Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: sustainable agriculture

The Power of Community and Culture

I've been at the Seresin Estate for a little under a week, and each day has been different. What a change from my previous place where I was pretty much weeding a home garden everyday, which was really nice and rewarding, of course! Here, there has been a lot of variety, which has also been really educational and interesting. And I've been eating self-cooked meals everyday which has been nice for a change.

Front view of the house where I'm staying. Cozy, quaint. In the middle of vineyards!

  • Monday afternoon: I arrived and we weeded. By “we” I mean the two other WWOOFers, the head gardener, and his apprentice. A nice team of five with lots of chatting, storytelling, and jokes. Made chickpeas and veggies with rice for dinner.
  • Tuesday: in the morning, we did more weeding (a different area from the day before– maybe it was onions?) and then all afternoon we did the biodynamic preparation 500 that I explained in my previous blog post. And that “we” included our team and about 20 other volunteers and employees from the vineyards and winery. Made swiss chard and pasta with feta and colby cheese and cooked up some lamb sausage from the farm for dinner.
  • Wednesday: we continued weeding onion plants, a challenging job because the onion shoots were not much bigger than the weeds! And that was it for that day. This was the most tedious work we've done so far, but enjoyable because of lots of conversation and nice weather. Made falafel and pita with the others in our house for dinner. YUMMM!!!
  • Thursday: we prepped a section of land to plant potatoes using stakes and string. And in the afternoon we planted a few hundred potatoes in teams of two with a few more additions to our team of five. That was cool– planting all these spuds by hand (most people nowadays do it by machines, especially when doing on the scale we were– a lot!). Made grilled cheese sandwiches with swiss chard and spinach for dinner.
  • Friday: planted more potatoes, the rest for the land that had been prepped. Good morning's work. Filled some packets of wonderful composted soil for tomato plants which will be planted in a few weeks. Then after lunch did the preparation 500 again at the other estate, Raupo, which is the biggest area and where the best grapes are grown. Extra long day but felt quite accomplished at the end! Had some pancakes that one of the other WWOOFers made for dinner.

Strawberry patches in one of the garden areas on the estate.

To give you an idea of how each day works here, here's a typical day's schedule:

  • Wake up with the sun (I have my shades open for this reason) around 6:30 or 7am.
  • Lounge in bed a little.
  • Do my morning routine.
  • Eat breakfast– usually some muesli and yogurt or milk and a piece of toast with tea.
  • Read or take a morning walk.
  • Go to the estate (which is about 3 miles up the road) by one of the WWOOFers van or by walking (about an hour walk) or by bike (about 20 minutes).
  • Arrive at the estate by 10:30am-ish just as the employees are finishing up their morning tea time– a break where they eat snacks and drink coffee and tea. They start at 7:30am, but not us!
  • Get started working. Go until about 1pm when we break for lunch in their “smoko” room– basically the break room which is called “smoko” because it used to be where people would take a smoke for breaks; but people don't smoke here.
  • After a half hour lunch, work some more until about 4:30pm. And then head home.
  • Get home and relax a bit.
  • Make dinner with the other WWOOFers.
  • Take a shower. And then relax for a few hours– read, write, check email, just sit and chill.
  • Go to bed by about 9:30 or 10pm.

I'm outdoors all day which is wonderful. Such a reversal from life before where I'd be in an office all day with a glimpse of the outdoors on my walk to and from the train station and maybe during lunch if I had to go buy my lunch that day. Being outside for at least 6 hours a day is really do-able here in New Zealand. Even if it's a little cold or cloudy (or rainy), it's so beautiful. And there are the sounds of the wind, the birds, nature.

One thing I'm really getting exposed to here at the vineyards is the power of community. Even though it's a company– producing wines for sale all over the world– there is a feeling of family and closeness among the employees and even with the managers and higher ups.

Every Wednesday, they have a company smoko where all the winery and vineyard staff get together with the managers to give updates over some kind of food that they take turn preparing. Last week, the person on made amazing cheesy scones. So everyone hears the company updates and gets familiar with how the business is running. They also hear updates about the garden, which isn't so much part of the company side but is really about keeping some biodiversity and using the land for positive and meaningful things. The WWOOFers are also acknowledged at this meeting, which was held, not at a stuffy conference table, but standing around on an outdoor patio, over coffee and scones.

In addition to that meeting, I get the sense from the people I see daily over morning tea and lunch, those who work in the vineyards, that they all have each other's back and enjoy each other's company and respect each other. They truly believe in the organic and biodynamic principles. They really value each other as individuals. They value the earth and the animals on the farm. And they get paid doing this!

