Farming For Her Community

Building community helps farmers. Direct marketing enables the farm to increase diversity and build a fairer income. Flavia Assuncao of  GrowingRootsPermaculture talks about her personal experience in farming and direct marketing.

“Some plants are very important for diversity but people don’t know how to cook” the harvests that Flavia and Bunya grow. But now, they have a whole community of supporters. Flavia says the close contact with customers encourages them to keeping farming. Customers take food to share with their whole family. I guess the main issue is like – sometimes I even cry because they say ‘this food is lifting my soul – or like, when I eat this food I have to the energy to concentrate. it is all an important part of their culture.’

Growing Support for Healthy Farming Practices

Flavia says “for me is what’s keeping me going”. Everytime when Flavia feels like – ‘argh! its too hard’ – she gets a message that someone coming! “Really the Islanders spirit (vibe) is, you know for them – life is beautiful and everything is okay and if they have it fully they are ahead and normally the bunch is when we sell you know commercial bunch is gonna be little. But I always make sure that I make it for them, Islander style.

I always say to them so they come they get so happy because normally for them food is to share. so you know i always make sure of that and they bring drink and food for us too. When we always get food from them when they come, they bring trays of pumpkin, taro and sweetcorn. “

Two-way exchange

“We learned so much well. We had some guys coming from Fiji /Sydney (750kms), do you know? So we were harvesting cassava and they were telling us: ‘Look, you can plant it like this…’ and so we get the perspective from so many different cultures as well and we learn. and it is so good and this is something that really brings me life,  because I am not from Australia as well, and once I had cassava and all these bananas to eat, I could see that I was really grounded here. Because it really is part of who I am. “

Mixed farming in Food Forest

Customers also show Flavia how to grow a mix of forest and have the animals together in the shade.

“They come here and tell me: ‘This is like Bali!’ (their home)! Where they grow forest,  they grow food,  and they have the animals together. They cook under the shade, together with the trees,  there’s no separation.  They are part (of the Ecosystem),  they live in spaces like this on their islands,  so  it’s so good to see how much inspired (encouragement) they get when they come in here,  and they feel home, this place feels like home for them.  it is very familiar landscape with bananas,  and they use the leaves from papaya, the leaves from cassava,  because on their island theirs resources are a bit short,  so they use so many different parts of plants,  bananas flowers, parts of the banana, they use everything to cook,

So we are learning so much of having all these cultures around us and  this connection  is actually really inspiring and rewarding, because they allow us to grow with  diversity.  and having different plants we have  different “tastes”  for everyone, and  they cannot find this food on the supermarket,  like pumpkin tips (shoots) , chokos tips (shoots) they cannot go to the supermarket to find that.. When they get here , they say: “Do you have taroooo!!! Betel leaf!!! I had a lady that bought  a whole box with betel leaf and while her daughter  was talking to me,  she started to eat in the car everything that had in their box. Because this food is part of who they are, and they miss they food.

Having all this culture around us that this meeting is actually really inspiring and rewarding.

Bunya and Flavia use clever food forest disruption to boost production.

Growing Diversity

I started selling only chillies, but now we have more them 20 produces in our list to sell every week, . It was a very slowly process, but  what we are building with the community is so strong,  that keep us growing (going for longer) as well.

The Value of Feeling Supported

Farming can be lonely but Flavia says “For us, this work is not about make a lot of money, in short time, It is more about building community, and empower people to grow their food., outside of our garden as well.  We also sell plant propagation  and we teach people and empower them to grow food in their backyard,   for example when we sell the Aibika, we always tell them to plant the sticks in their home garden. Our garden keep growing outside of “The farm “.

Flavia smiles “it’s working so well”

Support GrowingRootsPermaculture. Join their upcoming living agroforestry course.

How to Be Merry, Generous and Giving to the Planet

Giving is an act of generosity and an opportunity to choose something good for the environment and to build a cleaner future. To give a present creates a physical reminder of the social connection. Whereas to give an experience, builds memories together.

