Repost – Narara Eco Village Open Day

28 Apr

This post was originally created and shared by Anna Chatburn on her Blog “Journals of Voyages in Conscious Travel & Lifestyle“. Posted with her approval.

In case you don’t get the connection – I was lucky enough to be her and her families tour guide around the Ecovillage.


As part of our research into sustainable living Bobby and I went to Narara Eco Village Open Day on Saturday. Why would we spend our weekend traipsing round an eco village? Well, it’s all part of the research phase of our future plans! 

Visiting eco villages in Australia

Along with my eco house dreams I’ve been pondering establishing a small community of like minded conscious friends on a plot of land with onsite eco accommodation, a retreat centre and event venue. Bobby is keen to build an eco house and accom to rent out and grow some food. But I’m also interested in making something bigger including an event venue and other houses. We haven’t yet decided on the details so this next year I’ve decided to explore more eco villages and eco accom to get ideas and learn. I’ve only visited a handful of eco villages so far including Green Village Bali and Billen Cliffs Village.

Ecovillage in Australia

First stop: Google. I searched ‘eco village Australia’ and looked at the locations on Google maps. There are more and more eco villages popping up across Australia in recent years. Narara Eco Village is the closest to Sydney so seemed like a good place to start. On the website the founders explain their vision for the eco village: “Imagine a group of people of all ages, living sustainably as a thriving community in a contemporary development near Sydney – having fun, living lightly, being connected…” Sounds great!

Joining Narara Eco Village Open Day

1804_Front Gate Sign

We hired a GoGet and drove the 1.5 hours north from our home in Bondi to Narara. On arrival at Narara Eco Village everyone we met was smiling and welcoming. We checked in to the main community centre and the members on the welcome desk explained the timings of the day etc. It felt a bit like being on a school trip.

After a wander around we joined the group tour of the grounds at 2.30pm. Our guide lead us through and explained the plans for the different parts of the land. I was amazed how much the few kilometres of newly laid road cost – millions!. Something I’d never properly considered before when imagining building an eco community.

1804_HH

Access and planning

There’s a lovely quiet spot of land beyond the bridge (below) But as there’s no proper road over the bridge the community can’t get planning permission to build dwellings on the land beyond. This is because emergency vehicles wouldn’t be able to access the homes in a flood. Building an accessible bridge would cost over a million dollars. Access for ambulances and fire engines etc is another thing that had never occurred to me! In my eco village I’d like tracks for bikes and golf-buggies, with roads for cars only where absolutely necessary.  How realistic this is I’m not yet sure.

1804_Creek_Bridge

The land is 150 acres and they’ve divided it into about 40 plots for houses to be built on. I hadn’t realised how early days the project was and that none of the houses are yet under construction. It’s surprising to see the land undeveloped and imagine how many houses will fit there. There are a few buildings that were already on the land when they bought it which are used as a mixture of homes and community centres etc.

1804_HH2

Building a camp ground

There will be a camping ground where people can stay and attend workshops on sustainable building and permaculture etc.  I’d also love to have a campground on our land with a mixture of space for tents, glamping and yurts to open it up to all budgets. It’s a great way to bring people into the community and make some money before all the building is finished.

1804_CampKitchen

Getting help from volunteers

We saw a team of people building a camp kitchen using rammed earth (basically ramming earth into old tyres). They will find helpers from Helpx and Wwoof. (Both organisations where volunteers can exchange labour and skills for food and accommodation) I’ve had great adventures travelling as both a Helpxer and Wwoofer over the years. So I’ve always considered being a host in future as it makes financial sense if you have lots of land or spare accommodation, as well as being a great cultural and skills exchange.

1804_ToolLibrary

Small-scale sharing economy

Another great sharing initiative is this cute ‘tool library’, above. This idea can be applied to any number of resources such as a toy library.  Bobby and I discussed how small-scale car sharing would work well. We’ve decided we’ll have a collection of Telsas and a few vans which can be hired GoGet-style near the entrance in our eco village. ;p

 

1804_Annas_family
Bobby, left, me, Huy, Huy’s wife and son and another kid from the tour. We arranged ourselves in height order without realising it!

By crazy coincidence I bumped into an old work-mate from London on the tour – Huy, above. We worked together at The Energy Saving Trust (EST) about ten years ago, in 2008!! I guess we both have an interest in green living having worked for EST. Huy now lives down the road from Narara and he had heard about the open day locally, as he’s big into worm farming. But really, what are the chances?!

1804_dam

Sociocracy

All the decisions and running of the community use a system of Sociocracy.  Any decisions are made using this collaborative social democratic voting system based on the overall consensus of the group. Every single individual gets a say. Our guide told us that one of the hardest decisions to get agreement on was the naming of the roads!

