happening upon permaculture
what can i learn?
Story to Now
Here’s a bit about my permaculture journey so far.
It all started for me in around 2016 when I met Poppy Nichol who at that time was just setting up Global Gardens. I started going along to events there and loved what I was seeing and experiencing. I started wondering why there was no community garden in the place where I live, Penarth.
At this time I was also working on my own project, Share Cardiff, we were mapping all the sharing and solidarity economy projects in the city, including linking in with all the community gardens and food projects. This was a Transition project, and through it I started learning about the Transition Towns movement, which led me to permaculture.
Fast forward to January 2020, I happened to meet someone involved in running the Repair Cafe here who told me about a big event our local environmental group, Gwyrddio Penarth Greening (GPG) were hosting to identify projects that the local community were keen to develop to address our climate and nature emergencies.
At that meeting I stood up and said I’d be interested in establishing a community garden in Penarth, and would anyone else be interested. Eurgain, who’s a GPG committee member, organised a gathering in a local coffee shop and 5 of us set out some plans to bring the garden into being.
Now, Penarth is a small, dense seaside town, with not that much open space for food growing, but what we do have is lots and lots of parks. So I realised early on that we were going to be looking at developing a patchwork of growing spaces, inspired by Incredible Edible Todmorden and Growing Communities in Hackney.
We started with gaining access to a small raised bed and a lettuce trough outside the Town Council buildings. They’d created it as a community space, but they were missing the community, along we came. We’ve now tended that site every Monday for 18 months, when we could, as lockdown happened!
For me, lockdown was a brilliant moment for some inward looking discovery time, refocusing and reenergising. My Share Cardiff project sank, it was all about community events, which were not happening because of Covid. Anyway, it turns out that stopping created space for something new to emerge.
I’d signed up to a Grow Your Own course at Global Gardens with the biodynamic practitioner Kai Lange. And as if by magic, one of those moments when all the things align in ones life, I saw that Poppy was also going to be running a Permaculture Design Course in Cardiff with Sarah Pugh from Shift Bristol. I couldn’t believe my luck. All that diving in to the transition movement and permaculture, and here was exactly the thing I was looking for on my doorstep.
Then lockdown happened. We were the first cohort ever to do an online PDC with Shift Bristol, and it was brilliant. There were people in the group from all over the UK and Europe, what a marvel! I dived in, hard and I haven’t stopped diving yet.
The Penarth Growing Community project is the zone 2 in my own permaculture design. Here’s a link to my PDC project, where you can read more if you like – this is the personal story aspect you’re looking for perhaps. But I realise I’ve written a lot here, and I’m not done yet!
Fast forward to today
These are the aspects of the Penarth Growing Community project we are currently growing:
Tending the plot every Monday at West House Community Garden
Hosting a busy WhatsApp group with 40 participants including people who are part of ‘Friends of ‘ parks groups and local folks
Last season we created the Growing Together gardens network – 120+ people signed up to take part, we had a town wide seed and plant exchange and other activities as part of that, including securing a small pot of funds to buy wildflower seeds and stickers which we distributed to all members
We recently had a Community Festival event where we invited all the local climate and sustainability projects around town to have a stall, well attended.
We had a fruit garden and wildlife garden pack from Keep Wales Tidy which we installed with Friends of groups in two local parks
I recently hosted a community conversation in a local park about growing and wellbeing, on World Mental Health Day
We have just secured a development pack from Keep Wales Tidy and are working on developing a community food growing garden at The Kymin, with the Friends of the Kymin. We had 28 people come to our first community morning there in December.
We will supply our local Food Pod (foodbank) with fresh veggies etc once we get growing a surplus – they have also just got a development pack from KWT, so we are working alongside one another
Have a look at the map of growing projects I’ve made here
Urban Salad Penarth
Plants for people who
Last year I grew loads of plants and had a very popular plant sale. I’ve set this up as a micro-enterprise, Urban Salad Penarth. I’m still developing this, more coming in 2022. The idea is that surplus from the sale of plants goes into funding the community projects with Penarth Growing Community. For example, I’ve just bought some lovely edible perennial seeds to grow for next season with the surplus from the last plant sale.
Follow on socials
I continue learning about permaculture.
In preparation for beginning the diploma, I’ve recently completed Heather Jo Flores #freepermaculture courses and the Permaculture Association’s ‘Growing in Small Spaces’ online course.
Plus, I read, I read and I read! Next on the list is Looby Macnamara’s People and Permaculture.
My aim now is to begin to get a good livelihood for myself from all this work.
You can see photos of my garden, our activities and the community growing spaces we tend here.
Happening upon Permaculture
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I’m trying to trace back in my life to the point where my curiosity about the world, and feeling like I might be able to change it by getting involved in and later, initiating projects, began. I began young on my process of creative discovery.
