“I am constantly inspired by how aware people are becoming of their food systems and interested in healthier ways of living”
PA member, permaculture educator and design consultant Tonielle Christensen on living in far north QLD, the importance of sociocracy in permaculture education and how to get started on the permaculture journey.
With national housing unaffordability making many young people feel home ownership is out of reach, it is high time for some out-of-the-box thinking. Permaculture Principles and PA Member Richard Telford certainly applied that kind of thinking more than a decade ago when he bought a rundown cottage in Seymour, Victoria.
The goal was to deconstruct the cottage and re-use the materials to construct a new one along permaculture principles. The result was Abdallah House.
The sun facing living space of the house
And while Richard concedes he made a few mistakes along the way – such as overestimating the value of the original building when it was broken down into materials, he has some sage advice for anyone looking to do the same. “Choosing the right house to start with if you are buying a place. I bought the cheapest place I could possibly find and I bought something nobody else wanted. So I would say: be ready for an opportunity, rather than being attached to a particular thing. Have money saved up and be ready to go.
He says once you have bought – if you are going to rebuild, another thing he would do differently is to buy good quality items such as ceiling fans as this will save you later on having to replace them. And if you are going to build, collect more materials if you are using second hand, before you start. Build a place to store the materials on the site and put them undercover. Have a place undercover to work too,” he said. Abdallah House is a great case study to examine if you are looking to build your first home. See: https://retrosuburbia.com/case-studies/abdallah-house-case-study/
By Yvonne Campbell
It was nice to be asked to do a talk at the first Community Expo which happened Sat 2nd Sept 2017 at the public park in Stanthorpe next to the swimming pool. Its focus was health and wellbeing, so I decided to talk about the health benefits of growing your own food, as well as some more general healthy eating info. Here is a summary of my talk:
Why grow your own food in order to be more healthy?
Number 1: Know what is in your food.
After checking that your soil is free of contaminants with a soil test, you control how your food is grown and therefore what is in it. You therefore know there are no poisons – herbicides, pesticides, fungicides in it and that there are no GMOs because you do not buy those seeds. Genetic engineering technology used in food is untested and the foreign proteins are likely to be irritating to the digestive tract.
Number 2: Ensure the best nutrition in the food.
You can ensure your soil is alive with biology and therefore that the plants can access minerals and trace elements they need. Food can be eaten soon after being harvested and when things are properly ripe and not green. You can also grow health giving foods that are not available in markets and supermarkets (yacon is one of our favourites). This includes many common weeds – sheep’s sorrel, chickweed, dandelion, dock, lambs quarters, nettle, and so on, as well as thousands of heirloom varieties that have superior taste and therefore nutrients. In the US 20 plants produce 90% of the diet, 9 of these equal 75% of the total diet and rice, corn, and wheat equals 50% of the total. Where is the biodiversity?? (there are 30-80,000+ edibles available)
Number 3: Exercise outdoors.
Bending over, turning compost, and forking the soil all give the body muscles some work to do. Get some sunshine so that your body gets important Vitamin D. No sunscreen. Cover up before burning.
Number 4: Reduce fossil fuel use (or eco-footprint)
Reduce fossil fuel use of the food you eat so that pollution decreases. If you grow some of your own food, less artificial fertilizers are used, less transport needed (typically hundreds or thousands of kms), less storage, less packaging – this benefits the environment we all share – cleaner air and water for everyone!
Number 5: Make new friends
Make friends who also grow their own food. Share seeds, plants, knowledge, successes and failures. Exchange produce with them. Learn from each other and learn together. This is satisfying and beneficial to your soul.
What if you cannot grow some of your own food because you have nowhere to grow?
Basil in a pot loves a window sill as do many other plants. Grow micro-greens (the green sprouts of seeds) inside with a grow light.
Go to a Community Garden and grow food there.
Ask a neighbour or friend if you can grow in their back yard or on their farm.
Happy Pig Farm has offered land to use for reasonable exchange.
Plant in pots or moveable containers if you rent.
Start with something…
What if you cannot grow (and exchange) all your food, but want quality purchased food to make up the difference?
