Gone are the days of hugging and shouting at Convergences, squeezing into a venue to hear a great speaker or being tousled by the crowd to see something amazing.
Fortunately, the Australian Permaculture Convergence is bravely holding space for you to participate in something amazing. The program is loaded with diversity and interesting discussion. Every convergence needs diversity. And best of all, your enthusiasm counts.
If you live in Australia, here are 5 great reasons to buy your tickets, pack your bag and venture out again. The time is ripe in Australia. The scene is set for a great convergence.
So, come along to celebrate natures abundance – 12 April to 15 April 2021
Maybe you have become quite comfortable with staying at home. Here are 5 good reasons to make a special break and converge once again.
1. Broaden Your Reach
The best reason for going to conferences is to meet with likeminded people and peers on a level footing. Convergences bring together people from all different climates and experiences with common needs and discoveries. They are a great way to meet new people and get a feel for how other people respond to challenges.
As usual, the permaculture convergence will welcome you to sit with people from a wide range of backgrounds and experience. As you build new connections you can reconnect with people you haven’t seen for a while and discover where their dreams led them. In fact, each convergence can feel like the chance to open a time-capsule full of inventions and ideas.
Linda Woodrow, Author of 470 presents – Imagined Futures: The role of imagining in creating the world we want
David Holmgren – Permaculture and the climate emergency in the Australian context
You will hear a lot about new approaches and techniques, learn from elders and listen to the newest faces starting out in Permaculture.
Bunya Halasz –
Successional Agroforestry – an Exploration of Humid Tropical and Subtropical Systems
Of course, convergences give us the opportunity to ask presenters questions about their work and the rationale behind it, which you can’t do when reading journal articles or watching a video. As a result, convergences are authentic and interactive.
John Champagne, Jed Walker and the Permafund team – Permafund – microgrants for community projects worldwide
Michael Wardle – Trees, their needs, and the myths of dynamic accumulators
Virginia Solomon – Designing Permaculture Jobs
Andrew Pengelly – Bush Medicine Walk – Wednesday W2
Shane Sylvanspring & Trudy Juriansz – Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) principles and Permaculture principles
Tim Barker – Appropriate Technology for Resilience
Tom Kendall- Design elements of a functioning biodigester in Australia
Charlie Brennan – Sensing Place – hearing trees and rivers
Robin Clayfield – Growing Community – Abundant Tools for Dynamic Groups, Effective Collaboration and Empowered Action
You don’t have to be a formal presenter, you talk to people about what you are doing, share ideas in workshops, add energy to a group or get feedback with a mentor over lunch. Talking about what we do with others offers ideas and energy to future generations.
Robyn Francis – Fair Share in the Anthropocene, Emma Brindal – Fostering Earth Care in folks of all ages, Fionn & Laura Quinlan – Families in Transition – Sharing Land & Visions, Nick Radford – A Permaculture Language, Shaoying Wang & April Sampson-Kelly – Designing a Chinese Village with Permaculture
Mark Jones & Billa Lauiti-Kolkr – Working with First Nations Custodians- a Discourse for Permaculture Leaders Erin Young – Sociocracy: Shared Leadership for Positive Impact Helen Schwencke – Inviting Nature to Dinner – How to grow food and support the little guys ( with Dick Copeman)
4. Convergences help us Smile
“It isn’t work if you’re having fun” said a great environmentalist lecturer Ted Trainer. Creative energy is vital for innovation. And Permaculture is always innovative. Our designs relate to the here and now as well as planning for next generations. It is here that we can enjoy the challenge of building a cleaner future for all. As a result, our interactions at convergences help pioneer our Care of People practices.
Victoria Holder – Hidden permaculture in hospitality & why you don’t know about it
Dominique Chen – Decolonising Food Yarn
Jane Milburn – Permaculture your wardrobe
Ko Oishi – Northey Street City Farm – 25 years of design exploring opportunities and constraints
Many minds make light work. The exchange of information during a convergence bears many fruits and build a brighter future.
