Uncategorized

STATES ahoy!

P1040970 small

 

By chance, rather than design, our flight from Brisbane to San Francisco went through Honolulu. Oooh, we’re going to Hawaii!
Well, not really, but we were scheduled for a 6 hour layover. Surely long enough to duck out and see something nearby. We went outside, circled the terminals several times in an effort to find a bus that went into town. Nothing was really working and apparently we were all tired grumpy So with that, the new plan was to just wait for our next flight. We were clearly incapable of making it happen in our current states, but I was still bitterly disappointed. Begrudgingly I joined the others back in the terminal – where we all promptly fell asleep.
Some time later we woke up and wondered out through a different door to find a little courtyard and garden – perfect for streching out and letting Em have a run around. After recharging in the fresh air and sunlight we strolled over to the domestic terminal. Strangely, I found the surrounds and decor much more kitsch than I expected. A 70’s looking facade of browns, oranges and carved wood, . The culture of Hawaii seemed also characatured – it was also this way elsewhere in the USA. I would have liked to stay and experience some tradition of the islands.
em hawaii 2
Upon the next plane, we headed for San Fran(cisco). Getting in late at night, we had summoned the forethought and investment to book a hotel room close by for the night. Boy, was that a good plan. We landed, stumbled upon the free airport shuttle bus (which arrived within minutes), ate at the 24 hour restaurant attached to the hotel then crashed into bed. While Michael and I woke up at a sprightly 7am, we had to wake Emma because she was getting close to missing our checkout deadline of 12 noon! 11 hours of sleep for a child that has never, ever, been a long sleeper = great start. Despite the rest, our stomachs were still in a strange place – thus our lovechild of a breakfast was born – pancakes and fried rice (eaten separately, not together – just so you know).
Fueled up and ready to go, we began the first – of what would be many – adventures in negotiating the local transit systems. A bus took us into town where we tried to find the first of our American food and outdoor gear. After all that, the sun was threatening to set so we got onto finding the next bus to our next destination – an Air bnb room that would be our home for a few days while we explored San Fran. We had successfully identified on our tourist map where to pick up the bus – but I have to say the walk there was unnerving, which crossed through a few different neighbourhoods of downtown San Fran. It wasn’t the homeless – although we did see lots of them and of course seeing others in such a predicament calls into question your own comfort. It was more the array of shifty looking characters just hanging around on the street with apparently nothing better to do. Anyway we made it, albeit edgy and irritable with each other, only to find when we jumped off we miss calculated the stop – we still had a long walk ahead of us. Much whining later from Emma, and maybe me – ok mostly me – we found our way to a charmingly quiet friendly neighbourhood and main street. We followed the air bnb host’s instructions and hey presto, the door unlocked – woop! We had a home 🙂
After failing to recognise the coloured tape system inside the strangely empty but partially lived in house, we relocated to what seemed the right room. It was with relief too – this one had a real bed, rather than one of those double blow up mattresses which suddenly turn into a catapult every time someone gets on or off. For the couple of days we were there, we didn’t see anybody. It felt awkward and wasn’t what we had expected. I think we pictured hanging out with some locals who could tell us about town and share dinners with. Neverthless, it was a lovely room, clean and well located for us to explore. We checked out the local main street – Clement street in Inner Richmond – which was healthily populated with Asian nationals, resulting in a wonderful selection of food and little supermarket offerings. However we skipped those for the first nights dinner – ironically had at a place specialising in dessert: sandwiches and chilli at the ‘Toy Boat Dessert Cafe’ – they were good. Then for some unknown reason we forewent dessert there and ended up with donuts from an asian bakery.
Having selected a rental nearby Golden Gate Park, (in another freak stroke of forethought), we walked on down, coming in from what felt like the back entrance on the northern side. We marvelled at a public park big enough to contain roads. Not only did they service cars and the local buses, but there were lanes for runners too – ha! We wondered through some manicured lawns to find the Koret Children’s Quarter playground and carousel.. The day we picked happened to be thanksgiving and so lots of families were out playing. The carousel however was closed, but Emma didn’t dwell on that for long – relishing the chance to hop on a playground full of kids. She meandered through some beach shaped climbing items, the expansive playground and concrete slide – Michael had a go too of course.
After another wonder down Clement Street yielded some yummy dahl ingredients, we cooked them back in the home kitchen and prepared ourselves to leave the next day. We used our last foggy morning to head downtown and explore the pier and ferry building areas, taking in a great walk and sights.
pier edited
collage san fran 1
 san fran  bridge
Next, we would pick up a rental care and take off on a road trip through Northern California to Oregon (and back again)…
Bye for now San Fran – see you again soon 🙂
Advertisements

