Steiner Camp

April 4th– 8th 2016

Returning to Awhi Farm after the renovation meant I was just in time for hosting a school group: a Steiner School group. It was really interesting to see the contrast between the mainstream public school system I was in and the Steiner model (link to the NZ Steiner Federation).

School camps are nothing new to me. In fact, nine months of my life in 2001 was devoted to nothing but school camps. So please forgive me if I don’t get over-excited about how much fun the kids had. Rest assured that once upon a time I did get all the warm fuzzies that one gets seeing happy kids enjoying their time away from home.

I say ‘kids’ but this lot were actually around fourteen. The thing that struck me most about the week is that they were actually not the awful group of pains in the ass that adults have grown to expect of such a group. No. They were in fact, quite good kids. They were well-balanced and thoughtful. Imagine that! Thoughtful teenagers!

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the Steiner system of things, but from what I gather, there are two very important factors in the approach: 1) whole process learning and 2) progress as the child is ready for it. See the Steiner link above if you’d like to learn more. Watching this happen was quite a treat. The kids engaged so much in the tasks (… at least on the FIRST day) and the teachers were skilled at finding teaching moments in seemingly insignificant things. Everything was linked back to where it came from and how. They were divided into three stations.

The first was making and repairing various hand tools. A permaculture property tries to minimise consumption of energy/fuels by utilising hand tools where possible. This means some fairly harsh punishment of said tools. These kids got schooled on everything from setting up a covered outdoor workshop to making a blacksmith’s fire pit to working the metal and finally joining handles using traditional woodworking and blacksmithing techniques. I learned a lot from this station too. If I ever have to fix a hand tool, I guarantee it will be fixed a whole lot better than it would have before I was introduced to Mr. Lawry. And whenever I need to sharpen a knife, my new knife sharpener will make short work of it, thanks to Bryan Innes.

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Mr. Lawry’s outdoor classroom/workshop/happy place

Station number two was also courtesy of Bryan. Thankfully, my woeful roofing skills got a boost here as well as eco insulation. At Awhi Farm, there are a number of earth ovens. The one out at the market is a very large one, capable of making around 50 loaves of bread in one baking. This oven had been exposed to the elements for far too long and the earthen materials were beginning to suffer. The next stage of construction was finally able to be undertaken now that the labour force and knowledge to get it done had converged on the place at the same time. Task number one was to put a decent roof over its head. If left to me, it would’ve been a case of slap up some sort of rickety shack, but luckily Bryan (one of NZ’s leading experts in many things permaculture), the school’s woodwork teacher and the school’s bus driver brought a little more skill to the party. The kids brought loads of youthful enthusiasm and grunt. The end result was a strong and aesthetically pleasing structure that now keeps it dry.

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Bryan directs the roof construction efforts

Throughout the building of the roof, cobwebs were blown out and the fires were once again set alight. The object of the game was to drive out the moisture that had already permeated the structure. Once this was done, we set to work layering on a mixture of partly ground pumice, lime and cement. This layer was to be an insulation layer over the current biomass layer which also contained clay. This inside layer is to absorb and radiate the heat back into the oven, while the new layer is to prevent that heat radiating away from the oven. A final sealant layer of plaster is yet to be added and is (obviously) to seal it and keep moisture from invading the oven in future.

Bryan also ran us through the construction history of the partially completed Earth Dome. With its construction techniques founded in a fusion of earth building and the Unfinished Cathedral of Barcelona, it’s a truly unique structure. When it is finished with all its layers and gardens, it ill be a truly magnificent structure. One to watch for sure.

The third was gardening and what those kids were able to acheive in a short time was phenomenal. here is a before and after of one patch (the “lover’s patch”) at an interval of only two hours. Nice work!

While my return to Awhi turned out to be more short-lived that expected, it was a great experience. It allowed so many opportunities to learn from people with such varied and practical skills. Many new friendships were formed and business relationships made. Leads emerged for potential future travels and I gained a new reverence for teamwork through watching how well the kids worked together. To top it off, I also found a ukulele tutor in amongst the mix. One of the kids was practically glued to his ukulele (apparently gifted to him by the school’s music teacher because he loved it so much and showed such promise). He proved to be a top bloke and taught me a few of his tricks to get me off the ground with my little ukulele.

After the camp, we cracked on with our previous works. You may recall our exploits in creating the new solar shower block (link to Paradise Found?). The frame had taken shape a little more since I left and we carried on with that now. I applied some of my newly-learned roofing skills and whacked up a (somewhat less pretty, but solid) roof according to head architect Jannes’ well-laid plans… augmented slightly by Bryan. In the end, I can honestly say that it is a roof.

Alas, it was time to move on. On balance, although I am eventually planning to head north to the Whangarei area, I felt it would be a mistake to miss a visit to the hippie epicentre of the Tasman district on the South Island. So that’s where the rig, the dogs and I headed. Onward to Motueka!

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