Dick Copeman – Responding & adapting to climate change – a permaculture perspective
Morag Gamble – Permaculture Education Futures
Elisabeth Fekonia – Ferment your Food
Carly Garner – Inspiring NextGen Earth Stewards
Megan McGowan – Permaculturing our Permaculture: A case study
Beck Lowe – Retrosuburbia 101
‘So why attend? Can’t I read about the convergence later or watch the video?’ Well you might ask. In truth, a convergence is something that you feel, see, hear, taste and interact to enjoy. In the end, it is like going to the beach. You smell and hear the surf, you feel the rush of cold water and sand goes everywhere. After all, a video of the ocean never feels the same as being there.
For those of you who can’t attend. We will keep the team spirit pumping. For those of you who are packing already – See you there!
Engaging nature supports our health and the creatures that surrounds us. Learning how nature creates and supports life is a great guide to help society prosper.
Nature is persistent and collaborative. It creates systems that support diverse users. There are lots of side-projects happening. To the human eye, it often seems chaotic and intense. But nothing is wasted. And the power for growth is exponential, pushing all the boundaries.
With wisdom , humanity retreats from destructive industrial systems that pollute, over-heat and disrupt nature. And the healthier options are winning. We have discovered alternative production systems that harmonize with and benefit from nature’s powerful forces.
“In the slider, I stand in an orange hat with a good friend Sister Mary Darcy in 2004. At first we covered an area of compacted subsoil with a layer of cardboard. And we created a border of reused bricks and covered the cardboard with grass clippings and fallen leaves. We made little pockets of soil to hold pioneering plants such as parsley, garlic chives, flax, bromeliads native raspberries and strawberries. After a couple of years, the cardboard broke down and new elements were added including a tyre pond which is now covered in plants and protects frogs. We also added quick growing shrubs such as Tamarillo, Jabuticaba, passionfruit vines, chilli bushes and a few small trees such as jelly palm and lemon tree.
Sr. Mary is gone now but her legacy lives on. My hat is red and our son’s dog visits to keep eagles away from the chickens. The chickens are unseen in the bushes. Most notably, the edges have moved back to allow more room for people to use the space. Yet the growing area is more productive because the initial flat area has become a complex vertical space with many layers.
April of PermacultureVisions.com
Admire, Analyse and Engage Nature
Unlike most man-made factory systems, nature is more complex. This makes it tricky to understand and work with nature. Mankind likes to streamline and focus on one idea at a time. Nature seems chaotic, experimental and wild.
Most education is reductionist, studying special parts. Few of us get the chance to put parts together, step back, and admire a whole system.
In Permaculture, we try to start with a wide lens of ethics and respect for systems. Within a bigger-picture- framework, we examine how the parts work and interact. First up we read the wider landscape. Then we consider the details ie. water channeling or soil enrichment.
In theories about systems, there is the acknowledgment that a system has a power that can be greater than the individual parts. A good example is a human body. Each human is different. Whist the systems are very similar from one to another, they are in different states of wellness, growth, and stability.
Same, Same, Different Nature
Likewise, even natural systems with similar parts will be in different states of health. Some systems are degrading due to natural or man-made pressures such as fire or erosion. Other natural systems are overridden by a dominant species such as weeds or feral animals.
In natural systems, the sum of the parts is a constantly changing sum. It is a moving, dynamic balance. A dynamic balance is different from a static balance. We experience a dynamic balance when we stand on a balance board or ride a bicycle. Whereas we create a static balance when we stack pebbles on top of one another.
Without the ability to adjust and find balance, the system collapses. Sometimes some of the elements within the system emerge to take advantage of the changes and create a new balance. Life is ever hopeful and new systems emerge. Over time, the sum declines. Diversity of life wanes. And our options fade.
In a permaculture systems, we use nature to create a system that helps people prosper by providing clean water, air, food, and shelter from harsh weather.
