“Jeff concluded years ago that growing soil and growing food would be the most important skills for humanity in the next thirty years – a conviction that hasn’t changed since. Asked whether he thinks that permaculture and regenerative farming skills will become more important in the future, Jeff answers with a resounding “Absolutely”.
Jeff Pow and Michelle McManus are the faces behind Southampton Homestead near Balingup in the Southwestern corner of WA, where they are regeneratively farming meat on 130 acres. After a three-year break from chicken farming, they are just returning to raising pastured meat chickens again, while also running a few heads of cattle and some pigs for their own consumption and as an additional income. Clydesdale horses for work and enjoyment are complementing the grazing regime to improve pasture and soil. Southampton Homestead is home to the only micro-abattoir in Western Australia. PA’s Education volunteer Martina chats with Jeff and Michelle about combining permaculture, regenerative agriculture & organic practices to improve their land, and the importance of growing food and farmers for a resilient food system.
Jeff’s motto is ‘Grow food and grow farmers’, as he sees a strong need for more small farming businesses. He is concerned about the decline in numbers of farming families and farms as well as diversity in the food-producing sector and is driven by the need to re-establish food sovereignty and a resilient food system. He tells me that there used to be 54 abattoirs in the Southwest of WA in 1992. Now he is the only one left and had to battle bureaucracy to be able to slaughter his own poultry. All rules and regulations are geared at big-scale agriculture, excluding small businesses from the market. In Jeff’s opinion there is a huge risk in this centralisation of agricultural businesses and services. “One big thing falls over quickly when something happens. With lots of little things, some will probably survive”, he explains. Jeff feels farmer’s democratic right to access the market place is taken away from them, when they are not able to bring food to market themselves without involving big corporations in the processing.
Southampton Homestead is run under holistic management principles and planned with the help of Regrarian Platform. Jeff and Michelle are self-taught farmers that take the best from regenerative agriculture, organic growing and permaculture to improve their land. They have taught at Fair Harvest’s Permaculture Design Course and are passionate about passing on their knowledge.
When asked about the importance of additional training opportunities that contain permaculture and other related knowledge systems, Jeff agrees that there is not nearly enough on offer in Australia at the moment to support farmers. Qualifications that focus on intense small-scale food growing are desperately needed, but Jeff argues that training in different ways of retail and marketing is at least as important. He says traditional retail opportunities like supermarkets are nearly impossible to access for small farmers and farmers markets mostly aren’t a financially viable alternative. Therefore alternative ways of marketing their products like community supported agriculture and online distributors such as Wide Open Agriculture will play a big role for new farmers. It would be irresponsible to teach new farmers food-producing without including the marketing side of the business.
To help this along, Southampton Homestead offers a residency program to train future farmers and is planning to become a not-for-profit education business in the longer run. His residents are not only gaining the practical skills of raising livestock, but just as importantly, business planning and management as well as marketing skills.
For Jeff, permaculture means ecological thinking. Part of what he has learned from permaculture is understanding and mitigating catastrophes. He says nothing will ever be perfect and you have to plan for things going wrong. Southampton Homestead once lost hundreds of chickens when a tornado swept through their property, and the farm burnt down completely in a bushfire in 2013. Jeff and Michelle have rebuilt it and have now planted over 1000 oaks, mulberries, poplars and other deciduous trees in shelter belts to mitigate the risk of this happening again and to provide fodder for their animals. The right plant at the right place for the right reason is one of the principles they have taken from permaculture.
There are golden opportunities for new farming businesses and he encourages aspiring farmers not to give up because they don’t have millions in seed money to buy property. Farming is labour-intense work and there are lots of opportunities to add more layers to existing farms and improve them by adding fertility and ecological services. He says his own land could support more businesses, but it has so far been difficult to find people to run them. Jeff’s advice when starting out is to master one aspect of farming before adding more layers, instead of trying to do everything at once. Business enterprises that could be added to existing sheep or cattle farms to increase soil and pasture health and to provide ecological services include pastured poultry, bees, composting, small-scale intense market gardening and many more.
Jeff comes from a business and management background, but concluded years ago that growing soil and growing food would be the most important skills for humanity in the next thirty years – a conviction that hasn’t changed since. Yet when he proposed to present a stall at his daughter’s university career expo, his offer was declined. He is convinced though, that times are changing and COVID-19 has made many young people reconsider their priorities.
Asked whether he thinks that permaculture and regenerative farming skills will become more important in the future, he answers with a resounding “Absolutely”.
Martina Hoeppner holds a Diploma in Permaculture and a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment, teaches PDCs and Certificate III in Permaculture in Perth and is the current Co-Convenor of Permaculture West. She contributes to Permaculture Australia’s Education Team and tries keep alive her own garden and three sons in her spare time. More information on the different types of permaculture education can be found here.
