travel

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

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To Mullum, to Mullum

P1030591 armidale pool   It was three days driving from the farm in Ruffy to our stop in Mullum. It saw us go through Albury, Wagga, Dubbo, Tamworth and Armidale, as well as lots of little towns in-between. collage emma pool armidale   Pondering the journey also makes me think about the variety of accommodation we have encountered to date – in three weeks we have slept in 2 rest stops (on the side of the road), a vacant block, 3 tourist parks and 3 houses – in beds, a tent or caravan. Talk about variety. That aspect has been very interesting. Its also been great for getting used to looking after yourself – setting up and packing down camp continuously will do that – and goes a long way towards becoming comfortable with change.   P1030606 armidale camp
We’ve noticed that Emma has the hardest times at transition – settling in somewhere new and packing up to leave. This was to be expected, and we have been pleased to see the amount of time she needed decrease as we went on. It also highlighted how well she handled all the change and newness during the rest of the time. For a mum and daughter who can be adverse to not knowing or controlling our surroundings – we are doing pretty well so far 🙂
Another heartening observation has been Emma’s ability to connect quickly with the animals and children wherever we have been. For a child who hasn’t really been around animals or had many pets, she has taken a shining to, and solace from, the creatures in our adventure. I’m glad about this – I hope it’s a connection that will stay with her into the future. I also hope it sparks reverence and respect for all creatures and life in nature – we shall see.
Anyway- back to the destination at hand – we were on way to our first couch surfing stop. What is couch surfing? For those who aren’t familiar, they liken it a little to when you travel and call on family or friends in your destination to maybe put you up for a couple nights, or show you around. You know – a nice friendly place to stay, good company to hang out with and a chance to get tips from the locals. Essentially they took that philosophy and built a web-based network so you could do it with friends you haven’t met yet. Cool idea, huh? They refine it with host/surfer profiles, reviews and search capabilities so you find a good match and feel safe in what you are doing. We found our host by searching within Mullumbimby and listed by how recently they had used the site. The first one up was an awesome host with lots of great alternative interests like us, a family of his own and experience hosting hundreds of other surfers. After reading reviews we were satisfied they would be great people to meet and sent a request through. Request accepted, we exchanged some details so we could meet at the appropriate point in the space-time continuum and we were set. Easy!
After shifting around so much on the road, it was really nice to look forward to 3 nights in one place with some insider knowledge. And Benny and Sophia didn’t disappoint – they were interesting, open, generous people. And they put us onto heaps of cool stuff in the area and beyond. Clearly community minded and accustomed to having people flow through their life, it was easy to settle into communal ways at their place .
In fact from where I sit now, i’m surprised at how easy it has been to meet and live with new people. I expected it to be much harder. I’m sure it probably is on a longer term basis. Perhaps it is the transient nature of these meetings and networks (e.g. wwoofing, couch surfing) that lay good foundations for communication of facts and expectations. Whatever it is, when everyone knows a good deal about what is going on and what to expect, things can go much smoother.
And from my experience so far, it seems the other factor at play is having space and time which offer a balance of being together and apart. There needs to be enough communal time to build relationships and understanding, but also time alone to debrief – there are a lot of new surroundings, dynamics and learning to process (as a family or individuals). Not to mention whatever lessons and emotions come up internally within each person.
But back to Mullum – as you would expect there were lots of colourful places and characters around town. We saw numerous outlets for organic and health related stuff like grocers, juice bars, cafes and even a herbal/homepathic shop concocting remedies to order.
collage juice bar 1
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and you thought your local had lots of community notices!