Harmonize to Engage
Mankind is a powerful industrial entity. Yet, mankind is also a vulnerable natural being. We often use selfish reasons to divorce ourselves from nature citing natural disasters and pandemics. But the simple choice to maintain natural systems nurtures our supportive world.
Vandana Shiva urges us to value diversity and look beyond mechanical solutions.
We all benefit by supporting and co-existing with natural systems. Rediscovering our love of nature, and building admiration of complex systems will enable us to design for balance and a sustainable future.
Vandana say “Diversity doesn’t mean exclusivity – It takes a bee and a flower to create life…We are interbeings with all creatures, we are not supreme beings.” Realising that we are part of the web of life will preserve diversity and our part of it.
Relinquish Control – Set Nature Free
In the end, the hardest part of working with nature is relinquishing control. Honest engagement shows trust. Letting go, gives us the chance to watch and learn.
“Learn how to see. Realize everything connects with everything else” Leonardo Da Vinci
When we reconnect with nature, we become healthier. And, a harmonious lifestyle comes easily when the spaces are well-designed. Designs created with evidence-based research build a better future for people and the planet.
Tobias Volbert shares his passion for inclusive, integrated public spaces the outdoors that are engaging for all ages. Tobias is the founder and spokesperson for the 7senses Foundation. He is a successful urban play landscaper, designing with nature to reconnect people to nature and one another. His team, in consultation with the community, create spaces that have become treasured and celebrated destinations. The spaces are well-loved and vandalism is at record lows.
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is leading research for intergenerational spaces. They view design as a “calculated mix of art and science”. And this mix also works to reconnect us with our environment. QUTs Creating Great Places – Evidence-Based Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing gets the community enjoying nature.
Six Design Theories
Creating Great Places – Evidence-Based Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing champions six theories for design.
Affordance ensures that our design is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. A great space offers cues on how to enjoy using it.
Prospect-Refuge provides opportunities to watch others safely
Personal Space acknowledges different needs for space
Sense of Place connects the space with the broader culture and environment.
Place Attachment accentuates a sense of belonging to a landscape
Biophillic Design provides strong evidence for the psychological and phisological benefits of nature.
Usually, when we go into a park there’s something for everyone but it’s all fragmented. Tobias notes ‘And here’s another thing where I think we can learn so much from permaculture principles’. In permaculture, we value the connections. We seek to integrate components of a design, rather than have each component isolated and unsupported.
Reconnect Playfully in Natural Spaces
To get adults back into the spaces as well we have to make sure it’s playful. ‘The older we get we lose our playfulness’. It is rare for an adult to be seen balancing on a bench or the curb. Unless they work in the circus. Let’s give them a safe space to play a little.
Permission to Play
The older we get the less we are welcome in playgrounds. Some play spaces are even fenced off from adults. “If I’m an elderly person and I like to go for a walk. What would be nicer than to have a chat with someone from the young generation?
It’s all about joy of life. They are smiling. Suddenly I smile. Then they ask me ‘what that? ‘It’s the leaf from this kind of tree!’ There is a chance to share. But not so when spaces are fenced off. Our challenge is to create purposeful connections for older people as well and for adults. And to give them freedom to meander through that space.
In this Permaculture design below by A. Sampson-Kelly, the community garden paths are also part of the seating for an amphitheater. The outdoor theatre is a multi-use platform for all ages.
Pathways – The Vital Link
Pathways are really important to get all age groups to experience more green and more blue spaces. Water bodies are tranquil blue spaces. Canopies, embracing green. We also need to include natural shading the experience on the pathways.
Tobias designs secondary and tertiary pathways. He sets up mindfulness walks in the parks. ‘You may end up on a smaller pathway through the park which leads to the playground as well. How beautiful would that be! I have a purpose. It’s not like ‘oh why is this elderly person walking through? He doesn’t have grandkids with him’ let’s design for that – it’s okay!”
“I believe people are fantastic. We need to allow everybody to flower.” Encourage people to freely enter a space. This lets them appreciate nature more. Many appreciate the joy of seeing the kids playing in a dry creek bed, finding little animals. We get to share their enthusiasm. As a result, we adults get excited about nature again.
