Local food relocalizes Hepburn

Maureen Corbett and friends from Relocalise Hepburn turn a vacant lot into a community garden.
Maureen Corbett and friends from Relocalise Hepburn turn a vacant lot into a community garden.

By Steven Saint Thomas

As in most small towns, people in Hepburn Springs know their neighbors and most everyone else in town. When a stranger walks into the Hepburn General Store, the grocer knows right away he’s a traveler lost on the Midland Highway or tourist visiting one of the area spas.

The stranger is not a local, but neither are the food items lining the shelves of the general store. The grocer has a small local section with some vegetables and free-range eggs, but most everything he sells is from Victoria or New South Wales or even New Zealand.

Likewise, farmers near Hepburn drive their produce two hours down to Melbourne to sell in the farmers market.

Hepburn residents Su Dennett and Maureen Corbett used to make the 2-hours trip too, to shop. Often they’d end up purchasing produce from their Hepburn neighbors. So they asked themselves, “Why not just sell in Hepburn and eliminate the drive?” A veggie box scheme (what Americans would call a CSA – “community-supported agriculture”) was born. Relocalise Hepburn was now a force to be reckoned with.

“We chose the word ‘re-localise’ on purpose,” says Maureen, who started the original group of two with fellow permaculturist Su. “Society used to be local. We used to supply most of our needs locally and we want to get back to that.”

Once upon a time, our society was local. When furniture, household appliances and even shoes needed mending, people went to repair shops to get them fixed. These items had been made out of metal or wood, and replacement parts could be ordered. The tinkers had names their customers knew without the aid of name badges.

There was a time when my hometown in southern California was bordered by thousands of acres of avocado orchards. I passed a turkey farm on my way to elementary school and a dairy on my way to high school.

Over the past 30 years, globalization was made possible by fossil fuels, kept affordable by massive government subsidies in the forms of tax breaks and Middle East wars to secure oil fields. To achieve all this, Americans had to borrow from the one country that had been making money hand over fist for the past 30 years – China.

For Maureen and Su, relocalization means self-reliance through community. If we know and trust our neighbors, we probably have enough shared resources to sustain our community without burning massive amounts of fossil fuel.

Food- and skill-sharing are central to Relocalise Hepburn. Members hold community celebrations with local food, classes in spinning and shoemaking, and find ways to help each other.

“Food is something everybody does,” Su says. “Most people are involved with buying and eating food – we’re involving people in every aspect from the growing to the eating.”

If you need tools, expertise or even a ride to that general store or farmers market, you can probably get it from a neighbor in Relocalise Hepburn. Make a call or go online to their Facebook site or blog site to make a connection.

A self-reliant, skill-sharing community will come in very handy when cheap fossil fuels are no longer available for the common man or woman.

Relocalise Hepburn is getting ready.

“If the hordes come from the city when the going gets tough, so be it,” Su says. “We’re in a very abundant space even though none of us has any money. We have luxury living that’s available to everyone.”

Permaculture: Living in an Ecosystem

1. When did you first hear the word “permaculture” and what was your initial impression?

2. What ecosystem is nearest to where you live?

Imagine what it would be like if your home was supplied solely with rainwater. It's happening here and now in Australia.
Imagine what it would be like if your home was supplied solely with rainwater. It’s happening here and now in Australia.

Permaculture: Living in an Ecosystem
By Steven Saint Thomas

I’d heard the word “permaculture” many times during my decades in the environmental movement, but I never really knew what it was. Something good, was my impression. Maybe something to do with farming.

Finally I became good friends with Colorado permaculturist Becky Elder and was invited to take a Permaculture Design Course. After spending one weekend a month for eight months hearing lectures, visiting permaculture sites and working with a team to design a real-life property, I’m still trying to get my head around this system we call permaculture.

One way I’d describe permaculture is designing human habitat as if our homes, neighborhoods and communities were part of an ecosystem.

This is not how urbanites think or live. The city is a world apart from an ecosystem. Ecosystems are open spaces or wilderness regions that we are trying to preserve – out there.

Our urban communities are artificial habitats on serious life support. We import our water through hundreds of miles of pipelines and pump stations. Our food is trucked in from thousands of miles away or shipped in from overseas.

We drive vehicles with fossil fuels mined on the other side of the planet. We heat our homes, light our stoves and dry our clothes with natural gas buried miles below the surface of the earth.

Our homes do not have any natural resources, we must ship them all in. In fact, most of our cities have building codes that force rainwater off into the street and graywater down the drain. Houses are routinely designed to have driveways and garages, but not gardens and greenhouses.

We rake leaves into bags to be hauled away. Trash trucks pick up all our leftovers and haul them away – out there.

The urban cycle is to import resources and export waste. Our homes and cities are completely divorced from any sense of ecosystem.

Permaculture turns this urban paradigm upside down. Now we’re designing homes and communities that cultivate their own resources and minimize waste.

Imagine a system where rainwater is captured, graywater is reused, food is harvested and scraps composted.

Imagine a system where nothing is wasted, because there’s no such thing as waste in nature.

Imagine a community so rich in resources that the people sustain themselves without relying on expensive and technologically advanced global infrastructure.

If you get a glimpse of a vision of human habitat functioning as a part of nature rather than in its own little world, you’re getting a glimpse of permaculture.


1. In which watershed do you live?

2. Who produces your electricity and what do they burn to make it?

3. How much of your food comes from your local area and how much is imported from other regions, states or countries?

4. Where does your trash and recyclable materials go when they leave your curb?


1. Discuss how your home, property and neighborhood could function as an ecosystem.

2. How much rainfall does your area receive and how much of it could you collect?

3.  What food items do you currently buy from a grocery store that you could grow or produce at home?

4. What kind of climate does your region have and how is it changing? What do these changes mean for the future of your region?