Bris-vegas (also sometimes referred to as Brisbane)

family river boats

 

As I look back on this last period of time before we left Oz, I am struck by how little I wrote in the way of diary entries. In fact, this one pretty much sums it up:

Sunday November 23, 2014 – Words are sticky and elusive right now. Heavy and too energy consuming.

I think I was suffering ‘catch-up’ from all the new places and people we had met – taking it all in still. That, and we were in a comfortable safe place to do so: spending our last few days in lovely Brisbane with Mum W, who flew all the way up from Adelaide to spend some more time with us before we left. Naw!

So here is a brief little ditty on our last days in Oz….

Started the week off by meeting Mum W – aka, Grandma – in Maleny. Some lunch and a mozy in the area was followed by a tour back at Crystal Waters. It was great to show just where we had been, what we had been doing and who with (sometimes it can all feel a bit surreal, doing things like this away from those you would normally share it with).

collage grandma arrives

 

After meeting and greeting with our hosts, Max & Trudi, we said our final goodbyes and headed down to Brissy town. While we were sad to leave a place we had settled so comfortably into, I think we all got a little bit excited seeing a big city again.

collage mic em apartment view

 

Not to mention the apartment we were lucky enough to stay in – lovely, and just a stroll away from the city centre. Turns out, it was New York-themed. How very appropriate to have a preview of the real thing we’d be seeing so soon.

collage brissy NY apartment

 

We spent the next few days relaxing and exploring around town. If Australian cities are your thing, or will be part of your next travel itinerary, Brissy is worth your time. It has a different vibe to Sydney or Melbourne – more relaxed and easy going (with better weather too – I reckon). As an Adelaidean, and Queenslander by birth, I think of Brisbane fondly – like a big sister to Adelaide. She is warm and fun, casual but cool. The usual city stuff like shopping, eating, museums, galleries, shows and social spots are all present and accounted for, in lovely sprawling landscaped style. Perfect for strolling – South Bank being a good example. I took the footbridge over there and admired the new ‘Brisbane’ installation.

brisbane sign

 

We also checked out the well stocked Queen Street Mall; a green and bustling Botanic Garden and playground, plus the three floor cushy and comfortable Brisbane Square Library.

brissy mall nightbrissy botanic peace garden brissy peace garden brissy playground library market

Interestingly, I took one door into the library and when I came out the other side, this second hand market had popped up in the square!

 

We also saw the first, of many on our trip, city bike rental scheme – nice!

collage city cycle 2 collage rental bike

 

I love the playful, colourful nature of Brisbane – they even give their electrical boxes the community artist treatment:

collage Brissy Painted Boxes

 

Of course, everyone loves a pool so we made good use of that – and the chance to chill out in our room.

collage brissy pool brissy office apartment room

 

Pop-quiz – name one of the bonuses of being with family when travelling.

Having someone to take photos of all three of us? Yes!

What’s another?

Date night – yes! Woo! And in some far off location from home – double woo!

