Respecting the earth: permaculture at Fryers Forest

~ DESTINATION EIGHT: FRYERSTOWN ~

Built on pioneer David Holmgren’s principles, Fryers Forest is an eco-haven in Central Victoria

At the outset of this trip, I thought that we might be seeing a community “blueprint” that was repeated in each place we visited, with perhaps different variations on the theme. However, as I mentioned in my previous blog entry, not only does the term “community” carry so many different possible meanings, but the look and feel of each one is so varied that the only thing they all have in common is an intent to live together in some sort of deliberate way. Beyond this, the personalities and temperaments, village characteristics, geographical features, group focus, lifestyle choices, governance, spirituality and long-term vision have come in every flavour, shape, size and colour.

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If our trip was actually about seeking a place for us to call home (which it may or may not be – we don’t know yet!), it might be a bit like deciding on what take-away food to get for the evening: for example, if I were trying to choose between Indian, Pizza, Thai, Middle Eastern and fish n’ chips (all delicious types of foods I love), other than rudimentary differences (starches, certain vegetables, etc.) all are very unique and difficult to compare directly. It’s not a bad situation to be in – picking from a great collection of options – but it begs the question of whether you just need to settle with a community that offers many things you want and others you don’t, or, cherry-picking ideas and putting the hard-yards in to build our own community. The trouble with the latter is threefold (at least):

  • most of these communities were started by people in their 20’s, bubbling with passion, energy and physically in their prime (we’re in that 40’s zone)
  • we need a significant financial base to start with (we have no Savings)
  • there is a staggering amount of research and paperwork – legal and political – to set it up and manage it, even if you want a basic and organic type of community (I’m not unwilling to do research, etc. but the legal/financial/policy stuff is a deterrent)

pics-589Beyond this, of course, is finding people who wish to share in your vision and are keen to see it through. The more communities I see, the more I have personally honed a vision compiling the best elements of all of them into my own community ideas, but have been equally tempered by my increasingly reluctance to have to go through the many years required to get the community off the ground having heard what is involved from those who have done it.

Enter Fryer’s Forest, a pleasant village consisting of 11 freehold plots on a shared 300-acre gumtree-covered property, 20 minutes drive south-east of Castlemaine, Victoria. Having completed another WWOOFing stretch of physical labour here this week, it reminds me just how much work is involved in keeping up and evolving a community. Of course, that’s just the physical maintenance; there’s also the people management which can be much trickier. Our hosts here at Fryers, Tamsin and Toby, have possibly found one of the loopholes to my DIY community conundrum though: they moved to this community shortly after its inception and have been able to ride the benefits of being an original (if not “founding”) member, helping shape the evolution of the village and feel that they have been involved since the beginning yet without having to go through the several years of starting the process, acquiring the land, council negotiations, etc. While I am personally attracted to having a say in the layout and design of the community, perhaps this can still happen on some level if I were to get in early enough but not too early.

Toby, Tamsin and their two boys

Toby, Tamsin and their two boys

My own creation desires aside, Fryers Forest is an interesting place and I’m starting to see the virtues of their way of doing community, even if I wasn’t feeling the love as much initially. The closest town is Fryerstown, a hamlet consisting of about 400 people (which likely includes the 35+ folks of Fryers Forest), but the land was formerly a part of the Victorian gold rush 160-odd years ago when around 15,000 people would have lived in the area. pics-570Surrounded by thick forest and a peace and quiet we don’t often experience in our urban world, it is difficult to imagine it with gold diggers at every turn. The town was built back in the early 1990’s on permaculture roots with pioneer David Holmgren contributing heavily to Fryers’ original design. As our host Tamsin showed us on a tour of the property, there are permaculture considerations at every turn: tree thinning, top soil catchments (swales), building placements for sun orientation, water capture and transfer, low waste yields, the encouraging of fauna diversity on the property and many more things. For those not familiar with permaculture’s principles, they are essentially: take care of the Earth; take care of the people; and set limits for population and consumption. From what we could see, Fryers’ members took these principles seriously.

Our time was largely spent labouring for our hosts with wood chopping, tidying up the remains of three huge felled 100-year old trees, cleaning gutters and helping around the property. We came at a time where they were exhaustedly managing energetic 4 year-old twins while still helping neighbours with their needs: helping shift wood from the felled trees to use as a neighbour’s new home-building material, a working bee digging rain gutters on the roads, “taking care” of a nasty rooster for a friend, looking after friends’ kids while they were busy, and so on. It became increasingly apparent that the “community” part of their intentional living arrangement was quite active and involved. Tamsin and Toby both admitted that if they were unable to continue living at Fryers, they wouldn’t know what to do as they loved living there so much.

