As part of National Volunteer Week we are celebrating the amazing diversity and skills of the volunteers that keep Permaculture Australia running. This includes the Board of Directors – six extraordinary women volunteering their time and skills for the next twelve months.
PA’s Kym chats with three of the Board of Directors – Virginia Solomon, Greta Carroll and April Sampson-Kelly about how they got involved with permaculture, plans for 2020 and how they ‘walk the permaculture talk’ in their daily lives outside of PA.
Firstly, how did you all get into permaculture?
Virginia: I first got into permaculture through reading the Mollison Designers Manual from cover to cover… twice… in one wet beach holiday. I was instantly hooked and started looking for a farm house with an acre of land on the urban fringe of Melbourne. Little did I realise I had been living within walking distance of Permaculture Melbourne (now Permaculture Victoria) too! When my daughter was in Year 9, her school proposed a permaculture program. I had just helped write accredited courses in permaculture which was the start of my long journey with APT (Accredited Permaculture Training), with which I am still involved.
April: When I saw the ABC Documentary Grave Danger of Falling Food I was hooked. I grew up in a politcally active family. My family had grown food and I loved gardening but permaculture gave me the chance to be politically active in my personal space. I find that very empowering.
Greta: I got into permaculture after spending a few years living in the Middle East working in humanitarian response. Returning to Australia, I enrolled in a PDC and felt almost immediately a strong sense that the magnitude of suffering might be reduced if our communities were more self-reliant, resilient and connected. I went from there to leaving my job in the NGO world and moving towards permaculture education. I currently work as the Education Coordinator at a regenerative farm in northern NSW.
Where do you live, and on what sort of property?
Virginia: I live with my husband, dog and cat, but also with two other households under the same (very large) roof – a young woman, her partner and her dog; and a young man and his two children week about. The big old family house is still adapting itself as we change. We have 3000m2 of gardens and orchards with the only grass being the road verge which we have adopted anyway to supplement our compost system. We have chickens, bees, compost system and mushroom-growing system. We have a blog and are featured as a Retrosuburbia case study. We have 3 cellars: for ferments, honey and preserves; for wine and for art and costumes. We have a pizza oven and a slow combustion stove to supplement our standard cooking appliances, I make cheese, vinegars, preserves and dehydrated goods (including hoshigaki – Japanese persimmons). I make clothes, toys, shoes and patchwork quilts… anything I possibly can. I love to know how things are made and to make use of unwanted or ‘waste’ materials. I grow everything I can, but I no longer try to keep alive the marginal or the unsuitable, I prefer to trade at markets and with people who can grow things I can’t.
One of the cellars at Ecoresilience
April: My partner and I raised our sons on 1/2 hectare in Mt Kembla Village near Wollongong. The food forest is now 26 years old. It has some emergent trees such as existing Pines and Eucalypts and Macadamia and clumping bamboo. The main canopy contains lots of varieties of Mulberry, Jackfruit, custard apple, fig, mango, citrus, smaller trees include Tamarillo, Pomegranate, Persimmon and Jabuticaba. Shrubs include hazelnut, sages, lots of berries and herbs. The darkest areas have Monstera. There are glades with veggies and flowers. Dragon fruit and grape are profilic. Sugarcane is a good, low windbreak. Bananas and Taro love the protected edges. Ginger, Tumeric thrive in our big wicking pots. Native raspberry, Walking-stick palm and Davidson plum are our main native foods. There is always something happening. The food forest is dynamic and engaging. Above all, I keep chickens and love drawing them into old masters. I use my art as a tool to urge people to question the role of chickens as pets. I also do designs for people and a lot of my designs and illustrations are used in magazines and texts. I have come to realise the power of Illustration not just as an education but also as a political commentary.
Greta: I currently live and work on an organic, regenerative farm in Myocum, NSW. The site is around 230 acres with a pumping market garden and food forest, fruit orchards, and holistically managed cattle and chickens who cell graze through pasture and fruit orchards. We’re currently experimenting with different models of integrated annual and perennial systems building on successional agroforestry practices. We cycle nutrients through our compost, biochar, and worm farms. We save most of our fruit, vegetable and tree seeds and are now setting up a dedicated seed saving plot which I’m really excited about!
