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A selection of our writings from 2009 to the present. If you'd like to keep up to date with our latest posts, please subscribe below.

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?

Towards a microbiome approach to culture and economy (or, Re-dreaming a gender-distributed science) with Gemma Smithson

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Hello dear Subscribers and other curious visitors,

Over the past week we’ve hosted three new volunteers at the School of Applied Neopeasantry, who have been learning-helping with the harvesting and storing of this warm season’s abundance. We’ve been harvesting and preserving summer crops and also prepping soils to plant winter crops while there’s still heat in the giving earth, here in Djaara Mother Country.

While we’ve been working hard – doing-saying, lifemaking, neopeasanting, demonstrating the possibilities of living a low-impact ecological-economy – Tully, Anisa, Gemma, and we mob have also engaged in many conversations.

On Gemma’s last day, she asked whether she could record Patrick for a university assignment. Gemma is studying environmental science and has, true to her openness and curiosity, organised two radically different placements for her summer work experience – with Artist as Family and with Parks Victoria. Go Gemma!

We have edited this little interview, recorded on Gemma’s phone in the garden at Tree Elbow, into a twelve minute excerpt, and we’re sharing it as a way of giving an insight into some of the subjects/conversations we have with volunteer-students at the school, this time occurring at the end of a neopeasant lunch, just before we all headed off for siesta.

We hope you enjoy this little moment (12min listen) with Gemma, pictured here with Meg and Patrick.

As always, your input, questions and comments are valuable to our readers and to us, so please feel free to offer up what’s living in you after listening in. Also, we have a place available next month if you’re interested in volunteering and learning with us. Head here for more details and please get in touch if you’re keen to join us.

Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (third excerpt)

 

October 25
Patrick

While weeding the food forest on the street with Victoria, a SWAP from Argentina, Meg yells out to us, ‘Swarm at Melliodora!’ I quickly load up the bike trailer with a Warré box, bee jacket and hood, a whitish bedsheet, a cardboard box and ride down to Hepburn. In my rush I can’t find my bee gloves so when I arrive I fossick around in Dave and Su’s workshop and find a solitary garden glove. It’ll have to do. I also spot a ladder in the workshop. I’m going to need that too.

Swarming bees are so laden with honey that it’s difficult for them to sting. Their main focus is on protecting their queen, transporting food stores, and awaiting the several hundred scout bees to return from seeking out a place to build a new hive.

The combination of bee-offending perspiration from my rapid 5 km bicycle ride, a humid spring day, lack of adequate gloves, and my general impatience to catch the swarm before it takes off is not ideal. Rushing bees is idiotic at any time, but especially rushing bees swarming high up on a tall, flexible oak sapling only reached by a ladder.

My plan is to make multiple trips up the sapling, gently sweep honey-laden bees into my cardboard box with my gloved hand, descend the ladder and tap the bees out of the cardboard into the timber Warré box, which I’ve set up on a flat knoll on the slopey ground with the whitish sheet used as an illuminating runway for the bees to navigate their way inside and join their sisters.

As I begin my labour, my uncovered hand is stung. It instantly becomes inflamed with stings, then my stomach, which is now exposed as I reach up to sweep the first thick pad of bees into the box. Stings then make their way to where the glove isn’t covering. I come down the ladder, angry bees following me. I tap the first lot into the Warré and take off to find Su or Dave to ask to borrow their bee gloves.

I return to the tree, suitably gloved up now and immediately bees start flying at me. I climb the ladder and reach up to sweep another pad of bees into the box. My exposed stomach is set upon again. What an absolute debacle this is. I have rushed my first swarm of the season. It’s obvious I haven’t as yet stepped into my bee care mind and I have come to do this work with all the stupidity a human can muster. All my knowledges about catching a swarm have eluded me. I’ve forgotten what I’ve learned in previous years. I am too cocky and too eager and these bees are aggressive, a trait I don’t ordinarily mind because it means the colony is generally robust to predators. It certainly is.

I pedal home with my tail between my legs, kicking myself for being such a fool. You cannot rush bees, and tonight I have a hundred swellings over my body as appropriate feedback for my foolishness.

 

 

October 27
Meg

I work from home today and sit near the fire with my laptop and a bottomless cup of tea: wild fennel, mugwort and stinging nettle.

It rains all day so Victoria, our lovely SWAP, is doing inside jobs. I am not sure how I’m going to go working from home while overseeing Victoria but it’s easy. I explain things once and she’s away.

Blackwood is supposed to have a friend over but his friend is unwell so he works with Victoria, telling her stories, asking her questions about her native home of Argentina, bringing her ingredients and utensils she needs.

They measure the seeds; sesame, linseed, chia, sunflower, then add almond meal, and the psyllium husks we collected from plantain seed heads, mix them with water, salt and herbs, roll them out, score them and bake them as crackers.

They harvest, peel and chop the last of our onions, blitz them with salt in the old food processor I inherited from my grandparents and make an onion kraut.

Next they make hummus, bland, the way Blackwood likes it. And then they scoop the yoghurt I strained last night into a jar and add greens from the pots on the deck to make a creamy herbed labne.

‘I like being a volunteer in my own house,’ Blackwood says, when we sit down for lunch.

~

Stories from the School of Applied Neopeasantry (podcast) with Victoria Battisti

We’ve had the pleasure of spending the week with Victoria Battisti, a young permaculturist from Argentina. Victoria has come to Australia on a pilgrimage to deepen her permaculture knowledges and awareness, and before she left for her next destination she sat down with Patrick to share a little of the story that led her to travel to our School of Applied Neopeasantry here in Djaara peoples’ country.

