Weighing Words

The best of Whanganui was on display last weekend. It was the root hairs of the grassroots; the calcium chloride of the salt of the earth; the best of times – the worst of times. Actually, it was just the best of times. But most importantly, it was real people doing real things.

Whanganui Permaculture Weekend is the premier sustainability event in our region. The third edition held last weekend provided fabulous learning experiences for over 300 people at no cost aside from a gold coin donation to cover venue hire for the shared meal and amazing film: Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective. The film was standing room only and many other events attracted 40-plus participants, some of whom traveled from Wellington, Taranaki, Raetehi, the Manawatu and Rangitikei.

The minimum estimated value of the weekend programme is $30,000. It is an event of the community and for the community: a real event for real people. We gave it to everyone for free.

As a keen observer of this city by the awa for the past five years, I reckon our community has less of a need for conferences that charge $1,000 per person and claim to be about sustainability (as we saw late last year), and more of a need for events that provide practical, affordable experiences and solutions.

Expensive talkfests have their place (somewhere), but they don’t and won’t meet our particular community’s needs. Real people taking real action is what meets our real needs. A good Maori friend once told me, “It’s too much hui and not enough do-ee.”

I’ve been in the sustainability game for nearly three decades and have never found a more genuine approach than permaculture. It’s great to see permaculture gaining traction in and around the River City, in addition to other grass roots initiatives. For example, I know of three start-up garden projects that are in the works or just underway. Good luck, friends.

Almost everything I know about community gardens and permaculture can be summed up in one word: kaitiakitanga. It is the weightiest term I have run across in any language worldwide.

According to Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, “Kaitiakitanga means guardianship, protection, preservation or sheltering. It is a way of managing the environment, based on the traditional Māori world view” (www.teara.govt.nz).

From my limited perspective, this concept can equally be applied to the TPPA protesters in Whanganui and notably Dr. Chris Cresswell and his recent zen-like car surfing exercise. Chur, bro!

I also think that the success or failure of any garden project relies on having one or more kaitiaki – guardian. In other words, it takes a garden guardian. Sadly, previous community garden projects have failed on this point.

Another weighty word I hold in great regard is ganas – Spanish for desire or inclination. This term played a key role in the 1988 film about a high school maths teacher in a low decile school in East Los Angeles. It is a must see for any teacher or spouse of a teacher.

Ganas and guardianship are the key to success for any gardener, and so it was with great pleasure that I recently visited Sarah O’Neil’s blog: “Sarah the Gardener: Real Gardening in my Real Garden.” Good stuff, Sarah!

Sarah will be sharing her passion for gardening and writing at an event tomorrow as part of the Whanganui Literary Festival. From the brochure:

“Sarah lives on a lifestyle block in the Waikato with her family… Her book, The Good Life: Four Seasons in MY Country Garden, is a funny and inspiring look at the ups and downs of a year in the garden. Join Sarah for High Tea (BYO Gumboots).”

Sounds great, but one question: Do I really have to put on my gumboots again? I’ve been living in the bloomin’ things for months!

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Sidebar: Missed the weekend but want to learn about permaculture? We’re offering books and calendars to Whanganui locals for well below retail prices. Contact us for details.

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