“Our main focus is to continue providing access to local food through the community garden and introducing various workshops/demonstrations that address barriers to food security, educate about good soil and plant health and offer hands on experience in growing your own food.”

Jared Robinson chatted to PA volunteer Julia about his background in permaculture, its future under coronavirus and the most underrated piece of space in the garden: the verge.

PA Professional Member Jared Robinson is a permaculture design consultant and educator, at Pine Lime Designs. He is also the Chairperson of the Millicent and Surrounds Food Security Network, an organisation advocating for localised and affordable food. He was recently involved in the Victory Verge Challenge in May, a competition for local residents to start using their verges for food production.

Where are you located? What’s it like down there at the moment?

My family and I are now located on the Limestone Coast in the lower South East of South Australia. Prior to that we were located in the outer suburbs of Adelaide where we had been applying permaculture design principles to various residences. Having two active young boys, my wife and I, wanted a larger piece of land for them to interact with leading us to acquire 15 acres of depleted pasture and eroded hillsides. While only in the early stages of succession the site has responded well to the small changes that have been made.

We are currently in our wet season which has been great for re-hydrating the landscape and providing moisture to our establishing food forest and beds after last summer. But aside from the usual chores around the farm, we have been utilising this unusual period and relative down time to observe the site more closely and make any adjustments before the spring growth begins. The community being relatively small has been quite supportive of one another particularly in the face of the current uncertainty and continues to move forward as a close knit community.

What is your background in permaculture? Who has inspired you along the way?

Growing up next to a nature reserve where my brothers and I would play in the seasonal creeks, climb trees and explore the local wildlife gave us a huge appreciation for being outside and interacting with nature from a young age. This interest in nature eventually lead to stumbling across some permaculture material online and from that point I embraced Permaculture’s common sense approach and inherent applicability.

Like most I continued to absorb information about Permaculture, ecosystem evolution, animal life cycles, climatic fluctuations, soil processes, various design methodologies and native agricultural practices. I’ve been inspired by many people, but early on Bill Mollison, Toby Hemenway and David Holmgren were foundational. In addition, I would include the work of Rosemary Morrow, Geoff Lawton, Darren Doherty and my PDC teacher April Sampson-Kelly from Permaculture Visions as great sources of inspiration. Currently, I enjoy the work by Sean from Edible Acres, Dan from Making Permaculture Stronger and Meg McGowan from Permacoach/Smarter than Crows which is very accessible and informative.

However, the greatest inspiration has been my family. Providing our young children with the opportunity to engage with nature, appreciate its unique complexities and benefit from its bounty has been very rewarding for my wife and I. Listening to our children talk about their favourite plants, a new design they have been working on or watching them rush inside with a haul of strawberries they stumbled across while in the garden is a huge inspiration.

What is your approach to your work as a permaculture design consultant?

When undertaking a design, a key focus for us is to create a collaborative environment where the landscape and the client are primary actors; with our role being to provide guidance and assist in visualising the overall outcomes from the design process. Often this entails the development of a concept plan and corresponding site report, however with the work being done by Dan (Making Permaculture Stronger) we have been remodelling our processes to encapsulate a more free flowing design evolution that aligns with the natural successional dependencies that arise as a result of the overall context regarding place and inhabitants.

When first meeting a client, quite often we’ll take a short walk around the site where the client can freely express their thoughts. At a later stage more information will be gathered about the client’s specific context and site conditions, but by putting aside this time the client has the opportunity to express some of the concerns or ideas that have been circulating in their mind on the lead up to our meeting, which helps to break the ice. Additionally, it gives a brief feel for how the client currently uses the property such as which walkways and site shortcuts are used frequently, which areas of the site are a focus for the client and so on. From here, we learn more about each other through general conversation but also through some set questions about the landscape, the client and the surrounding community. This establishes a foundation from which the design can proceed and where more detailed information can be gathered and discussed. After this there are two pathways depending upon the client’s requirements. One of these pathways is a master plan that incorporates data points as determined by their applicability and overall benefit to landscape and client. The other path is succession management where we identify and prioritise strategies/elements that provide the best opportunity to begin moving through successional stages toward a resilient and stable system. With this we attempt to design out the need to manage the site intensively by supporting system functions and encouraging regenerative cycles. This allows for the site to develop in manner that is congruent with the client’s context and ability to invest time/resources in obtaining the most appropriate yields.