Wood chopping, stacking and planter task complete

Wood chopping, stacking and planter task complete

    The "office", a cozy little mudbrick loft hut we stayed in while at Tamsin and Toby's place

The “office”, a cozy little mudbrick loft hut we stayed in while at Tamsin and Toby’s place

On the surface, Fryers wasn’t all that different from Moora Moora in that people could buy and sell their own land (though MM was as a cooperative arrangement and FF was completely freehold strata style), they lived in a loose village layout with a limited-use central “hub”, they both began using permaculture principles and were both off-grid on an isolated property about 20 minutes drive from a regional town. Interestingly, whereas other places we have visited have either their spirituality and/or social conscience to unify the community members, both of these communities only share their environmental interests (and separation from mainstream society) as the glue that keeps them together. A key difference separating Fryers from Moora Moora though was that the overall community was smaller and the houses were clustered much closer together. I reckon this contributes a great deal to the active interaction between groups. It is of course unfair to directly compare any of the communities as the personalities, planning specifics and overall history have simply made things the way they are, but physical proximity still feels like something that I imagine helps connect people better.

The community hall

The community hall

The first four days at Fryers Forest were all about the work around their hand-designed and built home, and even our hosts kept apologising for not taking us into the community-at-large proving that other people do actually live here. Opportunities arose when Toby’s weekly men’s night arrived and I spent a couple of hours with the boys at their community space (an old fibro school house that was transported from nearby Fryerstown) to have some drinks, chats, smokes (not I of course 😀 ) and backgammon. Granted, not everyone was from Fryers itself, but I was able to see the centralised facilities at work plus the bonding between the lads. Heidi had a similar “Happy Hour” experience the following night with the girls playing scrabble in Fryerstown, and we further got to know various people in the village through work we did and via roadside conversations. Further to the idea of member interaction, Tamsin recounted many other aspects of community life she had experienced over the years – particularly with difficult parenting times – like when she would call out on their walkie-talkie system (each house is on the same channel and all have a walkie) that she desperately needed someone to take the kids off her hands, and someone would always immediately arrive to help. Or how the group bus brings the village kids to schools, pics-609how people help one another with their home building projects, how on one year together they built a pedal-powered machine to crush tomatoes to make organic pasta sauce for the village, or how the group holds barbecue events where dancing and carrying-on ensues on the foreshore of their man-made lake/dam on warm summer evenings. The more they thought of it, the more great memories began to flow.

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Despite being more of a middle-class suburb of folks wanting to live outside the anonymity of the city with no external bond seemingly joining them, Fryers Forest seems to be doing pretty well. They just had all of their eleven property sites purchased now and on the way to be occupied for the first time in years, so there is reason to feel optimistic about their future. When I first arrived, I wasn’t feeling the community vibe: the forest was dry and the land was hard; but pushing past the superficial aesthetics and getting to know Tamsin and Toby’s family and their neighbours, I started to warm to what they had achieved here. It certainly has a lot of intriguing elements to look if we were thinking of setting up a new community, and I suspect with a longer evaluation, Fryers Forest itself could be a place that could be spent enjoying for many years.

As usual, Heidi’s own perspective and thorough write-up about our visit can be read on her blog!

Fire safe-slash-wine cellar. Complete with oven door.

Fire safe-slash-wine cellar. Complete with oven door.

Inside the groovy fire shelter

Inside the groovy fire shelter

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Time to reflect and heal

~ DESTINATION SEVEN: LAUNCHING PLACE ~

Natural beauty and deep listening at Sunnyside Farm

This week since leaving Moora Moora has been an interesting one but not necessarily because it was part of the regularly scheduled program. With no intentional communities on tap while we have a WWOOFing stint, pics-507it has been a good time to reflect on things and where we are at on this journey.

I’ve just left Sunnyside Farm aka Natural Healing Place which is located in the beautiful hills south of the uniquely-named Launching Place, Victoria, about an hour east of Melbourne. As Heidi and I explore how different people do “Community,” we keep finding ways to redefine the word; Sunnyside is comprised of 32 year-old Nathan Thurlow and his 3 year-old son, with his extended family living further down the road on a large property. Nathan prefers to refer to WWOOFers as new “friends” and creates a welcoming atmosphere that encourages people to want to stay for awhile in his hand-made spa retreat-like home. The space is broken into pods connected by vine-laced outdoor paths, with accommodation that includes: a couple of pics-523bedrooms plus a loft bedroom/office (our room) as part of the main building; a caravan trailer; a luxury tent; and a tiny caravan-like shelter. The lounge-dining-kitchen area is considered communal, not unlike the crossroads that is often created by intentional communities to enourage chance meetings and conversations. Among the other unique elements around the house area are a newly minted sauna (which looks like a pizza oven that you sit inside),

The loo with a view

The loo with a view

outdoor bath and shower (the only bathing facilities, actually), a “loo with a view” which is one of two composting toilets and this one is situated on a covered outdoor throne with a beguiling view of the foggy hillsides, tin chook shed with happy scratching chickens and a productive veggie garden. Heidi and I took advantage of the outdoor bathtub which was very refreshing (especially in the very cool wet weather here!) as well as soulfully enriching as we sat looking at the trees, steam rising from the hot water as the rain fell and listening to the kookaburras sing.

