Clockwise from above left: Earth bag building for a pond installation; Pond made by course participant; Wicking beds at the Brunswick site; Growing oyster mushrooms. Photos by Stuart Muir Wilson
At the gate that opens into the gardens of Seedwell’s St Kilda site, there is a blooming eucalyptus caesia. For the people of the Kulin nation, this gum represents coming of age for young people and for Seedwell it represents a similar idea.
Seedwell is an urban permaculture facility which grew out of St Kilda’s Salvation Army Youth and Family Crisis Accommodation Centre. The Salvation Army Seedwell Collaboration started in 2017, an initiative between The Salvation Army and non-profit organisation Marist180, and is run in conjunction with Jesuit Social Services.
The Seedwell program teaches young people and the broader community permaculture and sustainability skills. It aims to increase awareness about healthy living while also incorporating permaculture’s healing benefits. There are successful kitchen garden programs at both their St Kilda and Brunswick sites, as well as gardening classes and Permaculture Design Courses.
When young people come to a Seedwell centre, it’s hoped that this will be the start of a new beginning. And permaculture is helping them to achieve that. At the forefront of all of this is Stuart Muir Wilson, a humanitarian and sustainable architect and grandson of Bill Mollison. Stuart began at Seedwell by teaching four Permaculture Design Certificates a year and leading two kitchen garden programs. He is now Program Coordinator for Seedwell as well as the Brunswick Eco Skills Centre.
‘Permaculture for Seedwell represents the opportunity for young people and the community to connect back to their local environment,’ he says. ‘Far from just being a lifestyle choice, permaculture and gardening have been proven by a growing body of scientific and academic research to reduce the impacts of anxiety and depression.’
In practice, this means that Seedwell have taken the foundational ethics of permaculture (earth care, people care and fair share) and authentically combined all three by providing courses for those who could not normally access them. At risk youth, including young single mothers, are provided with the opportunity to gain practical skills as well as information about health and wellbeing.
By keeping the cost of the courses as low as possible, Seedwell allows people from all socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to learn about permaculture, an opportunity not always available in urban, expensive environments.
‘Seedwell presents a unique opportunity to support our core business of providing support and housing for young people in crisis,’ says Rob Ellis, manager at Salvation Army Youth and Family Services in St Kilda. ‘It provides the opportunity for all involved: our staff, our young people, volunteers and local residents to work together in a nurturing yet dynamic learning environment, promoting health, healing and growth. For many it’s the first experience of what it’s like to participate in life-giving community.’
The purpose of St Kilda’s garden is also to establish and maintain a retreat area for those living here. While St Kilda is a residential site, Brunswick is more of a garden co-op, located just behind Sydney Road. Seedwell runs many of their programs here, including an incredibly successful mushroom course curated by Stuart.
Volunteers at the Brunswick site have transformed a former carpark area into the communal garden. There is also a women’s carpentry tool share service located next door. Then there’s the Tiny Homes project, run by the Jesuit Social Services and led by Stuart. Developed around the three permaculture ethics, these tiny homes are built on site by program participants. They house vulnerable members of the Melbourne community (who are experiencing homelessness), giving them a much needed reprieve and rest, and assisting them to get back on their feet with a holistic network of support created around them.
At both the St Kilda and Brunswick sites, there is a strong emphasis on sustainability. Food grown on site is utilised in a communal kitchen garden program or sold at monthly markets, which in turn allows the wider community to become aware of Seedwell, and become involved if they want to. The large group of volunteers that continues to grow at both sites suggests that this is working.
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