Australian Permaculture Tour – Part II

 In Community, Design, Food, Gardening, Permaculture Projects, Travel Stories, Why Permaculture?

This is part two of a four part series about two Canadian permaculture enthusiasts and their three month journey exploring, visiting and learning about the what’s going on in the permaculture scene in Australia.

Find part one here.

Siting in a cafe in Daylesford, my husband Rob, good friend Lindsay Dailey and I were surfing the net and planning our trip to Tasmania. On a whim, we decided to take a little detour and head first for Adelaide, South Australia. For my Canadian readers this is something like being in Vancouver, on our way to Vancouver Island, and deciding to detour through Calgary.

No, it was not the Australian coffee! We suddenly became determined to visit Annemarie and Graham Brookman, owners of a premier demonstration site called The Food Forest (although the coffee did help with the loooonnnng drive).

The Food Forest

We travelled across the dry, hot, dusty, overgrazed, degraded and salinated Australia landscape for two days to arrive at this remarkable 15 hectare permaculture farm bursting with abundance, despite the low annual rainfall. The Food Forest boasts over 150 different varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables. From pistacio, pecans, carobs to apples, pears, figs and other exotic fruit I’ve never heard of. They make organic olive oil from their homegrown olives and wine from their organically grown grapes. Agroforestry systems, broad acre fruit production, a market garden, nut forests, a learning center, strawbale construction, passive solar home design, composting toilets – all these integrated elements make this site one of the best and abundant places we visited in all of Australia.

The timing of our arrival coincided with the need to harvest an incredible amount of fruit which was dripping off many of the trees. The Brookmans were happy to have some extra Canadian braun (note- we consider Lindsay our adpoted Canadian from California). We stayed in their beautiful strawbale-constructed visitor cabins and were keen to pitch in, learn and help wherever we could.

We helped harvest the garden for the weekly farmers market and picked greens, leeks, carrots, beets, … you name it. Several varieties of apple trees were striped, nashi pears and table grapes collected with childhood giddiness. We picked figs, and more figs, then ate some, then picked some more. We sorted and grated the fruit for market and made pickles and preserves from the garden surplus and fig icecream from the low grade figs (delicious!). The bruised apples and pears were pressed for fruit juice and apple cider and Rob’s eyes grew wide when we were asked if we’d like to helped make this years batch of wine.

The grapes, picked and pressed several weeks back, had been fermeting in large open containers called primary fermentation vessels. The first stage of fermentation had just finished and the next step was to press the wine out of the grape skins using a basket press and transfer the liquid to the secondary fermentation vessels. It was a great afternoon and we all learned a lot about making wine from grapes!

Another project we helped out with was overhauling the reedbed and blackwater irrigation system. Many years ago, the Brookmans got permission and installed one of the first blackwater reedbeds in the state. This reedbed biologically filters and purifies the waste water from the sink, showers and toilets in their home. We helped re-gravel the bed and re-plant the variety of reed and aquatic plants as well as re-mulch the black water irrigation lines, which feed a fruit orchard.

Annemarie and Graham Brookman have dedicated the past 30 years to building this amazing site and stewarding this land. We are grateful for the opportunity to spend a few days with them, share in engaging conversation, contribute to harvest, and feast – the food was as phenomenal as the evening diner conversation. Nevermind the opportunity to try out some of Grahams home-brewed ferments: nut and exotic fruit liqueurs, a variety of beers and delicious organic wine! Hands down this site is one of our top picks for technical demonstration of concepts and living by the ethic of earth care, people care and fair share.

Hepburn Springs

A requested delivery of carob and pistachio nuts fresh from the Food Forest became a good excuse to stop in at David Holmgren & Sue Dennett’s property in Hepburn Springs. David has been working one acre of land in a semi-urban setting for over 20 years. He has stacked his propery to the max with vegetable gardens, surface water storage, goats, fruit systems, and a great passive solar mud brick house. Although we didn’t stay long it was a great opportunity to chat with David again, get a glimpse of his amazing project and see the productivity possible in such a small area.

CERES, Melbourne

CERES is a non-profit organization, an outstanding project and a beautiful oasis not far from Melbourne city center. In the early 1980’s, this 10 acre site was an abandoned quarry and rubbish dump without a single tree. It is now the most visited environmental center in Australia and home to a market garden, community gardens plots, worm farms, aquaponics, farmers market, constructive wetland, series of dams and swales, a fully-retrofited demonstration home with renewable energy systems, alternative buildings, bicycle repair center, an eco-store, a nursery, cafe, childrens playground and childrens programs. It is a vibrant and buzzing community place, like nothing I’ve ever visited before.

