Thursday, August 30, 2007

Not Building Anything

I think the largest failure of the environmental and anticapitalist movements has been the failure to create an attractive vision of what an alternative world could look like. Instead we have been effectively stuck with pictures as painted by the capitalist media whether it be the vision of socialist street battles and a 1984 like world governed by corrupt party officials. Or the vision of a sustainable way of living associated with physical struggle, poverty and starvation. The public has been trained to view any non “free market” system as suspect and doomed to corruption and failure. The notion that Darwinian competition governs every action has become almost completely ingrained in the publics mind as the natural order.

The perception that anything but capitalism is doomed to failure is of course fostered by all our major institutions our family structure and the media. This isn’t surprising in the least. What is though is the way environmentalists and anti-capitalists play to their socially acceptable role as conscience for the population. We are constantly perceived as criticising the public for overconsumption and not doing enough. We are defined as in opposition to things and have based our movements on constant struggle often for little tangible reward. This struggle for little direct reward ensures that our numbers will remain small, and by choosing to fight problems which have no direct relation to our lives we ensure that those on our side will inevitably feel weak and powerless. Because we spend all our time opposing this or that problem we do not provide for either the needs of the people on our side or the needs of the communities we live in.

Environmentalism is by it very nature about fighting, but lacking connection to land or place we are fighting for abstractions such as “community” or “the environment”. How many of us feel deeply rooted to a particular place or know what lives in our own backyards. Because our struggle is not rooted in where we live the battles are never for our own benefit. Because we are fighting for the rights of West Papuans or the Amazon Tribes we never reap any of the benefits of our work. This limits our numbers to those people who are able to empathise with people living hundreds or thousands of miles away. It also means that we never directly feel the affects of our work and we never get the social rewards associated with success in our culture.The environmental movement fails to meet many real human and social needs so it is no sup prise that a large number of our people turn to governments, charitys or other capitalist power structures for the success, stability and support they provide.

Im not suggesting that we become ligestylists only doing actions when they make us feel good, or that we only engage in action which is not confrontational. But if the struggle we are engaged in is not directly relevant to our lives we will never build up our numbers. Spending our days in doomed pickets outside multinationals and marching down queen street ignored by all but tourists with cameras isn’t working. We must look at how we can fight for our streets and neighbourhoods for the toxified landscape we live on. Instead of attracting support with images of violent struggle we must present a vision of a future worth fighting for. Instead of guilt tripping people about their destructive lifestyles we showed them that another way of living is possible.

Unfortunately though even long time environmentalists lack any vision as to how an ideal society could work or what another way of life could look like. They may know that cars may have to go and that food should be produced organically but beyond this a clear picture of how a better world could function is strangely lacking. Walk into any bookstore and you can find dozens of books on this or that environmental problem but books on how to reshape society are impossible to find. Permaculture design books are probably as close to a vision of a different society as you can find but even these books have become increasingly focused on the individual farmer or individual gardener.

Chances are even most devout urban greeny will have no idea how to live sustainably. Turn the power and water off and take away the ability to shop at the local supermarket and no matter how many stalls they have done they will be in the same dire straights as anyone else.. And if this is a devout greenie supposedly aware of how to live simply then what of the majority of urban technoslaves - helpless without a steady input of highly processed highly destructive products.

The public have far to much to lose for them to join us in our calls for 80% cuts in carbon emissions or our calls to turn off huntly power station. And we do not seem to have anything to offer them in place of our current industrial system. In fact calls for an anticapitalist world often involve merely seizing the current industrial system and running it for the good of the workers. Unfortunatly it doesn’t matter to the atmosphere whether it’s the peoples coal or Solid Energy’s coal we are burning.

