A time of great changes

A long while back I said that we had a new adventure ahead of us, I promised details and now I have a few minutes to tell you about it.

As you know, we have a new son, William, who is now almost 10 weeks old. He’s growing well and developing wonderfully well, keeping us very busy and pretty tired and deliriously happy. 2 weeks ago tomorrow we bundled him up into his car seat and headed off on a long drive from Auckland to Wellington, stayed with friends over night and then hopped a ferry to the South Island, another 2.5 hour drive and we ended up in our new home. That’s right, we have moved islands, from the wet and grey winters of Auckland to the perpetually sunny crisp winters of Motueka.

Now you might think that it’s simply the joy of living in a sunny environment that would encourage this move, well that turns out to be just a bonus. We’ve actually moved here to be part of a new eco-village called Atamai. Atamai Village Council currently owns around 30 ha (74 acres) of land on the Motueka Valley Highway, and has the option to lease or purchase a further 69 ha (170 acres). The sight is divided up into mostly commons plus 11 lots around 1 to 2.5 acres and an intensive housing area similar to Earthsong eco-neighbourhood (where we are selling our gorgeous studio apartment).

We plan to purchase a 1-2 acre block where we will build our traditional timber framed home. There are still several lots available for sale in Atamai and they haven’t even started on the intensive housing sight. We’ve been here for less then 2 weeks and already we are organising pot-lucks and a heard of 20 goats. It’s an extremely exciting time, with everything at the very early stages. The land has been purchased, the council permissions received and development just starting. Transition Towns, Carbon Neutrality, Climate Change, Community Development and Community Currency are all high priorities for those fueling the project.

I’m going to end with a few photos of the sight from our January trip and a link to more.

Currently this is the only pond on the sight, but once the main earth moving has been completed every property will be in easy access (I believe bordering) a body of water like this.

This is the river across the road from us.

More photos of the property are here.

Earthsong 2020, A Day in the Life – Part 1

Part 1: Breakfast

The sky is just starting to glow in the pre-dawn light and there’s a winter’s chill in the air as I make my way down to the common house. I’m not a morning person, but it always starts to grow on me once I’m up and out of the house, despite the zombie like way that I shaved and washed my face after rolling out of bed. I’ve taken to showering in the evenings in order to get a better result out of the solar hot water, and also because I now get a lot sweatier and dirtier during the day than I used to when I sat in front of a computer.

My reluctant rising means that I’m far from the first person in the common house this morning. There is a fire going, and lights are on in the kitchen and dining room. There might well be power from the grid right now, although the rolling blackouts are no where near as neatly scheduled as the radio might suggest. Morning and evening are peak times here, so it’s most likely that the lights are running straight off batteries. We put solar cells on the roof of the common house when things first started getting bad, and although many argue that they aren’t a solution, they certainly made the transition a lot easier. There are a few households with electricity generation, but the rest of us rely pretty heavily on the common house facilities, especially the four big chest freezers, when our own houses lose power at inconvenient times.

As I walk in it’s warm, almost unpleasantly so as I quite like the shock of a cold morning for short while at least. I don’t have to have breakfast in the common house, but it has become a habit for most of us after it proved basically impossible to retrofit our own houses to take wood-stoves. Also, we simply don’t have enough wood on site to burn in thirty-two cooking fires, and although bringing back loads of it from the hills isn’t impossible, it’s pretty hard to manage it sustainably with all the city folks who are already grabbing loads of it without understanding what the forest needs.

These are academic arguments though, the sort of things we might say to people on tours (yes, we still run those), but everyone who lives here knows that the real reason for the centralised cooking as soon as they walk in the door and see the beautiful cast iron range taking up pride of place in the kitchen where the gas stove used to be, back when there was affordable gas to be had, bedecked with an array of bubbling pots, boiling kettles, and slices of toasting bread. I like the smell, and I’m going to very much appreciate a coffee soon (there’s nothing quite like a stovetop espresso), but I’m still a cold muesli person so I’m here mainly for the companionship and the aromas than I am for a hot breakfast.

I’ve got a pretty big stash of muesli left in the pantry. Anyone who hadn’t been to Earthsong in the last dozen years wouldn’t recognise the pantry these days. It grew as a rather hodgepodge effort, starting with inclosing the paved area between the kitchen door and the existing pantry, which we’d always thought to be quite large. Then, the broom cupboard was re-modeled, and two separate extensions were made to the south in various bursts of enthusiasm. The muesli is stored with the dry goods, along with the ingredients that we make it from every couple of weeks. It was only about a fortnight ago that I returned from a trip up north to buy grains, so we’re well stocked with bit big plastic tubs of oats, which we’ll run in batches through the hand flaker as needed for making muesli, porridge, crumbles and so forth. The sultanas are grown here, both on north side of the common house and also some from private gardens, and we’ve managed to include a good supply of nut and seed crops from both on site, and from the Ranui nut tree project.

The milk is cold and fresh. We still trade for it with the same farmer up the road who has been supplying us for nearly a decade. We’ve got the processes down pat now, with bike trailer kitted out to take us much as a hundred litres of fresh milk in tubs. We get it unpasturised, so that we can make better cheese, although we do pasturise batches of it ourselves after we have skimmed off the cream. It’s been a few days since the last load of milk, so it’s time for a big butter making day to help store the excess. That’s why Tracey is working for the dairy group today, and the kids are joining her, while I head off early (too early if you ask me) to the two CSA farms that we’re involved with.

