Tag Archives | permaculture

Vale Rod May

One of Australia’s ecological farming pioneers, and a close friend, passed away today. Rod May aged 63 died in intensive care after a road accident between Ballarat and his family farm at Blampied 5 days previously. Rod was a 4th generation farmer on 200 acres at the foot of Kangaroo Hills in the prime red cropping country of central Victoria. In the late 1970’s Rod returned to the farm motivated by interest in self reliance, organics and tree crops and “fell back into farming” as something to do in between starting the Central Victorian Tree Planting Co-op and getting elected to the very conservative Creswick Council.

Photo: Josie Alexandra

The Landcare movement emerged simultaneously in several regions across Australia in the late 70’s and early 80’s. One of those places was central Victoria and Rod May played a leading roll in it. In 1983 when Project Branchout received federal funding to employ people to plant trees on demonstration sites right across the Campaspe, Loddon and Avoca catchments in response to the threat of salinity, the committee fell on their feet in employing Rod and his crew from the CVTPC to manage the huge program. Rod had the same holistic vision of the committee, the ability to take risks, roll with the punches and engage with conservative farmers, and with some of the unemployed workers putting the trees in the ground. Most importantly he had dirt under his nails as both a farmer and tree planter.

Rod May, 1992. Photo: David Holmgren

Rod was not part of the first generation of organic farmers but he was one of the generation that integrated the new ecological thinking of the 1970’s including permaculture, and connected it to the emerging markets for organic produce that lead to organic certification in the late 80’s. As founding president of the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (in 1986) Rod May was at the forefront of driving the importance of links between ecological science, organics and the emerging sustainable development concept. At the same time he was converting his part of the family farm to organics, implementing large-scale plantings of shelter, fodder, timber, fruit and nut , still working for Project Branchout in their Bicentennial revegetation of the Captains Creek Catchment that included the family farm. As plantation designer I worked closely with Rod at that time and remember when he and I headed up the steep slopes of Kangaroo Hills overlooking the May family farm to get some of the shelterbelts in the ground. I had my two-year-old son Oliver to help us and that began a thirty-year bond between Oliver and Rod.

As organics grew in the 1990’s, Rod spent an increasing amount of time in meetings around the country and the world making the global linkages through the International Federation of Organic Farming Movements and doing some of the first organic certifications for farmers ranging from cranky older generation organic pioneers to coffee growers in East Timor and lake bed croppers in the semi arid zone. His keen observation skills, memory for facts, figures and protocols, his slow talking easy going manner and his enjoying a beer or, in the right circles, a joint allowed him to tackle novel situations and always learn something new.

Rod at home on the family farm, Blampied. Photo: David Holmgren

I remember when the diverse and disparate organic and biodynamic groups where having to work together with the Australian government to establish protocols for organic export trade. Alex Podolinsky, head of Demeter Biodynamics would not speak to any of the NASAA people except Rod “because he was the only real farmer”. I arrived early one day at the farm to have Rod introduce me to Alex Podolinsky, who immediately launched into an explanation of what was wrong with permaculture. After Alex left I asked what the visit was about. Rod said he thought it was an “informal biodynamic inspection.”

This understated diplomacy allowed Rod to work with the idealists and the pragmatists of the organic movement, even if his sometimes slap dash approach to getting things done in drafting a document or consigning pallets of veggies left his partners frustrated and sometimes having to pick up the pieces. Life at home with Viv and their daughters Stephanie and Carla, as well as his brothers Greg, Doug and their families on the family farm was not always smooth but as an outside observer, one of the ways in which Rod contributed to harmony was a tolerance of whatever others dished up for him. He and Viv lived fairly independent lives but their wide social circle and love of a party kept them going between their respective passions for organic farming and teaching.

I can remember Su phoning Rod’s father Maurice to find out where Rod was and the exasperated answer; somewhere in America and I don’t know when he’s back. But I also remember marvelling at Rod getting back from an trans pacific flight then the same afternoon jumping on the tractor to plough up the new veggie cropping paddock before the rains came. During those years of globe trotting Maurice provided a back stop for Rod and supported the organic methods which were adopted by brothers Greg and Doug. Like his father, Rod was a big bloke and worked like few of the baby boom generation could. Within the organic/green movement intellectuals he was as sharp as the best of us but in the spud paddock, no one I know could work day in day out like Rod. I remember when I had a chronicly bad back he told me in all seriousness that picking spuds was great for fixing a bad back. In his later years his knees began to give him trouble after all those years working across the furrows and mounds of several acres of irrigated vegetable he cranked out year after year.

