Tag: permaculture

Semi-Settled

Semi-Settled

“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.”
― Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy

21st September, 2019

No. I’m not dead. Nor have I abandoned this blog. I have however, been very busy. Still in my pursuit of freedom. Now established in a kind of semi-settlement, I thought it was time to share the next chapter in the journey.

This blog started on 7th January, 2016 with me arriving back in New Zealand after several years away. I’d decided to act on my desire to free myself from dependence on the generally established order tying me to endless labour. To free myself from the cycle of working to live and living to work.

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Way back when… still unwinding from years of living away and the trauma of working in an animal shelter too long. Recovering from caring too much out near East Cape.

“I got more and more interested in these people who were downsizing their lives in order to create a lifestyle of independence and abundance. By decreasing their possessions and taking responsibility for their own needs they were lessening their dependence on the very system that enslaves so many of us to our money and debt.”

Nearly four years on, I’ve travelled some of the last corners of New Zealand that had escaped my experience so far. I’ve explored in a way that few others have and got to know the place and its people in a whole new light. Caravan life was interesting in itself, but was also training for a far more extreme downsize to “executive hobo” life in a peculiar coffin on wheels. My dogs and I walked nearly 4,000km in a meandering tour of our cities and remote rural hideaways.

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The Longest Walk NZ took me to places I never would have guessed and was a truly unique exprerience

There have been ups and downs, challenges and blessings. I met people who share my vision (link to TLW Hoki (or end?)) for a future and ended up being allowed to join in theirs.

It’s been a loosely guided safari through which I have learned to embrace uncertainty. Rigidity was holding me back. As were many limiting beliefs about my potential and ability. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with estranged family and made new friends with different perspectives. They have helped me analyse where I can trim away things I don’t need and how I can leverage those things I have to create a lifestyle of abundant independence.

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Met Hone in Kohukohu (my Grandad’s home town). He’d abandoned living for work and decided to just float on the breeze with nothing but a backpack. He’d been at it for ages by the time I met him and lived a life less ordinary

In the process I saw my bank account dwindle to as close to zero as it has ever been. Not once, but twice. At times, I’ve lived a more Spartan existence than many could imagine and because of this have examined what is really necessary. Discovering that there really is very little required for a relatively comfortable and meaningful existence. For me, purpose, acceptance and intention are the key ingredients once my basic physical needs are met. In the process, I have crossed paths with some who have not been lucky enough to have those basics and others who consciously abandoned the urge for consistency.

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Turns out I like acting and am pretty reasonable at musical theatre… Who knew?!

I met people along the way who helped me understand what I wanted in my life and how that life might look. It was tough to choose a destination to settle, but there was a certain something about only a few places that really drew me back. The pace of life, latent sense of peace, feeling of community and the people. Those were the deciders. I still have a shortlist to revisit, should I change my mind

Based now in the slow-paced coastal town of Hokitika, I’ve built a 10m2 shack to round out a living system also comprised of two generations of former dwellings. With the most basic solar system and a gravity-fed piped tank water to supplement a roof-and-bucket rainwater collection, I have all I need. Low costs allow me to spend my time doing work I love rather than work that pays well. With costs kept low, I might actually be able to save for my own land to inhabit and develop into my own sanctuary. My little shack can come with me to my little slice of freedom. With the bits of horticultural and financial education I continue to accrue, I may even one day truly thrive.

In the meantime, I have crafted a version of life in which I belong in and contribute to a cohesive community of wonderful humans. My work allows me to nurture the seed of fulfilment within young people. My networks here allow me to drive and encourage positive development in two very different but connected towns.

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Hosting a free community screening of the movie “Celia” in my rolse as a White Ribbon Ambassador and co-ordinator for our local Community Champions.

I’m fortunate enough to have found people that embrace my unorthodoxy and have deepened connections with a few of those I met on my walk. My home allows me to retreat to a peaceful human-canine family surrounded by serene native forest. We’re visited daily by the heartbeat of an ocean lapping at the not so distant shore. I look out toward the horizon to our coastal vista.

My life is not fancy and it’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s developing by virtue of combining opportunity with design to move in the right direction for me. At least for now. I won’t deny that my feet often get the urge to wander once again. For once a person is comfortable in themselves, the freedom of wandering will never be equalled.

I’m still not there. I understand more every day that true freedom is surrender. It is acceptance of the conditions of now, no matter what they may be.