What do you do with PA – and what is the best part of your role?
Virginia: I joined the board in 2015. I have worked on the Education Team to promote the accredited training courses and I am now involved with the fundraising team. As Chair of PA, the best part of my role is the opportunity to connect people and projects and communities all over Australia, and to help PA grow. It has been my privilege to work with a succession of fabulous teams, and I am especially thrilled to be working currently with an all-female team. PA is a wonderful, nurturing organisation with a serious and professional side as well as a fun and joyous side as we work with our partners and friends in communities all over Australia.
Greta: I’ve joined PA as a new Board Director and the Permafund Liaison and am looking forward to supporting Permaculture projects in Australia and overseas. I think it’s wonderful to see the application of permaculture thinking in different contexts across the world!
What are your permaculture plans for 2020 – and beyond?
One of the productive garden areas at Ecoresilience, property of Virginia Solomon
Virginia: As this is my last year on the PA board, I am hoping to pass on the aegis to others without creating any sort of a rupture when I leave. So I will be working on succession, as well as continuing my fundraising and education roles. I am also interested in continuing to develop accredited training opportunities for permaculture, particularly in schools. Outside of PA, I hope to explore my sewing and textile interests, travel a bit within Australia when it is permitted, and enjoy my family and my beautiful corner of the world.
April: I’m enjoying interviewing elders and the quiet leaders of the movement via Permaculture Visions. I would like to progress our plan to build us a fire-proof home after watching my mentor’s home and beautiful garden lost in the fires earlier this year.
Greta: 2020 has been a wild ride already. We have been lucky enough to keep producing food for ourselves and the wider community, and to continue to provide education for our volunteers. It has been a very reaffirming period in that even when a large part of the world has been in stand-still, permaculture systems offer resilience, stability and sustainability. I’ve been working on a six month teaching curriculum based on permaculture and regenerative agriculture practices, and we’re rolling out the first round of that at the moment. This year I hope to keep walking along the beautiful learning curve I’m on, keep saving heaps of seeds, and I’d love to keep working with the Permaculture for Refugees team when travel becomes possible again.
And the final challenge – how would you explain permaculture in 20 words or less?
Virginia: Permaculture is a decision-making system which clarifies all our life choices and paves the way to a resilient future.
April: Permaculture is a design framework capable of linking ideas for a better future where everyone can be empowered.
Greta: Permaculture is a way of thinking about, and living in, the world through an ethical, systems thinking framework. It’s essential for the health of our people, our communities and our planet.
Permaculture Australia is the national permaculture organisation, working towards a diverse, resilient and thriving world. Sign up as a member and volunteer today to help us advocate for permaculture solutions.
PA’s Permafund provides grants to permaculture projects in Australia and internationally, with the next grand round focusing on disaster preparedness. Donate to Permafund as a regular or once off donation (donations over $2 are tax deductable) here.
Kirsten Bradley, Co-Director of Milkwood Permaculture
Kirsten founded Milkwood with Nick in 2007 – dedicated to teaching and sharing permaculture skills for living like it matters. She is author of the best-seller ‘Milkwood’ and is known for her permaculture advocacy, and workshops in permaculture skills – from fermenting to natural beekeeping to foraging for wild food. Kirsten, Nick and their kiddo Asher are based in Cygnet, Southern Tasmania.
PA’s Kym chatted with Kirsten about life in Tassie, building community resilience, the privilege of teaching and sharing in students learning, and life after the bushfires.
Thanks for chatting with me! Can you tell us a bit about Milkwood and how did you end up in Tassie?
Thanks Kym! I run Milkwood with my partner Nick Ritar and a small team. We started off as a little farm up in Mudgee in Central New South Wales which was attached to a larger family farm. And then over the years we became hosts of amazing permaculture educators, running courses and got hooked on the idea of skills transfer and enabling people to change the world and their lives with good information – and we haven’t really stopped! We’ve been going 14 years and we were planning on making our way down here [to Tassie] 4 years ago but got side-tracked living at Melliodora for three years – helping grow food, and learning a lot which was an amazing experience. Then we decided it was time to put down some roots and have our own patch, and so we moved to Tassie, the best place in the world!
