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Neopeasants in China with Sunshine Yang

Hello dear Subscribers,

We have had the pleasure of hosting Sunshine Yang at Tree Elbow over the past few weeks, and towards the end of her stay Patrick and Sunshine sat down and had a yarn about the Chinese back-to-the-land movement and more besides. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into Sunshine’s world.

Here is the audio only version,

 

and here is the vision version.

In the conversation Patrick and Sunshine mention this Sandor Katz’s People’s Republic of Fermentation episode, which we all watched together this week. We highly recommend the series. Sandor has been one of AaF’s heroes for many years.

Sunshine is currently travelling the world participating as a volunteer in the renewal of peasant lifeways and back-to-the-land communities in other countries. She will be heading to West Africa, Cuba, South America and then southeast Asia, so if you know of like communities in those places or would just like to reach out to Sunshine, please get in touch with her.

We have so enjoyed living with your brightness and spark, Sunshine. Thank you for what you brought to the School of Applied Neopeasantry here in Djaara Mother Country.

We’d love to hear from you, Dear Listener. What has been stirred in you by this conversation?

Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (second excerpt)

 

October 18
Meg

I’ve been meaning to check on them for ages and after work today I finally do. I take the tea towel off the bucket that’s been sitting under the fermenting table and realise I’ve left it too late. A 20-litre bucket of Jerusalem artichokes with a plate on top to keep them submerged under the brine. There is a thick crust of mould, and all of the pickles have gone soft. I’m so disappointed, and I curse myself for not putting a reminder in the calendar to check it earlier, as I usually do.

I scoop the mould off the top and feel around with my hand all through the bucket and find one big one that may be salvageable. It smells fine, so I give it a quick rinse and take a bite but it’s not as firm as I hope. I put it back in the bucket and carry the soft gloopy mess down off the deck, through the muddy swales and into the chicken coop to the very back corner and dump the whole lot there among 15 years of rotten down mouldy ferments.

When I come back up to the house Patrick asks me where I tipped them and I tell him.

‘Onto my midden of failures.’

 

 

October 23
Patrick

A plunge in the cold water tank, nude tea drinking by the fire, loft steps lovemaking, followed by more tea, reading out to each other the missives from thoughtsmiths and journos we subscribe to on Substack.

Blackwood wakes around nine and we ride our bikes up to the Sunday market. A sign catches my eye as we pass through town, ‘Relaxation Massage – $40 for 30 minutes.’ I’d seen the sign before but never given it a thought. Our usual cohort of body healers are not currently available, and I don’t see Kris for a massage in exchange for gardening, until Friday.

We continue onto the market and I buy a banana passionfruit vine from Florian, one of the organic growers there. Banana passionfruit are the only fruit ripe at this time of year and I’m determined to keep this one frost protected until it grows hardy.

I chat with Florian and later with Edward, another grower who grows without chemicals. Meg and Blackwood wander around the market, yarning with people, looking for old tools and useful things like containers filled with an assortment of nails and screws.

On the way home riding in convoy I notice the massage sign again, and feeling the pain rising in my back I call out to Meg and Blackwood, ‘See you at home, I’ll see if I can get a treatment.’

I cross the road and roll my bike down a little lane and walk into the reception area. The lady says she is available and takes my card and charges me $49. I feel as though I missed something in the exchange. English isn’t her first language and Mandarin isn’t mine. She shows me into the room, and leaves me there to undress. She returns as I’m laying on my stomach with a towel across my body. She asks whether I want my legs and buttocks done. ‘My back is what’s really hurting me,’ I reply.

Before I know it she has removed my underpants. Well, that’s pretty weird. I have the feeling again as though I have missed something. She uses her hands, elbows and forearms to work my tight back muscles. I begin to relax and breathe deeply in and out through my nose.

After about twenty minutes she asks me to turn over and places the towel back over my body. She speaks again, something about a ‘special’ and taps me on my groin. Oh, I realise, it’s this kind of massage parlour. ‘No thanks,’ I say, ‘but thanks for asking.’

She works my legs and arms and I lay there thinking about how unattached and pragmatic she is. My thought drifts to all the lonely men in the district starved of intimacy, starved of touch, where this service would at least be some kind of connection. I feel pangs of grief for all people who don’t have intimacy in their lives, which leads on to a wave of gratitude for the diversity of love and touch I receive each day.

