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.


Observations: People and Community

This post was originally posted on the PRI Forum

In permaculture, a lot is said about observation. When one sets out to do a design they ought to spend time observing the features of the environment. For what is observed will inform what is done.

Observations are usually centred around the land and the factors that affect it. The presence of plants and animals. The contours. The flow of water and the regularity in which it falls. The sun. The wind. The fire. Infrastructure might also form a part of the observable. The roads. The telephone lines. But observations should go well further than this.

People, community, feel, the surroundings should be observed.

When I went to inspect a block near Edenhope yesterday I spent a good deal of time observing the town and the people within it. Everything could be well and dandy with the land and I might’ve bought it based on the land alone. However, a piece of paradise is more than it in and of itself. It extends much further indeed. And for me, it extends to the people and the community in particular. The last thing I want is a beautiful block that ticks all the boxes in or near a settlement full of people I don’t get along with – or who are fearful or disdainful of me, or newcomers in general. I am sure most of you would feel the same.

I walked down the main street, devouring my sandwich, taking in the iti-biti details and building facades and air and the sky alike. I spoke to a few people – a passerby and the lady in the takeaway shop. Confident people, with a ‘fair go’ Australian character. Puns and jokes peppered the conversation. Their tone epitomised laid-backness. I told the lady in the shop my intentions “Good on ya mate, sounds beaut. We’d love to ‘ave you ’round. Friendly bunch ’round ‘ere.” I made eye contact with a few older folk as I walked past the bank and the council chambers and the supermarket. They smiled back. A trusting lot that didn’t see the smile of an outsider as threat. As a prelude to me asking them for their wallets. As we drove out of town a lady ranking the leafs in the gutter looked up and gave us a wave. Did she think we were someone else? No, she was just being friendly.

Permaculture and the Solidarity Economy

Writes permaculturist, Rafter Sass-Fergusson:

“Farms, like other land-based permaculture projects, are faced with the formidable task of regenerating ecosystems and communities, while surviving in a system that rewards the destruction of the same systems. Permaculture projects have to compete with degenerative enterprises and institutions that are happy to take the efficiency ‘bonus’ from unsustainable and exploitative practices”.

This is a frighteningly true and important statement. And, for the sake of commonness, the word “permaculture” can be swapped with “organic” or “biodynamic”. Organic and biodynamic farming techniques are common. We can all buy the products of these projects. However, as we can all probably agree, organic and biodynamic products are more expensive than their “conventional” counterparts – products produced through “unsustainable and exploitative practices”.

Sass-Fergusson continues:

“The consequence is that it’s hard for permaculture enterprises to keep costs as low, and therefore people with less of an economic buffer, who have to minimize costs as much as possible, find it hard to support regenerative enterprises as consumers. That’s most of the world, in case you were wondering. So the regenerative enterprises that we would like to create have a difficult time offering products and services that most people can afford, and most people can’t afford to support the regenerative economy. If we want real change, then this impasse demands our attention. We need new strategies for scaling up from gardens. We need new institutions – ones that can provide an interface between our regenerative practices and the degenerative economy.

Sass-Fergusson argues that permaculture doesn’t provide the necessary “systematic analysis of institutions”. He proposes we pay attention to the “Solidarity Economy” which I am now going to go off and read more about…

My Tiny House Design

So, I posted a rough site plan for my “ideal” permaculture property the other day. Today I have for you my ideal tiny house with a scrapbook of photos. It’s not as tiny as some tiny houses. In fact, if it were just me I’d go smaller. (The house in the site plan was my 1-person, 4.5×2.5 metre, design). But this design is one that I have been contemplating over for some time now and would suit myself and my partner (who is increasingly warming to the idea of my Desirable World) nicely. And, if it is too small, we can always build some outbuildings…

You’ll notice in my design that the the office and bedroom are quite apart. This is to create two distinct living zones. Currently, we spend most of our time in the bedroom or the office. Often, I’ll be working at the desk in the office and he’ll be working / relaxing on the bed. This design incorporates these behaviours and puts some distance between them for peace, quiet and privacy. A lot of tiny house designs don’t include a dining table, or the table is a multi-purpose table / desk number. Well, I’d like to have both. Purely as a way of breaking up tasks. Perhaps I have been working at the desk all day and want to sit down and have lunch somewhere new. It’ll also come in very handy as an extension of the kitchen for food preparation and canning. The table design is a “pull down” jobby, or could even be something that clips in when needed – that resides in the shed the rest of the time.

My tiny house design. At 21sq/m it isn't as tiny as some but it has everything we need without anything unnecessary.

My tiny house design. At 21sq/m it isn’t as tiny as some but it has everything we need without anything unnecessary.

You’ll note an external door in the office. I was thinking it would be nice to have a little landing outside this door as a place to read and relax in the sun. The door I have in mind is a single French (see pic) to benefit from the not-so-harsh southern aspect. I like a light workspace.

The single French door I’d like for the office.

I really, really, really adore Laura and Matt’s, from 120 Square Feet, kitchen (see pic). But I’d prefer to have open shelves (see pic).

Laura and Matt’s kitchen. All credits to


This is what I mean by open shelves. So rustic and beautiful is this kitchen.

I love “lean to” or “single slope” roofs (see pic). I think they look great and, best of all, they are well suited to passive solar design as one side has more exposed face than the other so if you’re game you can cover it in windows.

A great example of a lean-to roof. Mine will be facing north to get the most of the sun during winter – there will be a “pergola” structure over which I will grow grapevines and passionfruit to provide shade in summer.

Jay Shafer, tiny house advocate and founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, once said that a well-designed tiny house – like the ones Tumbleweed design and build – has more storage per square metre / foot than a conventional house. I can see that being true. Conventional houses are all empty space and worst of all the sort of furnishings we fill them with are not built with storage in mind. Consider typical beds and couches. They sit uselessly close to the ground – they are a pain to clean under and provide no added utility. Well, the underneath of my couch and bed will be two of my main storage areas. See the pics below to get an idea of what I want to do.

Under bed storage. Why waste it? It could even be a nice resting place for your cat like in this pic, hehe.

For my couch I like this design. Though, I would probably go a little higher.

The last picture for the day, as everybody poops. A composting toilet. I’m fascinated by the idea of using human waste as a nutrient source for the soil. Why waste it? When I first heard of the concept, from my dad, it really gave me perspective of what the human condition has become. How disconnected we now are.

Who says a toilet has to be ugly?

My Permaculture Dream and the “Laws of Attraction”

According to the theory of the laws of attraction “focusing on positive or negative thoughts… can bring about positive or negative results“. In a practical sense, this could mean staying focused and striving to reach a particular goal. Scrapbooks, plans, mindmaps, etc, would help one achieve this task. To the ultra-ambitious – perhaps gullible, a la Marshall Sylver followers – this could mean blanketing their living room walls with pictures of the fancy houses and cars you would some day like to own. I’m big on planning. I like to get my head around the tiniest detail of an idea. I am also a very visual person. I like to see things. I like to picture ideas. I like to imagine myself in a situation as a part of plucking up the enthusiasm to take on the project. And that’s why I spent a bit of time today mocking up a design for my permaculture dream property – based on a block of land I am interested in that is very much within my means to own. Enjoy.

Permaculture Paradise - Victoria

My attempt at a rough permaculture-inspired design.