Milkwood family: Kirsten Bradley, Nick Ritar and their son Asher
Milkwood has run courses and projects across different parts of Australia for more than a decade. Besides shifting to Tassie, what are some other highlights?
We’ve been so blessed over the years working with some amazing knowledge keepers from all over the world. Working with incredible teachers like Sandor Katz, Rosemary Morrow and getting to marinate in these amazing people, their knowledge and the networks that come with them and getting inspired with what people are doing. We were lucky to try our hand at starting a permaculture farm which was a highlight too. We’ve also been lucky meeting so many incredible students over the years who get the courage or time to come to a permaculture or cheese course which is part of their journey, and we get to interact with them. People like you [Kym was a Milkwood student] and being part of a movement of people who for a million different reasons are wanting to reconnect with their landscapes, and their ecosystems and their communities. Finding ways to do that is just a huge privilege to be part of peoples journey, that’s probably the biggest highlight.
Kirsten Bradley seedsaving at Melliodora, Hepburn Springs
It’s been a rocky start to 2020, highlighting gaps in resilience and preparedness for many. Can permaculture play a role here – and should the focus be on self sufficiency or building community?
I think we both know it should look like building community resilience 😊 Growing enough food and building a fortress or whatever it is – while your community goes thru tough times around you is not fun and not a good way to live for your community, or for you. I think permaculture has got so much to give during these crises. Through the bushfires and the lockdown there has been so much skill sharing and information that permaculture has been able to offer our communities. In some ways it is more about [permaculture educators] standing fast and being emotionally available to people and to help them access the skills, design info and new ideas, as it as much about facilitating things. I think a lot more people are hungry for knowledge right now or realizing priorities, and as permaculture educators, the best thing we can do is stay open and be available for those people and communities as they come in the door saying “Um how do I do this” or “Ah, do you have any strategies on how to do this?”.
You and your family were in Mallacoota during the bushfires which would have been incredibly tough. Firstly, how are you all going? And secondly, do you think the fires led to greater climate change action?
We’re pretty good thank you. We came out of that experience thinking “wow that was the most bizarre summer ever” and everyone feeling all the feels about climate chance knocking on the door. And feeling hopeful there would be a silver lining that would rally and motivate people to change gears on the response to the climate crisis. And then of course we then had this current interesting time [with Covid].
There was a similar community response to Mallacoota in Bega and lots of other communities affected – you saw communities be their best selves in and after the crisis which reaffirms everything that permaculture stands for. I think we are still fed this popular narrative “oooh you better look after your own because as stuff hits the fan no-one is going to come and help you”. But as we’ve seen time and time again, and Rebecca Solnit writes beautifully about this, communities in crisis are incredibly powerful meta-organisms – we out do ourselves lots of the time if left to our own devices and I’m hoping that out of those experiences from the fires, though I know many people are still experiencing the immediate fall out from them, I hope that it is inadvertently skilling up our communities to support each other and respond awesomely in the future. So that’s what I’m hopeful about.
Image by Brenna Quinlan, Permaculture Illustrator featured in the ‘Pay the Rent’ blogpost written by Kirsten Bradley.
You write lots of blogs for Milkwood to share info which is amazing, including one earlier this year about ‘Paying the Rent’. What prompted you to write this and why is it important?
I wrote this blog as we started our Permaculture living series – one action/week you could take as a household to create every day climate change. I was quite embarrassed with myself as the first one was not what needs to be considered first – which is our relationship with the Indigenous people on the land on which we live. When we begin any Milkwood course we begin with an ‘acknowledgement to country’, and then the first part of our permaculture courses we discuss Indigenous Australian culture and agriculture, and an overview on what that means for the country we live in, the stewardship of the land, topsoil, biodiversity etc. It’s always about half the class saying they hadn’t thought about this concept before – it’s amazing that this needs to be said in some ways but it does. So that’s why I wrote it – to provide actual action you can take within that sort of context for acknowledging country and also acknowledging the disparity, ongoing oppression, racism and these big actual problems being experienced by Indigenous Australians.
