The Permaculture world lost one of it’s greatest assets last week. Permaculture designer, teacher and activist, Joe Polaischer of New Zealand’s famed Rainbow Valley Farms , sadly, passed away last week from a brain tumor.
I was lucky enough to have met Joe and his partner Trish Allen over a weekend during an early New Zealand spring visit a couple of years ago. They graciously invited me out to see the farm, allowed me to walk around taking pictures, and took time out of their busy schedule to talk with me and answer any questions I had.
Over the short time I was able to spend with them that weekend, I was truly impressed not just by their words, but by their actions. I was able to see the farm and how it was transformed over twenty years from a piece of gorse infested “trash” land...to an oasis of biodiversity...a land of plenty.
I saw the home built with his own two hands...the two hands of his partner and the cooperation of a few of his neighbors. I witnessed the spirit of community inspired by the local farmers market in Matakana which he helped to start...which is now an extremely popular weekend stop for many locals, tourists and Aucklanders alike. I saw how Joe would educate people by chatting, not just over the counter, but face to face with visitors passing around their booth, giving tips in sustainable living with demonstrations and passing on details about how to grow (and continue growing) certain plants that he sold (and traded).
After the market closed that day, Joe, his intern, a couple volunteers and locals allowed a couple pints to grease the wheels of the mind and share ideas about permaculture and sustainable living. Joe’s jovial smile, jokes and conversation seemed to be the central hub of this thriving community. Possibilities were discussed, and worthy ideas were often put to practice back on the farm. His mind was critical, but open. His experiments met with both success and failure (if you can call learning from mistakes a failure). He planted thousands of trees in his life, and proved many an “expert” wrong by growing things with permaculture principles, that probably shouldn’t have grown on his property, such as sugar cane.
Joe seemed to approach life with a creative and positive passion. I didn’t hear a single word of pessimism come from his lips while I was around. He seemed to be a jack of all trades, and a master of most of his skills... woodworking, carpentry, organic farming and most of all...working with, teaching and inspiring people. He had an almost crystal clear vision of the sustainable life and happiness possible by living through permaculture...and he didn’t just talk...he acted toward that vision. I remember him saying that you can’t just read, write, research and talk about permaculture... you have to do it...and that...he did.
Joe has been an inspiration to many people from many countries and cultures around the world and of all ages. The Rainbow Valley farm that Joe and Trish created is proof that permaculture design principles truly work. It’s proof that a life of sustainable happiness is possible. Joe’s showmanship, workmanship, friendliness and passion couldn’t help but bring out the best in both people and nature. His former "wasteland", is now rich with organic soil and the abundant life that it supports...all created by nature with his guiding hand, passion and “hard play” (as he likes to call his work). The farmers market which he helped launch off the ground is now a place that brings people together around the organic and friendly lifestyle that humans were meant to live. In short, I would say that Joe and Trish worked toward creating a paradise and set an example that we all can follow.
Joe may have passed-on...but I believe he shall always live on through his inspiration, creation and by the example that he set by his own life. He will live on through his work, his teachings, his students and the random lives he touched (like mine) along the way. My only wish is that he could still be here to pass on more wisdom and inspire more people...to inspire more life.
In closing, all I can really say, is “Thanks, Joe, for being an example of a truly decent human being...you shall be missed and you shall also be celebrated.”
-Scott A. Meister