Get to know a local farmer or two. Find out how they grow food – do they grow ecologically or with artificial chemicals and poisons? Buy from them if eco-friendly. Another option is to buy from a food aggregator (eg Symara Farm) who sources from organic farmers
Buy local honey from a beekeeper who uses no poisons
Buy foods certified Organic – Woolworths, Aldi, even IGA has some organic dairy, GoVita has some organic
Join a bulk buying group who buys Organic and supports Australian farmers – this makes Organic much more affordable.
Buy from cafes and restaurants who use organic and local ingredients. Encourage them to use more and more of both.
Buy local at market or shops or farm gate if no other option.
Buy from supermarket, but avoid imported foods/ingredients.
Organic whole grains – must be soaked overnight, sprouted, or fermented to reduce phytic acid that blocks Ca, Mg, Cu, Zn being absorbed in the gut. Grains need fresh milling.
high quality dairy
animal foods raised naturally without unnecessary poisons or medicines
lard for cooking with (pork, beef, poultry)
cold pressed extra virgin olive oil – ok for moderate heat cooking, best raw
coconut oil – ok for moderate heat cooking, best raw
organic superfoods in small amounts:
cod liver oil
high vitamin butter oil
borage or blackcurrant oil
acerola powder (berry)
wheat germ oil – vit E
azomite mineral powder
nutritional yeast processed at low temp
amalaki powder (indian fruit)
canned whole coconut milk (not lite)
flax seed oil
low fat anything
pasteurised milk, unless you add lacto bacteria to ferment it
aspartame – artificial sweetener
packaged breakfast cereals – high pressure and heat extruded grains with high sugar content
MSG – neurotoxic
HFC – high fructose corn syrup – highly processed
alcohol – esp spirits, unpasteurised natural beer ok, organic wine without preservatives ok
soft drinks – esp diet
flour in all processed foods
deep fried anything in veggie oil
If you don’t think margarine or some other processed food is bad, put an amount on a saucer and leave outside. How long until eaten by insects, animals, mold, fungi? Compare with a natural food eg butter
These ideas mostly come from 3 books I have read lately: “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”, “Nourishing Traditions”, and “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” as well as watching the recent docu-series on “The Truth about Cancer” and the start of “GMOs Revealed”.
SATURDAYS during course time at Randwick Sustainability Hub there’s buzz about the place… the buzz and movement of people doing things.
The last day of the mid-year Living Smart course was no exception… despite the noticeable onset of winter there were people outside talking derailers, tubes and brakes at the bike maintenance workshop, a group in the Permaculture Interpretive Garden extracting seeds from dried pods to save for next season’s harvest and, of course, the Living Smart class.
Living Smart, a product of Murdoch University’s faculty of behavioural psychology that was adopted by the City of Fremantle and the Meeting Place community education centre, is a comprehensive course in collaborative, sustainable living offered over six sessions. Someone once described it as “ … the course that permaculture should have been” because of the depth of knowledge participants gain about its topics and because of its comprehensiveness. Someone else described it as “ …the ‘skilling-up for power-down’ course for the Transition Town movement”.
For the Living Smarties, the focus of the day was water and community. Water consultant John Caley took participants through water systems rain, grey and black, basing his teaching not only on his formal expertise but on installing and monitoring water systems in his home.
Living Smart participants with their Living Smart certificates
Living Smart participants with their Living Smart certificates
Participants brainstormed domestic sources of waste water:
kitchen greywater with its contaminant load of fats, blood from meats and meat packaging, salt from cooking — pretty mucky stuff, really, what we might call dark greywater that’s best not for reuse though it could be used in the garden but not on food plants
then there’s greywater from the bath/shower and though this can carry contaminants they’re usually diffused, especially in the continuous water stream of the shower
there’s the greywater from the bathroom basin with its own diffused contaminants and then there’s that from the laundry.
How to deal with greywater from different sources can be confusing and there were plenty of questions and discussion around it. There are greywater reuse guidelines at the Environment NSW website. John also explained about rainwater tanks and how they work, using the different tanks at the Sustainability Hub as examples.
THE RISE OF COMMUNITY TRADING SYSTEMS
If there’s one thing that the economic crisis in Greece, Spain and other Mediterranean countries teach us it’s the value of informal, community-based systems to supply human needs. With the decline in economic prospects in those countries has come a rise in community food and trading systems. A component in community resilience in the face of hardship, the study of community systems has long been a module of the Living Smart course.