Thanks to Grandma, Michael and I got to wonder the city in search of dinner and sights…

brissy sky bridge 1

 

brissy sculpture fox man

collage mic climb wall brissyAfter Michael got his fix of climbing for the day, we found our way to China Town down in the valley (Fortitude Valley), and had what was the top contender for ‘best meal we’ve ever stumbled across’Red Lotus offered Vietnamese dishes through the most outstanding example of an Asian, or any, menu I’ve seen – gorgeous delicious photos and fun descriptions, elaborate enough to really inform a Western audience. Some dishes even had their own story – like Duck Doggy Style. Yes that’s right, and we ordered it too. What? They’re just referring to duck cooked in the traditional way of dog meat – what did you think they meant?…..

Reading the menu became a fun activity all of it’s own!

By the way, I thought I didn’t like duck.

I was wrong.

So, so wrong….

collage date night 2

 

We wrapped up our last afternoon with a lovely meal up high in the middle of Queen Street Mall – at the recently reopened outdoor ‘Jimmy’s on the Mall‘.

em grandma mall dinner

 

 

brissy puzzle

On the day of departure, we completed a puzzle – both for fun and to check where we were going. Then, inevitably, it was time to pack up and ship out.  That was quickly followed by me upgrading our travel insurance in a flurry of last minute panic – if that’s not a window into my default nature I don’t know what is.

I love how laughable I am sometimes….

We checked out and made our way to the airport – having planned our flights out of the country and Grandma’s back to Adelaide within short timing of each other. But they were, of course, in different terminals – quite a foreign concept for us Adelaideans, where the air traffic fits happily in just one. So we negotiated the terminals and their connecting bus – complete with a bewildered driver who couldn’t seem to wrap his head around us paying to use the service – apparently it’s normally used by those with a free pass from Virgin Airlines. And so after the confusion cleared and all parties had checked in, there was precious little time to sit before Grandma departed.

farewell em grandma

 

I have to say, it was really nice to be able to say goodbye to Mum W before departing the country for a year. How grateful we were for that, and having had an opportunity for time together beforehand.

We continued back to the international terminal, via the same bewildered driver, and prepped ourselves to leave Australia behind……..

to the plane

 

So long – we’ll be seein’ ya!

xxx

 