I remember being quite young when I started questioning capitalism. I think I’ve always been a bit ‘alternative’, a bit of hippy at heart. I remember spending time as a teenager with my friends looking in the hippy shops in the arcades. But more specifically I remember being with my Mum in the arcades one day and seeing a poster in the window of one of those hippy shops. It was that time in the 1990s when Athena was a thing, and posters were all the rage.
I think at that time my Mum was involved in her own process of discovery and was reading about indiginous peoples culture, shamanism and medicine. I was greatly influenced by the books and the music she brought into our home. I read and I listened, and I learnt all the words to the 44 Chants tape. I still know those songs now. One day I’ll find the right moment to share them in a group. I’ve shared them a little at the full moon feasting we did back in around 2016. Mum took me circle dancing with Moonyeen (Mrs Jones – she’d been my elocution teacher, and part of the reason I’m so bold about public speaking today was that practice).
Anyway, the poster. The wonder of the internet means that even after all these years have passed I can find it!
I feel that looking back this point was the beginning of my desire to question everything. It led me in time to study art and social science and woke up within me a deep longing to imagine the world we could have, if only we could change. Imagining a better world has been a long preoccupation of mine. My imagination is vivid, I’ve read and I’ve written. I dream of creating events locally where we imagine the possibilities for the future of our town – very Transition.
I never really felt like I belonged when I was a child, never seeming to feel like I was a complete fit with my friendship groups. From my reading I get a sense that feeling like they’ve found their kin and a feeling of belonging, a purpose, is something many people experience when they first start really getting involved with the permaculture movement.
When I was a bit older, probably around 17, I started being interested in intentional community as a way of living. I’d experienced long periods of feeling socially isolated in my later school years, and when I had left school, I was looking for my place in the world.
I read about the Crabapple community in an alternative magazine (Kindred Spirits perhaps) that I think I must have picked up from that incense smelling, crystal selling shop that used to be at the top of Albany road, or somewhere similar. I learnt that they invited people who were interested in learning about the community to attend week-long experiences there.
I did that, and my memories of the place have shaped me to this day. There was a kitchen garden, a shared kitchen and the model for making it sustainable was the health food shop the community ran in Shrewsbury. I imagine it’s all still there. One of the best health food shops I’ve ever been in, doing zero waste decades before zero waste was a thing. And the smell of it. I’m a bit of a synesthete, I can see it, and smell it now as I write, the light on the sacks of grains and museli, the somewhat dusty air.
These genesis moments from my childhood have shaped who I am today, and help me to know who I am, and why I am. Plotting my journey to now feels important as part of the process of reflecting. A way to uncover my drivers and motivations, a way to uncover why my priorities shape up as they do today. It feels meaningful for me right now.
The world I’ve grown up into has turned out to be a pretty messed up place. I know now that many of my experiences weren’t from me, they were a product of the society I co-exist in. That insight has been helpful for understanding some of the turmoil. To know that some of what I have given expression to in my actions and behaviours in the past have been shaped by my position within the great interconnected flow of life.
That my troubles are not my troubles alone, they are the world’s troubles. That we as individuals are part of the greater whole, we respond in ways that are somehow beyond ourselves and part of the greater expression of things happening within our wider systems. And this insight offers forgiveness and hope.
Flowers in my Dad’s garden
Horticulture in Pencoed
1996 – learnt that I’m great at making guidance docs/do it manuals
2007 intro to web design, about the same time I did the film course in CGH
2010 CFN – September, meeting at Nina’s house
2011 MSc – Wrote about the way feminists use the internet to build community, asked Mark Drakeford in a lecture about an alternative to capitalism, he couldn’t answer, I’ve been looking for the answer ever since (and gosh have I found the alternatives)
2014 Laughter Yoga Leader training
Welsh Women’s Aid
Frack Free Wales demo
2015 Creative space – writing, drawing, exploring cities with Drew
Women Making A Difference – Met Jane, introduced to Active Citizens, this is when my activism really started properly
2016 3 Jan IGNITE – creative space https://ignite.wales/speakers/sally-hughes/
Cardiff Coalition – Walk & Talk series, ignited my interest in sharing, solidarity and the new economy and community growing
In May 2016 I went to a lecture about sharing cities. There I happened upon Mark Hooper, founder of Indycube, and we got talking. Then we started a conversation and invited others to join in. We were allowing something to grow in its own way. We called it Cardiff Coalition. We see that coming together to have conversations is worthwhile, and fun. As things progressed, we met new people. We were connecting.
I organised a series of walk & talk events over the later part of 2016. Groups of people gathered in various locations around the city. It was fun!
