The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Morag Gamble. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: This week’s guest is Morag Gamble, founder of the Permaculture Education Institute. Welcome to the show.
Morag: Thanks, Jim. Loving being here.
Jim: Yeah, this should be a very interesting conversation. These are the kind of topics we’ve talked about various times with various folks, but we’re now talking to someone who’s been doing it for quite a while. Let’s start with the word permaculture. Tell us where that came from and what it means to you.
Morag: Well, permaculture is a word that’s been brought together from originally permanent agriculture. But over the years, it’s come to be known more as permanent culture because we realized that it’s the whole systems approach to how we’re living that helps us to bring out a regenerative world. Permaculture itself was a term that was, excuse me, coined by two guys, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Down in Tasmania in the late 1970s, they’re exploring what does it mean to actually live a … At that time, I guess they were calling it a sustainable way of life. How can we actually reduce humans impact on the world, enable nature to flourish and create food in a way that is going to help to feed the planet, care for nature and make sure there’s enough for other species and people everywhere. They’re the kind of three core ethics, earth care, people care and fair share. What it looks like is different everywhere. Bill Mollison, as soon as it really began, he started traveling the world sharing this idea.
Morag: He traveled to countries everywhere. He traveled to refugee areas. He traveled into the heart of India. He traveled to New York and found ways to apply this ecological way of thinking to whatever context it was. Essentially permaculture, if you want to describe it in a simplest way, I think it’s about designing for one planet living. How can we actually create human habitats that create wellbeing for people, wellbeing for the planet? Then nourishing, that are about abundance, not about limit. That are also beautiful. I think it’s about regeneration. It’s about repair, it’s about living well, is what I really think permaculture is about.
Jim: Yeah. The other thing I’ve found that was interesting as I did a little reading for this show, as I always do, is that the proponents have always talked about it operating at multiple levels, the individual, the household or the community, the nation. Basically everybody can play the game of permaculture.
Morag: Yeah. Look, I live in a eco village that’s been designed using the principles of permaculture. It’s a 640 acre property that 250 people live in and the whole place has the underpinnings of permaculture. Working at the moment with a woman who’s doing a permaculture garden on the rooftop in New York. I also work with the young people in refugee camps and they’re applying permaculture in and around their huts and creating a community farm. Another project I was involved in starting was a city farm. This city farm was designed on permaculture principles. It’s a four acre farm in the middle of Brisbane that integrates food and community, education and has become an amazing hub for people who are thinking differently about what it means to live well in urban environments. As you say, it can be applied to households. I think actually I even designed my work life around permaculture thinking, because it just makes so much sense. It helps to create a level of balance, a level of contribution, to embed an ethical way and to really think about how to be of …
Morag: I don’t know. For me, it’s about being in service at the same time as designing a way forward for other people. Supporting people to design their own places, supporting people to educate, supporting people to develop their own ecological enterprises. That’s my work, it stems from entirely a permaculture approach. My house and my garden, my work life, even the education of my children has emerged out of this. Not in any dogmatic way. I have to say that upfront. It just feels as a natural way of being. It’s kind of more of a philosophical approach to being. Maybe it’s a paradigm, a frame of reference. Once it kind of gets into your elbows and your knees, it just finds a way to flow and influence everything that you do.
Jim: Some of the things I noticed also is that part of the path we pretty much have to be on or something very much like this if we’re going to learn to live within the constraints of what mother earth will actually tolerate. One of your videos, you mentioned that a typical Australian, I’m sure it’s even more so for a typical American, were they a billion Australians we’d need four planets to support them all. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. More than just something that’s nice and maybe a better way to live, isn’t it really something fundamental that we have to do as a human species in this coming century?
Morag: It’s absolutely essential. Like I said right at the start, I really describe now permaculture as one planet living. As you said, the ecological footprint studies are showing four planets. I think this is another way of understanding it that helps us to make sense of what’s going on as well. That, say for example, in Australia, our Overshoot Day, meaning if you look at the whole year, at what time in the year is it that you’ve actually used up your ecological budget and that everything that you do from that point onwards is eating into future generations’ capacity for wellbeing, other species’ capacity for wellbeing. Here in Australia, it’s end of March. Pretty much by the first quarter, that’s it. Everything we’ve done is chewing into future capacity and the ability for nature to sustain itself or for the planet to be livable over a period of time. Yes, it is absolutely imperative.
Morag: What I’ve tried to do over the years and what I think is important though, is to create such a beautiful alternative and explain and show, demonstrate in all different contexts, how possible it is, how easy it is, how wonderful it is. I mean, well, I shouldn’t say wonderful necessarily because it comes out in all different ways. If we talk about it just as being, it’s absolutely imperative, I think we scare people. I believe that it’s imperative and absolutely essential, but I also worry about frightening people too much. I know we need to speed things up, but I sometimes get to the point of worrying that if we frighten people too much, that they won’t act.
Jim: There’s some real truth to that. The other is that, and this is the hard part to communicate … I’m not sure I know how to do it, but you probably have got a better sense of it. Which is the sense that, we’re not really giving anything up if we do this correctly. We’re burning a lot less energy. We’re consuming a lot less materials. We’re destroying a lot less soil every year. But that does not mean our lives that’s actually lived are going to be any less wonderful. In fact, they might be more wonderful.
Morag: Well, entirely. This is really the stories that need to be told. Because everywhere I go, before the COVID locked down, my world was … I’ve worked with permaculture in communities everywhere. From, like I was saying, refugee camps, to villages in the Himalayas, to communities in Indonesia and also throughout various parts of Europe and around Australia. Wherever I go, I find people doing this. They’re doing it because they’ve experienced how much richness that they get from this, how much joy. They talk about having experienced depression or loneliness or anxiety or fear and lack, and just an absolute despair around where things are going, the meaninglessness of lots of things that were going, the inequities that they would see, the purposelessness of so much. When they experienced this other way where the richness is in the connections and the relationships that are formed within a community, within a community of practice, well, within your own ecological system …
Morag: I mean, one of my biggest joys that gives me so much happiness is waking up in the morning and looking out and noticing a little joey hopping out of the pouch of its mother for almost the first time and just finding its legs. Or noticing how my son responds to watching that and feeling a great sense of joy of that connectedness. Or hearing the rain birds come in. Noticing that it’s the shift in season and the rain birds have entered into … They come to this particular tree in my garden every year and I know that that’s the start of the rainy season. Just feeling that deep sense of connectedness and also seeing how other people around respond to that sense of joy and that ease and feeling comfortable in their own skin. Even though maybe you don’t necessarily have that much, there’s a sense of joy that’s emanating. How is it that we’re measuring what is a good life? How are we measuring what is success? How do we measure what is appropriate development? Stepping back and taking a different look at them.
