Trish Allen – Growing for good

When life-as-we-knew-it got tipped upside down by the global pandemic in 2020, there was an unexpected environmental upside for renowned Matakana permaculturist, Trish Allen.

By the end of the first lockdown, interest in her Permaculture Design course had surged. ‘People had time to think about what was really important and realised they wanted to be a bit more resilient.’

Permaculture has been a way of life for Trish for more than 35 years. With her late husband Joe Polaischer, she established Rainbow Valley Farm on the hill above Matakana, transforming 50 acres of  rundown, pest-ridden farmland into one of the world’s leading permaculture centres. People travelled from around the globe to learn from Trish and Joe. Later, the couple helped establish the Matakana Village Farmers’ Market, where they sold organic produce from the farm.

‘People think permaculture is all about gardening, but it’s so much more than that,’ says Trish. ‘It’s a design system for living our lives in a way that leaves the planet better than we found it. It’s about living within ecological planetary limits so that we preserve resources for future generations.’

Trish admits to feeling like a ‘proud Mama’ when she learns how her former students have implemented the principles of permaculture in their own communities, from planting food forests, to launching a green dollar currency, managing worm farms in schools or teaching earthquake survivors to build composting toilets. ‘You never know where it’s going to lead and it’s so cool to see the ripple effects.’

Trish sold Rainbow Valley Farm following Joe’s death in  2008 and has since launched her own permaculture projects including the construction of her eco-home in the heart of Matakana village and co-founding  the Matakana Community Garden with her friend Robin Barclay, which transformed a dump site by the village hall into a beautiful, healthy plot where locals gather weekly to grow, tend and share the harvest.

But it’s her latest more ambitious project that’s making a measurable difference to the environment on the Matakana coast. In 2017, Trish co-led a community effort to take over the leases of the waste transfer stations in Snells Beach and Wellsford, and create community recycling centres. The group formed the Mahurangi Wastebusters Trust, with a goal of diverting waste from landfill through reducing, repairing, recycling and repurposing.

Alongside rubbish and green waste disposal, Mahurangi Wastebusters sort and redistribute scrap metal, electronics and recyclables that can be sustainably repurposed. Small on-site shops offer pre-loved goods that are not quite good enough for a conventional second-hand shop, but could still have a second life. ‘If we think we can sell it, we take it,’ says Trish. ‘You’ll find crockery, hand basins, toilets and kids’ bikes – so many kids’ bikes. We’d love to find a volunteer who could fix them all up so they can be loved again.’

By the end of its first financial year, Mahurangi Wastebusters had diverted the equivalent of 377 20-foot shipping containers of waste from landfill.  ‘We pay all our staff a living wage and every dollar of profit goes to support our mission of diverting waste from landfill for the benefit of the community.’

Wastebusters’ latest project is the development of a compost with a uniquely Matakana recipe. Take the compostables from the Matakana Village Farmers’ Market (think plates, wooden forks, coffee cups and lids) and chip finely.  Add kombucha tea from Daily Organics, hops from the Sawmill Brewery, fish skins from the Matakana Smokehouse, a pile of green waste and innoculate with beneficial micro-organisms. Let the mix heat up to 65 degrees to kill pathogens and break down those coffee lids. Package in recycled chicken feed sacks and tie with strips of recycled bed sheets, ready for sale.

‘It generates the most beautiful compost and it’s an incredibly sustainable product,’ says Trish proudly.

Mahurangi Wastebusters hosts the occasional ‘repair café’ where volunteers will stitch, fix or mend everything from textiles to appliances, furniture and instruments. You’ll also find them providing a Zero Waste service at large scale events like the Warkworth A & P show. ‘We man the bins and help the public figure out what goes where.’

So what should visitors do on the beautiful Matakana Coast? ‘You can’t beat walking along the beach at Omaha or Snells Beach. The Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre is amazing and I love the organic ‘pick your own’ flower gardens at Slow Blooms behind Charlie’s Gelato Garden.’

Trish has just one request of locals and visitors alike. ‘Bring your own reusable coffee cup and water bottle. It’s so easy – and it really does make a difference.’