Broom Millet Scrubbing Brushes

Unnecessary waste products sneak into our leaves in the most invisible little places – take the kitchen sink for example. Most people will have an array of steel and/or plastic sponges and scrubbers hanging around to wash their dishes. These, of course, all eventually end up in the bin – AKA landfill.

These days there are a vast range of kitchen scrubbers in the eco-products department that you can buy which break down in the compost pile which is fantastic. But did you know there’s pretty much always something you can grow yourself that will do the same job?

Growing up in sub-tropical Brisbane, we’d grow the luffa vine and use this in the bathroom and kitchen. In more tropical climates, people use coconut husk. Alas, it’s a tad cold in cool temperate Tasmania for either of those plants – hence our enthusiasm when Anton’s mum gifted us with a little broom millet (Sorghum bicolor) scrubbing bush all the way from (very cold) Sweden.

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We promptly went about sourcing some seed so we could grow our own, and one year later we now have our own little batch of broom millet scrubbing brushes. Here’s the full journey in pictures…

12814170_1105742886126622_5899092105589912269_nBroom millet grows up to around 3m

13178584_1154314151269495_5849002741447914003_nHarvesting and cleaning with Frida Maria.

13124724_1149357191765191_3436995366471048251_nHanging to dry in our kitchen.

Once you’ve grown, harvested and dried the seed heads thrash the seeds off the plant and save it for eating and/or for growing for next seasons (that’s what we’ll be doing).

THEN… Cut it into desired lengths and form a nice little bunch in your hand. Next you simply have to tie some string around it to keep it all together. We recommend using a waxed string as this repels water, preventing the string from becoming smelly with excess water hanging on.

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I just went ahead and roughly wrapped the string around and tied ten knots to keep it on. Then Anton walked into the room and proceeded to wow me with one of his sailor knots where it’s beautifully neat, you can’t see the finished knot and it’s approximately 100 times stronger than mine…. So I think you should know about it.

First, use some rubber bands (or equivalent) to keep your millet in place. Then lay the string out as seen below.

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Next, start wrapping your string neatly around your bunch, leaving the loop exposed at one end (the right in this case).

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Once you’re happy with the amount of wraps (i.e. run out of string), put the end you’re working with through the exposed loop. Gently and slowly, pull the other loose end of string (shown on the left in the photo below) until you’re pulling the looped end under the wrapped area. By doing this, you’re making a knot which ties off the whole thing.

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You’ll be left with two bits of string sticking out from either end of the wrapped area – just chop them off, remove the rubber bands and you’re done!

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img_6652The finished product

The patch of broom millet we grew was around 3m x 2m with approximately 25 plants. Of those plants, some seed heads were lost to birds and some didn’t form overly well. We ended up with seven scrubbing brushes from around 15 plants.

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But interestingly, one scrubbing brush will last for over one year – we’re still using ours that was gifted to us well over a year ago. I’ve had to replace its’ string once, but otherwise the fibre is incredibly strong and still going. Technically this means we have over seven years of scrubbing brushes in the photo below!

img_6637We trialled some different shapes (short and long) to see what we prefer.

Please note, all the bunches above are tied together using my slap dash technique and they’ve since been re-done using Anton’s sailor knot as shown earlier in this post.

The green string (seen above) is hemp which works fairly well, however we prefer waxed string which repels water and therefor lasts longer.

While it took a while, we’re now very sorted in the scrubbing brush department. Say goodbye weird plastic products and hello compostable, uber local and satisfying resources!

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Brewing Beer From Scratch

Beer! I don’t need to sing its praises but I think folks should know a bit about how it’s made, especially once you find out how amazing it can taste *and* how much money you can save from brewing your own.

Making beer is a process that definitely rewards effort. I (Anton) have been a homebrewer for almost two decades, and until recently would have described my approach as a bit hit and miss.  You see brewing beer is a fairly simple process.  You mix malted barley with water, boil in some hops and then add some yeast, wait a few weeks and drink.  Too easy, and I’ve been in the habit of throwing these ingredients around in fair disregard of any recipe or documentation.  The results are variable from great to not so great

Perhaps it was one of these “slap dash” home brews that inspired Hannah’s dad to give us the very excellent “Sustainable Homebrewing” by Amelia Slayton Loftus.  This remarkable read introduces homebrewing and takes the reader through the entire process of brewing beer, using whole grains and developing your own beer styles.  She also takes it to the next level with mushroom cultivation on the spent grains and even DIY vegemite…yep – she’s awesome.