Annette Loudon is a smart young woman as much at home inside lines of computer code as she is in front of a class. Annette, an online systems designer, produced the software that powers mutual credit system, LETS (local exchange and trading systems) around the country and has been a critical presence in Sydney LETS. You could say she’s a bit of an authority on both the informal and formal enterprises that make up the collaborative economies movement.
Annette took the class through the workings of LETS. Unlike its first phase, LETS, like the rest of the collaborative economy, is now an internet-enabled system, software having replaced the tedious hand maintenance and delays of manual transaction record keeping. It enables the non-monetary trade in goods and services with anyone in the system and not just with those that members obtain goods or services from. This gets around the limitations of barter in which things of comparable value are exchanged when they are needed and available.
It’s not a new system — it was introduced to Australia in the 1990s by Michael Linton, who is credited with developing the idea, and the permaculture design movement. After its initial period, which saw Blue Mountains LETS grow to become the biggest in the world, LETS went into a decline only to be revived in more recent times by people like Annette. This boom followed by a decline and later rebirth in improved form can be common for new ideas. We could regard LETS’ launch and early years as a period of rapid prototyping, the following decline a period of adjustment and the relaunch a reiteration of the idea for contemporary times.
THE JOY OF COMMUNITY SWAPS
If you’ve ever been to a community swap party then you will know they are a somewhat joyous, festive occasion.
To introduce the idea to the Living Smarties in the course, Annette set up an imitation swap party in the class, with participants taking on the different roles in organising and participating in the event.
There’s been a number of swap parties at Randwick Sustainability Hub, the most recent as part of International Permaculture Day, the next coming up this November as part of National Recycling Week.
THE COLLABORATIVE ECONOMY
What does the carshare company, GoGet; the peer-to-peer carshare scheme DriveMyCar; Rent-a-driveway, the peer-to-peer goods share, Freecycle; the accommodation provider, AirB&B; Rent-a-chook; the peer-to-peer tools and equipment share, Open Shed; the various food and seed swaps around the country; the community supported agriculture initiative, Food Connect; and food rescue organisation OzHarvest, have in common? The answer is that they are small business, social enterprise and community enterprises that collectively make up the collaborative economy.
Based on the values of sharing, trust and mutual benefit, and including the LETS system, the collaborative economy is an internet-enabled system of formal and informal initiatives. One of its most important applications has been in those Mediterranean countries presently afflicted by the economic policies of the European Union and its lackeys. In Greece and Spain communities have organised to supply food cheaply, much of it sourced from regional farmers, and to set up trading systems that look remarkable like LETS.
It is interesting that although the tradition of home gardening must have seen an increase with the economic crisis, it is the collaborative economy systems that have become a focus of community organisation. This is understandable when you realise that home gardening requires a home to garden in and that evictions of people unable to meet their mortgage payments has been a feature of the crisis as has an increase in homelessness. Food gardens take time to plant and cultivate, so if you don’t have a home and your near future is uncertain then you are less likely to plant and maintain a garden.
What we can learn for the southern European economic collapse is the value of collaborative economy systems to community resiliency. This is one reason why it is part of the Living Smart course.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
There’s another Living Smart course coming up later in the year, so we’ll see another bunch of people learning how to live sanely and creatively in our world of turmoil and confusion and how to seize its opportunities to do things better.
THIS WEEK I attended the Think.Eat.Save event on World Environment Day at UNSW and learned that having someone else do your communications is a useful thing.
It was communications about permaculture and it came from the mouth of a Greens councillor at Randwick when she mentioned to the audience in her welcoming speech the Permaculture Interpretive Garden, community gardens, workshops in chookery and other topics as well as other contexts mentioning permaculture, using the word in association with examples a number of times. Even though the words came from the mouth of a politician I don’t think there would have been any adverse perceptions drawn from that.
So this was not a permaculture person highlighting permaculture and it was not an audience of permaculture practitioners, rather a socially and economically mainstream audience including other politicians speaking (an elected Green, a neoliberal conservative [an economic fundamentalist from the NSW government] and a apparchnik from the ALP).
