Permaculture in Karamea by Liz Kerslake

Permaculture in Karamea by Liz Kerslake

Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share - How do we get there?

Sub-tropical Karamea nestles up to Kahurangi National Park, as far North as the Mainland’s West Coast will take you.  Named the ‘beginning of the road’, for many who live here the ‘road’ is being the change we wish to see, walking it in a way that heralds in, as Eisenstein would put it,  the ‘more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’.

The strength in Karamea lies in its community.  People take time to chat, share excess produce, and know who might need a visit from the Rural Nurse.  Whether a dairy farmer or an off-grid lifestyler, the majority of folks here understand the value of growing their own food.  On the face of things the commercial dairy industry dominates the landscape, but scratch the surface and you’ll find a plethora of wriggling worms… the Permies are most definitely in town.

In the surrounding hills at end-of-the-track bush blocks, in back gardens within the town and in how people are choosing to run their businesses, elements of Permaculture can be found.

It’s difficult to say how many people have moved to Karamea in search of a simpler life; there are many scattered off-grid dwellings in various stages of development hidden away.  Those that have established themselves successfully live with all the mod cons you’d expect - solar power and water, a lush organic garden, compost loo, carefully thought out water systems and a lifestyle that moves with the seasons … Many find work in the community to make ends meet, however finding the balance can be tricky at times - this struggle is a common theme for those transitioning to a low impact lifestyle here.

The summer of 2017-18 brought a period of drought to the region - an extreme contrast to the coastal flooding that had rinsed through the area just months before.  Many local growers and home gardeners felt the pinch, and those practicing permaculture are now incorporating preparation for more extreme weather conditions into their designs.  Practically, this looks like more water storage, addressing how we respond to coastal erosion and building for cyclonic conditions.

For permaculturally minded business folk, organic fruits and eco-tourism are at the top of the list. Subtropical tamarillo, black passion fruit, and feijoa are exported by businesses such as the Partridge’s Baker’s Creek Orchard in Winter, complimented by berry fruits likes Steve Miller’s Blueberries over Summer.

In order to obtain a sustainable yield, the LivingInPeace project has attempted to apply the principles of permaculture to both the running of the business and the lifestyle that goes with it.  Visitors to Karamea can experience staying on a developing permaculture farm, to discover where and how their dinner is grown and gain a visceral understanding of how the permaculture principles work in action.  


Then there’s the LivingInPeace Project. You can’t drive into Karamea without noticing the odd rainbow, and that’s down to the same man that started the project in 2004. From its inception, the LivingInPeace project took on the challenge of creating a sustainable business and has sought to find innovative and creative ways to do things better by experimenting with permaculture ideas and concepts. Almost 15 years later, founder Paul Murray says:

“We are still learning and developing our understanding of permaculture and business. We have two accommodation facilities for people visiting Karamea (Rongo Dinner Bed & Breakfast and Karamea Farm Baches) this provide us with an income and helps to fund the project. Rongo was a derelict building in 2004 with no garden. It is now a fully functioning business with large landscaped and food gardens, established fruit trees etc. The property has been transformed into a permaculture exhibition site. Karamea Farm Baches has a 7-acre farm complete with natural garden, traditional market garden, food forest, chickens, ducks and sheep, and we produce enough food to prepare around 1,500 meals per year for our guests.”

In order to obtain a sustainable yield, the LivingInPeace project has attempted to apply the principles of permaculture to both the running of the business and the lifestyle that goes with it.  Visitors to Karamea can experience staying on a developing permaculture farm, to discover where and how their dinner is grown and gain a visceral understanding of how the permaculture principles work in action.  


The project also keeps a local 80-acre regenerating bush property as a Carbon Sink, to offset emissions associated with the business - most who visit fly from somewhere far. 

 When asked about the people behind the project, Paul comments:

I’ve stuck up my hand and said, “I want to be an environmentally responsible business person.” This means I want to have a successful business without having a detrimental effect on the environment. All business decisions are based on this ethos …ways to be more energy efficient, reduce waste, recycle, repurpose, reuse and repair is a challenge that requires constant attention and considerable dedication”

The LivingInPeace Project has been blessed with an incredible amount of input from creative people from all over the world. We have been a Wwoofing host for about 15 years and have hosted over 1,000 Wwoofers. As a result, the project, which I always refer to in the plural…it’s a “we” not a “me” thing…is evidence of the collective imaginations of a whole lot of creative people from all over the world.

Especially Tristan Lockerbie our Mr Fixit, Brian “Big Man” Thomson has a wealth of landscape gardening and food production our Chef Mitsuyo Thomson and Sanae Murray, my lovely wife, has been a tireless supporter of the project and me over the years. We have had several farm managers including Dave Tailby, Kane Hogan, Kevyn Miller and Dave Hollenstein all of whom have brought fresh ideas and much energy and enthusiasm to the venture. There are LOTS of others and I am very, very grateful for the help I have received as there is no way I could’ve achieved all this on my own”

Key learnings along the journey for Paul have been the importance of financial sustainability:

I would advise people considering a permaculture venture to avoid borrowing money from banks altogether as the interest and principal repayments are a significant distraction from the goal of sustainability… Paying the bank becomes the priority. I would suggest instead to raise money via crowdfunding or via the investment of interested people instead of corporate lending…. There is a saying in permaculture that ‘the problem is the solution’, I like this thinking very much as it enables creative solutions to all challenges”.

