Saturday, 20 September 2008

An affront to my soul!

In the sunny blue day that was, I practically hopped and skipped to Valentines Park in pursuit of my hometown's first ever Farmer's Market. Being totally prepared, I had a backpack with me to stuff all the locally-grown veggies I was going to buy into.

I should have known something was up when the park seemed a little quiet - no throbbing mass of shoppers .. instead I saw a paltry three stalls and none of them were selling fruit or veg! One was selling hot sausages (not very useful if you're not a pork sausage eater). One was selling bread that came from 30 miles away and the other stall was selling nuts and olives and the seller couldn't tell me anything about how they were grown/ were they organic etc. It was an affront to my soul!! Especially as I'd been in touch with the organisers asking if they wanted any voluntary help (my excuse for befriending local people in the green-foodie scene) and they said they had it all wrapped up. I was totally shellshocked!!! After the wonderful Farmer's Markets of California where street parties happen around the selling and the store holders can tell you all about their farm and their produce and there are veggies aplenty - this was insane !!!!!!!!!!!

I still feel very cut off from food here and am counting the days until I get my organic box delivery. Tomorrow, I may hit the forest in the quest for some local blackberries. Haven't picked them in my hometown area since I was a kid!

I want to find my tribe on my doorstep and I'm not quite sure where to look ...

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Summer wrap up

So .. I'm sitting in London and wondering whether the impetus will be the same to write about everything in past tense. However, for the sake of chronicling the last few weeks of my trip, I'll type away ..

After I left the island, I spent a rainy two days in Vancouver and a sunnier weekend in Toronto catching up with friends I'd not seen in many years. Verdict: it felt like a few weeks since the last get-together, not 8-10 years and everyone was doing great.

Then, I had around 12 hours of overground travel to New Jersey and found myself in the coccooned walls of suburbia. It was a somewhat hard transition to make as my freewheeling, independent, crunchy-granola self had little room to stretch and breathe. Suddenly, I was living in a place where without a car there was not much to do apart from stroll around the hotel parking lot - and the waste I saw in the hotel was quite a shock: cleaning staff who'd run a dishwasher with one item in it, clean towels every day, disposable everything. It was also the first time all summer I was away from folks who grew the food I was eating or had a strong relationship to local/ organic food. So, there was a yearning to return to the wholesome life.

Anyway, my reason for being in NJ was a very nice one - my brother's wedding. I was totally excited in the morning - the waitress in the hotel caught me doing a barefooted twirl in the corridor! The party and ceremony were lovely and I look forward to reliving it all on dvd - the food was yummy-licious and the speeches were warm, funny, poignant and from the heart. What more can one ask for!

So, now I'm back and around 80 per cent unpacked. The final act of unpacking means it's over, finito. What can I put my teeth into now? Where do I want to focus my energies? Can I live life at the level I want to from this little spot of ground I'm at now? What shifted for me over the summer???

I've decided that I will carry on blogging when I have things of environmental interest to add. I want to be local (a big permaculture principle) and see what's on my turf while I'm geographically here. I want to get my hands in the earth again. I want my practical learning to continue. I want to take some time to be an activist about the things I care about, whether that's writing letters, signing petitions, sending charity money to the causes that whisper and shout to me. I want my own life to be sustainable. I want a relationship with the land, the weather, my community, my food. I want to grow herbs, to live consciously, to read the Omnivore's Dilemna, to go to the Hazon food conference in December, to learn.. learn .. learn ... to be a SLOW food groupie, to one day grow my own veggies. To have another amazing West Coast experience soon. I have faith it will all happen. Watch this space !

Sunday, 31 August 2008

the nature of love ...

If you want to read a candid and conscious love story, do I have a recommendation for you !!! "The Unimagineable Life" is co-written by Kenny and Julia Loggins (you may have heard of Kenny as he's a famous musician). The book is a sharing of their journal entries, love letters, poems and reflections since they met as friends, then became lovers, partners and parents. They are both fabulous writers and are very naked with their souls and their truths. The book comes highly endorsed by the likes of Deepak Chopra, Julia Cameron, Marianne Williamson, Jack Canfield and Neale Donald Walsh. I mentioned this book as i wanted to share some quotes!!

