No Judgement

It has been a long time since I sat down to write this blog. About 9 months. I used to write in the evenings, when I had something that I thought should be shared. Something inspirational or worth reading. But then everything started to fall apart on me…

I had written a post about guerrilla gardening useful and edible trees in my local area. Then one of the trees I had planted was vandalized – in stealing the large stake (I can only imagine why), someone had snapped a sweet chestnut tree off it’s roots. Then another chestnut tree died in the drought, because I had neglected to water it. Then an apple tree simply disappeared into thin air……I had bought these trees with my own money, and I felt really sad. I felt silly for trying to be inspirational with an idea that had backfired.

In another blog post I wrote about a man who had been angry at me for cycling on the pavement outside his house. I was really proud of myself for talking to him and providing a space where we could both talk and be listened to. We were both knowingly in the wrong, in an effort to protect our children. I felt like I had connected with him….Then a few months later, he came yelling and screaming at me again. He is a big guy, and when he waves his arms around and jumps up and down and yells, he is really quite terrifying. I yelled back. It wasn’t a very inspired moment.

In another blog post, I had written about my quest in becoming a Permaculture teacher, and running introductory courses. In the last course I ran, my main feedback was that I didn’t have an inspirational venue which showed Permaculture in action. I realised that I had backed off my house and garden, because I had fallen out of love with my arsenic ridden, road side lawn. I want to move house again. I don’t want to apply more time and effort to a garden I can’t eat out of and don’t want to be in. There isn’t anywhere else in my local vicinity which would be a good venue for running courses, and I had been stubborn about not investing in a car. I decided to not book any more courses until I had a good venue. I decided to invest my time to working in non-Permaculture related fields, to save up so that I could move house. I consequently had even less inspirational material to write about.

Then I traveled home from a Permaculture Board meeting on a Sunday evening. I have to take a train from Leeds to Plymouth, and then a bus up from Plymouth to Tavistock. The Sunday evening buses had been canceled, and I had to pay Thirty pounds for a taxi. A few weeks later I bought my very first car.

By this time I felt like I would never have anything to write about on my blog ever again. Even if I did have something worthy of typing, I felt like it would be hypocritical to leave all of my previous posts online, and not fess up to the fact that I am now a car owning, money making, angry man yelling, failed guerrilla gardener, with a lawn full of arsenic. I can’t just pretend that all those stories had happy endings. I wish they did.

Then I remembered one of the first lessons that I learnt on my Permaculture course. No Judgement. When you go on a course, you are surrounded by people from all walks of life, who come to the course with a complete spectrum of experience and knowledge. Some people come to a course with more knowledge then the facilitator. They live off-grid and only eat homegrown food. They cycle to the course in their handmade clothes made from hemp which they grew themselves……other people come to the course having never used a compost heap, and living on a diet of 99% tescos microwave ready meals. But they come. They are there because they want to learn. They are accepted onto the course with open arms and there is absolutely no judgement what-so-ever.

Everybody is on their own journey and nobody is perfect. A Permaculture system is never perfect – it is always tweaking and evolving and searching for an equilibrium, but it is never stable and stagnant. In my last 9 months I have been busy. I have been working on myself. I have been doing lots of wonderful things and I am happy. However, when it came to writing my blog, I judged myself as not doing enough that was worthy of asking people to read about.

Now I am checking myself. I am learning to not judge myself. It is okay to not be perfect. Saving one plastic bag by carrying your own bags won’t save the world, but it is better then nothing. Every little action or in-action that respects the earth and all the creatures and people within it, is something that is worthy. Maybe not worthy of a blog post, but it’s still worthy.

I don’t live a perfect Permaculture lifestyle. I am a working progress. I think that’s the point.

Posted in Earth care, Fair Shares, People Care, Permaculture, philosophy, Tavistock, teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

My Eco-Angel

I  honestly feel like I have a little Eco-Angel watching over me!

