Andrea Casalinho: Permaculture Ethics and Design: Shaping and Living the Life We Want
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Jun 4, 2016
Awaking Call with Andrea Casalinho June 4th 2016 Host: Pavi Mehta Moderator: Xiaojuan Shu
Pavi: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, depending on where you are calling in. My name is Pavi Mehta. I have the pleasure of being your host for our weekly global Awakin call. Welcome and thank you for joining us today.
Today our special guest speaker is none other than Andrea Casalinho. She is someone who really embodies today's theme- " Permaculture Ethics and Design: Shaping and Living the Life We Want." Some of you have heard about the permaculture. You understand the notion of sustainability. You recycle, mostly. You are grappling with the concept of infinite growth on a finite planet. Perhaps you have some friends or family who are beginning to live their life a little bit differently. Or they are making new choices or talk about things like cob or compost tea. In short, you are interested, but you don't know where to begin. If so, you have come to the right call as you will learn the deeply impactful philosophy of permaculture and how some people like our guest Andrea chosen to practice it in their life. Today promises to be a rewarding call. Thank you again for joining.
Our guest speaker has embarked on a life journey to shape her environment and community through permaculture design principles based on, Earth care, People care and Fair share. Permaculture is often described as a creative design principle; design process based on whole systems thinking and is informed by ethics and design principles. It's an approach that guides us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and it can be applied to all aspects of human relationships with nature, each other and ourselves. It provides a unique approach to understanding everything from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics. By adopting the ethics and applying these principles in daily life, we hope to make the transition from being dependent consumers to being responsible producers. This journey ends up building our skills and resilience at home and in our local communities that help us prepare for uncertain future with less available resources. Since we have the pleasure of having Xiaojuan as our moderator today, I thought we would start by asking her to kick of our circle. Please share any thoughts about today's conversation and then Xiaojuan introduce Andrea and take it away!
Xiaojuan: Thank you Pavi for the great introduction. Our guest today, Andrea, her husband and her children moved to Casalinho 8 years ago from their small holding, when the family wanted more space to pursue their dream- of living a self reliance lifestyle. When the family moved to Casalinho, much of it has been abandoned for many years. The property consists of lower section made up of a house which needed a lot of renovation and agriculture land which at one stage was a market garden complete with numerous fruit trees, but more recently has been used to grow animal feed crops. The family moved there and transformed the land. And every year they host volunteers and students from all over the world, which is very remarkable and inspiring.
Good morning Andrea!
Andrea: Good Afternoon from here.
Xiaojuan: Thank you for joining us after your probably a long day. How did your day go?
Andrea: It’s been a wonderful day. I spent most of it in a jelly like piece of nerve and I have achieved very little on the farm. So probably best to skate over that.
We have six volunteers at the moment we have goats and we have pigs to look after. I have been busy.
Xiaojuan: When I was looking at you website, the landscape looks so beautiful. Would you like to describe what your typical day is like?
Andrea: Oh! My typical Day! If you are looking at my website, you will be aware that I have children as well. So my typical day is getting up and getting the children out to school, breakfast for the volunteers and then I take care of the animals, milk the goat, clean out the pigs and feed the chickens and so on and so forth while our volunteers get some food together for them. We then go onto whatever jobs the needs to be done. We had a very late cool spring here. So even though it’s the beginning of June, we are still trying to get our vegetable garden going. So we have been working really hard on that today. We have a shared lunch all together. We share the household tasks after lunch, the washing etc, the less exciting jobs. Our volunteers go off and do their own thing late afternoon. They share the time and enjoy the local area, while I spend some time catching up with family and household bits and pieces. And then at dinnertime all of a sudden another day has happened and it is over!
The animals take a rather big proportion of my time personally.
Xiaojuan: What do you do before you go to bed?
Andrea: Before I go to bed the last thing I try and do every evening, I try to write a list of gratitude actually. I share gratitude with a couple of close friends and I just try and make sure I write a list of what's gone well in the day before I head off to bed.
Xiaojuan: Wow! What a great way to end your wonderful day.
Andrea: One of the things I enjoy most is actually read in bed. It always cheers me up and then I will sleep. Doesn't matter how bad you feel your day has gone or what has gone right. But there's always something’s to be happy about.
Xiaojuan: What are your favorite activities of your permaculture project?
Andrea: On a day-to-day basis, I have a real interest in wild foods and it's something that I’m developing and enjoy really learning about it. One of the things that I enjoy most, because our land is obviously organic and we are not treating it field edges and so on and so forth, are full of wild flowers. One of the things that I really enjoy doing is just mooching along the edges. Taking flowers and different leaves and things and preparing pretty salad and experimenting with different ideas. Just makes me happy! They are also a great thing to know about. When I am out walking the goats, I can treat myself a little snack here and there. Just one of the things that I enjoy doing.
Xiaojuan: Could you describe what nature brings you? Why does that make you feel alive or happy?
Andrea: Oh! That’s a good question there Xiaojuan. I enjoy being outside. I spent the first years of my working life working in my office. I just prefer to be outside whatever the whether. You know we live in Portugal. Everybody thinks that it's a beautiful place with a blue sky all the time. But come November- December, we can have some terrible rain and winds and goodness knows! I just love to be outside then experiencing that. I just love to hear the insects and listen to the birds. And I love to see the changes in the project and the landscape around me. Months on months and year on year. I love seeing the birds for instance. When we first moved here there were very few of the in the area or immediately around the house. Now as the vegetable gardens progress and as we are planting more and more trees we are seeing more and more different varieties. It’s fascinating, very rejuvenating and very motivating.
