growing

Portlandia!

Today we reached the final destination of our road trip – Portland. Woo!

We drove in over the city – taking in the trademark White Stag sign, which I didn’t manage to catch on camera. Nor did I do a good job of note taking – my entries here are incredibly scant. Perhaps I was too busy being taken aback by the place – what we saw and experienced here was crazy cool – Portland bursts with personality.

For me, a lot of that was in the community and business endeavours we discovered. So many great new (and not so new) ideas put into action, all with wonderful artistic flair. We came across a community farm, community programs, an eco-laundry, a great food co-op and so many places selling either fabulous local food or beautiful arty crafty goods. Phew!

We made it to the ‘Alberta Arts district’, the ‘Mississippi district’ and East Portland. So occupied were we with all that was in these spots, we never even made it downtown.

We ventured first to Alberta Main Street – heart of the Alberta Arts District. There we parked and wandered, taking in all the buzz and activity of the businesses. What a thriving place, and despite the cold too. Here are some of the goodies along the stretch…

collage businesses alberta street 1 collage alberta street business 2

We stopped at the ‘Random Order’ pie house for lunch – chicken pie and cherry pie. Yum and Yum. And their approach to it all just tops it right off…

collage random order

We took in some more strolling after lunch – one must work off their pie(s). But we did stick to the theme – visiting ‘Pie Footwear‘ on the main road, selling environmentally and socially responsible shoes. They even extended this mindset to the fit out of the shop itself – you can read some more here. We were aiming to get some of the shoes we had held off buying in Oz and fell into a really interesting conversation with the owners, Stacey and JC. Turns out that like our friends Toff & Cara back in Adelaide, (creators of Home Grain Bakery), this couple had also seen a gap and filled it – following the demand rather than their own personal preference for a business type. And we loved finding out that JC used to work in organic veg distribution, so we chatted a little longer on that subject too. Of course there was still more cool stuff to see, including a typical style of painted house that I quietly fell in love with, so we strolled on:

collage alberat street outside plus houses

Actually, the whole reason we had landed in Alberta Street was because our first night was to be in a ‘tiny house’ (see some previous musings on tiny houses here). It was located in the ingenious “Caravan Tiny House Hotel” – a project/business that made use of an abandoned lot to place several (currently 6) tiny houses in a little group, acting as a hotel with separate rooms if you will. The first of it’s kind in the USA (and most probably the world…) took lots of time and negotiation with the city to iron out the legislative hurdles, ahem…. I mean wrinkles. What a great job those trailblazers did of persisting to come up with something brand new – not only great for the community and a livelihood for themselves, but an excellent way for people to try out a tiny house experience. (Incidentally, if you are in Oz or New Zealand there is another way to try out a tiny house experience thanks to the Happy Simply project – check it out here and here.)

wattlebees in front of roly poly tiny house

For more info on the tiny house hotel, you can check out Caravans’ general website here. Or see more photos/info on our little home for the night here. They also have an extensive list of media coverage links here – it’s worth seeing, it’s massive! It also includes an episode of the Portland based, wickedly funny show called Portlandia (which, for the record, I didn’t know about when deciding the title for this post…).

We spent much time getting acquainted with ‘Roly Poly’ by climbing around and investigating. Yes. Literally. Climbing. In a house that could be the size of your bedroom it’s no wonder there are a couple of lofts upstairs for sleeping, and that getting to things often requires climbing up, down or over.

collage climbing in tiny house

Roly Poly – so named for it’s unique rounded qualities – is one of the smaller homes in the hotel. And for me, the design and furniture made it feel so. However, it was beautifully crafted and with only 1 or 2 people in there it would probably be much easier than it was with us 2 biggies and 1 smally. And regardless of all that, it was a super fun experience.

Emma loved climbing all about in there, just witness her hangin’ about over the kitchen. I think secretly though, maybe I loved it more!!! Aside from getting some strength and stretching work in, just by living, there is a great kind of novelty to having nearly everything within your reach. I wonder if it is purely just a novelty or if it turns into one of the pros of a small home. I guess an extended stay would be the ideal way to answer that question.

collage caravan tiny house outside collage caravan tiny house inside

Indeed, if budget had allowed, we would have loved some more time there. Instead we settled on a plan to sleep in our car caravan and started the day with a trip to East Portland, where Zenger Farm, and our  generous tour guide Prairie, was to be found.