“There is no fear for one whose mind is not filled with desires”
-Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha)
Back to First Principles

Back to First Principles

Winter on the coast was tough. Coming into spring I find myself re-evaluating. Today I went back to the beginning to remind myself why I continue to choose hardship.

I love my life right now. I really do. I have two jobs that make me feel I am making my little corner of the world better. I have become brave enough to explore performing in front of others. Brave enough to try the things that resonate with me. Brave enough to risk failure because the chance to succeed carries more weight.

But there are always those aspects we don’t desire. There is always the flip side. My flip side is mostly condensation. This may seem like a relatively minor thing to you. Granted, it could be much worse. But I have been living in a 2m x 4m pop-top caravan with my two little dog friends since I returned to NZ in January, 2016. There was the notable exception of when we all down-sized to a 2m x 1m crawlspace to optimise mobility but condensation remained.

A micro living space is challenging in its own ways, but when the ceiling is coated with dangling raindrops, waiting to rain down on you through the evening, night and dawn, the complications mount up. It’s not the cold as such, that bothers me. Although, it is worth noting that the mountain range that forms a background directly behind us, is not coated in snow for half the year because of our tropical climate. I have two warm (canine) bodies and a hot water bottle contributing to heating my sleep space. But constant humidity and damp bring about mould, mildew, annoying droplets disturbing sleep. Holes between the walls of my pop-top caravan mean there is a draught and temperatures akin to those outdoors. Having to collect my own solar energy and drinking water directly from rain have required management. But believe it or not, that’s part of the appeal. That is to be more connected and conscious of the processes of life.

The reason is savings. The thought that reduced expenses might lower the obstacles to owning my own real estate. The chance to be responsible for significant capital investment does not really appeal. But the ability to contribute to my own equity in lieu of padding someone else’s retirement does. The house, the obligatory job, the fixed location… I could leave those too. At least the location I have chosen suits my needs.

“I’d known for a long while now that I really wanted out of cities and out of the cycle of working for the ability to pay off someone else’s mortgage and barely being able to get ahead. I have no real estate of my own, no desire to sell my life to a high paying job and its soul-sapping demands, no money to speak of, and no prospect of inheritance or a beneficent sponsor. The chances of procuring a lovely country home on a rural block, on which I could work towards a quiet, self-sustaining lifestyle were remote to say the least. And the problem of how to financially support myself once I got there always lingered in the back of my mind.” – part of my first post in this blog.

c2a9fairfax-brassett06.jpgBut the goal has always been freedom. All else was detail. I have saved a bit by living this frugal life. It means I can splash out if I want to as well. With the goal of true freedom, I find myself revisiting books on entrepreneurship and even writing ambitious beginnings to business plans. Visions of floating away on the tide to explore the open seas swim about in my mind.

Perhaps the permaculture goals I am living for are not ambitious enough. Perhaps they would become my new prison. Or perhaps they are really just another stepping stone to economic freedom and the pathway to absolute freedom. Either way, I can be sure that this process so far, has led to my mind being more free than it has ever been. Freer to truly believe in possibility.

When The West Went Wild

When The West Went Wild

March 11th, 2018

I mentioned the Wild Food Festival previously. Well, that was yesterday. A pretty crazy ol’ day relative to the usual Hokitika buzz. Music fills the whole town. The scent of cooking fills the nostrils. Thousands of vibrant costumes keep your head on a swivel and overload the imagination. The skies were even visited by a team of aerial acrobats in stunt planes. This usually understated town becomes a hub of fun and frivolity. While my wallet was a little light to partake in goings on inside the festival fence, I took the boys for a wander through all that transpired in the streets outside.

It was the end to a particularly eventful week for me. In addition to the part time work I will be doing for the It’s Not OK campaign, I got a full-time gig too. Everything has worked out really well and all because I’ve just kept directing my choices towards my end goal: a lifestyle that is in-tune with natural balance. I’m not out of the rat race yet, but I can see the end of the tunnel.

Part of this is the living situation I’ve managed to engineer, with thanks to the significant foundation work laid by Sonya and Torsten. After some major earthworks in the last few weeks and ongoing improvements happening all the time, this is a great place to just be. The best spot for that is my favourite “room” in the “house”: the bush bath. Such an awesome place.

