In Sydney’s east, another group graduates from sustainable living courses
The author of this piece, Russ Grayson, led sessions on global challenges and the future of Sydney’s food system in the Living Smart course.
MAYBE IT’S TRUE… maybe Sydney’s city east is set to bloom with melons and mizuna , tomatoes and tamarillo, banana and beetroot…well, it might if some who just graduated from Randwick City Council’s Living Smart and Sustainable Gardening courses have their way.
The popular Sustainable Gardening course is now in its fifth year. It brings a strong focus on food production although growing native plants and exotics are covered. A new addition, introduced because of participant demand, is the balcony and container garden session. This is relevant because more than half of eastern suburbs residents live in apartments or in other medium density dwellings. During the course, participants get their hands dirty planting and making compost in the training garden and identifying plants edible, native and exotic… it’s basic botany for productive gardens.
Randwick Council’s Sustainability Education Officer, Fiona Campbell, started and taught the course (and, believe it or not, the author of this piece even led sections in it). Now, she has stepped back to an oversight role and the course is more-than-ably led by Steve Batley and Emma Daniell. Steve, who operates a small landscape design and construction business, Sydney Organic Gardens, is a qualified landscape architect and permaculture designer. Emma is a trained horticulturist and landscape designer who also plays a leading role in the nearby Randwick Community Organic Garden.
Living Smart on trial
The Living Smart course that Fiona organised and leads is presently being run on a trial basis as a pilot, so that what started as a course originating with people at Murdock University’s school of behavioural psychology can be localised to NSW, the Sydney region in particular.
The course is aimed at people considering making lifestyle changes towards sustainable living, those on the verge of making changes and those who have already made changes. At 20 hours over four Saturdays, or as offered on weekday evenings, Living Smart addresses personal and household change as well as encouraging participants to act outside of the household, in their local communities. It encompasses topics of energy, water, food and native plant gardens, food systems and food choices, personal physical and psychological health and diet, safe cleaning, safe beauty (personal care and beauty products as well as the DIY approach to these), local biodiversity and its values, energy and resource efficient home renovation and design ideas and acting in the community. A strong theme of goal setting for making the move to sustainable living runs through the course and is visited every meeting.
At the final session, representatives of city east community organisations talk about what they do so that course participants can link with them if they are interested. Groups usually include BikeEast, Thoughtful Foods and Rhubarb food co-ops, TransitionSydney, Permaculture Sydney East, Malabar Headland group, Food Connect Sydney, Sydney Organic Buyers Randwick, Sydney Food Fairness Alliance and Randwick Community Organic Garden, among others.
At the end of the Living Smart and sustainable Gardening courses, participants receive a certificate of completion form the mayor of Randwick and the courses conclude with tasty food supplied by O-Organics.
While Fiona leads sessions and oversees Living Smart, the course introduces a range of guest trainers so that participants are exposed to current thin king in different fields. This includes Peter Driscoll, who takes th personal halth and diet session and Terry Bail, an architect specialising in solar design and renovation. Starting in a learning trainee role with the course just concluded is Suzie Hunter, soon to graduate from UNSW in energy systems (photovoltaics) who, through her studies and work, has become somewhat knowledgeable in photovoltaic systems. Suzie brings the energy, enthusiasm and vitality of youth to the training team.
Goal setting provides a gentle nudge
The Living Smart course’s goal setting is designed to provide that gentle nudge that can willingly push people considering making changes towards sustainable living in their lives and households into action. At each meeting, personal goals are revisited, accomplishments recognised and advice given by the group to assist the overcoming of barriers.
One of the final activities sees participants working in small groups to identify what they accomplished during the course, what they plan to do in future and those things they had difficulty with and the barriers that remain. These are clustered on the wall.
Future training for the community
The Sustainable Gardening course is now established, however the Living Smart will continue to evolve through its pilot phase. A manual, provided to participants in weekly installments to fit into their supplied recycled plastic ring binder, is also under development and, like the course itself, will evolve with each evaluation of the course.
While the work of Bob Doppelt and other sustainability education thinkers informs the structure and content of the course, its philosophy is that of continual improvement, itself an influence of organisational systems thinker, Peter Senge, and personal and organisational effectiveness thinker, Stephen Covey, among others.
To make this happen, Philip Booth, a professional evaluator whose introduction to community education came decades ago with Permaculture Sydney, provides the necessary analysis of the course that identifies learnings and areas for improvement. Phillip sits in on sessions and conducts follow-up focus groups and interviews to make his evaluations.
A number of Sydney region local governments now offer workshops in elements of sustainable living, however few, if any, offer anything as sustained and inclusive as the Living Smart course.