Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Spheres of Influence

I used to think that I would be luckier if I was more like Homer Simpson. Not worrying about how to make things better, just getting on with life and not thinking too deeply. Not worrying, being happy,

I was deeply aware of issues like global warming and terrorism and sort of waiting for the world to explode. The news would go on first thing in the morning, and last thing at night, I knew too much, and at the same time, far too little. Its not that helpful to feel like that. Ingesting information that makes you feel both sad and helpless. It made me feel like everyone else was ruining things and that I couldn't do a damn thing, that any efforts I made would be meaningless.

It's this sort of thinking that pervades our society - the tendency to concentrate on matters so large (climate change, war, famine) that it all seems hopeless, and that leads to a type of paralysis, the tendency to think I can't do anything so I'll do nothing. In fact I think this is often what leads to apathy and hopelessness especially in younger people. Who can blame them for feeling apathetic when there is little chance of good work or owning their own place, let alone spiritual fulfilment and world peace?

The problem is, in my opinion, that we look at spheres outside of our influence. In fact I would go so far as to say that we are encouraged to worry about issues that are out of our control by media and government -  fear is a great way to keep people from questioning the status quo. It tricks them into believing that the government is protecting us from the boogie men, from hostile countries and encouraging us to believe that solutions are only able to be carried out at governmental levels. It encourages us to believe that we need big government and things would be worse with less of it. In fact it is far more nuanced in the reality of politics and power games, and lets not forget that pretty much all of the big, bad stuff - like environmental degradation, war etc... has been carried out by government or their corporate partners.

If we begin to view things differently and look at the spheres within our influence, the world becomes less frightening and you feel more empowered to do something about it. When I first thought about this blog, I wrote a list of all the things I'd like to achieve by the end of the year. They were personal goals, they weren't reliant on anything outside of my power, and they were realistic. As it happens, I have not done many all of them, partly because of  a lack of money and time, but mainly because of the unrealistic length of the list. That's ok, we just need to keep going in the right direction and try to enjoy it, and I feel better just by thinking of all the cool things I'm going to do.

The list, when I look at it, is all about empowerment and resilience. A longer term list carries the same theme. Building a shack, rocket stoves, growing and hunting food and building community go hand in hand with resilience, empowerment and reducing my exposure to government, mass media and large corporations.

As I tread this path, there becomes a self fulfilling prophecy that occurs. I started to watch less TV because other things interested me more and now I am not so exposed to  it  trying  to sell me stuff, tell me stuff, make me feel inadequate or scare me. The news will focus on the most horrendous of crimes no matter how rare they are, adverts will try to sell stuff you don't want and 'aspirational' programmes will generally peddle the myth that we all have loads of money and perfect lives.

I got fed up with the energy companies so I invested in a wood burner, cut my own wood and turned the central heating off (although shell does turn it back on sometimes).

I learned about how seed companies like Monsanto were behaving, so I saved my own seed, to be shared with whoever is interested

I  chose to shop locally and get a deeper understanding of provenance, because the big supermarkets and their business models leave a lot to be desired.

I started to drink the local Ale -  in the words of Scotty Garrett, 'swap the Guinness for the Dark Star'.

Using small companies, friends and neighbours wherever possible takes you into new relationships, gives you a familiar face to see in the street, puts money into the pockets of those in your town. It empowers people, and improves your life.

And by the way - you will still see me in a supermarket when I get caught short, just as I'll use the central heating when I have to and I'll watch TV, I'm just saying that we want to stem the reliance on these big institutions and understand them for what they are. The choices I make to ensure that happens will probably not change the world, but they will make my life better. In the words of Muhatma Gandhi - You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Edge

Use the Edge and Value the Marginal

That's my first or second favourite permaculture principle, depending on my mood. It means that we should understand, identify and value where different forms of life bump up against each other.

A well versed example would be the barreness and one dimensional problems that occur with traditional monocultures. Fields of wheat or corn are pretty damaging with regards to environmental impacts because of  the way they are managed and habitat loss, it also isn't the best thing for our health and wellbeing. And it definitely ain't natural.

Polycultures; shorelines, forest edges, and estuaries, on the other hand, are good examples of where life springs from diversity. Multiple habitats are formed and the links between them nurture life and create complex and endless synergies and partnerships.

I love St Leonards and Hastings- there I've said it! it reminds me of the melting pot of London, but I get the sea and countryside thrown in as well. Add the expanding band of intrepid brothers and sisters that have made the journey from elsewhere and its a bit pioneery (I know that's not a word) - full of interesting people who want to spend less time paying a mortgage and more time doing other stuff. I digress, the key to this being a good place for me is the clash of cultures, both new and old to the place which make for a vibrant and on the whole, caring place. Its a town where the connections between people and the size of the place facilitate a close, cooperative community.

