Permaculture Farm Creating Community Through Workshops, Nature Connection & Much More
Author: F & L Quinlan
Fionn & Laura Quinlan are international permaculture practitioners and facilitators, they specialise in broadacre, mainframe property design, small scale interpersonal, home-based design, and facilitating creative, engaging courses with a strong environmental bent with a grounding in Permaculture, Syntropic Agriculture and Holistic Management.
With facilitation experience spanning 4 continents, training and working alongside some of the ecological movements biggest names, Fionn & Laura (often along with their two young children), are at ease with designing/redesigning and implementation of anything from turning big, seemingly overwhelming landscapes into abundant life enhancing events, to the harnessing of the small, intimate nuances of day to day life, in the attempt to bring clarity and ease.
I was born into a city. Its seed was a convict settlement. Yet it was on Bundjalung land and country that I grew. Knowing this much alone could tell you my story. But first I must ask, what do you know of cities? What do you know of Bundjalung? Me knowing this will tell me some of your story.
When I look at many cities, I see a lot of straight lines and squares. From a distance they appear as anthills. Ant colonies conjured from the landscape.
When I look at Bundjalung country, I see ocean, rivers, creeks and verdant green hills littered with small towns and farms. Segments of ancient rainforest reminding us of another time.
For as long as I can remember I wanted to make more of that ancient rainforest. I wanted there to be this arching, overpowering green encasing my concrete clad school. I wanted vines to swing on and trees to climb. Cockatoos to screech when the teachers wouldn’t stop talking and Pademelons to cheekily distract me from my algebra.
So I planted and planted with my father and my family. I thought that if I just kept on planting I’d be like the book my father would read to me, called The Man Who Planted Trees. A beautiful story of a single man returning life to a barren landscape through the simple act of planting seeds for decades.
Through travel and study I was afforded a glimpse into the larger world and its workings. I began to know where the things that littered my daily routine came from. How they came into being. My computer of rare earth minerals extracted using slave labour, my clothing too much the same, and my food and the house I lived in not much better.
I came to see this picture writ large upon the world. A single species with a single purpose – to consume. Enact the goal of a virus. The mindset of a cancer cell. A parasite upon the globe like no other. The humans had arrived and we weren’t leaving until everything was consumed, converted, tilled, toiled and trashed.
I decided I’d take back my agency. I’d take responsibility for what it was I was consuming. I became vegetarian, only bought second-hand goods, rode everywhere, volunteered at organic farms and soup kitchens, joined protests, attended every permaculture and green living course I could find, and moaned at all my friends and family to change along with me (sorry).
It wasn’t until I began living on the land, growing my food, building my house, connecting with the land base that I began to realise that it was a story which had held my attention. It was a story that had me believe that the only option I had was to consume or be consumed. This story is our culture.
I’m lucky enough to live on Bundjalung land. Stewarded by a living Indigenous culture that has nurtured it for tens of thousands of years. Working with the rhythms of the landscape. Identifying and discerning patterns to thrive in a land that is as beautiful as it can be harsh.
In my admiration of the Indigenous culture of my local area, I came to scratch the surface of a broader Indigenous narrative. One that penetrates every continent. From the human-made, life-enhancing soils of the Amazon basin – Terra Preta, to the diverse and productive Chagga home gardens of Kilimanjaro, people of place are providing for themselves and their neighbourhood whilst building biodiversity, sequestering carbon and building soil. I find these happenings deeply exciting. They are symbols of hope in a dying world. And they’re everywhere.
At the Climate Action Summit of 2019 ,United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said, “If we don’t urgently change our ways of life, we jeopardise life itself.”
So I’ve said to myself, “I want to change the ways of my life. I really want to inhabit this landscape meaningfully. I want my children to walk here in clean air, water and soil, for generations to come.” The answer is resoundingly clear. The best way in which I can foster life is by becoming a creature of place. Just like myriad of Indigenous peoples the world over I must develop context specific methods to create fecundity.
To do so I must follow a new story. One of the symbiote as opposed to the parasite. We have a choice. I know which one I want to be. Which will you choose?
Before I begin I must note for the record that I write this with great trepidation. My palms are sweaty, I feel my heart thumping within its bone cage. I am going against my programming, perhaps even my better judgment. These thoughts sat at the back of my throat for far too long. I fear they may metastasize if not enunciated…
Why in this age of extinction do we choose to poison living things? Plants, particularly those of vigorous growth, tend to be known as weeds. This is a derogatory term if ever there was one. If humans have no direct and obvious use for them, they are branded. Now, more than any time in history, it is up to us to question the dogma of invasive plants and feral animals. They may in fact be our best shot at making it through our multiple crises.
So I ask: “Who speaks for Weeds?”
I was raised to both love and to hate plants – raised to love natives and hate non-natives. This wasn’t strictly applied to plants. Certain animals were also targeted for hatred. However, it was plants that got the majority of mine and my family’s and my wrath (along with most of the settler families in the area), particularly that of my father. He was a co-land holder on 72 acres, doing what he thought was the right thing, and bringing the rest of the family along for the ride. For close to twenty years, I had a very black and white, wholly disconnected, view of land management. This was fostered by my ‘right thinking’ father, as well as most, if not, all neighbouring farmers, environmentalists, and academics alike.