Xiaojuan: Wow! For most of us who work in the office, lead busy lives confined by concrete buildings, that’s such a beautiful picture you have painted for us. I am curious to know what your life was like before you took this journey? Were you just like us before?
Andrea: Just like you, I had I suppose what you would consider a relatively conventional life. Before I came to Portugal initially, worked in an office as I said. I had a reasonable job, which paid me a reasonable salary. But one day I realized that it wasn't necessarily exciting me. I wanted to do something different. And here I am! There’s nothing in my background specifically that supports the idea of working on a farm and developing a project like this. I really have no experience of growing things before I made this decision and set off on this journey. It was as much an experiment for me as anybody.
Xiaojuan: I would like you to talk even more about, what made you change? Not feeling excited, I don't think is a big enough reason for most people to just go out of your comfort zone and take on an adventure. I'd like to hear more what really went on in your inner landscape?
Andrea: Most certainly! I suppose, just to start right in the beginning, I had a very conventional childhood. I had two parents. My father was working. My mother was at home with me. I had a sister. Very, very conventional. But I think, obviously what my parents did was to teach me what I could do, what I wanted to do. Something they regretted in my teenage years. But, obviously they created that spark. There are two things that may be significant. When I was a young child, my father had a job where he wasn't necessarily home every night. I saw my mom coping on her own and managing and being able to do things alone with small children. My parents encouraged me to do lots of activities when I was a child. I did swimming, I did ballet, I did music classes, and you name it. I had camp blanket full of badges. Now, what this taught me is that you don't have to be good at something to have a go or to enjoy it. Those who know me know that I am far from being ballerina material. But at lest I can say I tried, or have a go. And these are probably things from my childhood, which have encouraged me to take the route that I have now.
I suppose the tipping point, my journey towards my current lifestyle, really began during the period of transition. I found myself rather financially stretched at the same time of having, sort of having long, lonely evenings. And the Internet dipped into that gap. I began to sort of research ways to save money for instance; ways to be frugal to make most of the things that I had. And this inevitably lead to the ideas of green living, as so many ideas of saving money are also good for the planet. Time went on. I had a good job while I was there. I had little money. Little went for my mortgage and my childcare. One day I realized that my son was approaching school age and if I wanted to travel this would be the time when I wouldn't be sort of constricted by school holidays. So I quit my job. I lent by house and set of to Portugal in a converted ambulance. And of course that's where the fun really begins. This is where that, sort of, pivotal moment happened. That first turning point was reached with sort of nothing specific to do, no deadlines. My son and I were sort of meandering around enjoying each other’s company. I realized that I have been missing out on it. A highlight of the day was just walking up to the local bar and having ice cream each afternoon. That was really as exciting as it got.
And gradually various things came together. I met Jeroen, my current husband. I found a little house, which spoke to me and realized that it was time to start doing what I wanted to rather than having a life that was defined by a job and that job dictating my life. It dawned on me that in my personal circumstances how ridiculous it was that I was working in order to earn a wage and paying it to somebody else to look after my child so that I could work. And that would have been ok if it had inspired me. But obviously, I needed something else at that stage. Otherwise the idea really wouldn't have dawned on me.
I returned to the UK only so that my son could start school. With the realization that there was alternative to the life that I had been living, I didn't return to work. Instead I did some voluntary work when my son was at school. I worked on increasing my skills and my knowledge base. I volunteered at a garden project for learning more organic gardening. Ridiculous as it may sound, I sort of embarked on this project knowing absolutely nothing about gardening in any shaper form. I read about everything that interested me. I joined discussion groups, yahoo groups back then. I learned that there was so much to learn, basically.
And at that stage I also learned about volunteering. That there were these organizations out there that would put potential volunteers and potential hosts together, something that I've never realized before. So on my return to Portugal, we joined these organizations and we had our first volunteers came to help us. Things developed, we learned, we had another child, we decided we needed more space, a bigger project and that' how Casalinho came into being as explained in your deep introduction.
Shortly after that, I decided that it was time to do a little bit more education. So I decided to do a longer course to learn how to care take this land that we were so lucky to have. I decided I would do something which is called " Sustainable land use course", which was a course based on permaculture, which was run by fabulous man called Patrick Whitefield. I couldn't afford to do it. I wrote to Patrick. And Patrick very kindly, something I will be eternally grateful for, Patrick allowed me very large discount to allow me to take part in the course. It was probably the most inspiring educational experience of my life. As a part of my course, we did what is described as the Permaculture design course, which is the course we now run at Casalinho. It pulled together so many different ideas, so many things I already knew or had heard about. It pulled it all together into a cohesive whole for me. It made me consider what we were doing and why we were doing it. When I came home I was so excited about it that I really wanted everyone to experience the same course. That’s when we first started some courses in Casalinho. That’s how this tradition started. Shortly after that we realized how the volunteers that were coming here could learn more about the lifestyle that we have. They are not simply here to help us. They are going away with something useful as well. And the strands of existence came together. That brings us to where we are now I think.
