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Guest Post – Fires & Friendship

It’s been surreal to hear about the bush fires that happened back home earlier this month. In fact there is even a wiki article on it already, making it feel oddly like a historical relic only weeks after its occurrence – indeed while people are still in the midst of grappling with how to recover. Nevertheless, if you want to see the article and the details, find it here.

Closer to the proverbial home, we heard about one of my fellow PDC’ers (permaculture design certificate classmate) Daniel, who tragically had nearly all of his 80 acre property burnt, but luckily escaped injury and retained his house. The word was sent for help and the permaculture and friends network did it’s stuff – organising a ‘Permablitz’ at the property – think good old Backyard Blitz using permaculture enthusiasts and principles!

Our PDC teacher and all round good fella Graham Brookman, summed up the story for everyone – the example of community coming together warmed my heart to and so I wanted to share it here too.

Thus, please enjoy a guest story from Graham Brookman at The Food Forest:

Race to save Daniel’s orchard

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Daniel was away from  his property when the Hills Fire started, but managed
to get home to defend his property. Unseen windblown embers landed west of
his land and ignited a fire that quickly burned east toward his home and
engulfed his agroforestry plantings, developing explosive heat that simply
killed many of his sheep.

The fire was now burning down a steep hill toward his house and fire
response crews were arriving. Despite their efforts the fire went through
Daniel’s precious orchard with many heritage fruit and nut varieties. But
the grass in the orchard was cropped short and deciduous trees don’t burn
well; dripper line does, and it was present as little lines of ash or
disfigured, bubbled black plastic. On the whole the trees still  had bits of
green and the bark wasn’t completely blackened, they were like patients who
had been badly burned and needed a drip and lots of care.

Daniel was devastated but concentrated on the job of putting down his
severely burned sheep and burying them with those that died in the fire. His
fiancee Lynne injured her knee helping to get injured sheep down from the
hills. Things were at breaking point  but the question kept going around in
his head “Could the orchard be saved?”

He didn’t have the ready cash to replace the entire irrigation system and he
didn’t physically or emotionally have the strength to tackle the job of
saving the trees, so emailed friends to let them know his predicament. The
response was rapid and practical. A number of close friends simply said they
would come a help him and would chuck in some cash for a roll of dripper
line each.

They networked others and soon a whole group of his fellow participants in a
recent permaculture course were copied-in. Daniel had been listening to ABC
891 (radio) for fire information and rang the Talkback Gardening show to
see what suggestions they had for care of fire-affected trees. He was
staggered when a listener rang him with an offer of $500 and a day’s
physical help. This bolstered his confidence; Daniel was now organising a
‘Permablitz’, a working bee with close friends and a whole lot of people who
care for plants and have gardening skills.

Someone was picking up irrigation supplies, everyone was bringing tools,
cakes were baked by perfect strangers, salads prepared, replacement trees
were selected from home nurseries, trailers were hooked onto 4WDs and
Hollands Creek rd , Cudlee Creek suffered its first-ever traffic jam as
everyone converged on Daniel’s steep, sad-looking orchard last Saturday.

Kilometres of 19mm dripper line were rolled out, hundreds of drippers were
inserted, the north and west face of each tree was whitewashed to reflect
solar radiation.

Every tree got a dose of vermipost and ‘worm wee’ that someone had brought
to help revive the trees and each was mulched with straw.

Everyone was well fed and well exercised (someone brought a monitor that
revealed that he covered 14 kilometres climbing up and down the steep
terrain of the orchard!).

collage permablitz daniels place

A productive orchard watering system was rebuilt, new friends were made,
skills learned, networks formed and children presented with a powerful role
model. As  someone said, “This is what Permaculture is all about”.

A message from Daniel and Lynne:

‘The dripper system is working and the trees have had a good soak. I worked
out that it would have taken us 5 months to complete what you did in One
Fantastic Day.

Thankyou so much for your kind help and donations

Cheers to the permaculture spirit!

Daniel & Lynne’

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Edible-izing Adelaide

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This weekend we headed down to the big smoke for the Edible-izing Adelaide event. What an awesome day! We had so much fun setting up, serving drinks and chatting with people doing great stuff.

The event was all about connecting, conversing and learning about local food & community. Those that were lucky enough to book a ticket, before the free event hit capacity, had the opportunity to meet over a massive produce swap, try some local beverages, hear a host of super interesting talks (see below) and ‘meet and greet’ with Sophie and Costa from Gardening Australia. Phew – they packed a lot into a Sunday afternoon!

 

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people lining up, produce in hand, to come into the event

 

Some of the big themes that came through from the day were:

  • the importance of story telling to build culture and healthy communities,
  • the impact of people power to make change, and
  • the solutions to our problems lie within our own hands.

I want you to take a little time to read those three things again. Go on – really. They’re big. They may sound cliche but I think we are seeing more and more that they are brimming with truth.

I want to elaborate more on the talks. First up was Dan French from French Environmental who talked about the possibilities for food production anywhere and everywhere through systems like aquaponics. I think his take home message was really important:

Don’t let size, or any other barrier for that matter, stop you from trying your hand at producing your own food.

Next was Dr Sam Manger, a GP currently practising in Mt. Gambier and also Director of the Transitions Film Festival here in Adelaide (an empowering festival, on again this October, showcasing films and related events around change and sustainability). He talked animatedly through some of the common sense around food, nutrition and health, as well as the extent to which it can affect our lives – we have seen an explosion in the incidence of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. There is so much that can be addressed through diet and lifestyle (think: get active, eat more whole foods and less processed foods) – and the information is out there (Dr Manger’s patients apparently assure him that Dr Google can be consulted 24 7). The conclusion was this:

Now that we know [about healthy food and lifestyle], let’s increase the communication and participation.