The other half to that is community involvement. I hold very strongly, the view that most of the world’s problems stem from community dysfunction. I intend to use my time to proactively counteract that. It’s all well and good for politicians to do their thing at the macro level, but this process is slow, flawed and corrupted by conflicting interests. Voluntary change at the ‘grass roots’ level can be just as powerful, if not more so.

This is where I focussed my efforts in job searching and this is what I ended up with. I will now be working as a Youth Worker for local communities as well as working to engage local Community Champions to speak and act against domestic violence. That, to me, seems a worthwhile way to spend my time and being “the change [I] want to see in the world”. On the side, I will help out at a local pub every now and then, which will mean getting paid to get to know a few locals a bit better.

On top of all this, I have found a creative outlet in discovering the challenges of acting for musical theatre. Not something I thought I would ever find myself doing, but that’s what I got by following opportunities and gut feelings. When I think about my interests and now that I will be working out of Greymouth, it’s actually starting to make perfect sense. But it certainly didn’t seem very logical when I followed it up originally.

So that’s me now. This seems to be what the next iteration looks like. All around us are opportunities to take the dogs out and explore new little places too. I’ve included a few pics of the lads and I checking out Ross and the wilderness out near Lake Kaniere.

Life’s starting to stabilise and is looking alright at the moment. And it’s all come about from a series of deliberate steps it a common direction. I’m yet to free myself from the bonds of full-time work but that is a necessary short-term stepping stone towards accessing my own land and being able to develop it how I want to. Well, that or proof of a stable and thriving business of my own. While a business is in the future, a stable wage is a quicker way to win a bank over. At least in the meantime, my self-imposed slavery is directed towards intrinsic goals. I’m happy with that compromise.

Reboot

Reboot

February 11th, 2018

With The Longest Walk NZ coming to a close, I guess the journey to create my freedom returns to this forum. Last year was a unique and amazing year, through which I gained many insights about myself, my country and what is important. This year is shaping up to be just as formative.

The main goals for The Longest Walk NZ were about animal welfare. It was about promoting what was going on out there in New Zealand communities. There were also a number of personal goals tied up amongst it. The most relevant to this update was the search for a place where my soul felt at peace.

There were a couple of false starts along the way, including the idea of joining the current members of Riverside Community in Motueka and possibly becoming a resident worker at The Black Sheep animal sanctuary in Otaki Forks. In the end though, I settled on a place that stayed in my thoughts throughout the whole trip. I ended up choosing a “Cool little town” named Hokitika.

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Moody ol’ Hoki with its sullen clouds one day and brilliant sunshiny beaches the next
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Cyclone Fehi broke the West Coast, stranding tourists and locals alike for several days

I arrived here first in March last year as I emerged from the immensity of a walk through the Southern Alps. Before I even met civilisation, the Arahura Valley was winning me over. From there, the vibe just continued to feel warm. Nearly a year on, I returned to a striking peach sunset blooming in the clouds, then fading over the horizon. The sea pacified after a day of raging storms (Cyclone Fehi) that tore away whole sections of coastal roads and barred my original route the day before. I can only imagine it was the contrast between this peaceful scene and the turmoil of the evening before that even had the locals out, wielding cameras.

This first return was just a drop-and-run though. It took another couple of days to collect my two dogs from their boarding arrangements with my parents in Wellington. All told, this relocation, including acquiring car (in Invercargill), retrieving my hillbilly house (from Gore) and reuniting with my dogs (back in Wellington) had cost nearly two weeks and thousands of dollars. I was working on the theory that it would all be worth it once life found itself in some semblance of “normal”. It was a chance to consciously choose where and how I wanted to live after taking a good deal of time to really consider my choices.

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Never been afraid of a little hands on work. Getting stuck in

I hit the ground running. Reaching out to the few people I had met on my way through managed to land a few days of maintenance work the very next day. After the first day of this, came the start of the hunt for longer-term employment. A year off earning money followed by a costly relocation doesn’t do the bank balance any favours. A couple of nibbles and one very promising application later, I am still short of a plan for long-term employment. It has only been a few days yet though and I feel positive about the prospects.

If you have been following previous posts, you would probably realise that my efforts will also be going into some sort of side hustle working towards a bit of financial freedom. For now though and for quite some time to come, I need to make sure I take care of my financial responsibilities first. In a couple of years, that side hustle may well ripen into a main income but it’ll all come one step at a time.

