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Communing with plants in the abundance of harvest

Gratitude to plants.

This is not a wafty, throwaway praise. This is an embodied knowing, a deeply felt thank you for the living, growing, seeding, podding, storing and shitting of plants. For their many giving parts.

Whether plants are in their own autonomy, in relationship with measureless earth others, or requiring peoples’ union to thrive, plants embody the feminine divine. Mother Country is the vessel in which all things are brewed, hotly or coldly, and plants are often the very fibres that enable the alchemy of such fermentations throughout life, into death and back across into life.

They are encasements of nourishment, wisdom holders, inebriation agents and great revealers.

But so much plant living has been violated by industrial food, energy and medicine capitalisms. Plants have been incarcerated, mined and used as gratuitous commodities. When welded to the dominant culture we devour them, we’re never fully satisfied, never fully full. Why? Is it our relationship with plants has radically changed under the spell and ideology of modernity’s project?

We have never had more food available to us in our short time as a species, but is it in this glut that gluttony occurs? That we are unfulfilled?

So many of the capitalisms that exploit plants are greenwashing capitalisms. Biofuels are the obvious example, but almost all uses of plants are a form of enslavement, within the machine of hypertechnocivility.

Domesticating plants, it has long been said, is the story of our own domestication. This is not always the same story as the process of becoming hypertechnocivil – that is, so industrialised to think we are the only species worth feeding – our food automated and chugged into cities, from where anthropocentrism powers over all life.

However, if we open to the ritual possibilities, the medicinal, magical and teaching properties of plants, can we call on our more expansive selves – the broader, mythological, transformative and cosmological potentialities of our selves – to take hold in our daily actions and processes?

This, we’ve found, is more possible when our foods, energies and medicines come from the gentle labours of our creaturely bodies. When we are ecological participants in loved biomes. When we are creatures of place. A loved homeplace.

When we walk for the plant gifts that make our lives possible, we cannot but step into the magical and divine realms of plants. From such a place both abundance and gratitude flow. We, people, can once again co-union with plants. It is deep in our cultural DNA that we live this way. It is lifemaking connected to ancestors. It refuses the severings of modernity.

Highly cultivated plants such as grapes thrive in conditions where people yearly prune their radical vines. In turn people thrive by eating the fruits created by the goddess herself.

Borlotti beans don’t need highly cultivated soil as they fix nitrogen in the earth and bring fertility to any earthly biome. Their colours delight us in the sun, under which we dry them to store for winter fuel.

Basil loves the full brunt of summer’s heat – a powerful herb and food medicine destined for almond pesto.

Ella, one of this week’s volunteers at Tree Elbow, communes with prune plums. We all delight in this prunus variety, also destined to be dried for winter’s cellaring and eating.

Volunteer Beau works alongside Blackwood with spelt from Burrum Biodynamics to alchemise this old grain into pasta to join the almond basil pesto for dinner.

Patrick sets up a tree net to catch acorns for their harvesting, thus stopping the midnight clang of hard little nuts landing on the water tank and waking the underworlders sleeping nearby.

Blackwood demonstrates his method of acorn shelling to his family and volunteers, using a nut cracker. Acorn meal will be used with spelt for winter pancakes and for the brewing of Patrick’s acorn beer (a recipe which can be found at the end of his re:)Fermenting culture book).

It has been a week of communing with plants, glowing in the gratitude of abundance, and savouring this time of harvest with volunteers and visitors, including Jess from Canada, who like Beau and Ella brought a joyful spirit to Tree Elbow.

The week finished with Wild Fennel – our local herbal medicine circle led by local witches, Catie and Zoe. Their beautifully facilitated plant medicine circle elegantly brought us all into deeper presence with the holy Tulsi, while we were warmed by the equinox fire in the garden at Tree Elbow.

A special thank you to Jordan for the pic of the plant circle, Catie and Zoe for the love and for the crafting back of the peoples’ medicine, and to Beau and Ella for your loving attention and joyous labours this week as SWAPs.

If you’d like to listen to a conversation between Catie and Patrick, tune into this episode of Reskillience.

We look forward to hearing from you which plant or plants you are present to right now. What herbal teas or medicine plant foods are you most grateful for? What is your latest herbal/harvest discovery?

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!

Good Wood

We found some wood, you see. A whole stack of old hardwood batons that were holding up the tiles of a roof that was being retiled in time for the winter rains. The tiler was thrilled when we asked if we could take it, saving him a trip to the tip to dispose of it.

Off we went.

‘But it’s my billy cart, Dad. If you’d like to use it, you have to pull me up the hills.’
‘Let’s stack the longer bits first and then the small bits.’
Toot toot go the cars as we wobble down the footpath towards home.
A few days later we decided to take the billy cart on another adventure: to our newly opened local community op-shop. In no time at all we had completed our autumn clean-out and had filled five big bags of goodies to recycle.

The Daylesford Community Op-Shop is based on a Swedish thrift store model: to provide local community members with what they need including electrical items, so they don’t have to shop outside of town or buy new items, and all profits are then put back into the community.

Local not-for-profit organisations can apply to receive the profits for a month. The month of May for example is for Hepburn Wildlife Shelter, which means that they promote that month as theirs. They can bring in their saved-up goods to be sold and their members volunteer at the op-shop.

Based on the size of our town the op-shop is forecast to inject $100,000 a year back into the community.

There’s also a community space where mothers can nurse their babies, a book nook, a seed bank and a chai lounge. Pretty amazing, huh?

A brief stop at one of our community food gardens to turn over the compost, and then on we go.

Back home and our day was not quite done. Inside our chicken coop, our birds have been flying over the low fence and have been digging up one of our vegie patches. We have been setting up more substantial fencing over the last few weeks. And after our recent score we finally had enough timber to make some gates.

We harvested the last of the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, dug the beds over, added compost and planted them out with heirloom vegies.

We planted broad beans, three varieties of carrots, kohlrabi, two varieties of beetroot, celeriac, leek and plenty of cabbage.
We are a bit obsessed with cabbage in our household. We love to eat it raw in salads but even more so, we love to lacto-ferment it into sauerkraut. Here is a jar of our latest batch.

And here is the final fruit of our labours: a stack of kindling wood ready for the winter.

The Forest Floor

Patrick is in Sydney and visited the Food Forest with family friend Josh Bowes, who generously helped with the initial planting back in July. They found fungi, edible weeds, an abundance of leaf vegetables, thriving fruit and nut trees, and evidence of dynamic social engagement.

A mushroom (perhaps don’t eat) and some onion weeds (use as chives in a salad) spontaneously inhabit the forest floor, while rhubarb has been harvested to be used as an organic spray.
All these things show that humans and nonhumans are participating in this garden autonomously, and as a result this little food forest system (based upon permaculture principals) really appears to be working. Residents are bringing in their compost, harvesting plants and herbs to eat, while some are using plants to make organic sprays to allay pests. The woody mulch has, with spring warmth and rain, created humidity in the soil that fungi adores. Fungi in a forest floor is a great sign of soil health and, as gardeners will know, if the soil is healthy plants are less prone to pests. Growing plants in a polyculture using companion planting methods also assists the garden’s health and allays pests and disease.