Michael and Emma also had many comrades in their trademark bare feet. We wondered the town, looking at places and people, eating good food (including a cool little cafe called Punch & Daisy) We also hung out at home, watched the ducks, pottered in the garden, went for a walk and recuperated, even catching a community dinner. Between all that, lots of time was spent chatting over dinner and breakfast with Benny and Sophia.  So great to talk things over with others open to ideas or opinions – 1. to be able to express your own and get feedback, and 2. to hear those of others – it’s like exercise for your mind!
A short aside on this topic (warning, here comes an observational musing) – one trait I have noticed: those who seem most open to the opinion of others are usually those most secure in their own. Or more accurately, secure in their own values, from which all else is derived. So I don’t mean they are dogmatic about their own opinions, more like they are secure about what they are and why, which also allows a greater openness to change if it is sensible.
We also checked out the local community garden. It was a pretty cool place to see – it had permaculture demonstration plots, private plots, public picking plots (‘food for all’), a kids area, a shop to sell seeds and plants (and other stuff) a learning space, cafe/kitchen and more. Like a bio-char facility – got a fantastic explanation of biochar and it’s many uses from Don – in fact so many I have to admit it was a little overload for me to keep in my head. Michael’s brain may have been a better receptacle for that info!. Neverthless it’s definitely on our list of things to look into now.
collage mullum comm garden 1
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collage mullum comm garden perm 3
Even the garden’s toilets were fun – and of the composting variety of course. I feel fairly familiar with composting toilets, having seen and used a few now – but if it, and the whole ‘humanure’ world, is foreign check out this link.
collage mullum comm garden toilet
There was a pretty exciting initiative starting out of the gardens too called ‘Future Feeders’. Our hosts put us onto this and an intentional community called ‘Famunity’. I want to give them both more air time in their own posts though, so sit tight for those 🙂
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In the meantime, I would like to wrap up this post by thanking Benny, Sophia and little Mossy for making our first couch surfing experience a great one – here’s to the fun, sharing and growth of meeting new people – Cheers!
collage mic handstand

On the Road Again

P1030547 tunnel

So here is the challenge – 1 hour to write 1 post, albeit a photo rich, word poor one. Sounds easy – unless your me. Here we go…

After experiencing the bio-dynamic delights of Ruffy, we set off for 3 days on the road, en route to Mullum land (aka Mullumbimby). There we would experience couch surfing for the first time. But for now we had driving, lots of driving, ahead of us.

We had a wonderfully surprising morning just getting out of Ruff and to our first stop – upon a recommendation we went to Longwood to see ‘The Rockery’. It is a gemstone museum, in actual fact it is one man’s house and the physical manifestation of his passion for rocks. The personal collection spreads throughout – his kitchen bench literally his shop counter. Although it may sound odd, it was actually very endearing – as was the owner Maurie Brodie. It was a pleasure listening to him recall his many adventures across the world that his love has prompted. I was particularly amazed to hear him recall, with vivid clarity, the exact moment that he became interested in rocks (many many years ago) -he was 17 and his mum showed him a picture in the middle of a Woman’s Weekly magazine. It was of a whole bunch of tumbled rocks – glossy and shiny like boiled lollies he said. I love that – whenever someone can pinpoint a passion’s trigger – I think it’s fascinating.

Anyway, i’m sure that, and having a look around, would have been enough for me to enjoy my time there. And probably the same for Michael. But what made it sooo worth it was Emma’s reaction – I think we have stumbled across something special for her. She was glued to the place – drinking in all the different shapes, colours and sparkles. The fluorescent rocks in the darkroom just blew her away! It was amusing and heartwarming at the same time to observe her reactions. It’s not often I have seen her that in awe.

collage emma rockery

This is what she said about it: “This place is so amazing it makes me want to cry”. Just gorgeous 🙂

After we pried Emma away, and thanked Maurie for sharing his passion, we settled in for a drive. Eventually we decided it was time for lunch and stopped at the next place available. It was town called Benalla in what felt like the middle of Victoria – an ordinary kind of town except for the entrance with an art gallery, boardwalk upon the river and the most astounding piece of artwork I have ever encountered. It’s hard to describe, think clay art gallery combined with outdoor seating/ampitheatre and playground. Whatever it was, it really spoke to me. To be fair, the ‘Clay Mural’ was 27 years in the making – and the outlay is so intricate and complicated i’m hardly surprised. This is where the ‘photo rich’ bit comes in – warning: photo bombardment imminent. See the splendour for yourself…

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Thanks Benalla – your awesome!

Art absorbed, 1 hour post challenge met.

Ahhh – now for a cuppa……

‘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

Week 1 – The Places and the Lessons.

nelson glenelg river VIC

Well, this may or may not be another short post as I consume a cafe’s internet for the price of a hot chocolate – and Michael and Emma play at the playground down the road in Coonabarabran. By the by, that’s something you certainly notice on the road – our place names. No wonder the tourists are confused – i’m Australian and have no idea how to pronounce half of them! Sad really…

Nevertheless it didn’t hold us back – the first week was a beautiful blur of camping and ocean views, with the obligatory specky coastline the Great Ocean Road is known for of course.

