Giuliano Perez, co-founder and current coordinator of Growing Communities, a not-for-profit organization that supports Queensland schools using gardens for teaching and learning, has big ideas. Collaborating closely with schools and their communities toward this end is one way to address big issues of sustainability, food security and nutrition. And permaculture plays a chief role in the organization’s work.
However, you won’t find the word ‘permaculture’ featured in Growing Communities literature or website. Even so, permaculture is at the core of what defines Growing Communities’ approach and practice. Recently I met with Giuliano at the Three Monkeys Coffee House in Brisbane’s West End, and he helped shed light on perceptions of permaculture and his own organization’s leaning away from flagging it as such.
“Everything we do is permaculture, but we don’t go out there saying, ‘Hey this is permaculture.’ In fact we’re trying to move away from naming it permaculture. We are moving toward doing gardens for sustainability thinking. It’s all about caring for the earth, caring for the people, and fair share of resources.”
Giuliano continues, “We do [abstain from calling it permaculture] consciously and subconsciously as well. I would say that permaculture brings about all these connotations that don’t necessarily align with some of the conservative thinking of teachers & principals who want to have gardens and grow vegetables and initiate sustainability initiatives. Instead of flagging this concept that [might be] associated with ‘hippies’, we just don’t flag it. But we do [practice permaculture]. As an ethic, we’re all about observing and learning from nature. We’re all about slowing down and recycling; multiple uses, you name it. For us, permaculture is a way of being. You practice it in everything you do, and the garden is just one way to do so. You can have a guild, for example, around a kitchen, and you can apply everything to the people side of it, even moving away from the plants.”
When I asked Giuliano whether the stereotypes around permaculture are changing, he agrees that they are: “Permaculture has permeated the mainstream; slowly it has in that it’s become an accredited training. So I think that’s a recognition that the stigmas are being removed. I still think a lot of people do permaculture certificates with the aim of buying a bit of land and attempting to live sustainably by themselves or doing it in their own home. But I think that is changing.”
Giuliano also reflects on permaculture in a historical context.
“There’s this big thing about permaculture but when you think about it, it’s nothing new. It’s all just common sense; the ancestors were doing it, living sustainably, using & sharing resources sustainably. I had Pacific Islanders come into the multicultural garden and they said, ‘Hey we did this back home.’ Permaculture is not new.”
Originally from Chili, Giuliano’s background is in visual and performing arts, theater for kids, design and multi-cultural work. His undergraduate degree is in humanities, communications, film and media and he is now working on his master’s in education for sustainability with Griffith University, Brisbane. He completed his PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) in 2005, and in 2008 he received the Winston Churchill Fellowship and traveled to England, California, Cuba, Argentina & New Zealand looking at garden-based learning in schools.
I asked Giuliano to reflect on how permaculture might fit into the botanical garden landscape, particularly related to environmental education.
“My take on botanic gardens is they’re a museum of plants. When I go to botanic gardens I enter a different space and it’s just about the plants. You go there and look at them and learn the botanical name, but to me what’s lacking is the social link between those plants and us; what’s the social history of those plants? How do we relate to them and how do they relate to us? You could apply what permaculture’s about in the direct relationship between us and plants. There are a number of places that are public [like botanic gardens] that are not fully exploring their capacity/potential to serve the community. Their potential role for community development has not been fully explored.”
Giuliano has recently developed a network of schools who are using gardens for teaching and learning around the world, the World Garden Project. “At the heart of the WGP is the development of global citizenship. Through the language of gardening the project promotes dialogue across countries and continents, fostering a greater understanding of the different cultural, social, economic, ethical and environmental realities of communities from around the world.”
“I love gardening and all that. To me, though, it’s more about a way of being and interacting with the world; fellow beings and non-humans and how we interact in an ethical way.”