Morag: But I see this everywhere. I see this in all the communities I go to. I remember talking to many classes that I’ve talked to that every corner of the world I go to, I see this. How I describe permaculture is, it’s a mycelium network that is reaching out across the globe, connecting people underground. It’s not very visible necessarily, but it’s absolutely there. I think in the last 30, 40 years since permaculture has been in existence, it’s reached just about every country in the world and so many people know about it. Many of them are practicing it intensely. Many of them are just weaving it in some way. Many people of course are just doing this and it’s not even called permaculture. It just is for them. I think that the term permaculture can be quite enabling when people experience it because they go, “Great. There’s a term for all of that, that I’ve been thinking about and that I’ve been doing. It connects me with this global network of people who are also thinking like that. I’ve found a group of people that I can explore this with.”
Morag: I’m finding that it’s incredibly hopeful actually, because there is this informal network without a leader. There is no leader of this movement. Either there are ambassadors, maybe we could call them. There are educators, demonstrators, activators, people who kind of catalyze action. But it speaks for itself. When it works well, you don’t need to convince people of it because if you see a farm that’s run with these principles as opposed to a conventional one, you just need to look at it and you can see the difference. Or if you look at a community garden, for example, that’s in this beautiful food forest and the amount of people that are drawn into that and to experience it and just to be there. One of the things that I remember about the city farm that we started, gosh, over 25 years ago now in the city, was that people would come in and they would just take this great big breath out. They would sigh and say, “Ahh, this feels like home.” Or, “This is such an oasis. I never knew this was here.” There was this sense of coming home.
Morag: I mean, really there was roads zipping around, there was flyovers, there’s trains, there’s all sorts of things going on around. But enter into that space and there was a sense of peace. It was interesting too noticing there that other things happened. It is about the food. It’s about the energy systems. It’s about having less of an impact. But there’s this healing that happens. Some people who would come down, I remember this one guy in particular, who came down to the farm. He had this incredible stutter and it was really challenging to understand what he was talking about. But after being there for a while, because people, when they came into that, they slowed down. They slowed down and they listened and they took the time to pay attention. I don’t know when it actually happened, but after about six months, we were having a conversation and I, all of a sudden realized that his stutter had completely gone. He became the person who was doing the tours around. He invited the Lord mayor to come in. He organized indigenous concerts. There was something that happened simply by taking the time to notice.
Morag: There’s such a healing capacity on people, but also on the environments around. If we stopped to notice what’s going on in the soil, for example, we notice whether it’s alive and thriving or whether it’s really struggling. It’s the time taken to pay attention, to care about the qualities of it, not just the quantity of it. Focusing not on the yield, the maximizing yield, but the health of the system as a whole or the health of that community. The focus and the attention and what you consider to be working well, the measures of success are completely different. It’s hard to argue those things. I don’t have the data or the facts. I have the stories, and that’s what I can share. That’s where I really love coming in contact with people like Nora Bateson with Warm Data. It’s what happens in the in-between, in the liminal space. What is the conditions for those changes to take place or for that healing to happen, or for that new perception to be held? What is the richness and the texture and the aesthetic of that?
Morag: There’s a new language that her work in Warm Data has brought to how I feel like I’m able to communicate this work.
Jim: Yeah, Nora is wonderful. She’s been on the show before and we’ve collaborated with her for quite a while. She’s part of our Game B effort. She sees something that few of us see, I guess, is a way to describe it.
Morag: Well, we’ve just started collaborating. The very first of the 10,000 communities project is something that I’ve been working on with her. Her 10,000 communities project in collaboration with the Club of Rome is about supporting communities everywhere to be having these conversations. On a recent Warm Data training program, I managed to connect with her in one of her last face-to-face when she was able to do before the lockdowns. I took my daughter as well. My 14 year old daughter, she was 13 at the time, became a Warm Data Lab host as well. And my husband. All of us went together and did it as a family, which was just absolutely brilliant. Anyway, I was there as a support person in her first online training. There was a man there from a refugee camp in Uganda. As we were talking about things, we started talking about permaculture and the Permayouth programs that are rippling out with the work that my daughter does. He said, “This is exactly what we need in our refugee camp. I’m trying to work with young people, with education, with health and looking at what we can do here.”
Morag: He said, “This sounds exactly what we need.” We’ve just actually finished last week, the first program. The Warm Data community crowdfunded to support some teachers that I’ve been working with in Uganda to travel over to the refugee camp and run this youth program. Well, actually it was programmed for women and youth and farmers. It was all different. It expanded from the youth. There are so many people who wanted to be part of it as soon as it started. We’re already planning the next one. They were learning about ways to create things like compost toilets and compost systems and using gray water to then grow food and get perennial food systems, and mulching. Transforming the landscape from being just mono-cultures and dirt into something that is thriving and alive and that they’re able to actually use the resources that are around them to transform these spaces. While in these refugee settlements, they may be sent home tomorrow, or they may be moved on somewhere else. Most of them however, have been there for a very long time.
Morag: Paulino and many of the other people who we’ve worked with in refugee settlements have been there for a decade. You get sort of to a point they say, where you just think, “Well, I’m here, so I’ve got to do something.” Even if you learn permaculture and you move on soon, you have the skills to be able to look differently at where you go back to, to rebuild, or maybe to have the eyes to look differently at where you’re going to, to be able to transform that. In the meantime, creating possibilities for nourishing food, for reducing sort of puddles of that create mosquito problems. Of creating cooler habitats with more trees and life in it. Creating projects where people come together. Just the depression is absolutely rife in places like that. Also with all the schools that are locked down throughout Kenya, the Permayouth programs that have been happening too have been providing Living Learning Labs. Where they give young people a place to actually continue their learning in a really integrated way, in a systems way.
Morag: I wonder actually, when schools do open what’s going to happen because they’ve sort of had a perspective on a different way of learning now too and connecting globally with a community of youth learning permaculture. Warm Data, permaculture, refugee camps, all starting to find this connective thread. I’m seeing teachers that are learning there now in the refugee camps, going to different parts of camps or to other camps now to ripple this out. It has a life and it started to myceliate. It’s absolutely amazing. I’ve been receiving, on this WhatsApp feed, photographs of … There was this group of people with seven different languages. Hardly not a language to share amongst them, but this absolute joy. They were dancing and singing together. They were building and making things together. There was this transformative thing that was happening. Paulino, who held this event was just saying, he’s not seen anything like that before. People are just saying they want to do more of that. This is kind of that invitation. What is it about the aesthetic of that way of doing things that becomes so attractive?
Morag: That instead of running a class and abouting about things as Nora talks about that people are thrown into the soup of it. Having an experience, an immersion of something that is really about care and respect and about the opportunity to design spaces yourself. I guess in a way there’s an empowerment there. There’s a self-determination, a self-organization that is unlocked in this potential.
Jim: Yeah. This is also where the culture part comes in. That what’s happening here, if it’s done fully and completely, is that we’re actually building. Back in the ’60s, they talked about the counterculture. But it basically meant having long hair and wearing blue jeans and smoking a little reefer, maybe. But this is a much bigger counterculture. This is learning to say no to the game of status through material possessions. To define a new form of value in terms of your relationships, in terms of conviviality. Which used to be one of the core values of human life amongst indigenous people, for sure, but even European people, not that long ago. This is not just a little turn if this has done correctly.
