farm

Portlandia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wattlebees in front of roly poly tiny house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mission street 1 donutsOk. Will do.

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

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

collage rebuilding centre 1

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

collage rebuild centre 2 collage rebuild cenytre community legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mel xx

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WWOOF WWOOF – the first foray


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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

collage Sat Chit Ananda trees

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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