The LETS (Local Energy Transfer System) office was particularly interesting as it provided local Melbournites to exchange for goods and services in a currency other than the Australian dollar. The idea behind local currencies is that when you buy a can of cola, 60% of the exchange of cash leaves the country instantly, 38% stays in the city, and 2% is reinvested back into the community. With a LETS system the currency is based around local economies and typically backed by hours of labour, or some local & real resouce that cannot be manipulated easily. LETS systems are poping up all over the world and lucky for us we have one back home – its called Calgary dollars!

We spent a full day at CERES, walking around in absolute awe, admiring the gardens, projets, school groups, buildings, water managment… everything really. Built up using a permaculture plan and principles, this site and non-profit organization is committed to creating community, economic, social and environmental well being. They are certainly succeeding at making the this community a better place and are providing tremendous inspiration to the rest of us to do the same in our home communities.

The Gray water & Rainwater Store

This store receives an honorable mention on this blog because such a place does not even exist in Canada! Gray water is wastewater generated from domestic activities such as sinks, showers, laundry, etc.

 

In conjunction with manditory gray water use, cities like Brisbane have mandated rainwater collection on all new homes and have a progressive rebate program to encourage the retrofit of existing homes with rain tanks. Contrast this to Calgary were friends of ours tried to get rain water harvesting approved in their home and found out that showering with rain water is actually illegal!

This store sold off-the-shelf greywater processing equipment, rain water collection systems and a huge array of shapes and sizes of tanks. Nifty first-flush systems re-direct the first flush of water off your roof away from the tank, ensuring that dirt & debris stays out of the collection tank. An interesting study about the safety of collecting water off different roof materials was written by the Center for Rainwater. Their study shows that harvested rainwater is some of the cleanest water on the planet! Nevermind that it does not contain chlorine, as most city tapwater does.

And yes – if you are going to use gray water in your garden you should beware of toxic soaps. But, really – from an ethics perspective, if you are reluctant to pour it in your garden, why is it okay to pour it down your sink in the first place? Wether or not we are using gray water, we should not be using soaps or products that are bad for the environment. For a great selection of safe, natural and non-toxic soaps and cleaners, check out the Green Calgary Eco-store.

Off to Tasmania

We arrived in Tasmania, exhausted after crossing the Bass Straight on an overnight ferry in reclining chairs. Those were the last two seats available.

Our primary purpose for making the trip over to Tasmania was to visit Tagari and finalize the details of a large book order. When we could not find a good source of Tagari books in Canada, particularly the Designers’ Manual and Introduction book, we decided that a large order of books might be a good ethical investment!

We spent a few days being tourists on Cradle Mountain, visiting tiny fishing villages such as Stanley and exploring the beautiful Tarkine Rain Forest before our appointment with Lisa. When we arrived at the farm, Lisa greeted us and invited us to stay for lunch and a tour of the property. No less than we expected, the site was stacked with great design.

We met and had a lovely chat with Tamara, who was an intern. She offered to show us some of the finer details of the acerage: the gardens, greenhouse and of course, Bill’s pigs, a beautiful and rare black breed, one of whom had just had a litter of piglets! The pigs were integrated into a few systems on the farm to help cycle fertility and reduce work. Apparently they are pretty tasty too (there’s a reason they call bacon the gateway meat for vegetarians)!

In addition to the pigs there were chickens and horses and other birds. Bill has three dams on the site, some chinampas and plans to put in a water wheel very soon! However, Tamara’s pet duck, “ducky”, stole the show with his adorable tricks.

After our tour we met Bill and chatted with him for a few minutes. When Lisa mentioned to him that we had just purchased a whole pallet of books he laughed and said: “you poor bastards”! We are still chuckling about that.

Two months later, our pallet is about to arrive in Canada any day now after the long ocean crossing. We are excited to be listed on Tagari’s website as Canadian Distributors and will have the books up on our website as quickly as we can get ourselves organized! Very exciting indeed.

Stay tuned for Part III of our Australian Permaculture Tour: Mulloon Creek Natural Farms, Ylad Living Soils, Milkwood and Learning to Scythe.

Part IV – Allyn River Permaculture Farm, Boree, Permaculture Research Institute, National Permaculture Day

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