Sunday, 4 December 2016

Neo-peasants rise up!

English writer George Monbiot contests “the oddest insult in the English language [is] when you call someone a peasant, [because] you are accusing them of being self-reliant and productive.” Go Woody! You proud lil 'peasant...

Words such as pagan and heathen were insults Christians used to describe various nameless land-sacred peoples of Europe. In our community our peasant, pagan, heathen women get together to raise awareness about the relocalisation of food and medicine in an age where Christian-capitalism is becoming a spent and dying force.

Zeph and Woody, like true neo-peasants, are learning grafting techniques to expand the food commons in their locasphere.

Woody (pictured here after his first haircut on his birthday morning) gets to four years of age without eating processed sugar,

and for another half year his brother is lovingly unschooled through the gifts of the community.

(Thanks Tosh, Danny, Nick, Kirsten, Pete, Jeff, Cath, Hamish, Fiona, Henri, Edward, Tim, Angela and Gael for aiding Zeph's learning).

Zeph also experiments with his own forms of neo-peasant culture-making in his video Treeffiti:

and mucks around with developing his own written language.

He helps in numerous home projects such as building the cellar from stone unearthed from our land.

Nice job 14 year-old!

Zephyr is loving having his own pad to sleep in, entertain friends in and as a venue to host impromptu gigs by touring friends Formidable Vegetable Sound System.

This is Angela, who we welcomed as a SWAP (Social Warming Artists + Permaculturists), and who has since become a friend to all of us.

In this photo Angela and Meg are preparing a bed for cabbages.

We have irrigation lines set up for the dry months but for the rainy months we harvest water passively in our swales.

It wasn't just Angela who arrived to our place by bike. These last few months we have hosted four Warm Showers travellers: Maya, Kirsten, Jaz and Tom, (pictured below). On most days we talk about upcoming cycle trips that we are scheming, but for now we are happy to be home where we can repay some of the kindness shown to us while we were on the road.

We also love being home because we love being community gardeners, helping to build an alternative food system based on care, nourishment and trust. The Daylesford Community Food Gardeners are planning to be in the Daylesford New Year's Eve parade again this year, so please get in touch if you'd like to join us.

Love the poster, Jeff! We're rapt you promised a bike or two for next year's poster.

Learning the art of bicycle maintenance is an ongoing affair at our place. Bicycles are a preferred neo-peasant mobility.

But you always see more when you're walking, such as this little family of hard shells we spotted at Lake Daylesford,

while fishing for some feral redfin.

Wild plants, fish and mushrooms are part of any neo-peasant sacred economy, as are wild bees. We caught our first wild swarm this spring, aided and tutored by Nick from Milkwood. Thanks Nick!

We've been mentoring and handing on knowledges too, while getting fashion tips in exchange. Thanks Ruby!

Harvesting the early planted garlic was an experiment worth repeating. We planted these bulbs in February.

Gift economies only work if the gifts flow in every direction. We've been foraging in the nearby forest so carrying out work that enables the diversity of that forest to flourish is the return.

And we've been speaking, sharing and learning at a number of events including talks at libraries, sustainability festivals and at this event, Futurelands2, where Patrick introduced Bruce Pascoe in the Kandos community hall.

We shared an event with Kirsten from Milkwood and Uncle Kevin Williams, a Wiradjuri man, at Ganguddy,

and we did a most non neo-peasant thing and flew to Cairns, breaking our no-fly principle. All throughout the flight we had to burp Beverly, our jun mother.

We were invited to Cairns as guests of the 2016 International Indigenous Allied Health Conference, and got to spend three days with this wonderful group, each of us sharing stories of resilience and creativity from our respective communities.

Patrick gave a keynote called Fermenting country: caring for the ecology of our guts, and Meg ran a complementary workshop on making fermented drinks, including jun.

Meg separated 16 parts of Beverly to give away. She named each one after a strong woman in our community. Here is Leith, an exhibitor from the Dept of Veteran Affairs.