Now is the Time to Reconnect
‘In my 20s and I did all my permaculture studies on a spiritual level. I was much more connected to nature, to earth, and finding purpose on this planet. Then suddenly, yeah, you start your profession’. We have to make money. We have kids there’s more pressure. And then we have a lot of roles. We are a husband, a father, a friend, a colleague, or boss. We lose our connection with nature.
‘As we age, we can lose our connection to nature. But the youth help us reconnect’
Many permaculture gardens and community gardens serve only one function. But Northey street gardens in Brisbane is a beautiful example of function and aesthetic. It is an intergenerational space that reconnects people with nature.
But a lot of our community gardens fit only one purpose. We raise, harvest, and tend veggies. Nothing is playful. Control overrules play.
Tobias asks: ‘why not having play activities there? Grandkids would love hanging out there. Because they can swing from trees, talk to elderly people, and asking about the food. ‘Let’s be more creative in our designs.’
It’s about the layers that we apply to a space. We need beauty and function. However, as the designer, we need to step back, take a breath, and ask “did I really look at the sense of place? what else can we achieve? How do we use different layers for all generations?
‘To be quite honest a child doesn’t care if the spinner looks like a compass or a pirate ship. At the end of the day, the child just wants to spin on it. But providing other layers of information we build more uses. For example, When a spinner (a spinning seat) has an additional layer of information such as an arrow on the ground, it turns into a giant compass. The spinner becomes a guide for direction. A range of new uses appear. And, the game has evolved.
Tobias and his team provide a range of clues about the wider environment. One clue is a living history installation. For instance, information about the indigenous vegetation that grew there is a passive clue that many uses enjoy. ‘A lot of people like that. But if they’re not interested, it doesn’t hurt’. All these clues and stimulations are in there to offer layers of engagement. Every space we design has underlayers designed in it.
“My passion is inclusivity”
Reconnect For Sensory Health
Nowadays, one in eighty people has autism. Also one and twenty have sensory processing disorder. The demographic change shows we have people with dementia we have so many more with sensory high needs in our society. We don’t understand that. Let’s invite health professionals to be part of the design process. Through collaboration, we develop and design spaces that are truly inclusive, truly sustainable. And we build the big vision like permaculture has to have a permanent culture – to have something that grows.
Design the Framework to Reconnect Our Community
The design is not a finished product. It is a start. It is the framework, allowing us to evolve.
As the number of people involved builds, their attachment grows. As a result, there is less vandalism and more community use.
‘Robin Francis did an amazing job there at her village in Nimbin NSW because the people really did buy-in. She got international people coming there, a lot of them never left! Because they felt like part of that community and belonging in there. They came to reconnect.’ recalls Tobias
We now know to get the community involved early in the process. And let them be part of that journey. Then we create something truly purposeful.
Soil animal life is key to sustainability. Professor Stuart Hill redesigns all food production systems to support natural cycles.
Knee-deep in bat guano, Stuart dropped his dream of being a marine biologist swimming in tropical waters. He had met Micridium hilli. Since that day, he has lived in service of miniature soil animals and is still in love with them. But why should we care about soil animals? How can such tiny creatures be the key to sustainability? Stuart throws this tiny but mighty gauntlet at our feet, challenging everyone, including those who practice Permaculture.
“I was pretty horrified because I was in a faculty of agriculture at McGill University and they talked about soils without actually talking about the life in the soil. I said to them ‘you need to include stuff on the life in the soil it’s not a dead system – it’s a living system’
Soil Animal Lessons in Underground World
Early on, organic farming and permaculture, and sustainable agriculture was touted in his lectures about soil ecology. Talking about sustainability was academically radical. But the rebellious, long-haired open-minded students took to soil animal ecology and pioneered sustainable ecological agriculture.
