Greetings once again from the 20 something,

I believe that this entry will be of but a slightly different flavor. School has been in session for a little while now and the little house that could has come great distances since the beginning of my stay. And when I mention the house I might also be meaning the inhabitants of the little house that could; for it is inhabitants are as dynamic as the property. I myself have long been removed from the scene of home renovations. The last time I took part in home renovation was over a decade ago and I had little knowledge of what was going on. I was happy swinging hammers and pulling nails. Here, some ten years later, swinging and digging, I have continued to piece together this puzzling world we live in. Living here in Wanganui so far has been awesome. After a long break from team sports I was again reunited with one of my favorite games, well sort of. Saturday softball league is not quite the same as highly competitive division three baseball, but it functions in the same way. A bunch of people get together and face-off for an afternoon of hooting, sliding, diving and the occasional muffed error. I felt a little lost on the tiny field facing pitches that rose rather than came down from the pitcher and at the same time felt once again home on the diamond. The more we build, paint and shift things round the yard of 10 Arawa Pl. the more it is beginning to feel like home.
Inside we have been slowly working on sanding, priming, painting and installing finish wood work. The rather mundane task is far more exciting than normal. Most of the trim pieces are recovered and pre-used. Sanding away the graffiti and rough edges reveals the often beautiful wood which would have otherwise found its way into a landfill. Saving these distressed looking boards and fitting them into their new homes has become very satisfying on many levels. The house becomes more ‘finished,’ it is cleared of stock piled timber and we are saving timber from trips to the landfill.


Recycling is a nice word, but transforming is a better fit for what we have been doing. Whether is it is once tagged up trim becoming finish trim work, or a garden bed being harvested and top dressed to receive seedlings, life here is often about helping along transformations that will sometime later help out the inhabitants of the little house that could.

We recently took on the task of harvesting broad beans. In this process we were clearing garden space for seedlings which were ready to be planted. Dhal was being slow cooked on the solar cooker, but our Bhutanese meal would not be complete without a healthy portion of cheesy potatoes. Luckily some new season potatoes were ready to be harvested. Taking out potatoes freed up top soil which would go into the bean beds becoming seedling beds and the potato plant was becoming green mulch for other vegetable beds. Many activities that alone seemed very simple and each for its own cause, together became integral for the transformation of multiple spaces in the yard.

Just a few days later I found myself in another yard thats always changing; the softball diamond. It has been more than a year since I have even thought about tossing a ball around the yard let alone getting out in the field to shag fly balls and have crack at the bat. I had a tough time at bat getting hit a couple of times and walked another few times, but I had an amazing day getting sunburnt and hanging out with my new extended northland family. Not much had changed about the game going from baseball to softball, but the way I played the game had changed. I used to be uber competitive out on the diamond and it sort of was not much fun anymore. Saturday out in the field it was all about fun, I could not even tell you the score of any of the three games I took part in. A case study in the transformation of attitude when all that matters are the smiles and the laughs. I continue to look at sports in this new way. People need to lighten up and have a little more fun with their life. No need getting all upset about a few hours of a game. Next week will bring another game and a fresh beginning with more smiles to be shared.

And as we returned home from the play day it was very cool to see the transformations going on at Arawa Pl. The wind netting stretches the whole west side of fence. We fenced in the fruit forest which now houses the ducks who seem very happy with their new habitat. Garden beds have been cleaned of crops and replaced with seedlings . It’s the season of change as we move into the summer. However, back home in the states we are changing out of fall and thanksgiving to the snow winter.

We sat down for a little kiwi thanksgiving and talked about all the changes Dani and Nelson had seen take place during the past 12 months. I just thought a bit about their perspective. They had seen the little house that could in the beginning, I have seen the pictures, and it has come very far in 12 months. I have seen the little house that could transform in just a few short busy weeks. At dinner I said I was thankful for how such a dynamic time in my life; full of traveling and unknown destinations could be such tranquil times full of learning and new understandings. School will be in session here in Wanganui for a few more weeks, but for me school will be in session as long as I am amongst people and places like the little house that could, where time facilitates transformations and days are dynamic.

Kadinshe! The Twenty Something

Occupy Arawa Place

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time. There are lots of possibilities. But I believe that protest starts at home. This is our occupy movement.
There are lots of injustices in this world and its unsustainability is profound. Some people address these by making signs and marching. Others write checks to non-profits. Our protest looks like this.
And this.
And this.
And this.
And this.
And this.
And this.
And, of course, this.
I submit that anyone who wants to address social, economic and ecological inequality in the world should start by looking in the mirror. Gandhi is known for having urged us to be the change we wish to see in the world. The Buddha taught that the way to relieve suffering is to follow the eightfold path. I’ve enjoyed talking to a new occupyer at Arawa Place, Tom the intern, about Buddhism.
It reminds me that this is all about mindfulness. It is about living in mindfulness toward all life on Earth, toward those less fortunate than us, toward future generations, toward energy and toward materials. And at the same time, as another occupyer of Arawa Place reminds us…
you’ve got to have fun too.
We (I) have decided to name her Billy T. James, after the amazing New Zealand comedian, because she keeps me smiling and laughing.
And now that we are nearly done with the permaculture installation on our 700 square meters, we are looking at the abandoned plot out front that is full of weeds and rubbish (like out section was a year ago).
It may be time soon for a dozen fruit trees to start occupying that space. Wacha reckon?
Peace, Estwing