Morag: What I find interesting too is, say for example, though in these refugee camps, they don’t actually have anything already. It is about meeting basic needs, but in a completely different way. But what I have noticed too is that … I run lots of online connections and programs with different people from Permayouth to permaculture education and permaculture business thinking, master classes. I get people to kind of come together and talk. I offer anyone who lives in a refugee camp or in any of those sorts of communities can access all of this stuff for free. There’s full scholarships to anyone who wants to join and they’ve got the data, and I try and support them with that as well. They come in. I ran this program yesterday and I remember someone actually saying … There’s these refugees joining in people who were trying to start up local permaculture enterprises. This one woman said, “I’ve been thinking for such a long time about feathering my own nest and finding ways just to make sure I was okay.”
Morag: When I’m in conversation with people like this, who are on the other side of the world, who are stuck in these places, it opens up my mind of really what the possibilities that I can be doing. That by just thinking of feathering my nest is really a limiting factor. That I can take care of me and my family, but I can simultaneously take care of much wider. Then in actual fact it doesn’t split it. It’s not like there’s a pie and when you chop it up, there’s only a certain amount. It’s like when you have children. You have one child and there’s just so much love. Then when you have a second child, it’s not splitting love, you just get more love. It’s been like that with care. You can care about you, you can care about your family, you can care about your local environment, but you can simultaneously care about people elsewhere. It’s this expanding field of care and love. Which sounds a bit woo, but it absolutely is kind of at the core of this, I believe.
Morag: That when we can expand our sense of self into that space of caring about what is to other people in other places and other species, then that brings back a level of richness and joy in our own daily lives, in our own daily places, in our own daily work as well. This woman’s reflection on the fact that simply by connecting with people in other parts of the world and finding ways to support their work too. We have these things like 1% for the planet and all that. What I often recommend to people is we think about, well, how can we have one third that’s work for learning, one third that’s work for income, and one third that’s work for community and sharing? That can be to also in the … Why limit it to 1% where we could maybe give away half? Would that really make that much difference? I don’t know. Maybe the more abundance that we give away, the more abundance that we create. Coming from a perspective of abundance as opposed to limit, I think we can generate something quite other.
Morag: This one third, one third, one third was actually something that I was inspired to consider and really find how I could lean into it when I was … I’ve visited lots of different eco villages around the world. As I said, I’ve lived in an eco village for a few decades now and I’m fascinated by what other communities are doing elsewhere. One of the projects I visited in Italy, and I think you might’ve talked about this on a previous show, is Damanhur. Damanhur is a fascinating place in lots of different ways. But I was particularly fascinated by their economic model, the way that in your daily work pattern as I said before, it’s this one third of it is dedicated to learning. If you were wanting, for example, to become someone who did beautiful mosaics, like an artist, you would get sent to go and learn with the best master in mosaic art that they could find. Then you would come back and then part of that would be doing mosaics for income.
Morag: But then you would also spend time teaching that to other people and doing it as a community service in their community buildings and their underground amazing temples and things. You had one third for learning and sharing, one third for work, and one third for community service. I just found that to be such a beautiful balance. Because I think we tend to get out of whack with our work-life balance. Also, just that there was a broader sense of community and family. The workweek was shorter. They’d say, “Okay, you only work four days a week. Then on the fifth day of your week, and within your broader households, you would be caring for other people in the family or community or out in the gardens.” There was this opportunity to really value too the homework and not put that as something that’s just undervalued, unpaid that you do around the edges. Another place that really inspired me was living in Ladakh, when I was there in my 20s volunteering with Helena Norberg-Hodge. We started this program up there way back in the mid ’90s.
Morag: It was a farm stay program where it actually started because there was this very lovely old English woman who came in and said, “Well, I could organize something to teach your ladies how to speak English, if you like.” It was all done from a good heart, but I remember the ladies looking at her and said, “Nah, how about you gather some people together and send them out to our villages and we’ll teach them how to speak Ladakhi and live Ladakhi.” This is kind of the foundation of the farm stay program. My husband and I were the guinea pigs of this program. We went out and lived out in this village that was only accessible by walking up through these valleys. Then there was a short work year because the rest of it kind of went into massive lockdown. Eight months of the year we were locked down with snow everywhere and ice. The main part of the work, it was in this active time of four months. People were busy, but it wasn’t busy and hard.
Morag: It was, you would get up and you go out and do some work and then you’d sit down and have your breakfast. Then you’d do a little bit more and then there’d be morning tea. Or actually there’d be pre morning tea, then morning tea and then lunch. Everything was around the food and the coming together and the songs. There was the old people and the young people and everyone was there together in these extended families, all the generations. But in a steady pace that integrated music and family and song and sitting under an apricot tree, just having a munch on the most magnificent apricots I’d ever tasted. Then the whole process of making bread from scratch. Actually grinding the grain by hand, singing to the yaks as they crushed the grain off the stalks. Milking the yaks and then going and making some butter and yogurt from the yak milk, which would be what would rise the bread. I remember eating this piece of bread that was cooked in a yak dung fire thinking, “I don’t think we’ve got it right at all in our society.”
Morag: I know how to go to work in a job that I didn’t like to get some money to go to the shops in a fossil fueled vehicle, to go and buy some plastic coated, industrial bread containing I didn’t know what, and not be nourished by that. I didn’t even know how to make bread at that point. I was sitting there eating this piece of bread thinking, “But I feel much happier this way.” There’s some deep joy of the deep connections with the food, with the community, with the place, with the water, with the animals. You can actually tell there what phase of farming they were at, because you could hear the different songs. There was this particular song as they were singing to the yaks, a song of thanks as they were separating the grain. Then further down, the grain was separated and people were starting to thresh. There was a whistling song that went with that as you thresh the grain. But you had to whistle because if you open your mouth and sang you’d get a gob full of the chaff. There was a song about that.
Morag: There was a whole lot of people sitting around singing with them too. You’d just keep taking turns. There was this sense of joy in the work and the place. The monks would come down and get involved at that time too. There was a practical spirituality element of it too. Anyway, a long story short, I came back home and thought, “There’s got to be a different way.” How does that way of life and that way of thinking? I went off to spending a whole lot of time at Schumacher College, learning with people like Fritjof Capra, living in Ladakh, experiencing this deeply connected way of life. Then coming back to Australia saying, “Hmm, I wonder what it is that life could look like that had that deep sense of ecological paradigm at its heart and had that feeling of deep connectedness.” The closest thing that I’ve been able to find that connects all those things together is permaculture. Coming from that systems thinking background and coming from living in traditional communities like that, it just feels right. It seems to make sense.
Morag: It doesn’t just make sense. It is the sense that you feel when things are right. There’s something that happens inside, in me anyway. If I start to head in directions that seem to be wrong, I feel a sense of pain in my body. It’s kind of an indicator. I remember thinking, “Okay, well, I’ll go and do an environmental job in the state government.” I thought that was going to be what my life was meant to be about. I’ll help do ecological protection work. I remember just walking into this 20 story building downtown, having hopped off the train. I did it for a few months and inside I was just dying. I don’t know. I just didn’t feel like I was abouting about what needed to happen, but not actually doing it. I think it really made me realize when there was all these reports, beautiful reports that were written about all the great stuff that needed to happen, but none of it was happening. The ideas were there, but the action wasn’t.
