One day in February 2013 a group of twenty friends came together to transform an empty plot of land in Nitiprayan, a village in the southern part of Yogyakarta, into a garden. Inspired by a permaculture activist from Australia who had recently visited, this group of young people used the principles of permaculture to design and build an edible garden.
Permaculture, the practice of designing self-sustaining agricultural systems, was not something many of the group were familiar with. In fact, most had never done any gardening or farming in their lives. But after a hard day’s work they had planted amaranth, tomatoes, chillies, lemongrass, ginger and turmeric. Within three months, they were harvesting their produce, using it in day-to-day cooking and even sharing it with neighbours.
This event was the beginning of the Permablitz movement in Yogyakarta. Established in Melbourne in 2007, Permablitz is a way of creating community, sharing knowledge about permaculture and sustainable living and producing food at a very local level. A ‘blitz’ involves a group of people working together for a day on a pre-designed garden. Afterwards everyone eats together and plans the next blitz.
Those first involved in Permablitz Jogja were a mix of artists, permaculture designers, NGO workers, students and small-business owners. These people, living in urban areas of Yogyakarta, were not necessarily politically active. Through their participation in Permablitz they have become more aware of issues around food production and distribution in Indonesia. For those who are concerned about introduction of genetically modified foods and use of chemical fertilisers, Permablitz is a way of making sure that what they eat is safe and sustainable. It is a movement that is open to everyone and encourages people to spend time in their own gardens.
The Permablitz movement has slowly spread across Yogyakarta. Recently people in Kalicode and Kaliboyong have become involved. In Kalicode, Permablitz activists worked with young people to build urban vertical gardens. They attracted the attention of older women in the neighbourhood who have now developed more interest in the gardens than their younger counterparts. In Kaliboyong, those most actively involved in making edible gardens are public servants. With little or no experience with gardening or farming, these white-collar workers enjoy being able to grow their own onions and chillies, which have become increasingly expensive to buy from markets.
Permablitz is more than just a means of growing cheap, safe and healthy food. In Yogyakarta it has also become an important way of recreating a sense of community between increasingly isolated people living urban lifestyles. People are attracted to it because of the opportunity it offers to work and eat together. Permablitz Jogja has become a way of reviving the tradition of ‘gotong royong’, but in the context of making an edible garden.