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From reading this book I’ve learnt something extra about every aspect of the brewing process, deep details on the malting enzyme process or little tricks of what temperature to keep your mash for sweeter beers.  She also has a bucketload of award winning recipes, from  simple beginner beers to over the top trophy winners.  If you’re interested in taking up home brewing or taking it to the next level I heartily recommend this read.

I got so inspired by this book that I thought I should share the process of making beer from scratch (without the growing and malting barley bit).  This process is known as a “full mash” in brewing circles.

First up – grow some hops.  In temperate and cool temperate hops grow like crazy, getting to over 5 meters tall in a season.  The vine is cut down in autumn and hop flowers harvested and dried.  Of course, alternatively you can buy dried hops.

IMG_6035Cascade hops growing amongst our orchard.

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The first step in the actual brewing process is weighing your malt and placing it into hot water.  It’s steeped somewhere between 65-68 degrees celsius for around 1 hour.  This process extracts the sugars from the malt into the hot water.

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I like to use a “hot box” to steep the grains.  Once the grain and water are at the upper limit of the correct temperature they are wrapped in blankets, doonas and pillows to stay warm.

IMG_6038Our low-fi hot pot system doing its thing

The next process is called “lautering” – basically trying to get the sweet malty water separated from the grains.  Here we have press-ganged an urn into service.  It has a “false floor” consisting of an upturned collander and cheesecloth.  Hot water (around 75 degrees) is poured in the top and malty water drained from below.

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This keeps on going until you have washed as much sweetness out as possible.  More recently I’ve been doing the entire first malting process in the urn. It saves one whole process of transferring hot liquid in heavy saucepans.  It’s also worthwhile to note that brew shops are full of specialty brewing equipment – so you don’t have to have to improvise with your kitchen implements.  Most of these purpose-made tools would make your brewing process easier, but definitely more expensive.

The next step is boiling the “wort”.  That’s the name given to this sticky sweet liquid.  Over the course of around one hour a variety of hops are added to the wort.   Boiling the wort also sterilises the it, ensuring your preferred yeast strain flourishes.  From now on, you should be concerned about sterilising everything that touches the brew.

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Next up, you can start adding your dried hops which are the bittering and flavouring agent – they also help to preserve the beer.  The amount of hops, the timing of the addition and the variety will contribute greatly to the final taste of the brew. Hops are added in stages over an hour, this allows different flavours to develop in the boil (much like tea has different flavours the longer it is left).  Also note that different hop varieties have different flavours and amounts of bitterness.  Be careful when starting out because too many hops can turn a good brew bad.

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After the wort has boiled it’s strained into a brew barrel – I use 25 litre plastic barrels, but glass carboys work as well.  At this point we need to cool down the wort as quickly as possible.  I place the barrel in a large tub (actually baby bath) and add cold water.  This approach creates a lot of surface area to cool the brew, it usually takes around 30 minutes.

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Once the wort is cool, I give the brew a strong stir to introduce oxygen and then add brewing yeast. Brewing yeast is available in packets from brew shops. It’s also fairly easy to use the remains of a previous brew batch to start the next brew, or even recover yeast from shop-bought beers.  Be careful with this process because contaminated yeast can make the previous hours of hard work turn to vinegar – you have been warned.

It normally takes around two weeks for the brew to do its “primary fermentation”. At the end of this process all of the available sugars have been converted by the yeast into alchohol.  During this process it will have released carbon dioxide and if you have installed an airlock on the brew barrel you would’ve heard it bubbling along.

After the brew has stopped bubbling it’s placed into bottles along with a small amount of sugar or malt. This addition of sugar is the “secondary fermentation” and as the yeast releases carbon dioxide it’s trapped in the sealed bottle and makes those refreshing bubbles we know and love.

Its a good idea to label your beer, a marker pen on the lid does the job.

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Or you can make some special labels, below you can see some bottles we prepared for our mate’s wedding.

