IPCUK, Social Permaculture & Moroccan Dreams

The weather was changing, we could feel the cool night air seeping in under our duvet while the three of us slept in our van, Arvan. It was time to make another change. We were becoming more open to our surroundings and  opportunities. We decided to take our friends from Keveral up on their offer of a place to stay with them in Morocco. We thought a trip through Southern Europe would be a kinder place climatically to spend some time. We had friends along the way that were practicing permaculture so we could also continue our quest for sound ecological knowledge. This felt like the right thing to do. The longer we were away from such niceties as water on tap, power, central heating, the easier it was to be without it. We were slowly but surely rewilding. Though before we could get going there were two opportunities in England that were too good to pass up.

Moroccan sunsets were calling us
Moroccan sunsets were calling us

The first being that the International Permaculture Convergence (IPC), which appears in seemingly random countries bi-annually, was going to be held just outside London. It was listed as being, “a unique global gathering of some of the most inspired permaculture designers and practitioners from around the world, hosting over 500 participants from over 60 countries.” In short we couldn’t miss it.

David Holmgren's permaculture flower
David Holmgren’s permaculture flower

The second being an event which was one of the first ever Social Permaculture Courses, with a line up of educators that would make anyone interested in permaculture excited to say the least. The course was taught by five facilitators considered to be pioneers in social permaculture; Looby Macnamara, Peter Cow, Starhawk, Robin Clayfield and Robina McCurdy. We very nearly had to flip a coin for this one but as Fionn had returned to Australia to do his PDC with Geoff Lawton earlier in the year, it was now his turn to be with our little one and prepare the van for our future adventure.

This course opened up Laura’s eyes into a world of permaculture that was far deeper than she was expecting, something she is still digesting to this day! Some of the broader aspects covered were how to make our culture, our interaction with each other, and our groups sustainable, self perpetuating; How we can and will live together in an uncertain future; How to have better conversations; How to ask better questions of each other. Stories were told, songs were sung and emotions were felt. Something was happening, a shift, a movement, an optimism.

Robyn Francis - permaculture pionneer, and one of both Laura and Fionn's future teachers. just one of the amazing people we were lucky enough to meet at IPC
Robyn Francis – permaculture pionneer, and one of both Laura and Fionn’s future teachers. just one of the amazing people we were lucky enough to meet at IPC
Straight after this course was the IPC. The three of us drove up to Epping forest and spent 5 days immersing ourselves in PERMACULTURE! (yes in capitals and with an exclamation mark). It was incredibly inspiring to say the least. The people we would chat to, and the projects that were happening were all so up lifting and full of thought provoking actions it was hard not to be moved. Fionn felt in his element networking his way around the world in Epping forest, as Laura just felt a little daunted by the speed and quantity of the knowledge that they both were accumulating! Isn’t there some saying about once you allow the doors to be open you allow endless possibilities to enter into your life?! That was definitely happening to us. And we were becoming less afraid of taking those opportunities.
And with that, we headed South to Portsmouth where a ferry was waiting for us.

 

Seize The Day

After our volunteering in Cornwall we moseyed through some national parks, namely Dartmoor, Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons. Upon visiting these national parks we were naturally impressed with the landscape, they were beautiful, and still are. Yet a recent comprehension of ecological succession and land use practices throughout the UK, helped along by one George Monbiot and his poignant and revealing book, Feral, it was difficult at times for us not to dream of what these landscapes could be if managed more effectively, be they left to re-wild completely or otherwise.

Whistman's Wood, Dartmoor. Saved from grazing and the plow by the Granite boulders the ancient Oaks grow through
Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor. The ancient oaks saved from grazing and the plow by the granite boulders that surround them.

After all this time in the greenery it was time to take on another of our little plans; a family pass to the Green Gathering festival. We’d organised this one once we’d came out the other side of our ‘Trouble in Paradise’. This is a festival with the tag line, ‘a sustainable festival for all our futures’. Every festival since it’s inception has been powered by wind, sun and people, and this year the festival was branded as ‘Performance Meets Permaculture’.