The ideology was easy to take on board. It was a narrative of the heroes’ story. A great tragedy had befallen the forested areas of our nation. Our wrong thinking forefathers had decimated the landscape and it was our job, no, our duty, to bring it back to its former glory. There was a right way to do it. It began with identifying the bad plants, the weeds, and identifying any of the good plants, the natives. Simple as that, really. We then set about poisoning all the bad plants and, wherever possible, preserving the good plants. This is still very much the story today, but I no longer buy it.
I think it began with another thing my parents bestowed upon me, the ability to ask questions, and keep asking them, not settling for a myopic or limited response. I had begun to wonder why it was ok, and even encouraged to say or write that a plant is bad, invasive and even destructive. I’d begun to just try to see plants for what they were, living entities, giving freely of their life affirming processes. When we apply this same thinking to humans or a particular race of humans, we are branded, at best, intolerant and possibly bigoted. At worst we are labelled racist. Now I knew, and still know that racism is abhorrent, but why is this label only applied when humans antagonise other humans and not when humans antagonise other species?
There are some obvious sociological correlations between plants and humans. Reading the Department of Primary Industries’ spread sheets on certain invasive and destructive plants, if we replaced the words ‘Broad-Leaved Privet (Ligustrum sinense)’ with, for example, ‘mechanically minded humans’, the desired effect is the same. We can hate a plant for being non-native, or at least openly discriminate against it, if it has no immediate or obvious use to humans. This is highly suspect, particularly with Privet which is a plant that has been used in Chinese medicine for over 1,000 years. It’s been used to treat menopausal problems; to blurred vision and cataracts; through to backache; and insomnia. If it occupies it’s niche well, we tend to roll out smear campaigns, to first debase it, then poison it. In turn we poison ourselves literally, as well as give birth to the cancer inducing emotions related to the stresses of trying to eradicate it.
It appears that within many contemporary, tolerant and well-meaning communities, who may no longer openly discuss human immigrants as a ‘problem’, bigotry and distrust is switched onto plants (along with other species too). The ‘invading’ plants are seen as occupying spaces that could be used by natives, in a similar way to some people seeing jobs for natives being taken up by immigrants, for example: “They breed readily, you let one in and many more will come…” It sounds a lot like the complaints I’ve read in News Limited’s papers regarding minority groups they wish to use as scape goats to help them sell more papers, in order to distract the masses from who’s really doing the short-changing. That’s the ideology. The language of fear. We then manage to justify the eradication of the ‘different’, for example Privet, through the purchase and use of tons of carcinogenic herbicides. These herbicides, coincidentally, are made by the same companies that brought you Agent Orange and the gas used in Nazi death camps. You can’t make this stuff up.
However, this is seen as acceptable, because these plants are percieved as malicious entities determined to destroy our pristine rainforest, what’s left of it anyway. That remaining 1%. The 1% we’re still vying to turn into productive, anthropogenic landscapes such as dams and shopping malls. What happened to the other 99%? A good portion of it is under the wheels of your family car, your Tesla, your ute or whatever your chosen mode of transport is. Still more is kept down by cattle, macadamia monocultures and urban sprawl. The whole notion is hypocritical. What about Coffee and Cherry tomatoes? They’re weeds too, but they’re ok because we love a nice garden salad and we’ll kill anyone who gets in the way of our morning coffee.
In this age of extinction, what is it we need most? As the planet’s climate is thrown into disarray, what is the most powerful naturally occurring element that can help us? You guessed it, plants. And what are the processes driving these changes? You and me. We need biodiversity, and we need it rapidly. While it runs in the face of accepted ‘knowledge’, the more non-native species are introduced, the more overall biodiversity is increased. Our best chance to redirect this human-centric crisis is plants. Their ability to sequester carbon, purify air, mitigate erosion, and cool the surrounding environment are some of the myriad benefits of these wondrous beings. They are the best tool we have for building soil and repairing a dying earth.
‘Homo morbidus economicus‘
As though projecting our own history of invasion, we see these plants as something to fear. I would be very hesitant to discredit the work of many people working in the regeneration of rainforests. I was inculcated from a young age in the virtues of ‘cut and paste’, ‘drilling’ and the many other forms of applying state sanctioned poisons. However, I really do question the willingly accepted nature of the processes, and what appears to be a vindication rooted in the colonial mindset. This is one soaked in xenophobia, and veiled in valour and conquest.
This same colonial mindset seems particularly obvious in many of the modern outposts of the British Empire. The same group of nations which refuse to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (USA, NZ, Aus, Canada), seem to be the same group determined to pursue an endless war not only against the original inhabitants but against the land itself.
On the rare occasion a regenerator, resplendent in their safety attire, may speak of the processes which have lead to the mass desecration of the land. This degradation is rightly attributed to our forefathers and the mandated cleaning up of country. However, I’m yet to hear one of these well meaning persons speak of the hypocrisy within the process of their regeneration. The first and most obvious step in the pursuit of their ideology is the application of poisons. This is just the start.
