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Farm tour of Kin Kin SOULS: Permaculture Demonstration Site (plus, one tip you must know before for setting up your first swale)

Tom Kendall may look like your typical pot-smoking hippy, but in fact, he’s one of the most hard-working individuals you’ll meet. He’s dedicated his life to developing a Permaculture demonstration site and educational facility, Kin Kin SOULS: Simple Organic Utopian Living Space, on his 34 acre property.

Nestled in the hills of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, his property is as ‘clean and green’ as they come… no alcohol, no drugs, and no chemical fertilizers or sprays.

Kin Kin SOULS is the heart and soul of Tom and his partner Zaia Kendall-Sevenstern. The pair moved to the property in 2005, and immediately set about transforming it into a productive, food growing system. It now includes cows, goats, geese, and chickens.

Coming from a bio-dynamic wheat and sheep farming background in Western Australia, Tom’s been able to handle most of the handy-man type jobs himself; building fences, digging large (and I mean large) swales; constructing buildings out of recycled materials; and establishing the kitchen garden in their zone one (close to the house!).

Tom also has a passion for bananas, and grows some of the most delicious I’ve tasted. When the rest of Australia has been paying through the nose for bananas after cyclone Yasi wiped out many of the crops in North Queensland, Tom has had a steady supply of the sweet lady finger variety. Better still, his organic beauties are a fraction of supermarket prices.

The property tour, or open garden day, attracted a crowd of eager faces, ready to share in the development of the property. For folks who’d visited Kin Kin SOULS before (it was my first time) it was a great opportunity to see what’s changed since the last open garden in May 2010. Notably, the growth of the food forest area and increased production in the veggie garden, as the soil keeps improving with cow manure being cycled in to build up the fertility.

Down in the paddock, three doe-eyed cows are part of Tom and Zaia’s menagerie. Tom hand-raised and bottle-fed all three. Since he plans to milk ‘Toffee’ down the track, it’s important they build a mutual respect and trust for one another. He says he pats and cuddles her daily. Check out the bond he’s fostered, with his arms wrapped around her neck and her soft gaze; they look like a great match!

One project taking up Tom’s attention is the development of his food forest. Using a chicken tractor (a movable, secure chicken run with a few girls safely inside) to clear the ground of weeds, scratch up the dirt and add their valuable contribution in the form of manure (super high in nitrogen!), he then moves their pen to the next patch. Planting out the prepared earth is super easy and he has made sure to use a diversity of species to reach his goals of a productive fruit orchard.

Tom’s food forest idea comes from the chapter ‘Accelerating Succession and Evolution,’ in Bill Mollison’s book Introduction to Permaculture.

“A forest is never finished, it’s ever evolving; it’s like a city,” explains Tom. “It can go from Eucalypt forest, to rainforest, to redwood forest; it’s always changing.”

The idea is to use these natural principles of evolution and ‘aid’ those processes along. Planting a diverse range of plants to perform different functions often provides this helping hand. It’s pretty rare to see trees growing alone in nature. An understory level of plants and ground covers usually accompanies them.
In a food forest, the idea is to form a ‘guild’ of plants that suit your region. A guild usually consists of support species that put nitrogen into the soil; plants you can harvest, or ‘chop and drop’ for mulch; and flowering plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

Tom says, “Our food forest includes a mixture of fruit trees; six different support species including pigeon pea, crotalaria, ice-cream bean tree, pinto peanut, alfalfa, and clover. For the ‘chop and drop’ I’ve put in arrowroot, talsi basil and pineapple sage. The basil and sage also add aroma and produce flowers to attract beneficial insects. The rest is just stuff I’ve thrown in; ginger, turmeric, and of course comfrey as a nutrient accumulator.”

It can be a bit of trial and error finding a guild that works for you.

“I planted chia and it went crazy and smothered everything. It grew to four or five foot tall. I should have chopped it back, but I wanted to harvest the seeds. So, anyway, I got rid of that,” he says.

This system of growth, where Tom’s thinking about ‘stacking’ his yield through time and space, is something I’m personally super keen to see in action. I can’t wait to visit their place again to learn from its development.

“The whole property is always evolving into something different. I’ve only been here for five years, but the veggie garden is ever evolving and becoming more productive. Especially as the soil improves,” he says.