We had not done the Great Ocean Road before. I’m so glad we decided to make it part of our trip – it really is beautiful. And there were so many postcard nooks, lookouts and towns around every corner – not just the stuff they put on the tourist maps. In fact some of the other sites we stopped at were nicer in our opinion (and less populated). For example this picturesque beach below was completely deserted! Hello lunch spot.

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But before we even got to the ‘Road’ itself, we already had a bagful of fun. In fact when I asked Emma and Michael what their highlights were, they came from the places beforehand. Michael enjoyed cooking on the fire at our ‘rest stop’ camp just outside Beachport in SA.

beachport camp 1

And also swimming in the Great Southern Ocean at our next camp spot, in a little vacant block abutting the bush and on the esplanade of a quiet beach.

collage camp allestree beach

Emma’s favourite was Portland and watching all the goings on between ships, trucks and mountains of grain.

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Portland, Victoria – down at the busy activity of the port foreshore. If you look carefully you will see what looks like sand is actually a monster mountain of grain and a truck (yes, a whole truck) being tipped up to pour out.

As for The Great Ocean Road itself, it was smaller than I anticipated, not that it mattered. What I found interesting was how it seemed to be a shapeshifter – moving from dairy country and sleepy little towns to drier scrub, then mountainous forest – dotted with mega tourist hot spots, surfer havens or family friendly & funky locations. What a kaleidoscope!

Port Fairy was a quaint, quiet and pretty place – would be lovely for a recharging hideaway I think.

collage port fairy

Apollo Bay was my personal favourite – we hauled up at the local Recreation Park, right on the river overlooking the range and endless farmland. Then a short stroll down the street reveals a vibrant High Street with rolling grass, playground and views to die for of the coast, ocean and range – just gorgeous.

camp apollo bay rec park

And the surprise of the trip – Cape Otway Lightstation. We thought it might be nice to visit a light house so we drove down the (rather longer than expected) road to see the touristy looking car park and frontage – ok, here we go. We needed water so we went inside anyway. Without seeing the entry fees (that should have been our first lesson) we said we would go in and Michael coughed up what turned out to be $50 for all three of us – he did a great job of not choking on his drink. But it turned out to be  a whole complex of lovely sprawling grounds with lots of interesting things to do in addition to the lighthouse (which by the way is staffed by a guide up the top so you can ask him anything you want – (I thought that was cool). There was also an aboriginal culture centre (which is actually a super cool hut) – also staffed. Dale offered to let Em throw a spear he’d made with an aid called a ‘woomera’. She loved it. Michael and I had a go too – of course Michael picked it up straight away as he usually does! And they had a beautiful map and activity book for the kids – Emma took great delight in following the map and ticking off our adventures. Talk about value for money – it was a great spot to see the ocean, take a walk and learn about history, physics, electricity, maritime navigation, aboriginal culture and a myriad of other things – including how there used to be dolphins and flamingoes living in the centre of Australia (ahem…millions of years ago in the permanent inland lakes) – that blew my mind!

collage cape otway lightstation collage cape otway 2 collage cape otway 3

And speaking of surprises, we found out the hard way that Emma gets car sick on long, windy drives…… oh dear. Poor poppet!

So those were some of the places. There were also ‘lessons’.

What became painfully obvious to me, almost immediately after setting off, were the lessons we were being forced to learn – and quickly. You would think that after 15 years together Michael and I would probably have the whole communication thing down, right? Apparently not!

What seemed like a new phenomena for us was more likely just my amplified reactions to our situation. It was hard to believe just how immediately these things cropped up, and the ferocity of it. Up until now I have been able to avoid dealing with some of my shortcomings by escaping to another part of the house or busying myself with some other task. I no longer have that option here. My issues have been dragged out into the stark light of day by the challenge and change we put ourselves in. I don’t like seeing that side of myself – it is ugly and bitter. But, at this point in time, it is part of me – and part of why I put myself here. I knew those issues needed to be faced – so I keep choosing to do things which make me decidedly uncomfortable.

But the upside is growth, hard won strengthening growth.  And awesome, mind-opening experiences. To my amazement, Michael and I are already so much better at making plans on the run now – that’s been great!