P1050628 emma arms zenger zenger farm map 2 smaller

In a space that was open lands in the 1800’s sits the surviving farm, surrounded by encroaching suburbia. What was forest land was logged to help build Portland until it saw a series of owners and eventually turned over to dairy in the 1900’s by a Swiss immigrant family – the Zengers. Their son, Ulrich Zenger, desperately wanted to see the land’s heritage and sustainability preserved. It was eventually bought by the city – keeping and using it’s existing 10 acres of wetlands to help combat the flooding issues fast approaching  with increased urban buildings and insufficient drainage. It also had community and educational potential that began to be realised when it was leased out in the 1990’s to Urban Bounty’s owner Marc Boucher-Colbert. He used the land as a farm but also hosted community and educational events, later forming partnerships with educational institutions in the area to increase it’s use in education. These days the farm’s capacity for serving the community and environment has been expanded and formalised under the direction of a non profit group – Friends of Zenger Farm. This team and volunteers have partnered with the city to officially make it a public space – used as a working model of urban agriculture and education centre for all things sustainable and community. It is a base for a multitude of programs including summer camps, farmer training and a home school partnership. They even run a 60 person CSA and send produce to some local restaurants and farmers market.

They are also big on helping the community to help themselves. The ‘healthy eating on a budget’ workshops were just one example that Prairie joyfully shared with us. These community based cooking demonstrations and related activities have gone a long way to empowering those on the lowest incomes, while honouring and incorporating the huge diversity of cultures from which many of them come. They seem to foster an invaluable exchange of learning and relationships between community members. It was a great thing to hear about. And I loved this tid-bit from the website:

“healthy food comes from healthy soil, which can be anywhere, even in the city”

You can see more about Zenger Farm and what they are doing here.

collage zenger farm 2 collage zenger farm 3 chooks collage zenger farm 1

The mundane but necessary need to do laundry presented itself. So we took on a recommendation from the Tiny House Hotel staff to check out a new laundromat that had opened up in the nearby Mission district. The staff member who told us about it said he hadn’t been there himself but that people were saying it was good. Good indeed – the place knocked my socks off! It’s so odd to get excited about something to ordinarily boring but that is one aspect of the genius – we can make anything and everything an awesome experience! Kudos to the creator, Morgan Gary, who’s concept, execution and environmentally responsible mindset made this as one of my favourite spots we visited. My words aren’t really doing a great descriptive job right now of explaining that which is ‘Spin Laundry Lounge’, so allow me to cheat and read this paragraph from the website instead:

After completing an MBA in Sustainable Business, she [Morgan Gary] set out to give the laundromat a 21st century update: the fastest, most energy-efficient machines in the world + eco friendly laundry products in a retro-mod cafe/lounge, serving local food and drinks. Save time and money, reduce your carbon footprint, and enjoy every minute of Portland’s totally redefined laundromat experience. 

spin laundry and em collage spin laundry 1 collage spin 2 signs collage spin 3 cafe

I mean, they sell microbrews and have arcade games for goodness sake – is that not the coolest way to do laundry ever? We did our laundry and hung out in the cafe, using the free WiFi and sucking up some drinks. We also chatted to Megan, the lovely lady on staff that day. She did a fantastic job of telling us about the place, instructing us on how to use everything and looking after Em with friendliness, textas and spin colouring pages. Our laundry was done before we knew it – I didn’t really want to leave… You can see more about it here on the website.

In addition to doing laundry the fun way that afternoon, we also meandered down Mission districts’, you guessed it… Mission Street.

Like Alberta Street, this also had a fun feel. I observed some sage advice on a door front…

mission street 1 donutsOk. Will do.

We also happened across a funky looking building which turned out to be much more than we expected.

mission steet em building 2 smaller

This was the quirky and wonderful front to ‘The Rebuilding Centre’ – a community resource for affordable recycled materials. It’s a great place to find bits and bobs for all sorts of construction, and also to tap into an inspirational ideas library or their deconstruction service – their website is a great portal for all such things, see it here.

collage rebuilding centre 1

On top of all that, turns out it is actually an income generator for the ‘Our United Villages’ non-profit. Wow! Great place, great resource, great idea.

collage rebuild centre 2 collage rebuild cenytre community legacy

We loved the ‘Community Legacy’ program – a central place, space and imputes for sharing stories that bring the community together. Seems a great way to inspire, forge bonds and spread the word about all those good news stories happening right around the corner! See their website here.

After a very full afternoon we returned to Alberta Street and found fate had alternative accommodation plans for us – the offer of a bed from a kind stranger that we kept bumping into. We struck up a conversation and after hearing about the road trip Yonti said there was an empty room in the space she was renting. We were welcome to fill it for a night or two. It was really awesome to see human curiosity, generosity and trust in action.

When I said it was very kind, she replied “well, I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and know what its like”. Yonti was right – it made me think about our own feelings after receiving generosity and hospitality – it just makes you want to pass it on. I think to receive is to grow gratitude and wish to pass it on. Here is the first, of many, pledges to ‘pass it on’!

It turned out to be a spare room in the basement below a church – cool space! Also, funny to see peoples’ heads at street feet height.

P1050658 the ittle church portland

Not only was it glorious to have a warm, quiet, full size bed and warm shower but getting to chat with Yonti was like a bonus activity! We had interesting conversations and she passed on many wonderful suggestions for people to see around the place.

