So after weeks of preparation bashing, baking and brewing, we finally woke up on the big day like kids on Christmas Morning! We were so excited to showcase our: Sauerkrauts, Pickles, Organic Gluten-Free Breads, Juns, Dehydrates and Organic Apple Cider Vinegar and wasted no time (see what I did there?) getting our babies on display. Our first time on the other side of the stall!
Connor had a strong realisation of how much his life has changed when he walked passed a car radio, transmitting the third day of the first Ashes Cricket Test. There is no way he would’ve missed a single moment of action a few years ago. The call to making a healthy contribution to the world is one that we have tried to answer and it has consumed us over the past couple of years. It is a decision that has changed our lives dramatically in different ways and although it can be a bit scary sometimes when we hardly recognise our new forms, events like the Festival of No Waste help confirm to us that we are on the right track.
We met so many like-minded people, so many folk becoming more conscious of their health who are mustering the courage to make the necessary steps towards achieving their goals and understanding that creating a healthy gut flora is one of the first keys to unlocking vitality.
There were also many people who are interested in becoming more empowered and who want to learn how to make these fermented eco-systems themselves. No need to buy expensive probiotic pills when you have the knowledge to create your own medicine.
That’s why we will be running our first SAUERKRAUT WORKSHOP at Fair Harvest Permaculture in the near future and will let you know once we have figured out a date and a format. We are really excited to get this off the ground and start educating people on how to build a more alive version of themselves by upgrading their micro-biome.
We had so much positive feedback on our Sauerkrauts and Breads that people made us promise that we would let them access our surplus. It has really got us thinking about operating on a bit bigger scale, especially after seeing all the inspiring people who have recognised their gifts and the areas in which they can make a positive contribution to the cause of creating more healthy models of behaving and acting in the world. To see people “going for it!” was very encouraging and has left a vision of possibility in our minds.
Having a big shake down to Charlie Mgee was a perfect way to end the day and move our bodies in rhythm with all the other bodies who helped make the event such a powerful meeting place for people who have had enough of the current self-destructive models of operation in this world. The festival of No Waste was such a beautiful invention and we are so thankful to Jodie and Do, who are doing their part to keep a larger dream alive in our hearts, a dream of rebuilding and inhabiting a healthy home planet.
As always, we are reminded that, “Small and Slow Solutions” is one of the building blocks to creating long lasting, sustainable and regenerative change and we sincerely hope that the seeds planted at the festival grow in to giant old grow forests.
For my first WWOOFing experience in Spain I had chosen a place called Fundació La Plana, which is situated few kilometers from a small village Santa Maria d’Oló in Catalonia and about 70-80 km north from Barcelona. There, hidden in the picturesque high plateau of Moianès region in over 100 years old masia a wholehearted group of 8-10 people run a foundation that receives throughout the year various organized courses and retreats related to human body and mental health and care (like yoga, meditation, psychological courses etc.) La Plana exists since about 30 years, but became a foundation in 2002. One of it’s residents, a girl named Flor, was precisely responsible for a vegetable garden project where she tried to implement permaculture and biodynamic principles.
I arrived in La Plana on the first day of December and stayed for nearly 3 weeks. Masia, which is a type of rural construction common to the Catalan countries was very big and representative. As a typical example of architecture of mountainous areas it was made of rough stone and had 3 floors. The place could host over 130 people in its rooms with bunk beds. Besides, the property had a modern and very cozy private library with a study hall and lots of books from various categories and in many languages. I spent there most of my evenings reading and studying. There was also a yoga hall in a separate building, workshop rooms and private dorms. The place was partly surrounded by forest and partly by neighboring fields. It was very peaceful and views were enchanting. Unfortunately except a dog, two lovely donkeys and a horse there were no more farm animals.
Quickly I noticed that even though not very far from Barcelona, but being already in the mountainous area the climate differed a lot. Mornings and nights were pretty cool by that time of the year, somewhere below 10°C, yet some of the days were still pretty sunny and warm and on occasions I could work in a short sleeve. In the mornings the air was very refreshing and awaking, which together with nice views made it a great start of the day.