Of course just when you think you’ve got it, something else comes along. In fact it seems to go in waves. We will do really well, then hit a hole again. I realised why – there were two lessons. We had both gotten better at communicating more effectively by being open, honest and forthcoming about what we want and what we think. The problem was the second lesson (and me) – doing it diplomatically. I hadn’t (and seemingly haven’t) figured out how to do that when i’m struggling. There’s nothing like being lost, late or constrained to make me really uncomfortable – and therefore less than pleasant to be around. What can I say – I’m a work in progress!

I love what this trip has given us already – not even two weeks in:

I love the experiences we have had, the things we have seen and the people we have met.

I love how astonished I am at the intensity of work my character is being put through, and equally by how fast we are all learning.

Boy, oh boy – what a crash course in how to be better – I love travel!

Lastly, I wanted to include this passage was that I thought was apt. It comes from a book a friend gave me to read – My Year Without Matches by Claire Dunn. In it she includes a little Rumi poem her friend sent to her:

Very little grows on jagged rock.

Be ground. Be crumbled.

So wild flowers will come up

Where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.

Try something different. Surrender.

mic & mel great ocean road

Mel x

The School of Life – Melbourne style

school of life with piggy & emma
Tuesday:
Slow start-stop morning. Rush to finally get sorted and out of the house – doesn’t happen until after lunch – kicking myself, never mind. Then onto learning about the trains on the fly – whoops, missed one, oh well. Caught the next train. Then suddenly it says the destination is now where we came from – what? We jump off – only to see it progress to where we thought it was going, bugger. Apparently the ‘city loop’ messes with what I would consider the conventional naming of things. Mel has a mini-meltdown, Michael and Emma vacate the platform. We regroup and jump on another train only to find out from a passenger that this one IS actually going back to where we came from – seriously?! Jump off again to the one across the platform and lo and behold – it goes to our station! We ask where Bourke Street is – apparently we are already on it – ha, awesome! Such tourists….
After the shenanigans of the train, finding our destination turns out to be super simple – it was just down the street (yay!). The School of Life, Melbourne, sits on Bourke St – mere metres from Southern Cross Station. When we arrive we are greeted by the wistfully pleasant Genevieve, who also turns out to be the queen of books (later walking us through some of the must reads on the shelves – i’ll be adding them to our reading list). We are here to talk with Jess, the Community Manager, who meets us with a great openness and honesty. She has kindly agreed to chat with us about the workings and passions of The School of Life Melbourne (which I shall hereafter designate TSOL for the sake of my typing fingers and sanity).
It turns out that describing TSOL to people is hard for us when mentioning this as one of our Melbourne-town destinations. I think that’s because it’s a new kind of beast – part education centre, bookshop, cafe, art house, community/connection/conversation builder and purveyor of fine inspirational goods & tools (like their awesome conversation cards, the 15 minute important life activity hourglass timer or the hilarious tote bag labelled “emotional baggage”).
mic school of life
The original TSOL was founded in London by modern-day philosopher Alain De Botton. A group of super interested social-doers, through a local Melbournian social enterprise (who are also responsible for the Dumbo Feather publication you may have seen kicking around) approached the SOL about trying something here. The result was a pop-up that piloted last year – for which they had a wait list of 800 people wanting to take a class with 26 spots – clearly there was something in this! So the dedicated group forged ahead and this permanent – and first – international outreach was born in Melbourne. There are now 6 others in places like Amsterdam, Rio and Paris.
I asked Jess what she thought it was about TSOL that made it unique – she said it seems to fill a gap for people, that something is missing and it helped give them insight into themselves plus a connection to others. That pretty well seems to reflect TSOL’s core business – developing emotional intelligence.
Now don’t be scared off by that. Really – it’s just useful stuff we don’t seem to get taught in school or society much these days (in my opinion). Class titles like ‘how to be confident’, ‘how to be creative’ and ‘how to face death’ start to paint the picture. Here are some others (or check out the full program for Oz here):
– How to balance work with life
– How to spend time alone
– How to make love last
 I feel like lots of people spend decades pondering these topics in solitude before ever getting a breakthrough or finding the insight they seek. What a grand idea to have an inviting, funky, well run place for the general public to come and engage in such important inner work.
The demand for their classes hasn’t waned, regularly selling out. I want to ask what it is about this educational model that makes it work, but before I can, Jess gives me the answer in describing how TSOL is unique – seems they are one in the same. She describes how classes deliver a great mix of elements like historical & current wisdom or philosophy, questions & workshop activities, individual and group time as well as pre-class tasks & post-class reading references. They also lash out a heavy dose of culture – think literature, film and art as a tool for examples, therapy and insight.
I suspect it would be hard for someone to come away without something useful. Jess also says the classes have a kind of practical “immediacy” to them – and she should know. After enrolling in “realise your potential” (because that was the only class not sold out), she quit her job the following day! She also put her CV into TSOL and hey presto – that is how we came to find her there! Pretty good embodiment of what goes on there i’d say.
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I ask a last question – what is the most important job of TSOL? ‘developing emotional intelligence through the use of culture and community connection’  says Jess – if we can learn to find comfort in speaking and listening to strangers, perhaps it will help break down the barriers to open, richer relationships with those we love. We could even find others have similar situations, feelings or thoughts.
We thank Jess for her generosity and stay to look around (and maybe we had drinks and cake too – not telling). So much goodness to be had – I only wish we could have taken a class while we were here. But as I said to Jess, Adelaide isn’t far away from Melbourne – we might just come on back one day!
This quote was up on the wall for the day – I thought it summed up nicely one of the reasons we are travelling and why we consider it important for Emma to see other places:

