Tag Archives: community garden

Reflections from Hamilton Permaculture Trust co-founder, Adrienne Grant

Adrienne Grant, co-founder of Hamilton Permaculture Trust, with kiwi on Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua

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.

Ceres Community Environment Park

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.

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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.”

Fig Tree Community Garden, Newcastle

On the way from Purple Pear in Maitland to the Blue Mountains, I stopped by the Fig Tree Community Garden, which Mark & Kate recommended as a great example of a community garden designed with permaculture principles, that could be well-suited for a botanic garden setting.  Though it would have been worth traveling out of our way, as it turned out, the garden was right on our route.

“Your first act in the garden should be to pick a strawberry, a piece of celery, a bean or a pea and eat it. Not bad is it? If you don’t feel like work today then that’s OK because we are happy for you to enjoy the food from the garden anyway.” The Fig Tree Community Garden website goes on to explain the many different jobs that can be done in the garden, but only after a visitor has tasted the fruit!

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I have now seen a couple of community gardens (will post on the other – Katoomba Organic Community Gardens – shortly) and a community farm (Northey Street Farm), and all have been in the form of a cohesive design rather than segmented plots (or “allotment” gardens as they are called here), which seem to be the more common type of community garden in the U.S.  The cohesive design allows for a much more comprehensive approach to the garden, and seemingly, more interaction among gardeners.