Right now, I have landed in a tranquil spot, sharing a developing permaculture plot with a couple of likeminded people. Our arrangement is mutually beneficial and the setting is ideal for both me and the dogs. Jake runs around blissfully in a state of relative calm that is rare for him. Piccolo seems much more at peace in the stability and familiarity of our 2016 home. I enjoy the fact I can safely walk my dogs in a number of picturesque spots off-lead. A bush walk at our front gate, another just down the street. The stony beach of a beautiful river and a wide, expansive sands of the West Coast both only a five minute drive away. As we walk down the road on the way out, the seascape beckons from the horizon and as we return, a formidable mountain range enfolds our home.

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Hoki from the hills

The roar of the sea rolling in can be heard all day from our vantage point on the hill. Stars blanket the skies at night. Kiwi and weka begin to sing at dusk. It’s not at all uncommon for a weka to pop over and pay a visit either. This unusual dry spell has meant hot days tempered with a mild sea breeze when the area is usually known for its heavy rainfall. Although the rain is sure to come, along with the challenges accompanying it, for now we enjoy an Indian summer. Today being the first day of rain so far and it was a light one at that.

All is well. And while I don’t believe there is a “right” path or choice, it certainly seems this is a good one.

Dumpster to Dinner Table

Dumpster to Dinner Table

November 21st 2016

Some people have asked how I have managed to stretch this little experiment out so long without having to work full-time “You must be eating rubbish!” Well, in short… Yes. I have been… Quite literally. This post is an homage to dumpster diving.

To clarify, things aren’t as bleak as they may seem from that opener. A big part of keeping my options open has been the lowered expenses due to our caravan living situation. Luck in finding work has helped and right now, I am lucky enough to be parked up at my sister’s whose hospitality is much appreciated. But a large part has been economical food choices and food salvaging (aka Dumpster Diving or scavenging from rubbish bins). Yup. Not joking.

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Some unknown person allegedly harvesting food from an undisclosed dumpster 😉

Let me elaborate. The first image that springs to mind (to the uninitiated is of Oscar the Grouch or a hobo moving from bin to bin looking for a passable sandwich or something. Sitting here, trying to decide how to paint it in a different light, I’m struggling. It really is as simple as finding a rubbish skip and jumping in to see what it holds. But, it is what it might hold that may surprise you.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t sometimes pretty rank in there, but the key is to find a good dumpster. The amount of perfectly good food that is thrown away (especially by large chain supermarkets) is ASTOUNDING. Here is a picture of my share (one third) of one haul. It comprises: two dozen eggs (unbroken and within their ‘use by’), a whole sack of potatoes (one of which was going green), two six-packs of yoghurt and a pot of cottage cheese  (one day past the ‘best before’, but no sign of spoiling at all), some meaty bone off-cuts (for the dogs), a bunch of asparagus (one spear was a little haggard), and an unopened box of 100 Ma Higgins’ cookies… within the best before by a few days (individually wrapped and inside 5 inner boxes of 20). There were three unopened boxes of cookies in that bin that night and lots of stuff we left behind because we didn’t have space.

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The origin of my never-ending supply of cookies

This was a good haul, but not uncharacteristic of the sort of things you’ll find. All that stuff in the bakery, baked that day, which gets heavily reduced at the end of the night… that’s in the bin after close. The overstocks that aren’t selling as well as they’d hoped… in the bin. A deleted line… surplus stock goes in the bin. Anything that nears or reaches the best before… in the bin. Pre-packaged produce that has one item that looks subpar… they don’t pull the bad one out. It ALL goes in the bin. The product whose outer packaging was ripped, leaving a perfectly sealed inner package… in the bin. Common items include: breads, pastries, muesli, snack bars and potato chips, magazines, pasta, dairy goods (yoghurt, flavoured milk, cream, cheese…), bunches of bananas, bags of mandarins, nicked melons and capsicums, wilted herb plants (which you could easily plant and revive for an ongoing supply at home), deli meats/specialty sausages, pizzas, quiches… The list goes on. And don’t forget, most of what you wouldn’t want to eat would make good compost matter or worm food to nourish your garden or feed for your cat, dog, chooks, or pig.

Tonight, I cooked up a heap of dumpster fare. In fact, I thought I would itemise it to give you an idea of how it looks. I made three dishes. I made three mostly because that was the best way I worked out to use up the various bits I had plus using the things I picked up today.

