“The real path to natural farming requires that a person know what unaltered nature is, so that he or she can instinctively understand what needs to be done – and what must not be done – to work in harmony with its processes.”
- Masanobu Fukuoka
Hello! My name is Leila Alexandra and I am a life long gardener. I grew up on an organic farm, filling my belly with fruit fresh from the trees every day. My parents were involved in the early days of permaculture. I am privileged to have had such an upbringing. As an adult I experimented with many ways of gardening, evolving my practice as my understanding grew. After decades of giving free gardening advice to anyone who would listen, I decided to embrace my calling in life - to grow food and help others to do so.
I grow most of my family's vegetables on a 840m2 rental in the north of Melbourne. My garden is a destination for CERES permacultre students and Open Garden Victoria tours. I also have a degree in Environmental Science and was a founding member of Farmer Incubator, Growing Farmers and the Pascoe Vale Food Swap.
One day I was walking barefoot through the forest and was struck by how spongy the ground was. In that instance I finally understood that disturbing the garden soil was wrong. For years I had read about how digging destroys the underground ecosystem that supports life above ground. This story demonstrates the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka, a farmer and philosopher who founded Natural Farming.
I know that for many people gardening can seem overwhelming and time consuming. The method of gardening I suggest is neither - once a few key elements are in place, the garden will mostly grow itself. Natural farming (also known as 'do-nothing farming' ) or forage gardening, teaches us to observe and embrace the perfection of nature and not try to control it. As we learn to cultivate our gardens in this way, we are also cultivating our mind and spirit.
Masanobu Fukuoka among daikon and mustard
Our 840m rental property, once entirely lawn, has been transformed into a forage haven. Within three years it provided our household of four with around 80 per cent of vegetables year-round. There are over 70 types of edible plants, including fruits, berries, teas, bush foods and edible weeds, as well as plants for bees, biodiversity and soil health. Fast-growing fruit trees have been selected to provide a harvest quickly. The gardens were established using chickens and carpet to control runner grass and problem weeds.
Our garden mostly grows itself, and we forage in it. The only 'work' we do is sowing seed, watering, harvesting, and sometimes chopping and dropping weeds. Plants are encouraged to self-sow and seeds are mixed and scattered randomly. We also plant a few seedlings here and there. We don't dig or disturb the soil by pulling plants. Soil is improved with living mulches, green manures and occasional manure. The garden is watered with a sprinkler and DIY grey water. The garden also includes children play spaces, a pond, a nature strip garden and a share box.
Sowing seeds in the desert
You may have noticed the .org on the website. Barefoot Food Gardens is a social enterprise. Our aim is to spread the practice of natural farming and forage gardening. Using these practices, lands that have become barren can become fertile abundant wild lands, where all creatures can find a haven and humans can learn again to revere our sacred mother earth and all that springs forth from her.
I give my time and knowledge to promote this mission, including as a farming mentor for Growing Farmers, advising community gardens and offering regular free tours of my garden. I am currently learning more about growing bush food and look forward to supporting first nations people on this journey of rediscovery.