Sadly, between the other places we visited and the new info intake limit we were fast approaching, we didn’t get to follow up on these. We made a strategic decision to cut some of our plans and slow down. We headed off early to begin our return journey, preparing for the next stage in the area of Santa Rosa – home of the Summerfield Waldorf School.

Lastly as an aside, I want to make mention that I am writing this retrospectively, from Nepal. It’s interesting to do so because having now experienced and seen life here as well as India, it is with different eyes that I view some of our previous experiences. What a curious feeling it is. Like Portland for example, I got so excited about the artistic, cool and happening nature of the place, and with good reason of course. However, one might say it’s at odds with the appreciation I now have for some of the simpler concerns and way in which life is carried out in here in Asia. I find it a strange and hard place to sit. There is beauty in the allure, ideas and aesthetic of what I saw in Portland. There is also beauty and practicality in the simplicity with which people lead their lives here in Asia. I feel like the best way to reconcile this mental rift, as is often the case, is to find somewhere in the middle. I should look for a happy and responsible balance between the beauty and energy of fun, exciting, artistic endeavours while keeping them grounded with a good dose of perspective in the simple and necessary. Wish me luck on the pursuit!

Mel xx

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Future Feeders – plus lots of educational tangents (don’t say you weren’t warned)

future feeders piclogo
Our couch surfing hosts put us onto an initiative happening in Mullum called Future Feeders. Reading about it hit all the right words for me:
  • growing young farmers
  • small scale farm management
  • ecological agriculture
  • resilient communities
  • local food security
Turns out, Future Feeders is a new start-up all about keeping local agriculture and food industries alive though youth-driven entrepreneurship. They aim to grow successful models and opportunities for young people in ecological farming.
We got in contact with Joel Orchard, the Project Manager. As with many of the discoveries on our trip, combining short notice with busy schedules can make for tricky chat coordinating! But we found a time that worked, and we’re so glad we did. With a gentle calmness and discernment about him, we talked about a whole bunch of stuff, ranging from the project to corporate food, the structure of today’s society, to education and parental expectations – you know, just the normal topics tackled daily around the dinner table – or is that just us?
Future feeders was born out of Joel’s desire to see opportunities in agriculture for keen, enterprising young people. Therein he recognised a problem – a gap in getting interested youth onto farms. Surprisingly, it’s a lack of training opportunities holding them back, rather than land as one might expect. It’s the missing link I noticed without realising it a long time ago – the deficit left behind because we no longer routinely pass on information from one generation to the next, especially in practical trades and crafts. We don’t go out and learn on the job anymore – we go to school, learn all the theory, get a little practice in a non-contextualised classroom and then sport the piece of paper to say we are qualified when perhaps some of us feel fraud-like about that fact (me at least, and some others that I have spoken to).
Apprenticeships are obviously the exception here – they blend a much larger mix of on-the-job training with the educational theory work. And internships – its all on-the-ground intensive learning. These two models are perfect candidates for learning to farm – but they appear to be a rarity now. And for anyone who has read Joel Salatin’s latest book ‘Field of Farmers’, it wouldn’t be a surprise. He highlights with startling detail just how lacking our bridges are between incoming and outgoing farmers. A clear gap can now be seen between the older farmer without anyone to pass on their wisdom to and the interested youth, often coming from the city or suburbs with minimal, if any, experience. There simply are too few opportunities for real, practical learning in the form of internships or apprenticeships. And it’s for a myriad of reasons, but perhaps mostly owing to the fear and scant time/energy of farmers leftover to invest in creating a quality training program. Joel Salatin goes through the trials, tribulations and costs they encountered in starting their own apprentice and intern programs, as well all the developments they went through. With that all laid out, it’s clear what a big investment it is, and that it must be passion which drives it. For the Salatins, it was the love and desire to ensure their local food system remained – not just for their own sake but also that of the community (just so you know, I love reading his books – if you need a daily dose of common sense to boost your resolve and immunity to this world, I recommend you pick one up).
So it seems a skills shortage really does exist – its just not the one the government told you about.
Our society is set up differently these days. Different doesn’t have to mean bad.
Different = new pros & cons = opportunity.
Con: farming can be seen as not valued or viable these days = Con: big disconnection, hard to get youth on land and learning.
Pro: today’s youth often bring a different way of thinking and skills from other areas to the farm – which, Pro; can help transform it into a healthy, rewarding career option  (while, Pro: healing the land and the people finally receiving nutritious food – not just something that looks like a vegetable).
future feeders rows pic

