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A month of growing, fermenting, retrofitting, foraging, forest work and lively, lovely people

It’s been a busy time for us up here in the hills to the north of the falsely-bartered city of Melbourne. We’ve had a string of wonderful young SWAPs come stay. This is Nina, far left, who was SWAPping with us when Bruce Pascoe and Lyn Harwood came to visit and speak at our town hall with David Holmgren and Su Dennett — we consider all four true elders of our respective communities, as well as our close friend, Pete O’Mara (far right and almost off screen), who dedicates so much time to the young people in our town. 

The couple of days we had with Bruce and Lyn were wonderful and Nina took some sweet snaps as well as pitched in with whatever needed doing. Here Patrick and Bruce get ready to plant yam daisies in Daylesford’s community garden beside the library.

About 400 people came to the various different events we (working on behalf of HRN) organised. Our dear mate Ant, and Patrick have begun work on a film that will cover the incredible day of knowledge sharing and thinking, particularly the social warming aspect of the day and of course David Holmgren and Bruce Pascoe’s wisdom and research.

Our dear friend Su, who started HRN back in the day (with Maureen Corbett), gave thanks to the 40 plus people who helped shape the day.

While Patrick had the idea to get Bruce and David together in one room and call it Land Cultures, Meg brewed up Culture Club. This was the poster we hacked up for the first get-together:

About 30 people came for what was a wonderful evening of knowledge sharing and the imperatives of wild fermented foods addressing the chronic health issues of industrialised food and medicine and what this has done to our guts. The energy was established for ongoing monthly meets. This is the next meet:

Actually Meg has gone quite fermenting mad over the past several months. Anything that walks in or is carried through our door gets utterly cultured.

When Angelica came to SWAP for a week, she learned to make sauerkraut, and many other useful things. In return she brought ebullience and taught us the art of making ghee.

In our household everyone has numerous roles to play. Zeph is proving to be the best cracker spreader in the ‘hood, and even though he’s exploring other ‘cultural’ realities at the moment, he’s usually willing to lend a hand.

Processing acorns from our inherited tree this autumn and milling them for pancake and bread flour has given us renewed focus on making sure seasonal local gifts are not wasted. This involves everyone chipping in as these processes can be laborious if there’s not a collective effort.

James has also come to SWAP with us for a week. His interests have been particularly focussed on the politics of permaculture. In our words: how old conservative processes (akin to peasant activities) are part of the radical household and community economies of the present and future. Something AaF is passionate about. We showed James some of our activities that reperform an engagement with public-Indigenous land. Here, he and Woody harvest Coprinus comatus for dinner.

James, like Nina, has a developed eye behind a camera and documented many activities, learning the meaning of doing-saying — thought and action. He learned our mantra: Ecological culture can only be modelled biophysically, on a small scale, in relationship and with many neighbouring models/relationships all responding to the predicament of our time.

Fun is essential in this life-making. Constant. Loose. Stupid behaviour. All are critical in our household’s transition. We are seriously not well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society, and we want to sing that from the tree-tops, and the compost buckets.

We are well-adjusted, however, to our soil; it is simply humming with life.

And we’re well adjusted to the nearby forest. We’ve entered into a gift exchange relationship with it, stomping down blackberries so they become dynamic soil-building and soil-holding ground covers, no longer a dry cane fire threat, nor a dominating species.

When we lay down the 2m high canes and let in sunlight to the earth, the gods of the forest offer up gifts for our efforts. In this case parasol mushrooms. Yum!

A few simple hand tools is all we need to engage in a stewardship relationship with the forest.

One of the reasons we want to reduce the fuel load in the forest is because land management authorities deem it unsafe every few years, and set fire to it. This affects not only the global climate, but the local ring tail possums who build their dreys in the forest’s hawthorns and apple trees. The hawthorns and wild apples are considered weeds around here and have no ecological status, so they can be burnt and cut and poisoned. However, if we use the fallen wood of the forest to heat our home, press the blackberries down to a groundcover, and thus limit the need for burn-offs, then the humus and moisture levels build up in the forest lessening the chance of fire.

Designing more community gardens is part of our public work too. This simple little garden (stage1) is about to go ahead at the local child-care centre. And with not a penny spent.

Eating weeds is another example of gift exchange with our biological commons or locasphere. The below weed is wild radish, the plant Patrick has chosen to feature (and give status back to) in the next Pip magazine Eat Your Weeds column.

