Thursday, 15 September 2011

life preserving

Boy, I’ve been working hard! I’m spending all my spare moments storing food for the winter. All the apples, pears, plums and quinces from the allotment, the runner beans, courgettes, tomatoes, onions, beetroots, and other people’s windfalls too, as well as foraged berries, are being wrapped, chopped, boiled, pickled, jammed, brewed, frozen and stored away for the winter months. Why? Perhaps because it’s been an abundant harvest, perhaps because I’ve reached a new level of competence/obsession. It’s extreme.

As I spend yet another evening with my face over splattering vats of vinegar, I often ask myself whether it’s worth it. I can pop down to the shops and buy this stuff, for not much more than it costs me. Certainly, if you build in my time, it’s not worth it at all. So what’s it about? Part of me wants to develop skills that I feel we’re going to need some time soon. Part of me is almost invoking the spirit of my pre-supermarket forebears, who had to do this to alleviate winter food boredom, and I can also feel their joy and gratitude for the food that sustains our lives. 

But mainly, increasingly, I want to preserve food for its own sake. As we live more and more from the food I grow on the allotment I can feel in advance the taste of sunshine in the autumn raspberries taken from the freezer in February. I can taste the summer echo in my tomato pickle eaten with a root stew in March. The damson jam will be brilliant on hot toast on a cold day. And of course some of it will go as presents.

Really, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Next year I’ll just have to make sure I set aside time in September to focus on preserving, just as I prioritized vegetable growing in March and April this year and bees in May and June.
Such deep pleasure, even just in anticipation! Is it possible that by simplifying we are inviting more abundance and happiness? It’s all a great mystery.

Pic by MG Montoya

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

finishing touches

I’m just putting the finishing touches to my permaculture diploma, which I’m presenting for accreditation this Sunday. It’s the culmination of nearly five years of work, during which I was designing and creating resilient systems in response to climate change and peak oil. When I took the introduction to permaculture course about 25 years ago, followed a few years later by a two week design course, it revolutionised me. Here was a holistic, systemic approach to life that had a brilliant ethos at its core: earth care, people care, fare share. That ethic applies even more today when the problems identified then are now threatening life on earth.

Five years ago, when I left Lewes New School, which I’d co-founded, I wanted to devote myself as a permaculturalist to the urgent issues of the day and decided to take on this self-managed learning course, which includes meeting with tutors and fellow designers. In five years I’ve helped establish Transition Town Lewes, and have been deeply involved in several of its projects, including the Lewes Pound and communications. In that time I’ve also co-started a community car club, made our house more energy resilient and also a generator of both heat and electricity. I’ve established several growing places, including my allotment, woodland and small forest garden near our house. I’ve become a natural beekeeper. And I’ve written about all this for Viva Lewes online. It’s been fun.

I’ve been able to focus on this work mainly without pay by reducing our costs –  we buy very little stuff any more – to the point that we can live on one income. For me, whether I’m paid or not, recognised or not, successful or not, it’s my path. I’m deeply grateful for permaculture as a practical way of making sense of life.

Three people are accrediting in Lewes and two in Worthing this weekend – all leaders who are helping design resilient communities. You are welcome to attend. 2 – 5.30pm this Sunday 4 September at Lewes New School. You can read my 10-module diploma here.