Thursday, September 25, 2008

Preserving Food, Preserving Friendships

Hello dear , dear friends and family.

To those we were fortunate enough to spend time with during August and September, thanks for your wonderful warmth and generosity. To those we didn't manage to see, we were sad that we couldn't see everyone we love and care about.

The first image here is one across the Atamai land taken a few months ago. You can see, if you look hard, the scalloped pattern of the terraced orchards. At the top of the hill with the pine forest is our house, hidden by trees.
The second image is grandchildren, Charlotte and Jackson, playing in a 'band', part of our merriment together. The third is an ancient hut we passed last weekend on a hike. It is for hikers, or 'trampers', as they're called in New Zealand, to stay in overnight, and actually has some amazingly old tins of food in case you haven't brought your own.
The last image I took from our front door in the Fall here.

The Village
In July we had a seminar on food storage. There is a good deal of expertise in this area in the group. Here are the main things I learned:
• Reduce need for storage by eating seasonally. Change diet to get used to eating staple energy foods that grow easily where you are. A reduced variety of foods may be compensated for by much better taste of organic foods.
• Storage is needed for use of surplus, for sale, for emergencies and for seed. It may even be considered as part of a defence system, if privation was very severe – to be able to give food rather than fight over it.
• Storage without energy use includes use of root cellars, built on slope for ventilation. Dry grains can be stored in raised structures or in old freezers. A village should have a year’s supply of grain in storage. Atamai will need a grain mill.
• Storage with energy use includes solar drying (first priority), bottling, vinegar making, processing oils, smoking fish and meat.
• I’d add to the above learnings by suggesting that we all prepare for emergencies by having at least a few weeks’ basic supplies available. Food should be drawn from this stock in rotation so it doesn’t become stale.

Splendid work has proceeded developing the food-producing capacity of the land, under Jacques’s leadership. The trees on the terraced orchards, planted a year ago, are doing very well. The contoured gardens, created in a maze-like drainage pattern, are planted with vegetables. Another very large contoured area on the same hillside has been tilled.
There is so much to learn for one as ignorant as I. I thought I might be able to help weed around the trees on the terraces, and imagined ripping out the copious weeds to leave bare brown earth. But I asked Jacques’s advice. Here is his interesting answer:

From the ecological, permaculture point of view weeds in an orchard have several important functions.
They mine mineral nutrients from the subsoil and from the air, hold it in their tissues and return it in a stable organic form to the top soil and the fruit trees
They shade and protect the soil surface from UV rays and prevent surface erosion in rainy weather
They shelter and feed a balanced population of microorganisms insects and predators, limiting the development of diseases and pests.
They attract and feed pollinating insects outside the flowering time of the fruit trees
The ecological orchardist want to see a healthy diversified sward growing under his trees
With this outlook no weed is truly undesirable in an orchard provided, it does not shade a tree or compete for irrigation water with its roots.
The best approach for tall weeds (Mustard mainly, lupins, also night shade)away from a tree and shading it is to clip it and use it to mulch a tree.
In the root zone it is better to pull a weed out to prevent water competition. But lupins (important nitrogen fixers are better clipped or broken
White clover need only to be clipped. (It also feed rabbits and deter them from eating the tree)"

This kind of detailed knowledge fascinates me.
Other aspects of the Atamai Village project need to move much more slowly than hoped. The global financial crisis has significant repercussions in New Zealand. It has suddenly become impossible to get loans for the kind of thing we’re doing. This means we can proceed only at a pace that matches the investment of potential villagers in village plots. And we can’t advertise these until we get the District Council’s consent, also a slow process.