The joys of homebrew are endless – from making it to sharing it with mates, it just keeps on giving. It’s one less thing we buy and one more thing we make – adding to our home-based approach to living. Taking responsibility for our needs is one of the most satisfying things for us, and while beer isn’t technically a “need” it’s a perk of life we like to enjoy every now and then (preferably with excellent humans).

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And obviously, we advocate for sensible and smart consumption – look after your brain cells and keep it all in moderation :-).

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Goats In The City!

Meet Shani Graham and her partner Tim Darby. Together they live in on a 1/4 acre block in Fremantle, Perth, Western Australia. Their home (and local business) is called Ecoburbia and is an urban infill development where they’ve converted their house into four self contained living unit, tripling the population density without adding to the houses footprint.

They’ve set up their home as a demonstration sustainable house, with cutting edge energy systems, water collection and dispersal systems and innovative passive solar design.They’ve designed it to be an educational opportunity and community hub, with regular tours, workshops, films and other community events.

On top of this they’ve also got chickens, goats, compost and fruit trees, plus a large shared veggie patch. Yes goats – you read that right. As a wannabe city goat keeper myself, I had a million questions for Shani and thought it only right I share the answers with you – and the cute baby goat photos… Swooon!

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What type of goats do you have and why did you choose this breed?

We have two saneen goats,the mother is Little White and her daughter is Whimsy. We chose them as they’re are a great milking goat, have gentle natures and are generally pretty quiet (unless they are on heat).

How big is their permanent run?

​A​bout 50 square metres not including their stable area.
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What are some of the key functions they perform for you and your property?

The goats do a few things – ​most importantly ​provide us with milk – we drink this and make cheese. They also provide a composting system for branches cut around the neighbourhood. Importantly, they’re a gret source of entertainment (and sometimes shelter) for the chickens.

​interestingly the chickens like to eat the grain in their poo – so that’s another function, plus they eat food scraps from us and many of our neighbours and friends. Lastly they are an endless source of love, entertainment and fun ​for us, just like any other pet does.
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Do your neighbour’s like them?

The majority of our neighbours love them – especially when there are baby kids around!

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Does your local Council approve of them?

​I am proud to say we have the only legal goat stable in Fremantle! Interestingly enough (despite what everyone says) we met all the requirements (we are on a 1/4 acre block), except distance from our neighbours. But our council was very reasonable and suggested that if we could get support from all our affected neighbours they would grant approval – which they did.

We have had goats “illegally” before. We find when applying the “beg for forgiveness don’t ask for permission”rule works quite effectively. The most important thing to do is talk to your neighbours – and offer them goat’s cheese!

What do you feed them?

They get a grain mix twice a day – this consists of lucerne chaff, special goat pellets, barley and lupins. Plus oaten hay and occasionally lucerne. They also get whatever branches are being cut down and every second day we harvest some acacia from a local roadway.

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How much milk do you get from them each day when you’re milking them?

When Little White was in full production we got between 4-5 litres a day. We have been milking her for nearly two years at the moment though so she’s down to about 2 litres a day.

What type of fencing do you have for your goats?

We are really lucky,  our goats are not really escape artists so our fences are not that high (around chest height) but pretty sturdy​. Whimsy can jump out if she is scared but she doesn’t seem to do it any other time – she is really scared of umbrellas for some reason and that is the last time she jumped out​.

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What would you say to someone thinking of getting goats in an urban environment?

I would recommend to have a “goat mentor” – ideally someone close by who has a small herd and is willing to support you. We have Keren Mustham from Serendipity Goats. She is an absolute legend – we call her ‘Goat Girl’.

​I can call her whenever I am worried about something and find she often knows more than the vets! If you can’t find a goat mentor, make sure you have a relationship with a good vet that knows about productive animals.​
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What’s one of your favourite things about keeping goats?

