Catholics in Action, teaching permaculture

April 4, 2016


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Simon Habel, Catholic Earthcare’s Program Manager, reflects on permaculture training and the link between permaculture and integral ecology.

Simon Habel is helping Catholic EarthCare Australia extend their permaculture offerings in 2016.

Permaculture already informs another partnership with Catholic EarthCare Australia, the Naturally Smart Schools approach, which is in a third of the Catholic schools in South Australia and is spreading among Catholic schools in Great Britain now.  Naturally Smart Schools and Places are also being set up in Hong Kong and indigenous schools in Australia’s Northern Territory later this spring.  Soon, schools worldwide will be able to join online and can participate as long as they share their findings, for sign up in readiness go to or www.   Further details will be sent once everything goes live at the end of April.

Below, Simon Habel describes a two-week Permaculture Design Certificate course in Sydney, offered by Milkwood Permaculture, which took place at the Montessori school in Balmain, NSW. Attending the course were 25 students from around Australia and across the world, bringing a diversity of cultures as well as knowledge.

Simon Habel, visiting the Montessori School garden.

Simon Habel at the Montessori School garden

In permaculture students learn how to design spaces and landscapes to be sympathetic to nature and work with it rather than against it. Students came together to learn how to design their own spaces, whether it be an apartment balcony or a 350 acre organic farm.  Habel created two designs – one for his backyard and a more in depth one for a school landscape.

The ethics of permaculture are simple enough – Care for the Earth, Care for People, and Fair Share – all living things should have an equal share of the earth’s resources. These underpin a number of design principles that provide tools for a way of perceiving the world. This is a holistic and systems based approach that focuses on opportunities rather than obstacles.

The course involved field trips to community and rooftop gardens throughout Sydney that demonstrated the principles and gave real life examples of permaculture in action.  The team visited Michael Mobb’s Sustainable House, a standard row cottage in inner Sydney that uses no electricity from the grid, collects all water from rainwater and recycles all sewerage waste into fertilizer — all while looking from inside and out like a normal house.

Permaculture encompasses many aspects of design thinking and horticulture, from how to sequester carbon in your permaculture designs to the incredible role of fungus in our ecological systems.  Permaculture philosophy highlights the beauty and inter-relationships.

The very clever Milkwood rooftop Aquaponics system

The clever Milkwood rooftop Aquaponics system

Habel describes how his idea of permaculture shifted.  He initially thought it was a system of designing landscapes like backyards through to small farms in a sympathetic manner to nature.  He came away with is a profound appreciation for looking at all aspects of how we live on the planet, from how we think, to how we interact in communities and nature.  He said, “I learned that we need to work with what we have rather than try and force a design on nature to suit our needs.”

Permaculture is a conscious design of the way we live that enriches the earth, while being productive and meeting our basic needs in a manner that doesn’t destroy creation. It reminds him of the integral ecology Pope Francis speaks about in Laudato Si’. There is a need to take all aspects of our society and the environment into account in how we live on this planet. One cannot be sacrificed for the other. As Pope Francis says: “When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. “

Catholic Earthcare Australia will be offering permaculture design programs in 2016. For more information and to register your interest please email [email protected].  To sign up for Naturally Smart Schools or to create Naturally Smart Places, if you or your community has land to manage, go to or www.