Tuesday, October 25, 2016

'Amy, what is permaculture?'

A couple of months ago my good friend Shani (from Ecoburbia) revved me up to finally do my Permaculture Design Course. It had been on my bucket list for ages and I felt like I needed some inspiration. It would also be a good chance to binge on exclusive Shani time - we are often busy and when we do catch up there's usually a million other things going on. So we took the plunge and booked our course, booked our AirBnB, kissed the family goodbye and headed over to Sydney for two weeks. Eep! Two weeks away from home! It was the longest I'd ever been away from my boy - flying all that way for all that time was a big deal for me. Was it worth it? Oh my. Yes.

We were just a bit excited on the first day.

The good folks at Milkwood really know their stuff. Our facilitators were Hannah (from Good Life Permaculture) and Brendon (from, well, I don't really know, just the world I think). They were not only fantastic facilitators but they taught us deep from the depths of their experience and generously dished it out for us day after day.

The first few days covered the ethics and principles of permaculture and for that bit we were lucky enough to have David Holmgren (co-founder of permaculture) teach us. When he walked in the room there was a hush and it was a bit like Jesus had just entered to bring us the good news that could save us. It was very exciting. David is just simply a lovely guy - humble, generous, wise and fun.

We went through the design process where we really learned how important observation is. We learnt about different systems to be aware of (climate, water, soil, etc). We then touched on some different elements you could include in a garden/farm system like bees, compost, aquaponics, annual garden (veggies), trees, and more. During all of this we all worked on our individual design projects, then our group project.  I loved it all, especially our group project. We were a great team - hilarious, kind and productive.

After the first few days Shani and I started playing the 'What is permaculture?' game on our walks home from the community centre to our AirBnB. It was to prepare us for questions from our partners and friends when we returned. It goes something like this:

Amy: Shani, what is permaculture?
Shani: Thank you for asking, Amy. Well, it's a design process. Um. And there are ethics and principles you follow to make your place efficient and so it provides what you need. And it's about the function of elements and how you use them. Or something. Augh! Your turn Amy. Amy, what is Permaculture?
Amy: Thank you for asking Shani. Permaculture is... uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmm. It's a way to design your space with elements that interconnect and are multi-functional so you're more resilient. And it's also about your life and your lifestyle and your community. No, that's not really it either!

This conversation went on for two weeks and we never really nailed the definition. But for the record, here is David Holmgren's definition of permaculture: 'Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs'. I won't go through the ethics and principles. You can google that. But for my own purposes of revision I'll try to remember all the interesting and practical things I learned about and want to implement here at home and in the community:

More perennials - we mostly have natives out the front, but slowly we've been adding food plants like olives, soft fruit trees, and a macadamia. I'd like to add sweet potato, asparagus, ginger, rhubarb to make a lower story, ie more food forest style. If you have space and water, perennials are good because they are low maintenance, deep rooted and give you food.

Community composting - I was so inspired by Hannah's work on her various community projects and the idea of community permaculture I wanted to start community composting at Hilton Harvest. So I've chatted to the local cafe who are happy for us to take their food waste and I've applied for a grant from our Waste Authority for heaps of compost bins. So fingers crossed!

Composting toilets - because it is barbaric to pollute clean water with our poo.

Bees - I had thought this would be a bit of a longer term project, but a friend asked if we could host his hive the other day so maybe we can learn the skills a bit more quickly!

Trenches - to stop water runoff in our front garden. Slow, store and sink the water.

Mulch pits - for fungusy soils between the fruit trees. This one is already done, both at home and at Hilton Harvest.

So, you can see we have heaps of jobs to be getting on with. But the best things I took away from the course were hope, inspiration and wonderful memories of spending two weeks with a beautiful bunch of people who are all on their own exciting journeys. It was a little bit of magic when we all crossed paths and walked together for that two weeks.