Morag: I decided to throw myself into actually creating projects where people could see it, taste it, touch it, feel it, immerse themselves in it, have an experience. I think that was too an inspiration from spending time at Schumacher College. I was there at Schumacher College in England when it was, gosh, in its very early days. Right in the first year, I think. I spent time there, probably about a year with people, like I said, Fritjof Capra. Helena Norberg-Hodge came there and Vandana Shiva. Arne Naess talking about deep ecology and Christopher Day talking about building with soul. I was looking at all different dimensions of life. Satish Kumar, who founded the college, was there and you would be immersed in cooking with him and meditation. There’d be music soirees. I learned how to paint there and wood carve. We did yoga and meditation. There was this living, learning community. Having come out of university into that environment, I realized that actually education needed to happen completely differently as well.
Morag: That what I learned in that year there intensely was profoundly life-changing and has actually stayed with me until this day as a point of inspiration and has offered such a clear direction on ways to live and ways to learn and even ways to raise my children. I have three kids. One of them just goes to the little local school down the road and he’s asking to be homeschooled. Probably next year we will. But the other two are what we call free learners. They don’t have a curriculum. They don’t have any assessments. They don’t have anything that they’re expected to do. But what they create and what they produce is absolutely amazing. It’s through this being connected and finding passions and purpose. What I’ve noticed actually is, during the lockdown that a lot of people have been exploring different ways of educating because we’ve had to. The number of people heading towards this type of education is absolutely going through the roof. But in many places it’s illegal still. Like Germany says homeschooling is illegal.
Morag: I’m watching as my daughter now … I’ve created this thing called the ethos fellowship, just informally. I have a group of young people around the world that work together with Maya, my daughter, and they’re learning directly with Fritjof Capra. They’re joining his online course, and then they have meetings with him and chat about everything. They’re connected in with Nora. They’ve done Nora’s online Warm Data course, and then they have meetings with Nora. But then they also run all their own stuff. For example, this young group of Warm Data teens now meet up with, there’s people in Europe and Africa and Asia and Australasia, the sort of New Zealand Australia. There’s this one group that actually joins in with them to have these conversations about what is emerging, what are you attending? What are the things that really matter in the world? There’s this group that joined in from Liberia, and it was kind of a bit of a mind blowing moment for everybody. This group came in and it was kind of a bit hard to understand them to begin with because they were talking in Liberian English.
Morag: But what I heard was them saying, they were talking about how … He said, “My sister was raped and killed.” And started talking about all this. I could see these young protected kids from different parts of the world just being in absolute shock. We went into this moment of absolute chaos. Well, actually a few weeks of chaos, trying to work out how to make sense of what was going on. Young people here realizing the difference of their lives to the lives of other people and the trauma that the young kids in Liberia are experiencing. One of the things that Nora talks about too, is that the sharing of that trauma, I was worried that it was going to traumatize these kids. What it did was actually not traumatized them, it created a depth in their compassion and their awareness and their openings. From that moment onwards, I think they grew up about five years in that time in a really good way. I was worried it was going to be traumatizing and harmful and difficult to deal with.
Morag: But their compassion to open up to people and to bring in all different ideas and to hold space for people who are in trauma … The reason I’m mentioning this trauma is because wherever you look now, there are people who are being blocked from moving forward to a different way by being stuck in a space of being traumatized. Whether that be through displacement as a refugee or personal trauma. This holding space for people who are in trauma and finding ways to practically open up the possibilities for moving forward. I work now with a woman based in London, but her work is in Kashmir. As we know, Kashmir has decades of trauma. She says that it’s really hard actually when you’re running programs there for much to happen, because she says it takes three or four times for people even to hear what it is you’ve said because the trauma is so thick. It’s like this sixth soup around everyone that is really hard to penetrate.
Morag: But she’s finding through permaculture, through healing the land, through connecting with land, through connecting with community that she’s able to use a trauma informed approach to permaculture to actually open up this. With Warm Data and permaculture, through this richness of the connectedness, through the depth of the caring, through the time that people take to listen deeply, listen to where other people are at and to feel into that, I think it harps back to what I’d noticed at the city farm 20 odd years ago. That creating the spaciousness to be able to feel, to care, to notice others, other species and what’s going on around us, feel to me to be at the core of what’s going on. Within our busy-ness everywhere, it’s kind of one of the things that falls off first. But perhaps it’s one of those things that we need to put right back in the core. Finding that spaciousness for ourselves. Some people do meditation. I go for a walk along the river.
Morag: When I feel my brain starting to fog through the overwhelm of the multitude of projects that I take on, I just head on out, down to the river and feel that freshness and the spaciousness comes back into. As I walk, every step I walk just brings more spaciousness. That’s my thing. People find ways to do it in whichever way, but I think finding a practice that brings that spaciousness back so you have that capacity to expand into that field of caring, we need to give more value to than perhaps we currently do.
Jim: Yeah. Those are certainly all critical things. What we were talking about before is the culture change that we have to come to value things like that rather than the fancy car, the big house and the expensive clothes. That’s a mission of the sort you’re talking about. When people get exposed to these things, they start to see there is a better way. But at the same time, we also have to … What’s the word? Scale up some of these regenerative and permaculture agriculture, if we’re really going to feed a world of 8 billion people, half of whom are urban. One of our neighbors here is actually in the forefront of scaling up permaculture. A guy named Joel Salatin. Do you know about him?
Morag: Yeah, I sure do.
Jim: Yeah. He lives just a few miles from us. I’ve been to his farm many times, good friends with him. A really, really interesting guy who has taken the idea of permaculture and has come up with a whole series of systems. We’ll talk soon about systems thinking and how important it is to really making permaculture scale. He now operates a good sized farm that makes real money and feeds lots of people. At the same time, he’s building soil at a remarkable rate, providing clean food to thousands of people. Has really taken these ideas and taken them to the level where they could actually be done by lots of people. There are now people who are taking his methods and deploying them all around the United States, and I suppose other parts of the world.
Morag: I think what you’re saying is absolutely right. The model of a smaller scale farm than the massive farms is actually the trend that we need to head in. We have so much degraded farmland everywhere around the world. These regenerative methods, the ecological restoration methods, is what’s needed to bring these back into life. We can do these in and around urban, peri-urban areas as well, as the not too far … I think the closer we can bring these farms into the cities, the better. Because it means that we’re not having to transport the food such long distances. There’s a group here in Brisbane called Food Connect. They’ve created this incredible model that I think works really well. What it does is it creates this local food system. I know what Joel does is he’s got lots of different enterprises within his own farm and connects with other farms too. Food Connect and Joel Salatin are good friends as well and he’s come and spoken at their Food Connect shed. What they do is, in the city, they’ve created this hub, the sustainable food hub. They actually even bought this building, but they bought the building differently.
