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The post-supermarket homefront (nearly a decade on)

Hello spring! What a flowering we’ve had this year! So much fruit set. Yippee!!
Some of our activities in the garden at this time of year include picking off the cabbage moth larvae to feed to the chooks (thanks Meg!), feeding weed tea to the onions (thanks Woody!), and cutting off the frost burnt leaves on the potatoes (thanks Patrick!).

All our produce ends up in the kitchen and much lands on the fermenting table, which is Meg’s shrine to our household’s health. We call this the Pandoran hub of the house, after Pandora, known since early Greece as the goddess of fermentation, hope and insight – who Patrick calls, in his latest book, the healing goddess of the underworld of our gut. The gut is where 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine is produced in our body. These are the happy chemicals essential for a good life. Give the body microbiome-killing industrial food and medicine and you have a significant problem, individually and culturally.

Here’s an example of Pandora’s goodly alchemistry performed by Meg. In this homemade apple cider vinegar made last autumn there are many beneficial herbs and weeds from the garden including: rosemary, coriander, dandelion, plantain, mallow, horseradish leaf, lemon thyme, calendula, hawthorn berries, rosehips, parsley and sheep sorrel. You can look up the benefits of each of these plants using that old thing, the Internet. Be sure to cross reference and go to peer reviewed papers if they exist. Otherwise trust your gut. She knows. Each plant contains vital minerals and nutrients, and the vinegar helps extract the minerals otherwise locked up. We use a little of this brew each time in salad dressings.

Meg’s raw milk cheeses are another form of wild fermented goodness. We don’t eat much animal protein, but adding this contraband local material into the mix of our life certainly adds a cow-kick punch to our week. Thank you gentle creatures of field and herb.

At this time of the year the cellar is becoming depleted, but there’s still something delicious to find on each journey into this other Pandoran underworld. Bottles such as our former SWAP, Marta’s Polish pears, or our dried plums, toms and citrus, or Meg’s raw wild fermented soft cheese balls preserved in olive oil with herbs.

So many of the processes and activities we carry out each day offer an array of learning moments, but play is equally as important.

If Woody wants to jump on the trampoline he does so, but fairly soon he’ll come over and say, “Can I have a job.” Sun drying herbs is probably not a labour that takes his fancy, so he’ll probably opt for the trampoline before lunchtime.

Speaking of which. Lunch is probably our favourite meal. A typical lunch? Patrick’s wild and slow fermented 100% spelt sourdough with sprouted lentils, Meg’s veggie spread (tahini, miso paste, olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic), her famous three-cornered garlic kraut, and her semi-hard raw milk, wild fermented cheese. Fit for any aspiring neopeasant. Yes, we know, this is all sounding so Portlandia. For a laugh we call it Daylesfordia, but the radicalism of how we live is not to be scoffed at. Just try us. We do all this well below the poverty line, and while our agency springs from two generations of privilege, the future for us is found in emulating the ecological intelligences of our peasant and indigenous ancestors. We make the bold gut claim that if everyone in the West lived with similar simple nourishment and low carbon lifeways we’d seriously mitigate the effects of climate change, obliterate pollution and species extinction and reduce many human health pathologies produced by unchecked modernity. Yes, it’s a big claim, and too big to go further into here, but we will happily chew your ear off, lock horns or swap knowledges with you if that’s your thing… Warning: trolls will be composted. Mmmm. Time for lunch.

This spring Patrick has built the outdoor kitchen in time for summer. Here he checks that the bread tins fit in the oven below.

Patrick has also just finished the greenhouse, with the help this year of SWAPs Connor, Marta and Jeremy. The suspended worm farm that sits under the bench catches all the drips and keeps the worms moist and happy. It’s really great having the worms so close to the kitchen. Scraps are either thrown out the window to the chooks or given to the worms. Gravity fed everything!

Water recycling has also required a lot of thinking this year, and as a result we are 100% water off-grid. All waste water is now directed into the garden at multiple points, gravity fed.

We continue our commitment to car-free living, although of late we’ve had to borrow a car here and there to go look for our gut-damaged teen Zeph and his best friend, trouble. Zeph’s rebellion has been to eat toxic corporatised food and drink. The inflammatory results have been startling, and extremely unsettling. Collecting wood on foot and on bikes, never over-harvesting but taking fire-prone buildups of fallen branches keeps us fit and healthy, and our carbon footprint very low. This wood cooks, dries, heats, bakes, boils, brews, roasts, toasts and generally keeps us warm and nurtured. We no longer need the appliances that do all those things. Year after year we live with less and less.

We daily clean out the wood stoves and sort the potash from the charcoal, using both useful products in the home and garden. The potash is returned to the perennial parts of the garden and the forest from where we pick fruits and mushrooms, and the char we crush and pee onto to activate before we use it in the annual beds. Unactivated charcoal can take up nitrogen out of the soil and therefore can negate plant growth. By activating it you get a slow release fertiliser.