​One of my favourite daily things:  Sitting in the goat pen early in the morning, drinking a cup of tea and having a warm goat cuddle up against you​.
My all time favourite moment: The honour of helping Little White birth her babies. When she was in the last stages of labour she just wanted me there. She lay moaning with her head in my lap and we went through each contraction together. She had six kids (two were still born) – unheard of for a goat. I even had to help her by assisting one out. Since then she and I have had a very special bond​.
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Some extra things…

  • Goats are very clever and I have used clicker training to great effect. Little White can shake hands and Whimsy can find and touch a​ soccer​ ball on command.
  • Keeping goats is a big commitment, you can’t just spontaneously go on a weekend holiday here and there. You need to make sure someone can milk them/look after them properly. This is getting a bit tricky for us these days. So don’t just go get goats if you like to go away a lot.

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Elgaar Farm Returns!! With X-mas Hampers!!

Please excuse the amount of exclamation marks in the heading for this blog, BUT we’re excited (and relieved). You see, almost two years ago Tasmania’s only organic, family run dairy, Elgaar Farm, lost their licence due to a paperwork mishap (you can read about it here).

No one ever dreamed it would take 22 months of round the clock work from the Gretschmann family to meet new industry standards and an epic crowd funding campaign that raised over $250,000 from people like you and me to upgrade their dairy and make sure they didn’t loose their farm in the process.

We are all deeply relieved that their licence has been granted and they can get back to doing what they do best – making some of the worlds best, most ethical dairy products commercially available.

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Tassie folk can expect to see Elgaar back in action at the Harvest Launceston Market on Saturdays and Hobart Farm Gate Market on Sundays by mid-late September. You can stay in the loop by joining their facebook page to here all updates.

X-mas Hampers!

To raise funds to get production rolling again, they’re offering a limited amount of pre-sale x-mas hampers full of dairy delights and other local goodies for you and your loved ones to feast on. Get in on this amazing deal HERE by September 21st to lock in the best x-mas present ever! And yes, they post all over Australia, so you don’t have to be in Tassie to get in on this greatness.

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A massive high five and a big round of hugs to the Gretschmann family for being brave enough to ask for help in the face of a bureaucratic system that cripples, rather than supports small farmers. If you’re close enough to one, hug a small farmer today and if you can’t do that, be sure to support them with your hip pocket. As long as we have farms like Elgaar in the world – our food system and life in general is not only safe – it is awesome, as it should be.


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  • All photos are from Elgaar Farm
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Sydney Park – A Stormwater wonderland

On our recent family trip to Sydney, Hannah co-taught a permaculture design course for Milkwood and little Frida Maria and I (Anton) visited a hundred different playgrounds and parks.  The most impressive of these was Sydney Park in St Peters just south-west of the city.  Why is it awesome? Well the place is a stormwater re-use wonderland.

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IMG_20160719_104258Stormwater (ie run-off from streets and parks) often looks like the shot below.  Here, there are thousands of plastic bottles and wrappers and water that doesn’t look so great for public health and the environment.

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Instead, Sydney Park uses a variety of biological methods to clean water for reuse and provides a lush and inviting play space.  So where does the water come from?  Curbs like these below.  The Sydney Council says that 78% of the catchment has hard surfaces, i.e. paving or roofs – that’s a massive catchment area…

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After passing through pipes under the street they enter the Munni Street Channel.  Apparently around 43 tonnes of gross pollutants run through this channel.  When the water levels are high, water is drawn from the channel into the Sydney park Wetlands.  Before they enter the park they go through a gross pollutant trap (“gross” means big, but its probably pretty ugly as well).  This filter removes the bottles, chip packets, cigarette butts, etc etc – that we like to leave on the street.  Perhaps fortunately Frida and I didn’t manage to find this part of the park.

In permaculture, we talk about managing water in a landscape by the following principles – “slow, sink, spread, store”. This system shows all these elements.

The water is diverted into large bio-retention ponds, here the water is filtered through a living system that removes a lot of the heavy nutrient loads in the water. This park has an incredible amount of dog walking action, so I’d say there’s a good portion of dog poo (with is rich nutrient) making its way into the water.

As you can see the water is diverted through several stages of retention beds.

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Here you can see the overflow from the retention ponds to the storage ponds.

IMG_20160719_104412In total there are four main ponds, each filling each other as they move downhill through the site.  The park now features thriving water life and ever-improving water quality.
IMG_20160719_104303The park also features just about every design element out of a “water sensitive urban design” book. Here instead of guttering beside a pathway, water runoff infiltrates through a rock channel and is planted out with reeds.