I think that if we are to become mainstream we must step beyond the role of black clad saboteur or eccentric hippy. We must learn what a new society could look like, identify what the benefits of this transformation could be and start talking to our friends neighours and family about this vision. We must abandon the role of once a week protesters and start creating living alternatives to capitalism within our community. We must create systems apart from and in opposition to industrial capitalism which serve the needs of our human and non human neighbours.Industrial Capitalism cannot be brought down by yelling loudly or painting intricate banners, Industrial capitalism will only disappear the day it is no longer necessary

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Abandoned carpark

Heres a few photos I took of the carpark of the former Otahu Meat Works, it put me in the perfect state of mind to watch What a Way to go, which was awesome! (but depressing)

I pass this area on my way to work a few days a week and often spend a lot of time looking at it. Sites like this provide infinite lessons on how natural ecosystems function as well as being startlingly beautiful.
Leaves and other material builds up wherever there is an obstruction an grasses grow in the broken down humus that forms, the grass and vegetation trap more Organic Matter and the road is eventually covered
Grasses creeping across the asphelt This meadow has formed right across the top of a carpark!
Surface of the meadow
Beneath the surface is asphelt! A 3 - 5cm black layer of decomposed vegetation has formed right over a carpark. The soil has roots running all through it and peels off the surface of the carpark like a mat.
Leaves and soil accumulating along the side of the driveway.

Weed amaranth breaking the asphelt apart.

Monday, August 27, 2007


We got chickens yesterday and put them into a hastily constructed enclosure at the back of the property. They are living temporarily in a converted rabbit hutch and have a big election bill board for a shelter outside. During the day they 2 eggs were lain, the chickens will be able to live off some of the spilt seed and excess dumpstered food we are given. The chickens were bought from a battery farm and looked after for a few weeks before coming to us.

In terms of design here are a few of the things I took into account, the chicken house will be partially attatched to the hot house to provide warmth and Co2 to the seedlings. The chicken run is beneath a fruiting tamarillo tree and has a growing avacado tree and a guava tree which will provide fruit for the chickens. And the chickens are next to the garden and compost pile for scraps and weeds and adding spoilt straw and manure for compost. The chickens will provide an interesting and useful addition to the developing food forest and garden.

The Eclosure and rear of hot house Digging through mulch for worms
This one was at the bottom of the pecking order before it came to us, large areas of feathers had been rubbed off in a battery cage.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Heres a few photos of the chickens at Kelmarna, Im getting some chickens on sunday which I'm quite looking forward too. I'm trying to get a coop and enclosure built in time, its going to be attatched to my hot house to provide Co2 and heat to the growing seedlings. The manure will be a welcome kickstart to the garden and the chickens will hopefully eat some of the weeds and kitchen waste we currently produce.

Getting chickens and turning the family pool into a pond are two of the big steps I've been meaning to take towards turning the property into a demonstration site. The garden is looking really good at the moment and we eat something from it almost every day. The weeds have begun to take off as spring begins though meaning weeding has become a fornightly job.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

This article is amazing, its from here and the website its from is here. Its what we started last weekend and I think we should continue doing this in Auckland

Permablitzing the suburbs

Written by adam
Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Lou Smith of Breakdown Press recently email-interviewed Asha Bee about permablitzes & backyard food production for a zine she's helping put together in response to the coming G20 conference in Melbourne…. Lou Smith of Breakdown Press recently email-interviewed Asha Bee about permablitzes & backyard food production for a zine she's helping put together in response to the coming G20 conference in Melbourne….

What are permablitzes all about? How did they begin? A permablitz is basically a permaculture-inspired backyard makeover where people come together to share knowledge and skills about organic food production in urban gardens while building community and having fun.

The basic idea is that by converting their lawns into organic food producing gardens, people will be able to back away from a dependence on industrial agriculture and the shipping of food back and forth across the world. At the same time, it makes organic eating accessible to more than just the upper-middle class.

The whole permablitz thing started with a group called Codemo (Community Development Multicultural Organisation), a local community group composed primarily of South American immigrants. A permaculture geek named Dan Palmer started hanging out with the Codemo crew and after hearing him rave about the wonders of permaculture and the joys of having a backyard full of practically free organic vegies, and going round to see the amazing and beautiful permaculture system Dan and his housemates, Cat and Adrian, had created in their infamous Thomas Street backyard, some of them expressed interest in growing food in their own backyards.

The first permaculture backyard makeover was held in Dandenong at the home of Vilma from El Salvador. And permablitzes have been spreading all around Melbourne since.

Do you think permablitzes and similar DIY projects have the ability to enrich local communities and culture?Definitely! Permablitzes involve a combination of learning, practicing and socialising. I'd say the social community-building aspect is just as important, or even moreso, than the garden makeover itself. In our socially atomised suburbs, with our tall fences separating our yards from our neighbours', its rare to get to know those living closest to us.