Some of you will be familiar with this headline:

Hopefully it was on every front page on the planet. As should this one:
From the latter:

NEW DELHI | Wed Nov 23, 2011 8:27am EST

(Reuters) – Global climate talks need to focus on the growing threat from extreme weather and shift away from political squabbles that hobble progress toward a tougher pact to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, the head of the U.N. climate panel said.

I think about the interface of science and economics and politics all the time. I think about the effects of extreme weather on our coastal property. And I’m working to protect it from such extremes. This willow tree indicates the direction and strength of the prevailing winds off the Tasman Sea.
We have added extra bracing in the house to protect against high winds, and we have built fences and planted trees as wind breaks for our gardens and fruit trees. But those outdoor efforts have not been enough for a week and a half of relentless westerlies with the worst predicted to come tomorrow. So Tom the Intern and I got to building an eco-thrifty windscreen.
First we pulled and straightened nails from salvaged wood. (Pulling nails is the first skill we teach interns. It cultivates patience, humility and mindfulness toward materials.)
Materials list:
De-nailed timber: free
Straightened nails: free
Wind netting: $5 at Hayward’s Auctions
The New Zealand Building Code is very strict on bracing, as it should be in such a windy country. I’ve adopted that idea of overbuilding for wind into this project by placing the timber in between the existing posts and the iron fence, and then securing them with heavy galvanized nails.
And we attached the wind netting to the uprights with 20 mm battens that “sandwich” the netting in between. This reduced point stress that would be caused by using staples.
And for $5 and a couple of hours work we have a strong wind screen that has made an immediate difference for our vegetable gardens and fruit trees.
A large part of eco-thrifty living and low budget / high performance permaculture is hard work and a willingness to learn new things constantly. It is also knowing when to buy something of top quality and when to re-use materials or substitute alternatives. There are no rules. Every area is a grey area. And, as we’ve seen from Wellington to Washington, we cannot count on governments to be proactive on climate change…or nearly anything else. Worldwide there has been a shift in attitude about climate change from one of mitigation to one of adaption. While we do our best on both fronts, it appears that the majority has spoken, and we need to double-batten the hatches.
Peace, Estwing

Permaculture and Education in 12 Months

We’ve just past our 12 month mark on this project. It has been both harder and more rewarding than we anticipated. We are proud of our accomplishments and intend to continue to share the success of this project in innovative ways for learners of all ages. While there are lots of individual education programmes that we run, the overall approach can be described as follows.


The Little House That Could (TLHTC) is a model for whole community sustainability education based on eco-renovation and permaculture food production. It engages school children from the earliest grades all the way through senior citizens with local, tangible, affordable and realistic approaches to ecological, economic and social sustainability. The programme emphasizes ecological literacy, thermodynamic literacy and financial literacy.

At the primary school level, teachers are trained in high quality cross-curricular approaches to topics such as solar energy, growing food, recycling and composting. At the intermediate and high school levels, teachers are encouraged to get students to “think globally and act locally” through systems thinking exercises and carefully planned field trips to TLHTC site. Adult education includes hands-on workshops on passive solar design, energy efficiency, solar cooking, permaculture design and low-input/high-productivity gardening. And TLHTC reaches older residents with less mobility through PowerPoint presentations at seniors clubs and rest homes. On a global scale, TLHTC maintains an educational blog, a Facebook page and Twitter account.

Every community on Earth has a run down house with a yard full of weeds. Therefore, every community could be a TLHTC community. Through online networking and sharing, we just might achieve a Little Planet That Could. This programme holds great promise due to it’s low costs and high quality and effectiveness.


Anniversary Workshop: Eco-Thrifty Permaculture on 700 Square Metres

In the last 12 months we have turned an abandoned house into an energy-efficient home, and a section full of weeds and rubbish into an abundant foodscape. This workshop provides vivid examples of applied permaculture design on a human scale with lots of practical advice. Topics include sector analysis and zoning, wind protection, sun traps, annual vegetable production, composting, food forests, incorporating poultry, passive solar design, creative reuse of materials and alternative cooking methods.

Tutor: Nelson Lebo has been an environmental educator for over 20 years. Between 2000 and 2008 he developed one of the most sustainable properties in North America. From 2008 he has conducted PhD research in permaculture education at the University of Waikato.

04-12-11
2 pm to 5 pm
10 Arawa Place, Castlecliff, Wanganui
$30. (Discount for Castlecliff residents.) We accept REBS.
Preregistration required before 01-12-11
Minimum 4 and maximum of 10.