This hypocrisy is most prevalent in our daily complicity to perpetuate the growth mindset at the cost of all biomes. The ‘Not In My Back Yard’ philosophy of ‘caring’ for what’s before our eyes, whilst never questioning the entire way we live makes no sense. We rarely question where we’ve obtained our food, clothing, or resources in general. At best we are mining of finite resources, and at worst we are directly contributing to slave labour, mountain top removal and biocide. These ramifications are, for the most part, writ large on our landscape and all life on earth, due to our lack of, or unwillingness to utilise, a larger time frame. If only we could all begin to think like trees; even the moderately long lived can call 200 young. Many trees were in their hundreds, if not thousands, during the invasion and settlement of Australia. I wonder what they’ve seen become of their neighbourhoods?
The painful irony of our short-sightedness was recently brought home to me when visiting the Brisbane museum. In one of their major natural exhibits, consisting of taxidermied animals from throughout the continent, sponsored by BHP (the worlds 19th largest corporate polluter), was where I found a stuffed, but still snarling feral cat. It was of course the Cat and not landscape devouring companies like BHP that was deemed the problem in this scenario. The plaque beneath the cat read:
My immediate thought upon reading the above was, Where’s the stuffed Feral Human – ‘Homo morbidus economicus’? Seemingly the feral cat has more of a constructive place in this modern paradigm. As do the weeds.
This essay’s purpose is not to debase humans. It is to question our assumptions of black and white, our willingness to turn a blind eye to ourselves. At the same time, we point a judgmental finger toward all that we deem unproductive or unhelpful in perpetuating the advance of the industrial modality. What we need is every plant we can get. Save the rainforests? Absolutely. Keep them pristine. But don’t lose sight of the big picture. In our pursuit of purity, we’ve forgotten about the microbiome, a fundamental building block of all life on earth. Every time we use poisons, be they emissions from our car or direct injections into living things, we’re mutilating that link in the chain and compromising everything that is connected to it. Everything.
This war on invasive species is a never-ending war. The seed bank isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s in the soil, it’s in animals’ intestines, it’s in the river beds, in the gutters, under the concrete waiting for the moment when we stop, run out of oil, breath for a moment or five. If you’re lucky enough to live in a humid climate, the forest will regrow regardless. These new forests are known as Novel Ecosystems. They have astounding biodiversity and are showcases of what can be called the New Pangea. We’ve tried the conquest of nature since the time of ancient Babylon. I think it’s high time to let nature take the reigns. It’s high time we not just learn to live with these novel ecosystems, but to work and thrive with them, to allow them to teach us tolerance and acceptance of what is and will be for the years to come.
A friend recently related to me a question posed by his mentor. ‘If you were terminally ill would you care if the doctor who could provide you with life giving medicine was black or white, Russian or Haitian, tall or short?’ Of course you wouldn’t.
So why do we care which plants are going to build our soil, sequester carbon, and detoxify our planet, before it’s too late?
One small family. One little patch of land. Four hearts and minds.
A few years ago we were total newbies to the application and dissemination of the concepts of ecological and social restoration. Now we feel like we’re flying.
We’re fresh off the back of teaching our second Permaculture design certificate. We’ve both taught sections of PDCs before and have co taught with many others, though this was just us; Fionn and Laura, Iyla and Oak.
The two weeks of the PDC that we had this small group of beuatiful people together, we all felt the power of collective dreaming; the possibilities of achieving our ideal culture, and the understanding that our individual actions can and do make the world of difference.
We came away with an overwhelming sense empowerment, as facilitators, friends, earth stewards and keystone species.
“We got this!”
Almost as if waking from a glorious dream, the shock and reality of our current predicament came home to roost. The ancient gondwana rainforests are on fire. We’ve heard time and time again people say the rainforest can’t burn. And here we were reading and hearing that Mt. Nardi – with the highest average rainfall in all of New South Wales – was, and still is, burning.
We don’t wish to go into details of the fires themselves or our neighbourhoods response to them as you can find detailed accounts of that elsewhere. These fires were and are not isolated. There was a a state of emergency declared a few days after we returned home. There was a buzz in the air. One we could only liken to one instilled in a fear of the unknown. We’re forest people, we’re flood people, we’re not fire people… Or at least that’s what we thought.
We’ve heard it likened to applying a gas mask to yourself before you apply it to others. It would appear that when the fires here started on the Saturday, with the exception of a few locals working alongside the RFS, many were doing just that. Getting their houses in order. Applying oxygen to themselves prior to allocating it to others.
Police went from door to door advising people to leave their homes, as Tuesday was set to have temperatures into the 40s with high winds. The fire front was over 10km away from the village but with high winds the chance of an ember attack were high. So we cleaned up as best we could, left out buckets all around our yurt, and we left with our two wee ones.
Fionn returned the next day, and posted this after more clean up around the house. In true permaculture fashion he had to ask, and kept on asking;
“What are the potential positive outcomes from this? In what way is this problem a solution?”
Then by Wednesday it had come to our attention that one of the communities near and dear to us was being threatened by fire. So Fionn gave a lift to one of the share holders there while Laura did the essential work of loving and caring for children and our home site. When Fionn arrived there was whole fleet of people carrying buckets to a fro, from the fire to a tanker dolling out water.
And so began the work of the next couple of weeks. Laura and Fionn joined in with an impressive number of people from our local community who had come together to address the immediate danger of the fires. Throughout this process (which is ongoing – and is likely to be for the rest of summer), there was and is a palpable connectivity being created and redeveloped between all those involved in the fires. It was brough to our attention that there was a need and/or desire for people to let off steam now that our fire had been downgraded – we were in the blue.
