Permaculture Design Certificate at Djanbung Gardens, Nimbin, NSW

 Djanbung Gardens

Djanbung Gardens

Permaculture is a term known to many gardeners and farmers, however is probably meaningless to anyone else. Put (VERY) simply, it's an integrated design approach to a sustainable way of living, made up of ethics and principles that can be adapted to any lifestyle or situation. Permaculture, coined by Aussies Bill Mollison (dec.) and David Holmgren, is about living WITH nature, not against it. It's about closed-loop cycles that interrelate and connect in multiple ways (often called whole-systems thinking). It's about sustaining life as a person, a family or a community for the long term. As my passion for growing organic food and living sustainably grew, I kept coming across the buzz word and eventually found out about PDCs. Two weeks of living frugally in a tent, surrounded by likeminded people, eating locally grown organic food, learning about working with mother nature - how could that get better?! I knew that I needed more tools in my belt and knowledge in my head to improve my sustainable lifestyle and get better at growing food and educating others, so I took annual leave from my full time job and headed solo to Nimbin.

Right here, I'll add an important note about this little town to dispel some unfair stereotypes. Nimbin has a reputation for being all about illicit drug use and government-hating hippies. I'll admit, it has taken advantage of tourism somewhat and promotes cannabis quite a bit, however it is a town that also speaks up for itself, that argues for community rights, and for change. Legalising cannabis is not a new concept (we see you, USA) and many in Nimbin and surrounds feel strongly about the cause. The hemp industry is growing and has so much amazing potential - it is especially useful as a clothing fibre, medicine, and a building material and does not warrant the sneers from ill-informed folk. Furthermore, Nimbin has (like many country towns) run into strife with intravenous drug use during some dark times in the past, and did quite an amazing job of caring for and rehabilitating the town and drug addicts. "Hippies" are everywhere, yes, and the benefits of free-thinking and government-challenging minds is wonderfully reflected in the tight relationships found in the communities in the Norther Rivers region, and in history. Solar power production, biodynamic farming, regenerative agriculture, forest conservation and the arts are big industries, setting examples for others in Australia and around the world striving to heal scars we have created on our planet. Sure, you can buy buds anywhere, but it doesn't mean it's a town of plebs.

 Nimbin Farmer's Market haul - oyster mushrooms, fennel, chard and sourdough fruit loaf (all organic)

Nimbin Farmer's Market haul - oyster mushrooms, fennel, chard and sourdough fruit loaf (all organic)

Anyway, I attended the course in July taken by Robyn Francis, who turned out to be a legend in the field and had taught 145 PDCs prior to the one I took. Robyn journeyed through permaculture alongside Bill in his heyday, revitalising third world and Aboriginal communities, growing food in suburban lots, and educating thousands on caring for our planet. Robyn runs courses on her block 'Djanbung Gardens' which is open to the public during the week. Her daughter Melian also runs a fantastic cafe serving organic local fresh produce for events and functions. Andrew does the hard yards, feeding the animals (ducks, geese, Polly the pig and chooks) and handiwork.  The property is abundant in edible food forests, veggie gardens, dams, small dwellings, orchards, wildlife and great simple technology (the composting toilets were easily my favourite).

The course itself covered so many more topics than I expected, and such a wide range. From 9am to 9pm we learned about the latest climate science and shocking global warming stats, global water/carbon/nitrogen/wind cycles, vegetative regeneration (even in the desert), sustainable building and retrofitting, renewable resources and animal husbandry. Other lessons covered organic vegetable farming, reading weeds, soil health and microbiology, composting and waste management, urban greening, intentional communities and eco villages, design principles, patterns in nature, legalities of business set-up and economics. At the end of the two weeks, we created a team design for a small block of land (down the road) and presented to the class, choosing one particular aspect of the design to speak about in more detail as an individual. The theory was often challenging, both mentally and morally, and made us question so many things. This was the most invaluable part for me: be open-minded and ask "why?" all the time, you learn ten times as much that way.

 Natural building materials in the tool shed

Natural building materials in the tool shed

The group of people who attended the course were legends of all age and backgrounds, with a common interest in environmental awareness and sustainable living. The energy at Djanbung was always welcoming and easy, though the excitement after certain topics covered in class was palpable. There was no comment that couldn't be made, no emotion too private, and no idea too silly. So many deep conversations flowed the whole time - we were always in bed straight after class due to mental exhaustion! Every morning we reflected on the day before, and every night we held hands and gave thanks to Mel and Mother Nature for the fresh produce we were about to eat. We enjoyed nights around the campfire, lunches in the sun, excessive amounts of tea and coffee, delicious vegan and vego meals five times a day, and best of all a talent show on the last night. We all vowed that one day we would all reconnect in some way, and should anyone ever be in need of hands or ideas, we would always be up for a road trip to help. 

I've heard a saying that goes, 'the more your learn, the more questions you have'. That's how I feel after this course, but in such an energetic and excited way. I have already listed and started so many more projects and made many more short-term and long-term goals that I was struggling to get my head around before the PDC. I have so many more people to contact, books to read and websites to google. I would recommend the course to literally anyone - there is not a person on the planet who wouldn't get at least one big 'ah-ha!' moment from it (I think we all had several a day!). The permaculture community is big and broad, and has open arms for anyone who cares about the future of the Earth - we only have one, so we have no choice but to look after it.

Feel free to email me (seedblog.contact@gmail.com), Facebook IM (SEED), Instagram PM @seedblog or comment below with any thoughts, ideas or questions. You can also head to www.permaculture.com.au for more about Robyn Francis' courses, and to www.wholistic.com.au for more about solar tech and sustainable building design. For the permaculture ethics and principles, go to www.permacultureprinciples.com .

 Design from patterns to details

Design from patterns to details

 Turning the hot compost heap

Turning the hot compost heap

 Smell-free composting toilets

Smell-free composting toilets

 The classroom/dining room

The classroom/dining room

 The veggie patch

The veggie patch