Martina is a professional members of Permaculture Australia, the national member based organisation in Australia. Sign up as a member here today to join hundreds of members across Australia advocating for permaculture solutions.
PA Professional member and educator Kerrie Anderson chatted to PA volunteer Julia, in our first video story! She chatted to Julia about teaching under lockdown and what permaculture can offer in this time of great instability.
Each month we’ll highlight some of the great activities our PA members are up to & where permaculture has been featured in the news. Here is a selection of our favourites below – noting there are many more!
If we’ve missed you or you’ve got some stories to share, let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org so we can include them next month.
The impact of the pandemic on our food chains has resulted in an increase in the purchase of seasonal eating and veggie boxes, as discussed by Chris Ennis, from PA Organisation member CERES on ABC Radio National.
PA Supporter, Robyn from Pip Permaculture Magazine was interviewed on the Futuresteading Podcasthere on taking small steps and how to make a difference without the overwhelm.
PA Organisation members Northey Street City Farm and Brisbane permaculturists were quoted throughout this article in the Independent Australia on how COVID-19 has impacted food security and sustainability
Alicia Kidd and Adam Burrows. Photo credit: ABC Tropical North: Melanie Groves
This North Qld couple quit the mines, studied permaculture & now grow veggie boxes – and encourage consumers to learn about their practices, including building healthy soil, as featured on ABC news.
The Permaculture school project at Five Island Secondary College, with support from Elemental Permaculture, were featured on WIN News Illawara.
Photo credit: ABC North Coast: Catherine Marciniak
The Channon community in NSW adapts bushfire-fighting skills to create COVID-19 response, including PA member Fionn Quinlan. Fionn head up a group tasked with food and water security and was quoted in the ABC article here and associated newsclip below.
‘The role of imagination in creating change’ – an all-star permie line-up panel discussion between Linda Woodrow, Starhawk, PA life members David Holmgren and Robyn Francis, Su Dennett and PA members Beck Lowe and Charlie Mgee.
The latest Happen Films features Victoria based permies Artist as Family sharing their experiences using goats to regenerate forests and reduce bushfire risks.
Miles began his career in 1968 at Perth Kings Park and Botanical Gardens WA, before completing a PDC in 1983 with Bill Mollison. His roles have included Secretary, Earth Bank Society; Plant nursery manager, Zaytuna Farm; NASAA inspector, Co- housing and MO development; Permaculture Advisor, Lesotho; and volunteering in multiple Australian Indigenous communities. He is also a PA member and volunteer with the Permafund team, and a Permaculture Elder. Miles has Diplomas in both Horticulture & Permaculture, and an Associate Degree in Training Development. He lives at the Tasman Ecovillage, Southern Tasmania.
In the following article, Miles recalls some of his experiences during permaculture’s formative years when ethical investment systems were in development.
“During the late 1980s Bill Mollison promoted an interest in ethical investment as an alternative to the banks. The concept of an Earth Bank was raised at an ethical investment workshop led by Bill in Fremantle. One of the results of the workshop was the forming of theEarthbank Society of WA. Related to that was the forming ofAugust Investments by Damien Lynch in 1981. I was one of its founding members and the first secretary of Earthbank Society WA. After the initial interest declined and for various reasons, the Society was dissolved.
An ethical investment company, Entone, was formed by some of the members of the Earthbank Society. This was dissolved in the early 1990s and some of its shareholders took up shares in August Investments. In the 1990s this became Australian Ethical Investment Ltd, which continues to this day in a very successful, new modeAustralian Ethical.
The 1980s were a very active time for social and environmental change. The alternative movement, as it became known, included the birth of the permaculture community. I was very fortunate to be a permaculture design student of Bill Mollison for a PDC in Stanley in the winter of 1983. I am now back in Tasmania in the winter of 2020, still contributing to the permaculture story.
TheDown to Earth Association held a number of Confests in the 1980s, with several in WA. I was involved in the organisation and running of the Nanga Confest and the two Confests in York in WA. Permaculture presentations and workshops were included. Dr Jim Cairns and Bill Mollison often had close encounters at these events with both of them having almost superstar status. I recall Bill and Jim doing a credible waltz in the elaborate foyer of the Grand Peninsula Hotel, originally a gentlemen’s club. I can’t recall who took the lead during the waltz!
Up to the late 1980s the sea port of Fremantle was a place of very diverse cultural activities including art, music, permaculture, theEarthbank Society, co-housing and a LETS system. There was the pre-America’s Cup era (BC) and post America’s Cup (AC) era. After the Cup, Fremantle became much sought after by the rich and trendy, a change from previously when it was a homely pre- development town with low cost rent and housing.