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Three dishes that will serve me for eight meals for under $6 (including the cost of cooking gas)

1) Salad (2 servings)
– Salvaged: broccoli, cabbage, fresh coriander, avocado (FREE)
– Reduced (for quick sale): kale, spinach (both half price- total cost $4 and lasted me several days before today as well)
– Full Price (including sale items): red onion, capsicum, mandarin (because it was getting a bit dated), olive oil + white vinegar (dressing) (total cost $1-$2)

2) Mushroom, Broccoli and Coriander Soup (3 servings)
– Salvaged: pumpkin, 15-20 large white mushrooms, broccoli, fresh coriander, ghee (fermented butter made from salvaged cream (which was fine at the time of salvage)) (FREE)
– Reduced (for quick sale): n/a
– Full Price (including sale items): cooking gas, powdered milk, salt, pepper (total cost maybe $1)

3) Pasta Sauce (3 servings)
– Salvaged: coriander, tomato paste, carrot, broccoli, mushroom (FREE)
– Reduced (for quick sale): n/a
-Full Price (including sale items): cooking gas, tinned diced tomatoes, capsicum, red onion, salt, pepper, basil, parsley (total cost $2-$3)

Now, you may be thinking “I could just buy pre-made. It would be cheaper… and not eating out of the rubbish”. Or you could choose to think “That’s 8 meals for less than $6! Less packaging or food waste. Less processed ingredients and a more nourishing product than those that would be cheaper. Everything thoroughly checked and washed, so who cares that it was in the trash?!” Believe it or not, you do actually have an inbuilt intuition to recognise food you shouldn’t eat… just like every other living creature. And it’s never failed me yet in the dumpsters. Not once. I’m a bit spoilt at the moment because I have access to refrigeration, which hasn’t been the case for several months. So these were portioned off and frozen for future lunches/dinners which may see them added to or spiced.

One salad was dinner, the other will be lunch tomorrow. Later, I ate the last of the potatoes (fashioned into fries) from the haul pictured above. Along with one of the cookies from the same haul. I still have a few left and they still taste pretty good to me, if a little hard.

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A wee writing snack

Do you HAVE to eat out of dumpsters to regain some time? No. Of course not. This is part of the path I chose to start questioning core assumptions (such as basic needs and beliefs about status/ego/self). The truth is I kind of enjoy it. It often means I try things I wouldn’t ordinarily buy and there is a little thrill of anticipation of what might be on offer today every time I go diving.

The End of the Rent Trap- How to Close the Economic Gap

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Picture source: http://www.thefederalist.com

As much as I hate to focus on money, the undeniable truth is that it is what drives the majority of most of our decisions. Perhaps the only exceptions are those without the mental capacity to understand its function and those who possess it in such abundance that it no longer holds any meaning. This blog is about discussing how we could cause massive change by manipulating just one aspect of the economic landscape.

The fundamental principles of economics are based on the scarcity of resources. In particular, that money and time are scarce. We choose how to spend our share of each at the cost of not spending them on other opportunities. The way that world economies are set up, this means we have two means of wealth creation: 1) by being compensated for our labour time, 2) by investing money in various ways. To those with a passion for economics, my apologies for such a crude summary of ECON101.

This essentially means that those with money surplus to their expenses have an extra method of passive wealth creation when compared to those living from paycheque to paycheque. While the internet has curtailed this difference somewhat by reducing the need for start-up and running costs for any and all who devise clever online money streams, the divide still definitely exists. Much of this is due to the cultural phenomenon known as ‘property investment’… or buying houses with the intention to earn a rent from them and eventually sell for profit. This is strictly a game for the ‘haves’, while the ‘have nots’ get stuck wallowing in the infamous rent trap. I think Brett Sutherland sums it up very eloquently in his interview with Bryce Langston linked here. (https://youtu.be/VckbqU4kK2I?t=15m41s)

Not only this, but invested money provides the wealthy with a way to avoid paying tax on income which is already surplus to their needs. Add to this the fact that capital gains are generally taxed at lower rate and it becomes clear that the only TRUE route to real wealth creation is through capital investment. This TED Talk (https://youtu.be/CKCvf8E7V1g) outlines the fundamental folly of the current approach with great clarity. It truly is a system designed to keep the poorest poor while those with expendable income lazily profit from their plight.