My WWOOF tasks
As a WWOOFer to my main task belonged helping Flor in the vegetable garden. But since La Plana received on every weekend and bank holiday various groups of people coming to attend courses, everyone from the live-in community was involved in helping with organization around them. That of course included me during the time of my stay. While I WWOOFed in La Plana we received groups on two weekends, one of which was an extended bank holiday and on that occasion came around 110+ people. It was a lot of work! Courses where organized from outside but we were responsible for the accommodation and meals. I was helping with the preparation of dining rooms and serving the food. Seems like not a big deal, but with this amount of people setting tables and serving meals took about an hour or hour an half before every meal to get it all ready. Of course we took shifts, so that I had to do it usually for one or two meals a day.
Our cooks were amazing! Concha lived in La Plana and also cooked every day for all members of the community. While the assistant cook came in only during these courses. Each time they prepared separate food for people with all sorts of special diets – gluten-free, diary-free, vegetarian or vegan and so forth. Besides that we had a Brazilian guy whose name unfortunately I have forgotten, who made different types of sourdough bread. Delicious treat!
During the week time we all gathered to eat together at lunch time, while breakfast and supper everyone ate as pleased. One day I made typical polish food for my hosts. With help of Flor we made 100+ handmade pierogies with two kinds of stuffing (one of it was spinach from our garden!) and a soup we call Ukrainian Borsch. For a dessert we had an apple pie. Everyone loved it! But for me the best out of all suppers was the one with seafood. To celebrate the fact that they managed to make some decent money on selling scrap metal we had delicious meal of all sorts of seafood. From what I remember we had clams, squids, octopus, mussels, prawns, langoustines, razor clams, some kind of sea snails that are called in Spanish búsanos and more. All of these were prepared in a typical Spanish way. It was a real feast! Too bad I lost the photo of these delicacies.
The vegetable garden was placed on the lower terrace – flat side of the property that received a good amount of sun. Since it was early December and the temperatures were not too high we didn’t have a lot work planting and harvesting in the garden. However, we cleaned two of the parcels from the remaining previous crop and planted beans and garlic. When it comes to harvesting we had some spinach, arugula, cauliflower, parsley, onions, swiss chard and lettuce that we picked. Spinach for instance I used for my pierogies stuffing and it was delicious.
The biggest task in the garden, which took me few days of work was building raised bed in a shape of number eight. I made it with Flor’s help. We used stones that we plastered with combination of clay with sand, straw and water. It was so much fun! I had never before worked on this kind of projects. I found out how much pleasure it gives to build something from a scratch with your own bare hands. That was also when I realized my interest in natural building, which I tried to explore some more on my further trips. As a finishing touch on the top part of the deep bed we made a mosaic from pieces of some old colorful tiles. It turned out very nicely and super pretty. We hadn’t planted anything as Flor wanted to do it later closer to spring.
As I loved so much creating things I also decided to build a bird feeder. There were lots of birds and winter was coming so remembering how back in Poland when I was a little girl we used to prepare bird feeders with my father I took the plunge to do it this time by myself. I made it from a wood fruit box I found in the shed and cut in half and few small boards for a canopy. As a final touch I painted it red. It wasn’t the prettiest bird feeder I’ve seen but I’m sure birds appreciated their own little red house on the tree!
Taking first steps in making homemade natural cosmetics
Flor besides having knowledge about plants knew also a lot about making homemade natural cosmetics. As she finished a course in aromatherapy and learnt secrets of making wonderful natural creams and oils, now she was willing to use her skills and teach others what she knew. One magical evening she showed me how to make herbal distillates (also called hydrosols) of rosemary and rose petals. It’s actually pretty simple but to prepare it you need a distillation apparatus set. Nevertheless, after doing a little research on the topic I found out that there are ways of making hydrosols using for example a coffee pot. It all reminded me of my chemistry class back in the high school years where we used to do many experiments.
The other day we gathered together with few other women and turned one of the kitchen-dining rooms into “real” lab. We had many different oils, essentials, powders, hydrosols, fresh calendula flowers and necessary equipment. After few hours of brewing potions like some kind of beauty witches, we received three different creams – for face, eyes and butter cream for body. Too bad you can’t smell these wonderful essences! The creams I made as a present for Christmas for my Mom and some small samples for my besties in Warsaw. Making homemade cosmetics is very pleasurable, natural and not that complicated as long as you have good recipes, ingredients and proper equipment. I hope in the future I will make some more!