A Story Shared

a sunday walk
Every sunday at Crystal Waters Eco Village Peter Van, and anybody wishing to join him, does a walk. It started off as showing a few of the newer locals around, getting to know the land. He still does the same today but with more followers, and to more places. I joined the walk today in a not too far away patch of nameless national forest.
It was beautiful bush/forest with a surprising water hole at the end. Being from South Australia (driest state in the driest country for the more foreign among you), It looked perfectly full and flowing, but the locals assured me it was very low and dry (perspective is all relative you see..). Not to make too light of the situation though – they really are in their worst drought for a long time. And much to my surprise many of the locals had come prepared with bathers, or failing that, just underpants. One by one, many jumped or shuffled in. The sight of an apprehensive young man climbing the bank only to let go and launch himself in was so much fun, the locals clapping and cheering for the feat.
waterhole jump
We walked and talked, stopping often to marvel at something unseen or a new tree in flower. I stopped to touch a magnificent log that had been abandoned long ago – left to be shrouded in it’s green moss and plant life, carpety soft to touch. Amongst it all I met lots of new village locals. I happily chatted and listened on all manner of things including the plants, travelling, religion, the environment, politics, the local birds and their calls.
moss log
I loved the way that nature was part and parcel of normal conversation. It’s something I have noticed amongst lots of people living here – they are inherently observant of nature. They are in it, they see it, they live it – for some it’s not necessarily by intention either, but just by being immersed in it they naturally absorb it (indeed that’s the best way to learn, is it not?). So these people know things like when plants are (are should be) in flower and what weather is coming and thus how it relates to them. The cycles of nature are therefore more naturally noticed, accounted for and integrated (or used to mould) their lives. By living the way they do, it simply becomes part of their everyday. Amazing how little effort it takes to connect to important things if the lifestyle is set up to do so in the first place.
One of the couples I met, Peter & Lizzie, invited me back to their house for a cuppa and to see some of the things they were doing there. I first pegged Peter as an interesting character when he made a reference to there being “too many hippies” in the early stages of Crystal Waters. It struck me that not only does he not identify with hippies but actively dissociates himself from them, contrary to what most might expect of someone living in the village.
It’s so interesting to observe the lifecycle of my own impressions – I came with ,unconsciously, preconceived notions about what people were like, I met them and it changed. And then find myself in some of those wonderful conversations – where and how they came to be unfolds in front of me – changing my impression of them yet again. Humans are intricate creatures I think. Seems Shrek (yes, kid movie reference) was right – we are layered like onions. I love seeing those layers shed and getting to know more about who people are and where they are coming from.
This meeting was no exception, we had a lovely chat about lots of things. We talked about the walk, and the village, the birds that come to feed on their front verandah and how we all came to be here. Lizzie, it turns out is a great storyteller and very entertaining. I listened avidly while she recounted the story of her and Peter.
First loves, they soon separated when Lizzie went off to the Navy to become a nurse. She apparently had loads of fun and forgot all about poor Peter at home. They grew into life, as people do – they moved on, married others and had children. Eventually both divorced and got on with life as singles, happily. Then a magazine ad caught the eye of Lizzie – an advert for the new “friends untied” website. Before the days of Facebook, it helped people locate old friends based on which school they went to. Lizzie found loads of her old friends. Apparently she had always felt bad about the way she treated Peter and wished to apologise to him. Thinking this might be her chance, she looked him up to see if he was doing ok. She found him divorced with grown up children and living alone in this permaculture village he helped to create. She took her chance to apologise and wrote him the letter that was always in the back of her mind. Not looking for anything more, and having finally got her life to herself in a place she was enjoying, it came as a shock when, within three days of that letter and talking to Peter, it was clear they were meant to be together again. What to do? Lizzie was in England, Peter in Australia. Come and see this place Peter said, but Lizzie had just spent all her savings on fixing up a the roof for her house – it seemed improbable at the least. Except for the phone call from the local newsagent that came not long after – “come around, we have something to show you”. It was a little competition that Lizzie had won first prize in – 1000 pounds. Woo! Guess how much the fare to Australia was? 950 pounds. And the taxi cab to the airport? 50 pounds. The parting of the red seas, as Lizzie described it, set her forth to Australia where she stayed for 3 weeks. When she returned she called in through the real estate agent to put her house on the market – she sold it the very next day. Signs, what signs? I don’t see any signs – just this giant cloud of something called serendipity.
