Category Archives: Building

March Against Monsanto

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On May 25, people around the world will unite to March Against Monsanto.

Why?

  • Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.
  • In the United States, the FDA, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the population, is steered by ex-Monsanto executives, and we feel that’s a questionable conflict of interests and explains the lack of government-lead research on the long-term effects of GMO products.
  • Recently, the U.S. Congress and president collectively passed the nicknamed “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.
  • For too long, Monsanto has been the benefactor of corporate subsidies and political favoritism. Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world’s food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup.
  • Monsanto’s GMO seeds are harmful to the environment; for example, scientists have indicated they have caused colony collapse among the world’s bee population.

What solutions do we advocate?

  • Voting with your dollar by buying organic and boycotting Monsanto-owned companies that use GMOs in their products.
  • Labeling of GMOs so that consumers can make those informed decisions easier.
  • Repealing relevant provisions of the US’s “Monsanto Protection Act.”
  • Calling for further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs.
  • Holding Monsanto executives and Monsanto-supporting politicians accountable through direct communication, grassroots journalism, social media, etc.
  • Continuing to inform the public about Monsanto’s secrets.
  • Taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won’t take these injustices quietly.

We will not stand for cronyism. We will not stand for poison. That’s why the world shall March Against Monsanto.

I send this information out to people with the hope that some of you folk can represent in our absence, as will be on Lombok island, Indonesia…

Find one of the 330 cities already participating: http://bit.ly/ZTDsk8

Or you can do some kind of online thing like we will…

by checking the link here http://on.fb.me/ZUxe3o

say no to monsanto!!!

Cascades, Bombies, Graves and a Wat

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Luang Prabang

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Vientiene

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4000 Islands

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Phnom PEnh

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My words cannot compare with Nina’s beautifully written accounts of our times in these places so for a more interesting and detailed blog of our visits to these incredible sites you can view Nina’s blog here

Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang

Into Laos

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It’s been nearly a week since Nina and I dropped down from China into Laos on the bus. The difference in the feel of the country was instant. China was developed and overpopulated right up to the border and as soon as we crossed into Laos small thatched shacks on stilts started to appear in the landscape with only a sprinkling of people in ramshackle villages along the main road.

First stop was Luang Namtha, 60km from the frontier. Seems that many tourists come here for the jungle adventures that northern Laos has to offer and we were subtly shocked by the amount of “felang” (foreigners) in town.

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We found ourselves a cheap place to stay and grabbed a feed at the night market. We’re into sticky rice territory now, along with new and unusual tropical fruits. The next morning we stockpiled our fruit stash at the market and treated ourselves to pink custard apples, bananas and pawpaw. The array of fruit was incredible, laying side by side with dead bats and songbirds, all local delicacies.

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In the afternoon we hired bikes (80p per day) and cycled a loop to explore some local villages and the old and new stupas. The original 1658 stupa had been bombed by US planes during their epic airstrikes of the 60’s and 70’s. Laos is the most bombed country in history with more bombs landing here than in Germany and Japan put together. Today a new stupa stands next to the remains of the old. For a more in-depth insight into the CIA led tragedy The Most Secret Place on Earth is a must watch.

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Later on Friday evening we booked ourselves onto a 3 day trek and kayak through the Namtha National Park. A kind of treat to celebrate 1 year on the road, 10,000 website hits and a new country all rolled into one.

We chose a joint Laos/Kiwi adventure specialist called Forest Retreat Laos who assured us that at least 32% of our money goes directly to the village who will host us on our first night. They have used recent donations to build a new temple, clinic and school. £51 for an all inclusive 3 days trek/kayak with food, drink, guides and accommodation seemed very reasonable to us.

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We set of early on Saturday morning in a tuk-tuk. 3 Brits, an Italian, a Spaniard, an Ozzy and a Dutchy plus 2 Laotian guides and a roof full of kayaks. A 40 minute drive brought us to a small village on the banks of the Namtha river where we off loaded and filled our rubber kayaks with air. The locals looked a little bemused but we were soon out of their way and off down the river on a 20km paddle. Lunch was prepared on the banks half way along and after an exerting but satisfying day we rocked up at a riverside village and a purpose built shack for sleeping.