We use sawdust from a local mill to sprinkle on our poo. The black hole (below right) is a bucket of charcoal for wee. In making humanure it is important to separate the urine from the faeces, otherwise it gets too nitrogeny and therefore stinky. Patrick made this dry composting toilet system which can either be used as a squat or conventional sit toilet, for less than $100. If we had to do it by the book it would have cost more like $10,000 rendering it impossible for us to make the change. The EPA approved systems are good, especially if you don’t understand the science of composting poo, but if you follow basic principles all you really need is a bucket, sawdust, compost bays and patience. We estimate we now save 20,000 lt of water a year by removing the old flush toilet. That’s 20,000 lt extra we can put on the garden and grow some decent food.

Building more humanure composting bays has been a priority with all the extra goodies going into our closed loop system. We have three humanure toilets now and plenty of visitors. Reclaiming old pallets and building bays into an existing wall makes this a straight forward and cost neutral operation.

The result: fertility of the highest order. We rate humanure as the best compost we’ve ever made.

Woody is wood obsessed. Every day he has a relationship with trees, timbers and various tools. Whittling,

chopping,

and playing.

This has been a brief snapshot of our lives this spring. A tremendously big warm thank you goes to Mara Ripani for the photos. A big congrats to Connor and Marta who are getting married in Feb. They met at Tree Elbow and fell in love.

A more detailed account of our lives and a manifesto of how we live can be read in Patrick’s forthcoming book, re:)Fermenting culture: a return to insight through gut logic. You are all most welcome to visit our garden at Tree Elbow and join us to warm this book into existence in a few weeks time. There will be tastings of our ferments, music and readings.

We are also now hosting regular house and garden tours. The last one for the year will take place Sunday Nov 19, 1.30 – 4.30pm. $30 per person. There are still a few places available. Contact us for more details.

A short essay on the future, by Zephyr (aged 13)

What will my life look like without fossil fuels?
It’s likely there isn’t enough fossil fuels to last us for very much longer, especially the way we are using them, so what is the future going to look like? This is the question I’ve been asking myself over the last few months. 
Jason Clarke, the Australian film and television actor, says “we are most likely going to have to collect our own water, generate our own electricity and grow our own food – and “share, if you will.” To me this says the main money economy will change too. Sharing could play a bigger role in the future, where people help each other more. The Rockefeller family are one of America’s richest families, made rich in part by their financial interests in fossil fuels. Recently the Rockefeller family pulled out their investments in fossil fuels saying they’re too risky“. They are turning to renewable energy because they know they are the future. This has nothing to do with sharing but it does tell us something about what the future might look like? 
Climate change
Climate change, which has largely been caused by fossil fuels, has not been taken seriously enough. What will be the effects if we let human-made climate change get worse? We are already seeing many more extreme weather events. Renewable energy will help. We have got solar and wind power in some areas but it’s not enough, everyone needs to be turning to renewables now. We will also need to reduce consumption and live without many things. Germany knows that climate change is a real threat. In 2008 their renewable energy production was at 9%. In 2014 it was around 30%. In ten years time Germany could be powered by only renewable energy. Germany is one of the few countries at the moment seriously trying to adapt to the future. If other countries follow their lead we would have a greater chance of reducing the worse effects of climate change. 
Fossil fuel pollution
Pollution from fossil fuels contaminates natural environments and reduces biodiversity. Low biodiversity makes people sick, produces diseases. Pollution ruins animal’s habitats and their food sources. Pollution comes from cars, factories, toys, toothbrushes, packaging, computers, bikes, etc. Most things that are made today are made by using fossil fuels, so we will be living very differently without them. The benefits for the environment and peoples’ health will be huge. 
What will my family do to minimise fossil fuel reliance in the future?
Here’s a list of things we will continue to do:
-Recycle and reuse paper, plastic, steel, timber, clothes, glass and cardboard
-Grow a food garden and keep chickens
-Compost waste and build soil quality
-Capture solar power and keep a low-carbon house
-Capture rain water and use it wisely
-Exchange food with neighbours and community friends
-Be involved in local community gardens and food swaps
-Walk, bicycle and use public transport

In summary

Going back to my original question “what would my life look like without fossil fuels”, there may be things that would be difficult, especially if climate change is allowed to fully develop. Perhaps food and other goods would be very expensive. There might not be as many cars and trucks on the road. There might be violent riots against the government and big businesses. The police and the military could have a bigger presence in public places. People may be very hungry. Some could be in great debt and be kicked out of their homes. Then again some may be much better off, they may be able to harvest their own food and renewable energy and not have to pay big business a cent. 
Zephyr Ogden Jones has been an active member of Artist as Family since the collective began in 2009. His previous writing can be read here.