Artist as Family practice a unique form of performance art. Performances comprise how we live, get our food and move around; performing low-carbon modes of life making. We invite you to contribute comments and share your own experiences and knowledges as we travel Australia by bicycle, skip on the greenwash and attempt to pioneer truly sustainable food and travel ways in an era of destabilising climate, ecological crises, economic contraction and energy powerdown.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The family leg (Willoughby to Moss Vale via Wilberforce)

The morning we packed up to leave Patrick's sister's home in the leafy northern burbs of Sydney,


the Sydney Morning Herald was awash with letters referring to a particular article.


The content of the article and its subsequent letters were not at all news to us, however seeing this content published in a major newspaper was. Australia has been smug about energy for decades; our odious car culture is built upon it. Power to the people without petroleum seemed like the right byline to head out on our bikes again, only we didn't ride far before, for the second time in the year, we put Zero in a box and boarded a train.


Breaking laws has been a big part of our trip. As long as no one gets hurts or anything is damaged we think a law is open for interpretative experimentation. Zero would certainly be happier if he didn't have to suffer the humiliation of being disappeared from view. Sorry Zero! But we'll have to wait for Sydney's cars to be out of petrol before we attempt to cycle out of this particular city.


Our train took us south over the Harbour Bridge, west towards the foothills of the Blue Mountains and then north to Windsor station. North you ask? Yes, briefly. We were asked to give a talk at Permaculture Sydney West and to stay with Danielle Wheeler, who is actively involved with PSW, and her family in Wilberforce.


We had stayed with Danielle and Mark, their son Patrick and pooch Rory on the way up about ten months earlier and it was a joy to visit them again. But we couldn't linger, our Patrick's mum's birthday was approaching and we wanted to be in the Southern Highlands to celebrate it with her.

On the way out of Wilberforce we came across swathes of roadside balloon vine (Cardiospermum grandiflorum) and while there is much ethnobotanical information on its sister plant Cardiospermum halicacabum, which is also called balloon vine (so confusing), there are no uses or benefits listed online for C. grandiflorum. We think the young leaves could make a good cooked vegetable,


and the seeds could be used medicinally as is the case with C. halicacabum, but we need to do some more research. Perhaps our friend Diego Bonetto knows?


Back in Danielle's garden another balloon-like-flower plant, the Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruvians), grows without care,


producing delicious fruits which we got to sample.


And further back on Palm Island (in August) we found native or wild gooseberry (Physalis angulata), also called (rather confusingly) balloon cherry and is related to, but not to be confused with, Cape gooseberry.


After a day's ride we arrived in Luddenham and pitched our tents near the Showies (once called Carnies) at the show ground and cooked some grub.


The next morning we were keen to get an early start so we skipped on cooking porridge, packed up the tents and headed up the road to the service station to buy some juice to put on our oats, ginger, raisins and chia seed breakfast of champions.


As we slowly climbed to the cool Southern Highlands, autonomous stone fruits began to appear.


As did black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), which we rate as one of the most adaptable species in Australia following us all the way from cold Daylesford to Cape York and back again.


Its leaf and fruit shape seem to vary from soil to soil, region to region, but as far as we're aware it's the same species. We harvested the following plant on North Stradbroke Island in May. You can see the leaf here is finer and less hairy than in the colder climates.


Thirty kms north of Camden the tandem's front tyre burst a hole and Patrick, Zeph and Zero came to a dramatic stop. We had absent-mindedly left our spare tyres in Sydney (under the cousin's mulberry tree) and so we had to draw on our wits to get us out of this dilemma. We went foraging for old rubber material, found an old truck tyre, fashioned a piece to fit, repaired the tube, which had also burst, and hobbled on to Camden.


Thanks for the help and the generous discount Camden Cycles.


On the way to Picton we passed unintentionally planted fat hen or lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album),


old wild rose hips (Rosa canina),


and new shoots of roadside wild fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), obviously thriving on all the Roundup its been getting.


We arrived in the town with the rain and observed all of civility's industrial pollutants (mainly car detergents) being washed from the road into the little nameless creek that runs under the main drag,


before being snapped by the local press.


In almost 12 months on the road, living mostly outdoors, this was one of only a handful of days in which we got a soaking. We had stayed in Picton on the way up and camped on the edge of the botanical gardens where the friendly gardeners had encouraged us. This time we spoiled ourselves with a dry room at the George IV hotel. Again we had to smuggle Zero, this time through the window, put him on his bedding and leave early the next day without a trace of dog hair or scent.

It is about 150 kms from Wilberforce to Moss Vale where we were heading to visit Patrick's parents. From Picton we needed to climb 60 kms or so to reach our destination. Along the way we discovered salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) in flower and therefore too late to harvest as their roots become too woody to eat after buds appear.


But when we got to cooler Bowral we found some plants that were harvestable,


and we took them back to Patrick's folks' place where we cleaned and grated the roots and served up our delicious find.


Since our time in the Daintree, we had been carrying a small box of Daintree tea to bring back for Patrick's mum. It was a somewhat rough and ready birthday gift having just survived the wreckage of life inside one of our panniers. But we found some used wrapping paper, Patrick got out his watercolours,


and we celebrated Nana Jones' birthday with rich food and happy hearts.


Patrick's brother's family also live in Moss Vale and they had previously invited us to design and build them a chicken area. The arrangement that suited everyone was to be part gift economy, part family love, part money in the coffers. The bikes were overdue for a service and we booked them into Cycliste for the week we were to be in Mossy building. For any locals to this region, this was probably the best service we've had and we can highly recommend them. Thanks Marika and Stuart!

Before we began work Patrick mused on what makes happy chooks in order to get us all in the right frame of mind to begin work.