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It gets dark around 6pm here. Pon showed us around the village then a boiled fish dinner came at about 7pm and I think we were pretty much in bed by 9pm.

A day and a half of trekking followed with a overnight stop in the jungle. We were told that the bamboo structure we slept in along with the toilet shed and guide accommodation was built by a team of locals in 2 days. The whole structure built from bamboo and vines… it made me want to learn more about how to construct with this extremely versatile material.

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Our group had been joined by 2 ladies from the village for the trekking. Along the way we were shown various plants that locals use from the jungle. Joy even scraped bark from a particular tree when he heard Nina’s tummy was a little dodgy. Within an hour 2 days of discomfort were cured – amazing.

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On saturday night we had a beautiful jungle meal which included rattan starch, banana flower, jungle mushrooms and wild greens – so so tasty! A similarly good breakfast set us up for the final trek to the river, trousers rolled high, boots around the neck and across the water for the tuk-tuk ride back to town. Even a puncture on the way home couldn’t bring a frown to an amazing 3 days in the jungle.

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Chengdu to Dali in Pictures

Funky new circle thing – click on one of them to see a slideshow…

Another Day in Tbilisi

I woke this morning to the sound of a crying baby and her yelping mother. These two have been relentless since the day we stepped foot in “Katuna’s Homestay”. The cheapest place in the city, use of wifi (important whilst searching for new information on how to apply for our Kazakhstan, Russian and Chinese visa’s), a comfy bed and access to the stove (essential to Sam’s coffee needs).

We are here in the Georgian capital for our third bed-down since leaving the relaxing city of Batumi 10 days ago. It’s visa application time and so far it has been a mixed bag. The next few countries on our journey require differing types of visa’s and application processes. Throw into the mix that we cannot get one without the other, erratic embassy opening hours, chinese holiday closures, Georgian election day, payment in different currencies, language complexities and a general lack of information on the internet. We’ve read the advice about getting visa’s in our home country but due to the nature of our journey it was not possible. So we are here in Tbilisi at the mercy of the above.

We submitted our Kazakhstan visa last Monday with a 5 day wait for collection. I had prearranged for us to do some volunteer work at Georgia’s only registered Wwoof host during our waiting time. A welcome break to spend 3 days in the gorgeous Georgian countryside with Jean-Jacques and Inken on the Momavlis Mitsa (Future Earth) farm. A couple of hours by minibus from Tbilisi, Jean Jacques is growing his own biodynamic wheat for sourdough bread which he will sell in the city markets, along with ample veg and animals.

Sam and I spent the first day helping to build the new bread oven, emptying tonnes of sand from the inside mould and building a supporting wall. Nina worked with Inken in the garden, biting her lip, hoeing weeds and breaking cracks in the soil created by sun and lack of mulch. Day 2 saw us all making new raised beds for the commercial salad crops and our last day was more building for me and Sam, a new chicken run, while Nina and Inken made jars of jam and compote for most of the afternoon and evening.

We returned to Tbilisi on Friday and collected our Kazakhstan visa. It seemed quite straight forward once we had it in our hands. We returned back to Katuna’s Homestay knowing that on Monday we could now make our way to the Russian embassy. Our Kazak visa is proof enough that we will only be transiting through Russia. Nina and I went to the puppet theatre to see an interesting performance about Soviet Georgia. The weekend was hotting up in the streets. Voices eager to be heard before election day.

On Monday we headed to the Russian Embassy and were surprised to find that Nina’s form had to be submitted in Russian (because she’s from Australia – figure that one out) but there were plenty of administrative staff on hand to help (20 Georgian Lari). After some misunderstanding about the costs and some disappointment at hearing that processing time would be 10 days (more time back at the farm) we were surprised to hear the gentleman ask if we would like to keep our passports while they process the application.

“Maybe you want to go to Armenia while you wait?”

“No thanks we don’t really have the money for that” we responded.

We left the embassy happy that another application had been handed in and we could return to the farm for another weeks volunteering and some free living…

“Guys. Hello. He just offered us back our passports! What does that mean? Chinese visa!”

