Michele Margolis is passionate about grassroots urban permaculture, here she updates us on what happening in Sydney’s inner west.
Cities are a bit harder than little towns in some ways but easier in others — and there’s plenty going on in Sydney in local communities within the huge Sydney megalopolis. Permaculture West is rocking!
Tribes within communities. Sydney isn’t one place. There are as many tribes here as there are coffee outlets. Probably more. Lots of unseen over-lappings and chance meetings as well as people on the same page who will never get to meet each other. It’s the edge where the changes get made.
Challenges and Opportunities
To be sustainable you need a core team who are going to stay – if people move away it’s hard to keep going. Margaret Mead was probably right – it usually is about three people who keep things going because they are so committed and dedicated. This may be a local thing or a national thing, depends where the energy lies. Around here it’s really like a whole lot of villages – almost like Transition is happening by itself, maybe that’s why Transition Marrickville was pretty irrelevant – we are an anarchic bunch of many tribes, now over-lapping more than ever.
There are many different ways to make change, and for some of us Inner West Seed Savers is our hub at the Eco Library at Addison Rd Centre Marrickville. This group evolved from Transition Marrickville in 2009. Inner West Seed Savers is going strong and growing, that is where my energy goes naturally as it connects so well with the local community gardens and home gardeners. We also do something each meeting – we pack seeds, we don’t just sit and talk and there’s no particular agenda, no formal roles, I love it!
There are also a lot of community projects beginning like Sydenham Green and a plan to plant out the huge areas of unused land around Redfern Station. I limit myself to the local new community garden in Enmore in a very small park, The Asylum Seekers Centre, volunteering at Alfalfa House, and organising workshops when the opportunity comes. We also cycle a lot of urban waste around here and have an informal trading system that just happens without any formal currency.
People in action – cooperative anarchy
The ‘Permaculture people’ who live around here are involved in numerous different projects and not really meeting as a single group. We do all support each other however and that is really good, no one group is taking over. My place in Enmore seems to be a bit of a hub and lots of people get sent to me because I have been a Wwoof host, have garden sharers through Landshare, run workshops here and also because people wanted to know who was running Permaculture workshops in the area – so we just did it between us as a bunch of enthusiastic locals with a huge range of experience and specific skills. We were very much supported by Alfalfa House Food Coop and also Council by advertising for us in the local newspaper. Costa of course has been a great supporter and now quite a few of us have been on Gardening Australia with Costa.
Now we have a connection between Alfalfa House Food Coop, Council and The Bower – this opens up a whole new world of possibilities. The model we came up with is really urban focused because that’s where we live, we don’t have a lot of land. I possibly have more land than most of the local permies: 1/8 acre! That’s big for inner west Sydney! Getting 8 people to meet up and devise a workshop series that would work for everyone involved and pay us all (Yes we obtained a yield) and not be too expensive – we did that without an umbrella organisation, but auspiced by Transition Sydney – thanks to Peter Driscoll.
Sometimes a cooperatively anarchic system works well if the people involved share ethics and have good will and share the yield. We had perhaps 250 people in all come to our workshops last year. Few of them would have been able to afford to do a PDC and most came for specific skills. Quite a lot of people really wanted to know some pretty basic practical things – all related to home and community self-reliance. Perhaps it was a bit like the Living Smart courses that Fiona Campbell runs in Randwick.
Reaching the social edges
TAFE Outreach has also been running an Urban Food Growing, Bush Regeneration and Sustainable Living course for a number of years (basically very much Permaculture in focus) which is free and targets people who do not have access to formal education nor the money to pay for courses. This includes people with mental and physical health issues, long term unemployed and people for whom English is a second language.
The groups come to our place in Enmore each course for a hands-on Permaculture component and to see an urban Permaculture Food Forest in action. We had 15 people here today, everyone was happy and everyone had something to offer the group – very much communicative horizontal shared learning. We also tour the local bush nursery and community centre and gardens. The wonderful thing about the course is that it reaches out to a lot of people who would never be able to do a PDC. I provides scaffolding and networks so the students have options, including volunteering, further study and even local paid employment after the course. The course certainly illustrates the principle: Use edges and value the marginal. It’s also a prime example of Care of People in action as the students very much support each other over the 15 week programme.
We also have a young dynamic team of garden designers and there are regular meet-ups to share projects around here and connecting with the home school movement as well. Steve Webb home schools his children and has his own Edible Children’s Gardens business – he has organised regular meet-ups where we share ideas and projects. This may grow into some more children’s workshops that Inner West Seed Savers ran a couple last month at Addison Rd Centre on market day and the kids loved it.
Marrickville has loads of community gardens and inner west Sydney has a great connection of community garden people via City Farms and Community Gardens…another connection with Permaculture, thanks a great deal to Russ and Fiona and Jane Mowbray who has been the main stayer at Glovers Garden in Rozelle and helped me set up Inner West Seed Savers. I think there’s a lot of room for Permaculture to work more with children and that’s a discussion we will be having as part of the Edible Garden Designers meet-up group.
That’s a snap shot of Inner West Sydney.
Permaculture Sydney South has had an injection of new energy and is getting involved in some exciting new local community projects with Council – membership is growing and the meetings are happening – there is a plan for a spring PDC taught by locals in the local area. We are here!
Michele Margolis email me
Photos: Michelle Margolis and Celia McCauley