I am nearly 30 years old, and I have managed my entire life without owning a car. There have been days when I have cycled home in torrential rain, and there have been times when I have nearly gotten frost bite on my nose! There have been nights when I have not felt entirely safe, but generally, I have managed. Even with a child, I have somehow managed (thanks to the trailer I have, which can take a surprising amount of children and groceries, and occasionally bricks). I have used other people’s cars, but I’ve never had my own.September 2012 188

However, I’ve got to be honest – I have really struggled since I moved to Tavistock in Devon. I can get around town pretty easily, but I can’t get to the climbing centre 7 miles out of town, because I usually find myself childless and wanting to go climbing in the evenings when it is dark, and the windy little national speed limit country road isn’t exactly inviting. Also, occasionally, it’s nice to get out of Tavistock at the weekends and go up on the moors, or to a Cornish beach. I live in a beautiful corner of Britain, and I love discovering it on my road bike, but I can’t travel so far with a 4-year-old in a trailer on the back. Public transport in Devon is not particularly helpful.

So I have ended up feeling a little isolated. I’ve been very reliant on other people giving me lifts, and I’ve felt a little stuck on a number of occasions. I told my family last week that I had reached breaking point. I wanted to buy a car!! I was willing to sacrifice my family renowned hippy status, and their jaws were on the floor!

AND THEN……My Eco-Guardian-Angel looked down on me (in the form of Kate Royston from Transition Tavistock), and emailed me. E-cocars, a Co-operative car club, were putting a car in Tavistock. Basically, you pay a £25 joining fee to be a part of the club, and then you can book the car online. You then pay per hour or daily, plus the miles that you drive. You have a swipe card, which figures everything out for you, and you get a monthly invoice. I would have signed up, if Kate hadn’t emailed me to tell me that they needed a caretaker for the car. In return for keeping the car checked and clean, and making sure the battery for the computer which logs everything doesn’t go flat, the caretaker gets to use the car for free….I said yes please!

So today we launched the new Tavistock Club Car. We have a delegated parking space in Bedford Square car park, and in the pouring rain, the Town Mayor came down to show her approval! It’s a nice little Seat Ibiza, and it’s perfect for the person who only needs a car, for a trip or two per week. Like me!car1What’s more, I’m bartering for the use of the car. I’m not getting paid, and I’m not paying. I caretake in exchange for use of the car. I’m really pleased to be supporting a really great initiative, and I’m benefitting immensely. I can still cycle everywhere to my heart’s content, but occasionally, like today, I can hop in the car, drive to the climbing centre on a cold dark miserable evening, climb for a few hours, drive back to Tavistock, and walk the 10 minutes back to my house. It’s not that close to my house, but if lots of people sign up and start using it, then they will be able to put a second club car in Tavistock, which will be more at my end of town. In Totnes, when you go online to book a car, there are a couple to choose from. It is more likely that one will be available when you need it, and they are parked in different locations, so you can choose the one that is closest to you. This is what Tavistock could be like in the future.

I thoroughly recommend that you look into this, if you think it could fit in with your life. Or if you could change your life to fit in with it…Or if not, recommend it to someone who you think it would work for. When you share a car, you are not only sharing all the costs of the car, but you are sharing the environmental costs too.

Sign up HERE!

Permaculture is about designing systems to be sustainable, but occasionally, parts of the design fall into our laps, and all we have to do is recognise them and say yes.

Posted in Bartering, car club, community, Low Impact living, Permaculture, Tavistock, transport, transtion towns | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Permaculture Introductory Course

Just a short one as I troll through my to-do list, while sat on a rail replacement (due to land-slip and excessive water) coach…..to say that I have changed the dates of my upcoming “Introduction to Permaculture Course”.

The course will be on the 16th and 17th of March 2013, in Tavistock.

Please click on “courses” for more information.

Posted in Permaculture, philosophy, Self Sufficiency, Tavistock, teaching | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Could You Survive the Next Truck Strike?

I was listening to a Radio 4 program the other week, about Mao Zedong, his Chinese dictatorship, and the famine which started in 1958. Very simply, in an effort to increase industrial production, Mao Zedong enforced the use of communal kitchens. Many peasants who had previously had their own kitchen gardens, and who had reared their own animals, were forced to eat at the communal kitchens. Private kitchens were abolished. When harvests failed, due to dramatic weather changes and a lack of farm labour, famine struck. Many millions of people died, and many millions more people died then would have, had they not lost their self reliance.

