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Humans of Green Adelaide: Sam Ryan

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

Here's an interview Sam did with Green Adelaide in September 2022:

University, exchange and working abroad led this course facilitator to living sustainably and teaching others to do the same. Meet Sam Ryan, one half of sustainability champions and educators Folk of all Trades running the Green It Yourself course in October 2022.

‘I'm sure if someone audited our lives they'd find lots of lots of things that we could be doing better. And I think that's true of everyone – no one's perfect. So I think the thing is to start, and to start with something that you care about and enjoy.’

‘The environment is a common theme throughout my life, certainly, since I started university – I went to Flinders and studied environmental management, and really enjoyed that.

‘It covered all the subjects that I was most interested in during high school and not really knowing what I wanted to do leaving high school, I thought, I'll just do whatever I'm interested in.

‘And then, having a love and interest in the environment from a young age as well. My mum's an avid bushwalker and would always drag me to national parks and things like that, even though I didn't necessarily love it when I was a teenager.’

‘Studying environmental management was a really good, broad introduction to lots of different environmental issues – lots of environmental problems, as well as the wonder and amazingness of the natural world.

‘Then I just tried to find work that was interesting to me.

‘So I moved to the UK straight after uni – I'd met my partner, Dani, on exchange in Toronto. She was studying environmental science at the University of Southampton in the UK.’

I ended up working for an environmental charity over there called Sustrans, and sustainable transport was their game.

‘I worked on a project encouraging people to walk and cycle instead of drive.

‘I also worked for a charity called The Low Impact Living Initiative. That was designed to basically be an information sharing hub for any environmental topic you can think of, particularly around people reducing their environmental impact.

‘There were huge numbers of fact sheets on sustainable building methods, and how to make cheese and bread, and sustainable transport – all kinds of things.’

‘It was there I was introduced to all these different ideas that I hadn't picked up at uni. I still bake bread after having attended a course over there, and make cheese, and spoon-carving is one of my favourite hobbies.

‘That time was pretty influential in terms of finding out about all these different topics and I got to attend a lot of courses.

‘Possibly the biggest impact came as a result of Dani and I attending a straw bale building workshop, which I'm sure heavily influenced us to later build our straw bale house.’

‘Reducing your environmental impact is a fantastic thing to do. But it can also be really empowering and fun, and a way to connect with people and learn skills.

‘I think both Dani and I just love learning and building out our skill set, which has become very useful for our lives now that we teach workshops, but also just in the things that we enjoy doing. And that's continued – we are still serial workshop attendees, always trying to find out new stuff.

‘Working for The Low Impact Initiative in the UK definitely created a spark, and having that opportunity to soak in all that information and attend so many courses. It was a big moment.’

‘Since coming back to Adelaide we’ve taught a lot of workshops. In addition to standalone topics on fermenting or gardening, Dani has been part of the Living Smart sustainability course for as long as it's been going here in Adelaide.

‘We noticed that the majority of participants were women with only around 10% of participants identifying as men. So we thought, there's this whole group of people that I'm sure would be interested in attending a sustainability course, but for whatever reason, are not coming. So we thought, let's try and create a course that's a bit more practical and hands-on.

‘As a result, we're running Green It Yourself for the first time in spring and already have the bookings live and it's shaping up to be a really interesting course.

‘Kind of a mixture of lots of different things that we do in our various workshops, but all bundled together as a full-length course.’

‘One [topic] we’ve included is increasing biodiversity around your home.

‘So we're going to be delivering some information about things you can do in terms of providing good habitat and planting local native plants, and then the practical component for that session will be constructing a nest box.

‘We’ll have the components pre-cut, and on the night we can teach people how to screw it all that together and give information on how to install it safely.

‘This will support lots of hollow-dependent species who maybe don't have access to natural hollows but still require that shelter for breeding and protection.’

‘Food gardening is a massive part of our life; we hardly have to buy veggies any more. We've been food gardening for more than 10 years and irrigation just makes life so much easier and a lot more productive.

‘[As part of the course] we'll give some general information about setting up a veggie patch and plenty of tips and tricks we've learned along the way.

‘The practical component will be putting together an irrigation system – so learning about the connections and how to lay it all out for efficiency.

‘Going into summer, it's a really good time for people to think about putting in an irrigation system so they can have the best chance of success. It’s much more time and water efficient to use irrigation, and is a game-changer for productivity.

