Virginia Solomon is the Chair of the PA Board of Directors, and a member of the PA Education and Fundraising teams. In response to the Melbourne COVID-19 restrictions, Virginia started making and selling homemade face masks – with all profits being donated to Permaculture Australia.
If you’re wondering what has making reusable face masks got to do with permaculture…. the answer is lots! Permaculture is based on three ethics – Earth care, People care and Fair share. You can’t do one without the other. These masks will help keep people safe (People Care), reduce single use masks (Earth Care) and profits are being donated to assist with permaculture projects and being made by volunteers donating their surplus time (Fair Share).
“It is unfortunate, but I think we may be in masks for a long time to come, so we might as well have beautiful, comfortable and compostable (or almost) ones! I am still seeing a lot of single-use [masks] around, but hopefully most people will be wearing re-useable ones soon. In fact, this was the main motivator for me from a permaculture point of view – reducing waste, using donated fabrics (although we do insist that all materials be new), involving our community in something positive at such a challenging time – and helping the planet heal one small mask at a time,” Virginia Solomon
Demand for the product has skyrocketed with the announcement by the Victorian Premier on compulsory use of facemasks.
The Eltham Farmers Market kindly agreed to host a Permaculture Australia stall each Sunday. They have been a huge hit – selling out within one hour on the first day of the market! The PA facemasks are also available via postal order to ensure we can reach as many people as possible safely.
A team of volunteers including several PA members has formed to assist with the sewing and fabric cutting. More volunteers based in Melbourne to keep up with demand are urgently needed. More details are listed below.
“It has been a lot of work! Very long days but it is all worth it when people are so enthusiastic and appreciative of the quality of our masks. I have had heaps of help from some wonderful volunteers, too, so it is not just me. We are a team of six including a 12 year old! Fantastic socially distanced community experience,” Virginia Solomon
Tell me more about the masks
The three layer masks are $17 each or two for $30 (plus p/handling for postal orders) and come in three sizes. 100% of the profts are being donated to PA to help minimise the impact of single use masks in the waste stream.
UPDATE: Financial members of Permaculture Australia and Permaculture Victoria are able to access a 10% discount on the masks as one of their membership benefits.
I’m keen to volunteer – how can I get involved?
Volunteers who are available to assist with cutting fabric or sewing (chain piecing components) this week are urgently needed. Please get in touch via the PA email: email@example.com so we can link you up. All fabric is provided and you will need to be based in Eltham or surrounds due to travel restrictions. Thanks in advance for your support.
Virginia Solomon is an active member and volunteer of Permaculture Australia, the national member based organisation. Find out more about Virginia here and here. Growing food, making things from scratch, sharing skills and working locally but thinking about global issues are all part of Virginia’s philosophy, which si captured as one of the featured casestudies on the Retrosuburbia website here.
The Eltham Farmers Market exists to provide trading opportunities for genuine local farmers and added value makers. The local food being sold has all been grown or made by the stallholder selling it. The market is a project of local Community Group – Local Food Connect – and is proud to be accredited by the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association. The market operates from 8am to midday every Sunday and is following all Covid-19 restrictions.
Rod Hughes had been working in environmental management for nearly three decades, including half of this time in his dream job running the Swan River Trust before moving into permaculture. After leaving work to study a Diploma in Permaculture with Ross Mars at Candlelight Farm, he joined Perth City Farm as Farm Manager, and started a consulting business, Leafcutter Permaculture. He is also a PA professional member. Martina Hoeppner of the PA Education Team chats with Rod about starting out in permaculture, the impact of accredited training, and his life motto – “be nice and grow things”!
Could you tell me why you left your job and how you got into permaculture?
I had always been drawn to the natural world and had grown veggies about the place since I was a kid. I picked up a second-hand copy of Permaculture One and then was given the Designers Manual. This crystallised my thinking and I committed to doing a PDC at wonderful Fair Harvest in Western Australia. I followed this up by doing the Advanced Certificate with Ross Mars and Graham Bell, did two permie earthworks courses (one at our place in the Chittering Valley) and then decided to take the leap, quit my job and enrolled in the Diploma in Permaculture. My whole career has been in figuring out ways for us to have good lives while either keeping the environment good or making it better. I became increasingly impressed with David Holmgren’s thinking and how permie concepts can be applied to pretty much all aspects of our lives.