1804_SummerGlasshouse

Food production and consumption

The members are planning multiple permaculture food forests, and there’s a conservatory for growing food too. Our guide (who already lives on site) told us he keeps bee hives and brews his own kombucha. We saw a cluster of pecan trees  – finding a site with mature fruit and nut trees and some useable structures like this is ideal.

Other future plans for the village include a trendy wholefoods cafe and a shop selling staples such as rice and pasta etc Scoop-style with no bags. I love this idea, but imagine they’d need a fair few outside visitors to keep these going as businesses. I have no doubt there will be loads of interest from the locals once the village is underway, particularly as there’s a school next door. I’ll be keeping an eye on their progress as building is about to start on the houses.

1804_Shed

Stuff I learned about building an eco community

  • Plan it in stages
  • Keep the local council on good terms
  • Don’t rely on banks for funding as they might tar you with the ‘hippy’ brush and pull out
  • Establish a group of founding members early on and get buy-in
  • Roads and emergency access are a key consideration in terms of planning, cost and permission
  • Sociocracy sounds like a great way to govern a community
  • It takes a long time!

Although I went to the open day expecting to see a more developed eco village, seeing the early stages gave us more of an idea of the hard work and time required to plan and establish such a project. Getting a glimpse of the hassle, money and bureaucracy we’d have to deal with will help inform our planning and decisions. E.g. do we want to spend potentially decades establishing something like this?! At this stage I’m definitely not ruling out building a small community, but buying a house in an already-established eco village is definitely an easier option. Further exploration is needed – watch this space!

Narara Eco Village Open Day is the last Saturday of every month.

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Here’s to 2018 – Back to blogging.

27 Feb

It’s obviously been a while since I last posted and I’m sure you hate going to blog sites with that first statement!

A lot of has happened since the last point, the biggest thing being we have joined a Ecovillage on the NSW Central Coast. This has given me so much motivation to do nature based stuff from more brewing (traditional and wildcraft), beekeeping, mushroom growing, preserving, fermenting, dehydrating, wild edibles and more!

I’ll get to each of those topics in detail but here’s a kick start with a recent blog I wrote for the Narara Ecovillage website.

Village Day in January

Original Post

The Village kicked off the year with a new format for the monthly Open Days. Renamed to Village Days we are inviting you to join us for ‘a day at the village’ – we’d love you to join in the fun and comaraderie of a group of people working and playing together. During the year as we start to build our houses we hope you’ll enjoy that journey with us too.

Starting in the early morning the Natural Build team began work on the much anticipated outdoor kitchen. Many hands make light work and the team accomplished all they hoped for that day. This is an ongoing project so please let us know if you want to help with future installments. We’ll try and get a post up on the Outdoor Kitchen dream in coming weeks.

Lincoln, Brett and Mark all took the first tour of about 30 people around the village. Despite the heat they managed to find enough shade to share the great surrounds of the village. They did however come back with about the 1/3 of the starters as the peeled off to other events.

John and Lincoln took a small group to the beehives where we took about 6L of honey out from the amazing flow hives. I don’t know who loved eating honey “off the tap” more between the kids and adults. Still another 6L in the hive so stay tuned for next round!

Our local edible weed enthusiast Benjamin and horticultural scientist Trish took a group of keen adults and children around the site, showing off a few of the wild edible and medicinal plants who have decided to share our land! It’s interesting to see what comes freely and abundantly from the earth that we can use rather than import and buy. For example Plantain-the core ingredient being what folk buy as “Psyllium Husk”, an excellent remedy to stings and bites and the #1 go to for kids skinned knees!

At the tool shed Mike and the team worked on fixing up quite a number of old bikes, helped by the tire pumper extraordinaire James! Also at the tool shed we had Rob sharpening up anything that needed sharpening!

  
And we can’t forget the lovely members who manned the “Ask a member” table that answered any questions thrown at them from curious visitors.
We finished off in usual Village style with a community dinner with a large number of snag’s suppled by the natural build team as a thanks to the helpers. The kids were easily occupied outdoors as you’d hope – is this not the eco version of an Ikea ball pit?
Overall the day and the new format was a success and we thank Jeni, Vanessa and the team for bringing it together- 2018 is going to be cracker as we start building houses and sharing everything the village is doing.

Feeling guilty shopping the middle isles.

24 May
Shopping cart

Speeding through the shopping isles

For years the advice has been to shop the edges of a supermarket. The reason for this is that’s where the fresh food is – the fruit and vege, the cheeses and dairy etc. The mayo clinic talking about the “DASH” diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has a whole step in the simple 5 step approach to Shopping the Perimeter. Go ahead and google “Shop the Edges” and you’ll see advice from everyone with a nutrition opinion holding this approach up as good.