Education is No Waste

I have been fortunate in my life to have been involved with many excellent sustainability initiatives from designing and building an Eco Dormitory with my students to Community Supported Agriculture. Most of my experience, however, has been with waste. You might call me a “waste case.” As a matter of fact, I can’t stand waste, and I have made it a mission to design systems that minimize or eliminate waste. Some of you may recall a volunteer effort I was involved with earlier this year where we diverted over 95% of the waste stream during a community event hosting over 1,500 people. That success prompted a friend to suggest we take that successful model to other events in our community. And so we are…

Zero Waste Events

educational waste management system

Organizing an event? Want to go Zero Waste? Here’s how:

Background: The 2011 YMCA Connecting Families Day in Whanganui was declared a ‘zero waste’ event. From past experience managing large events, the management team knew that proper sorting (to avoid cross-contamination of recovered resources) is of the utmost importance and that it is essential to station someone where the collection bins are clustered. This person acts as an on-site educator and as a quality control officer. The event was successful in diverting over 95% of materials from landfill (world-class results).

Operation: We partner with event organisers to bring waste management and community education together in a combined ‘learning zone’. People enter a discrete ‘Resource Recovery’ area and are guided by ultra-clear signage and a helpful waste educator.

Benefits: For you ~ you get to declare your event ‘Zero Waste’ – think of the kudos! Know you’re doing the right thing. Saves money in waste disposal.

For the community ~ a large number of people in a short time can experience first hand world-class waste management in action. We anticipate that through repetition of this type of management scheme at all large events in Whanganui, the commitment of our community to resource recovery will be made clear to all residents, and that the practices of recycling and composting will catch on even more.


What does it cost? We have acquired funding from the Positive Futures Trust to educate about Zero Waste at events. Commercial events contribute roughly the same amount again as the educational component. This amount is usually recouped in disposal costs saved.

Who we are: Experienced educators and community business activists keen to advance resource recovery. We are eager to share our decades of experience.

If you would like to talk about making yours a Zero Waste Event, please contact us.

Turning a Disability into an Asset

Traditional schooling never worked for the way my brain functions. I suspect I’m not alone.

I write this as my fourth and final tuition payment for my PhD is being processed by the University. Although my thesis is based on research I did two years ago, it has informed some awesome education initiatives we’ve been running in our local schools. The following is an article I’ve written for the Wanganui Chronicle sharing little of the success of those programmes.

Enhancing Student Learning Through Sustainability

My Year 3 teacher told my parents I would never read. It was the early seventies and many learning disabilities were yet to be recognized. I was not so interested on the ink on the page, but the space between the ink and the space between the school and my home, which, thankfully, was mostly lush and green and wild. While I struggled through school, I thrived outdoors. I learned more from turtles than from teachers.

Traditional schooling did nothing for me because it was all about objects and goals and marks when I was more interested the interconnectedness of things. Even courses in ecology were taught in a reductionist manner. In University I did my best to gravitate toward what was then called environmental studies, although even in those papers I spent most of my time sitting in lecture halls taking notes. It was not until I reluctantly entered a Masters programme that I first experienced a different way of teaching and learning. I never looked back, and now I am three quarters my way through a PhD, which examines student responses to learning ecology in ecological ways.

But holistic approaches to teaching and learning are not limited to the study of ecology. In fact, journals are full of research that indicates the value of education that is cross-curricular, experiential, relevant, student-centred, action-oriented and based on the needs of the community. I have been lucky enough to bring this type of education to schools in Wanganui thanks to funding from the District Council and administrative support from the Sustainable Whanganui Trust.

From a Year 1 classroom at Aranui School to every student at Wanganui Intermediate, and on to a Year 13 class at WHS, holistic, solution-oriented educational approaches have engaged students in high quality learning experiences. Each programme was designed to meet the needs expressed by individual teachers and to align with the New Zealand Curriculum. Feedback from teachers, students and principals has been excellent, and more programmes are underway.

An exciting programme that is being run for four rural schools during Term 4 is called “The Little House That Could.” This cross-curricular programme integrates science, maths, English and the arts while students learn about passive solar home design and energy efficiency. Student learning is supported by a curriculum guide provided to teachers and interactive web pages on The Eco-Thrfity Renovation blog. A culminating experience is being planned for the students to visit the actual “Little House That Could” in Castlecliff.

First and foremost, the programme aims to provide the highest quality learning experiences for students in numeracy, literacy, science and the arts based on current education research and the New Zealand Curriculum. After all, schools are for student learning. It is up to the education community to strive to provide the best learning experiences for children. With budget cuts coming from Wellington, the financial support from Council and other local charitable sources will be increasingly valuable for innovative approaches to student learning.

Sidebar: There will be a presentation on The Little House That Could as a model for sustainable living and for high quality teaching and learning at the Castlecliff School library on Tuesday the 29th of November at 6:30 pm. A koha is suggested to support high quality sustainability education in our community.