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A Victory Verge Challenge Submission!

As well as your work at Pine Lime Designs, you’re also the chairperson of the Millicent and Surrounds Food Security Network. What do you and your team aim to achieve here and how does its purpose link to the three permaculture principles?

The Millicent and Surround Food Security Network originated with the purpose of addressing food insecurity within our region. Our focus is in attempting to overcome barriers to food accessibility, utilisation and availability. We tend to think of food insecurity as the complete absence of food, however in some cases it is a result of food that is eaten not meeting nutritional needs, or the food available not being utilised as a result of limited experience in its preparation for consumption. So through a collection of initiatives we aim to raise awareness of food insecurity and provide the means for individuals and community members to build resilience in their personal food supply. Currently, the network has offered cooking demonstrations, undertaken the revitalisation of the local community garden space and promoted localised food production through the Victory Verge Challenge.

At the community garden, we are introducing more earth friendly practices including composting to build soil life, mulching of beds to retain moisture/reduce water use along with incorporation of various perennial plantings such as fruiting trees to provide a no dig food source and protection to less resilient crops. In the future we are looking to offer small workshops to educate on the benefits of seed saving, caring for the soil, and caring for plants and animals that contribute to the health of the garden and our diets. This is why, for us, the community garden offers a great way to meet the 3 ethics of Permaculture; where a community of people can come together to nurture the earth while encouraging a yield that offers a surplus for us, the soil and the wildlife.

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A Victory Verge Challenge Submission!

What is the impact of coronavirus on community-based social enterprises/organisation such as the Millicent and Surrounds Food Security Network? Have these organisations become more important?

More than ever community organisations are needed to mitigate the unexpected fluctuations that can arise whether from changes in weather patterns, water shortages or others causes such as coronavirus. Many of our current societal systems such as food production are reliant on multiple moving parts and just in time delivery which can be reasonably efficient for large scale production of standardised products. But at the same time are extremely fragile and sensitive to unexpected disruptions compared to smaller and more localised groups as has been apparent with the various shortages of goods and services.

Initially our network was able to provide a source of fresh food to the community and having that additional level of resilience to these fluctuations was comforting. However, as restrictions increased it became difficult to attend the community garden for many and so the availability and accessibility of food gradually reduced. In response, we introduced the Victory Verge Challenge to promote food production on a home scale and build in additional resilience to community food supplies in turn highlighting the ability of community organisations to quickly respond in these instances.

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A Victory Verge Challenge Submission!

I note one of your recent initiatives was the Victory Verge Challenge in May. Why did you decide to set up this challenge and why verges?

As some may know, Victory gardens were common place during war time periods and provided a significant portion of food to local supplies during difficult times. So with the difficulties surrounding corona virus it seemed fitting to re-introduce the Victory garden as a means of securing local food supplies and maintaining community morale. By encouraging community members to garden in their front yard/verge we hoped that there would be greater opportunity for neighbours to chat, share produce and maintain community spirit while respecting social distancing regulations.

We also wanted to ensure the challenge was accessible particularly for those without access to growing space. So with verge’s being generally underused and offering little return through community or ecological function but still requiring significant inputs for upkeep we thought this offered a great way to address this gap. Having the option to stroll down your street and harvest produce from your own or a neighbours garden/verge is a fresh and low kilometre way to fill the plate and stay in touch with neighbours but also to assist in meeting larger disruptions head on.

Any other projects you’re working on as part of the Millicent and Surrounds Food Security Network that we should know about?

Our main focus is to continue providing access to local food through the community garden and introducing various workshops/demonstrations that address barriers to food security, educate about good soil and plant health and offer hands on experience in growing your own food.

As mentioned, we will also look to run a round 2 of the Victory Verge Challenge through Spring to continue to promote localised food production and build community resilience.

In the background our network continues to build relationships with local social, health and food related groups to determine how we can assist in their offerings to the community.

Anything else?

Thank you for your time in sharing our progress and also thank you to all the people out there gardening, growing food and taking part in your community.

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You can find out more about Jared’s permaculture design consultancy Pine Lime Designs here, and keep up to date with the Millicent and Surrounds Food Security Network via Facebook here.

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