I fell from a ladder the other day, cut my head and went to A and E. It was quite a scary experience, and can make a self employed person think hard about how you support your family when there's a problem. I had a visitor that night. Warily opening the front door (we don't get many unexpected knocks on the door), it was a local dad who was there - someone who had been having serious back trouble for over two years. He offered to lend me money if I needed to take time from work. This is someone who probably needed this dough as much as I would have (as it happens I'm double hard and worked the following day), but he offered help anyway and the guy was valuing community and togetherness, letting me know that he was there in an emergency, and that's pretty cool in my book.

We bump up against each other all the time - on the school run, the commute, at work and in the pub, but generally we choose our clans and stick to them. To know your neighbours and community whether they are 40 years older or younger, or the crazy cat lady down the road, is one more way to give you the contentment  and security of togetherness, a way of fighting loneliness and isolation, both yours and others..Value your edge and reap the benefits!

My most obvious physical edge is the front garden. When we had to fix the roof in Spring, we took advantage of the scaffolding and decided to paint the house (Bright pink , I might add - its a 3 girls in the house kinda thing!) but as we were doing it, people were stopping, looking, talking. Betty was offered cross stitch lessons by the next door but one neighbour, and people were together. I went and looked at the roof conversion over the road, the kids begin to recognise and know the people in the street, and that is invaluable.

I pulled out the Hypericum in the front garden, a good doer for a splash of yellow throughout the Summer, but in my opinion, of limited value and a bit boring. I left a great big hole, I got into trouble for that. I also ripped out the railings which I thought were ugly anyway. The reasons behind this were to open it up a bit more. Its probably the last thing you'd do for security - but bare with me.  I'm opening up my edge. The next step is to grow food in the front garden, some small trees and berries. Its a sun trap, but its windy, - I'll build the soil, and maybe import a bit, but it'll be productive, and hopefully a talking point, and more secure with the knowledge that I'll have more friends in the street from that activity, as well as a bit of food.

I will plant an Apple tree I think, I've not decided on varieties, but I will blog exact details when the orders are made, it will definitely be on a dwarf root stock as this is a small front garden. I'll  build a guild (A designed plant community). I'll include berries, herbs that enjoy a sunny aspect and biodynamic accumulators like Comfrey, (Biodynamic accumulators are like miners - the roots go deep and bring up minerals and nutrients that many other plants could do with but cant reach. Once chopped back - the leaves release these minerals in an area that can be utilised by other plants within the guild) - it is one way of minimising reliance on fertiliser which can be derived from environmentally damaging activity, and costs money.

Anything that can cope with some shade such as currants will be placed in trickier areas in the back, I will not be doing anything that is too close to the ground such as strawberries - there are a lot of cats around.

The idea is to create a guild which fills different spaces, both under and over ground. Just like branches and shoots, root systems are often very different. They can be flat and fibrous, long and tap rooted and anything in between. This is known as stacking - making use of all the space. Stacking also occurs over time with different times of flowering and fruiting - benefitting insect populations as well as ensuring a steady flow of beauty and food.

Anything that doesn't enjoy itself there will be taken out back to live a more sheltered lifestyle, but at this stage its a bit of educated experimentation. In a healthy polyculture, the connections between the plants should help each other to grow. Some will succeed others and as with all planting it will evolve. Its worth checking out the Ron Finley ted talk in my  'Heroes' post if you haven't already - you may be able to see some of my inspiration there! The power of growing food in clear sight of others will, I hope give people ideas. I hope that it will de mystify and connect things for people, and if people pinch the food - I just hope they enjoy it.

Value the edge - its where we meet, its where we learn new stuff and connect - I look at the gated communities in the richer parts of the world and I actually feel a bit sorry for them. Its closed and scared. We're lucky to not be paranoid that someones gonna take your stuff, because theres not much to take, really.

We are more and more isolated in todays society - screens take over, people compete rather than cooperate, government encourages debates such as shirker vs worker, and in general these distractions discourage community, create suspicions and keep us busy. Too busy to talk, too busy to check on one another, too busy to care. Lets break that. Lets make sure that our kids don't feel disempowered by all the shit that society floods them with, lets make our streets back into communities so that they can play out, and lets play out with them. I fully expect my kids to be putting stuff in the ground when the bare rooted trees arrive. I want them to understand how their food grows, and if my neighbours stop and talk whilst this is all happening  on the edge then that would be great.