The solution I propose is this: that both the bond and rental payments are returned at the end of the tenancy period. If the landlord is granted the right to earn off rental payments, bank interest alone will ensure they are able to make a healthy profit before returning the tenant’s rent payments and the tenant will not suffer the ultimate loss of a large sum of money. It is a win-win. Granted, the landlord wins a little less than the current model… but that is kind of the point. It provides a more equal share in the money flows, while respecting the investor’s opportunity to profit. A representation of the two models can be seen below in graphical form.

current model
Assumes Landlord’s rental income remains in a bank account and accumulating a steady bank interest rate of 4% (comparable to many savings accounts) and subject to 25% tax once per year. Also assumes that a bond equal to two weeks’ rent ($400) is paid into a third party trust, which is returned following conclusion of a 60 month/5 year tenancy
adjusted model
Assumes Landlord’s rental income remains in a bank account and accumulating a steady bank interest rate of 4% (comparable to many savings accounts) and subject to 25% tax once per year. Also assumes that a bond equal to two weeks’ rent ($400) is paid into a third party trust, which is returned following conclusion of a 60 month/5 year tenancy and that the Landlord returns rental payments, but keeps profit made from bank interest payments

Note that the final values of the adjusted model are NET gains (i.e. the tenant is receiving a lump sum payment of over $50,000 at the end of the tenancy! Of course, this would still be subject to tax, but it provides that tenant with the very real prospect of being able to put a deposit on a house of their own. The landlord, on the other hand, has earned nearly $70,000 on their investment by doing absolutely nothing with the rental payments. The graph only depicts interest accrued in a savings account. If they were instead to use the capital to invest wisely in other ventures, they could potentially make much greater gains. Alternatively, if they are more risk-averse, they could wait (to be sure of having the funds to return) and use the profit after tenancy as investment capital, potentially profiting further this way as well. Obviously, this is only an example model with arbitrary figures and each case would be different.

It seems reasonable that this model be combined with minimum rental periods similar to term investments at banking institutions. Perhaps also with the penalty of losing the refund of rental payments (or a percentage thereof) should the agreement be broken early with disputes being governed by a third party such as the local government agency in charge of tenancy disputes.

As Brett says in his interview above, it seems very wrong that we, as a society, allow the current model to exist. To me, this seems like a much fairer model. The property investment market becomes less like a right of the rich to passively profit at the poor’s expense and more like a reward structure for wise investment. As an added bonus, it serves almost like a savings model for the tenant.

The obvious challenge is this: How do we convince those who profit from the status quo to relinquish their hold on the current system? How do we encourage a change toward a more equitable system? How could we encourage voluntary use of such a system and/or how could it be passed into law? These are all questions for which I invite your input. Any comments about the model itself are also welcome. If you know of any outlets which may serve to help spread the idea or attract people who could help make it happen, please share. I’d love to hear from them.

Blood, Sweat, a Yurt and the Kiwifruit Alpacalypse

April 12th 2016 – ?

This WWOOF (official site) was a desperate leap into uncertainty. In the end, it came up roses… as long as you point your nose away from the composting loo.

It’s always a gamble when you accept a WWOOF position. This one was a little bit special though. After several experiences of WWOOFers looking for a free ride and not being very competent workers, this host had decided to put up quite a confronting profile. The plan: to deter useless WWOOFers and prevent the need for mothering them. Fair enough.

Still, arriving at the gate, I found myself thinking, if there were any other WWOOF hosts wanting WWOOFers at the time, I’d be going there instead. Turned out to be a case of who dares, wins though. For a number of reasons, I’m glad I came. It’s a kiwifruit orchard being converted (slowly but surely) into a permaculture farm. It’s in the very early stages, which in itself is a valuable thing to experience. It’s all well and good seeing mature properties, but in all likelihood, if I ever get my own plot, it’ll start out pretty rough.

The first thing that jumped out was the relationships the animals have with one another. As a budding permaculture farmer, Lynda believes in letting nature take its course wherever possible. That includes having animals intermingling despite species divisions. She also takes a gentle approach to managing them, which is nice to see. I’ve NEVER seen fully grown sheep that are so friendly and personable. Not hard to see why though, when you consider the usual way a mob of sheep is handled (and when). While most are chased around by dogs and man-handled to be drenched, wormed or castrated, Lynda’s had been hand-reared and trained using reward-based handling. Granted, this approach would not be very practical on a larger scale, but it is nice to see nonetheless.