During the 70s, Stuart became fascinated with soil, writing papers. Stuarted created a ‘key’ for the main groups of insects living in soil. These soil animals are mostly the immatures of insects, the babes of the above-ground world. This was a fertile period of discovery for many soil-animal academics.
Why should We Care about Soil?
We need to care about soils for a number of reasons. First of all, the soil is the source of our food. Soil also supports all the other species on land that we share on the planet. It has a vital role. Agriculture is increasingly industrialised. For many, agriculture is simply a production and consumption system based on nutrients, fuel and numbers. On the other hand, sustainable agriculture needs to be a system of production, consumption then recycle.
Simply put, the waste from the production and consumption must go back to the soil. Then is decomposed to provide nutrients for the next lot of plants for our consumption.
Our lack of understanding of cycles in nature has led to a shocking degradation of soil. In our ignorance humanity has harvested produce off the land and then dumped it. We have also trucked in nutrients instead of encouraging natural renewal of nutrients.
Whereas, we must recycle waste. The trucks that took the food to market, need to cart the waste back to the land. All decomposable waste is needed back on the land. Appreciation of cycles in nature is vital. Following this, how do we enable the decomposition and recycling processes, to enable the sustainability of that system?
A Fresh Start
We can foster a deeper understanding of our soil. Stuart urges us to think of this understanding in a similar fashion to our relationship with humans. Forming a relationship with another human requires us to spend some time with them, observe and listen to them. And possibly carrying out small non-intrusive meaningful experiments. And so it is with soil. We need to spend time in the soil.
Looking out on a landscape, we see cows and wildlife, trees and fields of flowers. However, the amount of biomass and diversity above ground is merely a fraction of the biomass and diversity under the ground. Most of the organisms are invisibly small. Except for the fungi. Some fungi grow as big as the forests and they often extend across the forest and enable communication between plants.
Luckily, this amazing world of microbiological life underground is being managed by the animals in the soil.
Yet, humanity has only recently progressed from a physical and chemical understanding of soil to more of a microbiological understanding. Even microbiology understanding is still scratching the surface. There are a lot more soil microbiologists compared to the amount of soil animal ecologists.
Fortunately, the soil animal ecologists have sought a deeper understanding of the soil. This is because the organisms they study are the ones that are essentially managing that soil system. So, catering to the needs of the animals in the soil builds soil sustainability. In particular, we need to cater to small animals like mites and springtails and small insects and all their relatives.
Soil Animal Dwellings
Soil animals like three types of housing spaces. First up, some like the particles (inorganic and dead organic matter). Others are aquatic organisms particularly protozoa and nematodes love the water film around the particles. Finally, the third zone is the spaces between the wet particles. Here live the microarthropods and their relatives and they’re wandering around up to their knees in water.
Soil Animal Food
The aquatic animals are primarily feeding on bacteria. On the other hand, the creatures in the airy spaces feed primarily on fungi. Fungi grows as a result of the decomposition of organic matter. These creatures browse fungi in the same way as cows, sheep and kangaroos graze.
Soil Animals are Accidental Farmers
These creatures have been farming fungi for millions of years. When we look at a leaf, we see it broken down by a succession of different fungi and bacteria. In particular, the fungi produce spores as well as hyphae. Browsing on the solid part of the fungi are mites, springtails and their relatives.
Each of those different species has a different food preference. As a result, they not only preferentially feed on different food species but they ‘farm’ those different species. They browse on the fungi, eating the hypha and the spores as they nurture and distribute future food products.
Soil Animal collects and distribute ‘seed’
Unlike us, they have a mucus lining to the gut that extends outside called the peritrophic membrane. When they eat the hypae their membrane wraps the poop into a little package. These soil animals digest part of the hypha, like the stalk, but don’t digest the spore. Consequently, the spore lives on to produce more fungi of this preferred species.
The foods they prefer are farmed effortlessly. As the soil animals wander around, pooping, they leave little bits of potting soil with the hyphae and spores.
