Tag Archives: farm

Aldinga Arts Eco Village, South Australia

Situated on 18 hectares, Aldinga Arts Ecovillage (an hour south of Adelaide) is the physical manifestation of an idea that sprung 20 years ago among a group of artists and permaculturalists wanting more self sufficiency and an intentional lifestyle.  Land was purchased in 2000, and the ecovillage is now home to about 200 adults and 50 children. Resident Sue Eltahir toured us around. 

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“We’re encouraged to blur the edges of the Common Land.” In accordance, Sue’s verdant, edible garden curves out into the common area, though the village policy of “share excess food” and “pick, don’t strip” are well observed by neighbors.  Besides the green building techniques (see slide show for Sue’s hand-made adobe bricks), water catchment systems, and edible gardens grown by residents, Aldinga also has its own waste water processing facility that filters water on site and dispatches the effluent to the nearby wood lot.

Several acres of arable farm land at the outer edge of the ecovillage are currently under cover crop, building soil for a future permaculture demonstration garden.  Sue and another resident are using part of this farm land to experiment with growing native and vulnerable mally trees, such as the Eucalyptus dissita, whose roots also happen to be particularly effective for carbon sequestration.  They’re also experimenting with growing acacia to coppice for chook fodder.

One of the most unique landscape elements of the ecovillage is the purpose-built outdoor movie theater.  Mounded up with piles of Earth left from construction of the existing dam system and building sites, the grassy knoll is protected by a curved hedge and faces a movie screen, behind which beautiful views of the valley roll into the distance.  Movies are screened twice monthly and, according to Sue, “it’s a terrific community building activity.”

Ecovillage residents are now working on raising funds for capital improvement projects, including a community kitchen and meeting place and separate education building.

Wwoofing at Rhianna Ridge

While visiting Melbourne, we had the fortune of wwoofing with Marianne and Cameron, who live an hour south in Beaconsfield.  They haven’t studied permaculture, but sure do seem to be practicing it.  Marianne and Cameron raise goats for meat, milk and breeding stock, grow nearly all their own produce, raise chickens, grow their plants from seed, harvest their animals’ fertility to improve the soil, and have developed efficient systems for virtually everything they do.  All while creating a modicum of waste and repurposing/recycling what they can on site.  They practice organic principles, (don’t use synthetic chemicals), have a thriving worm farm right outside their door that get whatever food scraps are beneath the goats and chickens, have solar panels to heat water and did I mention they are terrific chefs?

We helped clear sticks and fallen winter wood to prepare for fire season, turned in 2 beds of cover crop, transplanted 1 bed of strawberries, milked the   goat (though we were incredibly slow!) and helped put up a huge net over half of the entire garden/orchard area, in spite of the rain.  Still, we got the better end of the exchange!

Please see the slide show to get a flavor for the place.

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Permaculture at Purple Pear: Productive AND Beautiful

Just yesterday we packed up from a two day Wwoofing stint at Purple Pear Organics, a small farm just outside of Maitland, NSW, run on permaculture and biodynamic principles.  Owners Kate & Mark, who I had the good fortune of meeting at my teacher training course at PRI, have been in business in since 2006, though they were on the land long before that.

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“We really want to be a model for others,” says Kate, “as an example of what they can do with their own land.”  Though the farm is situated on 14 acres, the market garden, which supplies 20-25 families with weekly boxes of veggies, herbs, fruits and soon, nuts through a CSA, only sits on approximately 1/2 an acre.  It is no ordinary 1/2 acre, however.

There are many notable elements in this clever market garden that inspire awe and admiration, and I apparently, am not the only admirer.  While I was wwoofing at Purple Pear, one of their CSA customers stopped by with a small entourage of friends to show off the garden to.  They left quite impressed.

First, the entire garden is laid out in a mandala, inspired by Linda Woodrow’s book, “The Permaculture Home Garden.”  It is quite a singular experience to walk through a garden entirely comprised of circles, so customary are angled beds and rows of plantings.  And according to Mark & Kate, neither efficiency nor productivity are compromised with the use of the circles, but rather facilitated by the comprehensive, systems-thinking design.

Immediately noticed in the landscape are move-able chook domes throughout the garden, precisely the size of the circular garden beds: an integral part of this whole garden design.  “We couldn’t do this kind of intensive growing on this scale without them,” says Kate.  The chooks dig, aerate, eat grubs and weeds, and fertilize the beds while simultaneously providing a daily ration of (delicious) eggs.  In addition, each Manadala area features a natural water habitat to attract ecosystem services from garden predators such as frogs and lizards, and along with companion planting and continuously building healthy soil with manure and compost, the need for additional pest control is dramatically reduced.

Another unique element in this market garden is the use of guinea pigs as grass cutters, in small tractors that are moved between rows planted with garlic (in the one area planted in rows adjacent to the mandala garden).  These extremely cute farm animals are moved along the row a couple times each day, and don’t have the digging tendencies of rabbits and chickens (and their blades don’t get rusty and never need sharpening).

These are just a few of the special things you would see at Purple Pear Organics were you to visit, and hopefully you’d get to sample Kate’s delicious homemade yogurt and Mark’s beautiful cheese.  And Purple Pear lettuce is truly the best you’ve ever tasted.  Currently the Purple Pear CSA has a waiting list, however they offer permaculture courses for those interested in growing their own.

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.