You have a Diploma in Permaculture now. How is it helping you in your current work?
Doing a series of design projects with other Diploma students really helped give me confidence to start offering design services to others. So I set up my Leafcutter Permaculture business. I’m now really enjoying engaging with folks in helping them design garden systems which are nice places to be, grow good food and help heal planet earth. I find the design process really creative and love that your skills grow with each project. I am very happy to keep doing that, with a view to getting more involved in rural and peri-urban projects.
Of course, having a permie background is a great help in my role as Farm Manager (other job of dreams) at Perth City Farm, which was built all those years ago by some seriously clever permaculture thinkers. The teaching angle emerged for me this year and I feel extremely honoured to have been on the PDC teaching team at Fair Harvest for the first time in January. I have just started offering permie workshops at City Farm – something we will definitely build in the year ahead.
What would you say to someone who is just discovering permaculture and interested in working in this field?
As I stress to clients and students, permaculture is so much deeper and wider than growing veggies. But getting engaged in growing good food is a great place to start because it connects to so many other aspects of our lives. So…come and volunteer with me in the garden at City Farm! I would tell anyone to read lots, do an intro [to permaculture] course, read lots more, then do a PDC – it will change your life!
The last year has been an interesting one. Has this changed your thinking about permaculture?
I don’t think the pandemic has changed my thinking about permaculture at all. I have been convinced for a very long time that being kind to each other, looking after mother earth and ensuring fair share is critical to our survival. My motto: “Be nice and grow things”.
Rod Hughes is a professional member 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.
Martina Hoeppner is a professional member of Permaculture Australia and an active volunteer with the PA Education team. More information on the Accredited Permaculture Training, including the Diploma of Permaculture completed by Rod, and the PA education team can be found here.
Perth City Farm is a 26 year old half hectare urban farm that provides space and opportunities to build community connections, and educates and enables people to live sustainably. Further information on how to volunteer with Rod and the team can be found here.
“Taking responsibility for what happens to us at the time of our death is our final gift to the earth”, David Holmgren, Retrosuburbia
Composting is composting – we know how it works. Could permaculture systems include composting us, after we die? That might not be so far away. Read more from PA Board Director & volunteer Virginia Solomon about making an ‘eco exit’ that incorporates the permaculture ethics.
Once I visited an industrial composting system dealing with the (horrendous) ‘collateral’ of battery chicken farming. It was a confronting experience. As I processed the awfulness of this particular composting system, it made me think. If thousands of chicken remains can be processed scientifically and returned to the earth, could something similar be done with human bodies?
Then, a few years later, some friends of mine were demonstrating how they set up their composting system. It was one of those 3-bay numbers with a cubic meter in each bay, but they had worked out precise quantities of everything and could show that it would in fact compost everything completely. My friend was a lab technician at a school. One day a fox was killed in front of their house, and she decided to lay it out on a freshly made compost heap in the hope that the composting process would clean up the fox’s skeleton and she could use it as a model in the science lab. So she arranged the creature carefully, covered it up and waited.
Three weeks later she returned to inspect the progress. Nothing remained of the fox other than its teeth, and part of the uppermost jawbone. The rest of the animal was an outline of white ash and a bit of fur. These stories demonstrate that human remains could be safely and scientifically composted.
The state of Washington recently legalised composting burial with the world’s first facility for composting burial being developed that could process about 900 burials per year. According to Recompose (a US based outfit promoting the composting of human remains), the composting process sequesters carbon and saves the atmosphere a tonne of carbon dioxide per body when compared to cremation. I have not, however, been able to find a legal composting service in Australia.
Personally I would like to be composted and spread on my own garden. I realise this is not everyone’s idea of a perfect next phase, but at present it isn’t an option anyway. What other possibilities are there in Australia, if one wants to make as little footprint on leaving as we have been striving to make during our lives?
There is a very interesting exploration of the science and statistics behind alternative burial systems in an article in the Conversation from January this year. The author, Emma Sheppard-Simms, also explores the relative costs of departing gracefully, and points out that the technology utilised by Recompose is likely patented which would make it expensive to duplicate. Perhaps there is an opportunity to develop another system? Composting is composting after all. We know how it works.
Natural burials have been growing in popularity, and there is a comprehensive guide developed by Gathered Here which directs people to funeral directors and find places or spaces in cemeteries. It doesn’t, however, suggest how one might avoid the funeral part and just arrange the burial.
