Ever wanted to transform your yard into a garden but didn’t know how? Well, much like the Amish tradition of barn raising, a Permablitz is a way of bringing the community together and turning a suburban house into an urban homestead… in a single day.
The original Permablitz network was established by Adam Grub and Dan Palmer, and more than 100 Permablitzes have been held in Melbourne, Australia, so far. The concept has since spread across Australia and begun to move overseas — with countries such as the UK and the U.S. joining in the fun.
Here are some tips on running your own Permablitz:
First, get a really great design.
Never, ever create a food garden from scratch without first developing a really good design.
A good design is the difference between you doing the clearing, digging, fertilizing, and pest control for your new veggie patch — or your rotationally fenced chooks (that’s an Australian chicken) doing the work for you. Isn’t it smarter to let the chickens gorge themselves on grass, weeds, and bugs; dig through soil; poo in it; and hand over eggs into the bargain? In short, you need an ultra-smart, well-integrated garden design.
Get a good Permaculture designer on board, and take the design process seriously. Work with your designer to create a plan that you are willing to commit to over the long haul. It is more important to get a great, long-term design established during your Permablitz, than it is to complete all the work in one day. Use your Blitz day to break the back of that design, then keep adding to and refining your project slowly, over the years.
Then, advertise and maintain engagement.
In Australia, households use the Permablitz website to advertise upcoming events and find volunteers.
If you live in the U.S., you will need to work a bit harder. First port of call? Friends, family, and gullible (make that visionary!) associates. Second port of call? Progressive websites, any volunteer website, and every single local sustainability/urban farming groups in your area. As you craft your callouts, remember to ask yourself “Why would anyone choose to attend a thing like this?”
In Australia, many people attend Blitzes because they are a great way of learning new skills. Australian Permablitzes always feature between one and two workshops. So, if you are building a henhouse and a chicken run, advertise this fact, and also plan for a workshop or two during the day covering topics like poultry keeping.
After you have advertised, make sure that you respond to any inquiries straight away. Ensure that you make it an RSVP event so that people must email you to get the address. (This maintains privacy and gives you an air of exclusivity!) Put your respondees on an email list and send them regular, wildly enthusiastic email blasts: “Our plans for the henhouse are coming along; check out these amazing pics!” etc, etc. It’s important to maintain engagement with your participants all the way through the process. Encouraging people to arrive at different times in the day is also pretty wise — this means that as one group of people begins to fade, new energetic sorts can kick in and start things all over again.
Remember that food can also be a drawcard for potential volunteers. My husband is a Californian of Mexican descent. Luckily, our Blitz was held in Melbourne during a visit from my mother-in-law. Our gimmick was actual Mexican food. My friends and family (not to mention nearly every urban gardener in Melbourne) had never seen a tortilla up close before. It was a riotous success with everyone except my grim, pearls-before-swine elderly carpenter, who declared that the refried beans “looked like they had already been eaten and digested once before.” Yeah, mate, whatever. We advertised Mexican food. It worked.
Finally, get organized but be prepared to improvise.
Because most Australian Blitzes attract between 20 and 70 participants, preparation for these one-day events is vital. If you haven’t prepared well, expect total chaos! If you have prepared well, expect total chaos! (But hopefully a much more constructive form of chaos.)
Site plans and designs posted around the Blitz area are a good place to start.
Hosts need to make sure they have enough materials on hand — enough timbre, mulch, shovels, and screwdrivers to finish the job. It is a good idea to get one person to coordinate food for the day, and at least one person to greet and settle newly arrived volunteers. Make sure your designer will be there to provide practical direction and support and try to find out who amongst your volunteer crew has the specialist skills that you will need (like bricklaying or carpentry) in advance, if possible.
The best blitzes are the result of adequate preparation in the lead-up to the event, and crazy, desperate improvisation on the day.
It’s fun. You’ll like it.