‘Green It Yourself is aimed at total beginners but at the same time, we're going to be giving information that you wouldn't always find in an introductory course either, stuff that's born of our experience. I think people who know a quite a bit about the topics will still find it useful.’

‘One big lifestyle factor we started early on is the decision to work part-time. It's a real chicken and egg situation in that if you set up your lifestyle to require full-time work, you need full-time work to support your lifestyle.

‘We bought relatively cheap land and built a modest, small house, so we knew our mortgage payments would be manageable. That allows us to do a lot of the environmental things we really enjoy doing anyway. Like being part of the goat co-op that we helped start.

‘So every Wednesday we milk the goats and that provides our milk for the week. I also bake bread that day – I bake all our bread and bake for 4 neighbours as well. We rarely have to go to the supermarket, which saves us a lot of money and reduces packaging.

‘We tend to get the other things we need from bulk stores or direct from wholesalers.

‘I guess we approach a lot of decisions from an environmental and convenience perspective. And for us, often the most convenient thing is the most environmental thing, because of the systems we’ve set up. It's taken a long time to get to this point, with lots of small decisions adding up.’

‘Start with the things that you're already interested in. If food is a passion of yours, then thinking about where your food is coming from is such an obvious first step.

‘Finding local market gardeners who are offering veg box schemes or going to local farmers market and buying direct from producers is a good place to start.

‘I really love cooking from scratch, I think it gives you so many more options for making sure that you're getting local, delicious, hopefully organic food, and understanding where it comes from.

‘If you have a garden or access to one, then I think planting veggies is a fantastic thing to do. If that's not your jam, you can plant local native plants and support biodiversity.

‘Even if you've only got a couple of square meters, you can plant some flowering plants that, for instance, pollinators and birds will really appreciate. Then you get to enjoy watching them and seeing it all change through the seasons.’

‘A lot of people talk about the need to protect the environment for future generations, which is a very valid reason, but I do feel that plants and non-human animals have this intrinsic right to exist and flourish.

‘Historically we've done a lot of damage and the more we can try and restore and protect the remnant bits that we've got left and to regenerate landscapes as well – that’s going to make them suitable for long-term life.’

‘I get a lot of energy from spending time in nature, and I suppose that sense of awe and feeling like you're insignificant in the best possible way.

‘If you have problems, and everyone has problems and worries and stresses, I find nature really good at putting things in perspective.

‘It’s also incredible to think about the amount of diversity and problems that have been solved by nature over these billions of years of evolution.

‘I think it's just endlessly fascinating. There's so much to learn. I don't think I'll ever have learned enough that I don't feel like learning some more.’

‘I think there are parts of Adelaide that already look [cooler, greener and wilder], so it's just about making sure we have more of them and better connected as well.

‘I think about biodiversity corridors running through different areas; along rivers, and through networks of reserves, the constructed wetlands that we've managed to put back in, and vacant land that hasn't been built on but now we're starting to look at for revegetation projects. And then people taking charge of their own streets and neighbourhoods as well.

‘So using those little pockets on verges and in backyards to advocate for more plants – and more plants means more animals and cooler temperatures.’

‘It's motivating to talk to people and hear them say, “Oh, you know, I just started baking bread because I saw your sourdough video and follow your recipe and it's delicious”.

‘That feels really good and encourages me to keep sharing – because it is sometimes a bit of a chore to, you know, take the photo and post the thing and to run the workshop. It takes you away from other things that you enjoy doing too.

‘So yeah, hearing the feedback and the people who say, “Oh, this gardening tip really helped me” or “thank you for explaining how to start fermenting”. That's a really nice feeling.’

‘I don't want to come across as preachy or like we're perfect at all, because we still have a big environmental impact.

‘I'm sure if someone audited our lives they'd find lots of lots of things that we could be doing better. And I think that's true of everyone – no one's perfect. So I think the thing is to start, and to start with something that you care about and enjoy.

‘And then, for us, at least, it's been this gradual journey of just adding things – keep adding things that reduce your impact, and it becomes this fun thing rather than a chore that you beat yourself up on.’

Join Sam and Dani at the Green It Yourself course kicking off Wednesday 12 October.

Green It Yourself is a short course made up of 6 practical workshops plus a field trip, to help you learn how to live more sustainably.

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