Girl with long flowing hair and a hat from the back looking and walking towards trees

Cultivating Change, an interview with Sara Schmude

Education and community – I bet you can’t name a better duo…. when combined, the practice of each can be powerful in cultivating change.

For alumna Sara Schmude, her Natural Resource degree at UNE propagated her curiosity toward sustainable living. Her desire to ask questions and seek solutions nurtured her intuitive lifestyle and the local opportunities she discovered through her studies allowed Sara to harvest community engagement through education.

I met Sara six years ago when I chose to do Landcare as part of my high school social service activities. It was then that I was introduced to an instinctual appreciation for native flora and fauna… needless to say, Sara’s energy towards understanding and caring for our natural landscape was highly contagious. And so, it was a real pleasure to reconnect with Sara to hear about her journey with Landcare, and her outlook on holistic living – something I think we all can relate/or inspire to in some way or another.

Sara graduated in 2001 before completing her honours degree in the same year. Throughout the five years, Sara spent at UNE she immersed herself into the work experience available to her and found those experiences to be a real highlight.

“The passion from my lecturers was infectious for me. It built my curiosity and my sense to build more,” Sara said. “The teaching and work experience during my degree taught me to really think deeply about a pathway into a career and so that’s how it shaped me, and my future. It was also a large reason as to why I stayed in Armidale.”

After UNE Sara decided to establish her roots in Armidale and began working with Southern New England Landcare, which was one of the corporations she was involved with during her studies, “I just fell in love with Landcare, and have been with them for the past fifteen years doing landscaping, project management, landscape scale restoration and lots of community-based and grassroots programs that informed bigger projects as well as educating children and adults.”

Landcare is dedicated to managing environmental issues in Australian communities with a mission “to lead, connect, and enable communities to achieve their sustainability goals in a changing environment.”

Similarly, Sara’s own mission mirrored these objectives when she pioneered an online Facebook community called the Regenerative Agriculture Group just over two years ago. The forum is a place for people from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences to discuss the potential of regenerative agriculture. Sara felt compelled to create the group after hearing a local farmer speak about his experiences in regen Ag.

“A while back I heard a local farmer speak of how he had been farming the land regeneratively for many years, and his experiences of feeling isolated in his pursuit and not being able to feel a part of a community,” Sara said.

“I thought about what he said and about my strengths in networking, and building communities, as well as seeing the potential of like-minded people coming together and supporting each other’s ideas – and that’s what led me into exploring Facebook as a potential networking tool.”

Regenerative farming is a long-held holistic practice that focuses on building resilience and long-term management of the land in the face of environmental changes such as drought, flooding plains, and fires.

As disrupting as major weather events may be, they can also be integral in creating community appreciation and a desire for members to seek a simpler way of living.

The 2020 pandemic has brought about a huge social disruption, but Sara has noticed a change within people’s behaviours – and a positive change at that.

“Through COVID-19, I think people have looked more towards community initiatives like growers’ markets, and farmers markets, and what is available locally because it can be more reliable to eat seasonally,” Sara said.

“Once you are attuned to seasonal eating then you can really supply a lot of your own food from your garden. If you compost and worm farm, then the whole system is a closed system which can be very self-containing.”

Not only does Sara propagate and produce a lot of her own food from seed, but she is also an avid composter with eight different composting systems going at the one time, “for me, composting and worm farming is about using that closed system where any waste we’ve got can be fed back into the garden.”

Sara describes her system of growing and composting food as a simple intuitive process that she can use all year round. But more than a self-containing system, it is also something that mimics her outlook on life.

“As soon as you are in tune with conscious living, it is intuitive. It’s something that all my senses are involved in, it’s touch, and smell and taste, and feel – it is something that sort of completes me.”

“If I’m part of a system that is generating health in my community, and in my family – I feel very fulfilled by it. Life produces challenges, but if you have something that centers you, and you can be part of something greater than yourself then it is very fulfilling.”

Thank you Sara for the insightful and inspiring chat!

Check out Sara’s video on her home composting efforts – we love it!

If you are interested in hearing more about Sara’s interest in Regenerative Agriculture and educating children and adults alike, check out this podcast she did with UNE Alumnus Charlie Arnott here.