It was an absolute delight to be back teaching my Introduction to Permaculture workshop at Northey Street City Farm last weekend - the 4 hectare edible oasis in the centre of Brisbane. The gardens embraced me like an old friend. From 1994-1998, I spent most of my days in this space - observing, designing, planning, teaching, dreaming, visioning, planting, tending, sharing... I have started to teach there again recently and just loving it. It feels like home.
|Planting out the organic corn and snake bean seedlings in the new garden bed.|
Over 20 years ago, I walked onto that land for the first time - then a disused patch of parkland with just a few old mangoes and some other struggling fruit trees. I was part of a community group looking for a place to start a city farm. We walked the parklands of inner Brisbane for almost a year searching for a site until council offered us the site on Northey Street, Windsor to try out our ideas.
When we arrived on-site to start gardening we discovered the soil was so compacted that tools just bounced back at us. No-dig gardening and adding as much organic matter as we could find has turned the soil around. Initially there was no water connected. We had to carry it from way down near the Breakfast Creek using buckets on sticks across our shoulders. We were the urban peasants of Windsor - at least that's how the Courier Mail depicted us. Morning cuppa time was boiled in a billy on a little fire and enjoyed under the shelter of the big mango tree - the centre of the farm. Seats were made from tree rounds and our table was a stack of pallets. This mango tree still holds pride of place today as heart of the farm where everyone meets.
It was so much fun! I learnt so much. The sense of creative, innovative freedom and community collaboration I experienced there is an essential part of all the projects I work on now. City Farm is also where I learnt how to garden sub-tropically and try out many permaculture design ideas. I was 23 years old and had just moved up from Melbourne after completing my permaculture design certificate at Crystal Waters where I met the love of my life, Evan.
At city farm, I realised the value and potency of informal learning environments. I was learning by working beside skilled people, by watching, asking questions, being mentored. I also met people from many cultures, with so much traditional knowledge. I was a sponge. I felt I was learning way more than I did at university studying Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. As well as learning practical design and gardening skills, as a city farm volunteer I also learnt so many incredibly valuable lifework skills - working collaboratively with a diversity of people, how to facilitate effective fun and short meetings, how to manage a happy organisation, how to cultivate ethical and social entrepreneurship and so much more. It has been the foundation of my work.
I am excited to be working now with the University of the Sunshine Coast and the Sunshine Coast Council to create a Sunshine Coast Community Garden Network, and the new Moving Feast Garden on the USC campus. Incredibly there are over 85 gardens in this region alone. Next week we start developing the sensory garden with the occupational therapy program. I have been gathering an amazing array of medicinal and culinary herbs, flowers, edible natives - plants for all our senses. If you are local, come visit the garden sometime. Evan and I are there most weeks leading a free permaculture workshop for students and the local community, ending off with a fabulous feast cooked together in the garden using garden produce.