Xiaojuan: Wow! What a life's journey! Thank you for sharing that. Your childhood gave you the belief that you could do what you wanted to do. With that seed you moved on to so called normal life. How beautiful that before your first child stared school, that trip was the tipping point of your life. Once you no longer had agenda in your head, there is so much relief that you could se what you really wanted in your heart. That’s really inspiring for us to hear. One thing lead to another and it's like your life began rolling in the direction that you are supposed to live. Thank you for sharing that amazing journey. I am curious to know how many volunteers do you host each year and how diverse they are?
Andrea: Oh! Goodness me! I am afraid I lost track of how many people we hosted now quite sometime ago. But we reckon we had probably 900 people stay with us since we have begun this process now. In the winter we have few. Obviously accommodation is far more important when the whether is poor. But in the summer we can have quite a big numbers here. We learned that we have to keep numbers at a certain manageable level so that everybody gets time. But yeah! Lots and lots. We run courses here in the summer as well and we also host scout camps and its just the most fabulous feeling to have so many people here all inspired to be leaning in the same direction. And those people do come from all over the world. We are in Portugal; we are in Europe, where the majority of our volunteers come from within Europe. Lot of British, lot of Dutch, lot of German. We also have people from far further away. At the moment we have a couple that are from Brazil for instance. We’ve had Americans, Australians and Russians. We had a group attend one of our Permaculture 9 courses, which came all the way from Philippines. It's just tremendous to have all the different nationalities represented at on place. I can't really travel these days because the animals are a tremendous bind. So the world comes to us! It's brilliant to learn so much about the world around us at my own dinner table.
Xiaojuan: So when the world comes to you, how does it impact your sons as they grow up on the farm?
Andrea: It's a wonderful experience for them. The village that we live outside is relatively small one. It has relatively low population. Both of my children attend local schools, because we felt that, that was the best way to make sure that they have social interaction that they need in this country. But us having volunteers allows them to meet and interact with a far broader range of people than they ever would normally. I mean, even in my life back in UK, I never met such a broad range of people as I have since I've been here hosting people in Portugal. Not only do we have different countries represented, different cultures, different religions, we had all sorts of different people here. Because people are here volunteering, there are in a space of their own. It's sort of holiday mentality in many ways. They have time too spend with the children to do some different activities. My youngest loves to listen when somebody plays a guitar. It's superb!
Xiaojuan: What makes you happy when one of the volunteer students says how much you impacted them?
Andrea: The best thing is, when somebody is leaving, they thank us and that's fabulous. Sometimes people go away with something they are going to change when they go back to their real life. Perhaps we change the course of what they are doing. Sometimes people come back to us. And that’s the most amazing thing. Any body can say I had a good time. But when some body comes back it proves it. A lot of the people who come here are reasonably young people, who perhaps just finished University or just in between studies or spending a year traveling or whatever. Sometimes they don't have a fixed idea of what they are going to do with their lives. And I like to think that we are able to give them some inspiration and some ideas about things they could do. We also get a reasonable number of couples, who have been living conventional lifestyle with jobs and houses and all of those that we have and are looking for something different. They are trying to decide whether they could do something like this themselves. They come out and visit us. They perhaps take some of that of what they have enjoyed what they happen to enjoy so much, what they think they could and what they think they could'. And some of those people, actually now live locally to us. That is a great indication to me that they are taking something from the experience.
Xiaojuan: I think the interchange is wonderful because you have revived the dreams in them. By seeing their dreams revived it inspires you even more to do what you do.
Andrea: Yes! I would agree with you. Definitely.
Xiaojuan: I wonder what kind of natural environment surrounds the permaculture project?
Andrea: Where we are at the moment? The farm is about 10 hectare. We are just outside of a small village. But really we have a road outside but people don't really pass. We have a pine forest. We have a road that bisects our property. The lower half of the property is grass fields, the vegetable garden, the animal shed, and all the zones where people are working and living on a day-to-day basis. Above the road we have an area set aside as a campsite. That's where all our volunteers are in tent and will stay. We have a couple at the moment up there. We have the scouts and the courses will camp as well. We have lot of forestland to explore. We started to cut down some of the pines and replace them some other native deciduous trees. It’s a long and an ongoing process. One of the things we have learned doing this is that you can't do everything at once.
Xiaojuan: Is there a village near you and how do you interact with local people there and how do they see you?
Andrea: Our closest village is probably a 10-minute walk from here; the village we are a part of. We have several villages in the local area, a couple of towns where my children go to school. I think when we first arrived in the village people were very welcoming but perhaps didn't really didn't know what we were doing or why we were doing it. We've proven that we will stay. my children have grown up. My eldest son now speaks Portuguese like a local lad. I think people can see what we are doing is working. But I am really, really excited about in the run up to the school, I put some Facebook posts up there saying that I am doing this. You know the most meaningful thing about all of the responses I got to that - I had two responses from local people. A gentlemen who said," how great it is that we are taking care of the land of his ancestors".
I was sitting her half an hour before the call sitting here quivering and wishing that I could have a whiskey; she came out with a little gift for me! To wish me good luck! That really is meaning fun and spectacular.
Xiaojaun: Wow! That's very heartwarming.
Andrea: Absolutely! Most of our neighbors in local area grow something. There are quite a few goats in the local area so on so forth. But most of our neighbors are older now and are not doing quite so much of it. And think they are quite interested to see that people are continuing with some of these techniques and things, which they have done over their lives. I think they admire it.