Remarks part of dragonfly approach
When others not associated with your school of thought get up and say positive things about it, I think that’s good. It’s about influence. It’s the sort of thing that you would anticipate when using the four-phase dragonfly (because it has four wings and can manoeuvre easily) approach to building a social movement:
In this approach, the councillor’s allusions to permaculture would fit within the second step of the process: grab attention.
But there is no intentional, cohesive permaculture move to create a social movement, which suggests that the councillor’s remarks reflect something else going on. This, I believe, is the growing acceptance of permaculture as a type of social education.
I believe we can explain it through this simple calculation: 2013 -1977 = 36. That is, if we take the date of permaculture’s first articulation in Bill Mollison and David Holmgren’s book, Permaculture One, as the start date of the design system — and that’s 1977 — then the 36 years from that date until this year gives us the time period over which permaculture has gone through two iterations during which it has come to influence an increasing number of people.
The first iteration I count as the launch of the design system in that book and its companion volume — Permaculture Two — around a year later, and over the initial years during which the first set of permacultre design courses were held. The second iteration I count starting in the late 1980s and leading to the present time, a period that brought a popularisation of permaculture facilitated by two main things: coverage of permaculture in the mainstream media and in its own media, Permaculture International Journal (publication ceased in June 2000) and the adoption of the Permaculture Design Course as the prime, formal method of propagating the design system.
It was during the latter period, post-2000, that permaculture became acceptable enough for local government to start using the term. This has been due to the work of professionally-trained designers such as planner, Peter Cummin; landscape architect, Steve Batley; educators, Robyn Francis and others; architect, Terry Bail, a number of people working in international development organisations and others working in agriculture.
The Randwick councillor, in her use of the term, was referring to the infrastructure retrofit of the Randwick Community Centre as the Randwick Sustainability Hub (a term used to refer to the schools, community development and sustainability education program wrapped around it) and the associated Permaculture Interpretive Garden, a multiple-use facility at the same time a public park with edible landscape and an educational facility. She also referred to the smaller Barrett House centre used for workshops, as meeting place for sustainability-oriented community groups and as demonstration centre for energy, water, food production and building materials education.
These centres are a scaling-up of permaculture ideas and, being adopted by a local government, are what permaculture practitioners have said over the years that they want to see happen. They are items two, three and four of the above-mentioned dragonfly approach — attract attention, engage with people and institutions, take action through the various education and social programs.
A single recitation of projects at a forum won’t boost permaculture design’s standing alone. But with examples — and there are others — on the ground, politicians, local government staff and permaculture practitioners can do what the councillor did and use them as examples to grab attention for the design system and to engage with people around them.
LANDSCAPES WITHOUT PEOPLE are spaces, not places, but in the permaculture design of shared facilities such as community gardens or sustainability education centres, we strive to build places, not spaces.
How to do this has been the missing link between permaculture designer and client, whoever that client might be. Now, there’s an approach we can borrow from those who already use it successfully. It’s called ‘placemaking’ and it turns those unpopulated spaces into well-used places.
This article discusses the application of the principles of placemaking to both physical places and to the organisations that keep them running.
Local citizens join in placemaking activity
I first heard of placemaking as an alternative approach to public place design from friends in Melbourne — Amadis and Gilbert Lecheta who run their own placemaking consultancy, Village Well.
The need for it as a fresh approach to public involvement in how land is used for public purposes became clear when I worked in local government and found the approach they used created opportunity for vexatious people to dominate the process and retained much from the old designer-led, hierarchical approach. It allowed the process to polarise opinion and created opportunity for that scourge of new urban ideas, NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard). This was because the model used by the council I worked for was one of consultation, not local participation in identifying opportunities for a piece of land and having a hand in its design. It was very much a designer-led approach.
Seeking a better way, I was fortunate in being able to attend training offered by Creative Community’s placemaking consultant, David Engwicht. We made use of some of David’s ideas in working out how Randwick Council’s community education centre, Barrett House, would be used.
