Month: January 2015

Guest Post – Fires & Friendship

It’s been surreal to hear about the bush fires that happened back home earlier this month. In fact there is even a wiki article on it already, making it feel oddly like a historical relic only weeks after its occurrence – indeed while people are still in the midst of grappling with how to recover. Nevertheless, if you want to see the article and the details, find it here.

Closer to the proverbial home, we heard about one of my fellow PDC’ers (permaculture design certificate classmate) Daniel, who tragically had nearly all of his 80 acre property burnt, but luckily escaped injury and retained his house. The word was sent for help and the permaculture and friends network did it’s stuff – organising a ‘Permablitz’ at the property – think good old Backyard Blitz using permaculture enthusiasts and principles!

Our PDC teacher and all round good fella Graham Brookman, summed up the story for everyone – the example of community coming together warmed my heart to and so I wanted to share it here too.

Thus, please enjoy a guest story from Graham Brookman at The Food Forest:

Race to save Daniel’s orchard

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Daniel was away from  his property when the Hills Fire started, but managed
to get home to defend his property. Unseen windblown embers landed west of
his land and ignited a fire that quickly burned east toward his home and
engulfed his agroforestry plantings, developing explosive heat that simply
killed many of his sheep.

The fire was now burning down a steep hill toward his house and fire
response crews were arriving. Despite their efforts the fire went through
Daniel’s precious orchard with many heritage fruit and nut varieties. But
the grass in the orchard was cropped short and deciduous trees don’t burn
well; dripper line does, and it was present as little lines of ash or
disfigured, bubbled black plastic. On the whole the trees still  had bits of
green and the bark wasn’t completely blackened, they were like patients who
had been badly burned and needed a drip and lots of care.

Daniel was devastated but concentrated on the job of putting down his
severely burned sheep and burying them with those that died in the fire. His
fiancee Lynne injured her knee helping to get injured sheep down from the
hills. Things were at breaking point  but the question kept going around in
his head “Could the orchard be saved?”

He didn’t have the ready cash to replace the entire irrigation system and he
didn’t physically or emotionally have the strength to tackle the job of
saving the trees, so emailed friends to let them know his predicament. The
response was rapid and practical. A number of close friends simply said they
would come a help him and would chuck in some cash for a roll of dripper
line each.

They networked others and soon a whole group of his fellow participants in a
recent permaculture course were copied-in. Daniel had been listening to ABC
891 (radio) for fire information and rang the Talkback Gardening show to
see what suggestions they had for care of fire-affected trees. He was
staggered when a listener rang him with an offer of $500 and a day’s
physical help. This bolstered his confidence; Daniel was now organising a
‘Permablitz’, a working bee with close friends and a whole lot of people who
care for plants and have gardening skills.

Someone was picking up irrigation supplies, everyone was bringing tools,
cakes were baked by perfect strangers, salads prepared, replacement trees
were selected from home nurseries, trailers were hooked onto 4WDs and
Hollands Creek rd , Cudlee Creek suffered its first-ever traffic jam as
everyone converged on Daniel’s steep, sad-looking orchard last Saturday.

Kilometres of 19mm dripper line were rolled out, hundreds of drippers were
inserted, the north and west face of each tree was whitewashed to reflect
solar radiation.

Every tree got a dose of vermipost and ‘worm wee’ that someone had brought
to help revive the trees and each was mulched with straw.

Everyone was well fed and well exercised (someone brought a monitor that
revealed that he covered 14 kilometres climbing up and down the steep
terrain of the orchard!).

collage permablitz daniels place

A productive orchard watering system was rebuilt, new friends were made,
skills learned, networks formed and children presented with a powerful role
model. As  someone said, “This is what Permaculture is all about”.

A message from Daniel and Lynne:

‘The dripper system is working and the trees have had a good soak. I worked
out that it would have taken us 5 months to complete what you did in One
Fantastic Day.

Thankyou so much for your kind help and donations

Cheers to the permaculture spirit!

Daniel & Lynne’

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WWOOF WWOOF – the first foray


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When we talk to people about our interest in farming or growing things, a lot ask if we come from that kind of background. The answer is no, we don’t. While there may be some historical farming further down the generational line, our interest is born out of exploration, rather than upbringing. As well as what we feel the world needs today – responsible farmers and real food. These farm warriors are already out there  – we just want to see more.

Oh, and the idea of growing something as simple and necessary as food fits in well with the capitalist/entrepreneur/opportunist in me (yup, that’s all in there too…). Maybe we can make a living out of this – after all, it’s not like eating is going out of fashion anytime soon.

Seems as good a livelihood as any in which to place our bets….

But back to the original point – we don’t come from farming and so arriving at our first WWOOF stop (willing/worlwide workers on organic farms), Sat Chit Ananda, was the first time for any of us living on a farm.

 

 

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I feel like I’ve written about the concept of WWOOFing already so for those who have missed it, or in case I was just hallucinating, here is a link to a quick wiki explanation, or see here for the international website.

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While this would only be a two week stay, and it can take a lifetime to read land or perfect farming craft, it was long enough to get a good feel for the farm’s routine and lifestyle in that particular season. It was also the longest we had been in one place since starting our travels.

