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Teaching neopeasant lifeways (a love antidote to the Internet-of-Things-business-as-usual future)

OK, let’s take the oak tree, for example. Air conditioner, alkalising leaf compost, fine timber, Green Man cosmology, edible tree crop, and a now sacred feral tree of our homeplace in southern Djaara country. Is such reculturing neopeasantry? 

Is neopeasantry the walking, harvesting, shelling, cracking, steeping, drying, grinding, baking and celebrating of acorns? For us honouring the fruits of this old deity tree as food and soil maker where both remain outside of an economic lock and key is precisely neopeasantry. Teaching this and the following skills, ethics and lifeways non-monetarily where the exchange is labour for learning, is what our School of Applied Neopeasantry at Tree Elbow University is all about.

The Permaculture Living Courses we’ve been running over the past year have been a radical experiment in education held in the centre of our family life. This is worts and all learning and sharing. There is no convention centre, no powerpoint presentations, no absence of non-human kin and children, dirt and rich microbial life, as Woody and his friend Fab (juicing gleaned crab apples) can attest.

Life is cooked, dried, stewed, fermented, stored and consumed, and so too are all the apples we can reach that haven’t been eaten by our fellow friends of the non-monetary economies – the local fruit-eating birds.

Apples that come from the mothering earth are dried by the fathering sky within a gender fluid logic that is both ancient and present and calls the future to account. Apple cider vinegar and scrap apple cider vinegars brew alongside one another. Before bottling the strong vinegar and the weaker scrap vinegar they are strained and mixed together to get a strength we desire with minimal waste.

Neopeasantry is a physical life (no gym memberships required), and lifting heavy items (such as this basket of vinegar bottles to take down to the cellar) without damaging our backs is crucial in maintaining the capacity to perform such economy and culture, which keeps us fit.

Making sourdough fruit loaves using biodynamic spelt grain and our dried fruit, dried ground orange peels and some spices (purchased from the not-for-profit food co-op we belong to) means we can eat highly nutritional luxuries for around $2.50 a loaf.

All of our bread making occurs in a bowl and tins. We are too busy to clean the mess that benchwork requires, so we’ve adapted our method – stretching the gluten in the bowl every hour throughout the day (or when we’re home), and doing the final rise in tins that will hold this incredibly wet loaf together. It’s a 24-hour ferment that takes 12 minutes of our attention throughout the day and 60 minutes in the oven, which we fuel with bicycled and hand-cut tree waste.

We reckon our high-hydration sourdough (which costs $1.80 a loaf) is the “best thing since the return to unsliced bread,” a favourite saying in our home. It is a locally grown staple (thanks Tania and Steve from Burrum Biodynamics for growing it) that even our gluten intolerant friends can happily eat.

The starter is made from Burrum rye and because of the diverse microbiology attracted to rye grain it always makes the starter (leaven) very active. Buying yeast, which must come in single-use packaging, is avoided when keeping a starter. So are the safe industrial strains of yeast that men in white lab coats have prepared for the money chasers since the 1960s. A starter becomes one of the household kin, it needs attention, love and regular feeding. Excess starter makes lovely crumpets, just tip it (like wet pancake mix) into a hot oily pan and cook off both sides.

For about 9 months of the year we make neopeasant cheeses and yoghurt from contraband local raw milk when the cows are not being rested. Neopeasants resist state encroachment into our lives and the ridiculous rules that come with a nanny state. We don’t passively accept all laws. Many need challenging and resisting, especially if we are to live again in relationship with the cycles of abundance and limits that constitutes the living of the world.

Going without cheese and yogurt for approximately three months of the year bonds us to the cycles of the year and the need to rest, which enables us to appreciate these gifts of pasture and cow, sunlight and water even more. Yum!

Meg loves to teach from this important hearth of our home,

and also from this hub of the community – the free-to-learn Culture Club where wild microbes enable the possibility of what she calls ‘community-immunity’ without a single cent going to any pharmaceutical company.