Always in search for more knowledge
Besides homemade creams I also tried to learn how to use the sewing machine. The goal was to make for my friends little aromatic pillows stuffed with fresh rosemary. I made around 10 or 12 of them and felt very satisfied with my job. I think that to know how to use a sewing machine is a very useful skill. My Mom used to have one when I was a child. Maybe one day I will get one for myself and learn how to make some clothes!
Driven as always by indefinite curiosity and interest for knowledge while in WWOOFing in La Plana I decided to take an online course – Introduction to sustainability. This course was 8 weeks long, had great video lectures, readings and tests. I found it on the coursera.org website which is an education platform with world’s top universities and organizations that offer courses online. They have a vast amount of different programs from almost all fields of interest. What’s curious – it’s for free! Of course if you would like to receive upon completing the course an official certificate there is some fee required, but still it’s not a big sum. I can honestly recommended this platform to anyone interested in broadening their knowledge. My course on sustainability was created by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was very informative and interesting, explored how today’s human societies can endure in the face of global change, ecosystem degradation and resource limitations.
But of course in my free time I also went exploring the surroundings. There were some walking trails with gorgeous views and nice paths for running. It turned out of course how out of shape I got in only about a month and a half break. Well ok, also the fact that I was not used to running on hilly terrains was the reason for it. I enjoyed it anyhow!
In nearly 3 weeks I already got used to everyone and it was sad to say goodbye. However, I know how to find them and as they said, I’m always welcome to come back. Now it was time to go back home for Christmas, first time in 3 years! I was looking forward to it for a very long time, longing white polish holidays so with excitement reaching the zenith I took off to repack in Barcelona and catch my flight to Warsaw!
Preparing garden for the next year – harvesting, fields and deep beds
Since it was already halfway through October, in Sweden the weather was getting colder with each day and the days were getting also shorter. It was about time to prepare for the winter. I began harvesting carrots, beetroots, and broad beans and leaving a few plants like lettuce. As a big carrot lover I can honestly say that carrots from Prästabonnens Gård were the best I ever had; flavorous and juicy, deliciously crunchy, big and some times of funny shapes – perfect to me. Beetroots were super tasty too, so one evening I cooked two Polish dishes made of them. After harvesting I began to prepare the soil for the winter and next season – first I weeded it and later dug hole by hole of about 50 cm per 1 m length and 5 cm deep which I filled with a bit of compost, the soil previously dug out and after finishing the entire field, I covered it with fallen leaves. This way the organic matter enriches the soil and the leaves protect it from the weather, weeds and birds.
When it comes to raised deep beds, I dug deeper holes of about 10-20 cm depth, put the layer of compost, covered it with leaves and charcoal and the rest of the soil, finally spread on the top a layer of fallen leaves. This way the prepared fields and beds would wait for the planting season in spring. In the garden I also covered the surface around all the currant bushes with leaves.
We stored in the cellar most of the harvested carrots and beetroots. To keep them safe from rotting, slacks and other insects I put the veggies in plastic boxes with small holes on the bottom (for the air circulation) in repeated layers of veggies scattered with charcoal (for protection) and leaves spread on the top (to separate the layers.) Prepared like this, carrots and beetroots can be stored through autumn and winter without a problem, I was told.
I was impressed with the quality and richness of the soil made from the compost. Folke built his two-bin composter with removable bricks made of LECA (Light Expanded Clay Aggregate.) It was large and deep, divided in two sections with a net and protected with a sliding cover. First they use one of the bins and once it is full of organic matter they switch to the other one and scatter from time to time a bit of charcoal on top of it. Worms working from bottom to top easily can move between the sections, and to keep it moistened, if it doesn’t rain they water it a bit. Folke told me that in approximately 6 months, good and rich soil is created. When I used it for the fields I noticed that its composition was moist and there were many worms in it; it looked very good to me.
Aquaponics and sour dough bread
In Prästabonnens Gård I saw aquaponics for the first time. Folke designed this very curious construction. But what does aquaponics mean you probably wonder? Well basically it was a greenhouse with a design of a fish tank and connected to it pipes, which circulate the water between the bottom and upper section of plants that grow among little stones and bits of soil. Fish purify the water and add their droppings that enrich it with nutrients. In this way, my hosts cultivate tomatoes, peppers and physalis fruit. It looked really impressive.
