Give Yourself Skills, Peace and Joy

Give yourself a break over the new year. And develop some living skills to reduce costs and increase your wellbeing. These skills build a regenerative culture that is rich in social connections and well being.

A chicken fairy god mother
Be a green fairy god-mother.

10 Fundamental Permaculture Living Skills

  1. Live with principles
  2. Get clean energy
  3. Cut the waste
  4. Use resources well
  5. Build biodiversity
  6. Breathe cleaner air
  7. Save water
  8. Creatively Make-do
  9. Invest in Social justice
  10. Start positive

1. Apply Permaculture Principles

Apply Permaculture Principles to Everyday Life. Multiple functions for each element in the design is a key principle. “If I can’t get at least 3 reasons for having something, I’m not having it.” says Permaculture Elder Judith Collins. And then, integrate the elements, so that nothing sits alone in the system. Everything connects and contributes to the other things. For example, the bushes shade the paths. These paths are shaped to direct water. The water nurtures the garden. The garden attracts birds and insects. This give us joy. Then, we share joy and food with others.

This also applies to skills. These skills have many uses beyond the home. They can be applied in the workplace and for the good on your community.

2. Get Smarter Energy

https://www.saulgriffith.com/ promotes electricification for better future universal energy systems

Change to better energy sources such as solar systems. Saul Griffith explains how electrifying our energy network builds better future energy systems for all.

Permaculture Elder, Judith Collins EarthKeepers, Buxton, NSW

3. Cut the Waste – Stop Buying Stuff! And Grow

Judith Collins of EarthKeepers challenges us to know where our food comes. And if you really need to buy something, check out local makers and support the markets rather than so called ‘super-markets’. And farmer Gerard Lawry at EagleRiseFarm points out “There is no co-incidence that the supermarkets present their fresh foods to look like market stalls”.

4. Use Resources Well

Now that you have decided what to waste cut, look to see what other waste materials from the home can be converted. Identify and reduce your waste by conducting a home audit.

If you don’t have much space, you can use Bokashi to convert your food scraps, if you have a balcony, then you have room for a worm farm. If you have a garden, there is room for worms, compost and chickens. Grow food in wicking pots or rain gardens.

Utilise things more by saving the seed from the foods you eat. Get creative by repurposing stuff that you can no longer use. Mend, redesign your clothes. Then when they are finally no longer useful, compost them.

5. Build biodiversity

Design your life to blend with the surrounding wildlife. Build awareness of the natural world. Stop to smell the roses or Boronia. Find the unique perfumes of native plants. Create space in your domain for wildlife.

6. Cut the Chemicals – Breathe Less Toxins

Stop polluting your home. Cut out chemicals by using low toxic cleaners. You can easily make your own cleaning fluids. In fact, vinegar and sodium bicarbonate will clean nearly everything. Another permaculture principle is to start small so you can feel successful. You can do this right now, in your home. Try sprouts, food and herbs, and making your own vinegar. For outside the home, try minimal disturbance techniques to handle weeds. Get to know how nature works and work with her.

strawberry guava

7. Save Water

Saving water is vital because clean water is a valuable resource during dry periods. Plants and animals depend on clean rain water. So do the river systems. We can contribute to the healthy rivers by building carbon in the soil, planting trees and supporting insect life. A basic start would be to create birdbaths. Next, install rain gardens. Catch and store rainwater in a tank or direct it to a pool. Something that takes a bit more research but is radical and resourceful is to install a compost toilet and an outdoor shower.

redirect path water to reduce erosion

8. Get Creative and Make-Do

There are various types of waste. And this includes having too much stuff because stuff demands requires storage and maintenance. Other forms include wasted opportunities.

Simple steps to cut waste are to seal out drafts. Mend things like leaking taps or frayed clothes. Learn to use basic tools, how to sew, tie knots and make do.

Above all, walk, cycle and use public transport. These simple steps keep us fit and reject the the fossil fuel industry. Plan to make your next car an electric car.

cockatoo dropping a macadamia nut
cockatoo enjoying a macadamia nut

9. Invest time and effort in others

Invest in a Circular economy by spending your money on products and services that are created locally. This builds social justice. Social justice is a vital part of reducing the pressures on our planet. Without social justice, we get more pollution, more harmful chemical use and more frequent environmental destruction through wars.