“there was and is a palpable connectivity being created and redeveloped between all those involved in the fires.”
All this time Fionn had been trying to complete the last section of his second semester of is permaculture Diploma. It related to facilitating participatory planning and governance. His initial hopes of beginning talks in the hope of establishing a weekly farmers market in The Channon common came to an abrupt halt when the fires started. So he asked the question, “Can a party for the firies be more than just a party?”
Talking with some of our local friends, there seemed a need for a fundraiser itself. With the desire stated by myself and Laura, with some contact with our awesome team of local go getters, and two weeks to plan it, we decided on the above.
And what a night! Circus troupes, Flamenco dancers, Gypsy jazz, 10 piece dance band, storytelling, shadow puppets, heartfelt standing ovations of appreciation, a feast for all and so much more. All provided out of love of our community for itself. No one got paid a cent, and yet we managed to raise over $3000. Not bad for a little jar by the door, and some networking.
It must be said that it is more likely, that an event similar to this would have happened in such an amazingly connected community. However, in no small part did the impetus given to Fionn and Laura through their study of permaculture ignite this event, the lead up meetings, and the idea for the fundraiser itself to be larger than just a fundraiser. It was a party with the specific intent of first and foremost acknowledging our awesome firies and defenders, but secondly in using this as a starting point to a new way of creating community resilience in the face of a changing climate: Intergenerational community resilience.
Upon applying self regulation and accepting feedback, it has come upon us – a small group known as The Channon Stewards – to host a small gathering of concerned local citizens wishing to contribute to the discussion around our future, and how we respond as a community to a changing climate.
Here’s to future community cohesion, networking and resilience. Together we are strong.
Income streams, being hip, and those who’ve no other choice (through choice)
We’ve recently celebrated our third year of land stewardship here on Djaning, and all in all, to say the least, we’re pretty chuffed. We’ve so far managed and are still managing rocky terrain both internally and literally.
As we sat in our king sized bed, kindly donated by an old friend, at the end of another long challenging day we made a point of noting some of the things we’ve been lucky enough to experience in our three previous years. Some, such as developing community interdependence are barely beginning, we feel we’ve barely scratched the surface of this integral element knowing more work is certainly needed and will always and forever require conciencious work, with its own notably enriching rewards. While others, like our ongoing plantings of both annuals and perrenials and the application of various methodologies within the diverse fields of bio-intensive, syntropic agriculture, forest gardening and others, have all improved exponentially. With every season, nay, every moment that passes being afforded another rewarding learning opportunity.
With this in mind (still in our bed) we began to turn over our most hotly avoided and weary topic; poly income streams. Or, how to make ends meet so long as our dominant monetary economy exists. We’ve become quite used to being creative within our household economy, both in its physical form and its emotional form, from musical performances, teaching stints, sharing and exchanging fresh produce, and inviting new people in to our lives to share this journey with us. Though we tend to continue to come back to a pressing question:
How to create a life and livlihood within our current paradigm without feeding Wetiko?
To make an income from something that’s a passion seems to us the ideal. Which is essentially what it is we are trying to do. However in the process of selling our passion we’re often confronted with the notion of selling out. Need we pursue narcisitic VLOGing? Do we have to sell our souls to social media to turn a buck? We don’t want this to be just another fad. After all, being Green is the new Black. As The 70s funk band Tower of Power asked (in all their majesty) “What is hip?” furthered by the statement, “If you’re really hip the passing years will show.” 40 years of applied permaculture living should attest to this pursuit being genuinely “hip”.
In fact we feel this is beyond hip, beyond marketing. A return to The Mother, living “Off-Grid”, as if all those “on-grid” are some embrio straight out of a nightmarish scene from The Matrix. The irony is of course not lost on us. In our bid to return, our dismissal of The Grid, we’re spruiking ourselves through the very elements we’re endeavouring to supercede.
All this in mind (us still in bed – perhaps wearing furrowed brows) we look to the solutions. The people and things that have inspired us to get here. Those that are holding a light up ahead. We refer directly to our friends Artist As Family and their wholy inspiring approach (now notably removed from social media), and their expressed intention to not give any money, or as little as possible, to “The Man”. We also refer to our friends closer to home, eco-warriors who’ve been living off-grid before it was even a thing. Those who actively engage in such lifestyles because they know that any other choice would be to compromise not only their integrity but their soul, their spirit, their Joie de vivre!
In our initial ponderings and searchings for a more connected, more meaningful existence we were inspired by those putting it out there. They may well have been using social media and many of the other things they sought to upheave but in doing so they’ve inspired and encouraged countless others to do likewise.
So perhaps (droopy eyed now), their and our insistence on utilising these machines and mechanisms we’re doing as those prerenaissance, utilising the printing press to diseminate counter culture, inspiring the reformation and bohemians everwhere evermore. Or perhaps we’re just making ourselves and our little family that much happier, that much more resilient, that much more informed of all the potential that Gaia has to offer.
We have just completed our first Permaculture Design Certificate course as facilitators.