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The luxury tent we would sleep in if it were summertime

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Nathan and fellow WWOOFer Mel

Nathan is a dedicated host, keen to share his learned wisdom about inner health through yoga, meditation, healthy living and positive thinking. Ironically, both Heidi and I arrived a bit burnt out, harbouring colds and probably needing to be guests at a place like this rather than as WWOOFers. As it happened, two days in, Heidi left to stay with her sister in Melbourne to get some down time, and I have taken a day off here to recover from my illness. Rather than be perturbed by the lost labour we were to have provided, Nathan has graciously taken it in stride and continues to offer his expensive organic wellness supplements, fresh ginger or chai tea, delicious fresh foods, helpful natural remedy advice and positive reading material for me while on the mend and leaning on his generosity. He lives a thrifty existence, so it is not with extravagence that he offers these things but through true kindness. I would go as far as saying he is quite servant-hearted, and his years of living an alternative lifestyle plus his self-education on different types of spirituality certainly show in his hospitality and deep caring for others. As he would say, perhaps in our current health/mental state, we were meant to come to him at this time; everything has its place and meaning for needing to happen when it does.

Mel doing some yoga

Mel doing some yoga

He could well be right about that.

In light of a bad cough and illness, it was perhaps not too wise for us to head on a little trip into the city on Wednesday (just prior to Heidi’s departure), with the two of us plus Mel (a WWOOFer who has been at Nathan’s for a month) and Kito. Our mission was to do some errands but mainly to watch a documentary called Dadirri: Deep Listening by filmmaker Helen Iles that we’d heard about at Commonground. The timing was impeccable as it was only the third small screening of this indie production whose theme revolves around the relationships within intentional communities, plus it featured places on our intinerary for this road trip (Commonground and Moora Moora, and the forthcoming Fryers Forest).

Best.Organic.Shop.Ever. - Terra Madre

Best.Organic.Shop.Ever. – Terra Madre

After visiting the Best.Organic.Shop.Ever. on High Street in Northcote and scarfing down another vegan meal at Vegie Bar in Fitzroy, we went up the road to a little bar called LongPlay which has a cute little 30-seat mini-cinema out back. The film was attended by a crowd of community-minded folks and there was a palpable buzz to being amongst others like ourselves. Helen is British but spent time traveling and filming around Australia for 2 years making this film, with two others in the intentional community “series” that were made in the UK. The film, while technically a bit sloppy (IMO), was an interesting examination on the relationship side to living communally and conflict-resolution, with lots of appearances by places and people we had literally just seen like Peter and Sandra (Moora Moora) and Kate (Commonground), which was all a bit trippy! I met with Helen afterwards to express an interest in working with her on future projects of similar content, but she was quite exhausted from the experience being that she shot, edited and directed it all herself. Shame we didn’t cross paths sooner!

Yummy outdoor spa bath for soaking under the stars

Yummy outdoor spa bath for soaking under the trees

Our loft room at Nathan's quirky but cool spa-like pad

Our loft room at Nathan’s quirky but cool spa-like pad

So, a few things to consider from this mixed-bag week, which was good. Moving forward, I think we’re currently at a bump in the road which is probably natural in a journey such as this: we have filled our brains with plenty of information and experiences; we have not been able to retire to a familiar home where we can periodically recharge and relax; we’ve been brought down a bit by illness and miserable weather; and we are generally feeling the grind of being constantly on the move. With a break in the weather this weekend (yay, sun!) and our final significant week-long stay at an intentional community (Fryer’s Forest, then we just have a couple of short stays afterwards), I’m hoping that we will get our second-wind to carry us through to June when we arrive back in Adelaide. It will be interesting to see where we sit with all this once we get back to a familiar place with familiar faces; my feelings about community have wavered with what we have learned, but it has likely been tempered with other circumstances related to travel and fatigue. Once we’ve had some time to properly reflect in a month from now, we’ll see what ideas and thoughts emerge!

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Discovering a lot of common ground

~ DESTINATION FIVE: SEYMOUR ~

Serenity, companionship and social change

What an interesting trip this has been! We’re so very fortunate to have been welcomed into some beautiful communities, with memories that will stick with us for a long time. When we hit our first highlight spots early on, I though that maybe we’d be tailing off a bit from there. But then along comes Commonground, and the goal posts get moved again. CG logoWith lots of laughs, freely offered information, engaging backgrounds, varying journeys, open minds, good work ethics, shared ethos, and different reasons for ending up in this community, our week here with these great people was delightful and, frankly, difficult to leave.

