Here in the Blue Mountains, we’re living on the edge. In fact, we’re living on more than one edge. Edges are just about everywhere to be seen here, between urban and periurban Sydney, between National Parks and built environments, the peri-urban and the rural.
Edges are fragile. They can easily be neglected and blurred to the point of being ignored or even disappearing altogether. For artists and creative minds, edges are the place to be. They are where you find out about what is real, new, experimental and cutting-edge. Walter Benjamin went as far as stating that studying the marginal was far more illustrative of true history than studying the mainstream.
For Permaculturalists too, edges are where it’s at. When designing a site, they are places where the world is your oyster. You can be as creative as you like, whilst learning how to master the art of stacking functions. A fence can be a trellis, a shade structure, a windbreak, a microclimate and whatever else fits within your context. In Social Permaculture, identifying edges allows for a greater understanding of functional connections amongst communities and social systems.
At Lyttleton Stores in Lawson, we bask in the glory of living on the edge of suburban and peri-urban living. We teach people in suburban and peri-urban backyards to grow their own food and coordinate a system for swapping excess produce for store credit. We are close to the local, rural farmers who supply us with produce. We run workshops studying ecological connections in natural ecosystems, and how we are losing those ecological connections in our social systems. Are we connected enough with the food we eat or even with the people who live in our neighbourhood? Do we notice enough when somebody is feeling sad or unwell?
A few months ago, in the midst of the drought, I noticed lines of worry appear on the faces of many of our friends and suppliers who are local farmers. Amongst them were Erika and Hayden from Epicurean Harvest, who supply us with their beautiful produce, grown regeneratively in Hartley, a rural village within a stone’s throw of the Blue Mountains.
They were running out of water, their vegetable crops were getting water-stressed, and planting schedules were being further and further delayed. They could not afford to update the inefficient dam that came with their land, and had to find the time to figure out how to raise funds.
Anyone who’s had a go at regenerative farming will tell you it’s bloody hard work. I cannot think of any other job where there are as many areas to master, or so many unknowns. You are spiritually linked and invested in your land, your crops, your animals, and the natural world around you, and you are also at their mercy.
The closest thing I could relate it to was being a young mum. How easy it is to be so invested and consumed in motherhood that it can become a very lonely affair. If things aren’t going smoothly you can easily feel stressed, overwhelmed, guilty, disconnected and isolated.
This is what I felt was happening to our most wonderful farmers. How could we really, truly reach out and show our love and support? Erika approached me a few days later, asking if it would be possible to gather some experienced gardeners together and help her and Hayden for a day.
I could most definitely do that. The Lyttleton Backyard Grower list was a fantastic place to start and, thanks to our lovely community of gardeners and growers, we managed to get a good group of people together, and what a group!
Ages ranged from 18 to 60. The younger volunteers were keen to get farming experience and learn more about regenerative practices. Older participants were there in part to regain a spiritual connection with their local environment and step out of their beaten path.
The ‘people power’ was a huge help to Erika and Hayden, who usually manage their land on their own. It only took us a few hours to do what would have been an overwhelming extra couple of days of work for them on their own.
Amongst it all, there was singing, chatting, laughing, and an immense feeling of inter-connectedness felt by participants as well as Erika and Hayden. This feeling of community has become rare and intangible for farmers who are mostly out there on their own. The same farmers we depend on at least three times a day for most of the food we eat.
At the end of our day, we spoke of making this a regular occurrence, and how wonderful an experience it had been. I am looking into making it a regular day out, perhaps every three months, so get in touch if you are interested in coming along to the next one.