Giving doesn’t have to cost the earth. In fact, the gift can be good for the environment. Giving can be joyous and an act to build a better culture.

Instrument craftsman in Peru playing wooden flute
Locally handcrafted gifts give three-ways
They give joy to 1. your loved one 2. to your Environment and 3. to the artist and their economy.

Make It Personal

Giving a gift has the power to tell someone “I value you and I know what you like”. The purpose of giving is to enrich the bond. In truth, giving is not so much about the value of the gift. It is more likely that the gift expresses how much you value the relationship. How can we give a gift that reflects what we know they like and not put demands on the planet? One of the safest bets is a paper book about their favourite topic. Ultimately, presents such as books are often reused and in their final stage, they will decompose.

Sustainable Gifts

Recycled Birdcage with a wicking garden
Our Recycled Birdcage with Garden
  • preloved fossils connect us with the environment and they reminds us of our place in time. We can give these as a gift or give the experience of a trip to your local museum together.
  • Valuable antiques preserve and honour of the craftmanship. These items will be loved again and again. Antiques are both valuable and durable. They have character and are rare. Even more so, they can an intriguing life-story and the recipient becomes part of the next chapter of the story. There are many amazing pieces of history that need a good home, to be dusted, polished, and treasured again. We don’t need to buy anything new when there is so much stuff from the past crying for understanding and care.
Fossils are treasures
  • Handmade jewellery. For example, Columbia girl makes jewellery is from dried fruits and fruit peel.
  • Handbag or shoe decorations or tags made from nature
  • Bookmarks or spectacle holders made from a recycled necklace

Memorable Experiences

  • Tickets to a museum or for a show (there’s little wrapping or waste, simply pop it in a hand-made card). Incidentally, this is a great last-minute gift.
  • Hire a ride in a vintage car, this is especially good for people who need a special outing but can’t go out for a long period.
  • Photos from their childhood, family members, and travels look great when presented as a small non-plastic poster or collage.
Handmade bespoke earrings at the MONA
  • Hand-made photo frames
  • A real razor blade, not a disposable one.
  • A hamper of luxurious essentials such as under-arm de-odorizing rock salt crystal or natural perfume oils
  • Hiking socks and hikers wool are great for preventing blisters
  • Handkerchiefs or cloth serviettes instead of paper tissues. These are amazingly good finds in the op-shops and markets – You can find some still in their packaging and of very fine quality linen.
  • A silk pillowcase to prevent hair from getting knotty in bed
  • A silk eye pillow with dried herbs and calming oils
  • A basket of homemade ecologically sound cleansers.
  • Cosmetics and toiletries made from natural ingredients and not tested on animals.
  • Their favourite home-cooked meal frozen in a glass resealable serving dish, ready for a weary day. Include the recipe in a card.
  • Food says I love you especially when it is their favourite food
  • A hand made scarf/bow/tie or cloth jewelry bag.
  • A hand-made musical instrument or clothing
Jabuticaba - a decorative shrub with yummy fruits for a gift
Jabuticaba – a decorative shrub with yummy fruits