THE PRIMACY OF THE DESIGNER
All too often in permaculture education we have been taught the primacy of the designer. The designer is the person who brings with them a bag of techniques and ideas and a pre-existing mindset about how things should be done and what should be done. Permaculture, for much of its history, has been a designer-led approach. Now, it’s time for a little creative destruction. It’s time to drop the designer.
Not completely. But what I’m talking about is displacing the designer from the centre and placing them on the periphery. I’m talking about a different role for the designer. Now, in order to enact the permaculture preference for participatory processes, the designer becomes the placemaker. The process of placemaking is led not by the designer but by those who would make use of whatever facility the designer is helping people create.
You might think of the designer in this new role as a facilitator, as a person who guides participants through a process. You might also recognise that some designers already do this, at least partly. I recall that when we were planning the Permaculture Interpretive Garden we engaged with local people and the regional permaculture group in identifying how the site could be used and what might be installed there. We didn’t think of it as placemaking then, although it held elements of that, more as process of ideation, of participatory design and the opportunity for local permaculture practitioners to be involved in a real-world design process in a public place.
To go into participatory processes would take more space than there is available, so instead I’ll mention a few of the principles of placemaking we might incorporate when working with groups to design for public places.
PERMACULTURE’S PLACEMAKING PRINCIPLES
Principle 1: EXPAND THE EXPERIENCE ENVELOPE
In a permaculture process we would have already conducted a needs analysis with the group we are working to discover what types of experiences they would like from the place, what they would like on site. Needs analysis enacts the permaculture principle of ‘observe and interact’.
Now, we apply the permaculture principle of multiple purpose design to incorporate whatever of those needs are feasible and to suggest additional experiences that might be included. It’s about making connections between the elements that might go into the design.
To expand the experience envelope is to diversify the uses the site would be put to. That — using diversity — is a permaculture principle too. We can, for instance, turn construction of garden beds, pergola of compost system into workshops out of which comes learning, and that’s a valuable experience. Doing this, we expand the educational envelope of the site and achieve another permaculture principle, that of obtaining a yield for what we do.
It’s good practice to periodically review a design and how it is managed. This is part of the placemaking approach which doesn’t stop after the initial participatory process, development of a site plan and construction. Placemaking can be iterative. That is, the design and use of a site can be completed in stages. If the use of expensive infrastructure such as park furniture is avoided, the components of design can be moved around to accommodate improvements and new needs.
As part of this iterative process, when it comes time to do a little planning for the facility’s future we might adopt the SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) process that focuses on what has worked well and how that success can be replicated.
Principle 2: MAKE PEOPEL FEEL AT HOME
Placemaking is versatile enough that its principles can be adapted to organisations as well as physical sites.
First, we put out an inviting welcome mat. Make participating and joining easy, both in the development and ongoing phases. That can go for permaculture organisations as much as for site designs and their governance.
An example: I have had a bit to do with the development of community food gardens and have come across a myriad of design approaches and management models. I have seen the different welcoming mats gardeners put out and for the most part they do welcome the public to the site and, if interested, to joining the garden as a member. I have also seen the unwelcoming mat that is occasionally put out to the interested public, such as when someone wanders into the garden to be confronted by a gardener acting as if resentful of their presence, as if they have no business there although the garden might be on public land. This exclusivity is the very opposite of successful placemaking.
Design your welcoming mat well. Put up an informative sign so that people know what’s going on on-site and how to make contact. Welcome the curious who drop in, answer their questions, show them around. Provide comfortable seating that people can arrange to facilitate conversation.
In your organisation or on your public site, include social activities — community gardens and related enterprises are about people, and so are the organisations we set up. Make them people-centric. Provide social space on-site such as pergola, BBQ, picnic tables, quiet sitting places — space becomes place only when inhabited by people. Create the opportunity for good memories of the place for it’s those memories that will bring people back, that will encourage them to tell others about their good experiences and encourage them to join in.
Provide information about your organisation, its aims & activities. Create good memories of membership, participation in activities, social contact and learning. People won’t want to hang around in a fractured, argumentative organisation. They will leave. If your organisation is factionalised, fractured or similarly dysfunctional, it needs therapy. Get outside help. Meetings and events should be convivial.
