Friday, August 15, 2008

Playing Music on a Bike - Outrageous!

I love this kind of outrageous gadgetry. When I was a bike courier, people would kit their bikes out with over the top suspension and mountain biking gadgets, which on city streets just seemed a bit much. This is kids doing what kids do best. Making weird but cool stuff.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Concord School Garden

Concord School is a special school in Melbourne's north that's seeking to feed the entire school with the produce from their school garden. The design brief was six beds, two sleepers high - a bed for each group of students. It was a fairly cramped space to work in, but the beds have been staggered to maximise space while creating interesting flows around the space. I made the most of vertical growing opportunities by placing garden beds up against fences. I was pretty impressed by the transformation. There's ample room for wheelchairs, wheelbarrows and two people to walk side by side around all areas of the garden.

We built it over the Easter holidays, so the kids came back to school to find a brand new set of garden beds to work with. The year 10 and 11 horticulture teams are working in the garden and managing food production and composting. As we worked, grounds maintenance were making mulch out of trees that had been felled on the school grounds to be put down on the pathways. That's the kind of cycling of materials you hope that schools can implement for projects like this one.

Concord School decided to do away with their tumblers and compost bins and do all their composting in a bay system. We set this one up which looks pretty damn fine! That's me. I'm feeling good to be body tired and covered in a layer of fine dirt after a hard days work.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vegetable of the month: Kale

I've grown Kale before, but never have I experienced such culinary delight from a leafy green vegetable. Fry it lightly with some lemon juice...mmmm. I'm now determined to plant a 'new for me' vegetable every month. This weekend was a winter's garden delight. I couldn't get enough of coriander walnut pesto, and carrots were ripe for the picking too.

A Canadian organic grower told me that kale was always the last wilted vegetable left at the farmer's market stand. I love Kale, though I'm sure millions of Canadians would roll their eyes in disdain.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ruby Saltbush

A bushfood. You can eat the berries. These are in season at the moment, so I'm snacking wherever I find them. The fruits are sweet with a slight saltiness, they taste lovely though there's not much flesh to them. Apparently you can make a sweet drink by soaking them in water.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Things are usually harder and better than you imagine.

When I headed off to my Indigenous Bushfood Community School Garden project earlier this year, I thought I'd be posting regularly about permaculture successes, community renewal, breaking new ground in engaging young people in the politics and joys of growing their own food. I was full of big ideas and big energy, which kept me going through a first term of impending school closure, unbearable workplace politics, wild kids and boys who would greet me with challenges like, "I'm going to make your job impossible," and "You won't last a year here," and "Are we the worst kids you've ever taught?"

Our forays into the garden involved most of the class shouting, "I'm not walking down there...It's too hot...It's too cold...How come those other kids can just walk off?" Building projects involved groups of boys focused one minute, and the next hurling hammers into gum trees. Everything we planted died over the school holidays.

This term has been better. I cracked through the cement-like soil and planted some fruit trees with the little kids. Some of the seniors have been getting into throwing soil around and we're slowly creating beds. A bunch of them love jumping in the bus and heading to the hardware store for things we might need. This week, I found some street trees loaded with olives that we can harvest on our bike ride tomorrow. So we're chugging along.

Mostly what is getting better is that I'm getting to know my students and I really like them. The tough ones are really softies at heart, and a couple of them stand out for their beautiful openness, willingness and creativity. We've been on two trips to Melbourne and after a four hour train ride we ran around Melbourne after dark, exploring the Yarra, the Art Play playground, and finding things I would never have seen, was I not being led by a bunch of excited teenagers.

We've talked about suicide and families and how much it sucks to be a teenager and not have control of your life. We've visited Lake Boga and photographed dead carp on the dry lakebed and sunk in the mud of a salt lake while chasing each other around. They are a fun and funny bunch.

When the boys give me the finger now, I do this. They think I'm weird but it seems to be working. Flipping the bird doesn't seem quite as cool anymore!

I'm understanding very clearly why schools get me in to build the gardens for them. It's hard to be a teacher and create things with kids that take time and hard work and planning and that exist outside the known, understood classroom. But I'm persisting. I think some of them are starting to see growing and harvesting food as something I value and are willing to give it a try, simply because I'm into it. And that feels good.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gravity Force Kitchen

Dateline recently featured a story on school meals in India. I particularly enjoyed the piece on Akshaya Patra's "gravity force" kitchen in Vasanthapura. Hare Krishna restaurants have done a fine job of feeding hundreds of people each day in this city, and are now shipping school lunches to feed 820,000 pupils a day in India.

The kitchen is truly something upon which to marvel. Dry foods, like rice and dhal are kept in silos on the roof and are fed down chutes into cauldrons on a floor below. There is also a food chopping level, where the food is also chuted down to a lower level for cooking. The cooked meals are then chuted a further level where they are wheeled in trolleys to a waiting fleet of vehicles to be delivered to schools within a 50km radius of the kitchen. This kitchen is like something I might have invented in my wildest 10 year old dreams. Except I might've added some employee slides as well.

The school lunch program seems to have successfully combined centralized and individual solutions to feed thousands of hungry school kids. Not every school can employ staff to cook fresh lunches each day. Nonetheless 820,000 kids are eating fresh, healthy meals that would put most Australian school canteens to shame. As Madhu Pandit Das, a Hare Krishna Missionary says, "We definitely feel that there is a divine touch in the food that comes out of these kitchens."

I must say I'm spoiled at my workplace. All school lunches are freshly prepared, and 3 times a week we are served stew, pasta or shepherd's pie with damper and johnny cakes. For the very reasonable price of $2 a meal.

Image from Akshaya Patra: Unlimited Food for Education

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The New Adventure

Things have been very busy in the land of Pitchfork of late. There is a good three months of news to update. The year so far has been dominated by a new adventure for me, a full time teaching role in a school, working with teenagers to develop an indigenous bushfood community permaculture school garden. This project doesn't have a snappy name yet. I have acquired a sturdy, economical vehicle to take me 3 and a half hours away from my home to reside in the Murray Mallee four days a week.

The area we are developing is a dusty, dry, flat layer of schoolyard. There has been no significant rainfall in the area since I arrived on the 29th January. There was a good duststorm though.

The first challenge will be for me to find contour on this levelled ground. Once that is done, we will be putting in swales, and planting nitrogen fixing trees and fruit trees. I listened very closely to a talk Geoff Lawton gave recently and am well inspired by what can be grown in the desert in Jordan. Now, I have great hopes about what we can grow here.

So far, we have set up compost systems, a worm farm, compost bays and are well on the way to constructing a chook shed.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Update: Belle Vue Primary School

Look at this amazing transformation! This is a project I developed at Belle Vue Primary in the middle of 2007. This garden was built at a working bee back in late July and it has bloomed like crazy this spring.

All the kids at the school are spending a morning a week planting stuff and eating stuff. When we dropped by in the middle of a Christmas party, there were a bunch of kids hanging out in the garden, eating peas.

I'm particularly proud of these terraced beds. They required many finely tuned cuts in the sleepers to make the angles fit together snugly, but they were worth the effort, don't you think?