"What is relationship? Isn't it something like two people sparking each other into their higher selves - or rather reminding each other of who they are - assisting each other on their path"
"What's a soulmate? the one you were born to love. The one person whose love is powerful enough to motivate you to meet your soul, to do the emotional work of self discovery, of awakening."

This book came my way at a very synchronistic time! I'd just seen the mystic on the boat (more about her in another entry) and the very first thing she told me was that my spiritual path is going to be through love ...

Victoria's Dirty Secret

Since my last blog post, I had the good fortune to listen to a lady called Tzeporah Berman who is an amazing activist on behalf of the trees and forests of the world. She founded her own organisation, Forest Ethics and has also worked for Amnesty on tree-related things and is on the board at Hollyhock. She is one of Cortes island's 900 residents. It's amazing how so many influential people are on one wee bit of land. Proof that you don't need to be in a big city to move and shake the world.

Her organisation has saved around 7 milion acres of ancient forest in Canada and Chile. Through finding out who the logging companies are selling to, she is able to then go in at the corporate level and persuade newspapers, stationery suppliers and other large consumers of wood to source more ethically. To date, she's had huge success with Staples and Home Depot among others. Forest Ethics is currently campaigning against Victoria's Secret, who are using ancient forest to make their catalogues - many of which arrive on people's doorsteps as unwanted direct marketing. I say, get incensed now and write Victoria's Secret a letter and pass this info on far and wide!! Activism can make a difference.

Tzeporah had some stark statistics for us .. by 2020, we'll have only 50 per cent of the amount of fresh drinking water available to us now. Time to get water conscious! I've started turning the shower off while I shampoo. What can you do to be more water resourceful?? And global warming is expected to create 150 million climatic refugees by 2020 - compared to 30 million or so at present. To get this into perspective, Hurricane Katrina created 1 million climatic refugees.

So please everyone, get savvy about sustainability and support groups like Forest Ethics, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. Write letters, sign petitions, give charity money to organisations supporting green causes, hold corporations accountable for their actions, invest in alternative energy. There are all sorts of solutions. Complacency is not one of them.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Dr Andrew Weil

Yay!! I get to meet the author of "Eight Weeks To Optimum Health" twice in two days. This book is something of a bible to me. The principles of his programme are now ingrained in my lifestyle. What I love about the book is that the regimen is simple, holistic and anyone can do it. I truly believe that by adopting the habits in the book, lives can be improved and even saved.

Dr Andrew or "Andy" as he's known on the island gave a talk here on Fri eve. He came across wonderfully as a human being. Someone asked him how it feels to be "a brand" and he explained that he only did this as he needed an income stream for his university research into integrated health - as the state funding wasn't enough for everything he wanted to accomplish. All the profits from his vitamins, health bars etc go to the Intergrated Health centre at the Uni of Arizona. Last year, he brought in $4.5 million through his brand. For those unfamiliar with the term integrated health - it's about getting the best of complementary and western medicine to work side by side. Preventative medicine, mind-body connection, good bedside manner, making hospitals into nurturing/ wholesome environments, alternative therapies, healing by nutrition etc are all part of this. Dr Weil started his med career at Harvard (which I believe also has an integrated health dept). He is a total pioneer!

I asked him whether he got evangelical about his work - as I know that when I see people who are not looking after themselves physically or emotionally I want to bop them over the head with his book and wake them up. Yet, good manners prevents me from doing so! He said that his evangelism is directed in a different place. He wants society to make it easier for people to be healthy - by lowering prices of fruit and veg, raising prices of junk food, making exercise options more affordable and accessible with cycle paths/ walking trails/ cheap gyms and so forth and by pumping more money into preventative medicine programmes to educate more people about healthy diets and habits...

My second Andy encounter was today, when he was in front of me in the line for the ATM. We exchanged good morning pleasanteries. Swoon !!!!! Wish I'd bought my book to Canada for signing. Now, had I known ....

Very sad news ..

Sad news. The second death of the summer. This one unexpected and tragic. My brother's future brother-in-law (ie - his fiancee's brother) aged 24 died on Friday. I think the circumstances were similar to my uncle's death - in that the family heard a large thump, went to investigate and found Eric dead on the floor from a heart attack. The funeral was yesterday.

