Would you like to run a permablitz in your area? Or start a network to keep running them? It's remarkable how much positive energy you can engage with a tiny bit of organising. Below is a short manual put together by the folks from Permablitz Melbourne to help you get started based on their experiences of what has worked since April 2006. Contact the folks at Permablitz Melbourne if you'd like any more help. Also check out the great resources on the Permablitz Sydney website.
Definition and three phases
“Blitz”, from the german for lightening, means a focused application of energy. A permablitz is when that energy is focused on installing part of a permaculture system. “Perma” is short for permaculture, which is a design system for sustainable living and land use. As a comprehensive design system, permaculture includes much more than organic food gardening. Growing at least some of our food where we live, however, has always been a central emphasis within the broader picture of permaculture.
Technically, a permablitz is a day on which at least two people come together to
- Add to or initiate an edible garden where someone lives
- Share skills related to permaculture and sustainable living
- Build community
- Have fun
As an example, if you come along to someone’s house, plant a lettuce, learn about worm farming, meet some people, and have a few laughs, it is technically accurate for you to say you’ve been at a permablitz. You’ve probably already been to some in the past without knowing it!
Permablitzes are about making the suburbs more edible one yard at a time, harnessing and building the power of community to boost sustainable urban food production.
For more information including how permaculture is about much more than organic food gardening and the history of permablitzes see www.permablitz.net
Permablitzes have many positive outcomes which include:
- No-stress first contact with permaculture
- Helping people get started on the process of getting their homes ‘in order’ and productive
- Actually rolling edible gardens out across the suburbs
- Giving permaculture course graduates an opportunity to practice design skills in a supportive environment
- Giving permaculture course graduates an opportunity to practice teaching permaculture by leading workshops or helping on introduction courses
iding a medium in which networks of permaculture practitioners can grow together (we think this community building aspect is more important that the individual food gardens)
Continuity with Similar Permaculture Events
People interested in permaculture have been running permaculture working bees for a long time, using names like worknet and PET (Permaculture Energy Transfer) days. Permablitzes are one extension of this lineage, with an extra emphasis on outreach, or getting people along who haven’t had much exposure to permaculture before. We also emphasize a fun vibe: A permablitz is a working bee, a permaculture design presentation (however humble), a skill share, and a party all rolled into one. Style (if not stylishness) is a pretty big component of the permablitz network’s success or otherwise. On your written material and on the day have an enthusiastic and fun vibe. In the past, we’ve had people come along simply because they enjoy themselves, learning something about permaculture on the side. Finally, we try and work a workshop into each permablitz, as an extra opportunity for people to learn.
Permablitz is about reciprocity. We’re working towards a system where people are required to come along to three permablitzes before qualifying for a permablitz of their own. This is basically the traditional or Amish ‘barn-raising’ model. Help others and you’ll get helped. One idea to help facilitate this in a fun way is to produce merit badges in the style of scout patches, awarded with ceremony at blitzes to anyone who has been to three or more.
We’ve done several permablitzes where prior attendance wasn’t an option such as engaging with public housing tenants via workers at the sites. However permablitz is not a charity, In these cases the aim should be to get the recipients along to future blitzes. In reality you wouldn’t expect anything of anyone, but permablitz may have a lot to offer. Those with most to gain and perhaps the most avid permablitz supporters may be those who have been fairly socially isolated or whose skills are going unutilized. The need for making people of various backgrounds feel welcome highlights one reason for trying to keep the permablitz scene from becoming culturally homogenous.
Keeping the Perma in Permablitz
Early on it became clear that if the design aspect of permablitzes lapsed, they could very easily lose their punch, become diluted and move away from permaculture. We feel strongly that permaculture needs accurate representation in the mainstream, and so we strive to retain integrity to permaculture in all we do. We are ambassadors of permaculture, taking it to the people, yeah!
For these reasons, we always start a permablitz with a discussion of the design, so folks have a feel for the larger pattern before they assist in implementing some of the details. We also ensure that at least one person with a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) contributes to each design.
What you need to get started
For a single blitz you’ll need a design with input from someone with a PDC, some tools, some food, and a way to get the word out. It’s pretty simple really. If you’re wanting to facilitate a permablitz network in your area and go the full way with it, you’ll need some friends to help, and a way to contact those interested in participating (such as a website and mailing list), and a network of designers. But this doesn’t all need to happen at once; start slowly and see how it goes. Permablitz Brisbane can help with some of the technical issues – just send us an email.
