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Radicalising the home economy for greater adaptation and well-being

Hello Dear Reader,

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.

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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.

In our recent fermenting garlic film we offered a free copy of Patrick’s 2017 book re:)Fermenting culture. Here again is the link to the PDF of the book and the link to the audio version.

Thanks Dear Reader for joining us on this strange, unknowable, threatening and exciting journey.

May your homeplaces be strong, productive, restful, and places of deep belonging.

Meg, Patrick, Woody and Zero x

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!

Fire in our hearts; fire in our bellies

Fire! It’s wild, feared, harnessed and praised. Our first tool. Like the Greek story of Prometheus stealing fire to give to mortals, Djaara people – on whose land we have made home – also have their stolen fire story. Waa, the raven, was originally white and in stealing fire got himself burnt. We heard this told at Yapenya in Bendigo recently. All comers were invited to come witness this new Djaara ceremony.

Djaara women performing Yapenya, before the ceremonial fire is lit. 

Performing new ceremony is soulful, much needed work. Former SWAPs Connor and Marta – who met at Tree Elbow, got hitched, travelled far and wide and moved back to the area – are expecting a child. Patrick lit a fire for Connor and a number of men gathered in the forest to warm Connor into fatherhood with stories about being dads, sons and men. The night was transformative, a kind of medicine.

Meg concurrently held a women’s circle for Marta and again the night revealed many insights and gentle sharings, and this group also realised ceremony was missing in their lives as women.

The cultural absence of gathering around fire, in forests and in other more-than-human environments, led us to establish Make & Play a few years ago. Patrick has recently begun a second weekly group for older kids called Feral & Free – a radical form of scouts (drawing on both the ecological masculinities and ecofeminisms of our day). The following quote from Patrick’s book re:)Fermenting culture, which excavates the fire stealing creation myth of western culture, has been cited as the epigraph in the recently published, Ecological Masculinities: Theoretical Foundations and Practical Guidance:

A culture that has lost its beginning story is a culture adrift, destructive and self-harming. While the West can be seen as synonymous with imperialism, this is not our old people, this is not our true culture, gender-lopsidedness is not our only heritage.

Feral & Free crew

The Celts reportedly said that a woman’s soul is male and a man’s soul is female. How’s that for oldskool gender fluidity? The father fire (technics) and the matering earth (ecology) are within us together, regardless of how we identify. They are not opposing stories, they are intertwined. We are technical animals; storytellers. Story derives from fire.

Story features at all these gatherings in the forest. It is stories – what we tell out and to ourselves – that make us who we are. When we gather and speak together across a fire a raw heartfeltness springs forth. Courage to do this is more than required. Woody spoke his first public story recently, at the local community Cicada storytelling night. He mustered all his pluck to raise himself from his seat and make the slow walk up onto the podium at the Senior Citizens’ Room behind the Daylesford Town Hall. His story was called Spring Blossom, and he quietly spoke of beholding the blossom of a wild apple, trying with his 6-year old language to conjure that earlier moment of praise and delight for the tree, for all of us to share.

Pic: Juanita Broderick

Stories heard from across the crackling foci of the fire speak to our ancient selves in our present bodies. The podium or stage can adversely change this intent, but that’s another story for another time.

Woody is growing up within a general household narrative where a commons (of any form) is never to be capitalised, where an economy (of any form) never enslaves us or makes ruin terra mater. On working out how he is to save up for a new guitar he said: “If I get the sticks from the tip to make my kindling bundles, then I’m not selling them from the floor of the forest but only selling waste.” This ethic he did not learn at school but by learning to think with a forest’s thoughts. What if the dominant value system shifted from unrestrained growth at all costs to the sanctity of humus and earth others at all costs? What transformations of culture would we see?

If we know that the tumorous Internet of Things is just the next sales pitch in a long line of greed and intransigence, how do we garner the courage to turn away from such seduction and face and embrace humus, and all the quiet things of earth not screaming for attention? How do we perform other stories that don’t just passively go along with the dominant, egotistical ideology?

Pic: Laurel Freeland
Woody has been setting up his fire-starting stall beside his dad’s edible weed ID stand at the Daylesford Sunday Farmer’s Market. Like the mushroom ID stand Patrick offers in autumn, spring is weed time, and there are many beneficial autonomous plants to eat, make medicine from, preserve and ferment. None of these gems beneath our feet require climate altering transportation, weeds move around without industrial distribution systems.

Weed knowledges are just some of the things we’ve been sharing on our Permaculture Living Courses (PLCs) this spring. Foraging for weeds is a powerful way back to sensing what ecological economies might be performed in the near future. Weeds constitute about 5% of our diet, but because of their many health-filled properties this constitutes about 40% of our preventative medicines.
On the third and final 2018 PLC we hosted Ryan, Lucille and Clare for two weeks, and reperforming commons of all forms was central to the curriculum. As was making leek kraut, another arsenal in our preventative medicine chest as it is both a pre- and probiotic.

Just three students at a time is small enough to engage intimately with the many interrelationships and layered learnings within a permacultural neopeasant household. We began the course with a big list to get through, that grew and grew from this picture on…

Wood was collected on bikes from areas of forest where fuel reduction burns take place. We talked about the importance of reducing fuel load going into the fire season while at the same time leaving more than enough for habitat, mycelium and humus production.

We also scavenged useful materials from the tip such as chicken wire and fire wood. (If you’re reading this in your inbox you’ll need to click through to our blog to watch the video below).