Category Archives: Permaculture

Permaculture and the home economy

When I was in school, the girls studied Home Economics. It was mostly cookery, baking apple crumble, rhubarb pie, scones, and on Shrove Tuesday – pancakes. I remember the mad scramble to get the ingredients together the night before. My Mum worked, so it was often late when we ransacked the kitchen cupboards for basic ingredients. A visit to the shop in the morning was often necessary. That evening, I bestowed my valiant effort upon the household, where my offering took pride of place at the tea table.

Although we baked at home, it was probably in school that I learnt the technique for making pastry, for “rubbing in” the hard fat into the fingertip-soft, always-white flour, adding just a pinch of salt. It was certainly there that I mastered rock cakes and developed my gift for creating sweet, sticky, oaty flapjack remains to this day.

I never gave much thought to the term “Home Economics”. To me, it was a cookery class and as I progressed through school, it became obvious that this was simply a ruse to keep women in the home. They even taught us how to wash up, first taking the glasses through the hot, soapy hot water, then the cutlery, then the plates, and finally the pots and pans. It’s a lesson I learned well and I still wash up in that order today. Why did boys not learn to cook and wash up? While we were “slaving over a hot stove”, they got to play with wood. When I was thirteen, I challenged the system and demanded to be accepted into the metalwork class. I wanted to do woodwork, but as it happened, they were doing metalwork that term. I gritted my teeth and took the teasing which went along with my presence at the workbench. I can’t say that my ashtray was the best in the class, but I got some satisfaction from finishing the exams in third place! Of course, this has now become the norm, with boys everywhere making pizzas and girls turning bowls, but then, I caused quite a storm.

I recently visited the small holding of David Holmgren, co-founder of permaculture, and his partner Su Dennett. They live in rural Victoria, near the sprawling city of Melbourne in Australia. Su and David walk the talk. Committed to a life of organic homesteading, they grow vegetables, keep goats and recycle their waste products (including humanure). They live a life which to some, might look frugal, but which is in fact, abundant. Su calls herself a radical homemaker and takes care of the food creation. Using the natural glut of the land, she bottles fruit, which she stores in her underground larder. Down there in the darkness, rich red succulence lurks under tightly screwed lids. Pears, nectarines, cherries. All preserved under her intrepid care. Bottles of cold pressed apple juice sit waiting patiently and pickles and chutneys of onion, beetroot and artichoke glisten lustily.

The business of Home Economics is, for Su, a reality. “I like making food. I love the sense of where the food comes from, that you’re getting everything that you eat locally…Food is a connection. It’s the centre of life, really.”

We share lunch out in the cool of a veranda shaded by curling grape vines, their fruit hanging temptingly in neat, tight bunches. We are joined by Su and David’s son, Oliver, and a pal of his and soon the conversation is flowing merrily as we pass around fresh goat cheese, home-baked bread and salad grown not six feet away.
“If you’ve got friends, you will often invite them around to dinner and what better than to offer them something that you’ve grown yourself, or that’s come from your local community.” says Su.
“I’m very happy to be the main cook and bottle washer and I think that the household arts have actually been maligned and that the place of the woman in the home has also been very badly maligned. It’s not that the woman should do this and nothing else, that’s not the case, but to take away the value of the household economy is very sad.”

David speaks even more vehemently about these ideas. In an essay published in 2010, he writes about what happened to the home economy after the industrial revolution.
“Women joined the workforce to help pay rising mortgage debts and support expanding personal consumption habits. The almost total collapse of the household economy followed. Much of the growth in fast food, home services, child care and entertainment industries simply reflected this shift of activity from non-monetary household self-reliance to the formal taxable economies dominated by corporations. Mounting psychosocial dysfunction expanded the need for the helping professions of health, social welfare and education as well as those of control from police and security services to deal with addiction, family violence and social fragmentation, both real and imagined.”

In these times when sauerkraut is the new pavlova, and “home-made” seems to be the ultimate hipster prerequisite. And at a time when social isolation is almost the norm, perhaps the Home Economy has something to teach us about a new (old) way of being.

NOTE : David Holmgren is a contributor in the new Living in the Future documentary Deep Listening:Dadirri, to be launched in Melbourne March 1st 2015.