The common house is filling up now, and I exchange quick greetings, kisses for the kids now starting in on scrambled eggs, and a another for my wife at the griddle, and then I’m back out in the cold as four of us fiddle with bike panniers and check tyres over in the bike shed before setting off. Like the pantry, the bike shed has sprawled in stages as it became clear that bikes were going to become a bigger part of our lives than cars. It’s moved from north of the shed into one of the rows of carports, as it was much easier to put a few weather proof barriers around the side of a carport than it was to build a new structure, and we just don’t have enough cars on site anymore to need them. We held on to our cars for a long time, as everyone around auckland did. Even though it costs around $150 to drive to central auckland and back, it was hard to admit that “assets” which had cost many of us so much money were now basically worthless as no one wanted to buy them.

There are still cars on the street, but for our purposes at least they are far too expensive to run. We never managed to get our hands on a plugin hybrid, the new ones are proving totally unaffordable due to increased manufacturing costs, and the general weakness of the NZ dollar, and getting our hands on an old Prius to convert is something that we’ve talked about, but never quite had the energy for. Instead, we keep about six of the more fuel efficient cars on site, which is still far more than we need, most of which have the batteries disconnected most of the time and just stand ready for emergencies. We don’t leave fuel in the tanks until we need to use them. Crime has actually dropped since the initial trouble around the time of the crash, but we still don’t leave fuel in the car tanks any more than we’d leave gold bullion lying about on the lawn, it’s just common sense.

The sun is most definitely up now, and it feebly attempts to warm our backs as four bikes set off down west down Swanson Rd, which is a very different place to when I first arrived here.

A changing world

Peak oil has been on our minds a lot recently. We’ve been watching movies, reading articles, entering into discussions, researching and absorbing a world of information, some good, some bad, some positive and pessimistic, making plans and writing stories. We are getting very interested in the Transition Town project and have started working on how to get it moving along here in Ranui.

The world is changing, we’ve always known that our society has not been living in a sustainable way, we always knew that at some point we would run out of oil and that we would again have to slow down, take a step back and change the way we live. In our lifetime we will no longer be able to simply jump into the car and drive to a warehouse sized supermarket to get packaged and processed foods. We will not be able to rely on having things transported from the opposite side of the world just so we can have tomatoes in Winter. All my life I’ve wanted to travel to Europe, I’m beginning to realise that not only is that going to be an unachievable dream very soon, it’s also one that I’m beginning to happily let go of for the pleasures of a life at home and the changes this life will bring.

I currently play at weaving and spinning, knitting, cooking and gardening, I believe that within the next few years these crafts will be essential to my life. We will see an end of ornamental gardens and front yards of grass. Councils will abolish laws forbidding chickens and other farm animals in suburban areas and begin encouraging it. Supermarkets will flounder and farmers markets will no longer be quaint weekend diversions but once more will become essential for trade. People will loose jobs and it will be hard, but we will find that in a post-oil world there will once again be more jobs then people to do them as we once more have to rely on our own bodies instead of machines. Our efforts will return to the satisfying task of feeding and clothing us and not sitting in stuffy offices moving pieces of paper from one pile to the next.

It takes very little effort to find information to support the believe in a post-oil world, a quick google search on “rising oil prices” returns 810,000 pages of information including this from the BP statistical review of world energy: “It’s no secret anymore that for every nine barrels of oil we consume, we are only discovering one.” How can we even consider that we can continue as things are with that fact before us? I don’t understand is how people can get angry about the rise in prices of oil and demand the government make it cheaper. Rare resources are always expensive, we all know that, if I was to offer you the skeleton of a dodo bird you wouldn’t expect to pay the same as for the skeleton of a sparrow would you? People’s ignorance and desire to burry their heads in the sand amazes me, the mainstream media’s minimal coverage astounds me. I’ve heard people saying things like it’s a “hippie conspiracie” that those who believe are pot smoking tree huggers. Well news flash, it’s the scientists and the economists, people inside the oil industry itself who are yelling at us to wake up and smell the fumes.

It’s a hard reality to face. I feel torn between two worlds, in one I’m planning a Tupperware party and working at being a photographer, and in the other I’m working out how much land we need to feed 30+ households and trying to decide if I should buy a horse now or wait another year.

When I see a huge task before me I became daunted and feel over whelmed by it and so I try to break it down into smaller, managable sections. When we were planning on purchasing a 5 acre block I got freaked by the size of such a property and what on earth I would do with all that land, then I broke it into pieces starting with just the house, then the kitchen garden and then worked with permaculture principles of zones and headed out to orchards and forests. Suddenly I could see the 5 acres come together as a manageable whole and when it threatened to overwhelm me again, I pulled my focus back to one area. I’m trying to do this again with the peak oil crisis, focusing on the small things, asking myself questions and not getting caught up too much in the larger picture. I ask myself things like what is essential to my life and happiness? My husband, my family, my friends, my community and good food are the ones that jump out at me. Well guess what, I can have all of those things in a post-oil world and more. Craig has started writing a story about our life in 2020 (many famous cyberpunk novels have been written about the distopian world run by corporations in the year 2020), it’s open for others to add their own pages to and I’ll post it in a separate post for everyone to read. It’s a positive vision, one of hope I think.

Here are a few links people might find interesting about Transition Towns.

This is a youtube video on Transition Town Totnis, the pioneer of the movement