Patrick teaches from other commons in the town – the Daylesford Community Food Gardens for one – de-privatising his food growing knowledges to any participant who sees the value of a community flow of gifts economy.
Banana passionfruit vine creeps slowly across the library garden, while the pumpkins spread out across the front annual bed inviting all to behold community food that is not under economic lock and key. Keeping away the encroachment of private interests has taken some work and even among permaculture peers has created tension. This model draws on traditional Djaara food and energy provisioning and our own peasant and indig ancestors’, albeit not in the cultural or technical details, but rather in the spirit of keeping food and energy resources non-polluting and free from narrow self-interest. We call this community-provisioning or community-sufficiency.

Household-provisioning is the foremost economy for us. Neopeasant household provisioning requires broad self-interest. We grow it for ourselves, volunteers, friends and to trade with community but we do it in a way that is ecologically-integrated. Making cookies with seeds, oats and dried fruit we either grow, glean or buy through our local co-op enables us to eat non-packaged healthy snacks that cost very little money. A neopeasant economy is a time-rich/cash-poor economy.

Tending and growing tiger worms is integral to such an economy. These worms are soil makers and provide home-grown bait for more provisioning.

And if we don’t catch a feral redfin at Lake Daylesford,

we might go home via the creek and bring a little yabby protein home to join the dinner.

Commoning is a big part of ours and a growing number of neopeasants in the town. This is Bluey, a mama Boer goat who through our participation as shepherds in Goathand Cooperative, we’ve got to know and love.

Ryan, a former PLC student, interested in alternative forestry practices, gives young Ella a cuddle. Ella will become one of the herd working sensitively and biologically to reduce fuel loads in the climate changing and thus fire prone forests around town.

Tess gives herd alpha Woodison a scratch while he’s on the job in the Cornish Hill commons in Daylesford. Where these lovely mammals are standing couldn’t be accessed for the 3 metre high blackberry a few weeks earlier. This photo shows you where they’ve got to.

Hand tool forestry is complimentary to the goat browsing. And planting useful trees, such as this strawberry gum (thanks John + Emmanuelle for the gift), into the commons has been something many of the PLC participants have done,

especially after multiple sessions of blackberry surfing.

Once again, this area was impenetrable before our board crushing (blackberry surfing) work, allowing Zero to do more rabbit hunting in areas that were too dense even for this little tough nut.

With each harvesting of the abundance of perennial crops at home comes learning. Little learnings about when to harvest, where to pick from, what is labour intensive, what is not.

A year’s supply of brewing hops can be harvested by three people in a morning. Audréane shows her haul.

Some things we do still calls for money, such as the 3-hour house and garden tours we hold from time to time. While we’re forever transitioning away from the hold and grief money once played in our lives we still require some.

Demonstrating the harvesting of garlic scapes on one of these tours raises awareness about growing your own bulbs and getting an extra feed out of them, instead of leaving the scapes on which will put the energy into the flowers instead of the bulbs.

Demonstrating the simple processes of humanure composting on these tours can encourage a transition from fecaphobe to fecaphile and a way forward in a peak phosphate rock era.

Recognising we are the largest mammals on our quarter-acre plot means our shit is out of the outhouse and back on the table,

via a very safe and slow method,

that is fool-proof once you know how to do it.

And this is our shit on our table. Beautiful produce enabled by a closed-poop-loop.

And this is what Zac, Tess and Audréane turned some of that goodly shit into.

Learning and making on the go is a big part of a PLC course, which came out of the teaching we were already doing with our SWAPs or volunteers. Many had said to us they’d done a Permaculture Design Course but it wasn’t until they came here that all that theory was actually performed and they could see how to begin to embody it.

Keeping bees and making mead,

knowing the farmers who grow our staples, the earth processes given freely for us to make pasta,

to learn skills for life so our consumption is conscious and full of story and indebtedness,