Fionn has taught on numerous PDCs before and Laura has also. We’ve even taught on the same PDC before, but never solely as Fionn and Laura Quinlan. This, for us, is a real milestone. Something we’re very proud of, though are still very much aware of the managing and tweaking that can and will be implemented to make our next course even better.
We began designing our course around 6 months ago. Utliising the SADIM methodology, along with broader permaculture design techniques we mapped out the desire lines of the course, stated intent, objective and desired outcomes. Some of our included intent/objectives included goals as lofty as “assisting in creation of new neurological pathways”, through to more humble objectives like, “creating a safe space”. Upon initial analysis it would seem that we either accomplished stated aims, or we certainly got very close. This was however a particularly spirited and diverse group of 12 individuals, whom without it is obvious to us that none of it would have been possible.
The course was held over two weeks at the pictresque Hare Krishna Community outside Murwillumbah in the Tweed shire. The children joined us, tentatively introducing them as a part of our tribe and an integral part of our journey together. So with tingle of excitement for what was to come we, slightly noisily, introduced ourselves to our group of 12 budding permies.
Throughout the course we were able to take a couple of short trips to see some of the finer points of permaculture in action. We paid a visit to Australia’s best established Syntropic Agriculture plot, run by Scott Hall and an on and off again team of willing helpers. We also invited the whole crew down to Djaning to see our ever evolving 21 acre plot, with an emphasis on closed loop systems, earth works, main frame and garden design. These trips and grand design schemes, coupled with regular morning contributions to our shared plot at Krishna village, run ins with local Syntropic marauder Thiago Barbosa, swims in the nearby river, and regular yoga sessions made for all round fun and informative two weeks.
If you’re at all interested in ecology, community and self sufficiency or the environment more generally then pop along to our next course planned for 2019. See https://krishnavillage-retreat.com/ for more details.
“The long, slow, creative hard slog always wins out in the end.”
Contrary to how ‘floaty’ such a statement may seem there’s a great deal of evidence to support it. It’s evident in everything from entire societies being built on earth stewardship, see Amazonian societies creation ofTerra Preta on otherwise relatively infertile tropical soil, to Van Gogh’s hard isolated life work which now occupies vast galleries created in his name, and the countless artists whom acknowledge his influence. I suppose we could analyse and attempt to interpret the rabbit hole that the last part of the above statement, ‘the end’, entails. Though this is far too open to interpretation and has overt metaphysical connotations. Therefore allow us to briefly examine the long, slow, creative, hard slog bit.
To begin with we must acknowledge the ninth Holmgren Permaculture principle; Small and Slow Solutions. As obvious as this principle may seem, within our current dominant paradigm applying such a thing within your daily routine is to run, or rather meander, directly against the conformity grain. Though the rewards are endless, in this life or the next, for ourselves and/or future generations. Be it in taking the time to study your local ecology which can reap untold benefits of higher yields, better return on your investments, be they in passive solar buildings or soil management, to embracing patience with yourself and others. The benefits of which seem unnecessary to state here.
Need we discuss the creative part? Yes. Perhaps we do. Djaning and all it entails has recently taken to realising itself as a Life as Art project. Which, for us, has untold benefits. To begin with, artists make mistakes, though instead of them being ‘mistakes’ as such, they can further become art. We recall a dear friend of ours smirking in wonderment whilst watching Jimmy Page playing another perfectly oulandish solo on Led Zepplin’s the Song Remains the Same film, and stating, “He hits bum notes, but then keeps hitting them! He’s making his initial errors intentional! And this makes them awesome!” We’d like to think we can do something similar, but on the land. (Duly noted, of course, that Jimmy is a master craftsman with decades of experience, and music is not geology. But I think you get what we’re trying to say). We make mistakes, though so long as we don’t throw down our instruments and sob, we can learn from it, and if it’s in time and in tune with gaia’s guidance, it can become a hallmark.
More on the Life as Art concept in later posts. Now for the hard slog part… Hmmm. Yes that. Well, no matter the creative process we must work. Andy Warhol knew this and was known to have instilled Lou Reed with the ethic, even resulting in the song Work. For us we’ve often been caught singing the Temptations Just My Imagination chorus in relation to the thought of being able to create our dream, without the hard slog; it’s just our imagination. It’s therefore beneficial to look to others who have achieved, or are well on their way to achieving their ideal situation through diligent, applied labour and effort. Some that come to mind are our teachers, Geoff & Nadia Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, Robyn Francis at Djanbung Gardens or Ben Law, woodsman extraordinaire. Others are our friends and colleagues, like Merav and Janta at Karuna Insight Design. While others again are those that just wholly blow our mind, like Ernst Gotsch and his Syntropic Agriculture.
Whatever or whoever it is, we feel we’re on the right track. That bendy, gravelly, wooded way with all it’s quirks, foibles and ‘perceived’ hiccups.
It’s rather hard to put succinctly the feeling of returning to this wet little island known as the United Kingdom. It’s a little like putting on one of your old pair of shoes; a little musty, possibly mouldy, but comfortable, welcoming and if a little spit and polish is applied as good as the day you first wore them. Upon stepping into these old shoes we’ve encountered old and new projects, rekindled friendships and developed some anew.
