Having been given a brief crash course in Permaculture by Darren on Waiheke Island I decided to find out a bit more about this sustainable farming system by paying a visit to New Zealand's resident Permaculture guru Joe Polaischer. Joe and his wife Trish Allen have lived in the Matakana area, north of Auckland, for 19 years. They arrived in their house truck, when Matakana was still a small sleepy village, and bought a large piece of land in a valley that all the local farmers believed to be useless, hence it was going cheap. Today those 20 acres are now some of the most fertile in the surrounding area and Rainbow Valley Farm has become a worldwide example of what can be achieved by farming with Permaculture principles. Joe is asked to travel all over the world to give lectures and workshops on the subject, but what he loves most is to stay at home and work on his garden. This is where I found him a few weeks ago. Luckily I arrived at lunchtime so Joe was able to spare some minutes of his time to talk to me while we ate lunch, which had been picked straight out of the garden.Joe explained that when they arrived on the land the trees has been cut for timber and the vegetation was burnt off years before. This left the ground prone to erosion and weed infestation. The heavy clay subsoil meant the conditions were boggy in winter and dried out like concrete in summer. By anyone's standards these were difficult farming conditions. 19 years later however, after planting over 600 fruit and nut trees, that were grown from seeds and cuttings and using no dig raised beds for the vegetable garden, they have a highly productive garden and orchard. Rainbow Valley Farm is now about 85% self-sufficient in food.
Joe describes Permaculture as a "design system"; one has to design and redesign, always moving with the changes, working with rather that against nature. Like Darren, Joe waited a full year before he started work on creating the farm in order to see how the land and sun changed with the seasons. He explained that Permaculture is about making the connections between things. At this point he shows me the Permaculture flower illustration by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren which shows how everything is interconnected. Every plant is grown in connection with another plant and the animals that graze around those plants also serve a function. Just one example of this system of interrelationships that Joe gave me are the pigs grazing in the orchard. They eat the fallen rotten apples and so consume the fly larvae inside them, breaking the pest's life cycle and therefore eradicating the need for pesticides. Joe explains that animals play an important part in managing and maintaining the property; they are good for weed control, pest control and fertiliser.
Both Joe and Trish have followed a no debt lifestyle which means that they have supported themselves and developed Rainbow Valley Farm in a completely self-sufficient way without any loans. Trish works at the local pottery doing their marketing and Joe is paid for his teaching, lectures, workshops and guided tours around the farm. In order to be able to afford to build their beautiful house Joe built three others at the same time over a period of six years. He built his house using local Macrocarpa wood for windows and doors, the walls are adobe mud brick and the roof is constructed from 800 year old Kauri wood which was reclaimed from a demolished warehouse. The house is designed to be energy efficient using passive solar energy. It is earth sheltered with a green roof, which goes into the side of the hill it is built against. This means the free range chickens, ducks and guinea fowl can get up there to forage and they can build their nests in the long grass. Herbs, grasses, succulents and flowers grow on the roof. Honey, strawberries and eggs are just three edibles that go from the roof to their table.
Joe also works with the green dollars system which is a fair work exchange between people. In Joe and Trish's kitchen is the most stunningly designed ceramic wall which you can sit against. In the winter the wall is warmed up by the wood burning fire behind it, so it acts as an enormous radiator. The wall was designed and made by Joe's neighbour the ceramicist Mike de Haan. In return for the wall Joe built Mike his Pottery workshop. As Joe said he is a good builder and Mike is a good potter, in a truly interdependent way they were both using their specific skills to help and enhance the life of the other. You see Permaculture isn't just about plants! You can read part two of my talk with Joe Polaischer here. ::Rainbow Valley Farm ::Matakana Coast