Morag: Instead of had been bought outright and they own it, they put it into community ownership. So embedded that principle of community ownership there, that it was what … Instead of being shareholders, we were care holders. Interestingly, 95% of the care holders are women. We each put in somewhere between 500 to $10,000. Within a space of a few months, raised $2 million to buy this building that this sustainable food hub now actually operates out of. I should actually say regenerative food hub, because that’s what it is. But when it started out, it was originally called a sustainable food hub. Within this space, they bring in foods from farms that are within 100 kilometer radius. They have very deep and close relationships with all of these farms. They have what they call city cousins and country cousins. The city cousins are the ones who when the food comes in and it gets boxed up, they take it out and distribute it to people in the urban areas. The country cousins actually gather the food from the various farms and bring it in.
Morag: Now, there’s a close relationship between all of these farms and all of the people who live there. There’s relationships, they go out and help work. They might go and help stay. They meet each other at different events. What they noticed during the lockdown, when people weren’t going out to the shops, that this business quadrupled. Even when people could start to go back to the shops, it still was tripled. The resilience and the robustness of these food systems in challenging times has been shown. Also the fact that these local farms have the capacity to have people like these city cousins to come out and help them if they need help, if they can’t get workers from elsewhere, there’s this incredible system that is working. So many more of those. There is so much space in and around the cities that is just used as maybe hobby farms or just abandoned land. We’ve been talking a lot about the possibilities of creating urban farmland trusts. Within the city that’s not far from me, we have bushland trusts. There’s a levy that gets charged to every resident within this city.
Morag: The city is massive. The city, it’s one of the biggest city metropolitan areas in the world in terms of its size. It’s not in terms of population, but in terms of size. It’s a mega council. Within the city of Brisbane, which is a massive area, it’s a mega council, they charge money from the residents to put towards bushland trust, to create more land for native areas. What we’re currently working on is actually getting a levy to be able to buy up land that could be put for regenerative farming. This campaign that we’re working on is going with that idea that we need to be thinking about, well, where is our food coming from, for the cities, in the next 10, 20, 30 years? Who are the farmers of the future? It’s going to look completely different. We need to be protecting and maintaining land that can feed the cities. Also Melbourne down in the Southern part of Australia is completely looking at the way that it manages its water.
Morag: That they’ve done mapping of the whole city. Looking at where the wastewater goes, where it gets treated, how it can be treated into water that can be put directly back out into farms and then creating massive zones there of urban farming. The whole of the metropolitan area of Melbourne is looking at this with a serious lens of thinking about the future of food in the city. I don’t think that the large expansive farms necessarily are going to be the ones which are feeding us. It’s these smaller, localized networks of farms, where people are regenerating the soil through the connections with the urban metabolism. Which I think is one of the key things there. But also I think what we need to be really thinking about is transforming the way that we think about food too. Probably in your country it’s similar in terms of food waste. Apparently, in our bins, we still have 40% of food that gets thrown into bins, which is biodegradable. Which could actually be composted. Some countries I know and some cities have actually made it illegal and you get fined if you put food scraps into the bins.
Morag: That might help to actually transform this. But there’s still so much food that can be transformed into food for the soil. Much of the food that’s grown is wasted. The figure of 40% I think is really underestimated. We actually think about how much food is grown, and you experience this when you have a garden or a farm yourself, you see food everywhere. For example, in my garden out here, I’m looking at it now, there’s some self seeding pumpkin’s that have taken this beautiful patch. When you look at it … I often have groups come out here. I run Permayouth camps and school camps for kids as well. I’d say, “Where can you see some food out here? See what you can find that you could harvest for lunch or dinner.” They say, “No, I can’t see any food.” Then I start to unpack what we see out there. A pumpkin, for example, a pumpkin vine, every single part of a pumpkin is edible. The pumpkin flesh, the pumpkin skin, the pumpkin seeds, the pumpkin vine, the shoots, the flowers, the leaves.
Morag: You can steam up the leaves for a couple of minutes and they’re beautiful wraps that you can wrap around rice and vegetables. All of it is edible, but yet pretty much everywhere that gets thrown away. Same with sweet potatoes. We grow the sweet potatoes in farms and then they use chemicals to kill off the leaves so it’s easy to harvest the root. But in actual fact, the leaf is more nutritious than the root itself. We throw away or we kill or we poison much of the food that’s grown. Then there’s all the, you look around, in the in-between spaces. If you look at the liminal space of your garden you find those unexpected plants that could be a weed, or it could be a self seeding coriander, or a parsley that’s popped up. There’s all this extra food. Every now and then I find patches of turmeric popping up. Or when you create this regenerative garden space where the soil is alive, and the seed bank is within your soil and the perennial plants are finding their own niches in a small space, just around your house, there is a remarkable amount of food.
Morag: With a couple of chickens and a perennial garden, you can actually grow much of the food that you need on a daily basis. Then we’re part of collectives. We have a little collective dairy going on here, which this morning was our morning. Once every fortnight, it’s our turn to go and milk the cows. There’s only a few cows and that’s enough. We just need a … We’ve got a little small paddock with a few cows. That gives us enough milk to make our cheeses and our yogurts and have milk for a couple of weeks. Every other day, it’s someone else’s turn, and then it comes back around to us. This way of growing and seeing food differently, seeing our plants differently, thinking differently about how we’re sourcing our foods, thinking differently how we relate to the farmers and create networks of those farmers, or even contribute to the buildings which facilitate the trade and supply of that food, it’s actually entering into a deeper and closer relationship again with that.
Morag: Rather than just seeing food as a commodity and looking at the parts. I used to be a food politics lecturer at Griffith University. I remember talking at one point about chicken. Because often in the Western world, in the privileged world, we eat the chicken breasts, is the main part that people want. But what about the rest of the chicken? What happens to that? The rests, they’re called, often get frozen and sent over to poorer countries. Then they get frozen chickens that have been grown in ways that are not necessarily the most healthy way. The chicken that you would get from those would not be the same qualities that the wilder versions of chicken that they would be growing themselves. They get an inferior product and their own chicken enterprises get disrupted. Therefore, the manures that they get from their chickens that they would have grown isn’t there to be able to put back into their food system. It’s a disruption of the whole system and it starts this unfolding, and we all become consumers of poorer products. It’s throwing ourselves back into the mix of that and being part of the food growing.
Morag: Rob Pekin, who runs Food Connect, talks about how if just 10% of the people started to grow food, our food system would be transformed. That doesn’t mean that 10% would have to be farmers. Even if we became part-time farmers or part-time facilitators of these kinds of food systems, it would be transformed. I often encourage people to grow whatever they can, even if it’s on a balcony or a window seal or something. Because the simple act of connecting with growing helps you to realize the seasons, the soil, what it takes to grow food. To revalue the role of farmers, for example, as well. To put in mind thinking, well, what is going into my food? To be asking the questions about it. Because I think we’ve been living in what I call this pastoral fantasy. You go to the store to buy a … I know Joel Salatin talks about this too. You go to the store and there is this pack of eggs. You know that they’ve come from dreadful cages and confined conditions, but yet there on the packet is this picture of chickens happily roaming through some fields of green.