Rod with PDC students. Photo: Ian Lillington

In the early 1990s we began taking our residential Permaculture Design Course participants to his farm to get a taste, literally, of a real organic farm that best illustrated permaculture principles supplying local and central markets with basic food. Rod’s seamless grasp of everything from soil ecology, tree crop potentials, organic marketing and mechanics and gadgets involved in farming, was immense. We would go out and harvest the veg that didn’t meet commercial standards and take it back to the farmhouse where Su would organise the roast lunch with Maurice helping cook the farm killed mutton.

While we promoted Captains Creek as a good example of permaculture, Rod never did. In a piece I wrote in the early 1990’s I said many ecological pioneers who chose not to describe their work as permaculture did so for one of three reasons; because of the bad examples they had seen called permaculture, because they didn’t want to alienate more conservative audiences or because they didn’t think what they were doing met the high ecological standards they associated with the permaculture concept. In Rod’s case I believe it was a mix of the three with the last being the most important.

Food Relocalisation in action. Rod delivering CSA veggie boxes to Su at the Hepburn Relocalisation Network food co-op. Photo: David Holmgren

During the 1990’s I watched the rewards and strictures of supplying central markets pushing Rod towards being a specialist broccoli producer supplying Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and even Brisbane markets in mid to late summer when it was difficult for producers in warmer districts to do so. Rod was surprised at his own success. He thought that once the market for organics became established, the big specialist vegetable growers would take over and that he would head the other way diversifying to supply local markets using methods he had seen working in Europe, Japan and the US including farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture.

Rod’s involvement in the international organic scene continued with his membership of the scientific advisory board, IFOAM and in 2005 in bringing the IFOAM international conference to Adelaide. But over time he started to organise his exit from organics politics and to encourage the next generation onto the board of NASAA including our son Oliver. Rod’s political focus shifted back to local government and in 2006 he was elected to the Hepburn Shire. Su recalls that Rod was rather slack about campaigning, but his charm, laid back style and ability to connect to the average person got him over the line.

Around the same time after some pestering by Su to produce boxes for local customers instead of all being shipped off to central markets, Rod asked her when she wanted to start. The next week Rod delivered 6 cardboard boxes full of mixed unwashed veggies to our place for pick up by the customers that Su had organised.

Over the following couple of seasons Rod turned his whole farming operation around to focus on boxes delivered to Hepburn, Castlemaine, Ballarat and Melbourne. In the same way that centralised markets reward monocultural specialisation, box schemes demand diversity from the farmer. The fact that Rod turned his relatively large production scale around to supply that diversity was testament to his skills as a farmer. Rod’s fields were rough and ready even by organic standards, full of weeds and some produce not making the grade but the productivity from limited and often erratic input of skilled labour was truly amazing.

Rod in 2005 at the IFOAM conference doing an Aussie farmer skit. Photo: David Holmgren

Apart from extra needs for catering for events and courses, we have always grown our own produce without the fuel and gadgets (Rod’s term for farm equipment) that sustained Rod’s farming operation but there were years where in disgust I thought I should give up and just buy from Rod. Whatever the season and the weather Rod just kept on delivering and at the end of the season the weedy fields full of left over veg was good to fatten the sheep after the gleaners had their share. My personal comparison with Rod led me to assert that I am probably a better ecological builder than ecological farmer but I know what the world needs more. We have enough buildings already but we need to eat each day.

On council Rod was a mover and a shaker, using his deep experience with negotiation and decision making, process and protocol to good effect but in a context very different from the parochial years on Creswick council in his youth. He championed a Climate Change and Peak Oil policy for Hepburn Shire, the second in the state and a number of other pioneering initiatives at a time when Hepburn was becoming famous for the first community owned wind farm in Australia.

After Viv died tragically in the Samoan tsunami in 2009 Rod poured himself into local council, and as mayor contributed to the growth of the local food culture as central to the tourist economy of the region. In 2011 he managed to get funding for an Energy Descent Action Plan for Hepburn shire but Rod’s vision and the consultancy that I delivered in response were too radical even for our progressive environmentally aware community.

