In April, 2014, PCA and Djanbung Gardens in cooperation with Earth Passengers of Taipei, hosted a group of twenty two Taiwanese for a ten day program visiting permaculture, sustainable and community projects in Nimbin and the Northern Rivers bioregion. The group, representing all regions of Taiwan, included permaculturists, educators, farmers and people involved in community projects.

Hui-i Chiang, Taiwanese facilitator and translator

Hui-i Chiang, Taiwanese facilitator and translator

The study tour was requested by Hui-I Chang, key pioneer of permaculture in Taiwan and founding director of Earth Passengers, environmental education NGO. The Djanbung Gardens team organised the program and local logistics and transport. Melian Fertl, our resident permie chef, catered most of the lunches and evening meals treating everyone to delicious feasts of local organic and garden food.

The group arrived in Brisbane on Good Friday after a grueling over-night flight, so day one focused on getting the group to Nimbin, settling into their accommodation at the Nimbin Rox Hostel, and having an early night after a hearty welcome meal at Djanbung.

Saturday morning started with an orientation session about the week’s activities, an introduction to Djanbung and the team and an in-depth tour of the gardens. After lunch we walked through Jarlanbah permaculture community, first call was Levity Gardens to see the market garden, soil microorganism ferments and integrated orchard and poultry system, then a stroll through the hamlet with it’s diverse passive solar houses, gardens, community landuse and facilities.

Easter egg hunt was a fun cultural novelty

Easter egg hunt was a fun cultural novelty

Easter Sunday began with an Easter egg hunt — a first for everyone in the group, as were the hot cross buns for morning tea. The group members gave more in-depth introductions, what they do in Taiwan and what they were hoping to get from the experience of the study tour. The diversity of ages and backgrounds were inspiring, a policewoman, the organiser of Taiwan’s first farmers market, people setting up intentional community, and a young permaculturist who sponsored his parents to join the tour. After another delicious lunch, they walked into Nimbin to stock up on breakfast supplies and explore the village, then returned for a late afternoon presentation on Nimbin, it’s history and community initiatives.

Monday was the Barkers Vale field trip, with a morning tour of Tutti Fruiti Farm lead by James Creagh, exploring the extensive mixed fruit orchards, market garden and bees. After a picnic lunch at James’ place we visited Jake Shedden’s place to see his organic market garden. The group were also very impressed with Jake’s house and stand-alone solar power system. We returned to Djanbung via the scenic drive through the caldera to a campfire and BBQ.

Orchard with a view overlooking the tweed valley caldera

Orchard with a view overlooking the tweed valley caldera

The following day was spent at Djanbung doing basket weaving workshop with Kim Tait and bamboo construction with Robyn Francis. After dinner, Guy Stewart gave an engaging and inspiring presentation on the Sustainable Nimbin programs, food security group, solar initiatives and 7Sibly Street project.

Wednesday we met in the park for an overview of the village centre then Dianna Roberts took the group for a talk and tour of the Nimbin Community Centre, and we spent some time with local Bundjalung artist, Gilbert Laurie at the Cultural Centre. Last stop before lunch at the Rainbow Café was the Neighbourhood Centre and the diverse range of community services and initiatives they coordinate.

The afternoon included a tour of Rainbow Power Company, Australia’s first renewable energy business, and shopping at the Farmers Twighlight Market in Nimbin village centre. Everyone enjoyed sampling and buying up our local delicacies, Nimbin Valley cheeses, breads baked with local spelt, handmade spreads, pestos, chutneys, fruits and veg, and all the yummy treats of pies, tarts and homemade ricotta baked cheese cake. We rounded off the village experience day with dinner on the deck at the Nimbin Hotel.

The Channon was our Thursday morning destination, with Ray Flannery at Dharmananda, one of the oldest intentional communities in the area. The group were fascinated by the history, how the community operates, the high level of food and energy self-reliance, and how with very little income one could live a life of such abundance. We continued up to the end of Terania Creek Road dodging the potholes to Protestors Falls for picnic lunch in the rainforest and a walk to the falls.

Impressive mountains of compost at the Lismore City Council Waste Recovery Centre

Impressive mountains of compost at the Lismore City Council Waste Recovery Centre

Lismore next, with a special tour of the commercial municipal composting system at Lismore City Waster and Recovery Centre. There are two separate systems, one is for composting household and retail food waste (KOR), and the other composts green waste from gardens and landscapes. The Greenwaste compost is certified organic. Composting the city’s organic waste has reduced landfill by 40%. All recoverable waste is recycled or processed on site, building materials, cement, machines, appliances, furniture, as well as the usual glass, plastics and paper.

The Lismore Farmers Twilight Market was an opportunities meet the farmers of more local food specialities like coffee, olives, wine, dryland rice, breads, organic heritage meats and local seafood.

We headed for the coast on Friday, first to the Mullumbimby Farmers Market then Mullumbimby Community Gardens. The gardens were exceptionally inspiring, the public facilities, permaculture demonstration, children’s garden, food-for-all garden and over 90 allotments. After lunch at the beach in Byron Bay we visited the Seed Savers Network founders, Jude and Michele Fanton. Over endless cups of tea, Michele and Jude gave an inspiring and entertaining history of their work and the importance of seed sovereignty. What was to be a hour-long visit stretched into three hours as we explored the gardens and food forests, plus a spontaneous extended tour of the kitchen sampling all kinds of new and interesting things. We caught the last of the sunset from the Byron Bay Lighthouse overlooking the bay to the mountains, then foraged Byron’s numerous food outlets before heading home.

Mullumbimby Community Gardens

Mullumbimby Community Gardens

Saturday was the last day in Nimbin. The group enjoyed some more hands-on activities at Djanbung building a bottle wall and seed saving. Then everyone went on a final local shopping expedition of things to take back to Taiwan. The cob oven had been firing all afternoon for a feast of pizza and pasta bakes around the campfire for our last Djanbung meal. Everyone spoke about their experience and how the people and projects they saw working here have inspired and empowered, and each one had new ideas to take back home. They particularly enjoyed Melian’s cooking and friendly team at Djanbung. We in turn, also learned much from the group and through their eyes, gained a new appreciation of just how special our bioregion is and the strength of our community.

The most profound feedback from the group was about how moving and awe-inspiring it was to see the starry skies at night, and especially to see the “river in the sky”, as their skies are so polluted only the brightest of stars can be seen—for some, seeing the milky way was like seeing a legend come true.

I said my goodbyes on Saturday night and Sunday the rest of the team took the group on their return trip to Brisbane airport via Currumbin Ecovillage and a tour of Northey Street City Farm with Ronnie Martin.

The study tour was a great success for all involved and both Earth Passengers and the Djanbung Gardens/PCA team are keen to do it again and potentially offer similar programs for other groups in the future. Big thanks to everyone who participated and contributed to this inspiring new venture.