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Casuarina trees (a classic native riverside trees in Australia) line a drainage line.

IMG_20160719_104745The park also has some great interpretive signage, so you can learn about what’s happening as you frolic though the parklands.
IMG_20160719_103050If you’re thinking Sydney park is over the top and too expensive to implement, here’s a nearby raingarden.  These are a bio remediation technique on a much smaller scale, slowing, sinking and cleaning road runoff before entering the stormwater drain.

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And if you’re still wondering whether you should visit this water improvement masterpiece, here are some final images. Frida and I think yes, you should.
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Hey Pesto! Winter Greens Pesto Yum

While the winter crops come to an end and the spring crops are busy growing, one of the biggest crops coming out of the garden are around a hundred different types of green things. Coriander, rainbow chard, rocket, silverbeet, kale and the leaves from brocolli, cauliflowers (yes, you can eat them too). Plus a plethora of wild greens like dandelion, fat hen, chickweed, nettle, to name a few – they’re all delicious and nutritious.

There are a couple of ways I like to make sure I eat as many as possible – kale chips are a big winner and so is pesto. Contrary to what some people might think, you don’t need basil and pine nuts to make pesto – in our cool temperate climate, things things don’t often come in abundance. We make vegan pesto out of any greens that happen to be thriving in our garden – here’s how.

IMG_6330Rainbow chard, curly kale and coriander – a few of the greens in our pesto

Pick a range of greens from your veggie beds (or some of the edible weeds growing on the edges) chop them up nice and fine and pop them in a large bowl.

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When you make pesto – garlic is your best friend, we’re firm believers that more is better. So get as much garlic as you can, chop it up roughly and add it to the same bowl as the greens. Our garlic has the vague name of Tasmanian purple garlic – we’ve got a whole bunch left over from two seasons ago and it’s only now just sprouting. Perfect for pesto.

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The only other ingredients we use are olive oil, sea salt and sunflower seeds. We also use almonds or pepitas – whatever is more available at the time.

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Add all the ingredients into the bowl and find a way to pulverise it – we use a bar mixer thingo which works ok. Other people use a food processor or smash it up in a mortar and pestle.

You may need to add more olive oil as you go to get the right consistency – don’t bother skimping on the oil and no, water is not a good replacement for oil – I’ve tried that and it just isn’t pesto.

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I like my pesto a bit chunky and “stiff” so it holds its own shape on a spoon (see below). If you want yours more runny, add more olive oil. You’ll notice we don’t add any cheese, we’ve found that its the garlic that really gives the ‘pesto’ taste and that cheese is just a bit of ‘bling’ that you don’t need – in our humble opinion.

IMG_6344That’s it, pop it in a jar and store it in the fridge or eat it fresh. I like to eat it with carrots, on home made pasta or olive oil crackers. Right now I’m just eating it with a spoon for a late breaky, it’s darn tasty.

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Cara Edwards: Farm Art Delight!

We first met Cara Edwards as one of our students on our permaculture design course back in 2013 and have been loving her gumption, talent and work ever since.  You can read about her previous urban “micro farm-like” home here which she shared with Fin. They’ve now gone country and in recent times, Cara’s put a lot of energy into her food and farm inspired *art and crafts* – so now we’re all like “get outta here!” Anyway, meet Cara, she’s tops…

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What inspires your work?

I’m super nerdy about homesteading and beautiful vegetables and building badass skills. I’m also pretty shy and introverted and don’t really have the chops to be an activist on the front lines, so I like to use art as a platform to enthusiastically yell (but not literally yell) “RIDE YOUR BIKE! KNOW YOUR FARMER! GROW YUMMY THINGS!” Otherwise I’d probably just be telling the ducks in the back paddock. I’m also really inspired by hilarious animals (mostly chickens), kids in the garden, peeking over neighborhood fences and really just anyone growing anything edible. It’s the best!

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Your work shows a lot of food and farming – are you a grower yourself?

My partner Fin and I normally grow the majority of our diet, but this year we’ve moved to a bigger patch (2 acres) and are still getting things established. We do have a pretty cranking asparagus bed though, and enough food in the ground to get us through winter – but we’ve mainly been working on infrastructure, like building our hothouse and fencing. We’ve also been fortunate enough to work for a local market gardener and he keeps us well fed on beautiful, organic produce. Thanks Golden Valley Farm!