As I mentioned before Folke is a really good cook and he likes also to make various preserves from fruits like apple mousse, cranberry syrups, jams, and pickled vegetables. Together we pickled beetroots and made sour dough bread. I have never before baked bread in my life and I was happy to find out that it is actually quite an easy job. In this case the crucial thing was to have the sour dough starter, which we used for the bread.
Bird and bat watchers
Since both of my hosts were bird and bat watchers and Suzanne was regularly registering her observations on birds’ migration, once she took me with her on her monthly round. We went on bikes stopping in the observation points previously marked by her and watched through binoculars the birds. The route was a couple kilometers long and very beautiful, circling around the lake and going into the woods. Later on, Suzanne wrote down her remarks and sent them back to the University of Lund where they were analyzed and registered together with reports from other parts of Sweden. Suzanne used to work at this University before, but teaching Linguistics. The other day she also took me to an old forest on the outskirts of Södra Rörum where we looked for trees where bats could live and placed in them bat-homes. It will help the ongoing research of bats that inhabit this part of the country. On the weekend of my departure my hosts were holding a reunion of their “bat friends” with whom they shared their observations and analyzed together their findings. We spoke about it on various occasions and I have to say that I never though that these creatures were so interesting.
Two weeks at Prästabonnens Gård went by in no time. Many times the thought of staying with Suzanne and Folke for a longer period crossed my mind. I definitely would love to do it and maybe one day I will ask them if that would be possible. In any case I hope to visit them again one day, as the experience was superb; they are wonderful and open-minded couple with vast knowledge on various topics and I really enjoyed spending time in their company. Encouraged and with my new motivation and skills I pushed forward to Copenhagen to complete my journey.
It was Friday afternoon when I reached my destination; a bit tired and cold with sweat. Prästabonnens Gård turned out to be very different from Krogstorps Gård. First of all, by its location – it was at the entrance to a small village called Södra Rörum. There were forests nearby, but not as close as at Krogstorps, and a pretty lake a few kilometers away, where my hosts went fishing. Secondly, it was not a big animal farm, but rather a house with a nice permaculture garden, aquaponics, chickens and ducks. There were also a barn and a large cozy guesthouse used for volunteers, behind which was a natural swimming pool inhabited by frogs and a sauna.
My hosts were a couple of retired professors – Suzanne was an expert in linguistics (French, German and of course Swedish) and Folke, a specialist in human ecology, natural agriculture, sustainable living, grey water purification and permaculture. Folke for decades studied peak oil among other issues and translated John Seymours’ “Manual of Self-Sufficient Life.” They called Prästabonnens Gård a transition experiment as my hosts tried to live as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible. They used solar panels and burnt wood for heating both houses, used composts toilets (there was one in each house and one outside), recycled and composted what they could, collected rainwater, used electric car, grew vegetables and fruits in their permaculture garden, fished, made homemade bread, pickles and other preserves among other things. Within two days with an exciting feeling I already realized that I would learn a lot here; this place seemed to be a sign on my path that would guide me onto the right direction and my hosts were to be my first mentors on this new way.
“You must be the change you hope to see in the world”
When I arrived there was another volunteer on the farm – a Turkish girl Gökçe. We spent only three days together as she left home on Monday evening. There was not much time to get to know each other, although she seemed like a very nice girl and I felt good in her company. Yet, I could tell we were very much different. I just managed to get out of corporate life with a huge relief, while she was very soon about to start her new job for a big corporation and she was surely excited about it. It appeared to me that all the volunteers I met so far were doing WWOOFing for a bit different reasons than I was. They were interested in nature and organic farming, some grew up in the countryside, one of them even studied agriculture and planned to start his own farm, but I felt somehow even beyond that; my quest seemed to be rooted deep inside me for long time and now I was slowly uncovering its layers and understanding that its not only about being tired of the city and the bad quality of food, but very much being overwhelmed with the way we live nowadays, what became of our civilization, how we treat and destroy nature that is an inseparable part of us. I was always interested in environmental issues and following the news, but lately I started digging into the subject even more; watching documentaries and reading articles I became with each day more and more terrified, enraged and upset with what was going on around the world. I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do about it; I had at least a few options though. For instance with my experience I could look for work within NGO’s or Non-Profit Associations or Environmental-oriented news platforms; it would be probably difficult to get job in these places, but it was worth trying for sure. Though I felt that I didn’t want to go back to work in an office and life in the city, at least not yet. Besides I felt that the change should come first with me, like Gandhi said, “You must be the change you hope to see in the world.” I guess that’s why I decided I wanted to learn more about where it all starts – the roots of this planet, our soil and the food we grow. By farming ecologically we don’t pollute the earth and water, kill plants and beings, thus we don’t poison ourselves. I wanted to learn how we could live more sustainably and self-sufficiently without depending so much on non-renewable resources and maybe later share this knowledge with others. That’s also why I finally decided to write this online journal; hoping that maybe there is someone who shares the same thoughts and is wandering around the world asking same questions as I do, looking for answers I’m trying to find.