The gifts flowed our way too. Matthew Tafoya, a Navajo man, designed and made this famous t-shirt in the Bush jnr era. Matt's talk about his people's community food gardens was inspirational.

So as you can see we've been busy lil' neo-peasants and raising quite a sweat these past few months. Meg made us some soap so we can clean up a little before new year.

Wishing you all a peaceful summer solstice season, with love from Artist as Family...

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Preparing the ground for more flowering

It's been a busy month since birthing The Cumquat and Land Cultures. There has been much late winter, early spring labouring under an occasional sun.

With another family we planted out chestnuts and walnuts on common land for the next generations.

Each of us contributing in our own way.

We planted trees, and we grafted medlar scions onto hawthorns.

We attempted this several years ago in the little forest near home with no success.

With a little more understanding we are trying again, and are willing the sap to flow into these fruiting branches to make more fruit possible.

With food forest work the natural order of things to follow is bee work. The boys have been making new housing for native bees.

Now we're awaiting the warmer weather for the occupation.

Community gardening has been an ongoing priority for several years now. This winter we hosted two pruning workshops with Ian Clarke, a knowledgeable tree elder.

The pruned cuttings were cycled home and sat in the snow,

before being made into biochar, to feed back the flowering earth.

Each day the boys are involved in what Gertrude Stein once called the processes of circularity.

It has been a great relief for Zeph to be outside the strictures and inflexibilities of institutional life. Removing fences at a community garden working bee is not just a metaphor.

He has begun work on a critical-creative research project of his choice — The history of street art. For two hours every day he reads, writes and explores this world. And we've been on excursions to help better understand this world.

For country kids the city offers colour and excitement, as well as an understanding of the context for how urbanisation makes ill the world's worlds. Such illness, such an interruption to life, is the very medium for graffiti writers and street artists who are not well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

On another day the boys take old tip-discarded timber and build a new bridge over one of the swales in the garden. Zeph taught his younger brother to use tools and calibrate his eyes and arms to the task of making the home garden more functional and productive.

Zeph has moved into the Cumquat. Imagine being 14 years old and living in the little home you co-built! Each morning between 7-9am he works on his street art research project and during the day he heads out to work with various skilled friends in our community. On organic and permaculture farms, at light earth building sites, stone retaining wall constructions, selling local produce at a market stall, and learning traditional restoration work on an old church have all been part of his experience over the past two weeks since he left school. 

And we've been sharing our skills too. Here Meg teaches the art of fermenting grains: sourdough bread and rejuvelac making.

And for the first time we have been eating our own oranges throughout the winter. Drying the peel to grind up and use to flavour fruit bread or using them as fire lighters to start our wood oven.

Most of the world's worlds are flowering places, and these places that flower nurture and keep well the communities of the living. That this understanding is absent from the teaching that occurs in schools is why our culture is involved in permanent forms of destruction. To be involved in the sacred realm of buds and bees, seasons and cycles is what we want to pass on to our kids. And to further grow our understanding of what keeps life flowering, fruiting and making more life possible.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Building the Cumquat: an initiation and apprenticeship into life

About three months ago a handsome young strapper from Melbourne dropped out of his day-and-into-the-night job and began a personal pilgrimage. His first week on the road landed him at our home (after coming along to our talk at Melbourne Free University), and he very quickly became part of the family.

In this first week, conversations with James about communal living, the politics of permaculture, access to land, agency and privilege kept cycling around the pragmatic day-to-day tasks of our homelife. One conversation led to another and quite suddenly we were talking about the possibility of building another small dwelling for more SWAPs like James to come and live, labour and learn. We soon began collecting materials from the local tip and skip bins. 

A significant bulk of the material we collected on bicycle.