Homely Gifts

  • A living potted Christmas tree can be planted out after Christmas. This could be a native pine. Alternatively you could pot up a large chilli plant full of chillies (for a Summer Christmas – southern hemisphere).
  • Or give a small shrub that is full of flowers such as a rose (to make rose syrup and other delicacies)
  • Homemade preserves and chilli sauces
  • A Packet/s of seeds. OR make a surprise packet out of mixed seeds (check they are all edible in case they are mistaken)
  • Subscription to a seed saving group, soft technology magazines, organic gardening magazines, rare fruits association etc.
  • A donation to a charity such as Tear or other like the organisation on the recipient’s behalf.
  • Hand-made compost bay.
  • Worm farm made from found materials. The Potted worm farm looks great with a plant on top and you can water it whenever you pop over.
  • A non-disposable lunch kit with a thermos or drink bottle, lunch box with separate compartments so no wrap is required, cloth serviettes. You can add a few fasteners to make a cloth serviette into a durable, washable wrap
  • A fountain pen and coloured inks
  • A cup to carry everywhere
handmade gift - tree decoration
Handmade Christmas Decoration
  • Cloth nappies and a pledge to help hang them out.
  • Energy-saving equipment
  • An eco-tour or eco-holiday voucher (you can offer to take them on a bush-walk or holiday or their choice)
  • A voucher to an eco-hair salon
  • Durable garden tools
  • Books on organic gardening, composting, herbs and flowers, native species
  • Field guides on birds and local reptiles
  • Solar charger for phone – this is great to take on a hike, in case you get lost!
    Also, include a flint or even a little survival kit
  • A garden pond with optional solar powered fountain
  • A fruit dryer
  • A yoghurt maker
  • Rechargeable batteries with re-charger.
  • A tent and small, efficient camping equipment. To encourage clean bushwalking and adventure.
  • Dried herbs and flowers from your garden and instructions on their use as a tea.
painting of woman with a potted plant gift
Plants are pretty gifts

Natural Gifts

  • Natural wool or angora sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, socks.
  • Hand-made baskets, natural fibre washing baskets, paper waste containers, pot plant containers, picnic baskets.
  • Canvas, string or cane shopping bags, ham bag.  Retrofit a supermarket cloth bag with a favourite fabric pocket sewn over the logo as well as a bit of elastic inside. These bags are often too wide and floppy.
  • Potted kitchen herbs in organic potting mix (you could make this yourself).
  • Edible house plants such as sugar cane for hot spots, mint, shallots, monstera vine.
sprouting jar and seeds - a homely gift
Sprouting Jar
  • Gift voucher for nursery plants or environmental products and courses
  • Beeswax or remade candles.
  • Homemade preserves.
  • Hand-painted recycled glassware.
  • Organic Christmas Cake or other special treat.
  • A homemade Christmas wreath of grapevine and other home grown materials.
  • Blankets (cotton or wool) suitable for the lounge and living areas.
  • recycled material turned into Cloth kitchen washers/cloths/ car washers etc. You can simply cut and hem the edges.

GIVING TOYS

Children today are wanting action. Not only do they like action toys, but they also want climate action. Give them less plastic and a cleaner world.

  • Redeemed toys (repainted bicycle, trike, scooter, rocking horse). Use safe paints, preferably organic paint products. These items could be antiques but beware of the toxicity of old paints and any loose parts.
  • Homemade cushions and bean bags with environmentally friendly safe stuffing.
  • A wooden loom and natural fabrics for weaving.
  • A dolls or action figures tent made of recycled fabrics and stakes.
  • Science and Environmental History books such as Young Dark Emu
  • A homemade backyard swing or tree house, a rope climbing apparatus
  • A small gardening kit, tools, and seeds
  • Wooden or cane furniture.
  • seeds for novelty plants such as giant pumpkins.
  • Roller skates or bicycles to encourage energy efficient travel.
  • Recycled or re-used paper fastened as a book.
  • Craft books
  • Weather-proof boots
  • Be wary of giving Pets. Check that the parents want one. Hens, Guinea pigs or Rabbit in hutch will help to mow the lawn. Adopt a wild animal instead through WWF.
Antique music machine

Re-useable Wraps

Have you noticed how much the packaging is enticing? Some children would rather play with the cardboard box rather than the toy inside. Wrapping doesn’t have to be ripped apart and strewn all over the floor. Start a new tradition of beautiful wrapping that is also part of the gift. Here are some beautiful wrapping ideas:

A Sari is a great wrap for large presents. It can be worn as a dress (it doesn't need sizing) and can be used as a curtain, a tablecloth and much more
Multipurpose Saris and scarves make wonderful gift wraps