The unifying theme it would seem of the trip was in fact contrast. The individuality of this unifying movement known collectively as permaculture, has presented itself to us beautifully. We’ve tasted the social and interpersonal aspects of it as shared through the nurturing mentorship of friends and acquaintances, like Klaudia Van Gool. We’ve had our comprehension of potential alternative systems of governance explained in detail by the likes of Andy Goldring ,Maddy Harland and others. We’ve been taken in, wined, dined and toured wonderous living classrooms such as Karuna Insight Design and Lammas Ecovillage. And we’ve consistently tasted some of the finest forage we’ve ever had the pleasure to have dance on our taste buds. With each experience being presented to us with the personal flavour and splendour of the individuals themselves.
One particularly special insight afforded us came from Karuna in the Shropshire hills. Fionn had been a WWOOFer here a few years ago and had been so taken by the place that he was adamant we had to return in whatever capacity. So when we managed to organise and co-teach an Introduction to Permaculture course there (a first for us, anywhere in the world!) it was serendipitous to say the least. Having the Wheelhouse’s allow us to share their space and guide us through their lovingly and painstakingly created ‘Sanctuary’ was truly a treat. The evidence of their care, their observation and their willingness to integrate seemingly disparate elements was and is everywhere to be seen.
As we pack our bags for our return we’re thankful for so much. All these beautiful beings have again roused and shaken our understanding of what it is and what it means to be alive. With these memories in our hearts we happily venture forward into the next chapter of our little part in the quiet revolution.
We find ourselves stepping back from the potentially overwhelming task of creating a new life at Djaning to visit our old friends and family on the other side of the planet. We’ve now been in the UK for a very eventful, packed full of learning 3 months. Here over a few posts I hope we can briefly surmise our findings, and perhaps offer some ponderings for future… pondering!
First off the bat is the all important nucleus; The core of everything and anything. As designers we constantly look at and implement zoning plans for landscapes and are enabling others to do the same, though it would appear we’re only just now seeing this as wholly applicable and even necessary to and for ourselves at a psychological and emotional level. And although we’ve read it, have been told it, and have instructed others to do the same, the importance of our Zoning is only now seeming to come home to roost.
For those who aren’t in the know of permaculture nomenclature, Zoning refers to the sphere of influence of the designer, homsteader. For example Zone 1 refers to the immediate surrounds of our home and dwelling, Zone 0 being the home itself, whereas Zone 5 is the outermost area, often being a wilderness area rarely visited, and very rarely, if ever, altered. The importance of these zones and what you do with them will naturally radiate outward. As if throwing a stone into calm waters, the more concentrated the effort and the size of the ‘stone’, zone 0, the easier it is to create ripples in the outermost areas of our pond of influence.
For us, being on the other side of the world, with a bit more space and time to observe what we’ve created thus far, we’ve noted that we’ve been creating aspects of almost all our zones in an attempt to see the bigger picture of our design take shape. This in part has been necessary to enable the framework of the larger design (dams, swales, access), though have found ourselves overextended in our attempts to develop all zones at once.
Although this is, in hindsight, painfully obvious, its taken us some time and space away to realise the importance of what it is that we’re creating for ourselves and our little family. Allowing the time to observe what we need to sustain our lifestyle in all its aspects has been of utmost importance.
It’s the marriage of theory and practice that hits you upside the head. This ‘praxis’ has for us manifested in witnessing our Zone 1 garden flourish because we’re there all the time (duh), while our plantings in our Zone 4, along our swale have seen some fairly drastic failures (close to 40% of trees planted died – this was however part of our larger strategy; applying S.T.U.N.). This is not only applicable for the health of our garden and food production but for ourselves mentally and physically through the creation of a ‘safe space’ for us to not only grow but to thrive in. With this safe space, or nucleus firmly grounded we’re better prepared and equipped to pulse out from this consciously designed space.
More mental meanderings from our trip away to soon follow. Stay tuned. x
How is one supposed to compose a considered piece of writing after several months of disengagement? Easy right? Well, not so much.
The fact that we haven’t written has been playing on our minds, and the fact that it plays on our minds creates further blockages. We do however feel we have more than enough ‘excuses’ to warrant our absence. We half promised ourselves we wouldn’t do this, but here’s at least one good reason why we haven’t ‘blogged’ for such a long time.
Yep, a baby boy. We called him Oak. Yes, we named him after one of natures most brilliant gifts; a tree. But we also named him after a feeling, an energy, and a human being.
First off, we should probably apologise to Oak for using him as an excuse for not writing our blog. Then we should explain and thank him, as because of him we’re relearning to slow down. To wholly appreciate. To savior moments. To stare into a little face and know that at each moment he’s receiving information that is completely new. Never before has this little being seen a sun rise, a sun set, a rain storm, a cloud, a flower, a smile. This in itself is something to be greatly treasured… With of course “treasured” being a limited term in its capacity to describe such an on going transformation.
So with this new post, we acknowledge Oak Elliott Quinlan. Soon to be 4 months old. Just beginning to smile, giggle, recognise familiar faces, tones, and sensations. With this post we publicly embrace our newest friend and family member.
