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Decade Of Ecological Restoration Series – Episode 4 – Lauren O’Reilly from Free Range Permaculture

Author Wren McLean

We found Lauren working in her productive food garden in Blindmouth Valley during the Decade of Ecological Restoration, she is a permaculturalist whose job is to teach people how to build and work with soil to grow wonderful food and flowers. 

“Regenerative for me means organic, taking as little from the land as possible and giving back as much as possible during that process, by making natural fertilisers from the supposed ‘waste’ we close that loop”.  Lauren explained.

“My philosophy is to have a minimal impact on the planet and space around me as I possibly can and particularly in food.  We know that food production is the cause of many problems so I'm trying to combat this by teaching others because if we all know how to grow food in a regenerative manner then lots of little actions make up big action” 

Lauren’s inspiration for this work came 12 years ago, when she was living in Brazil after doing a Masters of International Community Development. She was witnessing lots of environmental degradation and then saw documentary about re-greening a degraded landscape using permaculture principles. This was her ah-ha moment where she realised that “we do not have to choose between humans or nature, we can have it all!  We just have to watch and understand Nature and how she works then follow natural law and common sense”

Organic matter is increased in Lauren’s soil by either cutting back plants back once they have finished feeding us, leaving the roots in the ground to die back or by taking that plant and composting it down to turn it into a different form of organic matter to feed microbes which play a major role in the chemistry and biological processes that happen in the soil.  “I am constantly feeding microbes, if you feed microbes you feed the pants that feed the people”

“As plants take carbon from the atmosphere, they put it into their structure and as I put those structures back into the soil their carbon is then broken down and trapped in the soil. Soil is a wonderful matrix and web of interactions between the elements, carbon being just one of them, the more organic matter you put into your soil, the more microbial activity you have and the more carbon your soil can store”  Soil structure is improved, nothing gets leached and you can support more life, store more carbon and it just continues to improve. 

“In my perennial systems I crop and drop as another way of increasing soil carbon, when Im pruning I chop and drop leaving the cut up branches to biodegrade or when I pull weeds I put them back down to  mulch and protect the soil” 

Lauren creates gardens that are self-caring by using these practices.  Poly cropping (planting lots of companion plants together) and increasing organic matter and soil carbon helps reduce disease and pests and retains more water and nutrients.  I don't have to water every day and honestly I don't have a lot of time for any one garden so I create a healthier, less needy food gardens that are not a hassle or a big job. This is what I want to show people. 

Lauren’s long term aspirations is to have a little plot of degraded land to regenerate, somewhere that needs some love because she does not need a piece of paradise because she knows how to give that love and create paradise.   

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