Wild mushrooms are also a part of the gifts that return from the gods once a relationship is established.

Getting to know how the world’s more-than-human communities provide the opportunities for human life is essential learning, but how many kids are taught such a thing in school? Schools are factories for producing human-centricity.

Our boys know where their food and energy resources come from. They know their origins. But this knowledge is not valued in school. Zeph’s knowledge of bush craft, care and resilient living is ignored or shamed in his industrialised school environment. Go figure.

Woody will not go to school unless he decides to (like his brother did) when he becomes a teenager. Show us the boy at 7 and you’ll see the man. May this three-year-old always remain comfortable in a dress, just like his old man.

Woody and Zeph will leave home knowing how to turn rubbish from the tip into useful things, how to repair and service their means of mobility, how to build a house, how to capture and store energy, how to grow, preserve and ferment their food, and how to steward their local environment and help it spring forth more life.

Despite what they become, they’ll be prepared to adapt to whatever the future brings. We just wish that schools were aiding their contemporaries with real-life skills and knowledges, and valuing sustainable practices of life-making,

so more kids will grow into the kind of elders the world’s communities and environments really need right now. Elders not focussed on money and property, but on caring for the health of all the living, and keeping the gods nourished on our gifts. For our gods are our ancestors of regard. Those who lived before mass war and pollution, hierarchy and greed, who knew how to care for the earth.

Thanks Nina and James for your photos in this post. And thanks Dear Reader for checking in with us. We hope you have much autonomous and beneficial fungi popping up in your neck of the woods, be that in your local forests or in your wild urban kitchens.

A short essay on the future, by Zephyr (aged 13)

What will my life look like without fossil fuels?
It’s likely there isn’t enough fossil fuels to last us for very much longer, especially the way we are using them, so what is the future going to look like? This is the question I’ve been asking myself over the last few months. 
Jason Clarke, the Australian film and television actor, says “we are most likely going to have to collect our own water, generate our own electricity and grow our own food – and “share, if you will.” To me this says the main money economy will change too. Sharing could play a bigger role in the future, where people help each other more. The Rockefeller family are one of America’s richest families, made rich in part by their financial interests in fossil fuels. Recently the Rockefeller family pulled out their investments in fossil fuels saying they’re too risky“. They are turning to renewable energy because they know they are the future. This has nothing to do with sharing but it does tell us something about what the future might look like? 
Climate change
Climate change, which has largely been caused by fossil fuels, has not been taken seriously enough. What will be the effects if we let human-made climate change get worse? We are already seeing many more extreme weather events. Renewable energy will help. We have got solar and wind power in some areas but it’s not enough, everyone needs to be turning to renewables now. We will also need to reduce consumption and live without many things. Germany knows that climate change is a real threat. In 2008 their renewable energy production was at 9%. In 2014 it was around 30%. In ten years time Germany could be powered by only renewable energy. Germany is one of the few countries at the moment seriously trying to adapt to the future. If other countries follow their lead we would have a greater chance of reducing the worse effects of climate change. 
Fossil fuel pollution
Pollution from fossil fuels contaminates natural environments and reduces biodiversity. Low biodiversity makes people sick, produces diseases. Pollution ruins animal’s habitats and their food sources. Pollution comes from cars, factories, toys, toothbrushes, packaging, computers, bikes, etc. Most things that are made today are made by using fossil fuels, so we will be living very differently without them. The benefits for the environment and peoples’ health will be huge. 
What will my family do to minimise fossil fuel reliance in the future?
Here’s a list of things we will continue to do:
-Recycle and reuse paper, plastic, steel, timber, clothes, glass and cardboard
-Grow a food garden and keep chickens
-Compost waste and build soil quality
-Capture solar power and keep a low-carbon house
-Capture rain water and use it wisely
-Exchange food with neighbours and community friends
-Be involved in local community gardens and food swaps
-Walk, bicycle and use public transport

In summary

Going back to my original question “what would my life look like without fossil fuels”, there may be things that would be difficult, especially if climate change is allowed to fully develop. Perhaps food and other goods would be very expensive. There might not be as many cars and trucks on the road. There might be violent riots against the government and big businesses. The police and the military could have a bigger presence in public places. People may be very hungry. Some could be in great debt and be kicked out of their homes. Then again some may be much better off, they may be able to harvest their own food and renewable energy and not have to pay big business a cent. 
Zephyr Ogden Jones has been an active member of Artist as Family since the collective began in 2009. His previous writing can be read here.