Event One: Preblitz Design Visit
Because permaculture is about design, an event needs to involve design in order to be called a permablitz. A design doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, but should involve a sketch, however rough, of the target pattern of how different elements are to be located relative to each other. These elements include things like chook houses, growing beds, paths, worm farms, water tanks and fruit trees. Permaculture design is about threading these elements together into a functional pattern.
Because design is always a process of protracted thought and observation, it is not realistic to hope that a design can be done on the same day as a permablitz. From the very first permablitz in Melbourne, one or two volunteers would always visit the permablitz host a few weeks prior to the permablitz to help put a design together and organise a list of materials needed.
After a year or so, there was sufficient energy and enthusiasm to start organising what we call “pre-blitz design visits,” where others would be invited. More recently, after about two years, we have formed a ‘designer’s guild’, The designers guild is currently a mailing list for Permablitz Design Certificate (PDC) holders interested in design experience, It is beginning to evolve into a mutual support and education group.
Anyways, once a design has been put together, materials needed have been sorted out, and a suitable date found (usually a Saturday or Sunday), word is put out to the network with a fun-sounding description of the upcoming permablitz.
The host of the blitz could consider putting notices up in their local library or cafe or in the classifieds section of their local paper. These should make it sound fun, and mention the workshop(s) which are planned.
Event Two: The Permablitz Proper
Every permablitz is different, but a general formula is as follows:
- Design presentation
- Description of jobs to be done
- Work / play!
- Breaks and lunch
- Work / play!
- Come together to assess progress and touch base before folks start drifting off (and celebrate like dancing the permasalsa)
It’s important that everyone who turns up can be made to feel useful and/or learn something exciting. If there’s the chance of more people turning up than can be useful implementing the design, it’s good to have some extra workshops ready to go to soak up any untapped energy. In the past we’ve run workshops such as compost making, worm farms, propagation, grafting, seed saving, sourdough bread making, sauerkraut, sprouts, intro to soil microbiology, using various design software programs and ‘how to hold a chicken’, They can be as simple or elaborate as you want; but normally they are pretty low key. Sometimes we’ve done permaculture film screenings in rooms in the house too.
The culture of food at the blitz has changed from blitz to blitz a bit. It’s great to encourage people to bring some food to share, but the host should make sure that lots of delicious food is available for the happy workers. Geoff Lawton was saying at APC9 recently that in his experience a student’s perception of a course has almost as much to do with the quality of the food as the quality of the teaching.
Coming together at the End
Blitzes are a lot more memorable and fun if at the end of the day everyone stops and comes together to communally celebrate the day’s work and play. At permablitz #2 the ‘permasalsa’ was born, and at other events we’ve had wild drumming sessions, shared a drink, and so on. What can happen otherwise is that people start drifting off and the energy sort of dissipated without any strong sense of closure to the day.
For every person that attends a permablitz, many others visit the website. Documenting each permablitz with photos and description of the day is a great way to share the permablitz energy with the world.
Event Three: Follow Up
The designer of the blitz project should be assigned the task of following up with the blitz host two and then six months after the blitz. We want to know what worked, what didn’t, and see some photos of the results. This information should be relayed to the designers guild, and photos and descriptions put on the website. This is extra work, but is extremely worthwhile and an important part of staying true to permaculture design.
Avoiding a scene / Outreach
The permablitz word and concept tends to appeal initially to university-educated people with an environmental awareness. So the tendency of the permaculture network can be to get a bit too comfortable. A little bit of cultural friction warms things up a bit. Gardening and kitchen skills are great unifiers across ages and cultures, so use this. If you meet people in your neighborhood who have interesting plants or possibly cooking skills it’s a great excuse to get to know them some more and invite them to share some skills. Permablitz arose out of a collaboration with a South American community group Codemo, and those early blitzes have been some of the most fun.
Website / mailing lists
The Brisbane permablitz website (www.blitzbrisbane.org) currently features news, an events calendar, a gallery, and the ability to sign up to the calendar mailing list. It runs on open-source free software (Joomla with ExtCal and Gallery2 plugins).
We currently have three mailing lists, one for key permablitz organisers, one for designers, and one for our upcoming permablitz newsletters. These are hosted using the ‘mailman’ open source mailing list program, so unlike Yahoo!Groups, you don’t get advertising at the bottom of each mail.