photo courtesy of Future Feeders

This discussion is also related to another thing I have often lamented (ha! ‘lamented’ – now I really do sound like an old farmer!). That being how people are hired for jobs – often resting the burden upon that aforementioned piece of paper rather than the person’s natural aptitude or suitability. That’s what I love about how things used to happen (from what I can tell and yes, probably through rose coloured glasses, but I will continue all the same) – the local business owner would take on new workers realising it was an investment. An investment in passing on their knowledge, their trade, their craft (have you noticed the reemergence of pride in craftsmanship and artisinal skills these days?). I think they appreciated the broader value in it and were therefore willing to spend the time and energy growing productive, empowered people. People who were also more than likely to become members of their own community. All of this meant they would choose candidates not necessarily on their experience or schooling but upon their character, and if they would be able to do the work.  You got a job because your character was worthy and you would be suited to the job. What a novel idea! (do you see it? – that’s my tongue in my cheek).
One of the original land healing farmers, George Henderson, demonstrated the self-evident value of operating this way generations ago in at least one of his books. And I know a few forward thinking managers who recognise this. But, how many times have we let a good candidate go, or not even noticed them because they didn’t have the right qualification? Or what about just looking at the educational requirements – an example of Coles comes to mind – requiring night fillers to have finished year 12 if you were old enough to have done so – why? What relevance do year 12 subjects have to stacking shelves and how does that mean you will be better at the job? Why not look at who they are, what they have done and why.
School is only one way to learn.
It used to be that school was a basic general education so you could then go off and learn what was right for you – granted, the options for employment were also much more limited in previous generations. Nevertheless, it seems like we are specialising kids younger and younger and requiring more and more study – to the detriment of experience and balanced human beings in my opinion. We have seen the social norm go from leaving school early (joining the family business or leaving to earn for the family), to finishing high school, to doing a bachelor degree, to completing something post-grad (Honours, Masters or a PhD). It just keeps escalating – a PhD now seems no more valuable in the job market than Honours used to be, despite the extra 3 years (at least) required to obtain it. I’m not saying any of those are not worth doing or unwarranted – I just don’t think they should be pre-requisites for individuals to be considered ‘educated’, ’suitable’ or ‘worthy’.
Anecdotally, it seems particularly rife in America – it is just expected that you will go to college and get a degree – even if you already plan never to use it or go into that line of work. Doesn’t that seem like a non-sensical social norm? Children placate their parents desires and the business of education is perpetuated for it’s own sake. I’m sure it came from a well-meaning place, namely our parent’s desires to see us secure and do better than them, but it’s not the only way! Please realise that, parents and students alike.
Remember the term ‘life experience’? Or the old fashioned version that came up in our conversation with Joel: ‘worldliness’? It is incredibly worthwhile and should count for something. To understand the context within which we live, and apply our skills thereafter, must be more valuable than thrashing around in the dark confines of one system, one education, one job, one mindset. Let us learn, think for ourselves and act accordingly.
Returning to Joel’s take on things, (Joel Orchard that is, who would have thought i’d be talking about two influential Joel’s in one post?), he wanted to see real skill sharing so people with a passion could learn enough to get onto land and make something of it. WWOOFing (Worldwide Workers On Organic Farms) could be an option but in Joel’s experience spots are often taken up by travellers (ahem….sorry!) or it hasn’t been substantial enough to meet the need. He also thinks there is a reluctance to enter the field by some due to the picture we have been sold of farming as old, lonely, isolated & poor. It’s the scarcity model rather than the abundance we keep seeing is actually possible. This abundance comes from hard work no doubt, but is more than repaid with incredibly rewarding, healthy, purposeful work, and a good chance of having an awesome office to boot.
So what can you do if you can’t find an internship? Call on others to come with you and build your own – while also moulding it into a viable business and reproducible model so others might get an opportunity too. This is what Joel did – initially floating his idea to the local community. Good feedback and involvement has now settled into a smaller core of permanent volunteers. And bear in mind all the Future Feeders crew are making this start-up happen between other jobs that pay the bills until it stands on its own feet – pretty admirable in my book. Its heartening to see people putting themselves out there to save the future of things that are important.  Like local, healthy, responsibly farmed food. I am struggling right now to think of many things more important or fundamental to us as humans or communities – particularly when taking all the side benefits into consideration – like jobs, empowerment, health and community relationships,  all of which build resilience. And Joel is certainly on the same page there – saying he thinks “farming is the most noble profession – so connected, gentle and fundamental”.