The ‘pay the rent’ idea is paying a small weekly or monthly tithe to your local Indigenous organisation – we live on their land and in Australia it was never ceded. This concept has been gathering a lots of steam in North America too. It has had some ups and downs with how community responds to it, but it’s simple and plausible and has a direct economic benefit to your local Indigenous organisation – so why the hell wouldn’t you? It’s an acknowledgement of country in a form of currency that for better or worse we all understand. Our local Indigenous health organisation who do amazing work didn’t have a mechanism set up to pay the rent, which is telling in itself in that it wasn’t happening that much. But once it was set up we were able to pass their details on to a bunch of other families who were keen [to pay the rent] too – we are very happy and proud to do it.
The Permaculture Living online course teaching team – Nick Ritar, David Holmgren and Kirsten Bradley
You’ve now moved your courses to an online format – tell me more about your courses and how are you finding teaching online?
Last spring we launched our first online course called Permaculture living – a 12 week program to kickstart your permaculture life. The teaching team are myself, Nick [Ritar] and David Holmgren – which is fantastic as the course is based on his 12 principles. We lead you through a series of actions as well as the theory of permaculture and the principles, and you develop a plan on what you can change in your every day. With a longer view on your new habits impact on your ecosystems, health of the planet and your self reliance – all the good things basically!
It’s a differ kettle of fish to teaching a 2 day or 2 weeks course, we were concerned that it might not feel as real, or be as useful in an online format. And we worried about that for a long time before we did it, and as it turns out while it is a different beast, there is a huge amount to be gained by good communication and online support. And the fact that people can do it in their lounge room, nursing their baby or after everyone has gone to bed – you make up for in accessibility. We are all really enjoying it and watching the students interact and show off what they are doing. We feel very privileged being part of these students journeys and being part of a better household and community.
What else 2020 hold and any final messages?
Ah yes – before lockdown we were making an online mushroom growing course – which we are still making but our filmmaker is in Victoria so can’t physically get here to film us as yet! But we are looking forward to sharing knowledge on mushroom growing and a bunch of other permaculture design, gardening and other courses over the next year or so. We are trying to be super flexible at the moment to keep creating this learning content in a way that actually works and keeps everyone safe. I’d like to also say how amazing Permaculture Australia is – and Permaculture Tasmania too! And also everyone should keep going, and you are all doing great 😊
Growing up in a tin shed with a veggie garden, a composting toilet and one solar panel in south-west WA, Charlie lived the low-impact lifestyle from a young age. In 2011, he completed a PDC at Djanbung Gardens and soon after, formed Formidable Vegetable – with the hope of inspiring people to grow food, keep chickens and make the world a better place. Formidable Vegetable have performed at global festivals including Glastonbury and at the United Nations, and were described by Vandana Shiva as “connecting the creativity of nature with the creativity of music”.
PA’s staff member Kym spoke to Charlie about living at Melliodora, creative collaborations that promote permaculture action, and ‘Climate Movement’, their new song with “a serious vibe and message of hope.”
For those who may not be familiar – tell us a bit about yourself – and how you ended up living at Melliodora?
I’m just a guy from South West WA who did a permaculture course with Robyn Francis once and instead of becoming a designer, started a band called Formidable Vegetable instead! During the session on patterns in the PDC, I had this ‘Aha!’ moment around the possibility of using music as a knowledge system for permaculture and next minute, I found myself on stage at Glastonbury! How did that happen!? After finishing my first album, Permaculture: A Rhymer’s Manual (which is an adaptation of the 12 permaculture principles in song), I sent it to David Holmgren and Su Dennett to see what they thought. I was so nervous showing my work to the very co-originator of permaculture, but when David told me that he’d listened to the whole thing and ‘didn’t cringe once’, I took that as a good sign! After nearly a decade of crazy gigging and international touring, a bizarre chain of events (involving a certain pandemic), has led me to lockdown at their place, which is proving to be the most wonderfully symbiotic situation!