But I realised recently that this theory is founded on a very big assumption – that we are buying our food from supermarkets almost exclusively! Think about it, for many many years the supermarket has been THE place to buy everything you need. The major supermarkets at least in Australia dominate the food purchasing.

However this strangle hold is weakening. More and more people are flocking to farmers markets, returning to their local butcher, building their backyard vege patch and chicken coops. Verge gardening, community gardening, food boxes, free food movements, swap shuffle shares etc are slowly changing our primary places to purchase food and I strongly believe this is a great thing.

And it was after a weekend of building my own chicken coop followed by a trip to local farmers market that I found myself heading to the big supermarket. Not for fresh food and dairy but for other staples of bulk made food. It was a strange and guilty feeling to head not for the perimeter that I normally head to but to isle 4 to buy vegemite, then to isle 8 to buy fair trade oxfam ground coffee. All this with my 5 year old daughter in tow trying to teach her healthy eating habits!

I wonder if supermarkets will adapt to this. And instead of putting milk all the way at the back of store so as to tempt you along your journey they’ll change the layout. The shopping isle maze will shift so I travel past the chocolate biscuits on my way to buy vegemite??

Where are you on this local food movement? Just starting out? Shopping the perimeter? Trying to avoid the supermarkets altogether? Would love to know how you are travelling.

Free Food Movement

1 Mar

Just over 5 years ago I was walking through an inner Sydney city suburb when I spotted a number of bunches of rosemary on a brick wall. It was outside of a church and incidentally they had been trimming their rosemary bushes that lined the walk-way. Next to the bunches was a handwritten note that said “Take me – Free”!

I remember at the time thinking wouldn’t it be great to have an app that enabled someone to locate free food like this. And like most innovations, it’s easy to have the idea but harder to follow through and implement it.

5 years on there’s 2 sites doing just this that I want to share and spread the word.

Ripe Near Me

While it’s still in it’s Beta phase the site is slickly designed, highly useable and makes adding and finding free food far too easy for anyone not to use it.

It’s a Google maps mashup with a quick locality search. The food icons look to be unique for their massive range of produce and you post your own food, food you spot (aka wild) and can give it away for free or charge a nominal amount.

Wild Food

Diego Bonetto is a self proclaimed expert in weeds and i’m not going to argue about that. He learn’t much of his knowledge from his parents in and growing up in Italy where foraging for wild food was still the norm.

I was lucky enough to meet Diego a number of years ago on an art exhibition / wild food tour day. The art exhibition was a number of plaques around Sydney CBD explaining the types of animals you’d find from rats, pigeons and even foxes. The wild food tour was at the Casula powerhouse grounds and was really an intro to the world of edible weeds. You can learn more about Diego here.

However of relevance to this post is Diego’s initiative Wild Food. Like Ripe Near Me the site is well designed and very easy to use. What’s great is that the site uses the mobile platform a little more encouraging people to take a photo, tag the location and either upload it direct or hashtag it on instagram where it’ll be automatically added.

It also has a wealth of information about the various wild food such as the culinary or medicinal value.

Both sites have implemented the idea and cater for different audiences. Combined they are an excellent resource for locavores, frugal eaters or anyone interested in Free Food!

If you haven’t already, join up and contribute to both. The bigger the better!

Attack of the eco-snob!

19 Dec
PageDooley - Flickr  https://flic.kr/p/dRst2P

PageDooley – Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/dRst2P

I’ve recently moved north of Sydney to a suburb just outside of Gosford. The primary reason is to be closer to an eco-village we are involved in. So obviously living and being “eco” is at the front of mind, particularly in the “honeymoon” period of moving up here.

But I did have to catch myself the other day. The green waste bin was full and rather than put it out for collection I decided to keep it and throw it in my compost bins – why waste good compost?

Then I was on the train coming home and the train really empties out by the time I get off. Every other seat had discarded MX newspapers and a scattering of soft drink bottles. With a bit of a hmph I picked up what I could and took them home to my recycling bin.

I’m sure my state of mind can only be a good thing but is there a risk I’ll become an “eco-snob” or worse a “born-again-greeny” (are they on par with born-again non-smokers?). I like to think that I am actually just enlightened by my focus on living more sustainable! I certainly dont think I’ll become that bad but who knows. 🙂

Have you had any “run-ins” with eco-snobs? Someone that complains about driving the car 10min down the road? Or using petrol powered lawn mowers, or using the drier instead of the clothes line?