“For those who feel simply trapped under their responsibilities and can’t summon the initiative to quit, exposing yourself to how other people live loosens the mind. You can comprehend how many ways there are to get by. Choosing a new way seems possible”

Po Bronson – ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’

You can explore the website, classes and shop here or check out their new youtube channel here – I encourage you to have a look.
May we find solice and solidarity in our shared stories.
Mel xx
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Hometown Tour with Piggy

As we prepare to pack up and head off through Oz and overseas…

 

piggy 37 days low qual

 

… thought it might be nice to see where we are coming from. And what better way to kick off Piggy’s trip with us than a little hometown tour? Enjoy.

 

Our local beach - Port Willunga (or Port Willy for short - yes, you heard me)

Our local beach – Port Willy (local slang for Port Willunga) – yeah, life’s tough here…. we are spoilt with beautiful beaches, hills, fertile land and a temperate climate.

 

piggy market tents

Piggy preparing to enter the best farmers markets in SA (says me!) – the Willunga Farmers Markets – open every Saturday

willungafarmersmarket.com.au

piggy garden farmers stall

The Garden Farmers stall – inaugural winners of the market’s pioneering scholarship for young farmers

http://gardenfarmers.tumblr.com/

piggy bickleigh vale stall 1

Di from Bickleigh Vale Farm entertains Emma and Piggy at her market stall – this being the wonderful organic farm we volunteer on. Di is a vortex of awesome farming energy – she has a knack for attracting young people interested in agrarian activities and generously imparts her knowledge and time to them, setting forth many a new farmer…

https://www.facebook.com/bickleighvalefarm

piggy wilmark the magnificent

Emma & Piggy atop “Wilmark, the Magnificent” – the market’s official mascot.

 

 

piggy willunga waldorf school

Spot the piggy 1 – at Emma’s school, Willunga Waldorf. Excellent school for raising grounded, creative, confident children through the alternative Waldorf (Steiner) curriculum.

http://www.willungawaldorfschool.sa.edu.au/

piggy almond grove 2

The biodynamic almond grove at the school – almonds used to cover a significant portion of Willunga’s growing land. Much has been converted to vineyards for wine.

 

piggy bakery A

Guess which local icon Piggy is hangin at now?….

piggy bakery B

Spot the piggy 2: It’s ‘Home Grain Bakery’ Aldinga – who also has a sister in McLaren Flat. Bakeries baking with real ingredients – the results speak for themselves!

https://www.facebook.com/HomeGrainBakery

piggy willunga hills

Ciao for now from piggy (and the hills and fields of our beautiful area) xx

Welcome aaaaaand …… farewell (almost).

IMAG0400

 

As the title indicates, this is both a welcome and farewell. Hmmm, that’s odd you say – I shall explain……

This is our first ever post – hurrah! And thus, welcome to our blog!

We plan to use this section of our site to cover everyday happenings and info that seems relevant as we take on our new life.