Listening to this reminded me of the various truck strikes that we have had in the UK, due to fuel prices, and the panic buying that has occurred because of them. It is when this happens, that we are all reminded of the supermarket’s 3 day stock supply. Supermarkets are generally 3 days away from being completely empty!

Growing our own food is becoming fashionable again, and as fuel prices and thus food prices continue to rise, even more people will be encouraged to take it up. However, the vast majority of people are still completely reliant, on their weekly supermarket food shop. They are reliant on food which is shipped in from the other side of the world.

The British apple harvest failed this year, and America’s corn harvest also failed. These are just 2 examples…..Although my lovely abundant slugs ate most things in my garden, there were other things that did really well. I’m not saying that my garden is a model permaculture garden at all, but the permaculture principle of having “multiple elements” in a system, is very much highlighted. Variety in crops give stability, because bad conditions for one species are good conditions for another. When one variety might fail, another variety might survive. Apple prices have been effected by the crop failure, but only slightly, because Britain imports so many apples. But what if we had an apple crop failure at the same time that fuel prices soared. What if we could not afford to import foreign apples, or any other foreign food?

failing apple blossom

Being reliant on supermarkets for food, feels the same to me, as being reliant on communal kitchens. I don’t trust the supermarkets to worry about feeding me – Their goal is to make profit, and feeding people is a by-product. Britain should be able to feed itself, but it needs a lot more people to return to growing.

With this in mind, I bought 2 fruit trees in the market – a hardy pear and a hardy apple. Both are self fertile. I identified an underused area of grass, that I felt could do with a couple of food bearing trees (between a housing estate and a road), and I planted them. I watered them with rotted nettle juice, and mulched them with wood chip, which I adopted from a church compost area from down the road. A couple of people asked me what I was doing, and I said that I felt that the area could do with some more fruit trees. They agreed.

I like to forage, so I consider my act of guerilla gardening, a small step towards providing a secure foraging future. If you live in Tavistock, please don’t tell the council it was me. Thanks.

Posted in community, Food, Foraging, Gardening, Permaculture, philosophy, Self Sufficiency, Tavistock, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Designing An Introduction to Permaculture Course

I vividly remember the first time someone told me I should be a teacher. I was 16, and I found myself helping tutor my friends with their maths homework. Then, when I was in my last year at University, my mentor offered me the opportunity to teach Geography 101 to the freshmen students.

After University, I found myself in the Jungle in the Baddula District of Sri Lanka, teaching at a primary school for 6 months. The principle and I split the kids into 2 groups, and split the room into 2 halves. Half way through the day we would swap sides. This is what we did every day except the day that a man got trampled by an elephant, and the whole school went to his funeral….

Since returning to England, I have been teaching rock climbing. It was an obvious calling for me. I actually designed my pathway to becoming a fully qualified Rock Climbing Instructor, as part of my Permaculture Diploma. It’s minimum wage and absolutely superb. Some days I teach 8 kids who walk in at 6pm, with a bottle of Mountain Dew in their hands. Other days I teach kids who communicate with head movements, and I use a special harness to support them up the wall. It is an incredibly rewarding job. Most days I am reminded of how different my University life would have been had I discovered rock climbing sooner. I would have drunk less, and probably studied less too!

I’ve been planning to teach an Introduction to Permaculture Course, since I moved to Tavistock in February. It’s been a goal of mine for a long time. I have taught many workshops and short sessions, and I have shadowed and supported two Introductory courses, and one Full Design Course. It was definitely time, and I felt very confident in my ability to share the material effectively.

I started designing my course in February 2012, and conversed with Transition Tavistock about it. I wanted to hold the course in Tavistock, and advertise heavily in Tavistock, so that it would be an opportunity for me to network, and settle into my community (Integrate rather than segregate). I planned to run the course in October, so that I could attend a teacher training course in August, and have plenty of time to apply everything I had learnt to my session plans before the course.