That was 12 years ago – she’s been here all that time. She accepted the fact that she was obviously meant to go off and have those experiences in-between. Including the two less than perfect marriages, which seemingly woke her up to something. When she was young, in her teens, she just expected to bat an eyelid for men to fall at her feet, as they evidently did. The clincher though was this: she expected them to all love her the way Peter did. He adored her, and clearly still does – given his currently misty eyes and temporary cessation of joking. Over her life she learnt to appreciate the love he had given her, and then return to it. How wonderful to come full circle in that opportunity.
The unsolicited telling of this love story was quite apt given that earlier out on the walk I had surreptisiously taken photos of this couple because they were just so gorgeous – walking up the track hand-in-hand.
peter and lizzie
Lizzie then made something else clear that I had not yet realised – unlike many people, she hadn’t come for the environment, or any other similar reasoning – it was for love. So what an interesting perspective to therefore have on crystal waters and life here. She told me about some of the lively times she had when first here, meeting the wildlife. A self-confessed townie, she once called her daughter across town to come and remove a rather small frog that had perched itself upon her front step. To see her sitting comfortably in one of the most creature inhabited settlements I’ve ever visited tells me she has gone though some serious learning and adjustment.
It’s true she says, and one such ‘learning experience’ came when having a quiet day at home. Peter was off at work so Lizzie went for a rest on the swing chair. She awoke to find a black snake curled up on her hip – also asleep. Following advice to stay still until it moved on, she stayed as still as she could – all except for her toes which would not stop channeling her inner terror in the form of trembling. Apparently it was enough to wake the snake and attract its attention. As it headed feet-ward she thought that’s it, i’m going to die – via a black venomous snake. After an acceptance that there was nothing else she could do, a wave of beautiful peace washed over her. In the end the snake escaped up a tree, revealing its  tell-tale non-venemous coloured belly. A black tree snake, no harm at all! Relief and profanities propelled her back to the house before realising the washing was still out and needed collecting. So she ran up again and jumped down to the platform only to awaken another sleeping snake – this time it really was a venomous black snake. It awoke with such a fright it shot up into the air and vanished. It was so quick she had no idea where it went. Naturally she checked down her pants, just to make sure.
Well, you can imagine just how much my mouth hurt by now from smiling and laughing – it was wonderful. I loved chatting and listening. And seeing around their lot, where more passion obviously lies in things like Peter’s ‘eco-ponics’ (think aquaponics meets hydroponics) and ‘fruit jungle’ (the rambling fruit-filled food forest surrounding their house).
I really felt uplifted and enriched for having spent time there – when I returned home I found it hard to convey just how great it had been and why. Not because it wasn’t, but rather because it was something more than just a cuppa and chat which, I couldn’t explain. Later, I pondered what it was. I still can’t say for sure but one thing did flash in my mind: Stories. It was the stories.
I’ve come to realise I just love listening to other people’s stories. But only when they are genuine or passionate – they have a different energy about them. It is only the real feelings which evoke a response. What a privilege it is to witness people reconnect with the joy, excitement or fear of events that shaped them and linger in their memory.
But there was more to it as well, more than just the story. It was the sharing of the story. My mind repeated: “a story shared”.  Ah – now I understood – it took me back to a passage in a book I had read (and quoted in a previous post too – ‘my year without matches’ by Claire Dunn). This is how Claire described it:
“That’s why this (sharing our story) is important, I realise. Kept to ourselves, a story is too fragile, liable to whither or blow away. The story is not truly lived until told. It’s only through the telling that the story can mature, can ripen and claim a life larger than its own – a gift for others.”
I think she was right – I certainly experienced it as a gift. Perhaps it is like the breath of life to a fading ember – reigniting an energy, emotion or experience within our own minds. And to bear witness to the story of others broadens our understanding of them, and humanity as a whole.
And so, what would appear outwardly as a cuppa and chat with strangers, left me feeling more whole and inspired than before. This is where I will finish – despite all the other intriguing tid bits and tangents i’m tempted to wander through. What I will say though, is how grateful I am to witness more and more of these types of people who are open, welcoming, willing to share, very generous and with a view broader than their own interests. Thank you for all those things. And thank you, for a story shared.
trees

