“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.
PA member, permaculture educator and design consultant Tonielle Christensen lives and works in Kuranda, near Cairns, QLD. She is a cofounder and educator at PA Partner Organic Motion, which provides design consultancies, yearly PDCs and other gardening workshops with not-for-profit Earth Care Collective. She also runs new personal blog about holistic living which you can read here.
What brought you to Kuranda?
Many reasons! Firstly…love. I moved to Kuranda 7 years ago with Blake which is his hometown. We wanted to be closer to his daughter Auraura who was soon to start at Cairns Hinterland Steiner school. Secondly, I felt this was the best location to nourish my body with rest and the tropical lifestyle during my pregnancy and so I could home birth our daughter Nova. We love this location because of the thriving community we are involved with and the natural surroundings, culture, fresh water swimming, festivals, forest walks and abundant food!
How are you and your garden surviving under quarantine?
I am thriving and my garden is definitely more organised and is much more abundant in annual vegetables than it usually is. Our bananas, papaya, peanut butter fruit and citrus are feeding us well at the moment along with our all year round tropical greens. We are taking this opportunity to upgrade our home nursery, so I am supplying organic veggie seedlings and fruit trees to our community by delivering to their door. I am also putting more energy into improving soil and mulching too and planting by the moon which I didn’t take the time to do before. Additionally, we’ve begun to build the deck onto our little eco home, which has been a home build project over the past three years.
What’s inspiring you in the world of permaculture at the moment?
Making videos to share! I’m getting my head around editing and learning how to make an online course which is exciting and timely. I am also really inspired by social permaculture and especially exploring permaculture for people in zone 00. I am a holistic coach alongside my permaculture consulting and have experienced how nature based principles and elemental practices can be applied to designing our lifestyles for personal regeneration, transformation and to ‘obtain a yield’ in regards to the quality of life we intend to enjoy, in and beyond the garden.
I note that you advocate for sociocracy and conduct a number of workshops about it, could you give me some background as to what this term means in the context of permaculture design?
In my view, Sociocracy fits ethically into the ‘’Community Governance’ domain of permaculture and integrates many of the design principles which naturally leads to sustainable group work. With transparency, inclusiveness and productivity at its core, I have experienced it as an efficient way of organising people, facilitating meetings and making decisions with a grounded process that has a strong focus on ‘People care’ by ensuring everyone is heard. ‘Fair share’ is highlighted through the levelling of power and rounds that enables proposals to be completely understood by participants and so perspectives can be shared with real responses provided with meaning..the ‘why’. I also value the methods of recording meetings for transparency. I am passionate about sharing this because if utilised in organisations that are working towards ‘Earth care’, it can ensure their group work is fun and productive and on point to achieving their goals…which is what we need – successful earth carers achieving their missions! It has made a big difference in how my team meets, relates and succeeds. I began sharing some of the processes in introductory workshops that lead people’s interest further down the path to my friend Erin Young and the Sociocracy Consulting Group in whom I trained with. At present, until I have further training, I am teaching more gardening related workshops with the Earth Care Collective and OM.
Could you give me a short background as to how Organic Motion came to be? What need are you filling?
Organic Motion, or OM as we refer to it, organically grew from the visions of three friends – Blake Hudson, Jay Jackson and myself, who were particularly inspired during our Permaculture Design course trainings to start implementing the solutions to the problems we were each concerned about with respects to both human and land health. Our motivation to ‘be the change’ and feast on home grown produce at dinner parties got traction in our community and so we each transitioned out of our jobs in IT, painting and real-estate to join forces and establish what has now become an extension of who we are. It has been a journey, learning the business side of permaculture, and with a coach and strong friendship, we now provide professional landscape design service, ‘done for you’ installed edible garden packages for busy folk and teach people to DIY if they like to get grubby…plus we teach an annual Permaculture Design Course and a few other gardening related workshops with the Earth Care Collective.
Do your clients just come from the region around Kuranda? how much variation do you find in the climates/conditions/needs of the clients you work with?
We work locally a lot, however we service all North QLD and have done projects in NSW and Vanuatu, keeping mostly to tropical and subtropical climates. The tablelands region has some higher altitudes, with different growing seasons and crops, even though we are on the same latitudes, so it’s always refreshing to learn about new plants and the seasons of each area.
Organic motion does a lot of consulting and design services, is there follow up down the track to see how the gardens are looking? Do you find that your knowledge and vision is the start of something more for them?
Yes, we are generally facilitating a lifestyle journey for our clients and often become friends during the process of defining and creation of their dream/project. Occasionally we install and re-visit for maintenance in suburban gardens, but most clientele begin with a design for their long term vision– the sustainable dream and retirement block – and we work with them in stages to implement, which can often involve us all being in the garden together!
If a client comes to you with zero background in permaculture but a willingness to adopt its practices, what’s the first thing you tell them and the first action you do?
This is usually the case! We discuss their ‘why’ first, to see what is motivating them to take action, which is generally something to do with improving their health, access to affordable organic food and to move away from foods grown with chemicals. I am constantly inspired by how aware people are becoming of their food systems and interest in healthier ways of living. Then we get real about the personal time they have available (outside of their work/family etc commitments) to invest in learning and being in their garden, to ensure their vision and goals are realistic. This is followed by knowing what they want to eat and therefore grow, which involves introducing new kinds of plants that are similar but different from what they might be used to eating from the supermarket, like, but not limited to, perennial spinaches that grow all year. Action wise, we make use of their food scraps and organic materials onsite via proper composting, worm farms and or Bokashi systems!
How do you approach designing a garden for a client and what do you see the biggest challenges to be?
Firstly, we walk the land with our clients and listen to what they share about their personal observations and what they wish for or problems they’ve noticed. Our site analysis is usually done by two of us, so we can discuss observations, record thoroughly and talk through ideas together. Our approach is to meet our client’s needs and teach them the skills they need to implement or even just manage their garden along the way.
The biggest challenges we see are the gaps in plant knowledge, time management and budget to implement their dream all at once, so we recommend staging the overall project into seasonal projects from zone 1 outwards. Being earth stewards is a great responsibility and we are inspired by our clients’ eagerness to change their lifestyles to be such. It can often be a cultural shift though, so patience and practice is key, as is being connected with others living similarly helps with learning and motivation. We started the Earth Care Collective (not for profit) so our clients and likeminded folk can gather, nurture and grow with educational films, food for thought feasts and workshopping on different properties to share skills for sustainability.
Anything in the works you’d like to let our readers know about?
Yes, we have a community collaboration project with the Earth Care Collective for ‘52 Ways to Be an Earth Carer’ to showcase a new skill or insight every week for a year so our social media and membership followers can engage with us in these practices. Alongside Organic Motion, I personally have a new blog called Earth Mumma Life, which is my expression of wholesome living and Zone 00 tools for transformation with online course offerings, which are soon to launch. In the school holidays, I take time off work to facilitate Nature Kids school programs at the Cairns Hinterland Steiner School to have fun with my kids!
Follow Tonielle and her team on social media here:
Earth Care Collective