and caring for the ecologies that make more living possible,

is the heart of neopeasantry, which is a deliberate refusal to follow the intransigence of global economic rationalism and all its waste, separations and despair. While the land on which we make this alternative economy has never been ceded, and we stand in the trouble of this, we have found that capitalist food, energy and medicine resources can be divorced with a little access to land and a lot of will, attention and care.
If you missed it here is ABC Gardening Australia’s take on what we’re doing. It’s cheesy but generous and they reveal a complex story of economic and cultural change in simple and accessible terms, for which we are grateful. (If you’re reading this in your inbox you’ll need to click through to our blog to view it.)
There have been so many learnings, diggings, explosions, failures, accidents, fermentations, tears, discoveries, haulings, screamings, inventions, reclaimings, cuttings, upcyclings and salvagings to get to this point in our neopeasant transition. When we began we saw the internet as a friendly commons, that is before the dopamine engineers and greedy manipulators polluted it. So each year we contribute less and less to it, weaning ourselves off a digi-dependancy that further plays into the hands of powerful interests and their non-transparent algorithms and spying ways, the data of which they sell to third parties who forever try to claim our attention. 
With three course participants at a time and six two-week courses now complete this means that 18 students have completed a Permaculture Living Course with us. A big thanks to Marty, Cara, Teeka, Mo, Liam, Christy, Ryan, Claire and Lucille who came in the late spring and early summer months and Felix A, Felix L, Nat, Audréane, Zac*, Tess, Peter, Patrick and Tara who came from late summer to mid autumn. We hope you are all out there in your homeplaces stirring up big pots of microbes and trouble.
* Thank you so much Zac Imhoof for taking all of the beautiful photos above!

A gut healing book warming (and the importance of home)

There are so many entities to thank when a book comes into being. Convention dictates we thank humans only, which makes sense because a book is a fairly human-orientated thing. Yet a book has many other contributors who make it possible, so before we begin this post on the social warming event that brought re:)Fermenting culture: a return to insight through gut logic into the community, we wish to give thanks and praise to the vegetal flowerings, barks and pulp, the nitrogenous rain cycles and carbonous roots, the mycelial meanderings, bacterial bounties, autonomous chewers, borers and suckers, and much more life besides. Thank you for your part in making this book become.

Just before the punters arrived, each with their life-giving, much-more-than-human microbiomes, we put the finishing touches on the fermented foods that we wanted to warm people into our home with, and get their guts zinging.

The word home has become a pejorative term, initially engineered by industrial capitalists to shame unwilling peasants into leave the economic autonomy of home and get a “real job” in a factory. Then later the word was further degraded by a strain of industrialised feminism, those who could only imagine home as a stereotypical 1950s domain of feminine incarceration and boredom. Both these corrupted versions of home are not ours. As radical-homemaking-feminist-neopeasants we think of home as a place of intimate dwelling, and the most empowering environment we could possibly imagine. Of course, by home we don’t just mean the confine of our house and garden, but also our walked common land to neighbours, friends, community gardens, near forests, creeks and places of many other relationships that enable wellness to spring forth in relation to our own labours and insights. From such empowerment springs forth such food.

Home for us is a place of healing, growing, consuming, decaying, dying, birthing and giving back in order to keep the gifts of the earth flowering. Under this order all is compost, all is fermentation, all is food and labour and new life that sprouts from the necessity of death.

It was to be a day to celebrate poetics and philosophy in the community sphere and what better way to do this than share the food we consume that is our fuel for poesis. By 3pm we were ready for all comers. Speakers, guests, children, dogs – all manner of goodly folk – began to arrive after an earlier rain shower that filled the garden with a miraculous energy that was impossible not to sense.

Woody sang and strummed the warmers into the hearth of our homelife.

We were brought many gifts, such as wild fermented sourdough from Mara to add to the ferments table.

Some of the non-alcoholic fermented beverages Meg brewed for the day were turmeric tonic, jun and rejuvelac, all flavoured with various flowers and herbs from the garden including wild fennel and elderflower.

It was a day of bright light, colours and ongoing Woody instrumentations.

It was also a day of raffling hard-to-get-hold-of things, such as these hops vines that we divided from the mother plant and potted up in the winter. In the raffle we raised over $60 for the community gardens. That’s a lot of seed!

Woody tried every instrument in the house as more and more warmers assembled and he developed further a role for himself as musical host.

Summery peeps and chilled dogs wandered through the garden, where they beheld our neopeasant homestead on a quarter acre, being tended to and developed on a household income well below the poverty line. Such wealth is possible with a volunteered poverty.