On the home front Rod began to focus on the future with development of Viv’s Lang Road property and a vision for the farm into the future. After leaving council Rod threw himself into a farm redevelopment plan at the same time as he was active in the Greens, supporting his daughter Steph’s candidacy, and even stood for the Greens in the seat of Ripon.

He did try to engage me in a farm planning process but with my focus on teaching and writing, Rod couldn’t wait and in typical style he whipped up cabins, an autonomous power system, new fencing, a farm processing shed and other infrastructure necessary following the formal division of the farm between the three brothers following Maurice’s death. It was only around this time that I discovered my good mate had originally trained as a diesel mechanic and that his ability with machines was more than rudimentary but like everything else if a vehicle or machine was working, Rod’s energy was focused elsewhere. If machinery failed, like sheep getting into the crops, Rod could just cut his loses and move on.

Rod was also a motorbike rider, what a friend and local doctor called “a temporary citizen”. Just another one of the risks he took along with the weather, the crops, the politics and at times the law. But I know that while Rod had incredible energy he was not manic and not ever what I would call reckless.

When his luck ran out on the way home from Ballarat after getting a tool for current building projects, the wonders of modern intensive care gave the hope of a rebuild and another chance for my old mate Rod to at least pass on his incredible knowledge of the farm and life to the next generation. But that process was already well underway. After decades of working with and teaching volunteers, interns and community members the in and outs of farming, Rod had been working with his daughters on the farm future. Stephanie and her partner Oggy along with his bother Serge have been working to keep Captains Creek organics humming.

Hopefully the farm customers and especially all of us who knew Rod can support the May family to build on the vision and the legacy after the great man had to cut his loses and move on

To Rod’s family, daughters, Steph + Carla, and his brothers, Greg and Doug, we send our love and deepest condolence.

– David Holmgren, Hepburn, 30 May 2017

You can read the obituary Jason Alexandra and I wrote for Rod in The Age here.

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Is there a doctor in the house?

QUniversity has awarded an Honorary Doctorate to the co-originator of the permaculture concept, David Holmgren, during the launch of the Graduate Diploma in Permaculture Design.

David Holmgren accepts his Honorary Doctorate from CQUniversity Associate Vice-Chancellor (SA region) Professor Drew Dawson.

The event at The Joinery in Adelaide, on 19 April, echoed the launch of the Graduate Certificate program (by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill) which took place early last year and included the award of an Honorary Doctorate from CQUniversity to the late permaculture co-originator Bill Mollison, accepted on his behalf by Geoff Lawton.

This year’s event featured a speech by State MP for Ashford Stephanie Key and also introduced a new David Holmgren book titled RetroSuburbia.

State MP for Ashford, Stephanie Key.

Published by Melliodora, RetroSuburbia highlights changes to our residential landscapes to make them ‘fit for purpose’ before the world slides into energy descent.

As author David Holmgren remarks that “the incremental and ongoing retrofit of the built, biological and behavioural domains of the household is recognised by many as the best bet to weather the storms of uncertain times and contribute to a better future for the next generations”.

The recent event in Adelaide also enabled a showcase of the first year of the Graduate Certificate in Permaculture Design. It featured presentation of ‘capstone projects’ which have enabled Graduate Certificate students to apply what they have learned to a specific idea.

Projects presented by the CQUniversity students ranged from conventional permaculture designs for food production through to the application of permaculture ethics and principles to projects in existing disciplines like the ‘perma-psychology’ project, and permaculture education projects.

Permaculture Design and Sustainability Program Leader Dr Keri Chiveralls congratulates David Holmgren

The projects also included development of proposals for new start-up businesses like ‘Companion Planting’ (a sustainable/regenerative pet memorial service involving pet burial via container gardening) and The Food Print Experience (a food van that sells delicious permaculture food while also providing educational permaculture workshops).

From here.

You can read David’s acceptance speech in its entirety, here.

Pedro Souza has been kind enough to translate David’s speech into Brazilian Portuguese, which you can read here.

