Connecting Communities: Once And For All

growing food
Growing food in public spaces brings people and ideas together.

Permaculture design is successful because it mimics nature’s interconnectedness. An interconnectedness which allows nature to be a self-supporting mechanism that can exist and thrive without added inputs or unnecessary waste, and it’s successful because nothing exists in isolation. If we can implement similar systems into our communities, all of a sudden we’re less reliant on external supply and better equipped to stand and face adversity.

Everything in nature – and in life – is interdependent. The home, workplace, school or organisation, for example, all form parts of a larger neighbourhood. Through permaculture design we can cultivate deeper levels of connection, collaboration and cooperation. It’s something we practise in our gardens and we reap its benefits daily, but if we can apply similar strategies to our communities, we would create self-reliant and fiercely resilient communities capable of bouncing back from anything thrown our way.

Start Small

Quite often, to spur on change at a systemic level, the world needs a disturbance of monumental proportions. Be it unprecedented bushfires, a devastating drought or a global pandemic, permaculture gives us the tools to make beautiful and localised responses. If the last 12 months has taught us anything, it’s that together we are stronger. When we work together to achieve a common goal, we have more resilience as both a collective and as individuals.

Like small, green shoots of regrowth after bushfire, small community projects build and develop interconnected and thriving communities. It might be as simple as checking in on your neighbour, sharing seeds, cuttings or the surplus from your vegie garden. It might extend to shared food gardens, habitat restoration, a community tool and toy library, or community composting. Many communities already have such systems in place and are richer for it.

But stop for a moment and imagine taking it even further. Imagine the outcomes of implementing some big-picture projects such as a shared and local energy system, a solar electric car-sharing initiative, even a local currency. It’s big picture, but achievable using permaculture design principles.

In his book Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison looks at ways in which community self-reliance has been effectively accomplished. He talks about including the provision for food and energy production in the planning phase of a new subdivision, for example, ensuring every home faces the sun and incorporates solar space- and water-heating designs. Redirecting water run-off to where it’s needed, community-owned green belts for gatherings and food production, and successful recycling programs.

Not only is this re-localisation possible, but for most of us it’s also desirable. If we reflect our choice of living locally in the way we design our communities, it is easy to make a rapid and positive planetary difference. And permaculture design is one of the most useful tools we have to respond to the global ecological and climate emergency in a socially-and-ecologically-just way because it starts by empowering individuals, homes and then entire communities.

Bring It Back

When we have strong community connections, it’s easy for people to gather around and provide support when others are in need. What happened in the New South Wales village of Cobargo is a great example; after the fires destroyed so much of the town and left hundreds of residents without homes or belongings, the community rallied around one another for emotional and physical support.

One tangible example was the formation of a town tool library where residents could borrow what they needed to help rebuild the things that were most important to them – their homes and gardens.   This sort of initiative allowed all members of the Cobargo community to access a shared resource, regardless of their financial circumstance or insurance status. So instead of waiting for relief to filter through from authorities, a proactive banding together of the town’s resources empowered an entire community to begin its long road to recovery.

connecting communities
From top left Saving seeds encourages connections and self-reliant communities; Pooling resources like tools and skills builds community independence; Members of the US-based City Repair Project restore places so people can gather and reconnect.

One For All

As we pointed out in the feature A New Normal (Pip, Issue 18), the perception of the home garden has changed to one of potential abundance. Produce is now being passed over fences, and the fences themselves are coming down or being perforated with welcoming neighbourly gates.

Now, as all of those gardens are maturing into plentiful food sources, it really is possible to reimagine our definition of cities as something more closely resembling a productive farm. It’s the same reimagining that turns the local area from a place where individuals exist and sleep, to a meaningful and supportive neighbourhood.

It starts with its members meeting, pausing and connecting. The reintroduction of meeting places, the so-called ‘village green’ – either digital or physical – where communities can gather, meet and interact is a really important foundation of a strong community. Because once communities have a space to connect – even in small ways – it doesn’t take long for people see the world through possibility glasses and ideas to flow.

All For One

Permaculture design allows positive change to ripple out into the streets and common spaces. In Portland, USA, the City Repair Project has catalysed the creation of over 1200 place-making initiatives where people can meet and pause. For the last 20 years, City Repair Project has used community volunteers to create welcoming public spaces. Not only has it encouraged the community to come together, but it’s changing how individuals are engaging with their cities and is empowering them to connect.

An Australian example is Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, Queensland. It started with a small group of people making food gardens in a public park, sharing morning teas and hosting low-key music nights. But as the connections grew so did the ideas and initiatives, and the organisation now hosts car shares, repair days, nature play groups, yoga in the garden, food-box systems, study circles and workshops.

Then came the thriving farmers’ market, community enterprises and large festivals. What makes it so successful is people coming together to share a meal, to help one another, get to know each other, in a place to bounce ideas around and contribute to the community. Simple connections builds self-belief, and self-belief develops into a self-reliant and supportive community.

Permaculture action is by no means small or insignificant. In fact, actioning it through design is one of the most important contributions we can make to ourselves and our communities. If we allowed it to play a bigger role in the way our communities interact, the world would be quite a different place. Just imagine …

Fair share

NOT EVERYONE HAS ACCESS TO LAND IN ORDER TO GROW THEIR OWN FOOD BUT, AS BILL MOLLISON’S BOOK EXPLAINS, THERE ARE MANY SUCCESSFUL EXAMPLES OF COMMUNITY COOPERATION ALL OVER THE WORLD.

COMMUNITY GARDENS
Gaining in popularity right across the globe, community gardens are a small-scale example of what community cooperation can achieve. It starts with a gathering and an idea, it needs the coming together of residents to lobby council to have vacant land released, and the result is an engaged and empowered community.

FARM-LINK COOPERATIVES
Developed in Japan over 30 years ago, a group of up to 50 urban families establish a relationship with an existing market garden and agree to take and distribute all produce. A lower price is negotiated due to the stable market and no distribution or packaging costs to the farmer.

FARM CLUBS
A club is formed, memberships are paid and a property is purchased. Suitable for families with capital to invest, a manager is appointed and the property is designed and run to serve the interests of its members.

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