Going into this experience, we already knew about how Commonground had been around since the mid-80’s and were more than just an intentional community, so we felt confident that we’d see a well-established place that couldn’t have lasted this long without having a solid foundation. Interestingly, whereas everywhere else we’d visited so far had an obvious spirituality at its core, Commonground is instead centred around social change. However, there was a palpable “spirit” to this place which transcended a prescribed doctrine.

main garden

What makes them different is that the intentional community aspect – while integral to the whole – forms one part of a system of elements that help bring about social change in our world. Briefly, their three aims as an organisation are:

  • To provide a conference and retreat venue for the social change movement at the Commonground property
  • To provide collaborative workplace education and training to help people work effectively together for social change
  • To develop a vibrant Intentional Community of people living and working together at Commonground.

On their website, they talk about the early days of why the community was started: “We often talked late into the night about everything from economics and its relationship to global

Kate and Phil, two of the original founding members

Kate and Phil, two of the original founding members

poverty and injustices, the grossly unequal sharing of the worlds resources, the nuclear family, women’s issues, indigenous issues and the state of planet Earth!”  Given their wide range of skills and backgrounds, they began to shape their focus: “At some level we did not want to just keep fighting against the structures and problems we saw.  We felt it must be possible to create other ways for us humans to live more collaboratively on the planet.”  Being that they wanted this community to be built on on ongoing movement and not just individual owner/share collective, they opted to be a non-for-profit to ensure that the community continued well past the original owners’ lifetimes there. Two of the original members we hung out with most while there were Phil and Kate; 30 years on and they both seem keen on keeping the original plan on track and intact.

Wedge backyard

Kasia in kitchenThe property at Commonground is set up with numerous buildings, the main one being “The Wedge” (pictured above) where we stayed and which also houses the conference centre and guest accommodation. There are currently about 6 people who live full/part-time at The Wedge with another 7 at other hand-built homes around the 95-acre property. On a given day, nearly everyone living on-site will pass through the Wedge to cook or share a meal, do some work, have a chat or rest. The cooking roster involves everyone and all dinners are shared so the dining room ended up being a great place to catch up on the day and keep the Commonground family close. We never felt uncomfortable being brought into this fold as everyone was quick to engage in conversation, answer our questions or help us out in some way. Heidi and I were given a room in the conference quarters (and later moved when a group rolled in); the whole Wedge building is filled with a myriad of mud-brick walled bedrooms and bathrooms, each with their own character and outlook to the uninterrupted bushland surrounding it. Wedge wallsWhile not built entirely for off-grid living (no solar due to prohibitive cost when it was built, and the need for reliable power during conferences; one outdoor composting toilet but rainwater and dam water within), the innovative acquisition of building materials and recycled pieces that make up the building coupled with a reuse & repair philosophy and zero-waste gardening makes for a very sustainable contribution to the community.

 

dinner time

Dinner is always a shared experience filled with great chats, catching up from the day and amazing (mostly vegan!) food

Carl with produce

Carl with some fresh garden produce

Even though we had eyes on Commonground for the intentional living angle, we were visiting as working holidaymakers and were given extracurricular tasks on a daily basis to help out the local residents who might not get to them as often. Our tasks tended towards food-related and preserves as a few items were ready to be harvested. Picking, cutting, juicing and bottling was the core of our labour, lettucebut being that the kitchen is a cross-roads that everyone passes though, it was a good spot for interaction and conversation. To our delight, all this food prep meant we were able to take advantage of the extensive gardens kept up largely by Brian and Carl, with a green-grocer level of variety to choose from! There’s nothing nicer than creating an entire meal out of ingredients pulled from the ground as we did for our lunches many days. Brian had also been keeping bees for the past couple of years, so delicious fresh honey was also always available.

Brian beehives1

Brian beehives2I was beginning to think that places like Commonground were an amazing secret with their balance of low-intensity work life, bountiful social interactions, beneficial child-rearing opportunity with co-parenting, constant fresh and healthy foods, low-enviro-impact lifestyle and serenity only an hour out from Melbourne. But I think the word is getting out indirectly through things like their near-weekly groups that use the facilities as a group-work facility, the representation they have in Melbourne, the connection with local town Seymour and the recently-minted boutique music festival which brings in a limited number of punters who are as interested in the workshops as in the music.

Not everyone is rushing to be part of this intentional community despite these inroads, but they seem to get a regular stream of devoted workers/members which continue to keep things afloat. Still, Kate and Phil told us about how they are currently tweaking some of the core membership attributes to ensure that the community lives on well past their own ability to live here which might entice more folks. Kasia and HeidiCommonground takes a certain type of attitude to be part of: living with a close-knit group plus a willingness to hold lightly to money insofar that you are working to contribute to the health of the community but you can’t just walk away with a lump sum if you decide to leave. In my current state of mind, this seems ok to me: with a one-time membership cost of $100, a very modest $30 weekly contribution to the food and bill kitty and 10 hours of expected weekly work for the community in exchange for comfortable on-site accommodation, delicious freshly-grown food, the responsibility of cooking for the household only once a week and the rest of the time spent doing your own work or learning new skills with some of the many projects on the property….well, it seems to me like a great deal. To cap it off, the people you’re living and working with are exceptional, friendly and like-minded folks. To say that we aren’t tempted by what Commonground offers would be an understatement. But this lifestyle still doesn’t seem to be a likelihood for many in mainstream society and I think it all comes down to assets: we cannot acquire anything at Commonground and thus all your work there won’t help you buy anything “in the real world”. Again, I’m not bothered by this, as long as you are willing to concede to living the rest of your life in this or a similar community. Of course, there is time to bank up savings and then move on but I see this type of community as one that you don’t want to leave because it provides you with most of the things we really desire out of life…things you can’t buy.