After 30 minutes she thanks me and leaves the room. I put my farming clothes back on my farming body. No one is in the reception. There’s a ghostly feeling as I leave. It’s not exactly what I went in for, but there’s a little relief in my back.

I gently ride home and share my adventure with Meg. ‘Wow,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know such a thing existed in Daylesford.’ We laugh at how naive we are. Blackwood is in the workshop cleaning up rusted steel blades from old hedge trimmers he bought at the market.

‘Were you tempted?’ Meg asks me, grinning.

~

Mother of mountain (a pickling recipe music video)

Hello pickled turnip and purslane lovers, introducing… a new Artist as Family music video to celebrate Meg on her 49th birthday, featuring Maya Green on fiddle.

Now for the recipe:

First:
Add your cleaned turnips to your jar. We pickle ours whole, but feel free to slice yours first. They will taste the same, but will ferment faster if they are sliced. Pick your purslane and wash if needed. As purslane grows along the ground, it can collect soil. Break off the leaves and smaller stems. Keeping these on will turn your ferment into mush. We only ferment the larger stems. Ideally wait until the stems turn red in colour, but dark green is fine too. Add the stems into a second jar. We pickle the turnips and stems separately as they ferment at different rates. Keep the turnip leaves for cooking, and the purslane leaves and smaller stems for eating fresh.

To each jar add:
Pepper corns, mustard seeds, fresh dill or dill seeds, bay leaves, peeled garlic cloves, slices of fresh lemon or dried lemon. For the brine: 1 tablespoon of salt (non-iodised and without caking agent in it) per 2 cups of water. We use salt from Loch Iel (the Pink Lake) and rainwater.

Fermenting:
Make sure all the solids in your jars remain under the liquid and that they stay that way for the duration of the fermenting process. You can keep the lid on your jar tightly, loosely or not at all. As the veggies begin to ferment they will release carbon dioxide and brine may spill from your jars, so it’s best to place each jar on a plate or bowl to catch the liquid. You may need to top up each jar if a lot spills out. The time your veggies take to ferment depends mainly on the temperature of your home. The hotter the environment, the faster the process. Fermenting is a relationship. Don’t be afraid to taste the brine with a spoon each day to witness the transformation, to embody it, and so the brine can be part of your development too. The brine will start out clear and will turn cloudy. After 10 days or so in a summer home, your veggies might be ready. Taste them. If they are too crunchy, let them ferment for a few days longer. Once you are happy with the flavour and crunchiness, put your jars somewhere cold, such as a fridge, cool cupboard or cellar, to slow the fermentation process right down.

Eating:
We like to put our pickles out in a bowl and just munch them, or chop them up and add them to summer salads.

Milk Kefir – neopeasant food-medicine in an age of post-industrial subsistence economies

Milk kefir is one of our daily medicines. It is an ancient wild fermenting practice that is able to turn milk – whatever kind of mammalian milk you have on hand – into a delicious food-drink that is rich in diverse beneficial microbes that make our guts sing. Milk kefir grains are happiest fermenting at room temperature, which makes them a perfect energy descent medicine as they don’t need heating or refrigeration.

In this video, Meg takes us through the process of how to care for your milk kefir grains. She makes a delicious milk kefir drink, and talks through some other ways we use this wild ferment in our daily lives.

When we had Covid – that (more than likely) lab engineered pathogen created by gain-of-function research scientists for the vaccine industry (as reported in 2021 by Prof Clive Hamilton and many more in the scientific community) – we took, among other things, milk kefir. It is part of the FLCCC early covid protocol. You can watch a video of us discussing what else we did here.

If you haven’t yet read Charles Eisenstein’s latest missive, Amnesty, Yes—And Here is the Price, we highly recommend it. As always your comments and questions are welcomed and appreciated.

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.

The buildings, growings, gatherings and storings of this regenerative age

It’s been a busy 6 months of building, producing, gathering and crafting, so busy in fact that we haven’t had a moment to blog. Until today.

Teaching younger folk to build has been our focus over the past year, starting with James and Zeph building The Cumquat, then more recently, Connor, Jeremy and Marta helping with the north-facing greenhouse.

We’ve built a number of other buildings too, including the Yause (named after Jeremy Yau, who came to SWAP with us in February and has been here ever since).

