If anyone doesn’t know about kombucha the wonder drink, you’re really missing out on something wonderful. A powerful probiotic, it’s insanely healthy, building beneficial gut bacteria, stimulating your immune system, detoxifying, cleansing, anti-cancerous, an so much more… and it’s fantastically delicious.
Basically it's a fizzy fermented tea - all made possible by a Scoby - a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. It looks like a big soggy mushroom jelly type of thing, not the most appealing or attractive thing in the world but when you feed your Scoby some tea (black, redbush or green) and some sugar, it ferments the sweet tea and turns it into a slightly fizzy incredible health drink. I have no idea where Scoby’s were first discovered, only that it’s been brewed and drunk for thousands of years. It does look like some sort of deep sea/alien creature to be honest..
The longer you leave your tea to brew, the more the sweetness turns to vinegar. After some experimentation you’ll learn to catch your brew at the time that you personally most like the taste, at which point you can bottle it, add herbs or flavours if you want to (ginger and tumeric are my current favourites) and keep it in the fridge to drink as you please. Then you simply top up your Scoby with more tea and sugar and off the cycle goes again.
I’ve become used to drinking my kombucha in place of wine and sweet drinks.. Super refreshing and great to drink at any time. Mine come with me everywhere I go, it kind of feels like we’re travelling with pets. We now have an entire basket in our tiny van devoted to my kombucha habit!
You can buy your Scoby online, or better still find someone else brewing.. Scoby’s keep on growing deeper, adding layers with each new brew, and so can be split easily to share with other kombucha lovers.
We've just finished up a month of wwoofing at 'Tui', one of the oldest ecovillages in New Zealand and right on Wainui bay, an incredibly beautiful and wild bay filled with stingrays, starfish and right on the edge of the Abel Tasman national park, and one of the 'Great Walks' of New Zealand. We've been redecorating the former studio of a jeweller who works with recycled glass and greenstone, but this is also the home of Robina McCurdy, a wonderful and wild permaculture teacher that I'd met once before when she ran a session in my childrens area at the international permaculture convergence back in 2015.
Ohli picking the tasty things in the communal gardens
Robina has been working in school gardens across New Zealand and has made a really great series of documentaries on the importance of school gardens that I've used in some of my teacher training days with Organic Playgrounds. Pete, Ohli and I spent our first day there helping her in the communal gardens. She was running her annual pdc there beginning the week after we arrived, so I didn't manage to pick her brains on her permaculture work as much as I'd hoped to, but we did spend some time chatting whilst I helped her set up for her course. I could have quite happily lived in her library for about a week, it was clear she had many years of teaching behind her..
Tui eco-village itself is a really interesting and beautiful place. They've been here since the 1970's, and the location is completely incredible. There are around 50-ish people living there, including a dozen or so children. The community structure seems to have changed over the years (as it does) but there is a communal meal once a week, along with a heart sharing circle and community meeting. They have a very conscious communication strategy in their meetings, using NVC and facilitation techniques that seem to work really well in resolving conflicts and maintaining harmony. Whilst I was there we also had a womens circle, which was nourishing beyond belief. The emphasis on openness, truth and support from such a diversity of women made me remember just how important that is to me in my everyday life.
Another regular thing that I found really inspiring was that once a week the men from the community got together with the boys to spend time together. There had been some issues with the boys becoming less and less involved with communal events and becoming quite disconnected. So they started making a conscious effort to spend time together. Ohli and Pete joined in with them as they spent the day making rafts from large fishing buoys that had washed up on the shore, and then all went into the estuary to sail and hilariously sink together!
The Tui collective run regular rites of passage immersions for both young women (called Tides) and young men (Tracks). This is something I find incredibly inspiring and tempting to move close to here to be a part of! At one time, when our communities and villages were less fragmented, our journey into adulthood was marked by ceremony and recognition - guiding young people through transformation with support and understanding. I LOVE that this is such a central part of what the Tui trust is doing here throughout the year, what an incredible way to build a culture of support and empowerment to those growing alongside and within the community.
To financially support many of the residents without them needing to leave the land to look for work, there is a thriving workers co-operative making an amazing selection of natural beeswax balms. I don’t know if we could have survived the sand flys and mosquitoes without them! These are sold in many local stores, and this is a great example of a sustaining and sustainable industry coming from the land.