Before my mother died, she told us that she wanted no funeral and no permanent memorial of any kind. She wanted to disappear and only remain in memory. Of course that is not possible as she was an artist who is outlived by her paintings, and we had to celebrate her life in some way So, we had a giant afternoon tea plus gin, and invited everyone who had ever known her, but that was for them, rather than for her. In order to bypass the funeral director industry, and in the hope of remaining useful after death, she left her body to the University of Melbourne Medical School. There is a guide to the universities that take bodies for medical education. Once again, not for everyone, I imagine.
Coffins & the funeral industry
In 2019, Australian Seniors’ Cost of Death Report found the average cost of a basic burial is $8,048, and a basic cremation costs $3,108 on average. The other issue that has environmental implications is the container in which one’s body is placed. Coffins are often made of laminated timber and sometimes even lined with lead. They have metal fixtures and fittings and, if a viewing is in order, will have synthetic satin linings and stuffing. Plywood and cardboard coffins exist, as do shrouds, and some people like to be laid to rest in other vessels such as cars and boats.
But of course the impact of the container adds to the impact of the body. Space in cemeteries is filling up, land is precious, so vertical burials are also now being practiced.
To return to Retrosuburbia and the chapter on Home Death, I had always thought that the funeral ‘industry’ was heavily regulated but, to quote David Holmgren again: “There are endless options with very few rules and regulations for funerals… very little is required by law.” It varies from each state & territory, and even wthin these borders, so it may be worth doing some local enquiring.
Bequests and wills
Planning for one’s exit and preparing one’d legacy is a very personal thing. A funeral and burial is one part of it, but there is also your will. How can you ensure that your life’s work continues, that your philosophical approach is respected and that you continue to be remembered the way you want to be? It is a delicate issue, but for any individual or organisation that has benefitted from a bequest or endowment, it is a source of profound gratitude. Many organisations, including Permaculture Australia, accept bequests, and stipulations can be included for how you wish the money to be utilised.
If you are in a position to gift a portion of your estate, Permaculture Australia would honour your gift and invest it in continuing to support permaculture nationally or via Permafund, supporting small grant projects globally. Details including suggested wording for your bequest can be found here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Retrosuburbia: the downshifters guide to a resilient future, by David Holmgren shows how Australian suburbs can be transformed to become productive and resilient in an energy descent future. It focuses on what can be done by an individual at the household level (rather than community or government levels), including a chapter on Health, Disability and Ageing. Copies can be purchased here or via one of the PA supporters offering a 10% discount to PA members.
Each month we’ll highlight some of the great activities our PA members are up to – in the news, chatting on podcasts, sharing resources, writing blogs and more.
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 email@example.com so we can include them next month.
Shani from Ecoburbia in Fremantle talks about co-housing the power of community before and during COVID-19 in this great podcast interview here
Join Morag Gamble with leading thinkers, activists, authors, designers and practitioners to explore ‘What Now?’ – what is the kind of thinking we need to navigate a positive and regenerative way forward, what does a thriving one-planet way of life look like, where should we putting our energy. This months interviews include David Holmgren available here.
Huge thanks to the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance and Artist as Family for sharing their journey in this interview, including how they build their life and work around belonging and connection here
Eco Resilience House: A farmhouse in the suburbs is the home of PA Board member Virginia Solomon and featured as a Retrosuburbia case studyand blogsite with heaps of great ideas to make your household and community more resilient here
“Imagination is essential to avoiding existential threats and creating the best of possible worlds. Linda Woodrow’s deep well of imagination helps us in this essential task.”
David Holmgren delves into why Melliodora Publishing has chosen to release their first fictional work, ‘470‘ by Linda Woodrow here.
Morag Gamble interviewed about incorporating permaculture principles into house & garden design including her family home in Queensland here
The 470 Book Launch is available to watch with author Linda Woodrow speaking about her new book, along with special guests David Holmgren, Robyn Frances, Starhawk and Charlie Mgee! Buy the book here
Enirely online, Costa covered more than 25000km on the virtual road meeting a mix of people carrying out a whole range of projects around food reflecting its importance to our future food security. Check out PA members Northey Street City Farm, Jo from Gentle Footprints Permaculture and many more!