I've learned that the winemaking/ vineyard industry is really that, an industry as any other, and that few growers and winemakers think about the impact on the earth as Seresin does. Why do we have to rip up and destroy the earth to get what we want out of it? If we take an approach of respecting and giving back to the earth in exchange of what we take out of her, everything is more beautiful, sustainable, harmonious and productive.

Here's an example:

Notice the difference in these two unedited photos of vineyards. The top photo is of a conventional vineyard which uses herbicides and chemicals. The bottom photo is of one of Seresin's vineyard rows. Notice the color difference– brown grass on top, green grass on the bottom. Notice the feel you get– dry, brittle, a bit barren on top; lush, gentle, relaxed on the bottom.

So good wine here is about a holistic view– from the soil to the plant to the grape to the production to the people to the gardens amongst the vines to the treatment of their animals and people. It's about building a culture of sustainability, of respect, of value and love. Something I also really believe in and want to bring to anywhere I go and work and live.

I'm learning to read the earth these last few weeks. It's like learning a new language: what are edible plants, what are natives versus exotics, what is herbicided versus organic, what different birds are, etc. I can't wait to come home and see if I'm able to read the earth as I'm doing here.

A view outside the house where I'm staying. Hello, tree, said the bush.

 

Advertisements

Wine Country: Seresin Estate

I have landed on another really interesting and beautiful site for my new WWOOFing experience: Seresin Estate. The owner and founder of the estate (vineyard, olive orchard, farmland) is Michael Seresin, a Kiwi cinematographer. He doesn't really live at the vineyard anymore, but leaves it to be run by some amazing people.

A view of some vineyards and the mountains in the distance. Note: these aren't Seresin vineyards- you can tell by the brown grass that these growers use herbicides. Will be posting pics of Seresin's organic, biodynamically grown grapes in my next post. Edited with Instagram.

I'm staying in a house down the road from the estate where we work with two other WWOOFers and a contracted worker who works with the wines. It's been interesting being with other WWOOFers, my first time since starting this whole thing. They're both young women, one from Holland, one from Montana (in the early 20s!); and they've both been in New Zealand since April or May. Wow. And they're both planning on staying for a full year at least.

View from the back door of the house where we WWOOFers stay. Overlooking some of the vineyards of Seresin Estate.

This set up is definitely very different from my other WWOOFing experience:

  • We cook our own food, which is all provided (even with ability to make requests) by the host. So a lot of the food is from grocery stores, although they do try to give us organic food. The meats are from their farm and livestock (which includes work horses, chickens, ducks, goats, cows, and ducks). Veggies are from their garden but there's not so much available right now– swiss chard (or silver beet, as they call it), kale, spinach, salad greens (rocket, aka arugula), and parsley… It's nice to be cooking again, and I'm making some request for sesame oil so I can cook some Korean food! 🙂 I made chickpeas and rice yesterday, and today made swiss chard, feta pasta. The three of us share cooking and eating which is nice. They can cook, too. I'll try to take a photo of some of my food at some point, but it's pretty much what I would make at home– nothing too out of the ordinary!
  • The land is quite big and used for commercial purposes– grapes and olives for selling wine and oil. Their garden is for their own purposes, I guess, but it's huge. All together, it seems there are probably about 20 or so people who work on the land– in the vineyard and winery, in the garden, on the fields… It's very different from my previous home garden!
  • They aren't off the grid, like my other place. No alternative energy sources, as far as I can tell. But what's interesting is that they use both organic and “biodynamic” principles for all their living things. Biodynamics is a new concept that I just recently learned about– the gist is that you believe that the earth, humanity, and a greater spirit world are all interconnected, and when you do anything from planting to composting to harvesting, you use things like the alignment of the moon, stars, and planets to inform when and how you do things. It's really quite interesting. They have a woman on the farm who specializes in calculating all those things. I'm hoping to learn some more about that in the coming weeks.

I've only been here a day and a half and have just done some weeding and sundry garden work. But this afternoon was really interesting– it was a big day in their biodynamics processes. I'll try to explain a bit here– it's called biodynamic preparation 500:

  1. There is a process involving a cow horn, cow manure, and some soil mixture and leaving that in the ground for a period of time. That happened before today.
  2. Then we stirred that manure into big barrels with water and other minerals. This was a big communal event where about 25 of us took turns stirring these huge barrels. It required a certain stirring technique and also required us to give good energy, spirit, and vibes to the liquid mixture.
  3. We then took the liquid (mostly water along with the manure bits) into smaller buckets and all walked around the entire property with a brush and basically sprayed the land with the liquid, kind of like the way a priest sprays holy water on people during special holy days in the Catholic Church. This happened in a methodical way because there are lots of rows of planted vines, trees, and gardens, and we had to get every patch of land.

