Over a bush track of water-covered causeways, hill and dale my non-4-wheel drive rental car- a white Holden sedan I’ve dubbed “the Beast” – bumped and strained for 17 k along Campbell Creek Road. Having not been able to access the directions Kirsten had kindly emailed me, for lack of internet and cell-phone service, I relied on the confidence of the barman for directions. Thankfully he told me I’d feel I was on the road to nowhere. Indeed I did.
And then a small river flowed across the road in front of me, and I brought the Commodore to a halt. There was no way this low clearance car was going to forge this river, so I put the car in park, took a photo, (see slideshow) and contemplated my options. I could try to hurdle the river, which seemed an unlikely success, or better yet, pull on my gum boots, (the nice thing about living out of one’s vehicle is that everything you need is within arm’s reach) wade through, then jog the rest of the way (it seemed I was nearly there!) as I was due for lunch at noon and it was about 11:58. That’s when I heard the sweet sound of someone calling my name, and the sound was coming from this side of the river.
Nick, proprietor of Milkwood Permaculture along with his partner Kirsten, immediately began touring me around the property. Milkwood is flanked to the front by his parents’ farm, comprised of primarily hundreds (thousands?) of olive trees, and about 150 sheep. Kirsten and Nick are currently living in a modest abode on his parents’ land while they build a small home (about 70 square meters) of their own. The current headquarters of their educational operation is a shear shed cleverly repurposed as a classroom/dining/hang-out space and an insulated, heated caravan-kitchen, with an adjacent open-air dish-washing station. While Nick’s parents farm is about 4000 acres (1k X 4 k), Milkwood is a small farm of 17 acres nestled into the hills, backed up by an additional 400 acres being reserved as undeveloped natural habitat.
Three years ago Kirsten & Nick moved up to the farm from Melbourne, and haven’t looked back. As visual artists, they were tired of working tirelessly for grant money that was unpredictable and short-lived. They wanted more freedom and less overhead, and the land presented an opportunity to provide both. Now, Milkwood is becoming recognized as one of the leading permaculture education institutions in the region and beyond.
In addition to teaching PDCs (permaculture design courses), Milkwood partners with well-known permaculture teachers such as Bill Mollison, Rosemary Morrow, Geoff Lawton, (Virginian David Salatin of Polyface Farms will be coming over in October to lead a course) to offer a wide and varied option of courses. Milkwood also runs Farm-Ready certified courses, and has over 50 farmers slated to attend their upcoming course on Bio-fertility. FarmReady is a federal program which allows farmers to be reimbursed for the cost of the course as part of a national program to assist growers in becoming climate-change ready and adaptable. These various strategies, along with employing their experience and skill in marketing, including savvy with social media (see the Milkwood Blog), and, I surmise, their apparent passion for people, plants, and permaculture, have all contributed to Milkwood’s status as a well-respected, rising enterprise on the permaculture scene.
In talking over lunch about how botanic gardens and permaculture relate to one another, Kirsten and Nick expressed confidence in compatibility between permaculture and public gardens.
“There’s no reason why permaculture can’t be part of a more formal design; the only reason it [permaculture] is stigmatized as less formal is because that’s what early permaculturists did. But there’s no fundamental reason why you can’t have companion plants and other permaculture done in a more controlled and formalized way,” says Nick. “In fact, it might even be more productive to have slightly more controlled landscapes.”
Perhaps Kirsten & Nick represent a new generation of permaculturalists. Maybe Milkwood is a model of ‘new permaculture,’ untethered to old stereotypes, engaging in both traditional and modern technologies in complementary ways to bring a new face of permaculture to the fore. Untethered to the stigmas of early, radical (and perceived as radical) permaculturalists, Nick and Kirsten’s approach is one of contemporary relevance and personal connections: an approach to permaculture that is both heartening and refreshing.
“We want to take back the word permaculture. It’s such a brilliant design framework, we want to reclaim it,” says Kirsten. Indeed, Milkwood will be worth watching into the foreseeable future.