Last year we were invited to contribute a chapter to the forthcoming book, Food for Degrowth: Perspectives and Practices, to be published by Routledge later this year. Although, let’s not count on anything like that occurring.
We called our chapter, ‘Replacing growth with belonging economies: a neopeasant response’. We completed it in November.
Due to the times we’re living we offer it here as a film. It’s our most significant collaborative writing project since our book, The Art of Free Travel. (If you’re a subscriber and reading this in your inbox, you won’t see the below video, so here’s a link to it).
Replacing growth with belonging economies
Lived, written and spoken by Patrick Jones and Meg Ulman
Text editing by Anitra Nelson and Ferne Edwards
Sound by Patrick Jones and Meg Ulman (assisted by Jordan Osmond)
Video editing and seven drawings by Patrick Jones (the second, third and fourth are in collaboration with David Holmgren)
Photographs and footage by Artist as Family, David Jablonka, Nina Sahraoui, Mara Ripani, Michelle Dunn, Thomas Dorleans, Michal Krawczyk, Giulia Lepori, Nicholas Walton-Healey, Ponch Hawkes, Gab Connole, Zac Imhoof, Anthony Petrucci, Jordan Osmond, Jason Workman, Ian Robertson and David Holmgren
Soundtrack: A place of simple feeding – a poem-recipe by Patrick Jones, arranged and performed by Anthony Petrucci
Gift Ecology Films
Shared under a creative commons license/non-commercial
an Artist as Family home production
Please let us know about your own transition from hypertechnocivility
Fire. One of the most significant phenomenons of this world. Fire makes us human, transports us into technological animals, transforms ecologies, and devastates life when we do not accept its uncompromising feedback.
The seven year old on the right in the below pic is Patrick, joined by his older brother Sam in 1977. They are on a camping trip with their father, Robert. On this night Robert (the photographer) lit a fathering fire after making a fire circle – an early rites of passage for his boys – and cooked a meal.
Four decades later Patrick and Meg light monthly fire circles and gather with community folk to listen deeply to one another and more-than-human life. Each circle, held within the Southwest community forest in the south of Djaara peoples’ land, starts with a listening to country. In an unprecedented time of fear, anxiety and aggregating bushfire cycles, these fire circles provide opportunities for collective reflection and care. And for transformation.
While a far greater acceptance and understanding of fire in Australia is required throughout the various non-Indigenous communities, there are things we can do to reduce bushfire risks.
For us, the most obvious things to mitigate bushfires have been to refuse air travel, boycott drought-producing supermarket products, and compost car ownership. Increasingly refusing drought-making economy and tools, has enabled an advancing of our form of neopeasantry, slowly transitioning over the past 12 years, making an immeasurable number of mistakes, which we’ve converted into an education, and a home.
Five years ago we began taking action in the forest near to us, on the edge of town in one of the most fire-prone regions in the terra-nullius-fiction state of Victoria. We work with neighbours and friends, transforming ourselves into community shepherds.
Our forestry practices marry bushfire mitigation with post-correct biodiversity values. Djaara people, First Custodians to this land, traditionally have managed their country through lores that maintain such a marriage. We’ve been organising community working bees to remove tyres from the creek,
and herd the most ecologically-sound weeders we know.
Above are a few of our co-op’s goats reducing weeds and bushfire risk at Daylesford Secondary College in the spring. Below are our goats carrying out guerrilla bushfire prevention on the edge of town this summer. Working with animals outside industrial-commercial relations connects us with our animal selves. We become dog and goat people.
Animals. Labouring with animals, being animals, eating and honouring them after fire has cooked up all those acres of medicinal fodder – blackberry, gorse, elderberry, broom, wild apple and oak – connects us to our ancestors and produces relationships of interbelonging between species and with land. To kill for food is sacred work. Whether we pull up a carrot or slit a throat. Souls are transformed. Life and death dance together to make more life possible.
There are always hierarchies, the question for us is whether the ideological order we subscribe to supports ecological hierarchy or mass-death hierarchy? The food we produce is some of the most nutritious money will never buy. Food that has been produced requiring almost no transportation fuels, no deforested pastures, no irrigation, no packaging or additives, and no industry-science laboratories.
Some of our walked-for food is produced by reducing the dominance of pioneer plants and their fire hazards, and in doing so moving ecological succession into the next phase to increase the number of species in the biome. The question of meat or not to meat is not a simply-packaged reductionist exercise, it’s an enquiry into ecological, cultural and economic functioning, or dysfunction, depending on what sort of consumer we are.
