Please join us as we shell broad beans at the kitchen table and listen to stories about the homeplaces, wisdom and wildness of Carla Gallego, Ilenia Theuriclat and Constanza Hidalgo. Here’s the audio-only version:
These three women are the latest volunteers to visit Tree Elbow University and join our School of Applied Neopeasantry. It was a wild week of story, laughter, dancing and communing as we lived life richly together honouring earth, our food, more-than-humans and each other. Coni is hacking industrial design with permaculture, Ilenia wants to hack social work with permaculture, and Carla sees the potential of permaculture to reintroduce spirit into the arts.
This podcast series is dedicated to listening to those who have made themselves students of life, of permaculture and of neopeasantry, and are seeking their own learning pathways in diverse and dynamic ways. This podcast is slow media so feel free to create some space for the conversation. Make yourself a cuppa and catch some sunlight, or gently work through the piled up dishes while you listen. These women’s gifts, embedded in their stories, are a slow unfolding.
The week with Coni, Ilenia and Carla was magical and we hope you pick up a little of this spirit in our conversation, the spirit of which flowed into many places around home including the community garden working bee on their final day with us.
Wherever you are in your life right now we hope this hour of story calls to you. Your comments are always welcome and feel free to also tell us where you find your wild man or wild woman, and how you make room for this wildness.
Sending solstice greetings from Tree Elbow to your festive table,
Artist as Family
We’ve been incredibly busy with harvest season this year. It’s the first time in 12 years without volunteers helping to prepare and store food, fuel and medicine for the winter, exchanging their labour for learning, and helping us process the various abundances of this giving season.
We’re happily ensconced in the thrum of this seasonal moment with a quieter, more beautiful world, engaging with a plethora of wonderful neighbours, song birds, goats and other sentients while ramping up the next chapter of our radical homemaking.
We’ve also been making more neopeasant how-to videos and putting out other offerings on our Youtube page as our way of contributing to strengthening peoples’ home economies, adaptation and general well-being.
Last week we participated in the first Happen Films podcast, which is a weekly, hour-long conversation with people navigating this new era, embracing the not-knowing of it while at the same time knowing pretty much what to get on with.
While we’ve spent the past 12 years slowly weaning ourselves off the monetary economy, and up until COVID-19 we had managed to achieve a 70% reduction of dependancy on the global monetary economy, like many people we have lost money income. We are now a 85% non-monetary household, and while we’re pretty excited about this as we’ve been working towards such an achievement for a while, we weren’t entirely prepared for it. The first 50% of reliance on money was fairly quick to achieve. Going car-free, giving up air travel and a few other expenditure-curbing things did this for us within the first twelve months of our transition all those years ago. However, the remaining 50% has been a slow step-by-step process, the last 30% being for our rates and some some utility bills, though mostly for our access to a modest parcel of land.
Let’s talk about housing being recognised as a basic human need again in Australia, and let’s all work together to phase out multiple property ownership. Let’s sing up the seeds and the rain for universal access to land for everyone so we can grow the local-ecological economies we really need to invest in now.
We have been overwhelmed by people’s generosity in response to our return to social media, and specifically for our neopeasant how-to films. Your kind and encouraging words (both publicly and privately) are spurring us to share more about our life and daily processes. We have had many people ask us to put a Donate button on our blog. We have ummed and aahed about this but today have decided to. Many thanks for your support, everyone. We are feeling most humbled and most grateful.
Currently there are less than 1% of us living carbon-positive lifeways in the rich countries. While taking to the streets is of course important,
it is the day-to-day relationships of the home and community economies that will ultimately replace the old paradigm of extractive-consumptive economics driving so much woe. And even as our gardens lie dormant –
and it’s time to rest, make music, fool around and play,
celebrate various rites of passage,
give out responsibilities and roles (such as tending wild apples on common land after being shown how to prune for abundance and against disease),
share celebratory cake, in gathered and op-shopped winter colour,
and begin again the prepping and planting for another growing season (while living off the fruits from the last sun-gifted season) – there are many things to do and many to give to.
