Permaculture

PDC and the tyranny of plastic bottles: notes from the other side

By Katy Faye Desmond

It’s official: thanks to the excellent instruction and care of Tom and Zaia Kendall at the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) Sunshine Coast, I am now a proud holder of a permaculture design certificate.

Closing our last session, Tom’s final words were, “When you get back to your homes, remember to be nice to people. There is such thing as a permaculture divorce.” Now that I’ve left I see what he means.

Foraging chickens at Maungaraeeda, home of Tom Kendall and the PRI Sunshine CoastLiving two weeks on a well-functioning permaculture demonstration site gives you the chance to see how one can live differently – in comfort and safety, but using fewer resources, moving more towards sustainability. Saying goodbye, I felt empowered, highly motivated and more capable of taking on the many projects that have floated around in my head for so long – experimenting with growing more of my own food in my apartment, getting involved in my local alternative currency system.

But leaving the farm last Saturday morning and heading straight into the posh beach town of Noosa, the sudden onslaught of cars and commerce, flashing lights, honking horns and flush toilets felt a little overwhelming. What felt so possible on the farm was drowned out by the familiarity of “normal life”.

Why so much stuff, I wondered. On the farm, every tool, every structure, living thing had function – many functions – that support the others. Off the farm, it seemed everything and everyone stood alone. It was easy to feel like it was all a big waste of resources. From there, it was easy to start judging. “Be nice to people.”

But change comes in small steps. Not everyone can live tucked away in gorgeous green hills and grow and provide for all their own needs. The world is one of exploding urban spaces with ceaselessly growing numbers of people. This is what I live in, and this is the space allotted to me to improve.

So what do I see right away, coming off the farm that I’d like to do my part to change? While traveling in Australia for the coming here, I’ve thought of three simple things…

1. More composting toilets.
Humanure bank at Maungaraeeda, designed by Tom Kendall at PRI Sunshine Coast

Humanure bank at Maungaraeeda

The first day off the farm, every time I went to the toilet I walked out having forgotten to flush. I had grown accustomed to the quiet of a compost toilet – you go in, do your thing, sprinkle a little sawdust and be on your way. No water, no noise.

Since composting toilets fill up and don’t get flushed away from view immediately, they seem like they would be more trouble than a conventional toilet, especially in urban spaces. But these days, designs abound of compost toilets that work well in city living.

Any home or structure I help build, I will push for the inclusion of these. I’d also love to see a movement of environmentally oriented businesses – vegetarian and organic restaurants, dealers in fair trade, etc. – to experiment with these.

2. Buying better fruits and veggies.
Seedlings at Maungaraeeda, home of Tom and Zaia Kendall and the PRI Sunshine Coast

Seedlings at Maungaraeeda

Eating a banana off one of Tom and Zaia’s banana trees is a totally different experience than any banana I’ve ever known. Where your food is coming from – how close and the principles of the person growing it – makes a big difference. This is made clear every minute at PRI Sunshine Coast.

I’ve know this for a while. Back in Belgium, I buy almost exclusively organic (with or without official label) produce, and try to buy as local as possible. I don’t go to supermarkets, but only farmers’ markets and small shops if I can’t find a farmer friend to buy from.

Here in Australia however, mostly due to not quite yet knowing the lay of the land and not having a car to get out to the better markets, I’ve often found myself wandering the aisles of Coles or Woolworths.

Yes, buying organic and local can be more expensive, and isn’t typically seen as fitting into a traveller’s or family’s budget. However, I know from Belgium that this doesn’t actually mean I spend more on food. I just spend better. Shifting my priorities, I might sacrifice one night’s glass of wine for a week’s apples and bananas.

A good farmers’ market can be an inspiring thing. At Noosa’s Monday market, I was elated to find so many producers of so many different kinds of products, from veg to breads to soaps, trying to do things the right way round – caring for the earth, caring for people.

For myself, I’ve decided that being a traveler is no excuse to buy irresponsibly. So I will make a point to strategise better and get fruits, vegetables and other products that I feel have been produced with respect for the work and resources that go into them.

3. Less disposable materials.
Composting at Maungaraeeda, home of Tom Kendall and the PRI Sunshine Coast

Don’t bin it, compost it!

Order a smoothie, you get two straws. An ice cream earns you a tiny shovel-shaped plastic spoon. Every shop clerk tries to hand you a plastic bag with any item you purchase. And endless plastic water bottles overflow from public bins.

When you haven’t seen plastic in two weeks, you can’t help by think about what happens to those all those bottles and spoons and bags when after five minutes you’ve finished with them. Essentially, in terms of any meaningful amount of time a human can really understand, they will exist forever.

It’s easy to say no to these things; just a matter of habit. “No straw, thank you.” “I’ve got a bag.” I bought a sturdy metal water bottle from an opp shop for 75 cents.

Working in the reflex to remember my cloth bags and my bamboo straw into my daily life is a small step towards producing an enormous amount less waste. I didn’t need to do a PDC to tell me that, but being there certainly was a good reminder.

©2015 Katy Faye Desmond for Do It Yourself Food and Health Hub, incorporating Permaculture Research Institute Sunshine Coast. Katy Faye Desmond’s adjustment to life after the Permaculture Design Certificate course (PDC).

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