As ecological eaters and actors on Djarra peoples’ country, 100% of our manures – goat, dog, duck, hen and human – go back into the soil to make more life possible. This flow of goodly shit within a closed-cycle and walked-for poop-loop, gives to plants – the great converters of life.
Cultures that remove forests remove rain. Ingenious swidden agriculture grew Mayan cities and civilisation, for a while. As civilisations grow, increasingly more people become urban-centric and thus increasingly estranged from direct connection to land. Thankfully, all city-empires collapse. Ours will too. Cities represent the pinnacle of primitive thought, smugly bound up in ideologies of abstracted culture making, which inside the context of the city appear sophisticated and advanced. When such smugness reaches a tipping point cities collapse, the monocultures that feed the city return to forests or diverse perennial ecologies, rain returns, populations decrease, animism flourishes again.
Planting fire-mitigating, carbon-sequestering, shade-producing and moisture-retaining trees is now our emphasis. We’re being led by the trees themselves, oldtimer and newcomer species that have established their own inter-indigenous logic on Djaara country – blackwood wattles, English oaks, native ballart, wild apples, sweet bursaria, elder, holly and common hawthorn.
These forests make rain and they retard fires, while producing for us and countless others nourishing food, materials for habitat and more-than-human medicines that the Capitalocene will never access.
Food. There are well meaning people who are always trying to get us to scale up, put our food into a marketplace, subject ourselves to time-poverty, grow our art in capital-career terms, and generally get us to be more real in the realm of the Capitalocene. But what we do is modest, and we recognise that the scale must remain small, intimate, informal, flexible, and it must embrace uncertainty and constant change.
The market demands assurity, which in turn becomes a force against life. Assurity is essentially boring, so the transaction is a boredom in exchange for money, which can buy empty promises to fill the hollowness of modernity. While the spirit and ethic of what we do is free to grow, our household-community economy operates at a scale that enables ecological accountability and market degrowth. If the scale of everything is small, everything is novel, everyday there is a mosaic of labours, which never get boring.
We now know the origin stories of our food,
the medicinal properties of hundreds of plants.
how to turn raw materials into fermented wealth.
and many processes for making prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.
People. An increasing urbanised civilisation produces ever greater enclosure laws. Peasants are kicked off ancestral lands, forests are cut down, ships are built, people once bonded to sacred land become transported slaves who in turn find their way to freedom and join their equally traumatised jailers in dispossessing other indigenous peoples. For the Capitalocene is really the Traumaocene. Healing societal trauma begins with a consciousness of the ruptures and displacements and the severing off from connection to ancestral (loved) land.
While living our ethics and values is foregrounded in forest, garden and community biomes, the political work to protect what’s left of the Djaara commons is also important.
We are currently fighting our local council on their proposed revised local laws, which are effectively new enclosure laws being brought onto unceded Djaara peoples’ country, drafted by lawyers in Melbourne. One such local law seeks to ban open fires in a public place, on non-total fire ban days. As Patrick argues, this attacks ancient cultural practices. Other laws stop us from salvaging waste, or mitigating bushfire threat. The laws are supposed to make us safer, they often don’t. Five people have died in cars in our shire in less than one month and our council is concerned about someone cutting themselves on the metal piles at the local tips while salvaging the waste of the Traumaocene. Cars kill animals, people, poison waterways and stoke up the bushfire gods, yet they are the most protected machines of hypertechnocivility.
Then on Invasion day, January 26, we came together to ‘fess up to the legal fiction of Terra Nullius.
People make a difference. Four years ago council was livid we established the Terra Nullius Breakfast outside the Daylesford Town Hall, without a permit. If we had asked permission, or applied for a permit, we would have likely been refused. This year council reached out to be involved. We are not Libertarians, but we’re not compliant puppets either. We believe in strict lores. We do however baulk at Capitalocene legalism. People make a difference. Unregulated actions change the culture. We all have a role to play in reculturing society from pollution ideology to diverse modes of low-carbon living.
People make a difference. Showing up makes a difference. Grandparents make a difference!
Permaculture scholars and filmmakers make a difference!
Wise forest women make a difference!
People on bikes make a difference!
Walked-for regenerative energy makes a difference!
And forest children (who are Free to Learn and who will never know what NAPLAN means) make a world of difference!
Until next time, Dear Reader, we need to get back to the real work now…
For those wishing to come to one of our two next house and garden tours you can find more info here.
If you’re just beginning your transition and would like a non-monetary online course in permacultural neopeasantry, start at the beginning of this blog (2009) and read forward, then smash your device and get digging. Working the soil gets you high.
A special thanks to Giulia and Michal, doctoral students currently living with us and sharing knowledges, labour and love. All the better pics in this post are theirs. We love you both and we love living with you.
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.