This all goes without mentioning further council approvals and the mountains of paperwork that includes, the Australasian Permaculture Convergence, Family from England visiting, erecting a yurt, planting innumerable trees, organising future workshops and courses, realising dreams, and conquering inner demons. Which we all know takes a whole lot of…
Now that we’ve explained ourselves, we’d also like to take this moment to acknowledge the passing of one year, one full cycle around our star on our little rock, since we’ve been on Djaning.
We’d like to share a few of the things we’ve learned in this time.
First of all, we’ve realised one year is a long time. It’s also no time at all, and for many things it’s just enough. It’s as if you only really begin appreciating and comprehending the passing of time once you’re doing that which you feel you were put on the earth to do. Or, begun listening to ‘your heart’. Cheesy we know, but it’s true.
The near 1000 trees we’ve planted so far are establishing themselves. We’ve witnessed a year of weather cycles; the deciduous trees shedding their leaves, the frost pockets showing themselves (minus 2 a few nights), the warming up of Spring, and the intense, humid heat of summer (45 degrees on one brutal Sunday). Through observing these cycles we’ve been better able to plan our movement through the land and its emerging organic design.
The “final’ design we began a year ago is now coming into its own as the main frame is in. As many who’ve implemented such designs, there’s certain restrictions to any landscape. It’s curves and features naturally lend themselves to only a set number of mainframe alterations, ‘facelifts’. Djaning being no exception. As our two dams, main swale, and entrance road are now settling in, we have begun to be able to observe more closely our, and most importantly, natures, patterns.
Our zone one is evolving through this observation, tweaking our design as we use the space. The few citrus and stone fruit trees we planted a year ago are now settled in and are producing some excellent desire lines around our space, their edge becoming giant over flowing beds of perennial guilds. it is so exciting to watch this evolve and grow. “the edge is where its at” Thanks Charlie, David and Bill!
Our space is becoming a filled in canvas of food. Painting the landscape with garden beds. Our initial excitement at growing an array of annuals was quickly sidelined by the emerging perennials. As the delicious and common place annuals were eaten up and gone, our perennials kept growing and gave us something even more inspiring than just beautiful garden beds. Interesting greens like Kan Kong and the mushroom plant make excellent stir frys. We have all manner of wonderful herbs – medicinal, edible, insect repelling – this world of wonderous plants is just opening up to us and we love it!
So with all this and more, we’ll be sure to keep you up to date with our progress and happenings.
Also, (another reason for our lack of blogging perhaps?!), see our up and coming as well as our recent forays into permaculture teaching!
To hear the sound of a new family members’ pelvis being crushed under the wheel of your utility vehicle is something that is likely to disturb sleep. To have an official looking man in an official looking car, wearing an official looking suit arrive at your house and tell you you’re officially unofficial (living illegally), is also likely to create restless slumber…
These are certain experiences that have ‘touched’ our lives lately, so forgive us for not writing an update a little sooner. We’ve been somewhat preoccupied. Not to worry though, there has been some marvellous aspects, however we’ll get to those later in an attempt to leave you on a high note.
So the opening sentence may have some thinking we ran over our own or someone else’s new born child. Not so. It was our most recent addition, the first live-in domestic animal on the farm. 4 month old Blue Heeler cross, Thida. She was a trooper. A nipper, heel biter, hand shaker, back talking little wonder dog. At only 4 months old and only 2 of those with us on the farm it’s incredible just how much of an impact she’s made on us in her short time. We needn’t go into details, though we know there’s dog owners and lovers out there who feel our pain. So we’ll give you a shot of the little legend, and move on before we all well up and can’t read or write any longer.
Now onto that official looking man arriving at our caravan door. It was a man from the local council who had come to tell us that what we were doing didn’t fit the bill. We weren’t to be occupying our own land for more than 2 days a week, and 60 days in a year, we needed a more stable grey water system (one of their approved cement boxes to be precise), and that some of the holes we’d dug to support our yurt were not written down in his little book and therefor we had had to stop work and were lucky we were only getting a warning. There’s some fairly colourful language that we’d have liked to use, and there’s a great deal that could be said about the real crimes of humanity, though we’ll spare us all and allow your imagination to do all that for you.
One of the more interesting aspects of his arrival was that he inquired as to whether or not we were ‘doing permaculture’, and upon our muted nod and vague shrug, he added whether or not we knew Mr Lawton from down the road, less of a reaction from us proceeded. An eye brow raised and a sheepish smile perhaps. To which he informed us that Mr Lawton had had some trouble with the council in the past, though had now begun to tow the line, and had learned from his mistakes… It would seem someone at council has a bad impression of permaculture. What a shame. What a pity.
The most interesting of these events though seemed to come when we had to explain this to our three year friend and offspring. Questions as simple as “Why can’t we live here?” were unpacked and dismantled in the plainest of language that had us reeling at the madness of the world. “Because we don’t have a ‘proper’ toilet”. It also led to the consolidation of the idea of us not necessarily being ‘free’. We have our cage, albeit much larger than many, where by those who wield the power can enter at any time and coerce us to behave in the manner dictated by those who wield more power. A strong sense of being distrusted prevailed. As though if we were left to our own volition we’d somehow mess it all up. The irony of the fact that we’re here doing what we are because of the dominant paradigms inability to manage itself so far seemed to be lost on the Compliance Officer (official title on the card), who we’re guessing is yet to read into the non-fiction elements of any of the famous future distopian novels (1984, Brave New World, The Island).