Be generous and kind. Fix stuff before you give it to charity. And be generous. Better still, fix things for others. Repair cafes are wonderful ways to link skilled retirees with young people in need. Better still, show a young person how to do stuff. Or help a local family that needs a hand. Have an informal meeting with neighbours and find out what your community needs and has the passion to do.

10. Start Positive, Act Now

Knowing how and where to start is a skill in itself. Stuart Hill recommends we do one thing before we go to bed that will move us closer to our goals. Starting small is one way to achieve this. He encourages us to take action by refreshing our mindset. This enables us to make bigger changes. If it requires us to lie boldly to ourselves about what we can achieve, then do it.

Make Your Career in Permaculture

Richard Telford made a career in Permaculture by putting his values and ethics into his work. He works with a “just do it” passion and commitment to meet the need.

What Richard Knows

Richard knows “You can create a career for yourself in permaculture using your previous experience. Most people have some kind of Interest or career before they get into Permaculture. And then, they have some kind of crisis point where they go “what am I doing?… This doesn’t align with my values!”.

And so, rather than dropping a career, embody principles and ethics into your whole being. So that, everything you do aligns with permaculture.

First Step

Find somebody who’s practicing what you’re interested in and work with them. Gradually try and embrace it. Incrementally improve the way that you do things.

Richard’s Career Path

Richard tells his story. “Well I was working in advertising as a graphic artist in the early 90s. And I built up my skills and a career in that over a number of years. And found that the people I was working with, and things I was doing really didn’t align with my values. So, I just decided to hit the road and go exploring.

Richard and his Kombi Van

So I bought an old Kombi – a 75 VW Kombie van. And hit the road traveling around Australia with a plan to travel around for a year. I did some freelance work. As I was going, I came across permaculture. I actually saw a sign on the road that said Permaculture with an arrow on it so I followed the sign and saw another one another one and ended up at Bill Mollison’s place [in Tyalgum]. And Bill was teaching at PDC at the time I poked my head in. He gave me a grumpy old look. So, I had a look around and went on my way. I think that started my journey of interest in permaculture and I continued traveling around Australia.

Richard with his restored Kombi

Travelling and building skills

The plan was to go for a year and it ended up taking me about five before I got back. But I got involved with the Rainbow gatherings up in Cairns. And some of the protests from there. That was really amazing. Because it showed me that if you really want something to happen you’ve got a put in. And do it yourself. It was also my first real experience of intentional community.

We travelled across in a convoy after the Rainbow gathering to Darwin. And got involved in some of the protesting up there at Jabiluka. And I discovered the book ‘Introduction of Permaculture ‘ by Reny and Bill. I started to see suburbia in a completely different way and asking “why aren’t we growing food in the streets?”

Darwin Jabiluka protest

Questioning Everything

In the Jabiluka protests and that was really questioning the way society exploited natural resources. And I produced a zine we called ‘Tribe’. It was the first time I’ve really using the skills to do something that I believed in. So, I continued traveling around Australia and ended up down in the southwest W.A. (Western Australia). I became involved in the protest to save Karri and Jarrah forests in the southwest.

Finding Connections

Northcilffe Western Australia Lane Forest Protest

I made a connection between the Jabiluka protest and the saving the old growth forests. I saw that it was all part of the same problem. And one thing that I really got from the protest was it was quite aggressive. Coming from the protest side it was very confronting to be telling the timber workers that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. There were lots of really full-on protests happening. Forest workers coming into the sites and bashing people and things. And I just didn’t want to get involved in that.

Action – The Tree Sit

I thought a tree sit would be a pretty safe way to to approach it. And it gave me a ‘ticket in’ to go for respite at Carter’s Road. So that was the beginning of a whole other journey at Carter’s Road Community.

Meeting Leaders

I met up with Jody Lane and Chris Lee and a bunch of other amazing Margaret River forest protesters. And the house that they’d set up as a respite for Forest protesting became an unintentional community. It was a permaculture-based unintentional permaculture community. I guess it had a dozen residents or so. There were a whole bunch of other people coming through the place fairly regularly. When I arrived the core members were about to go away for a Joanna Macy retreat. They needed somebody to look after the place while they were away. So, I offered to do that for two weeks and ended up staying there for about two years!