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What’s one of your favourite creations so far?

I’m pretty fond of my farmhers, sometimes I give them a little outfit update if the season changes. I also work as a primary school garden teacher and I have a lot of girls tell me they want to grow up to be gardeners or farmers, and this is always met with a schoolyard backlash of “girls can’t be farmers!!!” Of course, I give them a high-five and a “heck yeah, of course you can!”, but I have noticed that there isn’t a lot of material showing the diversity of growers around the world. Most of the picture books floating around depict farmers as aging white men on tractors. I made the original Farmher scribble for my no.1 student who studies the edible weeds and teaches the younger kids the names of the plants while I scoff down my lunch, she’s going to grow up to be a garden extraordinaire!

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Who taught you to be so artsy?

I’m your classic art school drop out, I studied graphic design for a couple of years but became pretty disillusioned with the whole industry and left to go WWOOFing around NZ. So I have some technical skills left over from those days, but I grew up in a pretty crafty household. I’m visiting my parents this week and as I type my Mum is revamping a vintage dress and my dad is out building a new horse stable. We were always encouraged to make things, I normally chose to throw birthday parties for our family dog and measured everyone’s heads for perfectly fitting party hats. Bonnie had multiple birthdays each year, she was obviously thrilled.

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Is there anything you hope your work will inspire in people to do/think? If so, what?

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I hope it inspires a positive attitude towards community and growing and gets people thinking outside the stereotype of where and who your food comes from.

There are so many amazing, radical and humble people doing great things in this world and they should be celebrated and acknowledged… and sometimes they’re not even human, but just a really good bunch of chickens! Thanks chickens.

And thanks Cara! You’re a breath of fresh air and we love your approach to making this world awesome! You can get yourself some of Cara’s talent at her online shop HERE and follow her on instagram and facebook to keep up with her greatness.

*All photos are by Cara – she happens to be a nifty photographer too!

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Deep Winter Agrarians Gathering

This weekend just gone, around 200 farmers, gardeners, educators and advocates gathered in the very beautiful town of Gerringong (NSW) for two days and nights of talking, connecting, sharing and just generally being rad. I’ve returned home feeling *pumped* with renewed vigour and passion, here’s a little insight into this farming greatness.

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Image from Milkwood

Part of the weekend involved hanging out at the very wonderful Buena Vista Farm – a family run farm that’s like nothing else. The people are out-of-this-world lovely and generous plus the land is fertile, looking over a coast line which most Aussies would love to live next to.


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On this same patch of land, Linda Machon from Grow Farm Forage runs her independent market garden. It was all a bit dreamy. As you waltz through this space it’s easy to forget how much hard work goes into making and maintaining these food gardens. Full credit and respect to Linda for being so talented.

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James from Hobart City Farm and Sadie from Fat Pig Farm from Tassie loving on Linda’s garden.

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While the rows of veggies and flowers where super eye catching, Linda’s soil was even more glorious, this deep red gold is the stuff of dreams for growers.

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Part of the absolute joy of these types of gigs is catching up with new and old friends, like Costa and fellow Tasmanians Jono Cooper and Paulette Whitney. Apologies for the dodgy photo above, just focus on the vibe – it’s all about the vibe.

And while it was awesome to spend time with committed and passionate growers and doers, coming home to a house full of love and a garden full of food always trumps everything. This week (and beyond) I’m feeling grateful to have a patch of land to grow our own and shape according to our beliefs and lives. What more could you really ask for…

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Special thanks to Kirsten from Milkwood and Fiona and Adam from Buena Vista Farm for organising this fine event. I’m in love with all three of you!

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Pocket City Farms

I’m currently in Sydney helping to teach a permaculture design course with Milkwood – it’s always a pleasure working with these committed legends. This week we took the students on a tour of some projects and homes we think are downright awesome – like Pocket City Farms. 

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Once a bowling green, it’s now a flourishing restaurant, playground, yoga space, food forest and market garden that’s transformed 1200m2 of grass into food.