Wrap gifts in Re-useable materials

  • Children’s Artworks
  • unused photocopied music scores
  • Material Shopping bags
  • Beach towel
  • Tea towels
  • Hand towel or handkerchief
  • Biodegradable (linen or cotton) tablecloths
  • Sari
  • Beach wrap
  • Scarf
  • Beach towel
  • Picnic rug
  • Natural Fibre placemats ie. Bamboo
A famous antique pearl earring - great gift

When the Festivity has Passed

Feasting Without Waste

Eventually, the time comes to start clearing up and the environment is often burdened. On an average day, in the western world, one-third of all the food grown is simply thrown out. Additionally, the wastage compounds at times of feasting and merriness. At these times, the food wastage dramatically increases. There are, however, simple ways to reduce waste and provide plenty of healthy and delicious meals.

  • Plan your menu
  • Write a Shopping list
  • Measure your serving sizes or let people serve themselves
  • Store Food Correctly
  • Upstyle the leftovers turning them into curries, pies, lasagne, and sauces.
  • Feed old leftovers to your chickens, the worm farm or soldier-fly farm.
Giant pumpkins – a popular novel hobby.

Process of Permaculture Design

The basic stages in the design process are research, creating ideas, creating the design, and presenting it. But this is not a linear process. The process is more like a spiral. Deeper understanding and more ideas come as you dive in. Each time we take a step back we build a better design.

Research, Ideate, Create, Present – Four stages of Design Process

To be honest, one of the biggest sections of your design process will be the research. In the research phase, we collect the goals of the clients and ourselves and the ethics. And then we look at the data. Like: all the different types of maps and the permissions that you need to apply for. And the sectors of natural energies that are reaching the site. And then we look at the capability of this site and the people that are going to be involved in changing that site.

identifying elements (component) of the design is an important part of the process

So, we have goals, your objectives and the client’s objectives. We have ethics and sometimes, there can be a conflict of ethics. And we have dreams.

Process Starts Boring, Gets Exciting

In the data we’re going to be looking for permissions required. And different types of maps. To be honest, we will need to do some mapping it ourselves to get the finer details. From this, we will identify the sectors: all the different natural energies that come to the site. When we’re looking at the social aspects of a design, we’re going to look at the historical use of that site. And then, the community values.

By listening to the community, we connect with them. The capability assessment of a site will look at the different assets that are on the site: the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And the risks. And then the skills and the interests of the people involved.

stages of design process - research, ideate, create, present

IDEATE – Understand Components

When we get to the ideation stage (where we put ideas onto paper), we’re going to look at the different elements that we can use (or the different components in the design). We identify the different components wanted by the client. And those needed. And we analyze them. Then we look at the function.

Look at Functions

And we look at different functions from each element. And different elements or components that will meet those functions. ‘Sort of like having safeguards. Then we put this all together in an array a pattern or a shape.

So getting to the elements: we list them. And we analyze them for how useful they are going to be. And how useful connections. There’s a whole bunch of elements you can use in a design. But let’s just take one. For instance the bee. We know what its needs are. We identify the level of expertise

required. And we know it produces or what its function can be. And the main function of the bee is to actually pollinate crops. Not just give us honey.

analyse components such as bees as part of the process

Process of Functional Connections

We use three factors to work out the best placement for an element these three factors are the sectors, zoning and the integration with other elements. So, let’s take an example of the worm farm. The worm farm benefits from shade. It also benefits from being in a nearby zone.