 

The Famunity

famunity gum tree
You may have noticed I’ve been quiet for a while. True to my battle with doing things in an orderly fashion, I have been holding off writing anything until I finish the next item in line (chronologically speaking) – a little intentional community in Qld.
Trying to do it justice has been stifling my ability to do anything at all – ironic isn’t it? Some related advice came my way from the book I’m reading, Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon. “The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom”. I think that’s pretty true – do you know that paralysing sensation of being overwhelmed when you are free to do anything? Suddenly swimming in a sea of possibility, there are so many options it is impossible to choose. Just something is needed to provide a starting point, hence the necessity for a constraint. It provides the framework for choosing a path, and the impetus to start walking.
That’s where I am today – having held off for so long, there is now an entire highway of ideas and happenings backed up behind me. So I’m chalking it up to another learning experience and moving on – let’s pick a path and  start walking….
Our couch surfing hosts in Mullum were overflowing with good suggestions, including the one to stop on our way out and visit ‘The Famunity’. After several failed attempts at comprehending the language they were speaking, further explanation ensued. The name, it turned out, was a combination of ‘family’ and ‘community’. Ah – yes, that made sense, and also highlighted some key points of their vision. Benny & Sophia were kind enough to put us in contact with the Famunity and they gave us the ok to come for a look-see.
The Famunity sits just North of the NSW border in the Gold Coast hinterland – on a property which appears no different to its neighbours, save the small whimsical cow on the front gate. We met with Andrea, Danielle, Mel & Linda who were all generous in sharing their experiences and showing us around. One of my first questions was going to be “why here?” but it became redundant as soon as I walked through the house and caught sight of the view – panoramic vision of their land with beautifully interesting topography melding into the adjacent national park – you would think you were a million miles from anywhere. It’s a shame my photos don’t do it complete justice.
the famunity view 1
As the name suggests, one of their foundations is operating as an extended family – what they consider to be true “community”, as opposed to ‘multiple occupancy’ (or co-living, or a village). This distinction was something I wouldn’t appreciate until down the track – becoming clear with the differences at the next place we visited – Crystal Waters Permaculture Village. It was obvious once we knew – they even state it in their name – ‘village’, not ‘community’. While to some it may just be semantics, to me it raises an interesting difference of intention. I and many others assume they are the same thing – which is no surprise really, given the general concept of ‘intentional communities’ isn’t on the radar for your average person, let alone the intricacies. In the beginning, I was expecting all intentional communities & villages to have everyone interacting on a very personal level, which isn’t necessarily the case. For example, in Crystal Waters the people live together on 250 acres of bush but within their own allocated block of land, and choose the degree to which they participate in group activities or business. By contrast, Famunity members live more communally in many facets of life – residing more closely and/or sharing living spaces, actively contributing to common areas and workload plus the formalised communications which all members are expected to participate in.
the famunity view 2 and green house
I want to explore the Famunity’s communication model a little more because it seems a key element of good cohesion. It starts with a pledge the existing group has come up with and committed to. Printed and visible on the wall, it acts as a reminder (not unlike the vision or value statement of a business, don’t you think?) as well as a clear guide to any person wishing to become a new member. In a similar vein to the probationary period for a new employee, if the person decides they want to join, they start a three month trial set out for newbies to make sure it works for everyone. The importance of the pledge of values and conduct is substantial and reiterates another consistent lesson: be clear in what you are about, and set expectations.
the famunity mic andrea walk
The parallels with business surprised me, but they probably shouldn’t have. Like any organisation, (be it a business, project, non-profit, sporting team or whatever) they work best when there are some good policies, practices and communication in place. After the initial set up, I suspect the hard work lies in maintaining it, or rather maintaining the relationships.
This is where I think The Famunity impressed me most – their approach to communication, in aid of those relationships. When we spoke, members were meeting together three times a week – once to talk business & organisational type stuff, once to check in with how everyone was feeling on a personal level and once to do an activity purely for fun – building and maintaining those bonds. I was really taken by that model, clever to formally address all those aspects on a regular basis. And clever to do it separately, minimising the risk of getting it all mixed up in a giant jumble of heartache & urgency that doesn’t go anywhere (I think it’s much easier to hold your tongue if you know you have a guaranteed opportunity to get it off your chest later in the week – or if, in fact, it is irrelevant to the particular meeting at hand).