There’’s so much more I could say about Tui. Writing about it now after we have left makes me feel a longing to return again someday.. Of all the intentional communities and eco-villages that I have visited in my life (and there have been quite a few) this is the one that stands out most to me as one I could want to stay in. The location on Wainui bay is one of the most peaceful, wild and beautiful places I’ve ever been, close to thriving towns and alternative scenes, and the homes at Tui are quirky (most being built up and around old house trucks from the ‘70’s), beautiful and comfortable. The community really puts a focus on the people care side of communal living, and a great deal of thought and time has been devoted to setting up conscious decision making and facilitation processes, and it really shows through. Sure, it has its problems, even here with such a strong ethos there is still conflict, as it wouldn’t be real life if there wasn’t! But it is communicated and worked through. Really inspirational.
This week we saw Hannah, Martha and Elizabeth at The Inkpot, their smallholding in Lincolnshire. Hannah is one of my most favourite people. We first met when she led a teacher training course I came onto years ago, and every time I see her she inspires me; she is one of the warmest, funniest, kind hearted and hard working people that I’ve ever met.
When Hannah moved onto The Inkpot back in 2010 the land was really degraded from many years as an agricultural field. Since then she has been working on increasing the fertility and biodiversity by mob grazing a herd of cattle, sheep and chickens, moving them over her land daily. She sells meat, eggs and wool from her animals, whilst also running many different permaculture courses and workshops. She is a senior tutor for the permaculture association which means that she helps apprentices along their diplomas alongside helping to organise many gatherings and trainings for other tutors, like me. She also manages to accomplish all of this with her twin 11 year old daughters Martha and Elizabeth, who are both utterly wild and wonderful in every way.
She has the most hefty reciprocal roof roundhouse shelter I’ve ever seen, it’s a total beast of a building and completely amazing! It’s still in the process of being finished, and we’re hoping that we can return after a few months of travelling so that Pete can help Hannah out with a bit of extra carpentry. For now we just spent a couple of days helping out a little, enjoying catching up in the Lincolnshire sunshine and waking up to our outdoor breakfast made by Martha and Elizabeth..
Hannah welcomes volunteers and interns on her land and has a huge amount of knowledge to share. You can find her courses and details at the-inkpot.com
This week found us in Northumberland visiting some friends who have a home in an old gypsy settlement not far outside of Newcastle. As the story goes, the gypsy caravans moved in here around a hundred years ago, and over the years since then have been replaced with little wooden houses. Each plot is quite small, and most houses just one story high so they’re more like little cabins or bungalows than full houses, but all really unique.
These pictures are from the most developed neighbourhood where our friends have a cabin, and also the settlement in a nearby field:
The situation here is really interesting. There are four main neighbourhoods; two by the river, one in the fields surrounded by horses and one in the forest. The houses go for sale anywhere between £6,000 and £30,000, whilst on top of that you pay a ground rent of between £250-600 a year depending on the site. Everything is off-grid, with most houses having solar power and wood burners, and water is piped in from the river.
It all seemed a bit too good to be true, handmade quirky homes in forests and fields! Unfortunately the big drawback is that on some of the neighbourhoods you’re not allowed to stay all year round – come winter you have to leave for a couple of months, in all except the most remote site in the woods (which was my favourite one, though also the most challenging for access with no roads nearby). This would be an obstacle for anyone wanting a permanent year round home, though it could be the perfect set up for someone wanting to own an affordable house who goes travelling over the winter.
I’m not sure what building restrictions apply here but it sounds and appears that you can rebuild your cabin how you like, so long as you keep roughly the same footprint, and it also seems to be in the hands of the site managers rather than anyone ‘official’, though I have no idea how this works legally! This would need looking into by anyone interested, we were only there for a couple of days and so just had an introduction to the place really. There are many cabins that have recently been renovated to a high standard, whilst also many that look un-lived in, and they regularly come up for sale.
Here are some images from the woodland neighbourhood:
It feels as though this is a really undiscovered magic little place. So close to Newcastle, walking distance to a lovely little village with a train station, bus stops, shop and schools, and yet feels a million miles away. Maybe it’s so special because no-one knows about it. But it would be wonderful to see the empty cabins taken on by others who would fully appreciate life out on the edges with others doing the same. Everyone we met here was really friendly and open, though I got the sense that most people used the houses as second homes or weekend cabins, though I might have been mistaken. Apparently residents previously gathered together for regular bonfires, until tragically one, maybe more, of the houses caught fire. Since then open fires are banned throughout and the gatherings ended. I had a bit of a vision of how it could feel here if more people moved in who wanted to co-create connections and community amongst the homes, childrens play spaces, creative gathering areas (that don’t involve open fires), all the things that bring people together, and just how alive the place could become again.