Formidable Vegetable in action
It can be really tricky trying to describe permaculture to new folks – and convincing them it’s more than organic gardening. What’s your elevator pitch on what it is and why it’s important?
What does a typical ‘week in the life’ look like – and has it changed much since Covid-19?
Life at Melliodora is wonderfully organic (pun intended, as always) and way less stressful than touring constantly. The pandemic lockdown has turned my life from a hectic never-ending roadtrip (and prior to giving up air travel a year ago – a never ending World tour) into a healthier, more grounded permaculture co-creation opportunity. Apart from joining our community farm-days – where everyone is out in the garden or doing work specifically for the common good of the land and the people here – I pretty much spend the rest of my time dreaming up ideas that inspire me and flinging them out at everyone to see if they’re interested (“Hey Dave, what do you reckon about a livestreamed launch party with Formidable Vegetable for the RetroSuburbia ebook?”, “Hey Brenna, how about I write a rap song about Permaculture Climate Action and we make a clip with your illustrations?”. It’s a daily exploration into the principle ‘Integrate, rather than Segregate‘, which is a dream situation for a collaborative creative like me. I feel incredibly privileged to be here!
You’ve been a long term supporter and donor to PA’s Permafund (thank you!). Why did you choose Permafund to support – and how important is the ethic of ‘Fair Share’ to you?
For the first few years after starting the band, I channeled every bit of income I made back into producing more albums and touring in order to keep spreading the permaculture message. When I started making a small surplus from my music, it seemed like the obvious thing to do was to tithe some of my income to Permafund, so that the music could also directly benefit people practicing permaculture on-the-ground. Just singing and waving my arms around about how great permaculture is, without ever being in one place long enough to have a garden of my own started to feel a bit abstract and disconnected. So for me, Permafund was a great way that I could give back to the community and adhere a bit more to the ethics of Earth Care and Fair Share, while not having much of a built or biological environment available for me to work on at the time.
What do you think is the most important issue(s) we are facing at present – and how is permaculture positioned to respond?
Aside from the inevitable fallout from Covid, I still see climate change and biodiversity loss as being the number one issues of our time. I keep trying to remind myself and others around me that pandemics come and go, but the impacts humans have on our ecological systems is a far greater threat in the long run. I truly believe that permaculture movement (and the incredibly diverse range of people within it) has all of the solutions we need to deal with these problems. We just need to galvanise and integrate more as a whole so that we can take these solutions to the rest of the world, in both a top-down and a bottom-up way.
You launched a fabulous new song ‘Climate Movement’ this week which you’ve described as having a “serious vibe, but with a message of hope”. tell us more, including about the track and how folks can sing/dance along and get involved.
I’m pretty excited about this one! It’s a Call to Permaculture Action on Climate and a collaboration between Formidable Vegetable and our amazing producer, Spoonbill (who’s well-known in the world of dancy electronic beats) as well as renowned animator, Dropbear (who made our first clip for the song, Yield) and the amazing Brenna Quinlan, who has been taking permaculture into the stratosphere with her beautiful illustrations. I’ve been tweaking the words over the past few years as a bit of an ‘introduction to permaculture’, but it all came to a head last year, after reading the IPCC 1.5˚ report, which estimated that we have only one decade left to sort ourselves out, if we want the World to remain a habitable place. I thought ‘damn, we really need to take permaculture to the next level. NOW!’ and the rap turned into a bit of an anthemic manifesto calling for permies everywhere to unite, collaborate and collectively take their message, skills and solutions up the chains of command (in whichever areas they are active) so that we can make some meaningful change as soon as possible.
After brainstorming ideas with Brenna, we decided the best thing we could offer would be a video that we could hopefully send viral around the internet to inspire, motivate and activate people to go out and use what they have to bring the change. So, here’s your opportunity folks! Get sharing! Click here to see on YouTube and Facebook.
What does 2020 have in store for you?