The burning question remained; are we as a race so incapable, so lackluster that we need to be so closely monitored? Only to be answered by a resounding… Perhaps. Which in it’s own way has given us further impetus to push on and prove the point of permaculture, of a good life, of self sufficiency, that those with a basic foundation of a strong ethical and moral code can, will and do look after not only themselves but their community and in turn their bio-region, nation, and world.
We’ve reached a seemingly large, and potentially daunting milestone recently; We’ve altered this beautiful patch of land we call Djaning permanently. We’ve dug enormous holes in her. Ripped a large line through her middle following her beautiful contours. Turned up the earth, removed a ton or seven of her grass, sand and soil, and are now faced with the task and duty of completing this vast cosmetic realignment of her features.
When we look at it like this it certainly keeps us up in our little caravan, hoping we’ve done the right thing. Remembering that the sins of our father are visited unto the seventh generation… Reassuring ourselves through reading all the manuals, noting all previous experience from our elders, that show this type of restructuring of the landscape works. A seemingly extreme, though proven measure in trapping water and slowing it, thereby hydrating the landscape.
We know there’s other methods, and we will resort to these later. But this initial scarification is giving her a new skeleton. A new main frame. We now have two dams, one rather large, a valley dam, close to a million litres, and another, a ridge point, that’s around the two hundred thousand mark. Along with this a swale the length of two and half football fields reaches from the lowest point on the highest boundary through her newly acquired ridge point dam and out the other side. With our care and attention all will become bountiful habitats for micro and macro biology and everything in between, to grow, play and achieve their full potential.
We know all this, and are comfortable with our choices, and have had close to two years to really think it over. Though that doesn’t mean we’re not slightly daunted, even if it does seem we’re taking this rather large step in our stride. We’ve been stepping and running since we landed on this wondrous little piece of land. By any measure we have been small and slow, though by others it can certainly feel rather large and fast. It’s in this feeling that we can get lost and doubts and troubles can seep in. And questions, demands and expectations that have no real purpose being in your head or on your lips, except perhaps to perturb you further, also creep in. Questions that can’t, or needn’t be answered, and expectations and demands that will surely – in good time- be met.
We’ve found that it is in this phase that, most importantly, we must stop and breathe. Look to each other for a hug and a pat on the back. Not that we’re short of it, but a few kind words and a loving embrace goes a very long way to planting feet firmly on the ground.
We’ve recently heard on the wind that there should be an inclusion of a fourth principle to the three main ethical principles of permaculture, the central oft quoted three being, care of the earth, care of the people, and return of the surplus. The fourth to be considered is care of one’s self. This is hard not to agree with. It would appear it’s included in care of the people, but all too often we focus our energies on others and are left feeling drained without allocating sufficient time and energy for self soothing and reassurance.
It would seem in hindsight, if it weren’t so lovely and horrendously obvious, (and quite likely it is to many) that we must be gentle with ourselves, as we’re the only us we’ve got.
In the words of James Brown “Jump back, gonna kiss myself.”
The winter months here on our little soon-to-be farm have brought some interesting changes and realisations, here’s hoping we can recount a few for you.
We feel as though we’re finally getting to see some changes. We’re almost 6 months in and as we started in late summer and are now well into winter, we’re beginning to fully comprehend the necessity of the first principle of Permaculture, Observe and Interact. Noting little pockets of frost and which plants can and cannot hack it, how micro-climates can be provided by an array of things hitherto unknown to us, watching the migratory flocks of birds, and seeing the real slowing down of growth. All interesting. All integral for us to better understand where we are and how we can better live in harmony with changes for now and in future.
Another happening that has become evident to us is something Geoff Lawton often recalls when teaching his Permaculture Design Courses; a time he confided in Bill Mollison and asked, “How do I know I’m getting it right?” To which, Geoff says, Bill replied, “Resources will gather around you, and more often than not they will be in the form of people.” It’s likely too early to tell but we’re just beginning to feel as though we may be on the right track. Resources of the non-biped variety have been pooling in dribs and drabs; friendly neighbours leaving us seeds, and tree guards on our doorstep, a few tarpaulins, a fuel canister, and several large bags of a variety of fresh, local veges. We’ve also been blessed with many visitors, hard working or otherwise who’ve all contributed to our little piece of land in their own unique way.
There’s another that’s really sinking in, and it’s something we’d talked about long before we arrived on our land, and that’s the often misunderstood or overused concept and term, ‘necessity’. You may not need to live ‘off-grid’ for 6 months to comprehend it, though it certainly seems to have helped us. Questions have pervaded our once common place assumptions about living and daily existence. A simple example is that we’ve begun adding a ‘Do we?’ to many statements. “We need to install a shower with hot running water… Do we?” If we go back to our permaculture principles and apply small and slow solutions we come to the realisation that we can have a hot shower but in a manner that addresses our ethics via closing loops and creating little to no waste. To some it has the potential to sound like a lengthy process, but to us we enjoy our bucket wash under a tree. It allows us the time to assess and evaluate, reconnect as well as water the tree and harvest any run-off.
On a final note, we’re learning to not take ourselves so seriously, acknowledging the fact that we have to be dreamers and doers, and that there’s no defined dead line for this life.