Jeremy moved into the Yause after just 7 weeks of building.

We also built the Cookhouse, the name we gave our low-tech sauna.

We used local cypress timber and discarded sheep’s wool to line the inside of Zeph’s old cubby, and we found an old wood heater at the tip which we bought for $30 and restored with a lick of stove paint. Thanks Zeph!

It works a treat!

We also installed more water tanks for further veggie production (nearly everything we spend money on is intended to take us away from further requiring it),

To preserve our gifted old timber windows (thanks Vasko!), Connor painted them before the rains set in.

and we started work on the Smithy, where Jeremy and Patrick will be setting up a blacksmith and wood crafting workshop to teach others.

There have been many other smaller projects we have worked on this year, such as completing the cellar – building more storage for our preserves, ferments, booze and cheeses. We are so close to going fridge-less now! Just a cool cupboard to build and a fridge to offload.

Home production has also been extensive with many hands making light work. Buster, who rode her bicycle from Brisbane, came to SWAP with us and hung about with Woody, decking the trampoline with summer fruit to sun-preserve. Thanks Buster!

Our bees have had a remarkable first season, storing food for themselves and for us in the near completed anti-aviary.

We robbed them of a third of their summer production,

obtaining a whopping 15 kgs out of a total of 45 kgs of honey that they produced in just 6 months. Astounding! Thank you beautiful creatures.

The annual veggie production began to ramp up again too,

and not only did we learn more about bees from our friends at Milkwood Permaculture, we learnt a thing or two about intensive veggie production too. We have begun to double dig all our beds.

Home production of perennials has also increased this year with plants such as hops for brewing and for sleepytime tea,

and kiwi fruits, which tease Woody with their unripeness well into early winter.
We have been gathering other perennial crops in the garden too, such as acorns – harvesting them for pancake meal and beer making,

and gathering together for all sorts of events with kin and community. From community garden working bees and free workshops that we’ve organised,

to fermenting workshops, including Culture Club’s wonderful community pickling day,

mushroom and weed foraging workshops that we’ve led,

and Friday night local food gatherings, which we’ve hosted weekly at Tree Elbow.

We’ve had so many remarkable guests stay with us over the past 6 months. David Asher came from Canada to share his passion for wild fermented raw cheeses,

permaculture teacher, Penny Livingston-Stark, came and feasted with our community and shared her remarkable story alongside David Holmgren,

cousin Pepper and Ra were regular visitors,

comedian Lawrence Leung (who slept in the Yause) and independent filmmaker, Celeste Geer, came with a crew to film for Catalyst,

and of course our three long-term SWAPs, Connor and Marta (here stacking a fine compost on the nature strip),

and Jeremy (here working on a forge blower he’s making from discarded material), have all been stalwarts at Tree Elbow this year.

Long term resident Zero, a huge personality in a little dog suit, will turn 49 this winter, rendering him the most significant elder of Artist as (extended) Family,

and while Zeph has been extricating himself from Artist as Family collaborations, he still makes regular appearances (often with friend Owen) to Tree Elbow, bringing his zest for disruption, bravado and beautiful independence, and keeping us all on our toes. Onya Zeph!

The way we get around and retrieve resources, or go out to participate in the community is very much about our continued practice of a low carbon consciousness. Bikes are essential for this cultural and economic transition. We’ve been car-less now for seven years!

Riding and walking into yet another wet and cold season means we are once again hardy to the change of weather. While community friends and other loved ones fall sick around us, colds and flu will be a long time coming into our neo-peasant home.

Walked-for, dug, and directly-picked food, dirt on hands, active and accountable living and mobility, goodly sleep, and generally being outside all gather as the ingredients for a health-filled, resilient and low-carbon life. While this is not THE solution to the many varied problems of industrialisation, it is for us a genuine response to the predicament of our age.

We hope you have found some spirit here, spirit to aid your resolve as we find strength and inspiration in yours. For those interested in a deeper unpacking of our practice and of our cultural fermentations, Patrick has an essay just published in Garland magazine. If you have similar life hacks you would like to share with us or any other Qs related to how we live, please leave a comment or send us a message. (NB: Trolls will be composted.)

Over for now,
much loving and flowing of gifts to you, and from and to the worlds of the world,
Artist as Family