We hadn't developed a design at this stage, but the seed for a building apprenticeship was planted. Not only did we want more non-monetary living opportunities for SWAPs, we wanted to empower others by learning the art of shelter making. We were about to advertise the position for a non-monetary, non-institutional apprenticeship when two things occurred: James let us know that he was keen to be an apprentice, and Zephyr was crumpling at school, and his self-esteem was plummeting. This was a wonderful opportunity and we all seized the day. We drew up a plan and brought everyone together to start working on our tiny house that Meg called The Cumquat.

Before we began, we bought Zeph a little something. As parents we thought it important his first porn came from us. He jumped right in.

The book is a great survey of small dwellings from across the world, and Zeph was truly inspired. We bought the lads (James 28, Zephyr 14) a tool bag each and got to work, starting with the stumps and subfloor.

Each day Zeph kept a journal of what he learned.

After an active, full-bodied learning day he would read, and his beautiful, engaged self returned with every day away from school, screens and phones. He read six books over the six weeks, an activity he hadn't done since his home-ed days.

Woody was keen to help on the site too and knowing how eager he is to join all aspects of life, James had brought back with him his childhood tools to hand on. As you can imagine Woody was pretty chuffed. He took great care to place each item in the tool belt that was Zeph's when he was Woody's age.

The build progressed in the rain, snow and rare pockets of sun. Gifts flowed in from the community such as these wonderful windows from our permie friend Vasko, old floorboards from Sarah, structural timbers from Bee and Ra, bearers and cladding from Bob and Beth, sisalation from Koos, roof iron from Pete, and old decking boards from Nicko.

Some days were so wet we dropped our tools and headed into the bush. The learning that takes place out of school has no status in this age of fear and institutional incarceration, but we know it can be explosive and expansive. Seeing our boys thrive through their own will to learn is a joy to behold. All we need to do is provide the right environment, and they do the rest.

Over 95% of the materials we used were salvaged from the local tip and nearby building skips. We borrowed our neighbour's ute and a friend's car on a few occasions to collect them, but much was collected on our bicycle trailer. James and Zeph learned all the steps of building and soon became confident users of tools.

There were hard days, cold days and joy-filled days as they grew their knowledge, strength and resilience. After the winter solstice the days became longer, which also meant more eggs being laid in our chicken coup. Thanks chooks!

Chickweed, full of vitamin C and abundant at this time of year, was another local medicine food that fuelled the build, and helped us through our winter colds.

The entire build took 6 weeks (not including the time to collect the materials), and we were all fairly exhausted by the end of it. Zeph, at the ripe age of 14 years old, worked his first 10 hour day.

Give a young person a project in which all their regard and care and skills can shine and you'll have a gem who has great self-esteem and the ability to transition from centre of the universe to participant of the universe. The Cumquat build was very much part of Zeph's initiation into life.

The mentorship and maturity of James was a big part of Zeph's learning and growth. The two worked so well together and as much as possible Patrick stepped back and allowed them both to go through the processes themselves. We all had things to learn from each other and despite the ordinary strains of such activity, the building of The Cumquat was a remarkable moment in our family's trajectory, and we thank James and Zeph for making it such a special time, and we thank our local, online and permacultural communities for loving The Cumquat into being in so many diverse ways. And we thank the snow for reminding us of older, colder winters in this region, and the gifts of the sun and the earth that create the radiation and thermal mass that keeps us warm.

The last stage of the build was to insulate the walls with straw, which we bought direct from local farmer Ian Miller in Smeaton 22 kms away. We contemplated lining the walls with old floorboards or old sheets of tin, but when permie friend Dean Farago offered his expertise, materials and labour to finish the walls using a traditional rendering method, we knew we couldn't refuse.

We have made a little video of the build that shows the entire process, and is accompanied by our talented singer-songwriter friend, Anthony Petrucci, who sings us intensely through the build with his old band Souls on Board.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for calling in to hear the song of The Cumquat being sung into life, to witness a boy's initiation and to behold a young man's apprenticeship. We hope it has inspired you and the young people in your worlds to keep performing life outside the banker's realm and the institution's cage.