Just down the road from the LivingInPeace Farm sits a bright yellow house, the unassuming home of radical community action. In Spring last year, a group of locals, inspired by Taranaki’s Crop Swap, got together and created Abundance Swap Karamea - a weekly gathering where people could swap whatever abundance they had.  Space in a home was offered, a quick poster was drawn up, and soon people who didn’t know each other were laughing over homemade cheese and crackers whilst swapping compost toilet tips.  This is People Care and Fair Share in action.

The magical success of it wasn’t in scoring some extra produce, or a whole heap of unwanted plant pots (although that was a good score).  It was the genuine connection that comes when kai is shared and stories listened to. It was a simple, open, inclusive idea. One of the Swappers Shona Eason Gibson said:

“Meeting up with so many people whose faces and names I didn't know was an opportunity to share stories as well see what each person was growing; the range was, and is phenomenal. This, in no way, completes the list, however: eggplants, chillis of various styles. capsicums, tomatoes, pumpkins, squashes, recipe books, bamboo stakes, hops, pickles, chutneys, sauces, potatoes, seedlings, pickled garlic, a wide range of herbs, dried and fresh, fruit, bread, salami, wine of various natures, hand massages, smiles, and the ubiquitous and ever prolific cucumbers, beans and zucchinis!”


Abundance Swapping took a winter break but is set to return to Karamea towards the end of Spring, when excess produce and alleged more time becomes a thing again.  This one’s a perennial.

And from little things, big things grow. The success of small grassroots initiatives are often slow to develop but develop they do. Using small and slow solutions seems to be a model that works well for the small (and slow) community here.  Lori Katzer is a local Woman on a mission to preserve and promote our heirloom seeds. She began the Karamea Seed Exchange offering heirloom seeds in exchange for other seeds, or a koha.  Lori understands the wider implications of saving locally and aims to keep this resource in our community for anyone to use. This year, in addition to offering the collection at the Saturday Markets, Lori is taking orders for seedlings, grown to order.  She advocates to keep these important plants in our hands, for us – and future generations – to enjoy. Her motto: 

“If you have room in your garden, give some Heirloom plants a home”.

These are the kinds of ideas that are conceived at events such as the recent screening of the 'Edible Paradise: Growing the Food Forest Revolution', film at the Karamea Feijesta and Harvest Banquet: a community celebration of local horticulture and creativity.  We’re a strange bunch, the residents of this little land-locked island, out in the margins.  When we get together to organise a ‘do’ it’s often a little quirky…


 At the inaugural Harvest Banquet in 2017, 90 people were fed a 3-course meal that was entirely locally-sourced, except for a bottle of Hawkes Bay Olive Oil and some black pepper, almost no waste, almost no travel, and entirely sugar and gluten-free, organic or wild.  Organiser Sacha Healey commented 

“it was fantastic to see what abundance this region has and how easily we can feed our community from it!

So, this year, whilst harvesting Karamean feijoas and wondering what to do with an early and abundant unsaleable windfall, Sacha was struck by an idea: Feijesta.  Concepts were solidified, jobs shared out among volunteers, and before you could say “Olé!” an event of wonder was upon us.  Kevyn rigged up an intricate moving target from old bike parts and some flying saucepans along with a ‘bowling alley’ - the ammo? frozen feijoas of course. 


It was an afternoon of inspiring celebration and creation featuring feijoa-themed games for big and little kids, music, a BYO Share/Swap/Sell market of locally-grown produce, locally-made products, arts and crafts, a colouring in competition, and spot prizes for fancy dress.

Over 40 people came to the event, watched the screening and shared a wonderful pot-luck dinner, whether they liked feijoas or not!

What’s evident is the shift from self-sufficiency to community sufficiency. In the words of Edgar Cahn, “we have what we need if we use what we have”.  Projects like Karamea Winter School, a totally volunteer run, community-led series of workshops/classes hosted over July by locals for locals, are starting to cater for our morphing needs.  Popular offerings this year included making DIY waxed cloth food wraps and seed saving.  A ‘Free Shop’ has been created at the Dump by Sue-Ellen Vargas - leave what you like, take what you like. These are all small things right now, but they allow for integration and sustainable growth.

Earth care, people care, fair share - how do we get there? We’re starting by working together at the beginning of the road.


Bakers and Creeks Orchard

Here is a short video about the LivingInPeace Project

Here is a short video about Rongo Dinner Bed & Breakfast:

Karamea Farm Baches


 Coming soon is a movie called “Karamea” check out the trailer


 Here is a recent article about the LivingInPeace Project


A Tribute to Dave Tailby: LivinginPeace Project Permaculturalist  - here


Karamea Locals Facebook Page