair food advocate.