Xiaojaun: You think local people are getting older, you mean the younger generation didn't stay there.
Andrea: Yeah. There really isn't much of a younger generation in this area. Majority of younger generation have gone away to work. Most are generally older and retired. My children really are the next generation here.
Xiaojuan: I wonder if there is any farm near by? Do they also practice organic and are they conscious about non-GMO and things like that?
Andrea: More and more we are seeing other people doing similar things. We live in a region where there are quite a number of incomers, foreigners like ourselves who are setting out a small project, holding permaculture project, which is fabulous for us from a community perspective. There are also more and more people setting up their projects and wanting to continue some of these traditional skills. There is big interest in bee keeping in our area for instance. Its something that we do but not on a massive scale. There are a lot of people who do that locally. There are projects that are bringing up goats for instance. It’s all very exciting. We just met a lady who runs a commercial farm some miles away, who works in the local market. There lots of people out there. Its just making contact with them I think is the key thing.
Just recently we saw someone put leaflets in the local bars about dangers of herbicides and pesticides. It’s fabulous to see the tide turning a little, just some signs.
Xiaojuan: That gives us hope for better future. I also would like to go back to Permaculture in terms of value. How does Permaculture values- earth care, people care, fair share, shape your values in life?
Andrea: I think that one can look at any decision that you are going to make or any action you going to take and say, " Does this honor these three ethics, these three values?" If it does its good and if it doesn't then perhaps just to rethink. I am a person who believes that permaculture's first priority is to feed people. I am a very practical sort of person. So on a day-to-day basis, this is how I am living permaculture ethics. Trying to create something that will feed us, that will feed the people around us and continue to feed the people for years to come because the land will be healthy and will able to do so. In terms of people care, that just simply the care of the people around us; the people who we interact with. And when I say people we interact with, of course in this digital age that's a far bigger circle of people than it ever used to be. Our role as people who perhaps have a little bit of knowledge or little biota experience is to share that, so that the people can take from it what they would like to and try themselves without making the same mistakes or just to be inspired. In terms of fair share we are hugely fortunate to be in the position that we are. We own this project outright, which gives us the freedom to not worry to the same extent if we had a mortgage. We can repay that back by encouraging other people to share that with us. By sharing that experience, this is really why we have volunteers and why we have people joining us these days.
Xiaojuan: For someone, especially young person who wants to do what you do, what kind of advice or suggestion would you give them, especially when you faced challenges how did you overcome?
Andrea: I think that everybody can make changes in their life irrespective of their situation and their circumstances. I also believe that however small or incremental those changes are, it’s a positive, it’s a step forward. Even just growing a pot of herbs on the window, learning to make soup, bottling some jam, any of those things, each of those things that we learn is adding to the store of knowledge to our own empowerment, making us more resilient people. If you learn skill, if you learn about something, even if you choose not to do that again, knowing that you have that skill makes you so much confident in thing the next step and doing the next thing. My route here, if you listen to my story, there is no planning involved here really. You know, it happened as it happened. If some body were planning to do something like this, I would suggest learning. A lot of that can be learnt at home whilst keeping a full time job and all of these things. There’s massive amount of information on the Internet these days. You have to sift it from the rubbish, but there are huge amounts of information out there and people who are willing to talk to you and share. I really think that something that people can do if they have the time is to actually volunteer at somebody else project, as people do when the come here. The projects that are available out there, there’s a huge choice of different places from great big commercial operations to family run places like our own to small holdings. People just want a little bit of help in their garden. And there’s room there for everybody to find out whether this works for them, whether this suits them. I'd encourage everybody to do that
Xiaojuan: What's your relationship to technology these days?
Andrea: Technology is absolutely wonderful thing. We wouldn't be having this conversation today were it not for technology. It was because I was active one of Servicespace partners that I came onto contact with you. It’s a wonderful thing. Our volunteer and our course participants, again, they join us because of our presence on the Internet. I don't think we could be doing what we are doing now in terms of communication without that. I would hate to go back to the days where people have to write to us and put a stamp on a letter.
There’s massive amount of information out there in the Internet as well. And that increases every day and so much of what I've learnt and gained inspiration has been from Internet. Obviously I've got some spectacular books as well. All that information is there to make things easier for us.
On the other hand of course I am a parent. Which parent doesn't wish that their children would take their heads away from the screens a little? Double edged sword.
Xiaojuan: Yes. I have seen so many people that lock their screen on the bus, on the subway, as they walk across the street, everywhere event dinner tables. What do you think they are missing when they lock their eyes on the screen too much?
Andrea: Oh absolutely! You know occasionally we treat ourselves and go out for lunch or something. And we see a couple sitting there, both of them with phone in front of them. You think. "Oh! Why are they both going out to dinner? You could sit at home and stare at your screen!" No, I digress!
As I said, the Internet is absolutely fabulous resource but it’s also a tremendous time waster. It can also become quite addictive. I wish people look up and wish people would interact with each other. In fact that s something we really feel quite strongly about here. I don't actually own a smart phone. If I have to look up Internet I have to plug in my lap top and away we go. I am not getting that constant ding from my hip pocket, which I think is such a draw for people. We have a very poor mobile signal in the area that we live. Actually people who have smart phones can't pick up the local 4G very easily. So most of the people put their phones to one side once they arrive. I think that it is very helpful in terms of encouraging people to get to know each other and interact. When our volunteers want to go out and spend time on the Internet to connect with family and friends, they go out to the local bar, which is great from a community perspective, it stops us from becoming 53:42. We want people to go out there and interact with community and we want the community to come here and interact with us. When we are sitting with our noses pressed to screens, yes we may be communicating with people, but not in a real way.