Mike and Heidi with NgaluThere are heaps of things I could talk about from our week at Commonground like excess cantaloupe (we spent hours making cake, juice and sorbet), the creation and naming of cooch grass beer (Carl came up with “Cooch Hooch”), Kasia’s obsession with psycho-drama to help sell items around the property (none of us could really figure out what a psycho-drama was), Greg’s deftly-placed one-liners at meal times and talk about his recently purchased cigar-box guitar, Phil’s wry sense of humour and helpful direction, Ed’s direct-questioning and foul-mouthed hilarity, Izzy & Carl’s foozball fixation and much more. Overall, it was such a rich week of enjoyment, learning and experiencing community that we are forced to once again re-think what we want out of a community and what could be a good fit for us, even in a shorter term. As usual with this trip, things are getting very exciting!

sunrise clouds

As usual, Heidi’s take on Commonground is filled with some beautiful thoughts and a unique perspective from mine. Make sure you have a look.

 

Cornerstone: Community 101

~ DESTINATION TWO: BENDIGO ~

How many times can I think: “wow”

So we’ve certainly started on the right foot with our community education! Cornerstone in Bendigo is pretty great and an awesome model of caring and committed intentional community. Now, you might say we lack context for comparison to other communities given that it is the first intentional community on this trip (possibly second ever next to Waiters Union in Brisbane), but I think with everything I’ve read about IC’s and our my own personal experience with community of different forms, I can honestly say that these guys are doing an amazing job on a number of levels.

One part that I can compare to is with our friends back in Adelaide. I recognise more clearly now what some of our friends are doing there to create a true atmosphere of servitude (in the “following-Jesus” sense), plus hospitality and relationships with disadvantaged and outcasts like refugees. What I have always found frustrating about doing community in Adelaide though (which has been further emphasised since visiting Cornerstone) is the direct proximity of homes to one another. In Adelaide, we just simply all live too far from each other and it makes a HUGE difference in my opinion. I can see the heart and intent in Adelaide but we need to find a way to live more in physical community as well as intent.

Andrew and Rose

Andrew and Rose, Cornerstone’s co-founders, and our hosts

What has been a joy in Cornerstone is that everyone lives within walking distance from one another and the local converted church-cum-community centre and shared garden is just up the street and is proving itself to be a true hub for bringing everyone together. Schools are close by; shops, cafes and town centre all close too. The idea of popping into a neighbor’s home to not only share a cuppa but discuss a community project or other communal activity is what is great and wouldn’t have the organic and dynamic effect that it does if distances were stretched.

Besides this, Cornerstone was a joy to be a part of immediately upon arrival due largely to our hosts Rose and Andrew who practice warm hospitality with ease. We felt instantly welcomed; and while they explained that their house has been constantly used as a place to stay over the years by families, uni students, refugees and travelers like us, we never felt like they were put out by us being there. Quite the opposite in fact: we were given a generous amount of their time to tell us their story, share meals together, tour the community and introduce us to other members. Being that their lives are driven largely by their faith as followers of Jesus played a part in this I suppose, but Rose often indicated that the community consisted of people from all walks of life and levels of belief (or not) so there was absolutely no bias about how they treated others despite sometimes very different perspectives on life.

Rose, of Mexican descent, in her beautiful Mexican-inspired kitchen

Rose, of Mexican descent, in her beautiful Mexican-inspired kitchen

The way I’d describe Cornerstone is true intentional community from the heart and soul: followers of Jesus who manage to strike a balance between discipling, community living, organic development of relationships, grace, authenticity and generosity. While my spiritual beliefs and journey are sometimes in a far different place to these folks, I never felt ostracised, belittled, scorned or unwelcome to share opinions. Andrew invited me to sit with a weekly men’s group and again I was freely encouraged to contribute and didn’t feel out of place when they discussed biblical passages or other things foreign to me. To me, there’s a true generosity of spirit in play that runs deep inside this community. You feel like they have no reason to hide feelings or fake acceptance just to be polite: it comes from the heart.

