Milkwood is a small, independent environmental design collective based in NSW. Run by Nick Ritar and his partner Kristen Bradley, they hold year round short courses, seminars and workshops on permaculture design and organic sustainable living. Nick and Kristen run an interdisciplinary collective; drawing on the expertise of local designers, artists, farmers, beekeepers, fermenters, market gardeners and teachers to share their knowledge and promote the principles of permaculture. Milkwood’s philosophy is about working with the natural environment rather than going against it.
Permaculture was brought to life in 1978 by Australian’s Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Permaculture is about design. It integrates structures, plants and animals with the needs of humans (Warm Earth 2011.) Holmgren shares that permaculture is about creating designed landscapes that respect and mimic the eb and flow of nature, providing an abundant source of food and energy for self-sustainable living. The fundamental ethics of permaculture are earth care, people care and surplus share. These principles involve conservation and restoration of biodiversity, making sure basic human needs are met and sharing of time, knowledge and resources (Warm Earth 2011).
With a large focus on farming and food, permaculture is now being looked at as a solution to sustainable food production. What we overlook is that the “commodified food” which we consume, more often than not links back to unsustainable practices and organisations. As a collective Milkwood believes that knowledge is power; informed people can make conscious choices about what they put their money into. Currently the global mass consumption and production of food is becoming increasingly detrimental to the natural environment. There’s pollution, destruction of ecosystems, excessive wastage, use of damaging chemicals and pesticides, unjust animal living conditions and the list goes on. With a rapidly growing global population of consumers all demanding more we are quickly running ourselves into the ground. Nick articulates in his philosophy that there is “no disconnection between us and the natural systems we utilize and engage with. It’s the pretend separation from nature that allows us to get away with all kinds of horrific things”. The key towards moving to a self-sustainable way of living is swapping convenience culture for conscious ethical thinking.
Nick says “Permaculture is a design framework to enable whole systems thinking”. It is a mixture of scientific and design methodology and planning (a deep understanding of contexts) with simple and function physical manifestations. With this in mind Milkwood’s diverse education program covers topics such as: organic gardening, fermenting, beekeeping, mushroom cultivation, natural fabric dying, Small space farming and orcharding, natural building and permaculture design certificates. Their courses are run in their collaborative space at 107 Projects in Redfern as well as on agricultural land in the rural regions surrounding Sydney. The skills people learn can be taken home with them and applied to their own communities and living spaces no matter the size and location.
Nick and Kristen are thrilled that their permaculture experiment which started nine years ago on a farm in Mudgee, has now manifested into something holistic which they can pass on to others. “We can create beautiful, resilient, inter-sufficient communities where life is good, and the future is bright. Education is a huge part of that, and that’s what we’re personally involved in.”
Bowen, E. 2015, Interview: Milkwood, The Slowpoke, viewed April 8 2016, < https://web.archive.org/web/20160220091938/http://theslowpoke.com/interview-milkwood/ >.
Milkwood, 2016, Milkwood, viewed 8 April 2016, < https://www.milkwood.net >.
Reid, G. 2014, The Dirt: Nick Ritar, The Plant Hunter, viewed 8 April 2016, < http://theplanthunter.com.au/people/dirt-nick-ritar/ >.
Warm Earth, 2011, What is permaculture?, Warm Earth, No. 99. Pp 42-43.
*All images have been credited and linked to their original source*