Sustainable living festival

Good old Melbourne bought out some hot weather for this weekend. On Saturday I was at the Sustainable Living Festival held at Federation Square. The sort of place you could find everything from recycled tyre shoes to natural brews. Had it not been so hot I could have spent the whole day there. With a baby in tow, it wasn’t the weather to linger around in.

Pablo Ermini and David Holmgren
Pablo Ermini and David Holmgren

I attended a discussion run by John McKenzie from Permaculture Melbourne in the Leisure Dome on ‘Urban Agriculture and Food Security’.

Let me set the scene here, the Leisure dome was a ‘dome-shaped’ tent, with it’s own plastic palm trees and flamingos. A touch of class. When sitting in this tent with 34 degrees C outside the palm trees started to look real, and I felt like melting into my plastic seat. Although a small and cosy space, we needed a microphone and amplifier, because the thin dome walls couldn’t really compete with the bass guitar on the outside.

None the less, the conversation was fascinating and 1 hour definitely wasn’t long enough! It was the first time I have started to think about permaculture and it’s role in the community – rather than just my back yard.

The speakers were all very experienced, David Holmgren being one of them. If you know anything about Permaculture, he is well known as one of the originators with Bill Mollison (known as the father of Permaculture). The other speakers included a gentleman from Argentina who has been involved in a program that has run in Argentina for 20 years to ensure food security nationally, Pablo Ermini, and a lady who is looking at how to tackle the focus on local goverments on the importance of having an edible landscape, Pam Morgan.

I was taking notes (imagine an overheated person intoxicated with the fumes of my permanent marker and a few hundred post it notes), and another friend Jenny was on the camera. It was great, Mum and Dad also turned up (with a bag full of rhubarb, and other goodies).

I am sweltering next to the white board in the Leisure Dome
I am sweltering next to the white board in the Leisure Dome

David Holmgren made some interesting comments that really rung a bell with me. What is often missed is that food is central to the sustainability movement. Yeah! My kind of man. It’s all about food.

Another really good comment – what comes out of the garden is good for the kitchen. Both of these phrases really resonate with me. I get so much pleasure eating what I have grown. I will happily spend 6 hours cooking something that get’s eaten in 15 minutes, and feel like it’s all worth it. I don’t know if you can describe it to someone who’s never done this before.

An interesting comment from Dad after the talk – he doesn’t see ‘Food security’ being an issue, especially in Melbourne. In Argentina 20 years ago, there was a national crisis with inflation, and food ran out. This is where the initiative started for them. Reducing the risk of cities running out of food, and teaching people how to grow their own. There isn’t any impending crisis for Melbourne at the moment, but I guess the whole movement is about building the skills and know how to grow your own food.

This can’t be underestimated. Dad grew our food, but the skills haven’t necessarily been passed onto me. I don’t ‘know’ how to grow my own food, and even worse, I don’t even know what some food looks like. Take pumpkins for instance. Some random plant sprouted a few weeks ago from seeds (out of the compost I suspect) in the garden. I knew it was probably a pumpkin, or zucchini, but I didn’t really have much of an idea what. Then I got so excited when I saw little ‘somethings’ growing under a flower, and then despondent when these things just died. It wasn’t until a friend (Fran) showed me how to pollinate the female flowers with the male flower (I call it ‘secksing the pumpkins’) that I figured it all out. Many pumpkins died before I realised this. Now I have 4 butternut pumpkins on the way. I can’t wait to eat them.

If in a time of crisis, my family was relying on me for food, then we would be eating chilli’s at the moment. So far that is where I have had most of my success.

Dad has been growing food for 30+ years at the community gardens near their home. These days there are about 40 Community garden schemes with different councils. I am surprised there aren’t more. If you live in an urban landscape, then you may well not have much space for growing food. My parents moved into a single fronted terrace 34 years ago, and the back yard was (and still is) big enough for a small shed, a few plants and a table and chairs. Growing food wasn’t practical, especially with 4 children who needed some space to play, and with my brother around – hell bent on testing the limits of all living creatures with a 3km radius of the house.

Urban landscapes are so important when you are living in a city. I feel the urge get back to nature on a daily basis. I want to leave work, come home, and be surrounded by as much green as possible. But imagine if you could also reach out and be nourished by your garden too. Or on the way to the park, just nibble on vegetation on the way?

More food for though!

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