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Francesco with an assortment of animalian friends

The weather! The hours of work just kind of breeze by when the sun is shining, the air is still and there’s not real noise but the occasional person falling out of an airplane. Actually, just the whole vibe of Motueka. It’s a slow-paced and very calm sort of place. The moon and stars shine brightly and unobscured. It’s the sort of place where people really value face-to-face meetings and community. In fact, in following up a few leads on potential onward WWOOFs, I was pleased to be asked to come by in person rather than talk on the phone. Many songs have been sung while fencing the days away. Many f*&#ing wires have sprung back and cut or bruised my hands. Many fences have also been built. In fact, that’s really all I have done with myself on the farm for the last three weeks except the odd lap of the farm, picking up horse shit. Well, there was that one time where the alpacas escaped into the neighbour’s orchard, but there’s nothing like pretending one is a sheep dog (alpaca dog?) to wake one up in the morning. Life is good.

Life was especially good in that first week, when I discovered my brother from another mother. Perhaps one of my parents found a little hanky-panky near Naples at some point. Who knows? But somehow, the advent of Francesco, the super-WWOOFer happened. This dude loved to work more than anything. I like a good honest day’s work as much as the next man, but that’s not where we hit it off. This guy was just as obsessed about the impending zombie apocalypse… nay… MORE obsessed with it than me. (FYI, I jest. As does he. I know there’s no chance of zombies. Alas, I’m dead serious about the inevitable collapse of the system of things as we know it) It was very satisfying to see someone pay the correct amount of reverence to the “Zombies, Run!” app which is so often blaring from my bum (i.e. my pocket). Anywho, it was one of those times you just find a friend who you really hit it off with. Here’s to serendipitous meetings and single-serving friends. So far all of my co-WWOOFers have been good sorts here actually. Perhaps there is something to be said for scaring away many potential WWOOFers with discouraging profiles…

By far the best thing though, has been the opportunity to catch up with a wing of my family that I have not really known well for the rest of my life. In particular, I was incredibly fortunate to be offered an opportunity to take part in some disability support (through Manawanui) work for my cousin. Not only do I get to hang out with my cousin (who is lots of fun) but I can do so without the feeling that I should be finding ways to make money. My cousin gets help bridging the gap between school and adulthood. His parents get a much needed helper while they put in an incredibly hard slog running their business. I get to hang out with my cousin and get to know him better. It’s a triple win situation and to be honest, I really enjoy the challenge.

There is also a yurt. I’ve been curious about yurts for a while now. I’d heard of them and seen a few from a distance, but never properly experienced one. Yurts are cool.

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Yurts. Choice.

Something I’ve been meaning to cover for a while is poo. It’s a bit of a shit topic (you’re welcome) but it’s very important to pay attention to your poo. Oprah and Dr Oz told me so once. This transition to living off the fare that is served up to me (largely organic, basic and grown on the property or within the local community) has had a big effect on my digestion. I know this because I am also mostly living with compost toilets, so my ‘donations’ look up at me an give me a little wave every time I drop the kids off at the pool… or at the sawdust mill? There is much to be said for whole grains, unrefined fruit and vegetables, fresh herbs and (in my case although opinions vary on this) a meat-free diet. My poo is wonderful. It’s the perfect model of intestinal health. And given that this and oral health (haven’t had a filling yet –at age 33- and don’t see the need any time soon) are said to be two of the most important indicators of overall health, life is looking very healthful indeed.

With ‘health corner’ or ‘the poo diaries’ finished, the other thing here has been the number of opportunities. You may recall a particularly stressful week a couple of weeks back (see “The Worst Week So Far”). Since then, life has gone from strength to strength. From no income, I actually somehow managed to be overwhelmed by too many jobs. There is also an abundance of opportunities for communal living here. Two in particular seem to be options for the near future. One guy who has a strong background in farming and a lot to teach me about a lot of different aspects of a successful sustainable life is my likely next host. The feminine half of the hosting equation also has a lot I can learn from too. A Steiner school teacher and all round positive and lovely person, I feel like they (and their family) are going to be a great WWOOF experience.

Riverside is another unique opportunity. New Zealand’s oldest sustainable community (and previous home of 15 years to the aforementioned WWOOF hosts), this place is an important place to have visited. It shows me a model that works. It’s one thing to be idealistic and imagine utopian communities living off the land. It’s another to see people living the life. It’s encouraging. It’s also something I intend to check out more thoroughly. There are several intentional communities in the area. That was, after all, the sole reason for making this trip south in the first place. I’ve checked out a few directly and have learned a lot about a few more through talking to locals. The isolation of Tui Community really appeals. The apparent anarchy of The Graham Valley (Graham Downs Renaissance) Community is interesting. A couple of others are buy-in types of places that are prohibitive to me. Riverside feels different. Watch this space. I have a feeling there is some type of future there.

