Asylum Seekers, Intentional Communities and Tiny Houses

Originally published by me on the PRI Forum.

On the lead up to the recent election, the asylum seeker debate turned into a race to the bottom. Julian Burnside referred to it in his piece in The Guardian today as a “spectacle … to outdo each other in their promises to be cruel to boat people”.

Burnside, a long-time asylum seeker advocate who opens his own home to refugees, proposes the Tasmania and Rural Solutions. Take a place that is in economic strife, so Tasmania and many rural towns across the country, and place asylum seekers in these communities whilst their refugee status is assessed. The money will be spent in these communities, revitalizing the local economy, and the Federal Government will save a substantial sum, even if each asylum seeker receives a Centrelink entitlement for the full assessment period.

I think Burnside’s proposal is a great one. The Rural Solution is something I have been pondering about for years. It seems to obviously win-win. But I propose we go a step further.

Intentional communities and asylum seekers aren’t spoken about in the same sentence very often. But I propose housing asylum seekers in intentional communities built in regions in decline as a more comprehensive solution to Burnside’s. The Federal Government would fund the purchase of appropriately zoned (or zonable) land within targeted regions. Permaculture and other specialists would be brought in to help design and develop the land, along with the asylum seekers themselves who would provide input and help build the communities. The contributions of the asylum seekers would be remunerated by way of Centrelink payment and / or equity in the development – which would be structured as a cooperative or similar. Housing would be well-designed tiny houses with self-contained and / or communal facilities. Once developed the communities would encourage entrepreneurism especially in the agriculture sector, with potential for further permaculture teaching opportunities and all manners of knowledge based vocation.

Once an asylum seeker has their refugee status approved they have the option to sell their share in the cooperative and settle elsewhere as they please or to stay in the community indefinitely.

How Many Plants Should You Plant?

Ever wondered how many of a particular vegetable or fruit plant you should plant to produce enough food? This chart, thanks to one of my new readers Deezy, of Sufficiently Sufficient, may be of some help. As I wrote to Deezy, “It usually comes through season-long trial and error before I realise”. It’s usually once the season has concluded that I realise that I should have planted half a dozen more tomato plants. Ah well, from now on, the more, the better.

Asparagus: about 10-15 plants per person
Beans (Bush): about 15 plants per person
Beans (Pole): 2-4 poles of beans per person (each pole with the four strongest seedlings growing)
Beets: about 36 plants per person.
Broccoli: 3-5 plants per person

read on.

Adapt to your situation

I am going to post a comment here that I wrote on the forum at Permaculture News. It concerns some topics I have discussed here before – especially with regards to transportation, the ability to adapt and becoming a part of a community. Here t’is:

I wish to move to woop woop and set up a permaculture property for myself. At present I am an environmentally-conscious city slicker. I don’t drive – never have, never intend to. Many people see this as a huge challenge, straight up. I don’t. I see it as an opportunity. Doing my groceries is straight forward – my criteria for land requires that I be no further than 25km from a town that has a supermarket and is near to a public transport link. I can cycle to the shops (I am quite use to cycling 50km in a day) or catch the bus (many pass through the town in one direction in the morning and return in the afternoon; ideal). So let’s for a second say that running basic errands is viable. But what about transporting big items: hardware, plants, and so on? Why wouldn’t I ask the store if they deliver? If they don’t, why wouldn’t I ask somebody whether they could take an hour out of their day, for a crisp $50 note, say, to make the delivery for me?

I’ve been thinking about conventional transportation a lot of late and it seems to be a source of inalienable independence for many people. These people in the city are the ones that refuse to catch public transport, ride a bike or walk to work, even when it is a viable if not more practical option. In the country these people may be the ones that simply haven’t considered the alternative.

I guess I come from the virtue of a position where I have had to make things work. I have never had the “independence” that a car apparently brings. Nor have I been a freeloader on others that have. I see myself as adaptable – I adapt to my situation. Also as a good decision maker – if I don’t drive why would I live somewhere that required me to; or if I required a particular service, why would I exclude myself from it?

The post to which I responded was about a couple that live on an acreage that need some help. They are considering building a second dwelling on the property with the view of providing somebody (or a couple) with reduced rent in exchange for their help. Says Frosty, the poster:

Our idea is that we built one of those barn houses as an addition to our house and find a suitable person or preferably a couple to occupy it in a sort of rental/ share arrangement. We need some rent to pay for the loan to build the “house”, but can also offer some small wage for about 5 or 6 hours respite care while hubby has a day off. (No qualifications needed basically it’s just someone to stay with me and get my lunch. The ladies now clean and sometimes cook muffins etc it could also be doing a bit of light gardening )

My initial impression from their plan is that this person (people) are not afraid to think outside the box. I think people are too quick to dismiss an idea – “Nah. Nobody would want to be ‘part of that”. Like my colleague that I mentioned  a while back, the one who is renovating. She can’t conceive of the idea of person that would see value in the stuff that she is ripping out of her house. Her natural response: “Nobody would want to buy, let alone take for free, our old kitchen”. It’s a really narrow view.

As I also said in my comment to Frosty, “It’s this sort of sensible, forward-thinking that gives me faith in the human species.” It’s true. I thrive off people like this.