A direct pupil of Bill Mollison, the father of permaculture, Geoff Lawton takes his decades of experience on the road, with a visit to one of Australia’s most interesting and longstanding examples of permaculture. The Food Forest, owned by Graham and Annmarie Brookman and a joint venture with their two children, consists of more than 160 varieties of food products and timber over a 15 hectare space of land in Southern Australia. In addition to the amazing farm production, the couple also provides educational opportunities, such as consultations and apprenticeships for budding permaculture activists. Guests can also book a tour to learn more about the operation, or attend one of the few open days the Food Forest hosts throughout the year. Of course, Geoff takes viewers behind the scenes for a closer look at what exactly Graham and Annmarie are doing and how exactly they’re doing it. The results of their hard work are, of course, astounding, and an inspiration to anyone interested in a starting a large-scale permaculture operation.
The tranquil setting is an iconic site in the world of permaculture, which any visitor will see upon first glance. Graham and Annmarie have been working the land for approximately 30 years or so at this point, which they say is necessary in order to establish a true example of permaculture, an achievement they’ve definitely accomplished.
The name of the operation, the Food Forest, derived from a lecture Graham attended given by Bill Mollison. He felt the term fit his ideas and operations so well, that he decided to use it himself. He describes the Food Forest as a multilayered operation, consisting of animals, canopy trees, understory and root crops and more.
The land and soil that Graham and Annmarie are working is relatively dry, and not what many would choose for a thriving permaculture operation. The region where the Food Forest operates is somewhat comparable to what one would find in California, receiving only about 360 milliliters of rain per year. The climate is semi-arid and Mediterranean, so they have a warm, dry summer and a cool, wet winter. This can help with growing certain species of plants, but in order to receive a truly large, abundant harvest, the couple uses irrigation, with water from the aquifer, which is recharged nearby. To compare, a commercial fruit farm will use about 10-11 megaliters of water per hectare, while the Food Forest uses the same amount of water, but per seven hectares, thanks to proper mulching, drip irrigation and other smart practices. The food waste not eaten by the on-site animals is composted, and quite a lot of the food is taken to nearby farmer’s markets, like the one in Adelaide. Then, Graham and Annmarie receive compost and green waste back from the city to use on the food forest.
The Food Forest includes a number of outside employees to assist with the care and harvesting of the more than 160 varieties. On-site animals include chickens, geese, sheep and more. Produce includes stone fruit, vine fruits, carob, pistachios, figs, pears, apples, olives, jujubes, dates and pomegranates, as well as a number of international and foreign fruits that aren’t quite as well known in your average farmer’s market. Some of these are considered rescue species. Rescue species are those that are in need of a little manmade “rescue” due to climate change. As climate change affects the temperature of winters all around the world, some species find they’re lacking the proper cold weather they need. For example, pistachios require a cold winter in order to set up the flowering for the following season. Pistachios are one of Graham and Annmarie’s rescue species, which they’re attempting to develop and adapt to the less-than-ideal cold winters. They’re doing similar projects with their olives, carobs and jujubes. This falls in line with one of the Food Forest’s main takeaways, which is that diversity is a huge part of permaculture, regardless of the effects of climate change. There’s even a wild space left intact, restored with endemic species to reflect the area’s earlier ecosystem.
Even Graham and Annmarie’s home reflects the Food Forest mission, made from strawbale, rock and insulated iron, with collected rainwater in the plumbing and solar panels for heating and electricity. There’s also a composting toilet and reedebed system to turn human waste into compost and golden bamboo.
You can visit the Food Forest on one of its open days, Sept. 25 and April 9, or purchase one of the many products produced there at either at the farmer’s market in Gawler or at the farmer’s market held at the Adelaide Showground. Open days include educational sessions teaching visitors how to build with strawbales or introducing them to the permaculture lifestyle. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the day at the Food Forest at their leisure.