Review: Food Forest, Gawler, SA

I attended Annemarie and Graham Brookman’s “Introduction to Permaculture” course yesterday. The course is located at their 15-acre permaculture farm, the “Food Forest”, near Gawler, South Australia. I had a wow of a time.

Annemarie and Graham are extremely knowledgable and personable. Graham has a wicked since of humour and a quirky enthusiasm – often getting carried away with his impersonations and paraphrases.

Annemarie explaining the market garden and why they plant in rows at the Food Forest.

Annemarie explaining the market garden and why they plant in rows at the Food Forest.

What they bring to bear is a successful and sustainable farm. What really stuck out to me was their willingness to adapt. They have learnt many lessons over the years and have made changes to their approach where necessary.

They have recently started experimenting with Jujube. Not because it is a trend and they want to cash in on it, but because it suits their property and will likely prove hardy as the climate continues to change. That said, it will be a lucrative market. As Graham explained in one of the workshops, not value-adding has been of huge detriment to Australia’s farming complex. We tend to dig it and grow it, then ship it. At mere dollars a tonne.

The recently-built straw bale studio overlooking pistachios and walnuts at the Food Forest.

The recently-built straw bale studio overlooking pistachios and walnuts at the Food Forest.

Apparently the Brookman’s have received some criticism from permaculture purists as to how they designed their property. You won’t find your conventional, multi-layered food forests or mandala beds there. Orchards are orchards and the market garden is planted in rows. Why? Efficiency. Why make it harder than it needs to be? It is an operational commercial farm after all. There is no doubt about the biodiversity at the property. Species of plants are in the hundreds and everything has a place. The presence of abundant wildlife (sans foxes and rabbits) prove this.

I haven’t said much about the course in this brief review because the Brookman’s story says it all. They have applied the techniques they preach and the property shows that they work. The course was informative, inspiring and I took a lot from it. I am keen to do the Permaculture Design Course next year to help me with designing my own property.

One important point that I took away with me was not to put all your eggs in one basket. That seems to be at the heart of Annemarie and Graham Brookman’s success. Listen to the environment and tweak your approach and be prepared for what might come your way. Because of this they don’t only enjoy a yield but a veritable surplus.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Food Forest, Gawler, SA

  1. What you hope to yield from a property dictates the design doesn’t it. The practice of mixed and layered plantings works exceptionally well for a home food forest to feed people living on the patch of land, but a commercial property which aims to export large amounts of food must be designed for efficiency. I wonder if that need is where the monoculture mindset came from? In the days when farmers began to grow food to feed armies they needed to change their practices to maximize efficiency and that became the new norm? I do admire what the Brookmans’ have done with their land and I love the straw bale studio too.

    • I think so. Personally, a mixed or layered design makes sense and I like the aesthetic. Here, in our tiny courtyard, it’s what we do out of necessity. To harness what little sun touches out backyard we have to cram all the pots together in a small corner. So we have little pots for shallow-rooted plants like herbs and greens and then bigger pots that provide them with a little protection for tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum, etc. It’s a real mish-mash of different coloured pots and diversity.

      I don’t doubt that efficiency is where monoculture came from. But, as most of us will agree, they took it way too far. The Brookman’s property use to be a barley field. It had one tree. Now it is a veritable forest of orchards, none too big, intertwined with biodiversity. Adjacent to 1/2 acre of pistachios you will find an acre of native woodland which backs on to a couple of small grazing cells which backs onto a small pine plantation which abuts an acre of carob which backs onto some figs which joins the walnut orchard and then hits the river valley which is chockers with natives and so on…

      I think a lot of people think of permaculturalists are hunter-gatherer champions. I think this is a misrepresentation. People like the Brookman’s are, at the end of the day, farmers. They sell their produce at a farmers market for cash money to make a living.

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