Mentors

During that time David Holmgren was traveling down the west coast. I was really curious who this other fella was. Because, I’d only heard of Bill. And so, I went out to meet and hear David speak. I offered for David, Oliver and Su to come over and see what we were doing at Carter’s Road (now called Fair Harvest). We showed them what we’d been working.

I let David know that I wanted to do work if he needed help with graphics, graphic artwork or design let me know. David told me that he was putting together a book about the principles and wanted some help to design the icons. So, that was the first permaculture project that I did – the Permaculture principal icons.

Driven by Passion

My passion is really around visual communication. And helping people get an understanding on different levels. So, you get initial sort of grasp of what something is and then you can go deeper and deeper if you so desire and that sort of aligns really well with with visual communication and the way an advertisement’s set up because, yeah, sort of grabbing someone’s attention and layering depth into that. After doing the icons I was interested in how do you present that information in a way that’s a bit more digestible to people because the the book was pretty hard going. I think for a lot of people – especially as an entry level book. It’s not really suitable.

Permaculture Principles website

Seeing the Need

At the time I was searching for how to find out more about permaculture and everything I found on the internet was really around people’s projects and farms and things like that it wasn’t really anything that just explained what permaculture was. So I looked at incorporating the icons and work that I did and the work that David did and the essence into a website which is the permaculture principles website.

In 2008 David Arnold was working to put together the permaculture calendar. It was all about the same kind of thing – helping people get an understanding of what the design principles were. So, we worked together on developing the calendar. And have merged the calendar in with the website over the years the principal’s website. Initially it was really just sort of a summary of the principles and ethics. I worked with David and Su’s son Oliver Holmgren on a upgrade to the site and we started to develop a store for the Holmgren Design website. I was selling books from under my bed!

https://au.permacultureprinciples.com/product/retrosuburbia/

Achieving Goals

When RetroSuburbia came out, that’s when the business sort of really took off. So, we started employing others. We’ve got Christine Cahusac handling all of the sales and we’ve been developing the distribution side of the business for selling primarily David’s books but also other permaculture self-published books. And I’ve also been involved working with David and Su in producing doing the artwork for RetroSuburbia – quite a number of their titles.

https://au.permacultureprinciples.com/product/earth-restorers-guide-to-permaculture/

Earth Restorers Guide to Permaculture is the latest book – the most recent one that I was involved with. I worked with Emma O’Dell who now works with us as well. She handled the artwork but I was sort of directing that with her. So it’s managed to tie together all of my interests really particularly the RetroSuburbia project because the house that I’ve built here in Seymour – Abdallah House is one of the featured case studies in the book and lots of the things that I’ve been doing are in that book. It helps to tell my story. I’ve managed to do the artwork. And now, I’m distributing and selling. And it’s the whole box and dice in that book for me!

Learn more about Permaculture with us. Enrol in our Permaculture Design Course.

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Scale Up for Bigger Impact

At the National Permaculture Convergence 2023, Mitra Ardron presented and facilitated a session on Speed, Scale and Permaculture. Mitra is currently working to deliver clean water to billions of people in Bangladesh. He challenges us to ramp up our efforts to effect change and build a better future.

Mitra’s steps for scaling up projects

Firstly, set the size and speed of your project as a goal from the start. Design the project so that it can grow.

Can we responsibly make decisions at the speed of change?

What happens if we don’t ? Can we focus on solutions rather than the problems ? Tackle the challenges of scale & speed. And maintain people care, earth care and fair share.

Observe and interact – the Problem is often the Solution.

Mitra says “Ask which patterns are ripe for disruption at scale? “

Self reliant elders

Use edges & value the marginal

Mitra invites us to explore the edges of what we are working on.

Produce no waste

Ask “How would your costs, and your unit economics, change with massive scale or a different biz model, or by eliminating waste or unnecessary steps, how would that cost improvement impact the uptake?”

https://www.mitra.biz/ explore alternative strucutres for scale

Explore Some Alternative Structures for Scale

The different models are B2B2C (B to B2 to C) like a supermarket model versus B2c (B directly to C) like a farmers market set up. Then there is Partnering, and Facilitation which Mitra employs in getting producers to link directly with sales team by supplying technology that makes it is cheaper and faster to link them.