Xiaojuan: Andrea, do you think by connection with nature more deeply in a way has shaped how you connect with human being or were you able to connect with people naturally before you connected to nature?
Andrea: Oh! That is a good question! Before I embarked in this journey I worked in very people centric careers. So I was very used to dealing with people but not in a particularly empathetic way. Here, I guess a deeper connection with nature has created a more holistic view of relationships as a part of the environment around us. And that can only be a good thing. I appreciate that when visitors come to Casalinho, they are visitors and they will go back into the outside world again. But sometimes I am very encouraged and quite amazed by the depth of understanding that can be created in such a short period of time. Just by living and working and sharing experiences. Some of the best conversation that I had with our volunteers is with a goat in between us. I have one got who is a nightmare to milk. And I need assistance. And it’s during those times that we have some fabulous conversations because we have the space to do so. Its nature that’s allowing that space.
Xiaojuan: You have been holding that space for foster their hidden dreams or revive their dreams. And that's really wonderful that you contribute to the world that way.
Andrea: People come here for very different reasons. All of those are ok. Our role is to provide them with the space to explore that
Xiaojuan: How do you see your role in the larger world?
Andrea: At this point in my life, I see it as really just being an example. In living a life, which we are proud to be living, I hope that the people can look at it and think this is positive thing. People can stay with us and leave with a positive idea. In so many instances the words, self-reliance or this back to the of the land type conversation, they make it sound like a deprived existence. You know, "She hasn't got a smart phone! How awful. They have a compost toilet!" They sometimes come with feeling of deprivation attached. What we trying to show people is that we are doing perfectly ok. It won't kill you to use a composting toilet. It can be a very pleasant experience. It's not going to kill you to eat something that we think of being weeds for instance. A bit of dirt in the fingernails won't hurt and it feels very pleasant to go to bed at the end of the night being physically tired. You have been using your body for it was designed to do. So I think that is our role- to show that it can be done and its not hurting us. I've got children growing up who I hope are healthy and happy. We are healthy people. I can't think of last time any one of us has attended doctor’s office except when we had an accident. We must be doing something right. By people seeing us do it, they can perhaps be inspired to have a go themselves or perhaps make some tiny changes.
Xiaojuan: In an ideal world, what is your vision of the world that you want to see?
Andrea: I really actually dislike the term self- reliance. Because it implies that we are 59:27. I don't like that term. I prefer to think that moving toward the world where we depended on others in our community. I'd like to think that the world we live - perhaps I keep sheep and you keep cows and the man down the road keep chickens and we can help each other I’ll help you when you are sick and you look after my children. This is the sort of community we are tending to be moving away from. I don't think any of us should be or can supply all of our needs happily. I would like to see us be less reliant on very big businesses and rely more on the people that we are geographically close to. I think that would make tremendous difference to awful lot of people.
Xiaojuan: Thank you Andrea for your focus on community and in Servicespace larger community, we are building a many to many network. We rely on 100% volunteer work. That reminds me also about an interview on Martin Prechtel on saving the indigenous soul, he says, " We all want to make something that is going to live beyond us. But that thing shouldn't be a house of some physical object. It should be a village that can continue to maintain the self. That sort of constant renewal is the only permanent we should wish to attain."
I think that what you said resonated with that.
Andrea: What a wonderful quote! What a wonderful thing to say! Yes!
Xiaojuan: What message would you like to share, that you haven't already shared, with people who want to live life different from the mainstream?
Andrea: Goodness! I've been talking so long, I'm wondering what I haven't covered so far. I think the key thing for anybody is to boost their resilience, boost their skills, their learning, their knowledge and prepare themselves for anything. We are coming to a period in human history where I think there is going to be an awful lot of change. None of us know what is going to happen or how that will come about. But I think certainly something will change. The best way to protect our families and us is to learn to look after each other and us. This is where the idea of community comes in. Groups of people, small communities are so much more resilient than individuals. I think we should try and remember this. That’s very key. I also think, just by learning one or two things and sharing that with our children and allowing our children to see that as a norm rather than something special is something that we can all do to encourage our children to engage with the outside world in a healthier way. I really find it quite horrifying and scary when you hear these stories of children who don't know that milk comes from a cow for instance or don't know that potatoes grow underground. I find these things quite shocking because it's something that everybody should now, where and how the food that sustains us comes from. It's terrifying that people are destroying that without thinking about it, without realizing it without protecting it for future generations. It is also horrifying that people are allowing it to happen because they don't know otherwise. If people haven't got a connection with nature, then they don't appreciate what is being lost. There are so many issues out there that we need to think about. We need to get involved!
Xiaojuan: Yes! Thank you for setting that example for us. What are you grateful for at this moment. I know you do gratitude practice at the end of every day. At this moment what's in your heart?
Andrea: At this moment I’m hugely grateful to have the opportunity to be here today and t be speaking to you and to the wider audience. I'm grateful for all the people who have supported me or not laughed at me when I had these ridiculous ideas and gone out to do ridiculous things. I'm grateful for my family who actually set me up to be the person to go out and do something like this. I'm grateful to my family here today who put up with it and who don't complain about having to help with what's going on. I'm grateful really to share abundance of what is around us that allows us to Iive the life that we do in the most sustainable way that we can. I am just grateful for that everyday.