I met Eric last autumn when he came to the UK for the engagement party and his first trip to London. He loved being a tourist and went to the London Eye and goodness knows how many other touristy spots and was full of warmth, cheer and chat. Definitely a character! He was at medical school and wanted to be the kind of doctor or psychiatrist who really helped people.

My brother said that Eric was busy planning the bachelor party for him and was really looking forward to the wedding. Very, very sad news. I can't quite believe it and it seems so unfair, both for Eric who had so much to look forward to and for his poor family. In my mind he is still so alive .. I can't quite believe he won't be physically with us at future family gatherings.

One of the other volunteers here said "Death reminds you to live." Tragedy certainly puts everything into perspective and lets the pettiness and the unimportant things in life fall away to insignificance.

If you would like to do something kind or lovely in Eric's memory, that will be very sweet. Thank you.

permaculture - using water rsourcefully and respectfully

I've been meaning and meaning and meaning since June 25 or so to write up the last bit of my permaculture course. And here we are .. WATER .. as we, as humans, are 70 per cent water - taking care of the limited water on our planet and ensuring that we use our resources well is so important..

The average American uses 100 gallons of water per day - of which only 2 gallons is used for drinking. Half of all water used in suburban areas goes into watering gardens. Where I am now, on Cortes Island, there are signs up saying that every flush uses 6 gallons of water. Baths, washing machines, dishwashers etc also take a lot of water.

There are three ways we can be more mindful. The first is to recycle our used water, so that it becomes a resource, rather than a waste product.


Have you heard of the term greywater before? This is used water that's not too dirty to re-use - such as the water from bathroom sinks, showers, baths, washing machine and so on - with some rechannelling this can be used for washing cars, watering plants and so on. This changes it from being waste water to a resource. In Australia, which has been in a drought for several years, it is illegal NOT to have a grey water system in your home.

Black water refers to the water from kitchen sinks and dishwashers (which would contain foodscraps) and toilet water. Through innovative systems such as the Living Machine at Esalen this water can go through some fairly natural filter processes, to zap the bacteria, so it is good enough for irrigation.

The second way is to capture rainwater, which would otherwise run into drains and end up as a lost resource in the sewer system.


Another great way to conserve resources is to catch the rainwater that falls onto the roof and channel it into a tank. If you're interested in rainwater harvesting, here are some factors to take into account:

RAINWATER - what's the max of rainwater that falls in a day? What sort of seasonal rainfall patterns are there? Is the water drinkable? Is acid rain a problem where you live?

ROOF - is the material something you would want to drink from? Asphalt and tar roofs will contain petroleum. PVC, vinyl and plastic are also toxic, especially when hit by the sun. Commercially bought woods or canvases with fire retardant are also toxic as is concrete that contains fly ash. If the roof has old paint containing lead, that's also toxic. You'll be wanting a roof made from these materials to rainwater harvest:
1 - Slate (if it's local to your region)
2 - Tile (although some algae will form in it)
3 - Baked enamel
4 - Painted steel
Although they are non-toxic, living roofs are not good for rain harvesting as the plants will soak up too much of the rain.

You'll also want to have mesh over the gutters to filtrate the water and keep leaves and debris out of it.

A house with a 1000ft square area will capture 600 gallons of water on its roof for every inch of rain. California has 30 inches per year which would provide 18,000 gallons.

The average suburban American uses 36,500 gallons per year (100 gallons per day). When rainwater harvesting, we become more respectful and resourceful about how we use our water.

The third way to conserve water (and this may seem radical to some) is to minimise the amount of water needed to carry our pee and poop into the sewage system.

Urine in the morning is 18% nitrogen, which is wonderful for plants. There is also the "mellow yellow" practise of letting the toilet bowl fill with urine and only flushing when it gets stinky or when there's a number two coming in. Six gallons for every flush is a waste of a lot of precious water - especially when our pee could be making the plants happy!! For advanced practitioners of sewage consciousness, there is the humanure system for poop - whereby you dig yourself a hole in the ground - put earth/ seaweed/ sawdust etc on top of your doings and when the hole becomes full, you seal it up and move your toilet elsewhere. After 2 years, the material has composted sufficiently for use on non-edible plants.


1 - Plastic paddling pools are also toxic, unless made out of HDPE plastic.
2 - If you want to minimise mosquitos in your garden pond, put a fountain in - as this will keep the water moving, rather than stagnant