Behind the house, up on the hill is a massive dam (which in Permaculture terms is in a great position since it means there’s less need for pumping water lower down the property. But it needs some clever design work to ensure no unforeseen ‘tsunami’ occurs, washing away the lower residential areas).

Unfortunately the dam suffered a leak for a number of years. But none-the-less, Tom assured us that when there’s been heavy rain, the overflow is directed into the largest swale I’ve ever seen. The Grand Canyon comes to mind when I think of it; it’s very impressive!! The swale first fills the dam to capacity, then, when it’s full, acts as a channel and diverts the overflow to the other side of the property. Safely away from the house below.

One step you must know before you dig your next swale, or you may regret it!

Tom shared a tip I’d endorse after creating my swales last year. (No idea what a swale is? Click here to read about our swales’ development). The tip is, have your plants ready to go into a freshly dug swale. Plant them out as soon as you can. Put them on the mound, and in the ditch if that’s to be covered, as soon as it’s been dug. Mulch well! Otherwise grasses, weeds and downright pesky plants will happily fill the gap for you. And, after they take up residence, it can be much more difficult to clear the weeds and plant what you actually want to grow.

So keep that in mind next time you make a swale. Have your plants ready and get them into the freshly turned earth, pronto! Done properly, swales will save you time, money and effort through irrigation, water management, and soil production.

A flock of newly inherited geese were hanging out in the chook pen, along with two calves when we came down to have a gander (ha! Like that? Gander at the geese…) Anyway, with all the bodies squeezing in to visit their pen, they decided to seek some privacy in their little shed. Moments later there was a scuffle and out they came squawking and flapping madly, followed by Tom’s dog, ‘Doofus.’ It felt like a hilarious real life scene from the children’s nursery rhyme, ‘Old Macdonald.’

Tom’s main passion these days is teaching. He’s set up three cabins on the property where students stay while taking their Permaculture Design Certificate. It’s a hands-on course with lots of practical wisdom, passed on from a knowledgeable Permaculture practitioner with a wealth of DIY skills and initiative. You can book into his courses by emailing info (at), find more information at or phone Tom and Zaia direct (+61) 07 5485 4664.

The 8th Natural Wonder of the World: Tom Kendall’s massive swale

Thanks Tom and Zaia, for sharing your place with us. I can’t wait to see how the fruit forest develops and look forward to your next massive bunch of bananas! Keep up the Permaculture spirit; living what you teach.


  1. Organic, no-till gardening, in permanent beds, using hand tools, take almost no funds, increases yields 50% to 100%, reduces labor by 50% to 75%, reduces input/expenses to nearly 0 [buy seed], increases soil fertility, stops soil erosion [no rain water run off], eliminates most weed, disease and insect problems. DIY drip irrigation or DIY bucket drip irrigation as needed.

  2. We also planted fruit and berry trees on our swale berms shortly after digging the swales. Also planted comfrey to provide nutrients to the berry and fruit bushes/trees. All our happy.

  3. Thanks Brian for your lovely comment :) I’m super glad you enjoyed it! Tom’s worked really hard to get the property to where it is today and I’m happy to be able to share it. Thanks for so often posting comments – it’s great.

    And Ken, all that is good stuff! Organic gardening with diverse plants and species is certainly working a treat in my system at home. Less work and more food!

  4. ‘Since he plans to milk ‘Toffee’ down the track, it’s important they build a mutual respect and trust for one another’ so Tom can then betray that trust by taking the milk that should be for her baby, what are Tom’s intention for the baby calf, Toffee’s child. Doesn’t paint a very respectful picture in my view, or one that Toffee would wish for herself. A truly inspiring story would be one which doesn’t involve exploitation of other animals.

  5. More than enough milk will be produced for both Toffee’s calf and Tom’s family. That has been the respectful relationship for centuries with dairy cows.
    Breed selection made possible by our ancestors.

  6. Thanks for the comment Geoff I’m vegan but am glad to hear small scale milk production is possible without taking the calf away.

  7. Will have to respectfully disagree with Geoff. Just because something has a long history, doesn’t make it morally justifiable in my view.

  8. Julie, So we should stop exploitation of plants that we have been selecting for hundred of years or did they select us? Get real!
    Or maybe we should all become breatharian?
    So don’t plants have feelings?
    Should we stop eating plants and there fruit? Which in nature attract or select animals and humans to eating them to ensure the next generation live on!