Anyone interested can find out more please get in touch with me. I wasn’t able to find anything online about them but I could connect you with friends who live on site.
We recently stopped in for a weekend to visit an old friend of mine who lives on 6 acres of beautiful North facing slope, somewhere between Sydney and Byron bay. I haven't seen Zoe since our time together in the Panya permaculture project in Thailand 5 years ago, so our recent journey up the coastline was a perfect chance to catch up with her.
Zoe lives with her partner Shmuel, and her parents (both gardeners and landscapers) also live in a separate house further down the hill. Since moving onto the land together about 3 years ago Zoe and Shmuel have been building up a thriving fermented foods business, making a completely amazing range of kimchee's, pickles, kombucha's and water kefir, and selling them at local markets. They've turned the main slopes of the land into incredibly productive garden beds filled with the seasonal veg that goes into their ferments.
They keep several cows, a herd of chickens and a pair of pea hens, and are practising holistic management, rotating the animals regularly through small areas of land, cows followed by chickens in order to increase the fertility and health of the land (a very simplified and basic explanation!). This is something that I find completely fascinating and we had some great late night chats about how it all works.
Alongside all of this since they arrived on the land they have also been building themselves a natural home, a timber frame filled with 'light earth' - an earth and straw mix- and a huge amount of recycled and reclaimed materials. Apart from some plastering and a few extras they are almost done. You can see from the pictures just how beautiful a space it is, and its also in amongst a group of trees, overlooking the valley. Totally lovely.
We left feeling really inspired by what Zoe and Shmuel have created, especially as this is similar to what we are hoping to start (as soon as we decide where to be!). Check out Zoe's amazing fermented range of deliciousness on facebook under Warinyan Farm/Bottled culture
So we've been spending the past few days exploring the amazing coastline between Sydney and Brisbane, firstly because it's so bloomin beautiful here, but mainly because there are just so many permaculture people here, it really feels as though there's an interesting project or quirky homestead around every corner. I could spend months exploring this area (if we hadn't already spent 8 months on the road and weren't starting to feel pretty burned out from it all)..
Anyhow one place we just couldn't miss was the home of Geoff Lawton and the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. Anyone who has spent any time looking into permaculture on the web will have come across Geoff and his squillions of you tube videos and his hugely popular online PDC. Geoff has been working in permaculture design for about 30 years now after first studying with Bill Mollison, the granddaddy of permaculture in the mid 90's, and has since then designed and implemented thousands of projects all around the world and taught more courses than probably he can even remember. You can read everything there is to know about Geoff from his website and probably a million other places online too.
We originally wanted to volunteer at the farm, but they only want people who can commit to at least a month. Totally understandable, but unfortunately much more time than we have right now (as we are trying to fit everything into our 2 week 'grown up time' we managed to squeeze by sending Ohli off on holiday with his grandma). But the farm manager Desmond offered to find a couple of hours to meet with us and give us a tour of the site, something he doesn't normally do, which we were incredibly grateful for.
Zaytuna farm is amazing. Geoff has had the land now for about 17 years, and you could see the amount of energy and experience he had put into it over that time. There was a PDC running whilst we were visiting, but the difference in atmosphere between the PDC here and at Djanbung gardens not too far away was huge. It was clear that a huge amount of money had been invested in the site, like with their battery bank for their solar panels - it was the hugest I've ever seen in my life!
The land is mainly on a slope which had been entirely dug out with swales and planted with a huge variety of food forest plants. On the flat land they had main crop gardens, which looked really abundant with food whilst we were there. One system that I didn't like so much was that at Zaytuna they farm rabbits for meat. I understand the theory and sustainability behind it all, but the rabbits were literally factory farmed, in a small enclosed pen (which did get moved around) but it still felt rather sad to me.
There was a real sense of community at Zaytuna - Geoff and his family live on site along with Desmond the farm manager, several wwoofers and a team of 10 interns, who stay for a year. Its free to stay as an intern here, and it sounds as though they are given a huge amount of training, experience and responsibility along with a huge workload, but go on to work all around the world as accomplished designers after their time at Zaytuna. One thing I especially loved was that they always try to take one at least one intern who has a family, which, as Desmond says, brings more life and a homely, family atmosphere to the farm. I just love this integration, it makes me smile so much after so many years spent studying permaculture with a child in tow.