They piloted the program at Mullumbimby Community Gardens – 1.5 acres converted into a market garden. Joel said the gardens provided the community interface they were looking for – purposely trying to bring people to the farm rather than the other way around. Visions of chefs and herbalists coming to pick their own supplies embodies the kind of connection they wish to foster – seeing that visceral next level past farmers markets as important. But for now the group has partnered up with a local CSA scheme (community supported agriculture) and recently made their first sale – woop woop! This is moving them towards building the sustainable financial and business aspects of the model.
future feeders market garden
The market garden site is also being used to train participants in ecological farming methods – including possibly certified organic but embracing any types of agro-ecology (i.e. biological farming methods that work with nature or mimic it, rather than the industrial/artificial/chemical model that is of convention today). Amusingly, my computer’s auto correct does not recognise “agro-ecology” thus keeps changing it to “afro-ecology” – a highly entertaining alternative and mental picture, but perhaps not as accurately descriptive. Aah computers….
The Future Feeders’ plan is to  replicate the model on other sites – something they aren’t short of. Joel says they receive offers of land to farm literally every week. Every week! Sadly, they have to turn them down – highlighting the shortfall again of opportunities, time and mentors for training. They simply don’t have enough people to farm the land being offered yet. Good problem to have.
Moving onto the challenges – what are they and how do you overcome them? Joel says the work is physically demanding but the trickier challenge can be that of people. Communicating, cooperating and problem-solving with others is sometimes difficult – for no other reason than humans simply being humans. It’s useful to know. Really – you might like to note it down somewhere…
I know it seems obvious now, but do you remember anyone telling you that in school? That’s an important lesson I could have used a heads up on – forewarned is forearmed you know. But seriously, it’s a message we keep hearing on our travels – managing human relationships can be hard. Yet, the other thing reiterated to us is the power of human relationships to pull us through and overcome the challenges – think those that we work with, our customers, our mentors, the community and family or friends. An interesting paradigm isn’t it? People – the hardest part yet the best part.
Joel said he was pulled through by the love and collective nature of working with people. He also said you have to believe in what you are doing. So, in addition to people, I think he hit on the two other staples for dealing with obstacles – love for what you are doing and the belief or resolve that comes from being part of something bigger than ourselves. Lets call it our top 3 challenge adversaries:
People, Passion and Purpose.
A lot has happened for a project that only started earlier this year – what is next for Future Feeders and its momentum? Pushing the envelope Joel says – using alternative thinking, and youthful innovation to mould farming into a new shape for today. This includes navigating the co-operative model waters – determining good ways to build an inclusive and incentivised network of members and partners. With any luck, it will simultaneously increase ecological production of healthy food, farmland, business, community and training opportunities.
It is essentially a farm, education and business enterprise and they aim to expand into different pockets of land using a cycle of learning. A trained farmer teaches the student, student farms land and becomes a new teacher – they teach a new student and then move on to new land, gaining more valuable learning themselves while having produced another trained student, that will in turn became another teacher. And so it goes on. It will develop a network to leverage better opportunities in labour, equipment, buying, distribution and markets. For example, pooling resources like equipment or machinery (this is a good time to mention that they are keen to stick to appropriate technologies, as are many others – learn more here).
We talked more about our current food system and how it is broken (aka corrupted) – it’s something many could go on about at length. Me included – in fact I did in the draft version of this post, but for now have withheld it. Suffice it to say, the system is such that too many people don’t know where their food comes from – we are disconnected from that which is most fundamental. So I think it’s incredibly exciting to see people take their distaste for the situation and turn it into something positive like this. I think it’s Joel’s form of peaceful protest, useful activism.
In fact, Future Feeders is reminiscent of a like-minded manifestation in America (who seem to be about 5-10 years ahead of us in their action on the food front) called Greenhorns – all about advocacy for, and growth of, the young agricultural sector to maintain true food security there. Back home, the little group of farming friends that center around our local farming elder Di (Bickleigh Vale Farm, McLaren Vale), only discovered Greenhorns recently – with much joy and resolve that something similar is needed in Australia, and in more local chapters too. I certainly see Future Feeders as starting that progression – and indeed Joel hopes that advocacy is an area they will eventually move in to.
It also reminds me of several friends in Adelaide who have just up and started small-scale farming projects independently – Wagtail Urban Farm, The Garden Farmers and most recently Sand Road Farm. Grass roots projects are springing up like weeds – apt pun intended.
So if it’s happening somewhere, I bet it’s happening elsewhere – if you know about something like this, or someone wanting to start-up, PLEASE let us know. These people should be put in contact so they can learn from and support each other!
I want to finish with something Joel said in conversation, a bolster for all those battling on the local food front:
“it’s more than food production, it’s a way to change the world in a peaceful way”
Find out more or get in contact with Future Feeders via their Facebook page here or their website here
.
Cheers and encouragement to everyone working towards feeding our future! xx
future feeders seedlings

