Tag Archives: Volunteer

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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Surfing the Crisis

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Nina and I have been in Greece for six weeks now, certainly longer than we expected. True to our travel design we are keeping spending to an absolute minimum – the only way to prolong the trip. People have been asking how we afford to travel for so long, it will soon be six months since we left England, and how can we afford to travel in Europe especially. Greece has been the perfect example of how.

We paid for our first 3 nights in Greece when we arrived in Corfu from Italy. It was €64 in total, about £50. Since then we have not parted with a penny for a bed. Maybe we are bad tourists, given Greece’s current financial situation, spending on average £1.20 a night for accommodation during our 42 days here. We had the good fortune of friends with an empty house for two weeks, we camped between trekking days, we were offered a free room in a hotel and we slept under the stars in our sleeping bags when we missed the last bus out of the city. But how did we have four days seeing the sites of Athens, four days in Greece’s second largest city and the same amount of time in the student hub of Ioannina without parting with a single euro cent? Enter our remarkably kind and trusting new friends that we met through Couch-Surfing.

Greece has been the first place that Nina and I have bounced from couch to couch. It took a bit of forward planning, mostly by Nina, but the experience has been totally humbling. If you are new to the Couch-Surfing concept then I will explain quickly – firstly sign up on their website then once you know which places, cities or towns you are visiting search the database for like-minded (or non like-minded, if you are interested in a more eye opening experience) people and contact them to ask if their couch is free. Their profile states the type of couch. sometimes you get your own room or it could just be a space on the floor. The point really is not about the standard of accommodation but the fact that complete strangers are willing to take you into their homes. It’s an exchange network with the purpose of helping out budget travellers and making connections and friendships whilst learning about local culture.

Nina and I have had nothing but warm, kind, trusting welcomes into to each of the homes that we have stayed in here in Greece. We have been hosted by some very interesting people and learnt a great deal about Greece, the current “crisis” and home traditions, mostly involving food.

Xenofan and Maria were our first Couchsurf hosts in Greece. Both psychology students in the cosy and vibrant lake-side city of Ioannina. They were busy with studies but made time to show us around with a visit to the local produce market and a fundraising event for the immigration support team that Xenofan works with. We cooked together and planted their balcony garden with our expanding collection of seeds taken from various wwoof hosts and seed swappers. Self catering is also high on our priorities. It makes our cash go further and all the Couchsurf hosts we’ve stayed with so far have let us use the kitchen, it’s been a real place to connect and share.

We hitch-hiked (free transport) from Ioannina to Thessaloniki where we were welcomed by Spyros, a professor of political science at the university, active politician with Greece’s far left anti-euro party, writer of books on eco-feminism and public speaker on anti-facism. Spryros’ apartment was a haven for anyone interested in ism’s. Floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with English written books on everything from anarchic primitivism to eurocentrism. We spent the first evening talking about the financial situation and trying to understand what it actually meant to people on a street level. We were joined by a friend, an independent journalist and felt very removed from their struggle yet very welcome in their home. We would have liked to have spent more time with our host but he was tied up with public presentations and lectures most of the time. He very trustingly gave us a set of keys, apologised for his absence and wished us a nice time exploring the city. I’m glad we got to exchange pdf books and documentaries over lunch before we made way to Athens. You can read Spyros’ latest article for the Guardian here.

We arrived in Athens after a sleepless night train and were kindly met at the station by our host Mitsos. He had offered to come and collect us at the crack of dawn on his day off and drove us to his apartment where we met his partner Emily. This was our third back-to-back Couchsurf and we were becoming overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Greek people. We rested for a while before setting off to a beach a little drive from the city. That evening Mitsos and Emily had a family bbq and we met friends, drank home-made red wine, sat up late and put the world to rights. It felt like we had known them for years. If it wasn’t for our hosts we would have never found cafe bars in the city, making use of abandoned buildings in a sort of pop-up cafe, festival way. Emily worked in the tourist area and on our second day she whisked us round the famous landmarks and helped us get a sense of the huge city, 5m in total, half of the Greek population. Emily also worked for a theatre group who happened to be presenting a one man show of Socrates Now on our last evening. It followed a debate and brainstorm about what to do in Greece’s current “crisis”. I thought about what Cuba did when their imports were severed. Made me wanna stand up and quote Geoff Lawton – “All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden”.