After a couple of hours of Desmond showing us all around Zaytuna farm and explaining all of their different systems we were feeling both filled with inspiration and a little overwhelmed. I have met Geoff and his partner Nadia on several occasions, and spent a week with his daughter Latifa when she joined us at the childrens area for the International permaculture convergence in London a couple of years ago. But I have to say that visiting his farm and seeing just how much careful planning, hard work and faith and devotion had been put into developing a fantastic educational centre I left with a really deep respect for Geoff and his work, and of course for Desmond too.
I would love to explain all of the systems in place at Zaytuna farm but think I'd most likely do a terrible job. So it's probably a much better idea to let Geoff tell you all about it in the video below, made just a month or so before we visited.
This morning I went to visit Djanbung gardens, home of permaculture pioneer Robyn Francis and Permaculture College Australia. The gardens have been around since 1994, and since I was passing through the area I wanted to go and check it out for myself.
Robyn was teaching a PDC when I arrived, but I was greeted and given a really great map of the site, and was left to wander around to my hearts content. It can be difficult going into a permaculture garden without having somebody there to explain the systems in place, but the map really helped showcase the vision and theory behind what I could see.
Gardens in sunny climates are always generally a happy place to be, and I wandered around with a wallaby for company in a lush hidden bamboo grove whilst I was there. The certificate 3 and 4 in permaculture are held here, they also have interns, volunteers and courses running (such as this PDC), and Robyn also lives on site.
The systems they have in place sound great, unfortunately without Robyn to talk through it all I can't really say whether they were all working as they should, it would have been great to have her around to chat to. The map was a great idea, beautiful and well made and a really useful tool with lots of information about the ideas behind the different areas. Robyn is clearly a bamboo enthusiast, with some absolutely incredible huge stands of a variety of different species that she uses for building, eating and firewood, along with running an annual bamboo building workshop. They have been carefully designed into the site to be sure of access (to get them out again, they can grow up to 30m high) and to stop them from spreading too far near the garden (as bamboo sucks water from the ground around at a crazy rate, and also inhibits the growth of nearby plants).
The main building
The main building was also clearly very interesting, made with passive solar design and a variety of natural building techniques, using pressed earth bricks and packed sawdust panels within the walls, all created with local materials and very minimal waste going to landfill. Old recovered railway carriages are used for volunteer accommodation, and grey water systems use reed beds to filter and then transport the water into ponds that grow mulch and livestock feed. Black water is settled out and then sent through reed bed filters, and then sent down into holding ponds using flow forms to oxygenate the water.
Railway carriage accomodation
This was the temperate gardening season for this part of Australia, which meant the gardens were growing all of the things that I recognised from home, though not as abundantly as I would have expected. It made me wonder if perhaps the focus of this place was on education rather than production, and if they had as much support/people around on site to do both..
I had a great realisation whilst walking around Djanbung, of just how important beauty is to me when in a public space, or any space for that matter. There were a few things in Djambung that looked like they needed a bit of energy putting into renewing them. On the map I saw a childrens playground, and as natural inspiring kid spaces are such a passion of mine I was particularly saddened to come across an area that had partly been created with natural materials but was well in need of some love and attention. It looked like the space could have been pretty lovely when it was first made, but that was clearly a very long time ago and a few plastic toys were all that stood out to me. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I was very aware of the feeling this playground gave me, I wasn't inspired to bring my children there at all and they wouldn't have been occupied whilst I was chatting, or studying, unless there was other children to play with, in which case they didn't need a playground at all. Maybe that's not been a focus here, though I wonder if others have had similar experiences. It's thought given to the little things like that that help to make permaculture education inclusive to all of those of us who have small families. A few logs and stumps for den building and climbing on, a tee pee for hiding in, maybe some berries or fruit the children could help themselves to, and some variety of colourful additions to the space that made it feel more welcoming and kid friendly, that would have made a huge difference and is so easy to do.
Djambung gardens are just outside Nimbin, definitely the most crazy hippy town I've ever seen in my life, and there was a really funky old bus parked outside the gates which I think is a mobile library/healing station.
To visit and check Djanbung gardens out for yourself, their details are all here.
So today I got to meet with one of my heroes - Rowe Morrow - at her home in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. After my short experience working in the Calais refugee camp last year I have been looking for guidance on how to take that work further - how to take permaculture design and teaching to the places where it is needed most, which is something that Rowe has been specialising in for decades. She recently ran a course focused on working in precarious places, but as I was in New Zealand and couldn't make it to her in time I thought that the next best thing would be to contact her to see if we could meet after I arrived back into Australia. And so we did.