IMG_1777Image from Pocket City Farms

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Pocket City Farms consists of a team of five and is a “new” project. New in the sense that their first crops are only 7 weeks old, but not so new in the sense that they’ve been working on bringing this dream to life for around six years – good things take time and *really* good people to see it all through.

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As someone who grew up on a city farm in Brisbane and helped get the Hobart City Farm up and running, seeing other similar projects kicking arse is more than heart warming, I’m a firm believer that this is world saving stuff. Seriously, in the face of climate change, peak oil, peak soil (yes, that’s right soil), food sovereignty and crazy politics – addressing unsustainable food production by countering it with regenerative food and community cultivation practices is where it’s at.

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Thanks Zag, Emma, Luke, Karen, Adrian and Pepe (the charming farm dog) for being dreamers and doers, for seeing the problems and being part of the solution. Meeting folks like you make me feel like everything’s going to be ok.

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Holistic Management Decision Making with Dan Palmer

We recently interviewed Dan Palmer from Very Edible Gardens all about holistic management decision making (HMDM) – what it is, why it works and what it’s got to do with permaculture. Read on my friends to get acquainted with this life changing framework!

What exactly is holistic management and holistic management decision making?

Holistic management (HM) is a framework for making deeply sound decisions. Deeply sound in the tangible sense of honouring the whole situation, minimising unintended negative consequences, and taking you where you want to go. There are three key pieces to its practice:

  1. Clarify that thing. This thing is what you are managing or making decisions about. This could be anything. Your life as a whole, your family, a business, a project, a day. Whatever. Who is involved? What support is available?
  2. Aim that thing. This involves tuning into what the key people involved most deeply want from the thing being managed – the destination, how you’d like to navigate the path toward the destination, and what you depend on if you’ve any chance of getting there
  3. Steer that thing. Make decisions toward the desired destination, act on them, and use feedback to stay on track

It was originated by Allan Savory and is most often applied in a farming context. But it applies to anyone that makes decisions, and part of what I’m doing with my life is sharing how to use it.

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VEG directors Dan Palmer (left) and Adam Grubb (right) with Allan Savory tucked in the middle

How does it link in with permaculture?

Permaculture is weak on decision making, in that when permaculture projects fail it tends to be due to decisions with unintended personal, social or financial consequences. Holistic management is like a plugin that fills this gap and makes permaculture projects more likely to succeed. I would say that adding a liberal dash of holistic management doubles or triples the power of permaculture to affect lasting positive change in the world. I’m at the point where I can’t imagine not using holistic management in my work as a permaculture design consultant. I still think permaculture is awesome, by the way, but if you get to know any approach well enough you’ll find blind spots that some other approach can help address. This is a case of that.

How has it impacted you personally and professionally?


Soon after I learned about HM we used it to save our company (Very Edible Gardens or VEG) from near-certain failure. It was taking over our lives, stressing us out, and losing money hand-over-fist. We were incredibly close to pulling the plug. Seeing HM rapidly transform VEG into something way more sustainable, fun and profitable really got my attention. I next applied it with my wife to our family, which while not in quite as dire a position, was flailing about a bit. We have not looked back and use this tool to make all major family decisions. Next up I used it on myself to the point where it is present inside the fabric of every day for me. Lately I’m using it to sustainably manage something like ten separate projects, many of them businesses. I think you get the point – HM and my life are inseparable and I’m a lot more effective and satisfied in the world as a result.

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 Dan and Adam with team members Carey Priest and Cassie Carter

Who would benefit from learning about HMDM?

Anyone who feels that something is lacking in the way they currently make decisions. Especially if it feels like their current way of making decisions is taking them in circles or compromising how satisfying life is feeling.

What’s one (or some) of the more powerful stories you’ve heard about how HMDM has helped transform people’s lives?

I’ve heard plenty of stories of farmers who turned their farms around financially, socially and ecologically using this tool. Plenty of workshop participants have used it successfully in their life projects. But my experience of using it to transform my own failing business into a success is probably the best example I have yet experienced. If only I had thought to get a before shot!

Want to know more?

Join Dan this October 15-16 in Hobart for our Holistic Management Decision Making workshop – it’s highly likely to change your life for the better.

 

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