    For those that don’t know, Breatharianism is a concept, in which believers claim food and possibly water are not necessary, and that humans can be sustained solely by prana (the vital life force in Hinduism), or, according to some, by the energy in sunlight (according to Ayurveda, sunlight is one of the main sources of prana). The terms breatharianism or inedia may also refer to this philosophy practised as a lifestyle in place of the usual diet.

    Thats got me thinking, this breatharianism would save me a lot of time! I could finally flick this permaculture stuff and get back to a lot more surfing!

    Tom Kendall is a true Permaculturalist and a great bloke! This is a man that walks the talk. We need more like him.

  9. I thought this is a gardening/farming website. If religion, then consider this: There is an absolute standard of right and wrong. Without it, right is determined by opinion, cultural and situation ethics. Your life must derive its meaning from a source that is unaffected by time, circumstances, failure and death. Only God provides such a standard. True happiness is being right with God. Only then are you free to really live. Read the only book He has written: The New Testament. It is God’s instruction book. Read and follow its instructions; do not follow the beliefs of people, churches or religions.

  10. gday all ,respect is the word, julie do you use any leather products intensionly or un-intensionly ?

    tom is doing a great job as nick says walking the talk
    keep it up tom well done mate

  11. Re Nick and David – I don’t think a permaculture discussion board is the place for a debate about veganism, I do a lot of work investigating factory farms and mainstream farming systems for animal rights organisations. Compared to these systems permaculture is a paradise with farmers forming a real relationship with animals and designing systems which revolve around animal welfare. Getting into a flame war isn’t going to change anyone’s point of view.

    Sure I hope for permaculture systems which do not involve killing animals but I think it is imperative that we are respectful of other people’s views.

  12. please see my comment on the “women’s permaculture course”
    julie has the right to practice permaculture however she sees fit, but not to define permaculture. maybe she can write an article on her system
    Permaculture has many flavors and we should welcome all and be tolerant of all

  13. Thank you Nicola for writing this great article, thanks to Craig and the PRI for posting it and thanks for all the comments.
    Having been a vegan myself in the past for several years I can understand the concern about animal exploitation.
    As a Permaculturalist however, I believe animals are an essential part of our property’s cycle, and as such their health and wellbeing are of vital importance.
    There is no place in Permaculture for judgments, religious dogma or prejudice, since it is our aim to observe nature and implement natural cycles to ensure sustainability and hence a lifestyle for future generations of all creatures on this planet.

  14. Hi Julie. I am an Ovo Lacto Vegetarian – have been for about 17 or 18 years. Ovo Lacto meaning I eat eggs and I eat and drink dairy products. I admit I also wear leather products because I have not found an alternative to leather that I am comfortable with and that is not made from petrochemicals. I try to learn and practice all I can about permaculture on my little farm where I keep a small herd of dairy goats and chickens. My girls get very well looked after – a much better life than if they were in the wild. They get well fed, they are protected as best I can from predators, they have shelter, they get to laze in the sun or shade all day, they get all the food they can eat and they get better health care than I do! I have gone without a doctors trip and food in the past to ensure they get the care they need. My animals will stay on my farm even after they finish their productive life – so they get free retirement as well and a proper burial when they eventually die of old age. So how can this possibly be a bad deal for the goat or chicken? I wish someone would look after me that well! And I am sure that if I was a goat or chicken I would gladly trade a bit of milk or eggs in exchange for this sort of lifestyle. I know that while working in the corperate world I exchanged more flesh, blood and dignity to be part of the rat race before making my tree change and learning about permaculture. Julie – please dont impose your chosen ethics on others – it gives other vegetarians like me a really bad name. Live and let live I say.

    1. Well said Hamish. We who are so lucky to live free, all have the right to choose how we live – but to try and force our beliefs onto others is just shameful really! – and not something to be admired. Live and let live I say too!

  15. Hi everyone! I’ve been away for a while. Great to see the discussion!

    I can appreciate your views Julie. I was a vegan for a while with a strong feeling for what was right and fair. Our dietary choices can be so closely linked with our beliefs and morals it’s something that can easily turn into a hot topic!