Other activities that year:
Started going to Global Gardens
Cardiff w/ Culture Symposium
Republic of the Imagination – Full Moon Feast & sensory labyrinth theatre
Aug 2016 – DEWCH programme
At this time I was working with Sarah Rees in her social enterprise Career Women Wales
Sat 10 September 2016
Join us for an afternoon of story-sharing! We are getting together in Cardiff Bay to talk about what community means to us and explore where community is seeding, blossoming and thriving in the city and beyond.
Perhaps you know of a project that helped bring people together to create social change? Or you could be involved with a group who work to develop community within spaces and places in the city. On the other hand, you could have a story from your family, or a personal reflection of what community means to you.
Whatever your story, we would love to hear it!
Your story can be a poem or prose, or you can share it in another way, let your imagination run wild!
You would have 5 minutes to share, in any way you wish. Got a story, but don’t want to present? No worries, write it down and one of our readers will voice it.
Through sharing stories, we aim to cultivate meaningful connections, dialogue and grow community. We know that sharing sows seeds for good stuff to happen!
Just want to listen, no problem. Come along to hear stories of community from the city!
Cardiff Coalition are a community of people who want to connect and support one another to help celebrate and activate those who want a fairer, more sustainable Cardiff.
Later, I renamed Cardiff Coalition, it became Share Cardiff.
The activities out in the community continued:
2016/17 Full Moon Feasts
Autumn walk and talk – urban growing oct 2017 My interest in the benefits of community growing really started to form
2017 Campfire convention – Pete Lawrence writing – I heard of CC at the seedlings meeting
2017, there are no gods talk in london, link to the video Nov 4 2017, started the writing in August
On 3 August 2017 I went to St Fagans and discovered the green houses there. I’d like a greenhouse like this when I grow up.
And onwards still…
2017 Estonia Sept
2018 May Arthur
2019 Jan Green Drinks (my call back into the world after maternity), Share Cardiff began
2020 Jan – GPG event, PGC began
I suppose what I am doing here is tracing my activist roots. When did my community activism begin? I think it was once I left college that I really started participating in community things. Interesting to indulge in this reflection about how my life and the experiences I have had have shaped me.
In August 2019, when we were in the middle of doing our Share Cardiff project, I was researching Transition. I read the Transition Handbook, and in its opening chapter Rob Hopkins talks of being in Kinsale teaching permaculture, the moment at which the Kinsale Energy Descent Plan emerged. I wondered what this thing ‘permaculture’ he was referring to was, so I started Googling. I read and I read, and enjoyed what I found.
Then in January 2020 I challenged myself to use permaculture principles to grow our garden. We’d moved into the house in April 2019, learning about permaculture through this practical experiment seemed like a good idea. I had no idea at that time that Poppy would be bringing the PDC to Cardiff.
As I write now, in January 2022, after two years of immersing myself in permaculture and creating projects around our home and our town, the next phase in the cycle of my permaculture journey will begin. This learning pathway is the first round of that cycle. The first step on the new path. I’m looking forward to the learning and the doing, and the being.
What can I Learn?
Magic and mystery.
I’m creative and witchy.
Time to slow down. Time to be in the garden.
Time to get my hands in the soil.
Uncovering what’s important to me now.
Shopping for food, cooking and gardening.
Growing. Learning. Sharing.
Experiencing the moment.
Because, all there is is this.
What can I learn?
That I have the capacity to reach forward to the life I would like to live. To the person I would like to be now, as I enjoy today and step into tomorrow.
This learning pathway helps me plot what that today, that tomorrow might be. What choices will I make to live the life I believe in? What is my identity? Who am I? Why am I? What can I do to create the change I’d like to see in the world?
That’s it, when did I start believing that I could be part of the change? Right back in the arcades when I saw that poster.
What are the key lessons about social change that I’ve learnt along the way? One day I’ll write them up in a book, but more action and experimenting in the world first.
Why am I so obsessed with change, when really my life is pretty cushy?
Deep care for the earth. I read James Lovelock’s book about the Gaia principle when I was really quite young. I think I remember finding it in a charity shop. I read the Spell of the Sensuous too. And wrote my narrative timeline for the first time when I was about 15.
I started my process of self- discovery when I was a teenager, reading my Mums books. I’m still unfolding. This chapter, this journey is but one more level of that unfolding to discover who I really am and what I can be in this world. A theme emerges in my writing and doing – reconnecting to ourselves, each other and the Earth. I’ll build around that.
I see now writing this that I’ve been preoccupied much in my life with figuring out who I am and how to define myself.
That simple life my Gran had, walking to the shops everyday via the bowling green. Time to stop and watch the bowlers, shopping for food, cooking and gardening. That’s what she did. That’s what I do too, but life has become full of layers and layers of complexity.
From here two questions emerge:
What does a good life look like?
How do I want to spend my days?