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Riverside at a glance. Doesn’t hold a candle to actually being there

If you were paying attention to the top of the post, you may have noticed it is open-ended. That’s because a one week stay has turned into something else. Motueka is home for now. We shall see how it all unfolds. There’s plenty more still to come.

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!

Living for Purpose, Not Pay

Prior to this, the blogs have basically diary entries recording the events that have been going on through this journey. Today’s blog is a little different, in that it is about the thoughts behind it.

Like most of the human condition (at least how I understand it), this has been about belonging. It’s not been about belonging to a group or about acceptance into a particular lifestyle, but about an alignment of an inner feeling with an outer reality: belonging to the everyday reality of my life. It’s taken a long time and a lot of experiences. I guess this a kind of mid-life crisis, but if you knew my life thus far, you’d know it’s never been about settling and this is more like the reverse of most mid-life crises.

As I was growing up, the message was loud and clear that “You can be anything you want to be”. Many people discard this message. I was foolhardy enough to believe it. It led to travel in a few different countries doing many jobs and a few mini-careers trying to see what fitted me. The education illusion which has dominated our generation, was a big player in this. In fact, it sucked up several thousand dollars and quite a few years. Ironically (?), it was really the relationships and experiences along the way that were worthwhile more than the classes.

Taylor Pearson covers this much better than I ever could in his book “The End of Jobs” (link to the book’s official page). Definitely worth a read. It’s about the idea that although education once served to improve career prospects and income, 1) the market has become saturated with knowledge-based workers; and 2) the marketplace has expanded to include a global pool of workers. When you also consider that knowledge is so much more available in the internet age, there is less and less value in formal credentials. More and more value in ACTUAL skills and the ability to be independent, learn, trial and problem solve.

Now I find myself at on a slightly different track. It’s been a conscious decision to try to follow feelings. The new catch phrase seems to be “Living from the Heart” and several authors are all over it. It’s brought a lot more uncertainty into life and it can be scary at times. So far though, it’s been the key to noticing more opportunities and allowing myself to take them. In fact, with less of a financial burden due to rent, the biggest obstacles have been mental ones.

Long-held beliefs about my abilities, my rights, poverty and contributing to society have been tough things to confront. Self-limiting beliefs keep coming up and when I’ve had the courage to face them, so far I’ve proven them wrong every time. We operate under such out-dated beliefs about ourselves and our worth, which once may have had a protective purpose to help us succeed. As we grow and experience life, there often comes a point where they are no longer true or helpful. For me, it is often about what I can do or what I deserve. But in order to get what you want in life, it seems you must first be audacious enough to expect those things that you want. Then you must act in a way that allows you to get them.

Working this way, it’s been surprising how quickly I’ve managed to find a version of perfect. It is likely that it won’t be the final version of ‘perfect’. Part of the mind-shift required to head toward a more sustainable life is accepting the changing nature of things. Nothing lasts forever and most if not all of the pain in our lives is caused when we try to force this unnatural requirement. Money comes and goes. Relationships start and finish. People are born and die. Everything in life goes through cycles and they are often unpredictable or veiled in complexity. But if we work from that place of things that ‘feel right’ we can engineer the path that we take through the changing landscape of our experience.

In his book “A New Earth” (link to the book’s official page), Eckhart Tolle talks about his interpretation of “The Lord’s Prayer”. Specifically, he talks about the line “Give us this day our daily bread”. He emphasises THIS DAY and DAILY as a reference to the fact that things aren’t necessarily meant for storing and having on hand at our whims. Instead he discusses the idea that we can live on the basis of finding the things we need NOW in the world we are living in now. It is in stark contrast to the common way of living in our society which is about projecting forward to the future (whether it be hours, days, weeks or years), which may not even come to pass. Worse still, living stuck in a past that has been and is gone forever.

To me, this whole journey into a sustainable life is about embracing that concept of change and using it to find ways to live moments more consciously and make my choices more purposeful. For now, that means concentrating on renovating my caravan. But the caravan is only a tool to allow me to engineer a lifestyle. The end goal is to be living as I see fit. That is: as nature seems to intend.