Transition Towns
In June, when I made the last blog entry, we had barely begun this effort to facilitate the process of adaptation of the town population. In July we held two public meetings – the first to present the idea of Transition initiatives to interested people of Motueka and surrounding settlements, the second to begin the process of self-organization into working groups. These were very successful. About 70 people came to the first, and there was a feeling of enthusiasm about it, a mood of ‘It’s about time. We need to act.’
The second was attended by over 60 people and was well facilitated in Open Space process. People designated areas of their passion and expertise and worked in small groups. The following groups formed: Food Production, including Community Supported Agriculture and Open Orchards (public plantings of fruit and nut trees); Transport, including organized carpooling and hitchhiking, and making walking and cycling more attractive; Energy, with a focus on solar energy; Sustainable Business; Voluntary Simplicity; How to stay sane, have good meetings and resolve conflict; Liaison with Government.
These events were well covered by local newspapers and radio.
A meeting last night (September 25th) showed that efforts were moving ahead at a steady pace in this very creative group of townspeople.

Us – Sept 1st.
July was dominated by organizing the Transition Town meetings for me, and by pressing Atamai Village issues for Jack. August began for me with a week in the village of Statdschlaining in Austria, teaching a course in Peace Psychology at the European Peace University. I had 25 Master’s level students who represented a rich range of experience in nongovernmental organizations and UN agencies, and an extraordinary range of national origins – Ethiopia, Uganda, Turkey, Australia, Canada, USA, Austria, Switzerland, Germany… I began each day with an hour’s walk in the surrounding hills with the rector, Dietrich Fischer, a gentle man with a great depth in Peace Studies and an extraordinary ability to recount jokes to match any topic. His hospitality extended to providing breakfast and lunch to visiting instructors. One day we decided to challenge him by just calling out topics to see if he could match a joke to them. ‘Cheese!’ He had three cheese jokes. ‘Shoes!’ He was equal to the challenge.
The rest of August and the first week of September has been for Jack and me a simply wonderful time visiting family and friends in Canada. We returned to our old home, now occupied by son and daughter-in-law Jonah and Penny. There we got to know our new grand-daughter, Bianca, now 6 months. Nothing matches living with a loved child, seeing her in all her phases, laughing her glorious baby giggle, bored, a little grizzly, playing with her adoring subjects, enjoying her bath and so on.
We’ve had similar opportunities with our other grandchildren, Jackson and Charlotte. We have come to a place dear to us, The Dekars’ cottage on an island in Georgian Bay, where we’ve spent summer weeks every year for the last 14 or so. Here we’ve had these two little ones with us, together with their parents, Josh and Tracey. We’ve had hikes in the bush, enjoying their mastery of rockclimbing and finding their way, swum and canoed and sat at night around the campfire chatting. Nothing is so conducive to leisurely conversation.
In the second week, youngest son, Jeff brought his girlfriend, Becky to visit, together with old, dear friend, Doug Reberg. Long mealtime chats, lying on the dock watching the stars, canoe journeys for the young ones and birdwatching for Doug have been part of the overall awe at the beauty of this place. For me, each day has a glorious beginning, as I sit on the rock and watch the sunrise. The sky just now is beginning to redden, reflected in the still lake, and the first birds of the morning are making tentative noises.
Jack and I spent some of yesterday preparing talks to give at an event in Hamilton tomorrow, organized by Environment Hamilton and Hamiltonians for Progressive Development. Jack will give an overview of the Village and I’ll speak on Transition Town ideas.
In six days we leave. It’s going to be hard.

Us – Sept 26.
I was enormously gratified while in Canada to hear how many people read and enjoy this blog – thanks, friends. Hard to account for my long gap in communicating. Back in harness in New Zealand we are; it’s mainly Jack who is harnessed, I must say. I have an easier time. Last night I was able to participate by ‘phone in a Telemed conference with nursing stations on northern Ontario First Nations communities – the very same communities I had visited thirty years ago as a mental health consultant. The topic was how to deal with the issue of media violence with children of these communities, where interpersonal violence is often a serious problem. My colleague, Marilyn Koval, family physician in Sioux Lookout, organized this. The only problem was that I needed to do my bit at 1am my time, and I nearly wrecked things by not waking when the microwave timer beeped. However, it all worked out and I was happy to be able to do this.
We’ve found time to do a couple of good hikes since being back.
Very warmest wishes to you all,

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