Getting used to life here was hard for me at first. I think I came unconsciously with expectations of what would happen on a ‘farm’ and what might be expected of a WWOOFer – like so many hours per day of work and structured job lists, etc. Indeed, I’m sure there are places like that out there, but it was different here. In fact, I came to realise that like anything, the deeper we delve the more variation we find – farms come in all different shapes and sizes. And motivations.

Sat Chit Ananda is not a commercial farm. And so that is not what drives the activity here. Kerrie and Paul are building themselves a sustainable refuge from the world. And one that they want to also be an example for others. I admire their aspirations in what they are wanting to do here – in fact what they have already done here. We arrived near the end of Spring, to a land parched and desperately waiting for summer rains, so at first it was hard for us to see easily what was happening here. But soon enough we realised just how much they had accomplished.

Taking old cattle land that had seen much degradation and little water, they set about transforming it towards self-sufficiency. While it isn’t there yet (what ever is, really?) Paul and Kerrie have made long headways into a food forest, water collection, solar power and composting toilets. They have farmed food and animals for veg, meat, milk and eggs – even producing their own cheese. They’ve also delved into alternative farm transportation with miniature horses and built the most magnificent ode to sustainable housing in the form of a 2 storey geodesic dome – a sight to behold, which even greets you from the roadside.

 

collage Sat Chit Ananda trees

 

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All of this, amongst life and its setbacks. Certainly, Paul and Kerrie showed us a down-to-earth attitude and acceptance of life’s realities that I hadn’t seen before. They were great examples of how to operate positively while living in the truth of our own limitations, which we rarely stop to acknowledge. Seeing our resources, like time, energy and money, as they actually are rather than what we want them to be, is a healthy habit I want to take on. Acceptance of how things are, and what we really have control over, seems tantamount to freedom.

One example of which is Paul. After having a stroke some years ago, there are limitations on when or how much he can do in a day. As a result of this, and just life’s limitations in general, the work here often follows opportunity, rather than schedule – taking advantage of the times when resource planets align and going for it.

As it happened though, most of our first week was to be self driven, while our hosts were away on a much needed vacation. So for someone who’s strength is not self-discipline, battling the pre-conceived ideas, self starting and an energy-draining intense heat was: tough. Having said that though, those same conditions meant it was a really good place to dip my proverbial toe and inch into the new experience of living on a farm and being a WOOFer.

In that first week, we really appreciated and enjoyed the trust and freedom which comes with looking after someone else’s farm. We worked with their daughters to keep things going and tried to be newbie helpers rather than a hindrance. We managed pretty well I reckon – Michael in his element with fix-it jobs, Emma taking to the animals and me tackling a shed full of sorting. In fact, I like to joke that we had farm life pegged by the end of the first day – we spent it chasing escapee animals and fixing fences!

 

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We fell into a daily schedule more easily than I expected, centred around the animals:

Wake early, do some work, drink tea. Milk the goat, feed and move the animals, eat breakfast. Maybe some more work, let the chooks out. Swelter in the heat. Maybe some late afternoon work, round up chooks, feed and move animals. Have dinner, sleep, repeat.

It was good – there was enough routine work to structure the day with predictability, yet plenty of free time for personal activities or getting to know our hosts. We really enjoyed that aspect – Paul and Kerrie were very welcoming and inclusive, we shared meals and social time most days, Working, chatting and getting to know people in this way is really rewarding.

And in a wider sense, its been incredible for us to try out so many different sharing experiences (WWOOFing, couch surfing, out of the blue visiting, and the random occurrences that come from travelling overall). It has allowed us to explore the things we are interested in such a rich and varied way.

What I love most about these kind of platforms, or any groups that come together over some common interest, is the infinite number of angles to come at it from – so there is always a new experience, perspective or approach to be discovered. I have done it time and time again: come to a group assuming the people there will be of a particular mindset because of the common interest – but invariably I get surprised by those who differ from me in some way I had not expected. I fall into the trap of assuming these people must think and believe in the same things as me because of this one common point.

It was like seeing them as identical shapes which could overlap and stack on top of each other, fitting nicely and neatly into some vertical tower of understanding. Now it seems more accurate to view them as shapes on a horizontal plane, (or perhaps three dimensional space), that meet and overlap in just one part of themselves, not the whole.

More like a connected system of floating spheres – a network, not silos. Probably more like nature itself, eco systems are linked webs – creatures meet and cross paths at different points of commonality, morphing through time and space. And they change as a result of the meeting or missing of others.

Anyway, regardless of how I describe it, these experiences are always valuable reminders to step back and check on the narrowing of my own perspective.

So it was great to experience life here, and grow to know our hosts more. And that spirit of curiosity and sharing was certainly alive and well. Actually, it brings me to think of an advantage of WWOOFing in your own country – the absence of a cultural and/or language barrier. While you may not experience a new culture, it does allow you to get a deeper understanding of the people or processes you are meeting. For that reason, I would recommend WWOOFing both in your own country and abroad – getting the best of skill sharing, making friends and novel cultural exchange.
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When it came time to leave, it was hard. Particularly for Emma, who so quickly connected to the life, people and animals here. I’m really grateful for this experience, and to Paul, Kerrie, Janine and Tegan for letting us join their lives – we wish you all the best, and would love to cross paths again some day, thank you!

 

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