All set
All set

As with so many festivals of this nature, where we’re attempting to re-imagine the future, and are surrounded by strong, intelligent and active people, there’s such a strong sense of what could be if only we’d all be open and willing enough to completely reassess, acknowledge and act upon all the mistakes we’ve made. In short, along with Laura’s brother and family from Hedgehog Hill Farm, this experience felt like the breaking of a dam wall of inspiration.

Green Gathering
Beyond Hedonism

The highlight of the festival, besides meeting the ever charismatic Charlie Mcgee of Formidable Vegetable Soundsystem, whilst engaged in a Children & Permaculture workshop fronted by Robina McCurdy, was getting to watch Seize The Day. This band is the musical actualisation of what you wished Bob Dylan would have done, could have done, if he’d maintained his protest edge. They’re like a combination of the political side of Billy Bragg (on fire), the spirit and get up of Fela Kuti in his Afrikan Shrine, mixed with the truth, honesty and folk of an old weathered, leather-faced, drunken Scotsman playing his heart out for just one more glass of whiskey all the while revealing the harsh brutality of our world with a smile.

Now that we had a soundtrack it was time to ready ourselves for a trip across a continent.

Seize The Day

On The Road

Our first stop in our green beast, (aptly and fairly named Arvan “our van” by our two year old) was Carmathenshire in South West Wales for a stay with Laura’s brother, his wife and their two boys on their recently purchased 16 acre small-holding, Rhiw Draenog or Hedgehog Hill Farm.

Hedgehog Hill Farm
Hedgehog Hill Farm

They had also experienced a similar disillusionment with our human predicament and had been looking into permaculture as a positive solution. They had sold their house in the suburbs of southern England and found a gem of a property in Wales. They were a few steps further along the path than us and were equally nervous/excited/daunted by the prospect of building and creating a life with positive repercussions for the future. We were lucky enough to camp in their garden (house paddock) for a month and get used to our new living conditions.

Arvan in Pooh Corner
Arvan in Pooh Corner

This initial part was particularly hard due to the fact it was such a large change, Fionn was in Herefordshire for the first 10 days, and our little girl making regular complaints along the lines of “Tweety birds, no! Where are the Nee-Nors?!” making things rather challenging for Laura. But gradually as we began seeing the direct results of working together as an extended family the initial awkwardness faded.

A family of wheelbarrows.
A family of wheelbarrows.

This short period became a great learning experience for all involved, as Laura’s brother’s family had only recently moved into their current house (with no windows!), we had the fortuitous opportunity of learning some of the baby steps phase together. Once Laura’s brother’s two boys took our little lady under their wing, showed her the best hiding places in the long grass, got stuck into some of the hard graft, gave her ride-arounds on their toy tractors and most importantly showed her where to source the blackberrys, things became a great deal easier, and the familial re-wilding came into it’s own.

Digging out a polytunnel in Wales
Creating a self watering polytunnel
Cob Oven - almost there
Cob Oven – almost there

In the process of building a cob oven, coppicing a great deal of Hazel, mulching even more Monkey Puzzles, swimming in their little stream umpteen times among many other things, we  would often get far too excited about how things should be implemented and slowly came to understand that everyone needs to make their own decisions and their own mistakes in their own time. Since leaving we’ve been able to see and have begun to comprehend how ideas, like those at Hedgehog Hill Farm, can develop into future masterpieces regardless of what anyone else says, against the current, against all nay sayers. With this seed of inspiration and optimism we set off for Cornwall.

Looe
Looe, Cornwall

We had volunteered to help out at on an organic farm whilst they ran a Permaculture Design Course. This experience couldn’t have been richer and more engaging. The venue – Keveral Organic Farming Community, the people – beautiful, intelligent, open, endlessly inquisitive, and the subject matter were everything we were hoping for and more. We felt we had found our tribe.