Xiaojuan: Thank you so much for sharing such meaningful conversation with us. This conversation is so needed in this time period.
Pavi: Thank you Xaiojuan and thank you Andrea. With your last reflection you answered one of the questions that someone had written in to us. I am just going to read it out because it is such a sweet note.
" Hi Andrea. This is Kate from Kindspring. The work you do is so impressive. Your website is just wonderful. And much of the landscape looks like the area in which I live. I love that you end the day by reflecting on your gratitude. Would you share parts of your life for which you are most grateful?"
And you very naturally just did that.
Andrea: Kate, it's fabulous to hear from you. It's just great to hear from you.
Mish: Andy, hi! This is another one of your Kindspring sisters. It’s Mish phoning in from New York City. It's so wonderful to hear your voice. Your adventure spirit just excites and inspires me. Your life is so interesting. Wow! I am also calling in for Mindy. Unfortunately where she is now, South Dakota she has a very weak Internet signal. She tried to get on the call about half a dozen times. So she is going to have to listen in on the audio. We both wanted to tell you how proud we are of you and your commitment to making such positive impact on mother earth and her resources and encouraging us all to make better and more mindful choices. I must tell you I was a very nervous mother hen for you and I'm so happy. It's been a wonderful call.
Andrea: Your e-mails over the last few days have kept me sane. I may have gone running to the hills without you
Mish: I'm just loving hearing you, your British accent. Thank you for doing this call.
Andrea: Thank you and Mindy who put me on this course. I appreciate it hugely.
Mish: I'll send her your love too.
Andrea: Thank You.
Pavi: Wonderful to see that reconnection.
Amit: Before I ask my question, I can't help but love the community that tends to join this call week in week out, whether it is from New York, California, UK, India, all over the world. The deep listening and appreciation that just holds such a beautiful space for people like Andrea to share their stories and their journey. So it's wonderful
As a question, you were just talking about how grateful you were towards your family and folks for putting up with your crazy ideas or what seemed like it and your efforts. It brings up an interesting point of this idea- Change in general is hard for all of us. Radical change is just a whole another step. There are times when internally we go through such fear and struggle. We fear judgment; we fear are we able to go through this. Since the idea behind this call is inner transformation, I am just curious, how did you handle that fear, throughout that time, whether it was from family or from the outside world or from within yourself? How do you address that?
Andrea: That's a very interesting one. I suppose my own personal journey has been done in stages. I didn't wake up one morning and say, " Hey, look! I'm going to quit my job and move to Portugal and I'm going to set up a permaculture project." It wasn't like that at all. It was a series of decisions, which kept getting me deeper and deeper into the situation where I am now. I am very fortunate in that I've met a partner who is supportive of what I want to do and I of him. We have the same defined purpose, I suppose. My children are coming along the ride whether the like it or not. I will be absolutely honest with you and say that I do worry about my children from time to time, because I am effectively forcing them to live a life that is less than conventional. But I am realizing that it's for the best for them. They can go away after this and they can do what they want. They will know both sides of the coin as it were. They can make their own decisions.
In terms of battling those fears, I am finding it very difficult to answer that question. I don't know the answer. You know there are nights that I lay awake and worried about things that I’ve done or things that I am planning to do or whatever. But I think the longer that I do this, the more resilient we gain as a couple, as a family, as a project, the easier it will be to survive.
The biggest issue, which a lot of people focus on, is financial one. We haven't got sort of regular jobs. When I did have regular job and when I did have regular mortgage and all of those sorts of things, I had a huge amount of more money that I do now. But it was constantly something that I was concerned about. We have very little money to play with, but I know even if I haven't got a penny in my purse, there are things in the garden that I can eat, there are goats from which I get milk. We've got forest full of trees that I can use as firewood. And more to the point, I know how to do those things. And I know how to perpetuate them so there will also food next year and the year after. This brings on this issue of community again, because the biggest threat to the situation then becomes, my house, my partner's house. If I broke my leg tomorrow, it would leave us in a difficult situation for milking goats, sowing cabbages and whatever. And thesis where having a community of people who are willing to help each other out in times of need is helpful. This is where it has become so central. This is what we should all be working towards.
I am sorry I've gone slightly off tangent from your original question there. It needed to be said. Amit: No.No. I think it was definitely insightful. It just gives us a flavor for how you process some of that stuff and I guess you had so many volunteers that came through your place or participated in your workshops, I’m curious if there is a story or two that stands out. May be someone who just radically shifted who they were or how they were going to go about living or you are still in touch with those individuals.
Andrea: As you can imagine 900 or so people have come through our doors. There is a lot that I've lost touch with. They just come for short period and they take off to do their own thing. But there are lots of people with who I do stay in touch with and that's fabulous to see those things happening. I've made some good long-term friends through this volunteering business. We have a lady in the UK for instance who came out originally as a volunteer and she has been back several times since. She has looked after the farm for us when I was sick and we had to go away. I am not sure that her life has changed particularly for coming out to see us. I know that she runs her own things as well. But I think that story needs to be told. Somebody comes out once and you make connection, which remains. I hope, Kate, she's listening in there.