This podcast is the second in a series (listen to our first with Gregori Papanastasiou here), and is 30 mins in duration. We hope you enjoy this conversation with the effervescent Victoria Battisti.​​

 

As always your comments are most welcome, and if you are interested in being a SWAP (Social Warming Artists and Permaculturists) or a SWAN (Social Warming Artisans and Neopeasants) with us, please read this doc for more info.

All things fall and are built again: a neopeasant response

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,

plant trees,

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.

Plants. Forests of trees make rain. An expanding body of evidence supports the idea that forests, in the right conditions, not only make rain locally but also hundreds of kilometres away. Our druidic ancestors held strict tree lores. Druid universities took place in sacred forests. The trees were the professors.

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.

All things fall and are built again. And those who build them again are gay.

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.

In effect the local laws drafted set institutional creep deep into unregulated social life, disabling the status of alternative economies, environmentalism and culturing. A bunch of us are running a campaign to stop this state interference of local governance. We ran a meeting, we put together a website and made submissions, which were recorded and shared publicly.

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.

Artist as extended family: our year with Jeremy Yau

As you might already know, Jeremy lived with us for the past year, learning and teaching, loving and sharing. This was his house, which we built with him and dubbed The Yause. And this is his story while living at Tree Elbow, told through our eyes and a shared catalogue of pics.

Jeremy arrived in early 2017 and immediately got involved in our everyday processes of living with baskets of skills and knowledges and very little money. He came for a week as a SWAP, and he stayed a year.

From different corners of the world, Connor and Marta had also just recently arrived at Tree Elbow, where they fell in love and (later) got hitched. With all three on deck we had a very productive time.

Food is big at Tree Elbow. It is life, liberty, health, ecology and energy. Jeremy soon understood how serious we take food and energy resources; how these often taken for granted things equate exactly to how each of us touch the earth.

Growing, preserving, fermenting, storing and cooking food became part of Jeremy’s day to day. But this was not entirely new to him. Before coming to Tree Elbow he’d been an intern at Milkwood Farm, completed a horticulture certificate and a PDC, he’d volunteered as a community gardener, WWOOFed at various places and established a mini food forest at his parent’s house in Sydney.

With so many staying at Tree Elbow, we needed more accommodation. Patrick offered to give Jeremy an informal building apprenticeship like he had with James and Zeph the year before.

The building had to go up fast, but we’d already saved materials from the local skip bins and tip.

Materials were also gifted and found online. Jeremy learnt most of the processes of building right through to putting ends and pops in the reclaimed spouting.

With the colder weather approaching, we needed to get the Yause, as Meg auspiciously named it, completed.

And we also had to get the glasshouse started.

It was a busy time, and a time of great learnings and hard yakka.

And while we were harvesting food, filling the cellar, building the Yause and the glasshouse, we also had to gather firewood for the winter from forests on the edge of town that are prone to fuel-reduction burns,

and waste wood material from a nearby mill for the humanure system.

We were all fairly exhausted by the end of Autumn, and the winter promised gentler labours. Jeremy used his horticulture skills to graft medlar scions onto hawthorn in the nearby commons.

He started carving things, such as this spoon, which he ate most of his meals with.

He learned new skills and passed them on. Woody was an eager student.

Jeremy made this small biochar furnace following our design and material salvaged trips to the tip. It works a treat!

Being an accomplished welder Jeremy made up these lugs for our back bike wheels at the local Men’s Shed so we can hitch our trailers to them.

He made this little low-tech rocket stove, modelled on designs from David Holmgren’s forthcoming book.

Jeremy starred in the trailer for that forthcoming book. The trailer was produced by Patrick and Anthony Petrucci.

Jeremy also starred in his own video showing the forge he made with scrap material from the tip, while at Tree Elbow. Anthony made the video for him in exchange for bike services Jeremy did on Ant’s family’s bikes. Participating in the extensive gift economy that exists locally was a revelation for Jeremy, and one he took to wholeheartedly.

One of the many things Woody and Jeremy liked to do was make a ‘road train’ (with the lugs) and head up to the skatepark for some wheelie good times.

Jeremy also taught Woody how to ride a flaming scooter. Hell yeah!

Jeremy also retrofitted old parts from the tip to make a new bike seat for Woody on the back of Meg’s bike.

Over the year we became increasingly impressed with his technical skills.

Making all manners of things with materials that were either wild harvested or came from the tip. Most of these items he gave to people as gifts.

He made a coat rack for the Yause.

As it got colder he learnt from us how to knit with homemade needles made from hawthorn. This little scarf didn’t come off him between the months of June and September.

He made a more significant rocket stove at the men’s shed.

He learned to tan hides and make other useful things,

assisting at workshops with his friend Josh from the Bush Tannery.

Earlier in the year he attended Claire Dunn‘s natural fire-making workshop with Zeph and Connor,

and with these two and Patrick walked for three days along the Goldfields track

sleeping rough and eating bush foods along the way.

Jeremy became a regular in the community, often seen flashing around on his bike through the town’s streets.

and regularly attending the monthly working bees at the community garden.

By the last month of the year he’d turned out just as every bit odd as everyone else around here. An anthropologist friend calls Daylesford the town of black sheep. Yay for black sheep!

We did a lot of celebrating life this year, and we loved Jeremy’s spirit, joining in and relishing the looseness.

We finished the year with strut.
We’re going to miss you Jeremy Yau, and all the fun things we did together.

We’re going to miss you in a really big way.

Thank you for what you brought to Tree Elbow, Jeremy, and for what you brought to our community. You are always welcome here. With much love,

Artist as Family