    My experience over the past year has changed some of my views and I look back on my strong attachment to veganism with interest now. I think what Geoff was explaining, was not the fact it’s been done for centuries makes it morally acceptable, but the way that cows have been bred to produce enough milk for both the calf and humans. On a small scale like Tom’s, the calf doesn’t miss out.

    I think we all would take issue with broad-scale dairy production where the calves are mistreated (or the most awful: withheld any iron so they can be sold as veal). It’s good you are concerned for animals. It’s something that at its heart, Permaculture addresses in a much more humane way than modern factory farming and the like. People will always have different views about what is acceptable treatment for animals, but I tend to like Permaculture’s methods far more than contemporary farming.

    Tom really is a top block. One of the best I’ve met and he treats his animals with love and respect. All the best to you and thanks for commenting!

  16. The climate is the issue with diets which do not include meat, the cold climates make it very hard to be self-sufficient and a vegan or vegetarian. Grains being the most soil erosive form of mass production food agriculture even organic does guarantee sustainable soil system grain production, so from a permaculture point of view and wanting a positive foot print you have to be very careful what you eat.

  17. “Grains being the most soil erosive form of mass production food agriculture…”

    That does not have to be true; it is true because of the way they are produced. Use organic, no-till in permanent beds. I will mail a free dvd to anyone who request it. [email protected]

  18. I’ll put part of a comment I entered into another similar discussion on a post from a while back, in case it helps put peoples’ thoughts into a more practical framework:

    It is clear to me that industrial agriculture, and the globalised model of trade it has given birth to, is by far the biggest culprit in environmental destruction out of all other human activities. And, as the colour-by-numbers type of agriculture we practise has freed 98% of the western population to do anything other than work the land, we’re now free to do all the ‘other’ destructive activities too (like creating consumption-based goods and services that we do not need, but cannot live another day without). If you want to argue of relative merits, if you compare a meat based industrial diet with a vegetarian based industrial diet, the vegetarian one does come out superior in terms of being ‘less bad’. For example, although tofu eaters have a part to play in Amazon destruction, 90% of the soybeans produced on land ‘retrieved’ from the Amazon forest are actually used to feed livestock. See the clip at bottom of this post. Most of the corn grown in the U.S. is used for either livestock or cars. The conversion ratio of land/water/soil used to feed a person directly (i.e. vegetarian) via feeding them indirectly (via livestock), is ridiculous (about 1:8 for beef when considering land use alone – and water use differences are far more astronomical). For more details on the implications of a meat-based diet on our planet, check out John Robbins’ excellent ‘Food Revolution‘ (parts here, here, here, here and here).

    The reality is that to eat a ‘moral’ diet depends on a lot more than just whether you eat meat or not. Eating locally is critical. Eating locally is one of the ways for how we will shift agriculture, and thus our social constructs, and put it back onto a path towards maximum diversity – which in turn gets us out of the pesticide treadmill, and enables us to rebuild our soils and our communities. Now, if you choose to eat only local – from your own garden and your immediate local region – you certainly have your work cut out for you. This is true whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat eater.

    In times past, traditional people in different places developed societies and economies that were based around the need to produce the food items that would maintain them. They also worked with limited seed stocks from their local region. Today we base our society and our economies around arbitrary schedules set by industry instead. The clock on the wall runs our lives, not the needs of our bodies or our environment. The oil era has brought massive change to our perceived priorities. Food has been devalued over the last several decades, as the true cost of producing food has been externalised – instead of maintaining/investing in our land, we’ve raped and devoured it – which has given us several decades of stupidly cheap food. That era is over, and I anticipate prices to steadily increase over the ensuing years. Now we must start reinvesting in our land. But how to rebuild/reshape an economy and society that allows us to do so is the challenge at hand. For those with a 40 or 60 hour working week, the thought of growing and processing wheat, in a sustainable fashion, for example, is inconceivable – particularly as almost none of us have the necessary space/land/time to do so.