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New Melliodora Tour Dates

You have a small block of land and you’d like to learn how you can live more sustainably.
You live on a farm with chickens and an orchard and you’re interested in seeing how you can integrate permaculture principles.
You live in an inner-city apartment and you’re keen to see how you can live more in line with your values.

Whatever stage of life you are at, there is no better insight into the ins and outs of how permaculture works on a season to season, day to day way than to take part in the whole day guided tour of Melliodora.

Situated in the Victorian central highlands, Melliodora is one of the best examples of a cool-temperate climate permaculture property that produces an abundance of food and other yields from a beautiful living environment.

The one hectare property has been transformed from the blackberry covered wasteland in 1985, into a model of small-scale intensive permaculture. David Holmgren and his partner Su Dennett will show you how their passive solar house, mixed food gardens, orchards, dams and livestock, as well as creek revegetation, have been developed and maintained over the last 30 years. The Melliodora garden farming model is most relevant to large town blocks and small rural allotments, but you don’t have to have a large block to gain a huge amount from the tour. All visitors will discover ways that they can apply the underlying principles and strategies to their own lives.

The 2017/2018 Melliodora tour dates are as follows: Sunday September 3, Sunday October 1, Sunday November 5, Sunday December 3, Sunday January 7, Sunday February 4, Sunday March 4, Sunday April 1 and Sunday May 7. The tour begins at 10 am. In the morning you will be shown around the house. We will break for lunch between 12.30 and 2pm. In the afternoon the tour will take you to the garden farm, and the day concludes at 4.30pm.

The whole day tour includes the Melliodora eBook CD: a detailed record of how the house and garden you see on the tour were designed and established, explaining the logic behind design decisions, detailed plans, plant species selection and how it all works together. It is a refresher of the tour, a valuable reference for your own project, and an ideal way to introduce family and friends to permaculture.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience first-hand how permaculture design can help restore and improve land, and provide for residents’ needs and enjoyment.

Things you need to know:

  • Tours can be booked via the Events page.
  • Children are welcome. Parents must take responsibility for them and their actions.
  • Visitors are on the property at their own risk.
  • Please park in our driveway to avoid inconvenience to neighbours.
  • Books and other publications are available for sale on tour days at discount prices. You might like to look at the Publications page of our website to see more information about some of the publications that will be available for sale on the day.
  • Melliodora is a private home so please respect our privacy. Group or private visits can be arranged by appointment.

The tours are very popular – we advise you BOOK NOW.

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Advanced Permaculture Planning + Design Process

Have you completed a PDC but feel there is more you’d like to learn?
Are you interested in design principles and ethics but are not quite sure how to integrate the processes into your thinking, designing and decision making?

On this four-day residential course, tutors David Holmgren and Dan Palmer will take you through various approaches and methods that they implement in their own design processes to help you establish your own framework for designing and living.

Participants are encouraged to arrive on the night of April 10 and camp over, ready to begin the course at 9am on the 11th. Dinner will be provided on the 10th, and brekky on the 11th, as well as all subsequent meals for the duration of the course.

More information + bookings here.

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Vale Toby Hemenway

Toby Hemenway, one of the most influential permaculture authors and teachers from North America, passed away earlier this week aged 64.

Toby discovered permaculture in 1990 after a career in genetics and developed a rural permaculture property in southern Oregon with his wife Kiel.

He was editor of Permaculture Activist magazine from 1999 to 2004 and his book Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture is credited as being the most successful book about permaculture in the world, having sold more than 250,000 copies.

His 2015 book The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience applies permaculture thinking and principles to organising everyday life.

In 2005, Su and I were hosted by Toby in Portland, Oregon during our 6-month teaching and study tour of North America. I remember him as earnest and modest as he maintained a passionate commitment to permaculture ideas as he made the transition from rural self-reliant living to applying permaculture in the city. His move back to urban living was emblematic of the learnings of our generation about the limits to rural self-sufficiency.

– David Holmgren, December 2016

Su + Toby in August 2005 on a walking tour of Portland urban permaculture

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Graduate Certificate in Permaculture Design

In Adelaide today, at Central Queensland University, students are making history as they begin a brand new course: A Graduate Certificate in Permaculture Design, the first university-accredited permaculture program in Australia.

On Friday last week, the Hon. Jay Weatherill MP, Premier of South Australia, and CQUniversity Appleton Institute Director and Engaged Research Chair Professor Drew Dawson, officially launched the program.