And how is this for an interesting fact – apparently the study of Botany (i.e. plants) used be a standard inclusion for training as a Doctor! Food really was their medicine.

Next up were the event organisers and founders of Ripe Near Me, Alistair and Helena Martin. Helena persevered behind the scenes while Alistair talked us through the Ripe Near Me website. For those who are unfamiliar, it is an interactive food map – people with produce list it on the map and then others can search and see by area or food type. Originally conceived as a way to stop food going to waste, it is also a great way to buy, sell or swap produce and connect with the community.

However, it is set to be so much more in the future – if they can garner the resources. Their wish list includes items like:

  • expanding the listings to all sorts of resources such as used coffee grounds, firewood and even available growing or storage space
  • building in a facility to share knowledge, such as growing tips
  • looking at incorporating farmers into the system
  • improved listing accuracy (think: ability to determine if a listing is still active or not), a phone app and online help centre

They are currently running a crowd funding campaign to start working on the above wishlist – highly recommended – we have already contributed, but after hearing the story and future plans today, we’ll be pledging again! A live hook up to the website showed everyone how easy it was to navigate – and having done it myself, I can say for sure that adding produce and searching for it is super easy. While seeing it in action was great, Alistair’s live elevator music while we waited for the log in was even better!

Best of all though was the idea that Ripe Near Me could help us reclaim our food system. And do it in an old fashioned way – through home growing and exchange in the community.

After some door prize and Costa look-a-like competition shenanigans, which involved lots of flying vegies and fake bushy beards (true story), it was time for the Gardening Australia gurus to deliver some genius.

First up was the delightful Sophie Thomson who delivered a wonderfully broad view of the benefits of gardening. Exuding the joy and passion which she clearly derives from the natural world, Sophie laid out the case for gardening as a tool for fitness, relaxation, nutrition, creativity and good mental health. Backed up by example after example, i’ll make note of just a few. She referenced the work of Mardie Townsend at Deakin University in collaboration with Beyond Blue – who produced a report on “The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being” – read it here.  She also talked about the concepts introduced in Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods” that describe children’s lack of contact with nature and its link to the increasing trend in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. And mentioning the alarming reality of chemicals in our food, as highlighted by Dr Mark Cohen, really drove home the following point:

Gardening, and all that comes from it, is vital. It needs to be a cornerstone of our culture again.

Rounding out the day was the unforgettable Costa Georgiadis. With trademark passion, fun and eccentricity Costa delivered a pep talk to reaffirm our own power. Power to change things for the better through vocabulary – using the right words, getting people interested, weaving these issues and the solutions into story form.

People look to the sky as Costa dissapears up

People look to the sky as Costa disappears mid-talk, up the stairs and to the balcony – it really was a Sunday Sermon

 

Forewarning: here comes my, apparently customary, digression for today.

Story telling – it is SO important (and it amazes me how often I find this being reiterated lately). It seems to me that stories, in all their forms (pictures, songs, dance, patterns/symbols, myths, folk tales, fables) are the lifeblood of cultures, and for good reason. Traditionally, this is how they educated and retained vital information, for example info like location and navigation methods for the pacific islanders (Bill Mollison talks about this in one of his lectures on patterns). It is also the way to communicate the very values a culture is built upon – just think about all the lessons delivered in Aesop’s fables (there may well be a better example, however that is what comes to mind at the moment!). But the real genius is in how we can physically take in story forms differently to words and lectures – they just seem easier for our brain to digest and assimilate. It’s the same principle behind why waldorf (steiner) schools use arts as the teaching vehicle all through the primary years – young kids have an underdeveloped left side of the brain and therefore pick up pictures, song, story and movement much better than any writing on a blackboard.

All in all, communicating through stories leads to a much deeper understanding, connection and therefore memory of the message stored within them.

And so it seems, I have a *few* thoughts on story telling (who knew – I certainly didn’t until now!). See – that is why writing is so therapeutic, you just never know what is going to come out through reflection. Apologies for the lack of supportive evidence in that section too – you will just have to call it my opinion for now!

And so back to Costa and his words today. I loved that what he saw in Ripe Near Me was not just a food map, but a “health search engine and community builder”. He also flagged the creation of this sort of platform as a sign of the market place – people are increasingly wanting to know more about their food and have a closer connection to it. When I stand back it does seem pretty evident. Even today on the way home for example, we drove past a KFC where they had in massive letters: made “fresh, by real cooks”. Think about it – they are trying to convince us it is fresh, and made by someone worthy – why? The same reason Coles are now stocking, and zealously marketing, hormone free beef and RSPCA approved chicken. They want to be seen as more ethical. Again, why? Because they recognise the new consumer demand for it – something Costa called the ‘new food current’. It’s happening whether you realise it or not – all these small changes, the increased awareness, a renewed interest – it’s showing us we can make change. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think Coles selling RSPCA chicken is going to save the world – but I take it as a great positive whenever one of the massive monopolies takes notice and steps in a better direction. We might well move giants better from the grass underneath than by aerial policy attack. I think the take home message from Costa was one of encouragement:

Realise how strong this movement is and the change we are making.

So I want to finish up by saying thank you to everyone who makes a move, no matter what the size, towards a better world. And in Costa’s words – ‘get your story out there, talk about it!’

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Happy story-telling x