photo courtesy of Future Feeders

‘Ruff’ing it

P1030481 quince blooms mill springs
As we hoped might happen, we were happily directed to our first unplanned farm-stay at a little place called “Ruffy”, about 2 hours north of Melbourne.
Thanks to Chris from Green Onions, who told Michael about one of their suppliers, saying if you want to see farms, you should definitely see that one – they grow the best peaches. And he didn’t just mean for the area, or last season – he meant the best. Ever.
So Chris gave us their contact details and Michael put in a call. After lots of discussion about good practices for farming and living today, and much reassurance that Michael was indeed not trying to sell them something, we were invited along for a visit and to pitch our tent for a while. An invitation to ‘Ruff it’.
Driving into the area reveals beautiful horse stud flats and hilly green pastures. The farm – Mill Springs Farm – belongs to Adrian and Valda Martin, who come from a long line or farmers and orchardists on both sides. Valda welcomes us in for a good old country cup of tea before heading up to the orchard to meet Adrian and having a look around.
The farm’s main produce is bio-dynamically grown fruit – think beautiful stone fruit, quinces, apples and boysenberries. They also grow olives for oil, sheep for meat, have free range laying hens and are delving into grain.
collage mill springs 1
Everything on the farm is grown biodynamically. specifically to the demeter standard of biodynamics which, analagous to the off shoot of dialects from a common language, holds a particular way of applying the biodynamic principles Rudolf Steiner indicated nearly 100 years ago. The Martins have been using this method for about 20 years now.

Here is a little excerpt from the biodynamic manual Adrian gave us to read:

The [demeter bio-dynamic] system is not simply a replacement of synthetic chemicals and artificial fertilisers with ‘organic’ substitutes. Instead the farmer must learn to think and work biologically.
When I asked why they chose biodynamics, different answers emerge. Valda says it’s because they had seen the effects of chemical use and therefore looked for something different to the conventional practice. Adrian says it’s because of the simplicity – it is how people used to farm before industrialisation. He likes the fact you can do it yourself without relying too heavily on technology or buying inputs.
Oh, and the fact that it works – they are steadfast and serious in explaining the unmistakably good results they have seen in things like:
  • product quality & taste (evidenced by the religious-like patronage they receive)
  • farm recovery times after harsh conditions – (they seem to be the first to spring back to life, probably owing to next on the list:)
  • soil quality & life and
  • decreased water requirements – (several reasons but one stand out for me was that trees are grown such that they source water and nutrients as needed from healthy soil, rather than the traditional overfeeding of fertiliser which results in a thirsty tree  and more water consumption)
As well as taking the time out to chat with us, the Martins very kindly offer us more than we could have hoped for in the way of facilities, including some land to perch on for a few days. It is a beautiful place to stay – with trees, life and birdsong rounding it out.
P1030477 cherry rows and berries
I really enjoyed the way things unfolded there: Michael and I each found something to help with; Emma flowed between farm activities and contented alone time and we got to know the family a little more through tea, chooks and conversations.
Chris described Adrian as just one of the most genuine people you will meet, I wholeheartedly agree. What a good old fashioned country farmer – quiet, but kind to the core, and full of common-sense wisdom. Valda, his wife of several decades, is quick to point out that Adrian doesn’t go on a lot about things (skyting, as they call it), and is overly humble about his level of knowledge. He obviously makes up for it with his openness – all you need do is ask him a question.
Valda is remarkable in her own right. Generous with a no-nonsense attitude and sharp as a tack. She uses her passion for needle & thread to bolster several charity projects, including hospital and prison projects for support and rehabilitation. As we look at her lifetime of crafting and contributions I realise just how much traditional arts and crafts can be a vehicle for healing, purpose and community.
Like most farmers, they work hard – and mother nature throws a spanner in the works regularly. So why do they choose this difficult life? And why is there such a renewed interest in joining them? My own suspicion is because it’s an honest profession which provides a real and tangible connection to the world we live in. For Adrian,  it seems there is a satisfaction and purpose inherent in growing things for others. He says he gets pleasure from growing the best fruit possible. And he has no plans to leave – intent on continuing until his body gives up.
I don’t think the market will have any problem with that either – apparently demand is always growing and, uncharacteristically, Adrian offers up his opinion on why: he puts it down to the young mothers of Melbourne searching out better food for their children. That’s heartening – I would love to see demand for responsibly farmed food become the social norm. Here’s hoping…
This experience left me feeling incredibly grateful. Firstly, as you might expect, grateful for seeing their example in farming – Adrian certainly made a good case for skipping ‘organic’ all together and going straight to biodynamics. But surprisingly, even more grateful for having just met them and their family – it instilled in me something that Michael already had a healthy faith for – the good nature of people. I felt like they were good people trying to do good things. And they met us as strangers, showing great generosity and openness. Thank you!
collage mill springs tractor
Happy Farming. Happy Eating.
xx

The Web of Life(styles) – addictive goodness & Adelaide’s GroCo

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As I come off the back of a Local Grower’s Collective meeting (a little word on this later, below) I am realising two things:
1. Pruning is a real art form – requiring one to balance a hierarchy of botanical priorities, physical practicalities and a gambler’s nerve for now vs the future, and
2. It reminds me just how many facets there are to learn about when you become interested in a lifestyle more closely connected with growing/sustainability/simplicity/tradition etc etc (insert your unavoidable and inevitably stereotyping lifestyle descriptor here….)