The whole process took about 2.5 hours with a lot of walking up and down rows and spraying plants. It was really amazing, a collective process with all 25 people well organized and giving a piece of ourselves to these organic beings in the earth. And the preparation is supposed to be a kind of fertilizer to the plants. We were really lucky to be there– this is something they do twice a year, and it's timed specifically based on astronomy among other things. I didn't get a full explanation.

So far, interesting, and it's only been a day and a half here!

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous. And the scenery is stunning. Here are some views of the land (and remember, photos often don't do justice to the landscape which is beautiful from every angle!).

Gratitude

I'm back at the New Plymouth Puke Ariki library for one last day in the area. My bus for Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is at 2:15pm. And then I have a weekend in Wellington with a friend of my sister-in-law (thanks, L!!) and then on to my next WWOOF placement near Blenheim. No idea what to expect for my next placement so I hope I get some access to wi-fi at some point in the two weeks that I'm there.

It has been an amazing 10 days, as mentioned before. I have the deepest gratitude for the family that opened their home and hearts to me so I could have some learning. I guess I gave them something in return– weeded paths, a cleared and newly planted strawberry patch, and transplanted berry vines. But that's small contribution on my part for three meals a day, conversation and knowledge sharing, and becoming part of the family for a week and a half. WWOOFing is an amazing thing on both the part of the member and the host when the fit is good.

Recognize this patch from my last post-- it was a before and after. And this is an after-after. I planted all those strawberry plants!!

After this experience, I'm really itching to get started on something back home (wherever that is now, since it's not a guarantee that Boston is home…). But I'm trying to be patient to take on my experiences to learn different things about gardening, permaculture, life in another country to see what else I can add to my toolbox of ideas and lightbulbs.

The family I was staying with was really quite radical in their thinking about life and society. The mother (I call her that but she's really only a few years older than me– but it feels too weird to call her “the woman”– I'll just call her “C.”) introduced me to some films and youtube videos that were really interesting.

One video we watched was called “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”– you can watch it online. It was a really interesting, and hopeful, documentary about how Cuba suffered an economic collapse after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s because Cuba's source of oil (the USSR) was now gone. Permaculture (or sustainable agriculture) was the solution to getting people off energy dependence (since they no longer had a choice!) and bring people back to local economies and sources of food. It really showed how community gardens can solve some of society's biggest problems!

Peak oil is this concept that we will (or actually have) reach a peak of oil extraction after which there will be a decline in extraction and production. Theorists have said that we are currently in the time of peak oil and after this time, we should really start to worry and find alternatives to fossil fuel dependence. In essence, there is a finite amount of fossil fuels in the world and we really need to talk and strategize seriously about how we can get off of oil, coal, gas, petroleum, etc.

Permaculture, conservation, local systems, solar/wind/water energy sources– these are all strategies and tools to use to get us off fossil fuel dependence and I have seen it be possible with the family that I was living with this past week and a half.

I can see how this is all possible in rural settings where there is a long growing season and there aren't so many options for access to resources. Now I'm thinking about how to bring these concepts to urban living where there's such an abundance of resources (supermarkets, gas stations, technology) and where EVERYTHING depends on consumption of some kind of fossil fuel. Is it possible to cut that way down? Would people be interested in those ideas? Do they have too much to lose? How do we start to really instill in people the idea that if we just keep consuming earth's resources without giving anything back, we're really going to be in trouble sooner rather than later?

Living with this family, talking to “C,” I can see how one can become really alarmist and almost paranoid about all that's happening around; so I hope to keep a level and hopeful head about me in thinking about how to bring these concepts back to my friends and family as a start.

So that's a bit of my soapbox for today. I'll be in a city this weekend so will hopefully have more access to wi-fi and will post more pics of another part of the country. But I'll leave you, dear readers, with a final photo of Mt. Taranaki:

This was my last view of the mountain on my last day. I originally had posted a pic of my WWOOF host farm, but I know they're so cautious about publicity so I took it down for their privacy.

;

Megan Barber Ceremonies

officiant for weddings to memorials, and everything in between

Carioca Cook

Sharing the love of food

Munchkin Guru

newborn wisdom

Paradise Lot

Two plant geeks, one-tenth of an acre and the making of an edible garden oasis in the city

Appetite for Instruction

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

My Favourite Pastime

Food, Travel and Eating Out

Foodie Judie

Hot off the press to fresh out of the oven... ! The meandering thoughts of my food-obsessed alter ego, and my daily persona.

A Fast Paced Life

Running Commentary of a Dilettante's Life

Edible Startups

Bites of innovation in the food world