We have an American volunteer who came out for 4 times. After she visited us, she was inspired to do awful lot more traveling. She went to lot more exotic countries and that shaped the work that she was looking to do.
I think I mentioned previously, we had volunteers who have subsequently settled in the local area. Perhaps that was something that they already had in their minds when they came to see us. But I think what's valuable is that they can go into their own project with an idea already of what they can or what is or isn't important to them. That's very difficult to describe. You may come into project like this and suddenly realize that," Goats sound like fabulous idea. They sound good for a smallholding. You come here and spend a few days working with goats and realize, really the last thing you want in your smallholding is a goat. It's awfully easier to do that on somebody else's land than it is to get goats and realize that they are not for you. All of the things are very valuable to somebody who has gone on to do their own project.
Most of those changes are small and incremental, but they'll add up to make a tremendous amount.
Amit: Absolutely! I am sure its on the flip side as well where, as much as people are coming to learn form you and experience everything you and your family have been doing, I'm sure there have been instances in which you've learned from them as well from their insight as an experience of the experiment.
Andrea: There is absolutely so much! We have people who come here with very specific goals, which they can pass on to us and talk about. We have a lady here for instance who did her university studies on bees! Absolutely fascinating! She has been able to tell us a lot. Equally just in terms of people’s life experiences, people’s ideas, and the way the people look at the world around us is also very interesting. As I mentioned earlier, these things are very interesting for our children to experience but for us adults as well.
Amit: Wonderful! Thank you! Really appreciate you answering the question.
Andrea: Thank you.
Pavi: I wanted to also share another comment that came in from a listener from Tennessee.
"I love listening to Andrea on the Awakin call. You are an incredible inspiration. Thank you for speaking today"
Andrea as you were talking I was wondering, for many of us we read writings of Thoreau, or heard about Fukuoka and "One Straw Revolution," the philosophy and the way of approaching life is so inspiring and we each take some that in our own ways and then there are people like you who very directly have implemented it. I think for the 900 and odd volunteers and their circle of influence you are a living Thoreau.
I was wondering who are the inspirations that you have drawn from at this time. Are there people who walked this path before you who you draw on?
Andrea: I think Fukuoka is the most inspired man that I have ever met and had the honor of spending time with Patrick Whitefield, who was one of the world's premier permaculture teachers who sadly no longer with us. He is the teacher I took my original Permaculture design course with. I knew not a whole heap about permaculture when I went. He not only managed to impart to me the mechanics and design processes and so on and so forth, but he also managed to inspire me in a way that has taken me to where I am now. Absolutely amazing man!
Pavi: Can you explain a little bit more about him, what it was that kind of you found so arresting?
Andrea: Oh goodness! Patrick was an absolutely amazing speaker. When he was speaking to a group of people, he made it feel that he was speaking to you. He was astonishingly knowledgeable. He knew what he was talking about. He had experienced it himself. But I think what made him such an inspiration to me personally was that he was so inspired by the subject himself. He obviously loved what he was talking about. You could sense that in how excited he was got. How willing he was to answer; may be questions he had answered 500 times before. That willingness to share- that was truly amazing. He was a man who lived the life that he was talking about. Absolutely astonishing man!
Pavi: Are there any nuggets of encapsulated wisdom that he passed on that you think of now?
Andrea: Not on the top of the head I'm afraid!
Pavi: Ok. That's incredible. Whenever you see someone embodying the values you hold dear, there is no greater catalyst than that.
Andrea: Absolutely. Inspiration is capturing. It's contagious. Somebody is excited about something you pass that on. You are naturally an exciting speaker. It’s fabulous.
Pavi: This life is a process of transformation and when you embark on these conscious experiments, I think you accelerate the process of transformation. So over the many years that you have been doing this work, how is the Andrea today different form the woman who drove into Portugal in a converted ambulance with her son.
Andrea: In practical terms, she is a lot more bastard. I am ... very difficult to describe.. I am much more confident in many aspects of my life but less so in others which is a strange position to be in, I feel stronger in my ability to deal with some of the things that life throws at you. I suppose what I feel comfortable about is that we will... what the word I'm looking for? Its not survive. We will survive. We will more than survive. We will be nature abundant. There is abundance out there in the world d. We are part of community. We will move forward and will continue to move forward whatever life throws at us. I think by doing this potentially crazy thing, it has empowered me to think that I can do the next crazy thing, whatever that may be. You know we may decide that this isn't what we want to do and went to change things in the future. And that's fine. You know life is constantly moving.
Pavi: I love that! Just having that sense of resilience, I think, makes you walk through the world with a different kind of openness and trust and readiness to meet with whatever that shows up on your door step. It’s a different kind of security than the usual places we look for, like bank balance and...
Andrea: I read an article by Paul Wheaton this morning, you may have heard about him in Portugal Permaculture circles. Paraphrasing him probably very badly, he was saying that you can have a million dollars, but when it all goes wrong, you are probably better off to have some skills and some knowledge and far less money. A million dollars is no use to you if you spend on wrong things. Having skills and knowledge is far better investment.
Pavi: Truer words were never spoken!
Andrea: I still wouldn't mind a million dollars! Imagine what I could do with that!