It’s like a web – once in, you get tangled up in all sorts of wonderfully interesting threads, all connected together. And so much so, it can be hard to get out! Not that I imagine many people want to move away from this kind of life once they find it – more like once you start learning, you can’t stop. Maybe its more apt to describe it as some kind of enchanted garden that has seemingly endless nooks and niches to discover. The tricky part being, to navigate your own path.

Anyway, as a result of meeting up with new and old friends last night, I have a lot of topics rattling around in my head. I wanted to make a bit of a list of them and get them down somewhere – I thought I could do that here and share them at the same time. Perhaps it will be useful to someone? Or maybe it will just act as a “be warned – this lifestyle is highly addictive – symptoms include interest in, and possible partaking of, some or all of the following:”

  • wild mushrooms, edible weeds and foraging in general
  • hunting
  • fermented food and drinks (e.g. kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut – the list of foods on wikipedia is massive!)
  • cheese making
  • bee keeping
  • food forests
  • growing methodologies (e.g. organic, biodynamic, back to eden, eliot coleman)
  • permaculture (wiki description here, Australian goings-on here)
  • herbalism (growing and using medicinal herbs)
  • tiny houses
  • dumpster diving
  • living without the use of money (e.g. through exchange like LETS, gifting or hardcore examples like that of Daniel Suelo)
  • rituals and festivals celebrating the cycle of seasons, the year or our own life stages
  • story telling (see my little rant in a previous post here)
  • indigenous cultures and the myriad of skills they use(d) to live off the land
  • handcrafts like: basketry/weaving; spinning yarn; knitting/crocket; sewing…..

No doubt there is more to add – I just wanted to get those ones out of my head and in one place! Feel free to add your own …

I also wanted to talk about the Local Growers Collective here in Adelaide too – because it’s a great initiative. Essentially the ‘GroCo’ (as you will come to know it) is a network of people with an interest in growing – in any form that might take: currently growing; wanting to grow; novice; expert – whatever, it’s all good. Those who can, come together for a meeting, (about every six weeks), somewhere in Adelaide. The format is casual and normally includes some type of workshop, tour or brainstorming session at a member’s property or one of interest to the group. It’s all topped off with a share dinner and merry socialising – voila, recipe for goodness. So if you are in the area and would like to come along, or just want know more, contact Steven on 0421 816 106 or hoffna@gmail.com.

Thanks Steven for bringing us the GroCo and happy lifestyle addictions everyone!

Mel x

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Edible-izing Adelaide

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This weekend we headed down to the big smoke for the Edible-izing Adelaide event. What an awesome day! We had so much fun setting up, serving drinks and chatting with people doing great stuff.

The event was all about connecting, conversing and learning about local food & community. Those that were lucky enough to book a ticket, before the free event hit capacity, had the opportunity to meet over a massive produce swap, try some local beverages, hear a host of super interesting talks (see below) and ‘meet and greet’ with Sophie and Costa from Gardening Australia. Phew – they packed a lot into a Sunday afternoon!

 

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people lining up, produce in hand, to come into the event

 

Some of the big themes that came through from the day were:

  • the importance of story telling to build culture and healthy communities,
  • the impact of people power to make change, and
  • the solutions to our problems lie within our own hands.

I want you to take a little time to read those three things again. Go on – really. They’re big. They may sound cliche but I think we are seeing more and more that they are brimming with truth.

I want to elaborate more on the talks. First up was Dan French from French Environmental who talked about the possibilities for food production anywhere and everywhere through systems like aquaponics. I think his take home message was really important:

Don’t let size, or any other barrier for that matter, stop you from trying your hand at producing your own food.

Next was Dr Sam Manger, a GP currently practising in Mt. Gambier and also Director of the Transitions Film Festival here in Adelaide (an empowering festival, on again this October, showcasing films and related events around change and sustainability). He talked animatedly through some of the common sense around food, nutrition and health, as well as the extent to which it can affect our lives – we have seen an explosion in the incidence of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. There is so much that can be addressed through diet and lifestyle (think: get active, eat more whole foods and less processed foods) – and the information is out there (Dr Manger’s patients apparently assure him that Dr Google can be consulted 24 7). The conclusion was this:

Now that we know [about healthy food and lifestyle], let’s increase the communication and participation.

And how is this for an interesting fact – apparently the study of Botany (i.e. plants) used be a standard inclusion for training as a Doctor! Food really was their medicine.

Next up were the event organisers and founders of Ripe Near Me, Alistair and Helena Martin. Helena persevered behind the scenes while Alistair talked us through the Ripe Near Me website. For those who are unfamiliar, it is an interactive food map – people with produce list it on the map and then others can search and see by area or food type. Originally conceived as a way to stop food going to waste, it is also a great way to buy, sell or swap produce and connect with the community.

