Back home in Toronto after my Australian odyssey, I’ve been spending hours unpacking and sorting through the ephemera that I’ve collected here and there. After a day spent meandering lazily around my hood (coffee at ideal in Kensington, picnic in Trinity Bellwoods, more coffee and wandering through the Annex) I came home and sat down to continue shelving and drawering and filtering through my junk from Oz.
I came across this watercolour sketch that I remember painting one sunny afternoon on the top floor of the Berkelouw bookstore & cafe in Newtown. A jazz trio kept it mellow and a coffee kept me alert, and I read this quote and felt inspired.
“When we awaken to the artificial separation that would have us see the environment as out there, rather than a part of us…then it is so much easier to know that when we poison the water, air or soil, we poison ourselves”
– Katrina Shields
I think it’s an important lesson for my present situation. Unadulterated and immersive experiences in nature in its pure form are less accessible to me here than they were in Australia, and it’ll take a bit more effort to erase the artificial separation. I’ll try to keep in mind that the environment is not “out there,” it’s us, we’re it, and it’s time to inhabit that idea…even amidst the radiant white hot concrete mess of a Toronto summer.
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.
Byron Bay Permaculture Team (Photo by Sangye Christianson)
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.
For the Seventh Generation
When I was your age they told me,
“Baby girl, it’s a dirty world out there”
So I learned to disinfect
To sanitize and protect
To buy food that’s wrapped in plastic
Now I’m stressed out and stretched out like an elastic band
With antibacterial hands
And five year plans
Lending my dreams to morally bankrupt banks
And borrowing ideas from thoughtless think tanks
And fretting about pollution
But now I realize that the problem is the solution
Humanity is not out to tame nature
We are nature
And nature is wild
It’s volcanoes and glaciers and the first breath of a newborn child
So I set out to penetrate this planet’s state
And find out what reverberates
To speak the truth
To speak to youth
To put on some gardening gloves and boots
And give nourishment to roots
To fertilize the tender shoots
That grow and grow from all the seeds you sew
And if you don’t know, now you know
And if you don’t know, that means there’s room to grow
Cause I’ve seen a bunch of hellions
With mouths the size of pelicans
Learn to quit their yellin’ and listen….
To the silence….
That’s vibrating with billions of microbial operatives in sublime symbiosis
Guaranteed to do away with postmodern neurosis
This quiet eloquence embellishes a truth that’s huge and relevant
It’s grabbing the white elephant
And composting its crap and, hell, maybe even sellin’ it
The power is in you – in fact, it’s in your poo
This is some heavy doo doo voodoo
Think about it when you’re on the loo
Imagine every number two
Becoming a permaculture dream come true
Like Jack’s magic beans you’ll be climbing to new heights
Permablitzing new sites
Thinking about a healthy planet as a human right
And maybe sleeping a bit more soundly at night
Let the earthworms be a part of your community
Speak up in Canberra and make them see
That the harm that’s been done….
And we have all the time under the sun
To repair not despair
Tie back your hair
Observe and interact
If you treat her with respect, Mama Earth’s got your back
Grow some veggies
Use the edges
Put the power back
Into the hands of the many
And these hands will yield plenty
And don’t worry if you’re nowhere near twenty
Because this is the future of living education
Without further complications limitations or genetic modifications
Start thinking long-term germination not band-aid fixation
Because it’s not about us,
It’s about The Seventh Generation
Posted in Australia, education, permaculture
Tagged australia, byron bay, ecology, Emily Antflick, garden, high school, outdoor education, permaculture, permacutlure challenge, poem, seventh generation, spoken word, sustainability, teachemgood, youth
For the past week, I’ve been in Byron Bay, volunteering as an “Amigo” for the Youth Permaculture Challenge. The amount of learning taking place here is amazing. It’s heuristic, hands on, constructivist, embedded in the local community, and globally aware.
There have been so many inspiring moments over the last week that I don’t know what to blog about first! So here are a few photos of some of the students’ learning moments – ranging from cooperative engagement in an activity to quiet reflective journalling.
There are so many ways to learn when your classroom has no walls.
Posted in Australia, education, teaching
Tagged australia, byron bay, ecology, education, outdoor education, permaculture, sustainability, teaching, youth permaculture challenge