Category Archives: Health

WWOOFing at the Permaculture Research Institute

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My interest in Permaculture started back in 2010 and I soon completed my Design Certificate. I think it’s safe to say that it changed my life, the direction I was to take and the learning pathway that I have since followed. Nina and I hosted a PDC ourselves in 2011 and were lucky enough to help facilitate a course in Romania on our recent overland trip. We have since visited many permaculture properties and WWOOFed at smallholdings and farms across the world.

Over the last three years I have also watched many of Geoff Lawton’s online videos, got familiar with the design of his property and hoped that one day I would get to visit the Permaculture Research Institute at Zaytuna Farm in New South Wales, Australia.

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When a place became available at short notice there was no hesitation from me and I hopped on a train to Brisbane, transferred to a car with a previously organised Gumtree Lift Share and then hitched the last 19km from Nimbin to arrive, quite soggy, late on a Monday afternoon. I was pointed in the general direction of reception on arrival and given a detailed explanation of what was expected of me during my stay, the rules of the farm and a few things to be wary of in the snake department – Taipans, Browns and Red Belly Blacks (all very deadly snakes). I got my tent up before dark and was soon happy to be sitting eating dinner with the 10 week intern crew, farm manager, guests (including Bill Mollison) and other WWOOFers.

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I stayed at the farm for a month and worked a week in each of four areas – main crop, small animals, kitchen garden and food forests. The large animals team need more training which was too much to fit into my short stay. My first week involved a lot of food processing as there was large amounts of root vegetables coming up from main crop. Much Kim Chi was made!

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I worked a lot with Adon, adding compost, mulching, planting potatoes, cassava, peas and harvesting turnips, kale, pak choi and potatoes. I got to learn about the chicken tractor system which moves every 2 weeks, leaving behind fertilised rows for planting. It moves through 26 different sections. each containing 8 rows. This means each area gets a twice yearly visit from the chickens. There didn’t seem to be much emphasis on beneficial companions and the bare earth, tillage techniques was not what I expected to see at a world leading permaculture farm.

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During that first week Paul Taylor, an expert on soil fertility, was present on the farm as he was teaching students the soil section of their internship. I managed to skim off a lot of information from him and the interns and was present during the very interesting compost making sessions. This has really kickstarted my understanding of making microbial dense compost – whoop!

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My activities varied more in the second week although I spent a lot of time on main crop. It was very hot down there and very exposed.  I skinned my first chicken, collected buckets of fresh mulberries and wild raspberries, helped lay irrigation pipe with Geoff, did a spot of fishing with Zac and generally got more of an understanding of the farm.

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By week 3 I was tending to small animals which meant feeding and cleaning the rabbits, chickens, pigeons, goats and ducks as well as raising new born chicks. By week 4 I was combining my animal care with responsibility of the kitchen garden with the aim of keeping guests in fresh produce during their stay.

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I learnt a huge amount at the farm from some very inspirational people which included other WWOOFers, students who passed through, Des the farm manager, Geoff Lawton himself and Bill Mollison (who happened to be around for more than two weeks).

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I also have some gripes about the place. I would like to think that the Permaculture Research Institute would be a best practice environment to set an example for students and visitors alike but there seemed to be a distinct lack of people care. Des, the farm manager was grateful for the work of WWOOFers but the rest of the management gave little gratitude. A “thank you” after a months work would be nice.

Given the amount of money that seems to be received from online courses and internships I would like to see the use of 100% organic food on the farm and more awareness about the products they are feeding people – let’s stop with the GM!

I believe that it’s setting a bad example when the WWOOF supervisor is selling corporate products as refreshments to WWOOFers, taking advantage of their need for a cool drink after a hard days work, and yet students were asked to leave the farm as they drank a beer around the campfire on the last night of a $7000 internship – not cool.

Places of learning, especially in the world of community orientated, co-operatitve, integrative, standard setting, permaculture designer manual teaching institutions should be aware that the world is watching and hierarchical, top down rules are most dangerous. I send out much respect to the fellow WWOOFers and students that I worked alongside during my month at the farm but I was deeply disappointed in the people care and lack of respect for the volunteers. I would like to see a feedback system enter the structure of the WWOOF network which could allow WWOOFers to gage the vibe of a host before committing to a months work.

Happy pictures to follow…

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March Against Monsanto – Byron Bay

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Wwoofing with Elisabeth

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Nina and I recently completed a two week wwoof in Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast with fermentation goddess Elisabeth Fekonia. Elisabeth has a wealth of experience in wild cultures, ferments, cheese-making, sourdough bread, animal care and tropical vegetable cultivation, all encompassed in a permaculture wonderland!

