FOOTSTEPS TO THE FUTURE
Collected thoughts on the sustainability of resources, people and community in Southwest Victoria.
Cultivating Creative Culture. By Kate Marsh, 2013 (Page.21 Footsteps to the future. Published by RMIT and Ian Potter Foundation)
Victoria’s South West was once a thriving agricultural area, where many small farmers enjoyed great success in the wool and cattle industries. But as time went by the economy became more centralised, the soils increasingly depleted and the option to live in big cities more desirable, thus rendering farming life unsustainable. This is not however a fixed state; with an openness for change and a collective effort we can turn things around.
I believe that it is the younger generations that need to embrace rural life and take on the challenge of farm life with a fresh new plan to bring about the large scale change that we need in order to achieve sustainability. The current farming lifestyle is not desirable to many young people and although many would like to live closer to nature they do not want to be isolated, socially restricted and overworked.
This plan is a template that can be applied to many rural situations and presented to young people to inspire a collective rural change. It is highly attractive as it merges the aspects of a city life into a country environment and supports the benefits of both worlds – a healthy, self-sufficient lifestyle, a variety of occupational options and an active, interesting social structure.
The overall plan is to develop an Ecovillage (community farm) with a focus on sustainable living, shared farming, independent creative (non-agricultural) enterprise, enriched social structures and the development of a viable economic platform for all members. It is a unique structure that supports independence and interdependence respectively.
Let’s take for example, a present day 250 hectare sheep farm that is run by an independent farmer along with his wife and son who have off-farm jobs. This structure was, in the past, a very typical and successful lifestyle option, but now faces a range of ecological problems. It is likely to be unviable in today’s economic climate, have low resilience due to chemical dependence, require a high amount of manual labour and have an unhealthy, lonely social structure. The creative collective plan takes all of this into account and works to face challenges and solve all of these problems.
Successful implementation of a community plan requires an excellent social structure and enthusiastic participation by all members. This can be developed through strong leadership and/or the building up of social equity prior to relocating to the country. For example a diverse group of individuals that are passionate about rural living and creative industries (and believe me, there are lots of them in Victoria) can start their community from within an urban environment ready to transition to the country with a solid social structure and understanding of their strengths and weakness as a community before taking on the environmental and economic tasks.
Once a piece of land has been acquired each person, couple, family or group of friends will choose a 4-5 hectare plot to call their own and develop this into a ‘perma-plot’ (permaculture plot). Here they can develop a small, self-sufficient, homestead and independent micro-business. This will be a place where they can enjoy the private rural lifestyle (independence) whilst still being surrounded by a diverse, supportive and fun community (interdependence). When we look at this from an environmental perspective we also have approximately 100 hectares (20 x 5 hectare perma-plots) being regenerated into healthy, productive land that sustainably supports diverse natural and human life.
The community can work together to develop other areas of the farm that will be shared and collectively managed. These may include a sustainable farm (polyface/organic/biodynamic), native food forest, natural building and eco-education centres, art and music studios, workshops, community living and visitors centre, guest stays, festival grounds etc. It will be encouraged that all agricultural and non-agricultural activities be managed by multiple residents so that no-one will endure the burden of being over-worked, over-stressed or lonely as a sole farmer or business person. People will share skills, knowledge and expertise where possible to help with the success of all endeavours. It is also recommended that the farm, as a whole, build-up a solid brand name and active online presence; this will act as a strong platform from which all shared and independent businesses can rely on for success.
When we look at this plan on an ecological scale the advantages can be interpreted as follow:
* Economic – Increase viability and enjoyment of farming for young people and new farmers. Benefit from co-operative economics, community living and self-sufficiency.
* Environmental – Transitioning to regenerative agriculture methods to eliminate the reliance on chemicals, fossil fuels and unsustainable energy sources. Improving the general health of the environment and the animals and human who live within it.
* Social – Increasing the younger population in rural areas by enabling a transition path and a lifestyle that includes community living, regenerative education, social diversity and diversity of rural activities and events.
The Footstep: Develop a unique lifestyle template that will encourage younger generations to become stewards of the land and rural entrepreneurs; a creative collective culture in a country environment that incorporates the wants and needs of new generations and enables independent and interdependent living.