We walked to the Chinese embassy for more information, forfeiting our minibus back to the farm, thinking we could go back to the Russian embassy, ask for our passport back, apply for the Chinese visa in time to get back our passports ready for presenting them to the Russian embassy on collection day next week (a 2 hour window). The Chinese Embassy was closed – National Day. Open again in two days. Another stay at Katuna’s Homestay. We returned back yesterday with our tales between our legs, another 2 nights stay, a bit more screaming and yelping with the added excitement of street celebrations on what is now voting day.

Today we will try to gather information on applying for a Chinese visa here in Tbilisi but it doesn’t look so good – we are not Georgian, nor do we have a Georgian resident ID card – two of the requirements. I will be glad to rejoin work at the farm tomorrow.

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Ermitaj

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A few days ago we finished a two week Permaculture Design Course at the Ermitaj in North West Romania. I have experienced this course as student, host and now as part of the facilitating team. It has been a very rewarding, challenging and eye-opening experience. Nina and I joined Pascale, Sam and Judith to form a teaching team in a friendly and supportive environment, the perfect place to start my teaching in Permaculture.

The Ermitaj is run by Philippe and Adriana in a lovely valley. It’s the third PDC they have hosted and we had a full international crew and students along with a healthy Romanian contingent. A jammed packed two weeks full of Permaculture ethics, principles, methods and practical sessions including building a synergistic garden, rocket stove, 18 day compost, jams, tool care, natural plastering, contour mapping, soil tests, pizza night and plenty of design time.

The course was finished off with a talent/no talent night and we received some great feedback before certificates were handed out and fairwells to new friends. Many thanks to a great team, great students and a great host.

WasteNoMo

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Our second stop in Bulgaria, and after a couple of days in the lovely city of Plovdiv, was with Dimo and his worms.  We had arranged a couch surf with another guy in the area but when he had to go the Beglika festival as a helper we were told Dimo would take us in and probably show us a thing or two. We were grateful for the opportunity to understand a low impact livelihood and help Dimo out on the worm farm for a few days.

He kindly picked us up from Kazanlak and we went for a family visit, an off road adventure and a swim before cooking up a late dinner and sampling the stupidly cheap but very tasty Bulgarian beer.

We spent the next few days at the worm farm. Dimo collects fresh cow poo, mixes it with straw, moistens it and sets the worms to work. It takes a few months for them to eat their way through the feast but the end result is weed free, high water retentive, humus rich soil, perfect for growing annual veg and seedlings. He bags the castings and sells them to customers around Bulgaria. During the process the worms also double in mass and he receives an additional income from them.

Dimo also doubles up his worm heap as a plant nursery, stacking functions and making best use of his space. He grows tomatoes and paulownia, a fast growing lightweight timber perfect for tool handles. He uses no chemicals and keep his mole population in check using castor plant which exudes chemicals that the moles dislike.

Dimo also produces his own biofuel from waste vegetable oil in a processor that he built himself. He powers his truck and his tractor from the fuel, true to his business name WastNoMo.

We loved our time with Dimo. We saw some great places, Thracian tombs, old communist monuments and natural beauty. The day before we left he took us to visit Paul of the Balkan Ecology Project who was happy to show us around his permaculture inspired garden.  We were to see them both again at their BalkanEP venue at Beglika Festival.

Them troglodytes knew…

When I first heard Bill Mollison mention the subterranean dwellings in central Turkey and when Nina first talked about the fairytale houses of Cappadocia from her “must see places” list I hadn’t put two and two together. It wasn’t until we were winding around the eroded landscape on our bus entry to Goreme that it clicked. Two and Two suddenly became eighty four!

Ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed this region with thick ash, which solidified into a soft rock—called tuff—tens of meters thick. Wind and water then went to work on this plateau, leaving only its harder elements behind to form a fairytale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms and chimneys, which stretch as far as 40 meters into the sky.

So erosion shaped the incredible landscape of the Göreme valley, but thousands of years ago the troglodyte people used what Mother Nature created and began carving an amazing chamber and tunnel complex into the soft rock. Beginning in the fourth century A.D. an urbanized—but underground—cultural landscape was created here.

In caves and below ground are living quarters, places of worship, stables, wineries and storehouses, all dug into the stone. The underground city that we visited yesterday is only 10% excavated and is thought to be 10km long with eight subterranean levels and enough space for 30,000 people. It was a little claustrophobic but we got a great sense of what it would be like to live down below.

