Weeks ago, on my flight from LA to Brisbane, the woman sitting next to me asked what I would be doing in Australia. After getting an earful, and seemingly not quite sure what to make of it, she suggested I visit Ceres. I asked her what it was and she said she wasn’t exactly sure. I filed it away in my dusty, zone 4 file cabinet, until the Permaculture Sydney North meeting, when it was mentioned again in the context of a community garden. The name moved into Zone 3, and then when David Holmgren mentioned Ceres during his tour of Melliodora, I emailed to schedule a visit.
David explained that Melliodora is perhaps the best documented example of a working permaculture garden, but that it is not necessarily the best demonstration garden, since it was set up to meet the needs of his own family. Ceres, he said however, is a great example of a demonstration permaculture garden. Indeed, the site is something to behold, get lost in, and meander unhurriedly throughout. Far more than a community garden, Ceres encompasses a visitor’s center, permaculture nursery, café, education building, global village, market garden, chook area, aquaculture operation, energy demonstration site, and more. After exploring the site on my own for a while, I met up with Judy Glick, School Programs Manager. I asked her what the role of permaculture is at Ceres.
“Ceres was set up 30 years ago. One of the first things that was built was a compost heap and a permaculture garden. David Holmgren helped with the design of it. The principles of animals working in orchard for example, are still there. Food gardens of Ceres have been set up with an amalgam of biodynamic principles: natural predators, natural fertility, planting by the moon, etc. And some permaculture diploma courses now use our site to run courses.”
Most Ceres teachers have permaculture training and personal permaculture experience, which they can incorporate into each of Ceres pre-planned 50 minute programs. Though in some tours and programs permaculture is mentioned by name, Ceres doesn’t specify care of Earth or Care of People, [two of the three core permaculture ethics], or focus on teaching permaculture by name. However, Judy confirms that permaculture is embedded in the ethos of what makes Ceres tick. According to Judy, “We come at sustainability in a number of different ways, however David Holmgren’s original ideas are becoming rediscovered and coming back again. “
I noted that by way of having a well-developed site and hosting school groups, Ceres shares some of the same issues as botanic gardens who have a vested interest in bringing schools to the site. Judy acknowledges the similarity, but clarifies the distinction: “We’re not a botanic gardens; it’s not a manicured site.”
Last month, Ceres had their one millionth school visitor to the site. They’ve been running school programs for 21 years, and addressing the curriculum before school curriculum even addressed it. Ceres doesn’t get any funding from the department of education or government, which, according to Judy, is actually quite freeing for the organization. “Anything we do in terms of matching programs [to curriculum] is a service to teachers or is a marketing exercise, but not because we have to. Basically we’re spot on because there are commonalities, we’re talking the same concepts regardless of what grade. We don’t have any touch screens, it’s all hands on, real life, things break, are not always working. The experience of coming here is like an immersion. It’s not just a program. The greater part of the organization is doing whatever students are learning about in a program. Any activities on site have to fit with the Ceres mission of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Whether you go to the café, farm, or community garden, all the programs fit within the mission.”
What message does Ceres want school children to walk away with? “You as an individual are part of the natural and social world and you have a role to play. We want the kids to have fun and have their eyes open and we want to give them positive solutions, which is sometimes a bit tricky.”
The bottom line on permaculture at Ceres?
“Permaculture is embedded in everything we do. But people don’t necessarily leave here knowing more about permaculture unless they do a PDC (permaculture design certificate) here. “
I also spoke with Luisa Brown, Ceres Training Coordinator, who runs adult workshops that focus on energy, food and sustainable gardening. They currently run a complete urban farmer course, which qualifies for ACFE funding (Adults Continuing Further Education, this is federal funding earmarked for supporting marginalized groups, e.g. Aboriginals, men over 45, adults over 55, and those without degrees) which addresses topics such as soil, bee keeping, composting, fruit trees. An introduction to permaculture is also part of this course, and all the educators have taken a PDC as well as having a certificate in horticulture.
“We have a lot to do with sustainability organizations. But we haven’t had any contact with botanic gardens.” Why not? I asked. They just haven’t contacted us, I suppose.”