Ideally chooks are happiest and healthiest free-ranging but they also need protection from foxes and other creatures (pythons up north). We started out by marking the area we were to fence with kitchen string and flour,


and before going to the local hardware we first visited the local tip to see what we could recycle.


We found recycled wire, a small hutch that the Moss Vale Joneses could turn into a portable chook weeder, and a small homebuilt wheelbarrow for the cousins, Fred and Henry, and Woody to use while on site.


We also found a water tank we could install for the chicken's water supply.


The only thing we had to buy new were posts, screws, nails and self tapping stirrups. No need for concrete! The rest of the material Patrick's brother, Sam, had previously collected and stored near the site, awaiting our arrival.


We got to it. Zeph painting posts with old primer paint, Patrick doing the carpentry work, Meg documenting the process and bringing refreshments and Woody standing ready with his barrow to collect any off cuts.


We needed more wire so Uncle Sam and Zeph attacked the back fence and untangled some from various roots, shoots and leaves.


We built a gate, put flag stones under it (for fox proofing) and started work on the nesting boxes and coop.


We cut out privot from the garden and used branches as roosting limbs.


We stole some insulation from the roof in the main house,


and lined the walls, which will aid in extending the laying season.


Below where the chickens will roost is a slatted floor which enables easy scraping out of precious poo. A ramp helps the chooks up, especially young chicks who need the extra assistance. We built a small wall to come down in front of the roosting perches to block wind, although this opening is facing east and gets the least amount of weather. Making this area dark is appealing for laying hens but will also work to deter any egg thieving crows, who tend to avoid small dark areas. Uncle Sam still has to put on spouting and hook up the roof catchment to the water tank.


Outside the coop the nesting boxes can be accessed for quick egg retrieval. Above these boxes a 'floppy top' (chicken wire that flops about on top of a fence) has been installed to put off foxes jumping over it.


We have had such a lovely stay with family. Patrick's parents (Nana and Papa) and Uncle Sam and Aunty Jacqui and Freddy and Henry have all spoiled us with good food and company for a week. Thank you all so very much! We love you all to pieces.


Tomorrow we once again board our bikes and head to Kiama to stay with the Milkwood Permaculture crew who have organised for us to give a free talk about our adventuring this coming Tuesday, November 18. If you live nearby, please come along at 6pm to the Little Blowhole Café (4 Tingira Crescent Kiama) to say g'day.

Until next time, ride safe and may we all have clear skies and tailwinds.

AaF xx

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Chopping and dropping in the Food Forest, Sydney

We have been staying with family while in Sydney, children and dogs running through the house leaving behind trails of shrieking delight, and of course the tears that sometimes dovetail such joy.


Yesterday we saddled up to ride across the harbour to the Food Forest we planted in Surry Hills in 2010. We were heading there to host a working bee and workshop, and this was to be our second Sydney harbour crossing on bikes and we knew what to expect.


We were pretty excited to see the garden again, although some more than others as we rode across the city's famed bridge.


We had a plan of what we wanted to achieve at the working bee, first making sure that all cutting tools were clean, as it is very easy to pass disease between plants via secateurs. 


This was to be a day of turning the forest's top-heavy living biomass into forest floor water conserving and food producing mulch. Thinning a food forest is crucial to enable air and sun flow. If a food forest is too shaded it won't produce as well. While Woody practiced his cutting technique,


a number of us got stuck in. Lani used a hatchet to break down larger branches,


Patrick got up high and cut the light in,


and Jeremy and Francis turned the prunings into wood chips.


Zeph also worked with the hatchet stripping the smaller limbs,


and Woody collected up snails,


and juicy mulberries.


Meg was behind the camera, documenting our little group's work to mark and celebrate the garden's fourth year. Zeph helped Amanda collect stink bugs (Musgraveia sulciventris) off the citrus. They collected a hundred or more, wearing dark glasses to protect their eyes from the toxic spray the bugs can emit. It was Jeremy's idea to put these handsome pests into hot soapy water to kill them.


Amanda has been with the garden since its inception and her care and commitment has been absolutely instrumental to its success.


Artist as Family were keen to show local residents the bush foods, culinary herbs, edible flowers and fruit setting in the garden, as well as reinstate the north border where annual vegetables grow beautifully in sunny and semi-shaded positions. We were also keen to point out that even though this garden is on church grounds, it is a community garden and you don't have to be part of the church, or religious for that matter, to garden and enjoy the fruits of the Food Forest.


In order to attract pollinators and beneficial predators to the garden we have planted many different species, mimicking a healthy forest ecology. The diversity of food is also there to attract human organisms, but we recognise food knowledges have been in decline for the past two generations and many people walk past the garden not knowing what is actually going on there. A few years ago, in order to address this problem, the MCA and Artist as Family mocked up a design for a sign to be installed at the garden to help inform the public about this permanent public work.


It shows a plan of the Food Forest with a key noting over 40 species of edible plants. It's probably a good thing this particular design never went ahead as a number of the species have been replaced and new plants planted. Such is the nature of an ecology. However, one thing that we feel is still missing from this 24 hr access community garden is a notice or sign to welcome participation. The garden also requires skilled permaculturalists and other such gardeners who know 'chop and drop' food forestry techniques.

We took the garden from page (2009),


to stage (2010).


Now it requires local performers to play a part; to play in its chop and drop theatre.


Yes, this is just a small garden, but nonetheless it is a response to generating a greener future. One of these gardens in every park, nook, 'nature strip' and common would go a long way to improving our health and the health of the world's environments.


Even if these spaces only contributed 5% of our food, it would be 5% less damage we would be committing in the world. And by being involved in such processes we would be teaching our young people to be generative and not extractive, to be creators not destroyers, which would have significant reverberations for us all.