Starting Up Permablitzes in Your Region

 

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. Here's some notes we have put together to help you get started, based on our experiences of what has worked for us since April 2006 when we started permablitzing in Sydney.  We've also put together short guidebooks specifically for hosts, facilitators, and designers.

 

This page is primarily for network organisers, and it covers the permablitz concept, how to prepare for and facilitate a blitz (the afore mentioned documents go into more much detail, the stages to a blitz, and how to promote them.

 

Note: There is more than one model for organising permablitzes.  In Sydney we have a small group of volunteers called the Sydney Permablitz Collective who don't run permablitzes directly.  The role of the collective is to provide resources to help others design, facilitate and host permablitzes, to connect these people to each other, as well as promote those permablitzes.  (Although most of us involved in the collective also design and facilitate blitzes as individuals sometimes too.)  The collective is not incorporated, and doesn't have funding.  We aim to share and decentralise the work/fun of running permablitzes.  The other model is for a group to organise all aspects of permablitzes directly.  Some examples of this include Permaculture Hunter Region, or the former Dandenong Edible Gardens Project.  Generally these groups are incorporated and often have funding.  This guide is biased towards our own experience which is the former model, and you may like to contact some of the other groups for more information about running permablitzes as an organisation if that is closer to your situation.  However most of the information here will also be relevant in either case.

 

 

Definition

 

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 may be accurate for you to say you’ve been at a permablitz. You may have already been to some in the past without knowing it!

 

 

Other criteria of a blitz:

 

Actually, there are a couple of other criteria we use to say if something is a 'permablitz'.

 

  1. Permaculture Design: Every permablitz should have a design done in advance.  The design should be performed, or at least co-designed, by someone with a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), and demonstrate some permaculture principles in action.  Why?  We want systems that really work -- systems that are suited to the opportunities and limitations of the site, and the desires, skills, time and budget of the people that live or work there.  Good permaculture design takes lessons from nature, adds some scientific insights, lessons from traditional agriculture, and a good dollop of common sense and shakes it all around to help us design systems that produce food and beauty for humans, while actually enhancing ecosystem services and improving the environment. It's crucial that the design is explained to everyone at the blitz, so they understand the rationale, and can get more deeply involved in implementing it, and problem solving on the day too.
  2. Reciprocity: Permablitzes should ideally be part of a network in which people that come to help on the day, have an opportunity for gaining help in the future.
  3. Free: Permablitzes should be free events for people to attend. (It might be ok to ask for donations though if you think it's appropriate)

 

We're sometimes involved in things like working bees that didn't involve a permaculture design, or hands-on paid-for courses which have some but not all of these things and they're good too, we just don't call them permablitzes.

 

 

 

Positive Outcomes

 

 

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.

 

Permablitzes have many positive outcomes:

 

  • The reasons for growing food organically at home are wide and varied:  Decreasing the embodied CO2 emissions from the food we eat; saving water since we can grow with much less at home than on the farm; saving money on food bills; healthier eating patterns and more nutrient dense food; demonstrably improves people's mental and physical health; increases suburban resiliency through greater local self reliance while incrementally decreasing the community's dependency on imported oil and petrochemicals
  • Permablitz encourages all this in a lively and fun community building context
  • For many participants it is their first experience being involved with organic gardening or permaculture concepts
  • Permaculture Design Certificate graduates have an opportunity to practice design skills, and hold workshops teaching others
  • We are learning from our successes and failures to create robust and successful design patterns and strategies which will allow us to spread these strategies into the future

 

Reciprocity

 

 

Permablitz is about reciprocity. In Sydney we say that people should come along to three permablitzes before qualifying for a permablitz of their own. This similar to 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 for some community projects in public housing or community gardens.  However we don't see the permablitz network as a charity, but system in which everyone contributes, and everyone benefits.

 

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 good design. The term permaculture comes with reasonable amount of baggage and cultural stereotypes.  But when you have up to 100 volunteers working a project you want to know that it's going to work well, and everyone involved should know and understand why, and appreciate the elegance of the system.

 

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 fairly simple but depending on the complexity of the project will take some planning.  See our guidebooks section for more information.

 

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.  This doesn’t all need to happen at once; start slowly and see how it goes. The Permablitz Sydney Collective can help with some of the technical issues and give you more info about how we organise – just send us an email.

 

The Process

 

Part One: The Pre-blitz Design Visit and Preparation

 

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 Sydney, 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.  After about two years we formed a mailing list for designers, the ‘Designer’s Guild’ for Permablitz Design Certificate (PDC) holders interested in design experience.  There are occasional meet ups for is beginning to evolve into a mutual support and education.

 

See our Designers' Guide for tips on designing for a permablitz.

 

Once a design has been put together, the designer should help preparing a list of materials needed and a plan for the day.  If the designers are not comfortable facilitating the blitz itself, faciltators need to be found and gotten up to speed.  We have a mailing list for facilitators who enjoy this role and volunteer to help less experienced facilitators.  Once a date is agreed to (usually a Saturday or Sunday), word is put out to the network with a fun-sounding description of the upcoming permablitz.  We use the permablitz.net website and mailing list to promote them, and that's enough.

 

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 to get more of a local scene along.

 

There's a fair bit of work often in preparing for a blitz, a large amount is usually shouldered on the host.  See our Hosts' Guide for more on what to expect.

 

Part Two: The Permablitz Itself!

 

This is a short overview to give you the flavour, but there's more detailed info in our Hosts' and Facilitators' Guides.

 

Every permablitz is different, but a general formula is as follows:

 

  • Introductions
  • Design presentation
  • Description of jobs to be done
  • Work / play!
  • Breaks and lunch
  • Workshop(s)
  • Work / play!

 

Come together to assess progress and touch base before folks start drifting off (and celebrate like dancing the permasalsa)

 

 

Workshops

 

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.

 

 

Food

 

 

The culture of food at the blitz has changed from blitz to blitz a bit. In the early days we encouraged people to bring some food to share, but these days we leave it to the host to make sure that lots of delicious food is available for the happy workers.  Permaculture teacher Geoff Lawton said at a 2009 conference 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.

 

 

Documentation

 

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.  In Sydney we not have someone in the collective who's role is entirely to make sure that each blitz gets documented.  We've got a short guide for taking photos too.

 

 

Event Three: Follow Up

 

We need to learn from our successes and failure.  In Sydney, we've got surveys that we send to designers, facilitators and hosts to find out how they thought it went, and another survey to send to the hosts around 6 months later.  We've done several return-visit mini-blitzes which is a great way to stay in touch.

 

Outreach

 

 

Gardening and kitchen skills are great unifiers across ages and cultures, and the permablitz can appeal to anyone with these interests.  A little bit of cultural friction warms things up a bit and stops things being boring!  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.

 

 

The Collective

 

 

So here in Sydney since late 2010 we've formed a very successful small volunteer collective which has clear goals, roles, and internal structures and a great culture.  If you'd like info on how we organise check out the page about the collective.  It even has a flowchart.

 

Website / mailing lists

 

 

The Sydney permablitz website (www.permablitzsydney.net) 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 (for the technical details: Joomla with ExtCal and Gallery2 plugins). We can probably help you to replicate the code and set up a website for your local group.  Make sure the energy is there first though, as it will take us time, and an unused website is not good for moral.

 

We currently have several mailing lists, one for the Collective, one for designers (the Designers' Guild), and one for our upcoming permablitz newsletters (which you can subscribe to on the homepage). 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. We can set up mailing lists for your group using the @permablitz.net domain, but at the same time, we encourage your autonomy.

 

Good luck, and be in contact if the Sydney crew can help :)

 

 

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