Well, until Covid is over, I’m not planning to venture far from Melliodora, but it would be good to reconnect with the rest of the band (who are down in Melbourne) once things ease up a bit. I think local action with a global focus is the theme of the year, so I’m pretty happy here collaborating with world-famous permie rockstars on educational materials, music, art and gardening until something else calls me! Brenna and I have also been working on creating a deck of permaculture action cards for teaching the principles. There are a few packs left! Check them out and grab a copy here
Photo: Brenna Quinlan and Charlie McGee with the deck of permaculture action cards designed as a joint collaboration. Photo credit: supplied by Charlie McGee
Fair Share and how to support further:
You can support Formidable Vegetable with their music by becoming a Patron on Patreon here and purchase one or all of their fabulous albums here and here
Permafund provides small grants to permaculture projects across Australia and internationally, and the next grant round will be opening soon. To make a tax deductible donation before the end of financial year, or set up a regular tithe like Charlie McGee please click here.
Each fortnight we’ll provide a wrap up of some of the fabulous activities our PA members are involved with – noting there are many, many more!.
We’ll include a selection of media articles, new book releases, blog posts, videos and events to name a few.
Got some great items to share? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can include next fortnight.
Dr Ross Mars has released a new book called Life in a Garden: Activities and Projects for the Outdoor Classroom. This practical handbook guides teachers through the basics of garden design and maintenance, while providing opportunities for students to explore and contribute to a thriving ecosystem.
With many PDC’s postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions until further notice, Meg McGowan, Permacoach has generously released a free Play along Permaculture Design 4 part blogpost with bonus client interview template. Find out more about Meg and read the blog posts here.
Hannah Maloney from Good Life Permaculture is interviewed here on Crisis gardening: the Australians creating sustainable veggie gardens during Covid-19. You’ll also see Hannah back on Gardening Australia again on 8th May 2020, can’t wait!
Limestone Permaculture in NSW were featured on the cover and article of The Land: Smart Farmer (see above) talking big rewards from permaculture farming and in the new Happen Films Permaculture stories here
Formidable Vegetable have teemed up with Spoonbill to release a brand new track, Climate Movement here. In their own words, “its has a serious vibe, but with a message of hope and goes hand in hand David Holmgren’s book, RetroSuburbia”. You can also register for a *free* online tiny house online gig this week with Formidable Vegetable here – see you there!
Join Morag Gamble from Our Permaculture Life everyday in her garden for another Live at 5. Each day she explores a different plant, including shifting the way we see a plant and the different edible components.
Brogo Permaculture Gardens is now a 25 year journey on 11 acres on the Far South Coast of NSW. It’s where we created a home to nurture and raise 5 wonderful children as well as the base for our permaculture business. Every year we have Open Days so 1000s of people have come through with most for the first time, seeing what this ‘permaculture thingo’ is all about……a starting point to hopefully explore more. The past 18 months have been challenging with severe drought and then firestorms impacting the Bega Valley, and now a pandemic. Focusing on a positive note, we decided to pull together a virtual tour with a series of clips replicating an actual Open Day presentation as we walk viewers through the property. Here are the first two parts of the tour.
Disclaimer: Each fortnight we will feature different highlights from our professional and organisation Permaculture Australia members. This is not a definitive list and we know there are *lots* more great activities occurring too! If we’ve missed you or you hear of something great, please send to email@example.com
The first week of May 2020 is International Compost Awareness Week. This week aims to increase the importance and use of compost as a valuable organic resource. There is a stack of great resources and more info here including how you can get involved.
However we believe *every* week is a great week to learn more about how to make and use compost! The National Food Waste Strategy 2017 found that households throw away 3.1 million tonnes of edible food in Australia – close to 17000 grounded 747 jumbo jets. In addition, household food waste costs us approximately $2000-$4000/year – yikes.
Reducing food waste AND composting your food scraps are two ways to reduce this waste, while building healthy soil and growing great food. Winning!
How to get started?
PA member Hannah from Good Life Permaculture has produced *loads* of fabulous how to compost resources to help you get started. We’ve reproduced a list of them (with her permission) here:
A short video on three ways to get started with Food waste composting – worm farms, worm towers and (vermin proof) compost bins.