Maja Riise is a gardener at Onsala Parish and also unit manager for the farm Noas Ark (translation: Noah’s Ark). Onsala is located approximately 40km outside Gothenburg and at the farm there are – in addition to the garden – also horses, donkeys, sheep, goats and hens. Farm activities have been running since 1995 when two engaged women launched an initiative to allow children in the area to get close to nature and animals. Today the farm also operates an open preschool for children and families, as well as free time activities.
“It’s not just the garden that interests me but the combination of what nature, animals and gardens can do for us as people,” says Maja Riise.
Seven years ago, when Maja was a newly trained gardener, she was given the opportunity to launch a green-environmental action program for pre-rehabilitation at Noas Ark. There were many requests from the local community about setting up routines for sending young people and adults who were not feeling well to the farm for recovery.
“Today we know how amazing animals and nature are for stress management, recovery and feeling good. Our garden has been organized to meet the needs of the local society, as a way of coordinating work training and pre-rehabilitation.”
In addition to being a certified gardener, Maja is also a yoga instructor and soon also an educated stress coach. She is very interested in supporting people and helping them to feel better.
“At the farm you can work with nature, animals and spirituality. I think that these three elements are a great combination.”
Part of the Permind project
Noas Ark is now part of the European project Permind (permind.eu) and has been working with Changemaker since April this year with a 1-year pilot project, building a permaculture garden at the farm and using it in its pre-rehabilitation work. Permind is about supporting people in their recovery process through permaculture. The pilot project runs for a year in five different EU countries in parallel. A permaculture garden is organized in each place and the same educational materials are followed by the leaders of the local groups.
“Permaculture is a cultivation technique, but also a way of thinking, in particular, to make sure that you use everything in the garden. Everything should remain in a cycle, sustainability is an important aspect. The cultivation itself is about looking at and being inspired by how nature itself resolves challenges to gain power and space to grow. To me, it is primarily about long-term farming in a sustainable way. There is also a lot of focus on cultivating the soil. You cultivate the soil, and through it also plants and humans.”
Maja tells us that in Noas Ark there was already an interest for permaculture as a method, and therefore she was grateful for being asked to take part in the Permind pilot project by Changemaker. Changemaker is the digital partner in the project, responsible for making the learning tools available through a digital platform, proposed to the organisation to participate as associated partner.
“There are not so many gardens that work the way we do and that use gardening as a form of pre-rehabilitation. We were very interested in being part of this pilot project.”
Noas Ark is located in a very scenic location, also with several health trails that go through the woods. Meditation is a common practice at the farm, to strengthen people so that they can progress in the journey back to health and well-being. But the focus in the pre-rehabilitation work is gardening, and the Permind project has contributed with new routines, Maja says.
Knowledge exchange in Tenerife
At the end of March, Maja and Johanna Apler-Lilja from Noas Ark, two people from Changemaker and the representatives from the other partners in the Permind project went to Tenerife, to learn from the farm where the first permaculture initiative started many years ago. Spanish ADP (Asociacion para El Desarollo de la Permacultura) were responsible for the program during the days, focusing on teaching participants how to start their own permaculture garden. Th educational material was also reviewed before the participants returned home to begin implementing their own gardens.
“I saw the trip as a knowledge exchange, where we received inspiration from others to really deepen our understanding of permaculture, which is an area we have been interested for a while. It was a very inspiring training trip, and it was great to meet so many committed people who participated. It was a very good start to meet the entire group for several days.”
“In Tenerife, we talked a lot about how permaculture can help the participants in the course to connect with their local societies. We have also noticed this in our farm. We have gathered coffee and newspapers for the garden. It’s been great to find a clear project to work with in the group we have with us. It has really engaged us and raised many questions. We have spent a lot of time discussing the theories behind permaculture, says Maja.
As part of the European project, a mobile app will be also be developed, where the participants themselves can share photos, thoughts and experiences from their local gardens with the groups in other countries. Until the app is launched, a Facebook group is used for communication between members.
“We really appreciate to be able to see pictures from the other gardens shared through social media. It makes us feel like we are part of something bigger. It’s interesting to follow the others.”
Sustainability – in all aspects of the farm
“We have built and renovated the farm since the start in April. One of my challenges as a manager has been to set up new routines for sustainability at the farm in a way that can also contribute to Permind. As an example, this has led to us taking new measures to really utilize what we have at the farm, like fertilizer from the animals.”
At Noas Ark, since April, a kitchen garden has been implemented in accordance with the permaculture principles. It is a cultivated area of compost, to which newspaper was collected from the parish area according to the method taught in Tenerife. The project has made both the people at the farm and in the parish more aware of sustainability, Maja explains.
“The participants in the groups who are with us have often been out of work for a long time. We’ve found that permaculture is a great method to help break isolation in a gently but effective way, and in the long term also to help these people to come back to society and maybe even to work. We look at it as pre-rehabilitation, to gain new energy through interacting with the garden and nature.”