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The terraced property has evolved from over 20 years of experimentation – Elisabeth admits she had no idea about permaculture when her and her late husband began the project. Since then she’s gained a regional reputation, teaches cheese-making workshops and has written a handy guide on some of the more exotic vegetables that we can grow here in the sub tropicals.

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Whilst on the farm our duties were extremely varied, the exception being the morning pig and chicken feed. Most of what we ate came from Elisabeth’s preservations or the animals including the pork, chickens, eggs and plenty of home made cheese from Lydia’s milk.

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The property’s waste is recycled back into the system. Whey from cheese making feeds the pigs, grey water from the house irrigates the tropical yams, yacon and sweet potato, humanure from the composting toilet adds fertility to the fruit trees and goats keep the Lantana in check.

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Elisabeth also took me out to a Permaculture Noosa open house event. It’s a great way of seeing what systems other people in the area have. We got a crash course in trimming bananas, red claw farming and left with a bunch of macadamia nuts to plant.

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If you would like to wwoof with Elisabeth (and I highly recommend it) you can find her details at her Permaculture Realfood website

Lombok to Kupang

I write from Kupang where we have landed after 9 days at sea with our hosts onboard Tientos, Keith and Lea. We’ve had a mixed bag of calm and lumpy seas, wind on the nose and not too many chances to open the sails out fully.

630 nautical miles. 3 nightwatches. 3 anchorages. Volcanoes, Komodo dragons, new knots, amazing food, occasional sleep, lots of reading, kayaks to shore, boules on the beach, a birthday, deserted islands and coral reef. But no fish for dinner yet!

We will be here in Kupang for a few days whilst we complete paperwork to clear out of Indonesia. Our next stop will be Dili in East Timor before the crossing to Darwin.

Check out Nina’s blog for all the shenanigans onboard…

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!!!

Inna Bali

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Another month ticks by. This time in Bali. Let’s hope that when we collect our passports from the immigration office tomorrow they have extended our visa and we are legally here. A month in Bali has been necessary. Looking for the allusive boat ride to Australia is a time consuming process.

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In bali there is certainly over-populated ever-consuming pre-apocalyptic tourist cauldrons like Kuta where we’ve been based for a few weeks now (see Nina’s blogs – Stars Over Kuta and The One That Got Away), but luckily when we were not fixated on marina opportunities, we got the chance to explore the insides of Bali too.

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In contrast to the devastation that the overburdened holiday hotspots bring, Bali has some great regenerative, co-operative and forward thinking permaculture demonstration projects, disaster relief programmes and, dare I say it, “eco- tourism” facilities.

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Our fist visit to the “real” Bali was to IDEP, “a local Indonesian NGO, founded in 1999, that develops and delivers training, community programs and media related education to sustainable development through Permaculture, and Community-based Disaster Management.” Their words – best to check the website for more detailed information.

The staff there were super friendly, helpful and also let us film an interview. We bought seeds from their seed-saving programme and explored the gardens. We were so relieved to see folk making real positive change, a tough job.

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After slagging off “eco tourism” in my last blog I was dubious to visit our next destination. Not a planned visit. On a trip to some hot springs at the base of a volcano we saw a wooden sign for “Organic Farm & Stay“. We were actually looking for a place to kip for the night and also intrigued as to what they may be growing in this haven of coffee, cacao and rice. We decided to pay them a visit.

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We were welcomed by Wayan and Marjan who were keen to show us around. Wayan is a natural in front of camera and he explained their concept as the film rolled. He told us how most farmers in Bali have resorted to chemical agriculture in recent years. Effective marketing from agro-chemical companies have convinced the farmers that their herbicides and pesticides are necessary along with their terminator seeds. At The Organic Farm Bali, Wayan explained that they are working with the local farmers in the village to move forward to organic only agriculture with his emphasis on “making farmers cool again”.

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The tourism side of this enterprise is the home stay. They ask that people who come have a minimum stay of two nights with the idea that they spend at least one full day learning techniques from the farmers in the two adjoining properties who are producing the food for the visitors.

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Whilst out on the road in inner Bali we managed to observe the “real” Bali up close and personal. Poodling on our bike, along the ridges of volcanoes, around lakes, through rice terraces and along country lanes in villages, we met with village folk selling their own produce, roasting their own coffee and harvesting their own cacao. The scenery was stunning and the landscape varied.

There are plenty of other interesting projects that we didn’t manage to see but if you are in Bali maybe you should check them out – R.O.L.E Foundation have an extensive teaching program, Green School has a worldwide reputation for sustainable education and Side by Side Organic Farm has also been recommended to us, helping Bali’s disadvantaged.