Going into this experience, my pre-visit expectations were that Cornerstone would be a close-knit set of homes on a quiet street and that the main house might be a share-house feel, with lots of people coming and going. I figured that there would be a slate of programs going on it would possibly be hectic with people of different socio-economic and physically/mentally disadvantaged hanging out in a community room, sort of like we experienced in our brief visit to Servants in Vancouver. Hosts are certainly difficult to predict but my pre-disposition is to assume some level of eccentricity (although not in a bad way, just refreshingly un-mainstream 😀 ). The reality was different, but the reason is not so much the superficial stuff but the joyful, authentic and committed devotion to community that we experienced. While everyone worked hard, life didn’t revolve around careers, money and day-in-day-out drudgery but rather a variety of new and exciting challenges revolving around people and relationships. And just enjoying life! It’s amazing how much you free yourself up from self-imposed pressure in life that revolves around acquiring and just instead living simply, relying on trust, sharing and neighbors who have the same ethos that you do.

There’s so much more I could say about the nuts and bolts of their community but it would take an essay not a simple blog entry (which is already long enough!). Of course, I think Heidi and I will take comprehensive notes for future reference as – even after only 3 days there – the immediately feeling that these guys were nailing the genuine feeling of how to do community well was abundantly clear. We both agreed that they might be tough to top on this journey! We shall see as the trip unfolds but Cornerstone illustrates exactly what we were hoping to experience on this adventure of discovery! 🙂

(Have a look at Heidi’s excellent blog on her Cornerstone experience as well)

Cornerstone's community hub

Cornerstone’s community hub

Community hub - cool knitted stuff

Community hub – cool knitted stuff

Lifestyle Report – as of Mar 2015

This is my fifth Report (usually once/twice a year) as a way of assessing my successes, targets, improvements and areas I need to be more vigilant with when it comes to simple, ethical, environmentally sustainable and community living.

It might not be an interesting entry to read but it’s a way to keep myself accountable and constantly improving my lifestyle.

I’ve highlighted positive changes in green and backwards steps red. So, as of today:

ETHICAL/SUSTAINABLE LIVING

• grocery shopping (with % of how often I do it)
— observing a vegan lifestyle (due to my work and my beliefs, I allow myself some leeway but am committed to greatly reducing or eliminating meat and dairy everywhere possible (90%)
— local green grocer for veg (75%)
— leftover bread free at end of baker business day (0% – though eating less bread in general);
— skip-dipping/dumpster diving (0% – slack but they are hard to find and I’m not really looking)
— major supermarket for all else (30% – Coles/Woolies, 70% – Foodland (local);
— Fair Trade where possible (tea, chocolate, recent clothing)
— organic where possible/affordable (15% – food, soap & shampoo; some research suggests organic isn’t necessary for many things. Will have to check more on this))
— use Ethical Guide to boycott bad companies (20% – need more vigilance here as I’m going off older info at times);
— boycott GMO foods (50% where possible; as above, using old info)
— boycott food with known cruel processes (90% where known)
— food miles, locally produced (50%)
— meat consumption (0% of meals)
— dairy consumption (5-10%)
— toilet paper from Who Gives A Crap (50% of proceeds go to developing countries with poor sanitation to help built toilets) (100%)

• grow own food (10% – tomatoes, eggplant, herbs)

• household shopping: I only buy new from store if I can’t get from op shop or build myself;
— purchased new in past year:
—– furniture (0%)
—– clothes (10%)
—–accessories (15%)
—– car (0%)

• home energy:
— electricity: (house-sitting and traveling for next 6 months so we’re not contributing excessively to power consumption, plus there are mixed resources)
—– solar/renewable = some
—– aircon/heating (15%)
—– computer (off at night)
—– fridge (borrowed)
—– dryer (0%);
— water:
—– rainwater tank (50% – places we are staying)
—– grey water for garden (15% – washing machine only)
—– shower avg. duration (5 mins)
—– garden (10%)
—– dishwasher (0%)
—– washing machine (top loader 2/5 star rating)

• waste:
— food scraps (100% goes to compost);
— wasted food (5%);
— recyclables like glass, paper, aluminium cans (95% to recycle bin, 5% kept for food/household storage);
— wasted paper (minimal use of printer, kitchen & recycled toilet paper)
— wood (not saving wood at the moment as we are without a fixed address)
— white goods, electronics, equipment (0%)

Areas to Improve: fewer food miles; support local; buy organic if it makes sense & affordable; grow more of our own food; continue to consume less energy & town water. As it gets hotter, it is tempting to use aircon but we generally don’t succumb until about 35 degrees or more.

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SIMPLE LIVING
• “homeless” for the first time since backpacking years ago. Housesitting and WWOOFing for next 6 months at least.
• buy nothing that isn’t essential to the trip or work
• work less, spend time with hosts, wife and friends
• spend money on essentials, friends, charities;

Areas to Improve: this is about as simple as it gets so just keep expenses (like eating out) to a minimum

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ENVIRONMENTAL
• approx. annual carbon footprint (avg. based on lifestyle as of today): 4.0 tonnes of CO2 (Australian avg. 16.3 tonnes; world avg. 4 tonnes). SOme success to finally reach the global average!
• car usage per month – approx 400kms ; mileage (approx 10kms/L) – this will go up when we start our forthcoming road trip
• bus instead of drive (20%)
• ride/walk/skate instead of motor transport (20% – 3min skate/ride to shops)
• return flights in past year – domestic (1), international (1); This year was a flight for business.