The permablitz I had at my place last Sunday gave me an opportunity to introduce myself to the old Greek couple next door and invite them round to share some of their gardening skills. A guy down the street who has a concrete yard has even been dropping his food scaps over so i could build up the castings in my worm farm in preparation. And a local lawn mower was dropping off his clippings at my place for the compost building workshop. On the day itself, I met quite a few local people for the first time who had heard about the blitz through the grapevine. On top of this, because it was Codemo who seeded off the permablitz concept, they have also offered fantastic opportunities to meet and spend time with a fun and diverse bunch of people – 76 year old Willie from Chile, for example, has been one most regular blitzers. He's also one of the hottest dancers of the 'permasalsa' — most of the Codemo permablitzes end with drink and a dance.

After hearing about the permablitz idea, the coordinator of Jika Jika, a community center in Westgarth [an inner Melbourne suburb], has also requested a mini-permablitz be held in the gardens of a local public housing estate. The people who live there are supposedly pretty socially isolated so it will be interesting to see what comes out of holding a blitz and building a community garden with them. [I went along to this, and the tenants rock and are keen to get some tomatoes in, and we're going back to work with them some more next weekend. -AF]

Do you think it's important for people in urban areas to have an engagement in food production and learn how to grow their own food?Living in a 'modern' society promises that we shouldn't actually have to think about our food, or any other basic necessity. We've 'developed' to the point that we now get to spend our time thinking about modern issues like ring tones and tax returns. So today the majority of the food we eat is grown by a handful of huge agribusinesses and sold in a handful of supermarket chains. Through this process, aside from disconnecting us from our food and all that its been through to get to our plates, we have also become completely dependent on multinational corporations for our basic necessities, and therefore have lost the very foundations of political autonomy.
I think that growing food, along with rebuilding community (to counter the individualisation and social atomisation faced in this corporate-driven society), are some of the most important and subversive activities we can do today.

“Political independence and the ability to engage in society has a lot to do with from what position of autonomy do we stand. And if we stand totally dependent on a one or two or three day food supply chain we don't really have any position of political autonomy.”— David Holmgren, Permaculture co-orginator (quote taken from greening the apocalypse)

"If your experience is that your water comes from the tap and that your food comes from the grocery store then you are going to defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on that; if your experience is that your water comes from a river and that your food comes from a land base then you will defend those to the death because your life depends on them. So part of the problem is that we have become so dependent upon this system that is killing and exploiting us, it has become almost impossible for us to imagine living outside of it and it's very difficult physically for us to live outside of it."— Derrick Jensen

Where's permaculture at at the moment? As a movement is it as vital as ever? To be honest, i'm only just starting to learn about permaculture after having been working on issues around trade in food and agriculture so I don't think I can really give much insight here. Personally, though, while searching for alternatives to the global industrial agriculture system, I've become excited about what permaculture and food localisation (producing and consuming food in the same area) have to offer. But then when adding peak oil and climate change to the mix, and the likely consequences of these on today's food and agriculture systems, it looks like food localisation using permaculture principles and design is going to offer more than an 'alternative' — it will become a necessity.

Do permablitzes attempt to take permaculture out of institutional settings and straight into our homes? From what I understand, the permaculture movement has made a conscious effort to be taught and shared primarily outside of institutional settings. The idea of permablitzes, though, is to make permaculture more accessible to those who live (and rent) in an urban environment, rather than just those who own a couple of acres of land out bush. The message is that as long as you have a yard (even if its covered in concrete), or a verandah, or a rooftop then you can produce food, and that by using permaculture principles and design, it can be reasonably easy.

Are permablitzes also about getting permaculture into, not only the backyard, but also the front manicured lawn, the medium strip, the roundabout? Yes yes!! I'd love to see more edible front yards, nature strips and roundabouts! Di from Box Hill held a permablitz at her place, which was held mostly in her backyard, but that was because her whole front yard was already brimming with vegetables and chickens. It was designed really beautifully with lots of different coloured vegies making it seem like an ornamental garden until closer inspection (and until you heard the squawkings from the chicken dome in the corner)… who needs daises eh?