Use & value renewable resources & services

What untapped resources could you use to scale up your project?

Epping forest, London IPUK delegates from Africa and Hong Kong marvel at the wasted abundance in a major city

Obtain Your Yield

How can you create a yield? For all those involved the yield needs to exceed input.

Create a positive feedback loop

Creatively use and respond to change, apply self-regulation and accept feedback. Ask can your organization stay cantered in the middle of chaos? And without knowing all the facts, is it able to allow responsible people to make, and change decisions at the speed needed? Responsive projects listen to the internal and external feedback.

Design from patterns to reach scale

What are the key parts of your project? And the edges between the parts? And the edges with other participants ? How do these edges change as it scales?

Understand and Work with Succession

Use backcasting to envisage alternative futures. How would your solution look at the scale of the problem ? How is that different than it looks now ? What initial steps do we take to get there ? Apply that to each of the detail elements.

In Summary

When we apply Permaculture principles to our projects, think big and long-term from the start. There is one principle that Mitra sees as an anti-pattern – it is the concept of using small and slow solutions. Mitra and the world need the opposite. With good collaboration models, you will increase the project’s reach and impact.

Once we start thinking bigger, we make lasting impact and tackle the big polluting industries that engulf us.

Extreme Range Driving an Electric Vehicle

pride in local production

We drove our trusty short-range electric vehicle slowly over the dusty Hay plains. Along the long stretches where the radio crackles, the weeds tumble and the trucks roar past impatiently, we started doing the mathematics. We formulated a coping strategy to monitor our use and enable long range driving in our modest electric vehicle.

Our short-range electric vehicle did extreme range driving 3000kms in the countryside. We expected few surprises. After all, it was going to be just more of the same. We have driven interstate from Brisbane to Melbourne along the coast with little to tell. But in those journeys it was from one town to another, never across open countryside. As a result, this trip was nail biting. And when it wasn’t stressful it was…..rather dull. [And here’s a quick shout out to Waikerie hotel for accommodating us with a standard power point off their garden maintenance shed.]

Welcome to Range Anxiety

Recently, at a busy charging station in South Australia we met a lovely couple on a romantic escape. They had flown over from Western Australia, hired a car, and were looking forward to exploring the exclusive wineries for the weekend. But, when they went to pick up the car they accepted the offer of an upgrade to an electric car as potentially exciting. With very little instruction, they zoomed off. Suddenly, their fuel dial started dropping. When they got to their destination winery, the charger was broken. They didn’t know where other chargers were, or how to find them.

We’ve been driving our electric car for 2 years now. So, how did we get caught out?

The Best Coping Strategy for Range Anxiety

When your electric car is full of charge it displays an estimate. Let’s say it estimates 250kms. For extreme range driving outback, be sceptical. Simply halve that estimate. The estimate is about right if you plan to travel at 60kms/hr, on a flat road. As soon as you travel uphill, at speeds over 80kms or use air-conditioning, headlights, hazard lights or the windscreen wipers (depending on the type of vehicle), the estimate drops. Rapidly.

To feel secure, start the journey at a modest speed [80km/hr] until you are 100 kms from the next destination. Then keep the watching the estimate and only drive faster if you can keep the efficiency and maintain an estimate that is double of the distance to go.

trying to get a new charging station to work

Never assume the next charging station is going to work for you. Everything breaks when someone is using it. It could be your turn. So, we only book accommodation after getting our final charge. And we carry bedding and a tent, just in case everywhere is booked out. But don’t assume you will be welcome to charge. For example, Yass caravan park doesn’t have a policy to enable charging even if you pay for a powered site. Call before booking to get permission to charge.

The PROS

The main advantage of the electric vehicle is that it runs on a fuel that is nearly everywhere. Wherever people are, there is usually a power-point. Whereas diesel, petrol or indeed hydrogen isn’t everywhere, and mostly imported. An electric car can be charged overnight with a simple wall power point.