A friend mentioned the possibility of using the Friends Meeting House, in the centre of town, and when I contacted them, they said that I could rent the space for free/donation. This was great, because it meant I could keep my expenses down. Many courses at the moment are being cancelled due to low numbers, most likely a reflection on the state of the current economy. For this reason, I didn’t want to start forking out lots of money in advance. This was a boundary that I needed to work around throughout my course planning.

I wanted to have someone support me on the course, and I contacted a permaculture teacher who lives in Cornwall, Klaudia. She put me in touch with Matthew from Totnes, who had finished a Permaculture diploma, and was keen to shadow his first course. So I contacted him, and we used our need to meet as an opportunity to try our the new Riverford Restaurant in Plymouth. By this stage, I had registered myself as self-employed and this was the first receipt that I kept for tax exemption – It was very exciting! Matthew, a maths teacher, was lovely, and I felt very confident that we would bounce off each other in a teaching environment very well.

Read my full design report here….

Posted in Communication, Gardening, Low Impact living, Organic, Permaculture, philosophy, Tavistock, teaching, transtion towns | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Compost or Wine? How do you look at food past it’s prime?

“I’m a rubbish gardener”, is something I have said many times, but actually, I need to clarify: I am rubbish at growing annuals. I could be better. I just haven’t prioritized the time. I like foraging more, and if we are going to talk about minimum effort for maximum effect (One of David’s Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles – click here if you have no idea what I’m talking about) then foraging is by far the better permaculture route. No planting, no seed saving, no watering, no need to have a big garden, no slug hunting……just pure simple harvesting.

I don’t even know that much about foraging. I guess I know what a blackberry is, and I know how to pick and eat raw nettles without getting stung…..I know more than the average person, but I’m by no means an expert. What I have found over the last few years is that the more I forage, the more I become aware of things that I can forage for. Everyone has experienced meeting someone for the first time, and then bumping into them all the time. You were probably crossing paths before, but you weren’t aware of it. Once you start carrying bags with you just incase you find something to forage, and once you start looking around at what is growing along the path that you walk every day, you realise that there is natural wild food everywhere. You just need to look out for it.

My love of making jam came from having gluts of something or other. Originally it was blackberries, then it was apples. When you have a glut, you have to be creative. It makes sense to preserve it so that you can have it all year. I didn’t have a freezer back then, and I can’t imagine how devastating it would be, if the power cut out half way through the winter. It makes much more sense to preserve food in a way that doesn’t require energy. You need energy to get it preserved, obviously, but not to maintain it in that state.

Then someone gave me some demijohns, and then someone else gave me a recipe book for homemade wine, which is good because I really like wine…. It took me a while to actually commit to making some, which is a shame, because it is so easy. I’m not sure what I was worried about. It turns out that you can make wine out of most things. And even better for the person who doesn’t like waste, it’s good to make wine with food that is past it’s best, and verging on running to the compost bin by itself. Black bananas? Yeah! Mouldy carrots? Just peel ‘em. A few days ago I started a batch of well-past-their-best broad bean wine. Apparently, it is a very traditional country wine. Of course, I should point out, they were not my own home grown broad beans, but beans being thrown out by a local shop, because people tend not to buy the limp black ones. Lucky me!! I didn’t have enough for the batch, so I threw in some old apples too. Why not?!

Shop waste food ontop of my daughter, ready to make wine

Home made wine tastes fantastic, and is worth every ounce of love you put into making it. In permaculture systems thinking, I am taking an output waste (old broad beans that would have gone in the bin) and turning them into an input for my wine. I scavenge through my neighbours recycling bins to collect wine bottles, which is another output that I have turned into an input for my wine. I only buy British sugar, which means that I am financially supporting British farmers to produce and supply their own country, thereby increasing our countries ability to move towards self-reliance. I even heated my broad beans on my wood stove, because it is absolutely miserable outside, and winter is rolling in fast. So my wood stove had the multiple functions of heating my house and cooking my beans.

It’ll be 6 months until my Broad Bean Wine is ready to drink. I’ll let it ferment for about 6 weeks, and then I’ll transfer it into another bottle to get rid of most of the dead yeast. Then when it has cleared and looks like wine, I’ll syphon it into my neighbours old wine bottles, which I will sterilise first. In the mean time, I have a batch of Stinging Nettle Wine which is almost ready. Happy winter evenings by the fire with home-made wine, here we come!

