Wednesday 6 April 2011

Permaculture - 'Are you a WWOOF?'

Norwich Permaculture began in October last year. Since then the group have dug gardens together, shared meals, exchanged seeds, made compost, gone on outings and been actively grounding the ethics and philosophy that underpins the Transition movement worldwide. Here one of the group's originators, Tierney Woods relates how she first came across its earth-friendly, people-friendly ideas and practice in Permaculture's native Australia.

It started, you could say, from this little book.

It actually started from a conversation with a Japanese girl in a hostel in Launceston, Tasmania.

I’d left my ‘British bubble’ of staying with family and friends for the first 4 months of my travels in Australia and was out there ’on my own’ some might say! So how do you go about this travelling lark?! I knew that I had enjoyed all the beautiful natural wonders my friends and family had taken me to visit and wanted to experience more of these in each of the varying climates Australia has to offer.

It’s tough, when you don’t have a car (or a horse!) and are cautious about hitchhiking, to get to see much of rural Tasmania. My first hostel felt a bit sterile after staying in the welcoming bubble of people I knew, following their local shortcuts to see places they knew I’d like.

I also figured that if I continued to pay for my accommodation at this rate it would restrict me on how long I could/would stay in each place. Mostly meeting other Europeans in the main cities didn’t appeal, I could do that in Europe!

I voiced these thoughts with Yoko, luckily (the power of a conversation is something that should never be underestimated!) who had just spent a week staying on an organic herb farm up in the mountains of Northern Tasmania. She had been living and working with a family of 5 and extended multicultural bunch of a further 8 peeps in exchange for her food and accommodation and recommended I gave the family a call to see if I could take her bed. I had heard of WWOOFing (willing(ly) Working On Organic Farms) when in the UK so it had been in the back of my mind as a consideration when travelling around Oz.

I called up, organised my pick up and spent 2 weeks in the beautiful Liffey Valley living an existence wonderfully close to nature, learning about different countries, languages, home towns, reasons for being there, how to harvest and dry herbs and the importance of caring for the soil.

Sharing the workload and eating fantastic home grown food together as a community was a wonderfully nurturing ritual, a shared celebration of the days’ labours.

It fuelled the fire in me. More of this please!

I received my WWOOF book of farms in the post while I was there and set to deciding where to go next!

Over the next 8 months I spent time WWOOFing at 9 properties; keeping bees and soft fruit, growing bushfoods, 2 permaculture teachers, a schools permaculture teacher and 4 intentional communities, learning all the time. Their gift to me, my basic needs of food and shelter but also their company, experience, knowledge and willingness to share and teach.

It was at my first mainland farm staying with Ross and Marrianne that I was handed two books (Permaculture One and Two) to flick through. They took me to John Champagne’s beautiful and functionally designed property where I listened to Rob Peakin from Food Connect Brisbane talk about how their CSA worked (I had no idea what one was until then). I later stayed with John who spoke to me about peak oil and whose town was going through Transition (I had not heard of TT until then) and where I received an email from a school friend with a link to the Transition Norwich website where I excitedly read about their discussions of setting up a CSA (cue twilight zone music).

John called up Aaron who facilitates school children in designing, establishing and maintaining their own permaculturally designed food gardens on site and asked if I could work with him for a couple of weeks. I was hooked in right royally and was loving living out the phrase’ it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ (and who they know!).

It gave me a liberating access to view spectacular natural sites that others travelling a country don’t get to see. I got to meet and live the lives of real life Australians! and hear their views of the world and the country they lived in. I had the opportunity to ask questions (and boy did I! I’m like a sponge in these environments!) about how they got to that point.

It is an incredibly inspirational and motivating experience to listen and learn from such like-minded folk. And a great feeling to support them with your time and energy while they support you in this mutually beneficial way.

On returning to the UK:

- I wanted to do my Permaculture Design Certificate-done! (you can find a list of courses here)

-I wanted to go WWOOFing in the UK- I worked for 2 weeks at each of the two demonstration sites we visited on my PDC in Dorset - Fivepenny Farm

- I wanted to be part of the local food movement in Norwich.

So here I am! Amazingly grateful to all of the people I have met along the way in supporting me to be here.

And WWOOFing at the very local level, sharing the workload as a group and blitzing each others gardens/allotments, sharing contacts, skills and knowledge with each other. Supporting each other. Being outside and DOING. Sharing food and connecting. In so many ways.

Email me/see calendar if you would like to come to any of the Norwich Permaculture group workdays!

Mealtimes at Liffey (French, South African, Australian, Canadian, Japanese, American, Estonian WWOOFers), Drys Bluff Liffey Valley, Australian WWOOF book, John Champagne's garden Brogo NSW, Bay of Fires camping with Liffey friends.

1 comment:

  1. I was a WWOOFer in the 70's when it stood for Working Weekends on Organic Farms - nothing as exotic as Tasmania then! It was a welcome escape from city life in London and we met some interesting and often eccentric people. Learnt all about planting at the right phase of the moon at a Steiner place for the disabled. WWOOF laid the foundations for present veg growing efforts.