I met with Adrienne Grant, co-founder of the Hamilton Permaculture Trust to talk about the genesis of the Sustainable Backyard and the Hamilton Permaculture Trust. Adrienne currently works with New Zealand’s Enviro Schools and while she is still occasionally involved with the Trust, the Trust has developed a life of its own. She reflects here on the early days of the Permaculture Trust and the genesis of the Sustainable Backyard.
“In 1997, I worked as a researcher in the U.K. looking at social disadvantage and environmental action, and when I got back, I wanted to do something that would make a difference. I met Al (Alaisdair) Craig through City Council – who also knew Mel (Melanie Allcutt, co-founder of the Hamilton Permaculture Trust). He saw idealistic, young 20-somethings and put us together to get us out of his hair.
What a mistake! Mel and I got on great, and we decided we wanted to learn how to grow our own food with other people.
We saw community gardens, organic gardening, learning to grow your own food with other people – a communal thing which could inspire others. Mel had done a Permaculture course. We saw this as a way forward. This was something that was really grounded. It wasn’t out in the forest, it was something that could be brought back home. It was something everyone could do – it was really practical.
We didn’t think about whether Hamilton needed it, we just wanted it. We got funding from Council ($5k). We were young, idealistic and naïve. We organized a couple of community meetings to see what interest there was, and that’s where we found Cheryl (current coordinator of Permaculture Trust) and Katherine, Anna, Chris and Robin (current Trustees) It was 1998 when we first started talking, and that year we founded the Hamilton Permaculture Trust.
We looked around town for a site. We met with Bill Featherstone (Head of parks & Gardens). We basically asked, “Could you give us a bit of land please?” He replied, “ I’ve done it before and every time it fails. What makes you different?” I was gobsmacked, and said, “Because we are!” Somehow he gave it to us. (See Bill Featherstone’s perspective in my next blog post!)
We had some city council funding, and had contacted community agencies. Everyone we talked to seemed to be really supportive of the idea. We had examples from over seas [of successful community gardens]. We put together a portfolio to sell the idea to the community. We were gauging interest of funders and agencies that could support us.
In 1999, a site at Hamilton Gardens that was covered in rubbish was allocated to us for two years. We had a core of three volunteers, Mel and Cheryl and myself, and half a dozen people who would occasionally work in the garden, but it was hard to get ongoing help on a regular basis. There wasn’t a clear idea of management at the time, we were spending a lot of time trying to get funding, etc. We cleared the site and landscaped it and learned to grow vegetables.
After a year they [City Council] said, you know you’re going to have to leave this site, but you can take on the Backyard Garden as a permanent project. The Hamilton Gardens have a history that every garden has been developed out of a community organization. He saw that we were really committed to it.
We gave it a good long think and saw it as a positive thing. We began winding down community gardens and took on [what is now] the Sustainable Backyard.”
I asked Adrienne what the secret to longevity of the Hamilton Permaculture Trust and the Sustainable Backyard has been, when so many other volunteer-started projects fall by the wayside despite best intentions.
“The Permaculture Trust has been essential, like a family, and we’re aligned because we’ve always had a sense we were doing something really critical. We’ve all had a sense of ownership.
More than 10 years have passed, and it’s [Hamilton Permaculture Trust] still there, still doing stuff and making a difference in Hamilton. We started something and it endured. It’s about the people having a common goal, common purpose, and good honest communication. We operated in that consensus framework. We’ve also benefited from continuity. So many board members have been there from the beginning. It’s not just about governance; it’s been about the Sustainable Backyard and running organic gardening and facilitating community gardens, education in the community and events.
“The sustainable concept can be difficult to understand. That idea of permanence provides another interpretation to the idea of sustainability. We also explain it [permaculture] as a design system for living sustainability. We used it [the word permaculture] to drill into what sustainability is. Permaculture is a useful word to explain and use to break down and drill down. We made Permaculture really really simple for funders – we broke it into simple language.