It’s always nice to see a project come to completion, its even better to see a project sprout up and grow on its own! Pun intended, thats exactly what our little permaculture workshop has done.
Approximately 6 months ago I agreed to help out Empower by becoming the team leader on their permaculture workshops. This was an idea that had been floated for a while and I was happy to help out.
For those that aren’t aware what permaculture is exactly (and it can be difficult to summarise in one sentence) I will quote the founder and creator of the philosophy of permaculture Bill Molison:
“Permaculture uses the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures to produce a life-supporting system for city and country, using the smallest practical area.”
Permaculture has been vital to the project work that Empower has done in Zatuba village in Malawi. Since 2011, schoolchildren are now getting fresh fruits and veggies at school through community gardens and are learning how to maintain the gardens themselves.
Empower was now keen to start promoting the use of permaculture here in Sydney and found a great team to make it happen.
We found the lovely grounds at Calmsley Hill City Farm to be the perfect venue for the workshop. Marketing itself as the largest full scale farm within the greater Sydney metropolitan area, Calmsley Farm is a 240 hectare area farm located in Sydney’s southwest in Abbotsbury. The farm was very accommodating to us and agreed to host the event. We also found the perfect presenter in Dan Hatfield, creator of the Healthy Harvest Kitchen Gardens blog. A dedicated permaculturist, educator and food gardener; Dan applies the philosophy of permaculture to his professional and personal life.
After 6 months of marketing, and a change in date from August to October, it was finally time for the workshop to commence.
We had an eager cohort of 11 individuals signed up for the workshop. The event began at 10am on Saturday morning on a very, very hot Sydney spring day! The first half of the day was focused on theory learning. We learned about the fundamental principles and ethics of permaculture. We also learned about the importance of home design in creating your garden. It was fascinating to hear how the placement of one’s home relative to the sun could change everything from the kind of plants you could grow, to how expensive your energy bills could get, to even your daily emotional well-being! I thought all Sydney-siders would benefit from such information when looking for their new home! We also learned how to work with nature to create a self-sufficient garden, which included how to use compost, how to make worms and insects your friends and how to balance the pH of your soil.
The second half of the day was spent making our own hot compost heap. We used a combination of shredded newspapers, food scraps and animal manure sandwiched in a wired enclosure to create home made compost! After watering the mixture and covering it with plastic sheets, we learned how the natural thermogenic process would heat the mixture up and break it down into high quality compost. It was very cool to see the participants get into the spirit of things and everybody had a job to do. One of the benefits of running workshops with 10-15 people is that everyone has an opportunity for hands-on experience instead of standing back with a hands-in-their-pocket experience!
Following the events from the first day, the second day of the workshop started with some brief theory again from Dan. He taught the group how make use animals such as chicken, pigs and rabbits in your garden. He even gave a short introduction about the world of aquaponics, which is a system of gardening which uses an ecosystem of self-contained ponds and fish to grow plants.
From there we went outside to create a garden bed! Using the compost we had made the day before, we laid down a ground work of newspapers and began spreading the compost around before topping it off with copious amounts of straw bedding and more manure. Good thing we were on a farm with plenty of animals to supply the manure!
Using this method of “no-dig gardening” the class then planted veggie seeds into the bed pockets. It was nice to see everyone cooperating and helping out once again. It was also valuable practical experience for the students. You could even hear some of the students chatting about how they were going to create a no-dig garden in their backyard in the coming weeks.
We ended the day by creating raised-seedling beds for the students to take home. Everyone went a bit giddy when they realised that they had over 100 different varieties of seeds to choose from! Some went for green leafy veggies like spinach and kale, some went for adventurous corn stalks while others went for juicy tomatoes plants. It was like picking a from a menu at a restaurant!
The students all took home samples of compost along with their seedling beds. When it was all over we breathed a sigh of relief. Relief that the workshop was over and relief that it went surprisingly well!
In fact, the feedback we got from the students was overwhelmingly positive! It was an easy call for the team to decide that this was not the last workshop, and that 2015 would see further permaculture workshops. Judging from the feedback we received, we are looking to make the next round more focused on urban and patio-gardening. If you are reading this and you are interested in our future workshops, keep your eyes on the Empower website and on our social media networks.
We can feel it, there is a groundswell happening. People are becoming conscious of the benefits of growing their own food. People are looking to re-establish their connection and perspective of food through food-growing. People are also starting to see the savings to be had in having your own personal grocery store at home!
As I finish writing this, I am staring at my little collection of plants on the balcony in the midday sun. I can see the spinach and rocket blossoming, and thinking how good that will taste in my salad tonight and how nice my mint leaves will taste as a herbal tea.And suddenly, I realise the connection I have to those children in Malawi, tending to their community gardens. The connection comes through the vines…