Morag: You know it’s a lie, but it’s there and that’s the fantasy that we want to believe when we pick up that packet of eggs to go, “They were happy chickens and that means it’s going to be healthy food.” But it’s not. I think we need to uncouple ourselves from this fantasy.
Jim: Yeah. Chickens are a good example too because easy to raise chickens even in town. It’s been a big trend here in the United States for the last, I don’t know, 12, 15 years that town after town has legalized the keeping of chickens. Even our little city about an hour away, about six or seven years ago said, “Yeah, you can keep up to a dozen chickens, but no roosters.”
Morag: We have the similar thing. I don’t know if the chickens ever got made illegal, the roosters of course. But we had a situation for a while here in our city where it was illegal to have water tanks. But that’s turned around now. Actually, they sponsor people to get water tanks because they realized that actually it helps them to manage the runoff. The infrastructural development of more stormwater drainage and what to do, how to deal with the other end is massively reduced by encouraging people to sort of moderate that flushes of the flow into the system by storing it as it’s coming straight off the house. Then of course, you’ve got that surplus water that you can use in your garden that’s not contributing to the extraction of water through the main municipal system and all the pumps. There’s been a turnaround, there’s been a wake-up. That often comes with a crisis. That came as a result of big floods and droughts and having to rethink it. We are in this moment now of crisis. I think we have a possibility to rethink so many different things.
Morag: I mean, I know that people wanted to have chickens here in Australia. You probably had the same experience that when the lockdowns happened, the first rush was the toilet paper rush. The second rush was the rush on seeds. The third rush was the rush on chickens. It was almost impossible to get seeds or chickens to start your garden. One of the things that I was doing for a while was, I did a whole series when lockdown started of these Facebook Lives about, okay, you want to grow food but you can’t get any seeds. About how to grow things from things you could buy in the supermarket or seeds from the culinary aisle, or how to sprout things that you could … Your lentils that you would cook into soup normally. How can you grow food from the stuff that you just normally buy in the store as food itself? That can then amplify the amount of food that you can get. Take a few potatoes, a sweet potato, a turmeric, a garlic. Take the bottom of the celery and sprout that and you’ve got greens growing right there on your desktop.
Morag: There’s lots of possibility even in tiny spaces to grow a huge amount. But chickens, chickens are I think a really important part of getting a thriving food system, because course they provide you with the manure. But I was just thinking in terms of actually feeding them as well. Rather than having to import food, you’ve got food scraps, you’ve got the bugs from the garden. If you’ve got a worm farm, processing your food scraps, you get to feed some of the worms to the chickens and that’s high protein. Make them up the little fermented breakfasts of all different sorts of seeds and foods, which helps to break down. You grow these grains and you ferment them and then you offer them to them and then they produce eggs and manure. I actually throw a whole lot of stuff into the little pen with a whole lot of mulch. Basically, they do the compost for me too. There’s the mulch in there, the manure and the food scraps, they scratch it all around. All I’ve got to do is rake it up at the end and there’s my compost. They do an enormous benefit.
Morag: Having a few chickens and a small perennial garden can transform your sense of abundance. During the lockdown too, people would come into my garden and I would just be handing out bouquets of cuttings that they could take home and plant in their garden. My garden didn’t even notice the difference because basically it was just trimming the surplus. This is the thing about perennial plants, is that you leave what I call the mother in the ground and you could just keep taking the abundance, the surplus leaves, the shoots that come off. People ask me, “Well, how much food do you grow in your garden?” I have no idea how much food I grow in my garden. There’s just always food there. Again, it’s this idea of, well, what’s the yield? Well, the yield is … If I keep plucking my tomatoes every day, they’ll keep producing more tomatoes. If I wait and I just have varieties that I just harvest all at one time, well, I can have maybe 10 kilos off that plant and then it’s finished.
Morag: But if I just do that consistent, like if I pluck a leaf, then new leaves come. If I pluck a tomato, new tomato flowers come. It’s this life responds differently to how you interact. It’s a beautiful thing actually. I feel a real sense of deep security in knowing that I’m surrounded by food. It’s a kind of feeling of safety that you can’t buy. It’s the same too with having … I’ve designed my way of life so that I’m debt-free. I’ve built the house and set up this whole place in a way that I never took out a single loan from anywhere. What that’s enabled me to do is to not only have this sense of security, but also a sense of freedom of choosing the kind of work that I do without the anxiety, I suppose, of being forced to do it differently.
Jim: Yeah. That’s a key part of it. I mean, and unfortunately, so many people are caught deep in the debt trap and it’s really hard to get out. My wife and I are also extremely disciplined. We had relatively modest student loans, which we paid off quickly. We each bought one car, our first cars. Then we bought one house, our first house, which we paid off in seven years. Never borrowed a penny again for exactly that reason. You don’t like working for a company, tell the boss to pound sand. If you’re up to your neck in debt, you can’t do that. I have been telling college grads that in a little talk I give called My Famous Career from time to time. Don’t buy shit you don’t need. It is like a ball and chain around your foot. You have furniture that matches, so what? You’re $30,000 in debt. Well, that means that you can’t do what you want to do in your life. The man owns you.
Morag: Absolutely. The freedom that I’ve had, and my family, to be able to contribute where I want to, to set up all different sorts of programs and ideas and follow dreams and passions and ideas, and to travel as well, but not to do without. I never feel like I’m doing without. My chairs come from the tip shop and they look fantastic. It’s amazing what people throw out. My office table that I’m sitting at now, I think I picked up for $15 from a local garage sale. When I was 16, my mum and dad bought me a sewing machine for my 16th birthday and a series of lessons with the seamstress down the road. If you want to have interesting clothes or something different, it’s really easy to make them or upcycle something or fix things if they get a bit broken. One of my skirts, I just noticed that it was getting a bit ripped. You don’t notice these things so much during lockdown because you’re not going out. I’ve got to get mending again, but I can. It’s in knowing that I can make, I can fix stuff, I can build.
Morag: I designed and built this place. Before I built it, my husband and I had only ever built a coffee table, but we worked it out. A bit of help from our friends and our family and asking people. You said you borrowed and then you paid off in seven years. We took the other angle of going, okay, well we’ll just build in buildable affordable modules. We built the smallest thing you could call a house first after we’d saved a little bit of money and finished that. Then we built a little extra studio here, which has become my office. Then eventually, we connected the bit with the middle section, which is what we call the kid pod. Where their bedrooms and homeschooling room is. There’s these modules. What I like about this too is that, as I got the funds, we were just able to do the next bit. It was all livable and beautiful. The essential part of the house was there and as it expanded.
Morag: But I do lament sometimes about I loved my outdoor bath looking up at the stars. I don’t have that anymore. I’m actually thinking I might reinstate one just because I miss it so much. It’s beautiful looking up at the Milky Way in a beautiful bath at nighttime. There’s something really special about that.
Jim: Yeah, it certainly is. We had an outside shower at our little cottage on the lake my wife’s family had up in Canada. The water was not heated, it came right out of the lake. The Canadian lake is not too warm. But you’re absolutely right, there’s something special about that.