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CERES Community Environment Park

I was aware of CERES before I even moved to Melbourne. Not because it is an amazing environmental oasis of calm in a huge, sprawling city, but because it is home to the Melbourne Insight Meditation Group. I’ve been sitting with Insight meditation teachers for about 10 years now and was pleased to find that I could continue my practice when I moved to Australia. Uprooting your life is unsettling and I found my way to CERES even before my jet lag had subsided. I loved it. Somehow, it immediately felt like home.

As a country girl, it has been a shock to find myself amongst skyscrapers, traffic and so many people, so I need a place I can get away from it all. Melbourne has such a huge suburbia, it takes about 40 minutes to get completely out of the city, but along the river, you can find pockets of tranquility and CERES is one of them.

From my home in Fitzroy, I cycle through Edinburgh Gardens and take the Merri Creek Trail to Brunswick, where this parkland has been sculpted from a old quarry site. David Holmgren told me that it was modelled on CAT, in Wales, which, coincidentally, was also an old quarry. Just one more reason to love it there.

As well as the Learning Centre where we meet for meditation and yoga, CERES has many other meeting rooms, where workshops are taught on tai-chi, organic gardening, group facilitation, Deep Ecology, massage and all sorts of learning for sustainability. They also teach a Permaculture Design Course, which are so popular here in Australia at the moment.

In March, they host their annual Harvest Festival. Last year, we went along and enjoyed the bands, workshops and a talk on Earthships with Rachel Goldlust. I thought it would be a great opportunity to film the place humming with life, so this year, I’ve done it. It was fun, but I was a bit distracted, because this year, I bumped into so many people I know!

I chatted with Greg, whose book, Changing Gears, I talk about in the blog post on Sustainable Living; I met my neighbour Karen, who collates the Yarra Transition website; I saw Anna Crowley, my wonderful yoga teacher and several of my own yoga students, too. It really is a place for like-minded folk to gather.

Watch Episode 53 of the Living in the Future online film series to enjoy the CERES Harvest Festival and find out why this place is such a great model for community sustainable education the world over!

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Earth Rites

I knew it felt odd to be celebrating Hallowe’en and now I realise why…

This spooky festival is an interpretation of the Celtic festival of Samhain, a time when we mark the end of summer and celebrate the gathering of the harvest. It’s a time to recognise the eternal relationship between life and death – the endless cycle of renewal and decay. At this time, the veil between the worlds is understood to be thin and it’s an appropriate time to remember our departed loved ones and our ancestors. My Mum died at this time of year and it’s always felt right to be thinking of her at this time.

But in the pagan ways, for people in the South this is Beltaine, the fullness of Spring; not Samhain, the end of Summer, beginning of Winter. Instead of turning inward for the long, dark days, we are turning outward for the warm, light evenings!

People in Australia are caught not only in the ways of the “old country”, but in a Christian calendar which has usurped traditional land-based rites and the shenanigans of the media, who promote anything and everything that sells. And Hallowe’en sells, as does Christmas, Easter, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day and Valentine’s Day.

At Djanbung Gardens, a permaculture training centre in Nimbin, New South Wales, facilitator Robyn Francis has created a new version of the pagan calendar, accounting for the differences in time zone. Thus, Samhain becomes Beltaine and Lammas, which in the North is a celebration of harvest in August, becomes Imbolc, announcing the imminent arrival of Spring. For those of us Northerners living in the South, it can really help us connect to the land if we tune in to these ancient festival times.

Making rituals to mark these occasions can be a simple thing, practised with a group of friends or alone. At Samhain, light a candle and remember your ancestors. Tell a story about your loved ones and prepare warm food to comfort and sustain you and your friends.
Or if your time is Beltaine, take some soil in a container and plant some seeds. Be thankful for the long days returning after the dark Winter nights and rejoice in the light which helps our food grow and all living beings survive. Prepare a simple meal of fresh vegetables and salad and make a wish that all beings need never be hungry.

This mindfulness can help us remember our place in the order of things, as well as develop a compassion to reach out to others. And this is useful because we need to do both in order to live in a healthy, sane and balanced world. Don’t you think?

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