    Arguing over the ethics of being vegetarian or eating meat is thus a distraction. Learning how to get the best nutrition – sustainably – from the least amount of land should really be our subject of study. If that is our aim, I think the usefulness of animals (i.e. their habits – like ‘weed’-eating, ‘pest’-eating, nitrogen-supplying chickens, or ground-compacting but manure-supplying cattle, etc.) will start to be objectively examined for their relative merits, and weighed accordingly. If we live in limited space, why would we keep cows when we can get much more nutrition from far less land via plant foods? At the same time, if our specific climate makes growing certain essentials difficult, we may have no choice but to eat animals (try telling an Inuit to go veg). Questions of what we can grow in our climate must come into play. And when I say ‘what we can grow’, I mean what we can grow without excessive energy inputs. I’m sure we could find a way to grow bananas in Alberta if we really had a mind to. It might be clever, but it certainly wouldn’t be sensible or sustainable. We can stretch latitudes with Permaculture systems, by creating warmer or cooler microclimates through use of sensible design – making use of aspect, bodies of water, trellising, etc., and we today have the possibility of developing the kind of diversity that traditional folk from days gone by could only dream of (due to our ability to share seed strains from similar climate zones around the world) but at the end of the day, we want to aim at eating those foods that will give the most output for the least inputs of energy and labour. Unless we learn to do this, we will fail, and the greater the difference between our inputs and outputs, the sooner it will happen.

    The reality is we really do not realise how hard it is to eat only what we and our neighbours grow ourselves. It entails working, functionally, with a community around you. It entails a little more than just working in the back yard on Saturday afternoons to harvest a few tomatoes and apples, before driving down to the supermarket for the rest.

    Those of you with land (hankerchief sized or otherwise) you have the possibility of a post-peak oil rehearsal. (We have wedding rehearsals, so why not survival rehearsals?) Start thinking about the land you have, and how you can stack functions and maximise diversity and output, whilst keeping a careful check on what inputs are coming into the system. Aim at reducing these as quickly as possible so the system begins to maintain itself. Arguments over whether to eat meat or be vegetarian will give way to deliberating over the benefits of fertilisation between a leguminous cover crop and your cow’s manure, in relation to space constraints, water consumption, biomass, beneficial insect habitat, etc. etc. If a vegetarian diet is part of your game plan – great! But, find a way to make it work in a way where its production is not a subtraction from the global resource bank. Same goes for meat eaters. Consider the space/water/energy requirements of your desired animal, and contrast this with the potential services of plants and/or less energy intensive animals.

    The solution for one location will be different for another. Nobody can get on a high horse here, as what’s good for one, won’t be good for another. We’re so used to the one-size fits all approaches of conventional agriculture, that our massive loss of precious, hard-learnt, traditional, localised knowledge is barely noticed by most of us. Regain this knowledge! Then once you have a system that works, please tell us about it. If you can provide for you and yours from a small plot of land, with or without animals in the system, you’ll be better qualified to tell us your thoughts on the morality of diet. — Craig Mackintosh

  19. On this site, I’m consistently impressed by the lucid and practical responses that evolve from potentially inflammatory questions and topics. While most debate in the world engages in partisan/ideological combat, here on the PRI website we can find discussion focused on pragmatic, “reality-based” solutions. Well done.

    Also, I echo the sentiment that Tom and Zaia are some of the finest folks out there!

  20. Vegetarianism
    The vegetarian myth is disproved. It is often stated that meat produces one-fourth to one-tenth the food that using that same land for a vegetarian diet would produce. That is not the whole picture. Animals who transform one-fourth of their food into meat transform three-quarters of their food into manures (high value fertilizer if properly managed and used) which is transformed into humus which is transformed into crops for both livestock and people. Organic agriculture recycles everything and transforms inert minerals, air, water and sunshine into increased biota through feeding the microherd a full diet including animal wastes. There is more life created into existence out of the dead planetary chemistry than vegetarians are able to account for with their tired false myth. [Lion Kuntz] Much of the land in many countries is suitable only for pasture which can be used only to produce meat.

  21. Nice story Nicola. Tom and Zaia obviously know their stuff, and more power to them. Its interesting the direction the comment thread headed in. The one thing I always think of when debates such as these come up, is, what would Bill say? or even David(Holmgren) for that matter? It always amuses me that some people like to think they know everything about permaculture( when they are really just beginners) and that they hold some sort of moral high ground. We should all do reality checks with people and highlight where vegetarianism is at odds with permaculture design, for the most part anyway, it can fit, but it is not a comfortable one. All of us should learn to be like Bill, who admits to knowing absolutely nothing, about everything.

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