The seedlings have been planted, the mulch has been spread, and I have one more day in the Byronshire before jetting back to Sydney. Last Friday marked the end of the first ever Permaculture Challenge, a program that I had the privilege of facilitating alongside a team of inspiring adults and sixteen amazing Byron Bay teens.
These 15-17 year old students showed up three weeks ago with their iphones and their cliques, sneaking out for cigarettes and tuning out (and in some cases, completely passing out) on beanbag chairs. But throughout the last three weeks, I have watched them plug back into the Earth and in doing so, connect with one another and with themselves.
They were not afraid to get their hands dirty building gardens, getting friendly with beneficial insects and feeling the crumbly black soil that only months ago was ‘humanure.’ They grappled with incomprehensible hugeness of the universe and the intricate subtlety of the microorganisms that power our soil-food web. They fought and apologized, cried and hugged, played music and sang, cooked and ate meals together, and evolved into a strong family. I have learned so much from these kids that I’m finding it hard to say goodbye – I want to stick around and help them organize their social action campaigns, visit their gardens and share the yield that they produce.
For me, being involved in this program has been life changing in a way that I had not expected. I signed up on a whim after reading about the program in a Permaculture Research Institute e-newsletter, and had no idea what to expect.
My interest in permaculture goes back to 2005, when I spent the summer WWOOFing at Maya Mountain Research Farm in Belize. but it has taken a back seat to other educational pursuits over the last few years. I’m still not sure where I’m going with these ideas, but I am starting to think deeply about how to work permaculture principles into mainstream educational settings, as well as considering starting a Canadian Permaculture Challenge when I get home. I’ve signed up for a Permaculture Design Course at Milkwood Farm in February, and am grateful that getting involved in these initiatives is starting to give some purpose to my sojourn in Australia. After all, Australia is where Permaculture was born, and it is thriving in both urban and rural settings.
At the Permaculture Challenge graduation, I surprised the students with my personal tribute to all the hard work they put in to the Permaculture Challenge. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition to write a spoken word poem at the end of an educational experience as a sort of parting gift for my students, as well as a way of giving closure and processing my thoughts.
Here are two versions of my piece – one shot live at the grad ceremony, where I performed in front of a packed 200+ person audience at Mullumbimby Civic Hall. The other was filmed by my wonderful friend Kamala at her organic farm in the hills near Wilson’s Creek. Lyrics are below.