The Hon. Jay Weatherill MP

The Hon. Jay Weatherill MP

Based in Adelaide and available to students nationally and internationally, CQUniversity’s Graduate Certificate in Permaculture Design will give professionals the skills of truly sustainable design, and has the potential to revolutionise our transition towards a low-carbon future.

Guests mingling at the launch

Guests mingling at the launch

The event also recognised the work of permaculture co-creator Bill Mollison, with CQUniversity bestowing on him an Honorary Doctorate of Science.

Geoff Lawton (holding Mollison's Honorary Doctorate) and Keri Chiveralls.

Geoff Lawton (holding Mollison’s Honorary Doctorate) and Keri Chiveralls.

Skyping in from his home in Hepburn Springs, David Holmgren, who sits on the Advisory Committee, delivered the following address:

I’m not sure that I can live up to that introduction in a few minutes, but it is good to be able join permaculture colleagues, university staff and the South Australian premier at this launch, without the need to burn precious fossil fuels (and contribute to climate change).

I want to applaud the university in its timely award of the honorary doctorate to Bill Mollison and its role in the Garden of Earthly Delights project. Obviously I could say many things about Bill but just one might be appropriate. Beyond his co-conception of the permaculture concept is clearly, the father of the permaculture movement. His vision that a social movement, based on education through the Permaculture Design Course, was the best way to carry our original and evolving vision out into the world, has stood the test of time (despite my original skepticism.)

It is 16 years since I wrote the section on permaculture in the Alternative Ag unit in the first post grad diploma of Sustainable agriculture, at what was then Orange Agricultural college. That course was part of the wider adoption of permaculture in the late 1980s and early 90’s, that I have identified as the second wave. Of course, the first wave in the late 70s and early 80s, was associated with the energy crises and the huge interest in sustainable alternatives, at that time.

I see this CQU course breaking new ground in the spread and diversification of permaculture education, as part of long, slow third wave of permaculture design, activism and education that is building, not just in Australia but right around the world.

These waves have run counter cyclical to faith in mainstream values, governance and economics. These pulses of permaculture activism reflect a heritage of earlier waves of ecological sustainability innovation in the 1890s and 1930s that coincided with challenging times.

It is highly appropriate that of all the places in the world, this event is in Adelaide. While ups and downs of economic cycles and activist enthusiasm have been as big a factor here as anywhere, I think it is true to say that permaculture has played a consistent role over more than three decades in making Adelaide and South Australia, more innovative than its population size might suggest.

Grass roots household, community and small business activity have been the core of permaculture activism everywhere, but in SA there has also been a healthy interchange with those seeking better policies and institutional change from above. Many people and projects have contributed to that creative exchange but I want to make special mention of Graham and Annemarie Brookman from the Food Forest in Gawler for their tireless efforts in creating sustainable solutions that resonate for radical visionaries, the average punter and policy wonks alike. It is no accident that this course was conceived here in Adelaide, given that post graduate education in permaculture has been part of Graham Brookman’s vision for as long as I can remember.

As one cranky ecological pioneer to another, Brookman knows well my skepticism about University education but he did manage to persuade me to support this course as representing the best of university education. I also acknowledge that Keri Chiveralls infectious enthusiasm and dedication and Drew Dawson’s can do approach to working within institutional structures were influential.

As I concentrate on finishing my book Retrosuburbia: a downshifter’s guide to a resilient future, the world is moving, into what could be described as an economic, geopolitical and ecological convulsion. While most of the outcomes will be bad news, I trust that this course and my book will be part of a tsunami of permaculture positivity about how we can surf a prosperous way down.

More specifically I see huge opportunities for the household and community non monetary economies to grow and prosper to provide basic and even more sophisticated needs and in the process rebuild community spirit that will be so necessary to that prosperous way down.

If there is a simple message for anyone working top down, including the premier, it is to focus on reducing the regulatory and other impediments to flourishing household and community non monetary economies. This is an equally important task to, considering policies that support households and neighbourhoods to be more self-reliant and permaculturally productive.

I trust that one of the outcomes of this university program will be the ideas for the policy initiatives to help that vision unfold over the coming years and decades.

 

 

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