Principle 3: FOCUS ON EXCHANGE
Exchange is one of the prime functions of towns and cities. In cities, people make exchanges of all sorts of things: information, in formal and informal education; time and skills for remuneration; production of a social good for peer recognition and skill development (such as some online services) — once called the ‘gift economy’ or ‘social giving’; food and other swaps now part of the informal, collaborative economy; taxes and charges in exchange for government services of different kinds; goods and services for currency and so on.
Community gardens and similar site-specific enterprises are not merely places where people come to tend their garden or whatever it is that they do there alone. They are social places. They are about people and there they exchange skills and information, knowledge and friendship and sometimes material goods.
This is what we, as permaculture designers, want. When assisting people in the design of some facility, or in the design of a residential community such as a co-housing or ecovillage, we seek to facilitate the development of exchange. This means not only physical locations in which exchange takes place (what in permaculture we call the ‘visible structures’ or ‘hard systems’) but also what we call the ‘invisible structures’ or what we might call ‘soft systems’, the organisational structures through which exchange occurs.
Exchange is central to placemaking, so, to encourage it we create opportunities for exchange such as seating for conversations and gathering place under shelter where we can share food and social contact. We organise educational workshops for the makers among us. Workshops exchange knowledge and so do study circles, an informal alternative to permaculture introductory courses. Be sure to invite the public as well as members.
Another way to encourage exchange is to build swapping into the culture of your organisation and the design of your place, even if the organisation is a community-based permaculture association. Food, books, clothing, household items, children’s toys and children’s clothes are just a few swappable items. I saw this at a meeting of Permaculture Sydney West where plants, food and other stuff were swapped and where there was a seed bank from which members could make withdrawals and deposits. I recall the swap cupboard at Earthsong Cohousing in Auckland, New Zealand, where people left unneeded stuff for those who could use it. It was a good arrangement.
Meetings can be formal and boring. Turn meetings into exchange events to swap food, seeds and other stuff and leave plenty of time to socialise. Keep official business as brief as possible. Ensure there is food at meetings.
Set up a social media presence and populate it with frequent postings. This supplements your website where information to be retained for long period is housed. Online media complements our facetime activities — it is how we communicate when we are not physically with each other.
This is all about creating exchange opportunities in the physical places we help people design and in their — and our — organisations that support these places.
Principle 4: CREATE AN OPEN ORGANISATION
When thinking of applying placemaking principles to the organisations we create, welcome new ideas flowing in from other nodes and network hubs, even when they challenge your beliefs and assumptions. Engage with them rather than shun and exclude them.
Make links to other, allied organisations to create a wider network and engage in joint activities where you have commonality of interest. Cultivate the connectors in your organisation who enact those linking roles with other hubs on the sustainability network. Link and communicate with other permaculture groups.
Invite members to attend your organisational meetings as observers even if they are not on the management team. People are tired of secretive government and corporate organisations, and secrecy and exclusivity is out of place in community organisations. Permaculture is no place for tired and expired old corporate and government models of structure. Keep it open.
Permaculture groups and some community gardens and sustainability educational facilities are characteristically small, poorly resourced and kept going by people with limited time available. Adopt a modern structure with a coordinating team to look after membership, finances and legal responsibilities then encourage teams to self-initiate and self-manage within the aims and ethics of the organisation and to focus on specific tasks and initiatives. Set up frequent, two-way information flows between task teams and coordinating team so that the coordinating team has an image of the state of affairs at any time.
Teams can start and shut down according to the work they elect to do. Some will be permanent, others temporary. Teams reformulate around new ideas and needs.
Principle 5: CREATE A POINT OF DIFFERENCE
What does your organisation/sustainability education centre/community garden offer that is not offered by others? Focus on this — it’s your point of difference and separates your group from those that are mere clones of existing organisations.
Have a clear idea about yourself. Why does your organisation exist? What of value does it add to our cities? What is its niche where it works?
A TIMELY APPROACH
New ideas are flowing in from the creative edge of society, that place out on the edge of chaos, that place between disorder and staid mainstream where new ideas are born and from where the good among them spiral in towards the mainstream centre. This is territory once inhabited by permaculture but which, according to some, it has forsaken as it has become bogged down in established beliefs and practices.
A placemaking approach can help to revive permaculture practice in the public arena. These have been a few of its principles.