Favourite pick of the crop this season? We didn't have a very happening garden until the blitz last sunday so the only things ready to eat at my place at the moment are the green leafies – rocket, spinach, different lettuces, silverbeet, and the herbs. Post-blitz, though, i'm probably most looking forward to the raspberries and strawberries, ooh and sweet corn.. and snow peas… and capsicum… water chestnuts… passionfruit… mmm… basil… we even planted some watermelon seeds… i think i'm mostly looking forward to being able to wander around my garden and just bite at random plants.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Photos of Fungi

Here are a couple of photos I took while looking for edible weeds the other day. I dunno the names of most of them
Woodsear fungi
Woodsear fungi
Woodsear fungi

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Photos of Kelmarna

I and a friend went to Kelmarna City farm on Friday. Here are a few photos, the place has a really nice atmosphere and sells vegies to the public.

Sub-tropical area of bananas and nastirtums, mulched with compost and grass clippiings to retain moisture and control weeds.
Espaliered fruit tree with lettuce growing beneath it, a cool use of space.
The main garden plots.

Blackbird which hung round us for a while

Bee lifting off from a borage flower.
Using space below a plum tree to grow brassicas.

Flowering banana, Bananas can be grown quite successfully in Auckland but a sheltered warm location is preferable.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Wild foods Collection

After the Urban Sustainability Group had our design session on sunday a few of us went out and collected some wild foods for a potluck that evening. Various leafy weeds and woods ear mushrooms were combined to make a tasty filling for a layered lasagne like dish.

Combined with low intensity permaculture techniques weed species could provide a very valuable part of a diet. Weeds tend to have far higher levels of nutrients than cultivated species, when collecting weeds in the city be sure to wash them.

Harvesting Onion weed, it can be used in place of onions

Harvesting woodsear mushrooms from the house we did the design session at.


From left, mustard, Onion weed, Rosemary, Woods ear mushrooms, greater and lesser plantain, Puha

Fantail which followed us round as we collected weeds.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Prison Demo
Iranian Ali Panah is on the 36th day of a hunger strike in protest at his detention without trial or charge for the past 18 months. He was transferred from Mt Eden prison to Auckland hospital last week. He is refusing all food as well as a drip and is taking water only. He is weak, becoming emaciated and confused. Ali arrived here several years ago and applied for refugee status. His application was declined and he was arrested 18 months ago and detained at Mt Eden Prison to be deported. However it is not safe for him to return to Iran so he has refused to sign papers applying for an Iranian passport. As a Christian convert (before he came to NZ) his life would be in danger. Ali has the strong support of his New Zealand employer, his Anglican vicar and fellow parishioners as well as the Iranian community in New Zealand.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mucking Round on Fountains

Christchurch students yesterday occupied a fountain scheduled for demolition for the construction of road in a previously pedestrian only area. 13 people were arrested but the students are planning to continue there fight, more info and updates here.

Whilst talking about how we could support the arrested students we decided to muck round on a sculpture/fountain in Aotea Square. The photos are of me running up a steep sandstone slope then jumping across a metal ridge.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What a Way to Go

For the past few months I have been waiting for the release of "what a way to go, life at the end of empire". What a way to go is a doco covering the various problems facing our society, and how the combination will trigger a collapse which will permanantly end our current way of life. Unlike others films like the "End of suburbia" or Al Gores "An Inconvienient Truth" what a way to go does not in the end try and pretend that tinkering round the edges will solve things. The film promises to provide a sobering view of our society which will shake many out of there trance.

The reviews of it so far have been very positive and I have ordered two copys to show to friends. I have been reading the websites blogs for the past few months and I'm very excited about seeing the finished product.

Taken from the website

What is it doing to us as thoughtful human beings as we face the overwhelming challenges of:

Peaking fossil fuel flow rates?
Critically degraded ecosystems?
A changing climate?
An exploding global population?
Teetering global economies? An unstable political climate?
And what is it doing to the rest of the life on this planet?

Featuring interviews with Daniel Quinn, Derrick Jensen, Jerry Mander, Chellis Glendinning, Richard Heinberg, Thomas Berry, William Catton, Ran Prieur and Richard Manning, What a Way to Go looks at the current global situation and asks the most important questions of all:
How did we get here? Why do we keep destroying the planet? What do we truly want? Can we find a vision that will empower us to do what isnecessary to survive, and even thrive, in the coming decades?

The website is here, the film can be purchased here


A Few More Photos From Saturday

Here are a couple more pictures from satuday.