Nina and I now reside in a house near the beach. We’ve been taken in by a Japanese man, Bhakto. We made friends with him whilst couch-surfing up in Ubud and he couldn’t bare the thought of us staying in Kuta another day. We’re happy that we all share interests, for him and I, permaculture and underground music, for him and Nina, permaculture and wellbeing. Next stop Australia?

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Buses, Beaches and Bangkok

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“Stop the van”!

Yep that was me screaming! I had asked the minivan driver twice to slow down. I had asked the other passengers if they were fearful for their lives. One German guy said “it’s exciting”! The driver ignored any requests. When I noticed 160 on the speedo whilst hurtling around a recommended 60 bend it was enough for me. I was getting out. “Sorry folks, I’m done with this guy”.

Luckily the place we exited the minivan was not so far from the ferry port to Koh Chang, one of Thailand’s most easterly islands.  We explained to the bemused local who saw us jump out, that the driver was crazy. Too much M150, the super strength taurine energy drink that the Thais seem to live for. The local man said that we could take the ferry in the morning and gave us all a ride 4km to a cheap room.

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The next morning we arrived on Koh Chang. We’d promised ourselves, since Paul joined us in China, that we’d head to a beach soon, certainly before he left us to England: it took over two months (once we’d explored a bit of Laos and Cambodia on the way down). It felt even more like we deserved the break off the back of the previous day’s bus and minivan trip from the Cambodian border town of Poipet.

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Island life was great. It felt a little non productive and indulgent on one hand but totally deserved on the other. The last beach we set foot on was the long shingle shore of Batumi, Georgia, last September. I hadn’t swam in the sea since Greece and never had I swam in the Gulf of Thailand. We met with Joe. It was great to see another familiar Norfolk face so far from the sticks. The home-sickness was diluted somewhat and we had some fun times including a twin kayak expedition out to an uninhabited island for a spot of swimming.  Paul and I played a DJ gig one night in Ting-Tong, a cool little reggae venue, with wages that managed to cover our accommodation for the week. Nina danced the night away. The most I’ve seen her bop since I played in Bulgaria. Good times.

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Next stop Bangkok. Only 6 hours by bus from Koh Chang, but with the boat and transfer time it was a full day in transit. We opted for the big bus after I vowed never to take another minivan. Like the other sheep, we were herded on and off vehicles along the well trodden paths of the pancake trail, little stickers attached to show our booking agent and our destination. We were dropped in the famous Khao San Road area of Bangkok. Accommodation was easy to find and super cheap at £2pppn. Here we would spend more than a week of which Joe would be around for a couple of days, Paul’s last 4 days and then just Nina and I for a few more.

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Excluding the suffocating heat and humidity we loved Bangkok! With Joe we explored the huge flower market and did the Chinatown food foot tour. We checked out the giant Buddha at the famous Wat Pho with Paul. We took to the river in the morning, the parks in the evening and the streets at night, mostly looking for Bangkok’s best street food. We were not disappointed. Thailand’s best Pad Thai? Octopus with fat rice noodles. Satay skewers to die for! Real coffee, fresh juices, sweet treats, chilli, river fish, fruit, greens… the list goes on. Keep checking Nina’s blog as I’m sure she’ll be writing about the food of Bangkok…

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It was sad to see Paul off in Bangkok. I’m not sure when we will next meet. The homesickness kicked in once more and thoughts of him seeing my family a couple of days from departure was quite heart-wrenching. “Give them a squeeze from me mate”.

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We booked ourselves onto a bus north to check out some permaculture projects. I felt and feel pretty disconnected from the inspirational projects, people and general world of permaculture. Although this journey is a permie one, I have been sidetracked. Panya Project, Rak Tamachat and many more interesting demonstration sites are in northern Thailand. Unfortunately soon after we’d booked our bus tickets it was budget check-in time. It’s no surprise that although we have mostly remained on budget, as we head into our 15th month on the road, things are tight. We took the decision to compromise a trip north. We detoured once before, heading up to Romania, but that was for a paid teaching position that justified the extra loop. This time is different. We decided that we have a very unclear time ahead of us and so we should move more directly towards Australia.

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So we find ourselves in Phuket, another overnight bus trip south. Here there are 3 major Marinas. We have put together some posters and will advertise ourselves as volunteer crew for any boats, yachts or ships heading south towards Malaysia, Indonesia or Australia. We spent the last two days on a moped in and about the Marinas and Yacht clubs pinning up posters, chatting to potential skippers and getting the general lowdown on boat hitching a ride. From here boats stop in Langkawi, Malaysia and so we may well travel there by bus soon, connecting ports and marinas along the way. There are Wwoof hosts and Permcaulture projects on route so we’re back to a game of dot-to-dot, similar to our european leg. Wish us luck!

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Check out Nina’s blog here