the famunity pond and gumtree ducks
I’ll take the liberty of assuming a process in tackling a fun activity is pretty straight forward, and there is plenty out there about facilitating a productive business meeting. What may be less common knowledge is their technique in keeping everyone open and settled on a personal level. They call the meeting ‘heart circle’ – from what I can tell it is like a general speaking/listening circle. You may be familiar with the idea if you have ever had the fortune to experience one (I have – just the once but it was a revelatory example in how we can communicate and be heard).
Picture people coming together in a circle, encouraged to share whatever is on their mind. The key is it must be about them and how they are feeling, rather than pointing the finger or complaining about somebody else & their conduct. It’s a bit reminiscent of passive vs aggressive language use – passive communication can follow a pattern like ‘when X happened, it made me feel Y’. There’s more to it but let’s just say it’s about releasing your perspective, not blaming others. In the circle I took part in, a ‘talking stick’ was used – some item placed inside the circle that one must pick up in order to speak. While they have it, they are the only person to be speaking and others listen. When they feel they are finished, it goes back in the centre and somebody else can have a say. How much detail one goes into during their turn and the degree to which boundaries are pushed is something I guess you get a feel for. And with the aid of someone acting as facilitator to guide things back on track when they go astray, which I would imagine is very likely if members aren’t accustomed to talking in this way. It did, as you might think, feel pretty funny to start with but soon became familiar.
the famunity duck pond
The Famunity is a community wishing to embrace children & families, and raise them in a largely self-reliant environment. Encourganing things like home-schooling together where all members are expected to take a turn in contributing to this communal education. Building on the close-knit design is a conscious effort to also actively engage in the wider community. For example, there are plans to start a playgroup in the nearest town. This and other interaction helps to alleviate some of the alienation that can occur when people haven’t knowledge or connection with something like an intentional community. Fear and apprehension can often follow. As one of the members Danielle said, the more you build relationships (with external community), the less freaky it seems. She also recounted a story of someone speaking their mind freely in her presence without realising she lived there – it was a good opportunity to start the conversation about what actually happens. And so she did, telling the more-boring-than-expected truth – people living together – just doing more activities together, and do they want to rely less on the government? Yes – ok cool. Presto – it’s not that foreign anymore – a bit of “community immunity” as they put it (love that term, by the way).
Danielle’s own story seemed somewhat of a bridge – an average family living in mainstream society but with a long held wish for community (20 years in fact). They got all geared up to travel and find a place, then ended up just a half hour from where they started! While they may have wished for more travel, it appears to have been a joy to find a place they feel home in. For them, as with others others, showing people is powerful. They had talked about the idea for a long time, and met with their fair share of fear and apprehension. Now that they have done it and have something tangible to show people, everyone wants to visit!
the famunity mic emma view
I set out to say a lot more, but for now I will just add that we have much gratitude for this and all the other wonderful stories we heard from the members that day. Indeed I felt spoilt because this was our first ‘intentional community’ visit and what an inspiring example. There were lots of aspects I found interesting, and many I would like to see in our own future community like growing food, structured communication/interaction and a drive to increase self-reliance.
the famunity garlic swale
the famunity banana swale 2
the famunity veg swale
Lastly, while I’m no expert on intentional communities, what I have picked up leads me to say this: communities are like people – they each have their own personality. Even when you find the common threads between them in their goals, philosophy or governance, chances are the who, how, why or when will differ – like similar flavours used to blend a different & unique dish. So regardless of what your favourite people, food or communities are like, it’s good to get out there and meet/eat/see new ones!
If you are interested in knowing more about the Famunity they hold regular ‘open gate’ days where you can come camp overnight and get to know the place and people. You can contact them on their Facebook page here.
the famunity strawberries