Every Community Benefits

Best of all, the main community benefit from electric cars is huge. An electric car saves money from leaving the country. Every drop of electric is generated in your own region/state whereas most countries import fossil fuels. According to Saul Griffiths, the money spent on charging an electric car is more likely to be spent locally than money spent on fossil fuels.

By rewiring our energy use, we save money as well as taking pressure of the environment.

The Short Term Downside

Short range electric vehicles have adequate range for urban living. When you turn ours on it claims to give you 280kms. But drive it with the air-conditioning running, and on rainy nights, that range estimate begins to drop, rapidly.

So for long distances you slow down to conserve energy. But, as you slow down to save energy, you begin to realise a timing issue. Because you can’t afford to arrive so late that you need headlights and heating. The trick for driving electric cars in a time of slowly emerging infrastructure is planning and flexibility.

The traffic behind you is doing a minimum of 110kms/hr, and you are slowing to 80kms an hour. You begin to feel vulnerable. Especially, as the sun is blaring across the horizon. You are crawling and the traffic behind can hardly see you in front of them. In the countryside there are no slow lanes.

The first time we rolled into the charging station with just 6% charge left, we started to question our expectations. Had we known then that our backup plan (see below) would not be fail-safe, we might have parked the car and caught the train.

The other downside currently, is we needed to take a longer route, in order to reach the next charger. The chargers are not yet there to serve the long distance short range driver. They are well positioned for locals, who do short trips out of major cities. And they are not being commissioned as quickly as the number of electric cars are being sold. You learn to sit and wait. A trip that normally takes 2 hours by petrol car, can take 4 or more by electric car. Allow time to queue for others to charge as well as time for your own charge.

Driving Slowly Is Tiring

It can be more tiring to drive slowly. You watch the meter drop and grip the steering wheel as the trucks swerve past. At night, you can’t rest until you have charged again. For this journey from Wollongong to Adelaide Hills we had to charge the car 4 times each day over 3 days. And each charge takes a minimum of 40 mins. Sometimes a charge takes a couple of hours on slow chargers.

You are always better off to ‘top up’ the charge than to pass a charger in the blind hope that the next charge will be available and working. Also, occasionally people plug in their car and walk off for dinner. You get to wait in the cold and dark until their belly is full.

The Failed Backup Plan

Our backup plan was, and has been on previous trips, to carry a simple cable, plug into a powered site at a caravan park. It takes about 10hours to charge as we sleep overnight in our tent, a cabin or motel within walking distance. On the final night of our journey, the caravan park was full, as were all the motels, and the powered sites.

Back up plan failed
no powered sites available

Most places received us with interest and support. A few told us they are waiting on charging stations to be installed. Many chargers only charge Tesla cars, yet Tesla cars often use the chargers that we need because they are cheaper. This inequity is slowly being addressed by government subsidies [a lot less than fossil fuel subsidies] and simple economic forces. For example, the NRMA will soon have an app that charges users.

Backlash

Surprisingly, some hotel and caravan park managers eyed the car with suspicion. Some hosts are apprehensive because the price of the electric car is high. Yet the price of a short range electric car and charging is equal to about 8 years of fossil fuel. Some managers see the electric car as capable of guzzling electricity. And to be fair, electricity prices right now are high. So, we try to cut costs by not using air-conditioning in our room or cabin and always offer to pay extra for the use of electricity. In fact, the cost of a charge overnight is about $7. Some hotels happily take the offered bonus, some don’t charge.

Hotels and Caravan parks need to develop a charging policy and
determine a reasonable fee for the service.

Education about how electric cars work and use electricity is the challenge. On a previous journey, our host accused the car of causing her microwave to burn out! So, we can’t assume everyone supports electric cars. Indeed, for some rural towns, it is only a few generations since their first light pole. This is a time of rapid change.

Your Turn to Drive

Driving an electric car is one of the few ways an individual can act to reject fossil fuels. Domestic demand for electric cars embarrass governments and force them to plan a cleaner future. “New research shows fossil fuel subsidies over the forward estimates have increased to a record breaking $57.1b, up from the $55.3b forecast in 2022.” In fact, our defence force could easily become world leaders in Electric vehicle technology.

Once again, we find brave families car pooling, going the slow road, and daring to make the switch. Individuals are driving change. Plan now to make your next car an electric car and help pioneer a better future.