Morag: Yeah, it’s really beautiful. But anyway, we did it bit by bit and it’s pretty much complete. But the thing is, that also being involved in the making of the house, if something goes wrong, I know how to fix it. Just the other day we were fixing the gutters because they’d, finally, after 15, 20 years started to fall apart. We fixed that. This being empowered to understand how the system works and to be able to interact with it and to modify it and to adapt it over time, I think is really fantastic. The other thing that’s really nice that I love about it is, the kitchen benches, for example, came from … There was a tree in the camp ground at the eco village where I live that was about to fall down. It was a bit of a threat for the campers underneath. They took it down and we got a mobile sawmill to come in and slab it up. We stored it under the house that we were building for about 12 months. Then when we were ready to build the kitchen, it was ready and then we just sort of shaped it.
Morag: The kitchen bench is sort of a bit informal shaped, but it’s beautiful. I know exactly where the trees come from. Same with the veranda around. When you’re leaning on the veranda around looking out across the garden, you’re leaning on this piece of wood that you know where it’s come from and how it reached you and who crafted it into that shape. The way that you interact then with this building, it has a life, it has a depth that is … The culture is emerged. It’s not just a house with manufactured products and things. It is actually … It’s a habitat that’s been crafted. I find that deeply satisfying. It hasn’t cost a fortune to build. It’s been incredibly affordable and incredibly enriching.
Jim: A mindset that you had that very few people have. That’s the change that has to occur if this way of living is going to really become a pattern. If we’re going to save the 8 billion people in this planet, it can’t just be a few of us. It’s got to become a big movement. Actually, we’re getting late here in time. It’s been a very fascinating conversation. But before we go, I’d love to dig in a little bit into your Crystal Waters community and how it came together, how it’s managed, some of the governance structure, some of the things that a lot of people are interested in. How do you make an eco village or other form of non-traditional living community actually work. Maybe you could start with sort of the beginning, and at least as far back as you go with it. Where the idea came from and how you do what you do there.
Morag: I’ve been here for about 21 years, but I’ve been coming to this village for probably about 27. It was started in the … Well, actually its roots began back in the ’70s. There was a group of people that came wanting to create an intentional community, a cooperative. The back-to-the-land type community. This area is really very interesting. This whole bioregion actually, because the nearest town, Maleny, is quite remarkable. It was a dying rural town, but these back-to-the-land, young educated people were sort of leaving the city saying, “We’re looking for something else.” Came here and said, “Well, there’s not any of the food that we want to eat. There’s not even a bank here. There’s no way to meet or have fun together. There’s no work.” So they started creating cooperatives. It’s probably one of the biggest cooperative towns outside of [inaudible 01:06:11]. There was community cooperatives, housing cooperatives. They started their own bank as a community corporative, which still exists up in town now. The food cooperative, now that’s still there and employs dozens of people.
Morag: It started out as a volunteer thing. But anyway, Crystal Waters emerged in that whole ethos of moving back to the land, finding a different way to live, trying to make sense of what was going on in the world in the ’70s, in that whole kind of shock that was happening then. This community here at Crystal Waters, one guy, Bob Sample, his family owned this whole valley. He said, “Can I just have this little bit over here on the corner to start a community?” That’s what happened. It was in the foothills. Up behind us we have national park and state forest and we have some quite steeply wooded slopes coming down onto a bit of a river flats at the base. It wasn’t the best farm land, which is fine for the village to start. We do have some beautiful river flats that are set aside as agriculture. But anyway, it worked for a while and up to 100 people came, and then the whole thing just collapsed. It collapsed because there wasn’t any real structure understanding or equity, what they were calling sweat equity. People wanted to leave.
Morag: How could they get their money back from the energy they put in or the little shack that they built it and there was no title on it? It was just, how did the water system work and how did the road system work? It didn’t really. It just kind of was very ad hoc. A lot of people left, but the remaining people decided to look differently and think, “Well, what can we do?” They’d heard about this thing called permaculture and they said, “I reckon if we design it using permaculture principles, we might actually get a sense of how we can think about this landscape as a whole and manage it far better.” They invited a team of permaculture designers in, and this is what we have now. Between 1985 and 1988 the design took place. It was a big challenge because at that time, rural land here in Australia, in this part of the world one house for 100 acres. We now have 83 household living on 640 acres. We were only really meant to be able to have six. It took quite some time to get legal changes, planning changes.
Morag: It was actually a real innovation in creating a different type of structure. They took the strata title plan, which is looking at well, how do things work in an apartment building? You have your individual apartments that you own yourself, but then you have the shared thing like the lift shaft or the grounds around it. Then just flattened that onto a rural landscape. What happens is, we each have about one acre that’s our own. I have one acre that I own freehold. This is where my house is and my main permaculture garden is wrapped around the house. Then 80% of the land is common land. 14% is owned privately in these little spots, and the rest is common. The remaining six is a cooperative. Our cooperative is where we have our village green, we have markets and music events. We have shared buildings which we can use to hire to do facilities. We have a shared kitchen if we want to do some kind of shared cooking or meals. There’s regular events and cafes that happen.
Morag: I think that’s a really key thing, that we do have our own space that we can be in and the space in between us. But then there’s this opportunity for community, which the commons, I think is the really important part. The commons is the forested area. The commons is the river space. The commons is the agricultural areas where you can license a section if you want to do an agricultural activity. Honestly, most of the agricultural activity or food growing activity happens in and around the houses. It’s remarkable how much you can actually do on one acre. I mean, I don’t even use my entire one acre. Maybe half of it I use for food growing and food for us and the chickens and the house. Then the other half is a wildlife side. I’ve planted a native bush tucker area that attracts beautiful birds. We’ve had a bird enthusiastic here who monitors the birds and he’s counted 170 species of birds. We plant for nature as well. We design and plant. We don’t have fences around our one acres. We have this beautiful movement of kangaroos and wallabies that just flow through the site.
Morag: We design around them, we just don’t put our gardens around them. I made that mistake early in the days and planted a few things up and they got well and truly jumped on. I learned my lesson well to notice kangaroo pathways. I mean, actually to protect the wildlife, we have a policy here where we don’t have any cats and dogs. It’s not like we don’t like cats and dogs, but we notice when they come into the landscape, you can hear, when the dogs come in, you can see the kangaroos fleeing to the tops of the hills. The bird sound is first. You hear the birds going off. They set the alarm and then everything changes. There’s this tenseness that happens. We also have amazing amount of ground dwelling birds and the rails and the quails and there’s monitor lizards and all the life that’s happening. What we’ve noticed is that in 30 years, this place has been able to regenerate the forest, the waterways, the community in this valley where it had been emptied out of people.
Morag: The older farms had closed down and it was really just this big open space with not much going on. It’s brought back in the life and the richness into this space, and the music. What I love about it is that so much happens, but actually with very little money changing hands. I often actually forget to take my purse with me when I go to town because mostly I don’t need it down here. Thankfully, my bank is that local community bank. I walk in and I say, “I’ve done it again.” They would just give me money. I don’t need to even show any ID because it’s all in my purse. It’s at home anyway. They know you. There’s this beautiful sense of trust and community that exists there. Also in that local bank, often we have a bush regeneration cooperative called [inaudible 01:12:36] land care, which is linked with the indigenous community as well. Sometimes there’s trees in there. You go in and you get some money out and you can pick up a free tree that’s helping to regenerate the landscape with native species too.