Permaculture continues its evolutionary journey, on a road increasingly travelled. The concept of a permanent agriculture remains the core of its’ values and vision. As the permaculture community increases in numbers so does its’ diversity of form and content. It can be seen as an open book with endless blank pages to be written on. The lack of dogma and openness to all humanity is its strength and resilience. The field is open to the intellect. My interest in ethical investment continues as I and others contemplate how best to leave an ethical and perpetual legacy for favourite charities, the community and generations to follow. “
How does ethical investment related to permaculture? As taken from the Permaculture Principles website: “The permaculture journey begins with the ethics and design principles. We apply this thinking to the seven different domains required to create a sustainable culture, including finance and economics. Alternative exchange systems reduce reliance on the fragile monetary economy.”
Miles is an Ordinary member and volunteer of Permaculture Australia, the national permaculture member based organisation. Not a member? Sign up and join us here today.
PA’s Permafund has provided dozens of small grants to permaculture community projects in Australia and internationally. Donations over $2 are tax deductible in Australia and can be set up as recurring or one off donations. Find out more including how to donate here and to leave a bequest to PA, including Permafund here.
For more information on ethical investments and content mentioned above:
Lisa Passmore is a third generation Horticulturalist and has worked in the production and retail horticulture sectors in Perth, England and New Zealand. Lisa’s twin passions of Horticulture and Art led her to create her own landscape design and consultancy business in 1998. In addition, Lisa has been co-teaching the Diploma in Permaculture with Ross Mars in 2019 and running the Garden Design Course at Homebase since 2006. Lisa holds a Diploma in Horticulture, a Diploma in Permaculture and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. A Water Corporation endorsed water- wise landscaper, Lisa is a member of the Horticultural Media Association (HMA) and is a regular contributor to horticultural industry publications. She has featured on the Garden Gurus TV program, Burkes Backyard and is a regular speaker at Garden Week and various WA garden clubs.
Martina Hoeppner from the PA Education team chats with Lisa about the impact on studying permaculture, changing beliefs about insects and soil health, and marrying permaculture & horticulture in her career.
You were a horticulturist before you studied permaculture. How has permaculture changed your view of horticulture and has it changed your practices?
Studying Permaculture has opened my eyes to the bigger picture of growing plants on this planet, specifically to what is going on underneath our feet. This new understanding and appreciation of the soil biome has had a profound effect on what I teach my students and how I garden at home. Whilst previously I advocated organic practices as preferable for optimising human health, now I advocate organic practices as imperative in protecting the soil.
When I first studied Horticulture (some 25 years ago) we spent a lot of time learning the lifecycles of common garden insects from the point of view of when best to spray pesticides for maximum effect. Now I advocate balance in the garden and urge my clients and students to encourage insects to the garden, to learn to tolerate some damage, to live and let live and above all else avoid using chemicals in the garden. So much has changed!
Like many permaculturists, you currently have more than one job. Could you tell us a little bit about the things you do at the moment?
I have been running a small garden design and consultancy business since 2000 and in addition to this provide talks and workshops on garden related topics. Being self-employed is wonderful and I’ve enjoyed the flexibility of being able to work around the family’s needs, however it does come with seasonal fluctuations. At the beginning of 2020 I took on extra work in different areas as a way of weathering any economic uncertainty. I applied for a casual pool position at TAFE teaching Horticulture and as a Senior Horticulturist at a local specialist native garden centre. I am now on contract at TAFE teaching most of the week, whilst still helping on Saturday’s at the garden centre and looking after my garden design clients in my spare time.
How do you see the future of permaculture in this current climate of emergencies, including COVID-19?
I do feel that people are looking to gardening right now for mental health surrounding themselves with greenery inside and outside their homes, as well as for food security in growing their herbs and vegetables.
I actively recommend to my students the Accredited training in permaculture (as well as the PDC) and hope to have TAFE pick up the training in the future. There is a real opportunity for permaculture education at the moment. Now is the time!
Martina Hoeppner holds a Diploma in Permaculture and a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment, teaches PDCs and Certificate III in Permaculture in Perth and is the current Co-Convenor of Permaculture West. She contributes to Permaculture Australia’s Education Team and tries keep alive her own garden and three sons in her spare time.
More information on the Accredited Permaculture Training, including the Diploma ofPermaculture completed by both Martina and Lisa can be found here.
Martina is professional member and volunteer of Permaculture Australia, the national member based organisation in Australia. Sign up as a member here today to join hundreds of members across Australia advocating for permaculture solutions.
We are always keen to hear from PA members who would like to volunteer, please get in touch via email@example.com to see how we can utilise your skills.
“Learning permaculture is one of those cyclical patterns, each time you go round it’s like a year: every summer is different from the summer before, you’re a bit older and wiser, it’s a different environment. It’s been really fascinating.”
Delldint chatted to PA volunteer Julia about her approach to teaching permaculture online and how she makes use of her suburban block as a permaculture canvas for the public. She also gives us a VIP tour of her amazing garden.