Speciality Jackets on Soil Animal Harvests Spores
The soil animals distribute spores. Their bodies are covered in designer hairs that target, harvest and distribute spores of their favourite foods. These hairs are highly complex. They’re not just straight and pointy. The speciality hairs pick up the spores of the species they prefer to feed on and distribute them without effort.
This two-fold process allows them to effortlessly distribute spores of their favourite food source. It’s a highly complex system. There will be several dozen species of mites and springtails doing this. Each distributing different spores. Each producing fungi which is needed for the proper decomposition of the organic matter in the soil.
So the key to maintaining soil is returning organic matter, the habitat for soil animals, to the soil. This also enables the fungi to have some food. Furthermore, there is food available further up the food chain. The microarthropods get to have some food and this enables them to carry out their beneficial functions. Above all, the predators get a feed. These include ferocious mites, pseudo-scorpions, and centipedes.
Atop of a Fascinating World
“Most people who study agriculture have no idea about these things. And most people in the general population have no idea. Sustainability really means maintenance of life enabling systems. The main life enabling systems…are the aquatic systems and, more importantly, the soil system.” says Stuart Hill
Meet Micridium hilli
Micridium hilli is the Ptillid beetle Stuart discovered in the bat guano during the late 60s, whilst doing his Ph.D. It is probably the smallest beetle in the world. It lives at the edge in the cave between the fruit bat guano and the insectivorous bat guano. This is an interesting phenomonae, particularly in relation to permaculture. One of the aspects making permaculture particularly effective is that it’s a design process that creates fertile edges. So, instead of having a field of all one species, we develop a whole complexity. Complex edges reduce pests and increase decomposition in Permaculture systems.
Soil Animal Kingdom Complex
Complexity is really important in managing the soil. For example, when watering a row of plants it’s really important to only water on one side at a time. So, one side is a bit drier. This enables the life in the soil to choose where to go. This was discovered in sewage systems. where rotating sprays failed intermittently. “We often learn things through mistakes” Stuart remarks.
Listening to Nature
Overruling of living productive systems by engineers has been the downfall of a lot of these systems. The engineer seeks to create a uniform system. But biological systems functions better when it’s a variable system in time and space. You see this particularly in chicken houses. The strategy once was to create uniform temperatures and lighting conditions for the chickens. However, chickens lay more eggs when the light comes on and off and the temperature goes up and down. We are slowly understanding wisdoms of nature.
From Despair to Action
What can an individual do to encourage agriculture to change? Stuart was horrified when he first went to Canada. He saw vast areas of uniform landscape in the prairies, vast fields of wheat. And found the same in America with corn. A study showed we’d lost 60 percent of the organic matter over the previous 30 years. The value of that loss was multiple times the value of the national debt. People worried about the debt but not about the loss of organic matter in the soil.
Farmers and graziers across the prairies were puzzled. They were paid according to how much they could pull off the land. They weren’t paid anything for the maintenance of the system. That’s the challenge facing agriculture. How to find a way to pay for maintenance of the ecology. Consumers complain that it’s more expensive to buy organic food. But they are actually paying for ecological maintenance. Today, consumers of organic produce think “it’s better for my health and I think it’s better for the environment. This is the beginning of a culture willing to pay for maintenance functions. This behavior needs to expand to build sustainability. We’ve got to pay for maintenance.
Redesign for Real Sustainability
In later years, Stuart grew to appreciate psychology and psycho sociology. In all these areas he developed a process of change. He is interested in cultural change to bring about real sustainability. Most change in society was reactive. It is a type of patching up, curative change. This type of change merely enables the existing system to be perpetuated. What he realized is a fundamental change is required.
Redesigning how we do things is a proactive front-end approach. It is multifaceted. Unlike the reactive classic approach with a single solution: a magic bullet.
And this is the same today with sustainability. There are people saying we just need to put solar collectors on our roof. Or we need to have access to gas as an interim energy source. Or we simply need to recycle our wastes and so forth.
But actually, a whole redesign of the system is required. That’s why permaculture is so interesting to Stuart Hill.