However, it is set to be so much more in the future – if they can garner the resources. Their wish list includes items like:

  • expanding the listings to all sorts of resources such as used coffee grounds, firewood and even available growing or storage space
  • building in a facility to share knowledge, such as growing tips
  • looking at incorporating farmers into the system
  • improved listing accuracy (think: ability to determine if a listing is still active or not), a phone app and online help centre

They are currently running a crowd funding campaign to start working on the above wishlist – highly recommended – we have already contributed, but after hearing the story and future plans today, we’ll be pledging again! A live hook up to the website showed everyone how easy it was to navigate – and having done it myself, I can say for sure that adding produce and searching for it is super easy. While seeing it in action was great, Alistair’s live elevator music while we waited for the log in was even better!

Best of all though was the idea that Ripe Near Me could help us reclaim our food system. And do it in an old fashioned way – through home growing and exchange in the community.

After some door prize and Costa look-a-like competition shenanigans, which involved lots of flying vegies and fake bushy beards (true story), it was time for the Gardening Australia gurus to deliver some genius.

First up was the delightful Sophie Thomson who delivered a wonderfully broad view of the benefits of gardening. Exuding the joy and passion which she clearly derives from the natural world, Sophie laid out the case for gardening as a tool for fitness, relaxation, nutrition, creativity and good mental health. Backed up by example after example, i’ll make note of just a few. She referenced the work of Mardie Townsend at Deakin University in collaboration with Beyond Blue – who produced a report on “The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being” – read it here.  She also talked about the concepts introduced in Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods” that describe children’s lack of contact with nature and its link to the increasing trend in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. And mentioning the alarming reality of chemicals in our food, as highlighted by Dr Mark Cohen, really drove home the following point:

Gardening, and all that comes from it, is vital. It needs to be a cornerstone of our culture again.

Rounding out the day was the unforgettable Costa Georgiadis. With trademark passion, fun and eccentricity Costa delivered a pep talk to reaffirm our own power. Power to change things for the better through vocabulary – using the right words, getting people interested, weaving these issues and the solutions into story form.

People look to the sky as Costa dissapears up

People look to the sky as Costa disappears mid-talk, up the stairs and to the balcony – it really was a Sunday Sermon

 

Forewarning: here comes my, apparently customary, digression for today.

Story telling – it is SO important (and it amazes me how often I find this being reiterated lately). It seems to me that stories, in all their forms (pictures, songs, dance, patterns/symbols, myths, folk tales, fables) are the lifeblood of cultures, and for good reason. Traditionally, this is how they educated and retained vital information, for example info like location and navigation methods for the pacific islanders (Bill Mollison talks about this in one of his lectures on patterns). It is also the way to communicate the very values a culture is built upon – just think about all the lessons delivered in Aesop’s fables (there may well be a better example, however that is what comes to mind at the moment!). But the real genius is in how we can physically take in story forms differently to words and lectures – they just seem easier for our brain to digest and assimilate. It’s the same principle behind why waldorf (steiner) schools use arts as the teaching vehicle all through the primary years – young kids have an underdeveloped left side of the brain and therefore pick up pictures, song, story and movement much better than any writing on a blackboard.

All in all, communicating through stories leads to a much deeper understanding, connection and therefore memory of the message stored within them.

And so it seems, I have a *few* thoughts on story telling (who knew – I certainly didn’t until now!). See – that is why writing is so therapeutic, you just never know what is going to come out through reflection. Apologies for the lack of supportive evidence in that section too – you will just have to call it my opinion for now!

And so back to Costa and his words today. I loved that what he saw in Ripe Near Me was not just a food map, but a “health search engine and community builder”. He also flagged the creation of this sort of platform as a sign of the market place – people are increasingly wanting to know more about their food and have a closer connection to it. When I stand back it does seem pretty evident. Even today on the way home for example, we drove past a KFC where they had in massive letters: made “fresh, by real cooks”. Think about it – they are trying to convince us it is fresh, and made by someone worthy – why? The same reason Coles are now stocking, and zealously marketing, hormone free beef and RSPCA approved chicken. They want to be seen as more ethical. Again, why? Because they recognise the new consumer demand for it – something Costa called the ‘new food current’. It’s happening whether you realise it or not – all these small changes, the increased awareness, a renewed interest – it’s showing us we can make change. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think Coles selling RSPCA chicken is going to save the world – but I take it as a great positive whenever one of the massive monopolies takes notice and steps in a better direction. We might well move giants better from the grass underneath than by aerial policy attack. I think the take home message from Costa was one of encouragement:

Realise how strong this movement is and the change we are making.

So I want to finish up by saying thank you to everyone who makes a move, no matter what the size, towards a better world. And in Costa’s words – ‘get your story out there, talk about it!’

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Happy story-telling x