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

Melbourne-town

melbourne rain

 

Our next stop was Melbourne (or Mel-bin if your aussie, as someone recently depicted our pronunciation). After realising last minute, that we have family there, Michael put a call in to his cousin to see if they might have us for a few days. They very kindly said yes. It was wonderful to get to know them better, sharing dinners and impromptu conversations, as well as the everyday house and family-rearing duties (they have three young girls – a total of four girls in the house made for lots of fun, noise and antics!). Emma even got to spend a morning in school with one of her cousins, which she was most chuffed about.

It’s a real priviledge to be able to step back and see how another family does things. So thank you very much to the Braun clan! It was one of those unplanned experiences that turned out to be really enriching.

 

mic and the braun girls - melbourne

 

 

Our first Mel-bin destination was The School of Life. As you might have seen, I jumped the gun on this one chronologically and posted it a few days ago. It was a fantastic place, doing fantastic things – if you missed the post you can see it here. I highly recommend taking a squiz at their site. It felt really great to be in the city – pity we didn’t have more time to just explore. We did have time to squeeze in a quick visit to a little shop around the corner though – a place doing Japanese soups and salads, but with organic ingredients. It was really heartening to see what seemed to be a trend (we saw it at this place, an indian restaurant and bakery in the space of a day) – your usual kind of establishments doing a typical menu, but using organic (or in some cases bio-dynamic) as standard. In fact, while I was pfaffing around at home getting ready to go to the city, Michael wandered down the street and found an awesome organic grocer! As it turned out, Chris at Green Onions ended up supplying us with more than just fruit and veg – but i’ll get to that in our next post… Meanwhile, check out Michael’s description of Green Onions organic grocer  here.

 

green onions front window

 

By the way, we have decided to list the cool places we visit in a kind of quasi-directory/review list – under “Good Stuff” on our menu. So have a look 🙂

The following day we got off to a cracking start – out of the house by 7am! Our mission was to visit a little organic bakery mic had found for breakfast, followed by the Ceres Environment Park.

The bakery, called Loafer Bread, was pretty darn cute – they even had their own delivery bike!

 

P1030337

 

More impressive though, was their menu and the ingredients they used. Not only did they use organic where possible, they also only sourced meat from farms they had some kind of direct contact and trust with – Andrea (the owner) ordering from the farmers themselves, who delight in updating her on how the season is going and what she might expect from their product. Now that’s knowing where your food is coming from! And Bio-dynamic milk was used as standard in every coffee – great to see products farming with ‘beyond organic’ methods becoming more common (the whole organic VS bio-dynamics VS every other method out there debate is something we’ll likely look at down the track. In the  meantime, I encourage you to do your own learning – find out how your food is grown!). While Andrea described it as more difficult to balance the extra cost of doing things that way, the customers and relationships built with them made it possible. Indeed it’s that ‘people’ aspect which seems to drive the businesses/projects/people we have spoken to so far, to forge ahead through challenge and make things work. So, in addition to our native Home Grain Bakery, we have added this to our mental list of great bakeries to patron. You can see more about loafer on our ‘good stuff’ page here (once written!).

 

collage loafer bread 1

After filling up on Loafer’s delightful breakfast menu (including house-made granola, bircher muesli and stewed rhubarb), and taking some more traditional bakery items with us for later, we headed to Ceres.

P1030389 v2

 

The title Ceres Environment Park is another all-encompassing label to try and bundle in many sorts of awesome initiatives happening out of the one place. In this case, Ceres is an educational hub set on 4 acres of rehabilitated land – a former rubbish dump which has been resurrected to host community and market gardens, children’s playspace, a village green, organic market, cafe, nursery and numerous educational spaces (a global village and teaching centre, an alternative energy demonstration park and areas for local classes & workshops). There’s a lot going on! Read about it on their site here.

collage ceres 1

 

They are also kicking off a ‘fair food’ movement, encouraging people to get to know the source of their food and their farmers, cemented by their supply of organic fruit and veg in a ‘seasonal food box’ type of offering – details here.

 

P1030609 fair food

It seemed the history and creation of Ceres reflected a down time in the area and community, which highlighted a common equation I’m seeing:

community need exists + some imperative or crisis = grassroots action activated

then, if a dedicated group of local volunteers exists you get continued action + word of mouth = organic growth

add partnering with other groups, grants or networks = more growth and impact in the community

 

What happens after this, isn’t so clear to me thus far – but extremely important. I’m keen to see how the momentum and health of an initiative is maintained. Hopefully that too, will reveal itself.

Mel xx

P103042 em ceres play

 

Funny Emma Quote #2

Loch Ard, Great Ocean Road, Victoria

After we pulled into a lookout and were suddenly confronted with a mass car park I announced “Ah, there are the hoards”, to which Emma replied “Are these the tourists?”. Yes dear, these are the ‘tourists’ you have heard about – but guess what, now so are we…

P1030158