We have begun to take volunteers again. Our first for the new season the delightful, gutsy 16 year-old self-schooler Ishaa,
who came to us after spending a few weeks protecting sacred trees near Ararat. This is where we met her and where earlier we’d made a few videos to help grow awareness of that struggle.
Because the dominant culture still puts roads before trees we must stand with local mobs. Here is the story explained by Djab Wurrung warrior, Zellenach Djab Mara.
While it’s important to rally and blockade, if we only make demands of governments and don’t change within ourselves we are just fiddling while Rome burns.
Walk for degrowth, indeed. And bicycle and bike-trailer for degrowth too.
This is what degrowth looks like in action after nearly 10 years of being a carless household:
While having the right tools is important for transition, it’s the behavioural and biological changes we can make in our daily lives that are key to real transformation. If political power resides in industrial forms of food, energy, education and medicine etc., then our daily divesting from these things is far more powerful than voting once every few years and more empowering than taking to the street.
Teaching kids to use appropriate tools that can be fixed, sharpened and repurposed is just one example of changing behaviour. Keeping kids out of school is another, either for two days a week like Tom or permanently like Woody.
Woody has spent much of the year saving up for a violin by selling foraged kindling. The pre-loved violin he bought came from the Swap Shop in Melbourne where he traded in his walked-for sticks for musical strings.
He is involved in the household’s sifting of potash from the char of our home-fire and he routinely returns such wood-promoting fertiliser back to the forest floor from where he gathers the kindling and we carefully handpick our fuel source – a fuel source that requires no grid, is regenerative and requires ecological thinning. This complete approach to economy, including the making of making returns, is at the heart of neopeasant relocalisation.
Woody is also one of a growing community of shepherds farming without farmland on public land to mitigate increasing bushfire risk and reduce weed dominance.
Goathand co-op, which several households contribute to now, has recently got a gig at the local high school where the goats are eating down blackberries, broom, grass and annual weeds ahead of a large-scale carbon sequestration planting project.
As a co-op committed to new and old forms of land custodianship practices we’ve run into some hurdles, which we explain here in our second Goathand video:
Is Zero related to our Boer goats? He certainly has their agility.
Life in the home and community economies enables us to drop everything when a child is ready to learn something new, and this means learning is magnified and relational. Forced learning may suit institutional life but it doesn’t serve children or their futures. Climate change will radically strip our wealth so we’ll need to know how to repair things again, like a favourite torn flanny.
Because there’s always loads to do, we have to be well in ourselves in order to keep performing the new-old economies. Preventing disease and staying well will be key as the global economy collapses and the climate gives increasingly louder feedback to its toxic culture of hypertechnocivility. Non-monetised community immunity and wellbeing is central to our transition.
Meg makes garlic kraut at Culture Club. Photo by Mara Ripani
After nearly three and half years Meg is still facilitating Daylesford Culture Club, our region’s free monthly fermenting group. She is now also convening Wild Fennel, a free monthly herbal group, facilitated by local herbalist, Rosie Cooper. And she is also helping fellow plant lover Brenna Fletcher organise Hepburn Seed Savers, which will operate out of our town’s library. You can read more about these and other projects we are involved with here. Two weeks ago Meg addressed our councillors at an ordinary meeting asking them to declare a climate emergency in our shire. All seven councillors unanimously agreed, and our local shire officially joined over a thousand local councils across the globe in committing to put climate action front and centre of all their decisions.
And this one is a talk we organised late last year to promote indigenous, permacultural and post-capital cross pollinations, which we only released recently.
We hope you enjoyed this little offering, Dear Reader. Spending increasingly less time online means our posts are more infrequent. But sharing a little of what we’re up to continues to link us into the global spirit of change for people seeking alternatives well beyond taking to the streets.
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!