Inspiring supper – discussing the world
On that very first Saturday at Prästabonnens Gård my hosts’ friend came for a visit. For a supper we had a delicious fish from the nearby lake prepared by Folke, who I soon discovered, cooked very well. We had a very nice conversation during the meal, talking a bit about what Gökçe and I do in life and how we ended up WWOOFing, and then with just one question the discussion entered on a different path. I believe that we were talking about environmental issues like climate change and so forth when I was asked how do I imagine the future of our planet. And there, intuitively feeling on a safe ground, even though I had been there for only 24 hours, I let myself absolutely honestly answer this question. Something I usually don’t dare to do, being afraid of the reaction of my listeners. Yet here, it seemed to neither surprise or shock; they just shook their heads in affirmation, said something in line with me and asked Gökçe the same question. From this moment on for me the real discussion began. We spoke about basically everything that had been bothering me for past months and I finally felt alliance with someone who not only didn’t consider my observations controversial or conspiratorial, but actually agreed with me and deepened my knowledge of these subjects. For the first time I heard about authors like John Michael Greer or real estimations of peak oil that Folke has been studying for about four decades already. Suddenly it turned out that both Folke and his friend knew one of my Couchsurfing hosts, Jessaia, as they all belonged to a small circle of people coordinating a Transition Movement/Towns Project here in Sweden. I heard about this movement for the first time from Jessaia and his girlfriend Ulrika just few days before. That night staying at their place we had similarly stimulating and inspiring discussion that cheerfully made me realize that there are more people thinking like me. I couldn’t believe this coincidence of them knowing each other; it felt like an evident confirmation that I was on the right path. I went to bed with my head spinning from excitement and thoughts about what we’ve spoke that night.
In the following days Folke lent me his books of John Micheal Greer on peak oil, John Seymour on self-sufficient life, and Bill Mollison on permaculture. Hungry for knowledge I greedily started reading almost all at once as I couldn’t decide where I should start. We went back on discussing these subjects with Folke and Suzanne almost everyday during our lunches and dinners. I felt like a student again, able to ask as many questions as I had and always receiving answers and explanations for them. Folke was to me like a wonderful walking encyclopedia that with a smile replied even to the most irrational questions I asked. I wish I knew more back then so that I could ask better questions. But at any rate I felt fully inspired and motivated to continue discovering more about permaculture, sustainability and self-sufficient living. Now I was even more convinced that we have to act fast and learn to use less or no non-renewable sources like oil and start to search for renewable energy, I promised myself to dedicate my time to learn more about this alterative world. I decided I would first go back to Barcelona, stay for a few days and see how I felt being back at home and only then make my next move. However, I already felt quite clear that I want to continue WWOOFing, looking specifically for permaculture and sustainable farms, which could give me a broader view on the possibilities of creating such a self-sufficient, peaceful and in harmony with nature place.
Once Gökçe left Suzanne and Folke asked me if I would like to stay for one week longer. From the very beginning I wanted to stay on their farm for two weeks and besides, now I also felt that I was in the right place to learn what I was looking for, so of course I said yes. During the day I was eagerly working in the garden, in the afternoon studying the books in awe with my eyes wide-open and in the evening we often discussed what I read over the supper. I felt like I was discovering a whole new world, excited and with head full of new ideas and plans that were unrolling one after another. Knowing that I’m not alone in my thinking suddenly gave me strength to push forward and to believe that it is the right thing to do. After all, it is always easier to go back from where you came than to enter a new path, right? Well, that’s at least what I like to think!