Rowe is a complete and total inspiration.. alongside being an incredibly down to earth and lovely person. She welcomed me into her house with slippers, a cosy fire and home made lunch, and we spent several hours talking about her work around the world and all of the different issues that are currently going on around us, and how permaculture can be a solution in so many ways. Over the past 40 years she has worked in East Timor, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Europe, Solomon Islands, Africa and Vietnam amongst so many other places, and has more experience than you can shake a stick at. Her knowledge on the current environmental crises across the world is astounding.
Rowe's main focus at the moment is teaching permaculture to refugees living in camps, as these are the places of most urgent and desperate need. People arrive into refugee camps traumatised after incredible journeys from the most horrific of environments, and can struggle to find hope and see a way forward. To go into these camps and teach people the fundamentals of permaculture - how to provide for themselves and their families by growing food, appropriate and sustainable cooking, heating and natural home building, and by working together, building connections and a sense of community and mutual support, people can leave well equipped for their new lives, wherever that may turn out to be.
A really interesting idea we discussed was to use the eco-village model to turn refugee camps from places that degrade steadily over time into areas that are improved whilst being used as teaching spaces for the refugees whilst they are there. This way after the land is no longer needed as a camp it could be a functioning permaculture education centre, and a great incentive for local communities to more readily welcome refugees into their local area.
I left with my head swimming with ideas and motivation to follow through with working with permaculture in the places of the greatest need. But I also left with a real sense of how new I am to all of this, and how building up my teaching experience in more accessible ways might be my best next steps. Whilst I am still home schooling and raising my seven year old, and with a new baby on the way now might not be the best time for me to be looking for ways I can work in precarious places! For now, it might possibly be more manageable to work more with asylum seekers and refugees that have made it over to the UK. Sheffield is a 'City of Sanctuary' for refugees, and has several organisations (such as ASSIST) that support and connect refugees across the city. I'm excited to get back home and see just where I can fit into this.
When not travelling, Rosemary works from the Blue Mountains Permaculture Institute just outside of Sydney, where she and Lis Bastian run a variety of different courses. Their website can be found at: www.bluemountainspermacultureinstitute.com.au/
You can read more about Rowe online from many places, but I found this to be a particularly nice article:
So we have just a week in Melbourne, a city I've long wanted to spend time in, and I have been looking at the best ways I can fit in as much as possible whilst here. So far we've seen penguins by night in the harbour, danced along a singing bridge somewhere deep in the city, eaten some amazing street food and explored many cool places.. Unfortunately I'm now 2 months into pregnancy and my morning sickness is taking hold with a vengeance, so I'm going to gently while away the remaining days exploring as many of the city's community gardens as I can (whilst slowly chewing on ginger sweets to make the tube rides bearable)..
And Melbourne is full of such awesome beautiful graffiti!
Another community garden just at the end of our road
Community gardens are everywhere in Melbourne. It actually reminds me a lot of Barcelona, where you can feel the spirit of the local people taking ownership of the streets, bubbling out through cracks in the pavement with the creation of gardens, raised beds, community enterprises all over the place. Abandoned bits of land are quietly and quickly colonised by painted beds made of scrap wood, nasturtiums and tomatoes seeming to just pop up all over the place, with beautiful painted signs letting everyone know just how important it is that we take back space for the most important of reasons, for our health and the health of our planet.
The local food movement feels very strong here (well, at least as strong as it can feel when dwarfed in the midst of a huge overwhelming city) and a quick google search brought up an array of gardens that I put onto my map and set out to find.
One of the most impressive that I came across was in St Kilda. The land has been in public use since 1881, and has been so beautifully designed and cared for that it feels half like a garden and half outdoor art installation. Paths meander through beautifully kept food plots, flower gardens, sculptures, murals and a childrens playground, all surrounding a central green kept for social events, a popular monthly farmers market and a space for children to play.
Some images from St Kilda gardens
An indoor space provides home for a ceramics workshop, and the artist in residence invited me in to make some pottery whilst we chatted over tea. Whilst I was there a man came in and started to talk about a common friend and gardener who had recently passed away. Although it was a really sad time and story to hear, the thing that will stay in my memory was how he spoke of just how important this garden had been to his friend, bringing connection, community and support to him through really difficult times, and how other members of the garden space had come together to help his family and friends through the days after his passing. It really brought home how much of a community hub a space like this can be, and how it can provide a home to those who may be otherwise reclusive and socially isolated. Gardens, what beautiful medicine they can be.