An interesting story about run in’s for doing the right thing is the story of John Francis (TED). Here’s a man who witnessed a horrible accident of 2 petrol tankers colliding and leaking petrol into the waterways. As a result he decided not to travel by petrol powered vehicles anymore and to walk everywhere. On his walks he had people criticise him for his actions, with some even accusing him of making THEM look bad!! After having to defend himself so much he decided to stop talking – for 17 years. A bit extreme but it does highlight potential reactions against people that are trying to do the right thing.

Have you been made to feel bad by someone else actions? Are there things you do that you know are not great but do it anyway? Are you an eco-snob?

Spring onions vs green onions vs scallion vs shallots

7 Dec

Let’s start with clarifying what I mean by spring onions. It’s a confusing vegetable particularly in Australia and could be the cause of messed up dinners due to international differences.

Let’s go through them.

The most common, in my experience, is the Allium Cepa – this is your gold old garden variety onions with brown/golden skin and one of them fits nicely in your hand.

Then we move down in size to what I believe the Americans call Spring Onions and Australian’s call Spring Onions (sometimes), also known as Allium cepa var. aggregatum. Note it’s the same family of Allium cepa but of a botanical variety (i.e. characterised by it’s similarities with other species) of aggregatum. These are your small golden bulbs that a more elongated than your usual Allium Cepa (normal onions).

Scallions

Now this is where things get confusing. What do you call the long green leaves that are onion tasting and no bulb….It depends on where you live and they’ll either be:

  • Eschallot / Shallot
  • Spring Onions
  • Green Onions
  • Scallion

Most commonly in NSW at least we call them Spring Onions or Shallots. However they are more technically called scallions. But again they could be “Welsh Onions”.

Jumping onto Wiki (BTW I recently donated some $ to keep it free – highly suggest you do the same) we can get it’s view.

  • Allium ascalonicumknown as eschallots or shallots. These are small golden bulbs similar to small general variety onion (Allium cepa). If you have recipie that calls for Shallots or even Spring Onions and you need to add it very early in the cooking process (like normal onions) – this is probably what they are talking about.
  • Allium fistulosum – also known as a “Welsh Onion” which will never grow a bulb. These are sold as long green leaves in bunches of 4 or 5.
  • Scallion – pretty much the leaves of any of the above and indeed any leaves of the Allium family that haven’t yet formed a bulbous root.

The last 2 you’ll add these late in the cooking process and really don’t want a strong onion flavour – stir frys for instance or added raw to a potato salad.

Still confused? I’m not surprised. At the end of the day you want to think about they “WHY” you are putting in an Allium family plant.

  • Is it for strong flavour (normal onion (Allum Ceda) or Garlic)?
  • Mild flavour (bulbous alliums like the Allium ascalonicum)? 
  • Subtle flavour (green leaves like scallions or chives)?
  • Visual appeal (subtle red onions, scallions or chives)?

Some good links that might help clarify are:

I wonder if there are other names people use?

My next post will be how to get a life time supply of scallions  / green onions almost for free! I haven’t bought any for over 5 years and have more than I need!

Mushroom Kit part II

17 Apr

Back on Jan 8th I commented that my newly bought mushroom kit looked a little dry and perhaps not ready to go. On advice from the supplier I decided to wait and see what happens. My goal was for the kit to become almost all white before I threw the peat onto it to grow my mushrooms. 

Well after boxing up and checking every few weeks I finally got this on the 1st of Feb. This is my first peeve – the box clearly states to get cracking as this is a time sensitive exercise! My mum did and she had no luck which is a right shame as it was a christmas gift for her. 

Image

Looks good right! Night a white, perhaps not as uniform as it could be but what the heck, i’ve waited almost a month to get going. 

I threw the peat on top, sprayed some water on it and left it a nice dark-ish location in a reasonably humid location – my laundry. A few weeks passed and there was no action. I continued to spray it every few days but no-go. Eventually I packed it up and moved to the darkness of my man cave. It get’s indirect light perhaps for 20min a week and is otherwise in pitch black.

Success came on the 10th of April! (yes, 3 months from when I bought the box!). 

Image

 

Up came some mushroom buds! Couldn’t be happier that research and persistence looks to be paying off. Can’t wait to get 2kg of mushrooms that would make this experiment a break-even venture!

A few days later I’ve checked in and found this:

Image

 

I’m not sure if the mushroom has been deformed as it grew or perhaps (and more likely) is that I’ve got some critters having a munch. Any ideas?

Tonight I picked my only mushroom that’s a decent size. The malformations continued but at least it still smelt like a mushroom. 

Image

 

I’ll get another update out when I have a view on the size and qty of the mushrooms – remember I’m gunning for 2kg else this makes no economical sense. I’m also going to cover the box up to keep any critters out that might be having a free lunch. 

Have you had a go at growing mushrooms? Success or useless failure which seems to the norm from talking to people?