It is also a talented little creature because it will morph before your very eyes, into a…… travel blog! Yup – that’s because, (for those who don’t already know – which is potentially very few, given these plans have been in the pipeline for over a year now!), we will be departing for a year long trip away. Woo-hoo! Hence the ‘farewell’ – but not until October 🙂

The decision to go away for a year was originally born out of a desire to do something and make a difference. It was at a time that we were kind of ‘waking up’ to the type of life we were living (as I explain in more detail here in our ‘Living Small’ article). I think we felt stuck and wanted to shake things off – do something positive. It seemed we could make more of a difference with our efforts in another country where life isn’t so gifted as here in Australia – so that the small offering we were able to make could be of bigger impact. Couple this with a wish to experience simpler cultures and Michael’s lifelong interest in the Himalaya, and suddenly the possible destinations became clearer. Our first thought was Pakistan (one of the villages in Kashmir actually). However, much to the relief of many family members, we decided we could probably reduce the safety risks and still meet our aspirations by going to Nepal instead. Did I mention that we are bringing our seven year old daughter with us? Then, with India so close by, it seemed a good idea to include it too – what an opportunity to see life in all it’s loud and colourful glory, as well as its despair. And we thought we would also take the opportunity to visit my mum who lives in the USA. So that became the plan.

Over the 14 months since the plan was initially hatched, it has seen some transformation. And I have to say I am sad for that in a way because the volunteering, which first set us on this path, had its spotlight shifted somewhat to also include opportunities for researching and seeing first-hand so many of the things we want to learn about – like intentional communities, tiny/small living and the myriad of different farming/growing techniques around. We still plan, as before, to volunteer in Nepal but we will also be using our time abroad to see the hotbed of activity going on in these areas. Don’t get me wrong, there is a bunch of stuff to see here in Oz too – its heartening to see just how much is happening. We plan to take some of it in as we drive up the East Coast to visit my dad on our way out! That said though, the more we look at what we want to learn – the more we realise we can do so in the countries we’ll be visiting. And so it shall be. In fact, Michael aptly likened this transition to a little quote that I not so long ago read, and consequently put up on our wall:

 

IMAG0830

 

It must be said that I have had some doubts cross my mind – like, it’s a really expensive thing to do – is it worth it? Would the money be better spent setting up our own place here? Or just donating it to someone else directly? Those are all valid questions, but in the end, it feels like this trip is just something we have to do – you know that feeling? You might not be able to rationalise it, or explain it enough for others to understand – but you know it is on your path. It seems this is a learning and life opportunity not to be missed for us. Its taking shape as a trip to inform and guide our future ambitions – I think these experiences will help us decide specifically what we want to pursue when we return.

As an aside, I have been struggling with what to call this ‘trip’ – largely because there are so many aspects to it – research, volunteering, sight seeing, family visits, mind expansion!. We have referred to it as a ‘holiday’, which just seemed a poor description really, given that it won’t be your average kind of holiday  and we aren’t planning to be typical tourists (although we are totally reserving the right to still do some touristy things that take our fancy!). We will however, be leaving behind daily life and sharing some wonderful experiences as a family, so I guess it’s a holiday in that respect. This ‘family’ aspect is a point I want to touch on and say that for us, bringing our daughter Emma to take part in the experiences is critical – it was another major reason for doing this trip. We want Emma to know that not everyone lives as we do, there are many ways to do things and that happiness is not equated with ‘stuff’. Having been lucky enough myself to briefly visit a few countries to see my dad when I was younger, I know just how much seeing these places affected me. There is nothing quite like seeing another culture for yourself. I remember it feeling, literally, like another world. For that, I am very grateful. What better way to open your mind, build understanding and tolerance and become a better person?

So if you have a more apt description for this adventure, perhaps you could suggest it in a comment below!

In the meantime, here is the itinerary as it currently stands:

  • October 2014: driving from Adelaide to Queensland’s sunshine coast – likely to be taking in some Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Sydney & Brisbane
  • November 2014: Staying in Qld – sunshine coast and its hinterland
  • December 2014 to February 2015: USA – visiting California, New York, Virginia & North Carolina (also train-tripping from the West to East Coast so potentially stopping along the way also)
  • March to May 2015: India – starting in the North West (Uttarakhand & Uttar Pradesh) then heading across to the North East (West Bengal)
  • June to November-ish 2015: Nepal – starting in Kathmandu then it’s open after that

We would like to put the word out about where we are going and hear what others think would be good to see/places to go/people to meet – if you have such wisdom, please let us know! If not, please spread this around in any relevant circles 🙂

Until then, as Michael would say, enjoy today!

Mel x IMAG0570