So, it’s not difficult for the user to carry waste food waste from the kitchen to that worm farm. Then, we integrated them. We ask: “What other elements can benefit from the worm farm? The castings and the water from the worm farm is fertilizer for delicate plants in the nursery. So, we position it between the kitchen and the nursery and in the shade.”

integration of worm farm and kitchen and plant nursery is part of the process

The Design Creation

Then we move on to that stage of creating the design. We’ve got some ideas for the strategies that we can use to achieve the function. Remember, that strategy of using and cycling the waste by using chickens? But, we know we can also use worms and compost piles. Our strategy is to cycle the nutrients. But, the different ways to do that with chickens or compost pile are the techniques. The third thing within the creation stage is looking at patterns – where things will flow.

finding resources, different techniques and strategies is part of the process

Feedback Enriches Process

In the discussion stage you’ll be talking to your client about the concepts. And you’ll be setting about to make a staging plan: what should come now, what can wait until later. And finally, you want to think about how you can accept feedback. How it can improve your work every stage in this process. We can have little feedback loops. Oh! that’s a good idea. I’m going to put that into my next plan!

The ultimate goal of your design is to empower the client. Maybe the client is yourself. By finding ways to empower the client you will find a way to bring the design to life. And by having that design implemented you get to assess how good it is.

Finding joy in the creation process

Robyn Francis – Power of Community

Robyn Francis has been involved in many community permaculture projects and is a strong permaculture leader. She has witnessed the power of community and building trust.

In our recent interview, Robyn thinks it’s interesting that just so much of social permaculture is being driven by women. And it’s not just social permaculture. “When I look at a lot of social movements like those in my village here. The sustainability initiatives here women are the key drivers of almost everything. And building community is a really big part of it. That’s one of the areas of social permaculture that I’m most passionate about is community building and creating resilient communities. I was involved in the whole intentional community movement for a long time from 1979.

On the front foot

When Lismore council threatened to bulldoze all the illegal dwellings on the illegal multiple occupancies and communities that were setting up up and down the coast. We had a cluster of them around Wauchope. We set up multiple occupancy associations and looking at you know the social, economic and governance issues. Land management and design the human dynamics.

Gated Communities Are Shut In

It’s not just about intentional communities or gated communities. We need to work on that wider community level. Little enclaves of like-minded people need to embrace the wider community. And learn to communicate with people who are different to ourselves with different values.

Finding Common Ground in Our Community

We find common ground and and build on that. And so, I’ve been really fascinated with and involved in effective consultation processes. These bring people together and find common ground that we can build on. Then we start to envisage where we want to go to. And what are the baby steps of things that are highly attainable that we can actually act on now. Because I think so often with visioning the visions are so big that people then feel overwhelmed. and of how do we ever get there you know so breaking things down to actually you know bite size chunks and uh doable steps so what can we actually do now with with without you know big injections of money or resources you know what have we actually got the resources to do right here and now and start to make small improvements and then you know the momentum can build from there and and if we’ve got the big vision.

Keep the Big Vision

I’m not saying don’t have a big vision we need the big vision because then opportunities arise. And suddenly when a big opportunity comes up – hey we can harness that!

We can get a little bit off with the off with the fairies and it can get stuck in unrealistic optimism. Yes we’ve got to work on ourselves. But some of the ways that we can work on ourselves is also through working in the outside world.

Learn From Nature

We can learn so much from nature on a spiritual, intellectual and practical level. Nature is naturally generous. It’s not conditional. We’ve got a lot to learn from that. We’ve become a self-focused society and people are afraid to reach out. They are afraid of difference. And afraid of being generous.

Driven By Love, Not Fear

I’m fearful of climate change and what’s happening to our beautiful planet. But it’s not fear that motivates me. It’s the the love of life, it’s the love of the species. And trying to save what we can of planet earth. Also I have a love of humanity. What I am interested in is and how can we come together and express this in a meaningful, creative and convivial way.

Here in our community we’ve done a lot of work in terms of coming together and buying community assets. This is quite an unusual thing. Most communities, including ours in the early 90s, complain about lack of government funding.

Building Community Bridges and Networks.

When the new school was built the old school went on the market, the department of education if it goes to public ownership it’ll be half the price. So, we had a series of community meetings to buy the old school.  Because we desperately need housing for all our community organizations and initiatives. So, we approached council and they said if the community can raise half the money and develop a watertight business plan to pay off the rest we’ll look at a low to low interest loan. In 18 months the community raised 118 000 (And it’s not a community with much disposable income).  