Pavi: I was on your website earlier this morning. I was looking at some of the pictures and I think one of the blog posts around spring foraging that you have done.. I was just ... may be this wasn't the point of the pictures, but I was struck by how beautiful they looked. As a practical element, the kind of satisfaction that comes from having grown things from garden and everything on your table is something that you literally new from the ground. I was also struck particularly by the images of your cheeses with the flower petals on them. I was looking at the other pictures on your website. Just the beauty! Not to romanticize it. There is an enormous and unbelievable amount of hard work that goes behind it every single day of your lives. But there’s also this .. This kind of beauty is very simple in its manifestations and I imagine that it has a certain effect on the mind as well to be so embedded nature, the way your are, be working with your hands in it day in and day out. Could you speak a little bit about that stillness, the beauty and the environment that you are in?
Andrea: I think everything you just said is very, very true. There is a pleasure in doing a job, which is physical, and in doing a job where you can see something happening. You know if I plant a tomato plant and I'll come back tomorrow and it will have a new leaf you know. Come back to it next week and there will be a flower. All of that you have made it happen. All of it is different form sitting in an office and endlessly typing numbers into a keypad for instance. At the end of the day, if I did a good job of caring for that tomato plant, and provide e with protection and correct water and all of those things, it will reward me with some food, which will nourish my body and my family's. That is such a tremendous feeling, that you are actually part of something, you can immediately recognize how you are making difference, how you are moving things forward. So much more satisfying than anything else that I do.
You joked about the forage fruit and how pretty they are. Absolutely. These photos are taken at spring and flowers are there. It’s just so tremendous. You know there’s a different type of pleasure from making foraged meal like this compared to taking something from our garden. Both are hugely satisfying. But I love foraging because it’s something free! It’s something which nature is giving us. I do not have to work for that other than to identify and pick it. This is a gift to me from nature. I just have to recognize it and take it effectively. I love that about it. I enjoy sharing that people. I think when you looked at our website and all the photos over there, there was a massive big salad. We took that to a community day at another local project. I took those along as our contribution. I have such fabulous conversation with other people over there about the salads and about what was in them. I was running around the flowerbeds to find the so-called weeds to show people. They are brilliant.
But again, I'm digressing, I'm so sorry.
Pavi: No, no. This is all wonderfully relevant.
We have another listener write in with a question wondering
if outside from daily gratitude practice, if you had any reflective or spiritual practices that you connect to.
Andrea: I don't describe myself as being particularly spiritual person. Saying that, I spend a lot of time in nature> I spend a lot of that time alone in nature. And that is restorative. So although I don't deliberately have a nature based spiritual practice, I am involved in that, I am embedded in that. I don't you can for as closely with the land as I do without having a practice even if you don't call it as such. I hope that answers the question.
Pavi: Oh it does! I think the label is kind of unimportant. Anyone who spends time living with the rhythms of nature, I think that itself becomes a practice and tunes you in to what's around you and also what's within in you in a powerful way.
Xiaojuan: I just have one little question.
You talk about when you forage in the forest and picking up wild fruits, its like gift from nature. Do you practice integrating natural gifts into your Permaculture project?
Andrea: I think that if you are practicing Permaculture on a practical land based scale; I think that will come naturally as a part of it. I think if you were not including natures gifts as a part of that then you would need to sort of reassess whether you are making the most of the environment, the got that you had been given. Most certainly, those gifts that are given to those things and us come to us naturally because of the way that we are treating our land and because of the design that we have created.
Xaiojuan: When you work on the land, do you put us, we humans as part of nature or using nature wisely to serve humans? There is a very subtle difference in that.
Andrea: Yes there is, isn't there. Now I understand your question a little better. I apologize. I think you can discuss the answer to that question for some months and still not get to the bottom of it. That's a tough one.
I think we have to view ourselves as part of the nature. Most certainly. But on the other hand we are using nature.. we shape the nature, certainly and yes we are using nature for our own ends. I can't deny that. When I keep goats for instance, they are not wild. They are our goats. They have to do what we want them to do to a certain extent. Yes pushing ourselves on nature from that point of view. The same thing about our vegetable agreed. Although we are trying to mimic nature’s natural patterns, we sort of forcing out imprint on it by planting what ever it is that we are planting intros bed. Its not what nature would have done naturally.
I think I have to go with bending nature to our own ends. The trick is to do that as gently as we possible can.
Pavi: Andrea, before we close out the call we do have one more question for you that we like to ask all our guests. That is, how can we as the larger Servicespace community support your work?
Andrea: I think everybody; all of us can take steps to make our lives more sustainable to tread more lightly on our Earth. That's everybody, certainly myself included. If each of us takes one small step, may be for some of us that will become a snowball and lead to lots of steps that will become a big one. Every little step makes a difference. Whether it’s changing bulbs, or saving water, whether it is growing pot of herbs. All of us can do that and it’s easy for us to do.
Pavi: That’s beautiful! I feel like in the course of this call, you have given us.. You have taken so many steps in your life, forget the on e little step. Part from everything that you have shared about the particulars of what you are doing, I think the broader theme of -don't take the box that society has kind of put you in or kind of conditioned to living in and take that opportunity to look what’s inside your heart and war's really resonating and what really is meaningful to you and shape your life around that.
I think you have done that for years now and know that it’s rippling out. Not just through the volunteers that you touch but through the people that they touch, though every interview that you do and through every Facebook post that you put up, your generosity of spirit I think is tremendous and we've all been touched by it and I'm sure it will continue to ripple out.
Andrea: Pavi that is wonderful to hear from you. Thank you.
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