Morag: Not having fences around this space means that the bottom part of my block, that the other half that I’m not using, as well as the bush tucker plants, it’s a kangaroo field. Like I said at the beginning, one of my greatest joys is actually waking up and seeing those animals just around me on a daily basis and feeling like I’m one of the species that inhabit this space. The way that we manage it, we have a body corporate like any other kind of place where there’s multiple people living on one property. The body cooperate is here to manage things like just the basic infrastructure, the roads and the water system. We have two key water systems. One is, we have pumps that pump from the river up into some high tanks. That gets fed down by gravity to every single household. That’s also for fire. That’s our fire hydrants that around every house. I use that water in my garden. But I actually aim not to use too much of that water because I know that it’s coming from that river and I know there’s platypus in the river.
Morag: I’m really conscious actually about how much of that I use. My main priority is actually to store and collect water that falls on site. I have at least 50,000 liters of tank storage off my house. I’ve designed the gardens to be terraced and to hold as much moisture in the soil as possible. By being directly connected and seeing where your water comes from and where your wastewater goes, shifts how you behave on a daily basis just by knowing that your impact matters. All the water that comes into my house, I know where it’s come from. I know all the water that goes out of my house, for example, goes into the landscape around me. If I contaminate my water, I’m contaminating my soil. Which means I’m contaminating my food and the place where my children play and the place where the kangaroos roam. So I don’t. I think carefully about what I put down the sink.
Morag: I also think in terms of living in a very dry country, I mean, I can do this here because I live in the country and it’s different in the city, I know, but I have a composting toilet in the house. I don’t have a flush toilet because if I have to think about how much water I have to collect, either from the river or off the roof to flush that amount every day, it has an enormous impact. Then what do you do with all that water? You have to process and clean it somehow. You’re pooing in water, you’ve got to then take it out of the water again before you can release it back into the environment. We have compost toilets and then the compost just gets buried underneath the fruit trees or around areas that need a bit of extra nourishment. Not in the leafy green areas obviously, but anywhere else. It’s about trying to close the loops and bring the systems that we need to support us as low as possible.
Morag: Basically my key goal in moving to this place and living the way that I do is to try and demonstrate, what is a one planet way of living? How can you reduce your impact by around 80% so that … What is it that we need to live a one planet way of life and show how you do that beautifully with comfort. With looking something mostly like what most people would expect, but there’s differences in where things come from, how things are processed, where the food comes from, where the water comes from, how you deal with the waste, where the clothes come from, how the transportation happens, how the energy happens. All that basic infrastructural thing. I think that is one of the most interesting part. When people come here, they go, “So it’s not really that hard.” One of the things that when I run programs for young people, teenagers, I invite groups to come up from the city and some of them are from quite wealthy communities. We have this finishing circle, what is it you’re going to take away from your experience here over the last few days?
Morag: One kid, it’s stuck with me because he said, “I really had no idea there was other civilizations like this so close to the city.” This idea that he had struck that it was another civilization that was a whole other way of being. Then other kids say, “Well, you know what, what you’ve shown us is actually how easy it is. I can do this. I’m going to go home and do this right now.” I’ve even noticed some of the … We’ve been teaching this one particular school for 20 years now and some of the kids who’ve come through our programs come back later on as teachers there and say, “What we learned here actually changed what we were choosing we wanted to do at university. It changed the type of focus that we wanted to have.” Even other people have said, “Well, even if we went down into engineering, but it made me think differently. It made me think that I wanted to do something that I could use engineering to help clean water, for example.” I think it’s about adding on this shift of perception into wherever we are in our lives.
Morag: Whether we are in the health professions or the building profession or in the food growing profession, or wherever it is that our lives find us. That is the shifting perception that there are other ways of doing it. That mean that we can live a one planet way of life. That we can diminish our footprint by 80%, without lack, but actually a huge amount of abundance and joy that comes from that.
Jim: It sounds like a beautiful vision. Now, of the people that are living in your Crystal Waters village, how many of them are making a living there on the land either by remote work or by agriculture or forestry, et cetera, versus those who work off the site?
Morag: It’s a really good question. There’s about 250 people that live here. Some people are retirees, so they’re self-employed. Some people are young mums, so they’re mostly focused on the education. Those of us in the sort of that middle sector there, many of us are now actually working online as well as doing work in the land. Some people are in education. Some people do design. There’s a lot of people who make a living doing things like building timber area. For example, when I went to build my chicken house, I just walked over to the woodlot and had a chat with the wood guy. We picked out the right trees that we thought we’d want and he tagged them. He said, “Come back tomorrow.” He had them ready. But that itself is not enough to generate enough money. We have to wear many hats. What we’re trying to work is these clusters of enterprises.
Morag: There’s people who run little cafe or courses who link with the people who grow the food, who offer the accommodation, who do the artwork that sells in their little shop or run music classes, or the choirs, or do massage or acupuncture, aroma therapy, feng shui, permaculture design. Many of us wear many hats. My work I’ve found mostly of recent times, and particularly since I’m not doing so many face-to-face things now, is through online education. We’ve just started to thread through it. We’ve created a community internet system, which is just actually being installed now. Which will open up the doors for many more people. Some people go out. There’s a community nurse that goes out. There’s someone who’s a social worker. Someone works in local schools. There’s a balance of people who are going out and a balance of people who are staying in. Then a number of people too who are just living a very, very quiet, simple life and choose that as their way. Mine is kind of the opposite.
Morag: I’m more of the outreach kind of person, always looking to share and speak up about this as a possibility. Because I think there’s one thing actually living this way of life, but in order for this idea, as you’re saying, to scale up, we need to be talking everywhere. I can see how this kind of approach can be applied in humanitarian conditions. I can see how it can be applied to shifting our businesses. Many people are focusing now on more home-based businesses. I’m working with groups who are particularly setting up community farms in urban areas, looking at creating local food enterprises. The possibilities are just endless with this. It’s really up to our imagination and our creativity and our possibilities of collaboration. Rather than being in competition, it’s I think seeing where those little networks of possibility or those collaborations or how we can work together to create mutual aid, but in a enterprise. That seems to be what makes sense. That’s the culture of this region with the way that everything emerged in the 1970s with the cooperative movement.
Morag: It still is at the heart. Things are changed. People are running businesses now more than cooperatives, but they have a social enterprise focus. I think that that is really a central part of our culture here.
Jim: Well, Morag, I’d like to thank you for a very inspiring conversation. This has been wonderful. What a wonderful way of you have figured out how to live and you help other people figure it out too through your educational programs. Listeners, there’ll be a link as usual on our episode page to the Permaculture Educational Institute. You can learn about some of the programs that are available where you too can learn to be a permaculture person. Anyway, that’s the end of our show. Thanks. Thanks for being on.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.