Monday, October 22, 2012

Clearing gorse is fun...really!

Atamai Village ( )is revving up its working bee schedule. We have a large area of Commons - land we can all use and for which we're all responsible. Some of the land is covered in gorse. Gorse was imported in the 19th century by Scottish immigrants and has now overrun the country. At this time of year, any land not in use is covered with brilliant yellow flowers. To tourists it looks pretty, but kiwis tend to snarl at comments about its beauty. Many of them have had to clear it from land at some time or other in their lives. Gorse is dense and has long sharp thorns. When a gorse-clearing working bee was set for Saturday morning, I went to a second hand shop and bought my first pair ever of denim jeans and a thick shirt. Leather gloves and gum boots completed the ensemble for me and the other 10 people in the group. We were equipped with saws and loppers (long-handled secateurs) and divided into those who would saw and lop and those who would drag and stack. We were working on very steep terrain. What I expected would be an all-day job took the team two hours. With the gorse gone, a hillside of beautiful native grasses and trees was revealed. We then gathered around the picnic table in the communal garden area and shared good food and cups of tea. What I still take delight in is that for most of us, I reckon, this added up to a really good time'. The work was difficult, we all got pricked; we were proud of what we'd done in a short time, and we delighted in working together. All that was missing was a gorse-clearing song - a gap we must fill soon. The Commons is a concept we'll grow into. Once part of every village, in Europe Commons were gradually enclosed for use by wealthy landowners. To a degree it's what binds us together as a village - the need to maintain and make productive this land.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Food at Atamai

A few days ago, Tracey Ambrose, one of the villagers and mother of three-year-old William, sent the following happy e-mail: William and I just sat down to lunch, - we baked the bread - we had pesto from Carla and Patsy - feta from Katie - carrots from farmer Bob - and honey from Lynda Ahh, it's just so hard being here with you lot ;) Atamai is moving forward in its relative food self-sufficiency. A fair bit of what we eat comes from the Te Mara gardens and chook compound under the energetic management of Bob Dawber and his family. Te Mara has a surplus which Bob puts in a dear little roadside stall. The community garden on the Atamai side of the ridge has produced some good veges, and the terraced orchards had a lovely autumn crop of apples, pears and plums, even though the trees are very young. Jack and I have also eaten a good deal from our own garden. In mid-winter it’s still producing fine greens, carrots, beets, daikon. Food preserving. Many of us bottle some of the harvest. Our ‘food cave’ is designed to keep pumpkins, root veges in sand trays and fruit cool for winter and spring meals. Some of us are more adventurous in preserving, with crocks of sauerkraut, preserved lemons and so on. Food processing. Tracey and Katie get together to make cheese, and have an appreciative following hoping for surpluses of feta and panir. I make yoghurt, quark and soy milk. There’s a fair bit of exchange of pestos, jams, jellies and chutneys. Food sharing. We continue our practice of having a communal potluck after every Council meeting and at seasonal feasts. We begin with a circle blessing. Tracey has begun a stew circle. Four families make stew for the whole circle, each cooking every four weeks. We collect our portion and eat it at home. It’s pleasant having someone else cook the meal one night a week, and always delicious. Buying food we don’t produce. Tracey and Craig manage to do this without using a supermarket by getting their food from a local, partly organic shop, Toad Hall. Yesterday I made my first visit to a new co-op venture, The Food Club. Membership enables one to buy bulk organic food, and food processed by local folk. I took six dozen free-range eggs there for sale and bought a fine-looking aubergine compote. It’s situated at Riverside, an old community near here. I plan to get my grains and pulses there. Some things can be bought and sold using TALENTS, the local currency. Several families get their milk from the ‘farmgate’ at Riverside dairy. Why aim for self-sufficiency? We live in a rich food-producing area. All of us in Atamai share a perception that there is a considerable probability of financial unravelling intertwined with energy scarcity and the impacts of climate change on agriculture, among other things. New Zealand imports 50% of its food, surprisingly. If the present food system dwindled or ceased, one could perhaps live on fruit and lamb (and wine) for a while. But there would be some gaps in the diet. We think it’s prudent to be able to sustain ourselves as much as possible. In addition, there is the considerable benefit of eating food straight from the garden and knowing no nasty substances have been used on it. Even further, food grown or made by friends just tastes better, as Tracey’s e-mail implies! Bon app├ętit!