PA’s Kym chats with Robyn about preparing for the changing climate & pandemics, the importance of respecting Indigenous knowledge and local food security projects to build community resilience.
Can you tell us a bit about your long & varied career, including how you got into permaculture?
What have been some of the highlights, and also the challenges?
There have been many challenges along the way, working long unpaid hours with sporadic income; turning up to teach PDC’s elsewhere with little or no basic resources and finding creative solutions (like the time I was provided with a little toddlers blackboard and half a chalk!); having the courage to jump into unknown and precarious situations and think on my feet; being let down and having to extend myself even further to get the job done; and recovering from a couple of major burnouts which helped me find more balance in my life and establish clear boundaries. There were also the positive, yet very demanding challenges of negotiating the labyrinth of bureaucratic requirements to create the Accredited Permacuture Training and deliver it successfully for 11 years here a Djanbung Gardens. I accept challenges as an opportunity to grow and even the most difficult have provided valuable lessons to take forward.
You’ve been active in food and seed sovereignty projects in your local area – why are projects like these are so important?
Building bioregional and local resilience is critical for moving forward, and as we’ve experienced, for surviving shocks. Over the years I have sought to balance my national and international work with grassroots action in my local community. I’ve used my community facilitation skills to guide collaborative processes and especially the initial meetings in 2009 that launched ‘Sustainable Nimbin’. The three priority areas identified were food security, energy and transport. I joined the Nimbin Food Security Group and mentored the involvement of my APT diploma students in these initiatives including raising awareness and conducting community surveys and consultation. The Nimbin Food Security group was a dynamic team of committed people under the umbrella of the Nimbin Neighbourhood Association. It has brought exceptional results including two local weekly farmers markets, a food processing library, seed exchange. With Robina McCurdy a series of workshops brought together farmers, food producers and retailers to identify challenges and opportunities. We formed a food co-op within a week to take over the local organic green grocers store in town when the owners closed it down.
We see much more local produce in local stores and cafes, farmers and growers that once struggled to make ends meet are earning a sustainable living, and a there has been a surge in small food processing enterprises. For the past five years we can source 80-90% of our food from within a 30km radius, including staples like our local Nimbin Valley Rice, Nimbin dairy products, local grassfed meats, tofu from local BD soybeans, coffee and a long list of fresh fruit, veg and other produce. During the fires last November and the pandemic lockdown, the community has been exceptional in the many ways people and organisations have pulled together, helped each other and ensured everyone was cared for.
Bushfires, droughts and the pandemic have shown community resilience and preparedness are crucial. Can you describe how you’ve designed Djanbung Gardens to cope with disasters and also any changes being made?
When I was searching for land, the capacity to design for disaster resilience and climate change were key factors. Not just the property but the location, climate, and community were all top considerations on my list. Where I am in the Nimbin valley is well above 1:100yr flood level, classified as low fire risk, sheltered topographically from severe wind loadings, has the highest rainfall area in NSW and I am easy walking distance from the village. Although I designed fire breaks into the property, fire has not posed a major threat or concern until last November, when Gondwana rainforests on Nightcap that have never burned were on fire and hundreds of friends evacuated from the Tuntable valley, just over the hill. This was a wake-up call and for the first time in 25 years we went through a full fire prevention cleanup and preparation, and are revising our plans regarding future fire vulnerability. We can experience massive rainfall events around here, with the greatest so far being 515mm in 24 hours. I designed our water systems to cope with this degree of flow through the property to prevent flash flooding and water damage. The water collection systems (dams and tanks) are designed with the capacity to get us through historic droughts however we will be augmenting water tank storage in the future as dry seasons are lengthening and getting hotter.
There has been a lot of media coverage about cultural burning and the importance of First Nations and Australian Indigenous knowledge for caring for country. How do you incorporate learnings from the local Indigenous communities into your permaculture activities?
What are the most important issue(s) we are facing as a at present – and how do you see permaculture positioned to respond to these?
Where can I find out more?
Check out the range of permaculture courses (online and face to face), property tours and events by Djanbung Gardens and Permaculture College Australia here. Permaculture Australia members get a 10% discount on courses offered by Djanbung Gardens and the Permaculture College Australia.
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