Areas to Improve: take fewer flights; walk/skate/bus more rather than car; use less electricity; aim for 4 tonnes/yr CO2 including travel

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COMMUNITY
• I live with my wife and dog; most friends are the same distance or closer now though
• intentional community living (share house or close living) = YES on this trip for next few months
• share property or resources with community = on this trip, all resources will be shared, including meal-time
• collect hard rubbish from neighbourhood (not for now, but usually, when we have a fixed address)
• engage in conversation or help with mentally/physically challenged people in neighbourhood (0%)
• give to charities (monthly to: 3 x global aid, 2 x animal, 2 x activism organisation, 1 x community fund )
• volunteer with some friends’ and charitable projects
• community gatherings for shared weekly meals and social activities

Areas to Improve: aim to achieve closer and more intentional community; share more resources; give more to charities; get more involved with meaningful & helpful projects

MAR 2015 SUMMARY: I’m still struggling to directly engage in the areas I want to see change (other than lifestyle – vegan, simple living, low-impact, recycle/reuse/repair), namely animal protection and climate-related. I guess it’s hard to know how to make a living while doing it. I’m not one who is big on studying so that’s one problem. If I can meld my interests in filmmaking and other artistic pursuits with my activist desires, I can probably make a big go of it. The follow on to that would be hanging out with a more like-minded community which would likely include lowering environmental impacts further plus be a better group to live with from the point of view of emotional connection. We’ll see how our forthcoming trip to visit intentional communities and like-minded groups fares!

Lifestyle Report – as of Mar 2013

This is my third Report (since 2011…oops! I’ve been busy) as a way of assessing my successes, targets, improvements and areas I need to be more vigilant with when it comes to simple, ethical, environmentally sustainable and community living.

It might not be an interesting entry to read but it’s a way to keep myself accountable and constantly improving my lifestyle. NEW to this installment is the addition of my recent vegan ways.

I’ve highlighted positive changes in green and backwards steps red. So, as of today:

ETHICAL/SUSTAINABLE LIVING

• grocery shopping (with % of how often I do it)
became a vegan (Feb 2013)
— local green grocer for veg (75%)
— leftover bread free at end of baker business day (10% – eating less bread but not near bakery anymore);
— skip-dipping/dumpster diving (0% – slack but they are hard to find and I’m not really looking)
— major supermarket for all else (80%);
— Fair Trade where possible (tea, chocolate, recent clothing)
— organic where possible/affordable (25% – food, soap & shampoo)
— use Ethical Guide to boycott bad companies, GM food (50% – need more vigilance here);
— boycott food with known cruel processes (100% where known)
— food miles, locally produced (50%)
— meat consumption (0% of meals)
— dairy consumption (5% – just a couple of slips)

• grow own food (5-10% – tomatoes, eggplant, herbs)

• household shopping: I only buy new from store if I can’t get from op shop or build myself;
— purchased new in past year:
—– furniture (0%)
—– clothes (10%)
—–accessories (15%)
—– car (0%)

• home energy:
— electricity:
—– solar/renewable = no
—– aircon/heating (15%)
—– computer (off at night)
—– fridge (2/5 star rating)
—– dryer (0%);
— water:
—– rainwater tank (0% – no longer have one)
—– grey water for garden (15% – washing machine only)
—– shower avg. duration (5 mins)
—– garden (10%)
—– dishwasher (0%)
—– washing machine (top loader 2/5 star rating)

• waste:
— food scraps (100% goes to compost);
— wasted food (5%);
— recyclables like glass, paper, aluminium cans (95% to recycle bin, 5% kept for food/household storage);
— wasted paper (minimal use of printer, kitchen & recycled toilet paper)
— wood (90% saved for building material); haven’t built much now that I have what I need!
— white goods, electronics, equipment (10% – new stereo receiver);

Areas to Improve: fewer food miles; support local; buy organic if it makes sense & affordable; grow more of our own food; continue to consume less energy & town water. As it gets colder, it is tempting to use more heating but I’ll just have to be as resolute as possible and put on more clothes! Press onwards with vegan lifestyle.

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SIMPLE LIVING
• build most of my own furniture (lounge daybeds, coffee table, office desk, outdoor tables & seats)
• other furnishings have been donated (bed, futon, tv & DVD) or secondhand (kitchen table & chairs, office chair, rug);
• buy nothing that isn’t essential to the household or work
had to move stored furniture from Queensland to South Australia
• work less, spend more time connecting with friends & family; (has been a very busy past 3 years. Trying to find that work-life balance again)
• spend money on essentials, friends, charities;

Areas to Improve: connect more with real (not virtual) people

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ENVIRONMENTAL
• approx. annual carbon footprint (avg. based on lifestyle as of today): 7 tonnes of CO2 (Aus avg. 16 tonnes; world avg. 4 tonnes). This is not including my poor flight behavior below 😦
• car usage per month – approx 400kms ; mileage (approx 10kms/L)
• bus instead of drive (15%)
• ride/walk/skate instead of motor transport (10% – 15min walk to shops)
• return flights in past year – domestic (6), international (1); Unfortunately, the past couple of years have been baaad. Last year was mostly the flights during our tour around the country for our documentary film.