Keveral PDC Trobe

This experience took us to some places that were on our lengthy list of ‘places to see that inspire’, including Martin Crawford’s forest garden at the Schumacher College and the Land Matters Cooperative. It also gave us direct experience in foraging (not just for a few bits but near on entire meals),  woodcraft, mushroom cultivation, and other basic survival skills that have left an indelible mark. We also had the great pleasure of being able to sit in on lessons, when not preparing food, from some of the best teachers the UK has to offer.

Picking wild plums in the food forest
Picking wild plums in the food forest

We’ve been able to keep in touch with many of these beautiful people since this time and we’re not surprised but are very pleased to see and know that we’re all applying ourselves as best we can to various projects all over the world. Such a special moment in time for us and our little family, one not soon to be forgot.

All this and the summer was just beginning.

 

Hippies, Activists and Permaculturalists

So we found the land we were looking for. It was close to a village – within walking distance – it wasn’t too big, and it wasn’t too small -to use for the vague ambitions we had anyway – and it had direct access to a natural water source – the beautiful Terania Creek. The area we chose also had a lot to do with the fact that Fionn grew up near by, therefore we understood the climate and had some friends we could, and have since called on to help us out in our early stages. Another major plus for the area is that The Channon and more broadly the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales, is renowned for it’s acceptance of alternative view points and pioneering, activist spirit in general. We therefore felt our attempts at living sustainably, or deep green wouldn’t be hampered by local opposition.

The Channon Market
The Channon Market

Yet all this aside, we genuinely had no idea where to start. We were still living in the UK at the time so the practicality of living and learning whilst on the land were not yet available to us. Luckily for our generation there’s a device called the internet, and so we began what we assumed would be a lengthy and tedious trawl.

On the second day of us freaking out about the big decisions and choices we had ahead of us we received an email from the local Real Estate agent who’d sold us the land with some niceties and one particular piece of information that really made our heads spin. He said that he’d just been over the road to visit the Permaculture Research Institute, and that he was amazed at what they’d been able to do and were doing with and for the land there. So we took a look. And kept looking.

This guy's our neighbour?!
This guy’s our neighbour?!

After a few months we had watched every video Geoff Lawton and his team had ever put out, were volunteering with our local team Brighton Permaculture Trust, and were spending every bit of spare time reading anything and everything from the likes of Masunobu Fukuoka, Sepp Holzer, Bill Mollison, David Holmgren and many others. We imagine this part of the story is like many others experience. Once you feel you’ve found your path you go headlong into it.

The next part of our story however, may not be entirely what you’d expect.

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The Beginning

We’re just a little family trying to do “our bit” as best we can. We are Laura, Fionn and Iyla Quinlan; wife, husband and 2 year old daughter. We packed up and left a big dirty British city to move to the sub-tropical North Coast of NSW. We sold our flat and purchased a bare, degraded, 21 acre cow pasture in the heart of a little village called The Channon.

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Our back story can and will be filled in with time. As you may have guessed by the title, this is our first post, and as yet we’re without internet. We’re also without running water, or electricity. So currently our posts will be few and far between. They’ll be put up at random intervals depending upon the grace and good will of our friends and family allowing us to use their internet at odd hours of the day and night. But we’re just hoping to document some of our struggles and victories.

We’ve been on the land, the land we’ve decided to call Djaning Farm, for 2 months now. The three of us are living in a 1974 caravan we bought from a handsome American in the nearby coastal town of Lennox Head. It’s beautiful two tone orange and brown with a gorgeous paisley interior.

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Our general aim is to provide for ourselves as much as possible, through food (vegetable, fruit, meat, dairy), water (dams, rainwater harvesting) and electricity (solar, wind), while integrating with the community as much as possible, through direct involvement in and creation of community actions (be they anti-coal seam gas protests, fundraising activities, market stalls).

One of the main driving factors in our decision to do this is so when our daughter, and any other children we may have in future and any children they may have in future, turns around when she finds out the mess the planet’s in and has been in for some time now and asks “So, what did you do?” We can gesture all around us and say “This.”

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Stay tuned for more updates. With any luck they’ll become more regular once we’ve got our first shelter built to hold our little solar system in place. Thanks for reading.

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