This meant building a lot of bridges in a divided community. We had to come together to achieve this aim. It was so empowering. On the tale of achieving this, we had a visit from Robert Theobald a Canadian futurist. But it takes somebody from the outside, coming in, talking to a community. It was the right time and the right message. It resonated with everybody.

Community Forums

So, we set up a community forum that met once a month. No one organization controlled it. The wider community set the agenda. It focused on solutions. It wasn’t a soapbox for people to indulge in complaining. And we solved a lot of community and social issues.

Even local government councillors used to come and get input from these forums in terms of decisions that they were making that impacted on Nimbin and developing new development control plans for the village and things like that.

Food Security, Renewable Energy and Transport

After seven or eight years we started to run out of issues. This was really good. Then in 2008 I facilitated a transition town processes. We created a number of working groups. The three big priorities were food security, renewable energy and transport (which is still an issue).

Farmers Markets

On the food security front, we got two local farmers markets going. We had Robina McCurdy. She was in Australia from New Zealand. So we invited her to conduct a series of workshops. One was with land holders, farmers and producers. It was seeing who was producing what, who had the potential to produce and what were the impediments to producing more of our food needs locally. And then we had one with  the retail sector: shops, cafes and so forth. Then one workshop with the two groups together so we could start to build links.

Wow! ‘What’s come out of that?’ Prior to the food security group  we probably  I know  I might have managed if  I was lucky to see like maybe 40 to 50 percent of my diet would come from the garden. and the local area now it’s sort of around 80 to 90 percent within a 30 kilometre radius of Nimbin and that feels so good and it’s been  I mean these seem like so like practical outside things but they also have a direct impact on people they’re also social systems they’re not just food systems they are social systems and they’re ones that are meeting real human needs  I mean we need farmers we need food three times a day at least and  there’s nothing more personal than what we put in our mouth to become us we are what we eat.

Cooperatives

Over the years, doing these projects together as a community starts to build up a degree of community trust. We had a devastating event happen around 2011. The rainbow cafe and the Nimbin museum and a couple of shops burnt down. They were in the heart of the village. Those buildings had a rich history. Those businesses did too, They were a big part of the community and our sense of place and identity. It was pretty devastating.

Then hot on the heels of that, our local organic shop of nearly 20 years, said that they were closing their doors at the end of the week. So we organized a meeting in the hall within 24 hours. 80 people turned up. Including the owners of the of the shop. And we decided unanimously to take over the organic shop as a food co-op. The owners said they would support that community process.

Governance Bodies

We had a legal entity in place for managing the community for the farmers markets. So, that became the umbrella organization to take on the leasing accounts until we could actually incorporate our cooperative.

So, we had a meeting on Monday night. The shop closed down on Friday night. And on the following Monday morning it opened up as community food co-op. Everybody was buzzing. But you see, 10 years earlier it wouldn’t have happened like that. People working together, and making things happen as a community, builds a degree of trust.

Building Trust

To me, being able to just say ‘yes’, we’re going to form a food co-op was the mark of  a maturity in terms of community trust and functionality.

We’ve seen how the community responds to disasters when we had the fires here. Then when we got cut off by the floods. And even with the lockdown with the pandemic last year. People really look after each other. There’s all these different community groups that just automatically assume different roles. Each is complementary. They’re not treading on each other’s toes. So, all bases are covered.

This is a community that looks after it’s vulnerable. ‘It’s really easy for highly educated, middle class people to create their own little scene’. But, what about the vulnerable in our society? What about the disenfranchised? The unemployed? Problems of addiction stem from unresolved social and economic issues.

Community is Gold

A community that has compassion is gold. I love to share the story of what we’re doing here because people find it really empowering. As communities we can start to do a lot more than as individuals. But we need to be able to facilitate. We need good methods of governance and we need to build trust structures. We do through meeting needs and showing compassion. And being empathetic. But also being real.

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