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The Summer of Music and Slugs

As I’ve gradually come to terms with the fact that I have moved to one of the rainiest towns in Britain, on the rainiest year on record, the slugs have gradually worked their way though everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if I woke up one morning, to find that they had eaten my house too.

So I found a busker who needed a home, and I asked him if he’d like to live in mine, and look after the hens and weeds for me. I then journeyed to Lincolnshire, to participate in a Permaculture teacher training course at the Inkpot, with Hannah Thorogood, Aranya, Jan Mulreany and Peter Cow. My journey started out in Tavistock, with my backpack, my freecycle guitar, my purple “Mary Poppins” bag, and a piece of cardboard that said “Plymouth Please”. I had my thumb out for 10 minutes, before a friend drove by and picked me up. Easy! I got to the station and boarded my train, only to find out that I was on the wrong train, and my ticket was invalid. In a state of panic, and half way through a phone call to First Great Western to find out what my ticket was valid for, I got kicked off the train. As I stepped onto the platform and the train pulled away, I remembered my backpack in the luggage space…..The floods began.

So my journey continued with just my guitar and my purple bag. I sat in the customer service area of Exeter station, and played my way through my John Denver repertoire until my fingers hurt. The music gave me calm in the storm. 3 hours later, they could not locate my bag, so I got on a train to London to spend the night. Messages flying around facebook about a stranded traveller, secured me a bed at my cousin’s flat. When I showed up at midnight, she gave me everything I needed for my trip, down to a weeks worth of her knickers…

At 5am I sat in Kings Cross station. Waiting for my train, and playing Country Roads, I was aware of the pain in my fingers, but I was feeling emotionally delicate. I needed to keep playing and singing. I made it to Lincolnshire. It was too early in the morning to take the bus, so I walked with my thumb out, along a beautiful country road, with the early morning sun on my face, and I sang. A friend drove by and picked me up.

10 days of being taken care of by my permaculture family, and I finally located my backpack- It was in the Leeds lost property office. I hatched a plan for someone from the Permaculture offices in Leeds, to pick it up and bring it to the Permaculture Convergence in Wales, 2 weeks later.

I don’t remember the time between the 2 events. It feels like I went home to have a shower, and then magically found myself in the beautiful Welsh Coed Hills. My permaculture family were there with my back pack, and I had brought pickle and wine to thank those who had helped me. I kept my guitar close by, and through the intensity of the Convergence and the sessions I was facilitating and filming, I found myself gravitating to it in my brakes. It brought me back to some calmness.

It was the last night of the convergence and it was a Cabaret – The Permaculture Association’s version of an open mic night. Who cares if I only started playing guitar last Autumn? I thought. They’re all friends…..so in front of 250 people, I played and sung Country Roads. In reaction to my nerves, I kept my eyes closed for most of it, but when I opened them, I saw 250 people singing along with me at the top of their lungs, swaying their arms. I saw 2 lighters lit up in the air. The support and love that I felt from them was beautiful.

The country roads took me home, and I am finally back home in Tavistock with my daughter, my hens, my lodger and his cat, the slugs and the rain. It’s been a journey! I am ready to start learning from other song writers, but Country Roads will always be my theme tune. I feel that I now truly understand how music can maintain a person’s sanity.

This blog entry is about Zone 00. It’s about me, and how I have looked after my own well being through an incredibly intense few weeks. Permaculture is about sustainable systems, and I am a part of many systems. If I burn out, I fail to be a strong element in those systems. So, it is more important than anything else, that I look after myself. I remember how I almost left my guitar at home at the beginning of my journey, because I had too much to carry. But what did I really need to carry? When I strip it down, I didn’t even need my guitar. I just needed to sing for my sanity. I didn’t really need the possessions that I tried to carry with me, but I did need the love and support of those around me, which they gave me freely.

So thank you for the music. For my friends and my family. I feel like a very rich person.

Posted in Bartering, chickens, community, Guitar, Low Impact living, Music, People Care, Permaculture, permaculture convergence, philosophy, Self Sufficiency | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments