How a teacher used permaculture to overcome adversity

21st April 2017 7:00 AM
DOWN TO EARTH: Award-winning permaculturalist Dan Deighton explains the gardening movement permaculture. DOWN TO EARTH: Award-winning permaculturalist Dan Deighton explains the gardening movement permaculture. Amber Macpherson

PERMACULTURE - in the past few years, everyone would have heard about it, but how many of us actually know what it is, or what it means?

"Permaculture really means permanent culture - so how can we live permanently as a society?" Pinbarren permaculture expert and teacher Dan Deighton explains.

"Often it comes up as gardening but it can cover everything.

"You can use permaculture in medicine, or renewable energies, harvesting energy that's going to last permanently."

A bit of a Google confirms this: permaculture is usually defined as the act of working with nature, such as plants and animals, in harmony to produce a sustainable future.

Its principles encourage learning how to utilise ecosystems to have minimal impact on natural environments - if humans disappear, nature will take over the permacultured area with little need to adapt.

We're standing in a beautiful property in Pinbarren that falls gently in to a valley. The afternoon sun has dipped behind the hills, casting a long cooling shadow.

Dan is going through the beginning of a permaculture garden design class, teaching the group how to identify different elements that can affect how a garden grows.

Things like slope, wind direction, aspect, shadows and reflected light all come in to play, and it's getting technical - familiar high school maths equations keep popping up, and I'm feeling a little intimidated.

"What they're learning is similar to the first year of landscape gardening architecture at university," Dan said.

"They've got a format they work through and tick things off."

With an established program and a healthy number of students happy to drive a little off the beaten track to find the property, you would think the class has been running for years.

Only a few months ago, Dan had to face an ultimatum - keep the classes going, or shut it all down.

 

Originally, the classes ran out the back of That Place in Pomona, a trendy little restaurant and microbrewery on a property in Pomona's town centre.

When That Place in Pomona closed down, Dan was heartbroken - he'd created a strong community of like-minded people that cared for the future of the earth.

"I didn't want to leave there, but to stay would have been really difficult," Dan said.

"The way we responded was to be creative rather than give up and fold.

"What came out of it is that we're here, we've adapted. When things ended in town, we didn't lose anything. That was the most surprising thing.

"The gardening program, it wasn't the end. It was actually the beginning. All the lessons we learnt we took away with us."

Dan reassessed the situation and drew on a philosophy of permaculture to move forward.

"The last principle of permaculture is to creatively use and respond to change," Dan said.

"The symbol of permaculture is a butterfly, so its transformation and metamorphosis is about adapting."

One of the class members, Georgia Bailey, offered her out of town property to continue the classes, and away they went.

"He'd put in a year's work (at That Place in Pomona). He'd made it all happen," Georgia said.

"As much as I knew he was hurting, we said 'you can do it'. A lot happened, but it helped you to get here."

Dan said he wasn't ready to give up on the happiness that grows from the permaculture classes.

"The enjoyment comes from being well and being together," Dan said.

"We could all be at home gardening, but there's something that happens when we're all together.

"The main thing for me is the people products - the friendships, the community, facing challenges together. You're with your friends."

Dan has general garden classes every Monday 4pm-5.30pm and Tuesday Mornings 7am-8.30am.

Upcoming workshops:

Creating a No Dig Garden - 22 April 

Establishing a Productive Garden - 13-14 May 

Design and Plan Your Permaculture Garden - 17-18 June

Visit facebook.com/welcometothebighouse.com.au and www.welcometothebighouse.com.au for more information and how to sign up for permaculture classes.