More reflections on PRI, Australia

After a week on the farm I find myself yearning for a taste of the city, and it dawns on me that I have never spent this much time on a farm.  I have done plenty of camping; have lived out of a tent for 2 months in the Glacier National Park wilderness, have slept for weeks in a row without even a tent.  Conclusion? Farms: very different from wilderness.  Farms: also very different from gardens.

If I hadn’t needed more consistent internet access and mobile phone service to map out my next few weeks of site visits and accommodations, I would be able to grab this experience closer to the root and stay on a bit longer.  No matter, as the farm left a print on me, even if I hardly got my hands dirty.

Marcelo preparing freshly caught eel

First:  The chef.  Though self-described as a farm cook, Marcelo could easily do battle with any high-end chef in New York City.  Marcelo spoon-fed his charges the benefits of farm life five times a day, from porridge with fruit compote and French-pressed coffee at breakfast to teriyaki eel at lunch to delectable scones with cream and homemade kumquat marmalade at tea time.  This man knows his way around the kitchen (and the dairy and the butchery) and happens to know a lot about the life cycles and quirks of nearly any edible animal and plant you might be curious about- especially Vietnamese mint, which, happens not to be mint at all.  Marcelo turns the work of the farmer and farm hands into a celebration of the senses and of life, reminding us why the farm is here in the first place.   Without Marcelo, the farm would certainly be a less delicious place to be.

After a careful demonstration and capable instruction by Amber, one of the 10-week interns on the farm, and fastidious hand washing, I tried my hand at milking the goat.  The nanny preferred Amber but patiently allowed me my turn, and after nearly an hour, had relinquished 1.6 liters of precious milk to the sterilized, stainless steel pail.  Marcelo agreed to give us a cheese-making demonstration with the freshly captured milk and I sensed that Marcelo’s talents wouldn’t indulge ingredients less fresh than minutes old.  Here at the farm, he can expect to be spoiled in this way.  And so could the rest of us.

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The farm itself is a relatively large operation; roughly 66 acres with more than a dozen head of cattle, two goats, a dozen or two  (chickens), at least three dams with one in development for aquaculture, and numerous fruit, veggies and herbs including a rhizomatic root considered a delicacy in Thai cooking  and fetching high prices in local supermarkets.  But here the most important yield of the farm, according to Geoff, is, “growing people.”

Formerly located at Tagari Farm under the direction of Bill Mollison, Zaytuna is the new home of Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) Australia.  All the infrastructure on the site today: dams, swales, covered intern tent platforms, hexagonal learning classroom and compost-heated hot water shower, have happened under the direction of Geoff & Nadia Lawton as an outdoor laboratory and demonstration of what it takes to meet the needs of the farm humans.  For example, PRI serves about 30,000 meals each year.

Of particular note are the numerous earthworks have taken place to capture and hold rain water on the property.  While plants are certainly an important part of the permaculture farm, at the moment they take a back seat to further infrastructure development to better accommodate interns and visiting students.  A worthwhile investment indeed.

The Teacher Training course exceeded my expectations; after taking it I feel I have the information I need – and access to all the resources I might need – to teach a successful PDC (Permaculture Design Course).  The depth and breadth of Geoff’s teaching experience complemented by the insights and coordination of his assistant Dave (aka Jenkins) culminated in a well-balanced and responsive course enriched by the participation of a diverse class of permaculture students and practitioners.  Of particular surprise and interest was a skype meeting with Cecilia Macaulay from Sydney, speaking to us on how she’s used permaculture in a totally unique context; through share houses with focus especially on people care.  There is much more to say here so please reply if you’d like to read more on this.

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3 responses to “More reflections on PRI, Australia

  1. I’m picturing you smiling and delighted milking the goat, and I’m very glad to know that you are being well fed in so many ways.
    I’d love to hear about the diverse contexts in which permaculture can play a part, particularly your last comments concerning Cecelia’s use. You have always described the importance of the human element in permaculture, but I thought mostly about labor and vegetative yields. I’m intrigued by what I assume is much more to understand.

  2. you had me at teriyaki eel. hope all is going well. loving the blog.

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