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?
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.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 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.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?
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.