Martina Hoeppner from the PA Education team chats with Western Australia based James McDonald about finding permaculture in England, microgreens, and the link between permaculture studies and small scale urban farming enterprises.
Can you tell us a little bit about your permaculture journey and education?
My permaculture journey began when I was living in England. I stumbled across the term in my search for information on growing food. At the time I had suddenly become aware of homelessness as a significant social issue and I had taken it upon myself to become acquainted with the many people experiencing homelessness in Exeter, where I was living at the time. It struck me that, for the most part, these people were struggling each day to get enough food, quality food, while there were people walking right past them to the Tesco and Sainsburys to buy food. Money was the missing link; the lack of money. Realising that all that was needed to grow food, for free, was human effort, I set out to learn how so I could grow food for those that needed it.
Having stumbled across Permaculture and falling in love with the concept through my online research, I went to the local library and found Patrick Whitefield’s The Earth Care Manual. I devoured it, read it cover to cover in a matter of days. That sparked further exploration living and working on various properties in Portugal, Romania, and Ireland to learn more and put some of what I was reading in to practice. When I returned to Australia I was fortunate to meet Ross Mars and ended up living on his property, continuing to learn and practice while completing my Bachelor of Sustainability, and then eventually completed my PDC down at Fair Harvest in Margaret River.
After getting involved in permaculture and serving on the Permaculture West committee, you founded Giving Greens, a social business producing microgreens. Tell us a little bit about this business.
While not any formal form of social business, or social enterprise, I do see Giving Greens as a social business, but it is firstly a business, that has social intent. When I first launched Giving Greens, for each tray I sold, I was donating a tray of microgreens to a local charity that provided meals for Perth’s homeless. I liked to consider it ‘secret nutrition’ as the recipients had little awareness of what microgreens were, or their benefits, but they were consuming them, which was the important part. As well intentioned as this was it was really difficult to maintain in the early stages of a new business. I ended up scrapping the 1-for-1 model to focus on building the business knowing that one day, when Giving Greens was in a stronger position, donating would be much easier. Also, the scope of what I considered to be a ‘social good’ expanded.
With studies suggesting that microgreens are more nutrient dense than regular greens, and that when we are receiving adequate nutrients to fuel our bodies optimally, we feel better. When we feel better, we show up differently in the world to our family, our partners, our colleagues, peers, and our community. If I can change just one person’s eating habits so that they are now eating better, getting enough nutrients, they feel better about themselves and encourage, by example, those around them to do the same, it creates a ripple effect that can be carried on almost infinitely. What looks like a fun, exciting, and colourful microgreen can be a powerful agent for change, however subtle it may be. If I can help people shift from a ‘me’ mindset by getting their bodies and minds out of survival mode, and into a ‘us’ mindset thinking more consciously about the people around them and their environment, then I see that as a social good.What do you think is the relevance of small-scale urban food production for the future?
I have always considered small-scale local food production to be important for building resilience in the food supply. Rather than relying on a few large national/multinational companies for our food, I’d certainly encourage small-scale production. This would create localised economies that, should something significant happen, would be resilient enough to stand alone. The tricky thing, though, about having more suppliers/growers would be that the pricing would be driven down. With increased supply, less revenue would be available to pay for the overheads to produce that food, making it less viable for smaller producers. I’m certainly not saying that is right, it is just a consequence of our contemporary economic system. If permaculture teaches you anything it is the connectivity between components in a system. You can’t make a significant change in one area without impacting another.
Have recent events like the bushfires last year and the pandemic this year confirmed or changed your mind on this?
Confirmed, certainly. The pandemic, or at least the panic and fear around the pandemic, demonstrated the vulnerabilities in our food supply. Suddenly, the availability of some items that we took for granted just dried up. If you were relying on the larger supermarkets for your food some things became much harder to get, if you even wanted to go to a supermarket. Even a lot of the local growers were inundated with orders for home deliveries during this time leaving the local supply stretched also.
Do you think permaculture education provides a good entry to small-scale intensive food production?
Yeah, absolutely. Again, understanding that to produce food you must have an understanding of the various components that play a role. Things like the soil with its microbial life, nutrient cycling, structure and water storage, water collection distribution, pests, light wind, temperature, the sun. The conventional form of food production aims to eliminate as may variables as possible to make it easier to control. The permaculture approach recognises, embraces, and uses the many variables to produce quality food with less exogenous inputs, and sometimes, certainly not always, less human energy input. I’d love to see an economic system that recognises and rewards the efforts of food producers.
here.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 completed by both Martina and James can be found
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.
Permaculture West is the WA permaculture association, including local groups across the state.