Vegetal life and built environments are complimentary forces at Tree Elbow, and everyone at the warming got to feel the physicality of such energy transference between the formed and the forming.

More musical delighters rolled in.

Old and new friends came to the party.

The outdoor kitchen became a bar for chance encounters and a place of simple feeding. All the food and drink, including the acorn beer and elderflower mead, were fermented with ingredients that came from our homeplace. There were happy guts everywhere; in season and in step with life.

And there were serious conversation guts too. There’s so much work to be done by all of us to keep health flowering in a world being killed off by unhappy gut people whose main concern is money.

Steve brought some old ferments to trade for a book. They came with quite a story.

Maya, before giving her remarkable gut-heart-mind talk, catches up with David and Su, grandfolk of permaculture.

Hal was introduced to Su, just one of a myriad encounters that brought people together.

People gathered round the house as Patrick signed books and talked his passions – gut logic, Pandora and the creation stories our culture has all but buried.

Children gathered under the oak tree. They found their place before the talks began.

Our book table offered an assortment of publications written by Artist as Family members. Thanks Kat for minding the stall where money and non-money exchanges were made.

Despite the incredible weather to be outside we decided to welcome people into the house for an non amplified honouring of the book through deeply collected thoughts. Ant played a few sweet tunes as around 80 folk found a seat or a comfortable standing place.

Mara MC’d the proceedings. The gentle formality of such a relaxed event gave ritual regard to the purpose of why we’d gathered.

She welcomed Meg to speak who gave us considerable laughter (her very own gut-made serotonin and dopamine at work) and an impassioned insight into what we’d been eating – the origins and techniques of such food (which included delicious pickled spear thistle stems) are unobtainable in any supermarket.

Then Mara welcomed Nikki to speak,. Nikki had prepared an eloquent dissertation of the book, which Patrick will share later on his permapoesis blog.

The fermenting vessel Nikki used to illustrate her talk had been made especially by Petrus. The vessel was sculptured, broken and the shards put back together as a metaphor for Patrick’s putting back the fragments of the Pandora myth and the cosmology surrounding it so important to rethinking culture after the effects of misogyny and misogyny’s retaliating sister, misandry. Both hatreds neuter life and are in service only to more war making. Like Nikki’s talk, Petrus’ fermenting vessel becomes a gift back to Tree Elbow in exchange for the book. The vessel more than symbolising a return to sensible culture after the rupturing of industrial modernity that although masculine in form has harmed both women and men, and taken us away from an intimacy with a loved land and from each other. Thank you Petrus and Nikki! What a lovely ordering of thought and form from two giving elders.

Maya then spoke, with such force and insight that not a single photograph was taken. She held us in a homeplace where reclaiming life, refermenting it, taking in the medicine of the possibility of post-industrialism and orienteering our cultures again towards their permanent regeneration could be more than dreamt.

With Meg earlier speaking on the alive foods and drinks we wished to nourish our guests, Mara acknowledging country, the Dja Dja Wurrung elders upon whose land we were gathering, as well as our own elders before introducing everyone, Ant soulfully playing songs he has arranged using Patrick’s poems, and Nikki and Maya delivering their profound addresses concerning this new little book, it was the author’s time to speak.

After all the thank yous, and a brief talk on the imperatives of writing such a work right now, Patrick read Part 1, Vessel (a slow text poem) from re:)Fermenting culture. This work is the not-so-easy gateway into the book, into the underworld of it. It sets up a physical hurdle for the reader, which requires the time, personal resolve and quietude to engage. The book is divided into 3 parts – a poem, an essay and a recipe (the poetical, theoretical and practical) and we offer it here as an ebook to freely share (email us) or a hardcopy that can be purchased via this blog (see righthand side bar of this website). If you wish to read more about the book head to Patrick’s blog. And if you wish to get your local library to order it in they can do so through us here.

Thank you Brett for taking all the pics on the day. And thank you Nikki, Maya, Ant, Mara, Jeremy, Brett and Kat for helping out on the day. Thank you to all present and future readers of re:)Fermenting culture and for the goodly labours you each perform to keep the earth flowering, fruiting and producing more and more fermentable fibres on the loved ground you call your home.