Areas to Improve: take fewer flights; walk/skate/bus more rather than car; use less electricity; aim for 7-8 tonnes/yr CO2

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COMMUNITY
• I now live with my wife so no more commuting to see one another; most friends are the same distance or closer now though
• intentional community living (share house or close living) = no
• share property or resources with community (some household items, driving, food with my wife’s best friend; borrow from other friends occasionally)
• collect hard rubbish from neighbourhood
• engage in conversation or help with mentally/physically challenged people in neighbourhood (0%)
• give to charities (monthly to: 1 x global aid, 1 x animal, 1 x activism organisation, 1 x community fund )
• volunteer with some friends’ and charitable projects
community gatherings for shared weekly meals and social activities

Areas to Improve: aim to achieve closer and more intentional community; share more resources; be more accepting of minority/disadvantaged; give more to charities; get more involved with meaningful & helpful projects

MARCH 2013 SUMMARY: overall, doing the right things still but still not socialising much due to workload. Some areas I can still be a bit more green. Would love to get more friends to jump onboard different aspects of sustainable, ethical or green living but am still trying to take the approach of “be the change you want to see in the world” however it is not always easy not to promote/preach, be judgmental or not be hypocritical…

Off the rails…

Oh gosh, this year started so well with my vision, this blog and the wheels have come off in some regards, evidenced even further by my lack of recording this journey here. What started as an attempt to find a proper work-life balance – one where I worked about as much as I did my own personal projects and socialised more – has become one of the busiest years of my life, worsened by massive carbon-usage crimes and moving backwards in my sustainability vigilance.

What happened of course (as I’ve mentioned in my last couple of posts) is that I have been working on a documentary (which tend to be all-consuming of your time if you’ve done one before, especially on a miniscule budget) plus I have gotten engaged to be married. Well, those being the main things, with plenty of other things layered on top to ensure I don’t ever get weekends anymore.

I shouldn’t be totally hard on myself as the documentary I’m working on is intended on saving lives and raising awareness about the very important topic of human sex trafficking, but I’ve had to take two enormous excursions to SE Asia to shoot the movie, one requiring 18 flights between my business partner and I, the other 11 flights plus another 6 for a third person who flew in from the States. I’m guessing this film was responsible for around 80,000 kms flown this year 😦

Take away my eco-friendly, sustainability-conscious human being status….I relinquish my badge… 😦

I’ve been slightly saved by living with a very vigilant eco-warrior friend for the past 5 months. Without her, I surely would’ve gone for the easier routes of spending more, wasting more and living less-simply because I was so busy. And there’s the key I believe, the trap that most people probably fall into: being busy makes you want to take the shortest route to doing things in life, as you’re always trying to gain a few extra precious minutes in your day. If I were still living on my own, I probably would’ve used my aircon more cuz it is easier, I would’ve not been so fussy with composting and recycling and waste water management because all these things take a little extra time. Of course I would’ve known that by taking those spare extra minutes, I’d be contributing to making this world healthier, but when it comes down to it, we’re all self-absorbed and “I” come first. So the planet will just have to suffer a bit so that I have a bit more breathing room in my day.

So I feel a bit bad. Even though getting married doesn’t come around every day (I hope!), and making your first major documentary (on a budget where you have to work on the side in order to make ends meet cuz the film sure ain’t doing that) is something that takes a lot out of you, but then the first one is usually the hardest. Still, I didn’t want to become that person again. I know this busy period will pass, but I hate making excuses because in the end, that’s what everyone does and that’s why the planet is so fucked up in the first place (insert lots of unhappy faces here).

So I simply need to try harder, at risk of overburdening myself. To my credit, I have gone along with most things that my housemate has kept me to task doing, so that means we waste very little, re-use an awful lot, make hard-rubbish runs, eat some veggies she grows in the garden, use very little electricity (she’s a lightswitch Nazi) and read more cuz there’s no tv in this house (I know: unthinkable!). So, not completely blowing the sustainability plan or anything I guess.

In a little over a month, I’ll likely be in my new home, awaiting my wedding and then soon living with my wife who is also eco-minded (though maybe not quite as much as my current housemate). Still, life after the wedding should calm down a bit and we can refocus on restoring that life-work balance that I am aiming for, thus restoring the drive to be more conscious of simple and sustainable living. In the meantime, I’ll get my carbon credits paid, plant some trees, apologise to the Earth (cuz I already know of 3 potential flights I’ll be taking in the first half of 2012! …oh the shame….) and get on with being a good friend to this little fragile planet of ours.