So we've been spending the past few days exploring the amazing coastline between Sydney and Brisbane, firstly because it's so bloomin beautiful here, but mainly because there are just so many permaculture people here, it really feels as though there's an interesting project or quirky homestead around every corner. I could spend months exploring this area (if we hadn't already spent 8 months on the road and weren't starting to feel pretty burned out from it all)..
Anyhow one place we just couldn't miss was the home of Geoff Lawton and the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. Anyone who has spent any time looking into permaculture on the web will have come across Geoff and his squillions of you tube videos and his hugely popular online PDC. Geoff has been working in permaculture design for about 30 years now after first studying with Bill Mollison, the granddaddy of permaculture in the mid 90's, and has since then designed and implemented thousands of projects all around the world and taught more courses than probably he can even remember. You can read everything there is to know about Geoff from his website and probably a million other places online too.
We originally wanted to volunteer at the farm, but they only want people who can commit to at least a month. Totally understandable, but unfortunately much more time than we have right now (as we are trying to fit everything into our 2 week 'grown up time' we managed to squeeze by sending Ohli off on holiday with his grandma). But the farm manager Desmond offered to find a couple of hours to meet with us and give us a tour of the site, something he doesn't normally do, which we were incredibly grateful for.
Zaytuna farm is amazing. Geoff has had the land now for about 17 years, and you could see the amount of energy and experience he had put into it over that time. There was a PDC running whilst we were visiting, but the difference in atmosphere between the PDC here and at Djanbung gardens not too far away was huge. It was clear that a huge amount of money had been invested in the site, like with their battery bank for their solar panels - it was the hugest I've ever seen in my life!
The land is mainly on a slope which had been entirely dug out with swales and planted with a huge variety of food forest plants. On the flat land they had main crop gardens, which looked really abundant with food whilst we were there. One system that I didn't like so much was that at Zaytuna they farm rabbits for meat. I understand the theory and sustainability behind it all, but the rabbits were literally factory farmed, in a small enclosed pen (which did get moved around) but it still felt rather sad to me.
There was a real sense of community at Zaytuna - Geoff and his family live on site along with Desmond the farm manager, several wwoofers and a team of 10 interns, who stay for a year. Its free to stay as an intern here, and it sounds as though they are given a huge amount of training, experience and responsibility along with a huge workload, but go on to work all around the world as accomplished designers after their time at Zaytuna. One thing I especially loved was that they always try to take one at least one intern who has a family, which, as Desmond says, brings more life and a homely, family atmosphere to the farm. I just love this integration, it makes me smile so much after so many years spent studying permaculture with a child in tow.
After a couple of hours of Desmond showing us all around Zaytuna farm and explaining all of their different systems we were feeling both filled with inspiration and a little overwhelmed. I have met Geoff and his partner Nadia on several occasions, and spent a week with his daughter Latifa when she joined us at the childrens area for the International permaculture convergence in London a couple of years ago. But I have to say that visiting his farm and seeing just how much careful planning, hard work and faith and devotion had been put into developing a fantastic educational centre I left with a really deep respect for Geoff and his work, and of course for Desmond too.
I would love to explain all of the systems in place at Zaytuna farm but think I'd most likely do a terrible job. So it's probably a much better idea to let Geoff tell you all about it in the video below, made just a month or so before we visited.