I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land in which we call home, the Bundjalung people, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.
Ever since I was a little girl digging up potatoes from my grandfather’s garden patch like it was a treasure hunt, I’ve had an infatuation with things that grow. We’d pull out wonky carrots and pluck imperfect tomatoes, delivering them straight up to my grandmother’s kitchen where she would turn them into something wholesome and morish, in a way only Nan could do. It sounds idyllic, but I had no idea at the time just how much these regular school holiday occurrences with my grandparents would shape one of my life passions.
Fast forward to 2020 and all the uncertainty that surrounds it, and nurseries Australia wide are running out of seedlings – they had never seen anything like it! In a year where it was a necessity to search for silver linings, watching people return to their roots and pick up their rusty shovels and spades was the one that captured my heart the most. The gift of time, coupled with the understanding that health truly is the only wealth, was the perfect storm for a home gardening revolution.
Gardening is infectious – you taste your first home-grown tomato and you swear you’d never eaten something so full of flavour before – you just want to know and do more. You are able to fully comprehend the time and care taken to grow that tomato, and so your respect for where food comes from deepens. So in February of 2021, I decided I wanted to expand my gardening repertoire and study permaculture design, syntropic forestry and regenerative practices at Ella’s Farm in Bilambil Heights, Tweed Shire.
Let me tell you, permaculture is so much more than simply gardening. It’s an elegant philosophy for living within your means, centred around energy consumption – in all its forms. Its core principle is to generate more energy than you consume, in order to live by a truly sustainable existence that gives back more than it takes, to create a “permanent-culture” society. We applied this to food production, home design, land management, soil regeneration, community, purchasing behaviours, everything. It changed the way I see the world. If you look to history, Indigenous cultures naturally lived lives in respect of nature’s resources, and unfortunately we now have some catching up to do to get back to that level of sophistication of living in harmony with the land.
For 7 weeks our group of 10 students, led by Ella and other guest facilitators, would meet via an online classroom to discuss the theory components of that week’s topic. Then each Saturday we would head up to Ella’s farm, with breathtaking panoramic ocean views, and get our hands dirty integrating our theory into practice. Some of my stand out experiences were exploring food forests, keeping chickens, raising robust seedlings, orchard design, swales for water management, worm farming + so much more. I discovered Aquaponics, where fish are integrated into a raised wicking bed system to grow nutrient dense food at lightning speed, with less water in a completely closed loop system – mind blowing!
At the end of our course, we took everything we had learned and applied it to a final permaculture design for a property of our choice to present to the group. I chose my pretty standard sized residential home block, where others chose apartments, all the way up to acreages – permaculture principles can be applied to all shapes and forms. Looking at our home through the eyes of the permaculture principles shifted my perception from land ownership into land custodians, how can we leave this place in a richer, more rehabilitated state than we found it, all whilst enjoying the health benefits of our own integrated food system?
Now that the course has finished, my partner and I are enjoying slowly implementing our regenerative plan for this place we call home. We’ve got a heaving worm farm, a compost heap brewing, a native food forest in the works, some pretty epic garden beds established and plans for some chooks in the not-too-distant future, among other ideas.
If you’d like to dip your toes into the permaculture world, I highly recommend heading up to Ella’s Farm to volunteer of a Saturday morning. You’ll meet the warm, infectious Ella who radiates with passion and joy for what she shares – she is a true community treasure. Otherwise, Ella’s Farm offer a farm tour and gourmet organic picnic – what better way to treat yourself and your loved ones on a weekend and connect back into nature.
I hope this inspires you to get your hands dirty, even if it’s just starting out with a herb plant on your windowsill – from little things, big things grow! x