Evidence shows that every household kept pigeons using dovecotes, also carved into the rock. The droppings from the birds were vital to the viticulture and allowed them to maintain the fertility of their gardens, with apricots, mulberrys, pears and melons grown around the vegetable patches.

This has to be one of the finest examples of natural building in the world. It goes one step further than using local materials. The templates for each house were created naturally with zero human effort. The people then had to chip away at the insides to hollow out a home for themselves, similar to permaculture’s holy grail of harvesting as maintenance. The temperature inside remains a constant 16-18 degrees, perfect when it’s plus 42 degrees above ground.

We’ve been searching for examples of “working with nature and not against it” on this journey and we certainly found it here in Cappadocia.

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Mapping in Molise

Whilst in Rome, and aside from our memorable time exploring the city, a few other significant things happened.  I finished writing up the design for my fourth diploma project, I received a copy of Aranya’s new book – Permaculture Design and Nina and I got an invite from our host Angiola to spend some time at her place in the country.  She has a 12 hectare property that has until recently been managed by a caretaker.  It’s been owned by the family for over 100 years but sadly they are now selling it off, piece by piece, as the running costs and upkeep outweigh any income generated by it.

The idea of inviting us to stay is to provide some suggestions as to how Angiola and her siblings might use the land in the future with the focus being on how it might self sustain itself.  So whilst on the lookout for my next diploma project and equipped with my new book we left Rome on the bus for some time in the country.

One of the skills outlined in my learning pathway as needing improvement is mapping.  Aranya’s book is more of a technical guide to design than a permaculture overview so I decided I would systematically try the techniques suggested starting with surveying and assessing.  It’s helpful to try new theories and explanations and the more I try the closer I come to finding my own preferred combination.

As with any new permaculture design the first task is to observe.  Just to observe. To gather as much information together using all of our available senses.  Nina and I spent our first days walking the property and making notes of any observations.  We used two new tools taken straight from the book to make sure most areas are covered.  PASTE – Plants, Animals, Structures, Tools and Events. We Made note of these in relation to how often they appeared using another model, this time DAFOR – Dominant, Abundant, Frequent, Occasional and Rare. It was a great way to record a lot of information in a very visual and easy to understand way.

I’m enjoying drawing and colouring at the moment – it must be too long in my life since I really got involved in some arty hands on work.  The maps were the next task and one that I loved.  Using the rough field map created, some photocopies and a window I complied a base map of the whole site plus an enlargement of the built up area, a sector analysis for both areas to show energies that flow through the property and a zone map to show the current zones as they are used.  These maps provide me with an excellent visual representation of the property but there is more to every design than meets the eye.

Through more observation, some investigation and by interviewing Angiola herself I completed the next stage of the design cycle – understanding the boundaries.  These can be seen as physical constraints but also invisible limitations.  Some very interesting points were discovered including a no dig limit due to archeological findings and the fact that there was no budget.  None.

This brings us on to the final part of surveying a new project – the resources. Here we looked at every kind of available resource.  If there is no money available then what do we have by means of natural resources or knowledge for example?  These are often resources that a client will overlook but things that could prove invaluable to the overall design.

Before we continue with the design process we met with Angiola to discuss our findings so far and to make sure that our thoughts along with her ideas were on the same track.  At this stage we assess all of our information before we start with any actual design work.  It became clear that one of the focuses of this project was that of the financial aspect more than what they should grow.  Without full transparency of the income and outgoings it is very difficult to create a full design and so at this stage we have agreed to produce a video with some ideas of land use for Angiola to present to a meeting in September rather than a full permaculture design.

We have had a great two weeks here and learnt a great deal from observing the land and how Angiola and her family regard this asset.  Who knows, perhaps the opportunity for a full design project will come but for now it’s just at the ideas stage.

We did spend spent days at the local village, Montagano, to get supplies and have the odd coffee or glass or beer, we spent days in the garden helping Michael Angelo and Maria Pia plant the famous local tomatoes, we did an 18km walk to Limosano village which had a spooky abandoned feel, we made elderflower cordial to share and feel very grateful for the opportunity to stay for free in the Italian countryside and practice some permaculture surveying techniques.

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