Category Archives: Eco Thrifty Baby

Doing Chores in my PJs

I’m told children benefit from routine in their lives. A farm provides that in spades. Patterns of each day and each season repeat with a regular rhythm.

Manu is such a keen helper he does not bother getting dressed before morning chores. He is the official taster for the chook food.

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He also enjoys tasting hammers.

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But seriously, he loves helping in anyway possible, even if it is just carrying something.

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Or feeding the dog…apple slices. (Dog not enthused.)

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Children learn through play, and Manu treats work on the farm as play. For example, hanging a gate is just a different way of saying, “Let’s climb!”

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If he only had more horsepower in that thing we could get some serious work done.

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Peace, Estwing

Farm Girl

Yesterday morning was spent doing two very mundane jobs: fencing and digging drains. Verti – almost four – spent the morning working with me and Wies, our current intern. Manu – just over one – spent the morning on my back and so he does not feature in any pictures below.

Verti established a good work-life balance by helping out at times but wandering off to pet the goats or play on a pile of branches at others. About three hours passed without a single complaint from her. (Manu got a little fussy after about two hours.)

For her, helping on the farm is normal. For us, it’s learning. As long as she is safe and not tormenting animals, it does not matter what she is doing. It’s all better than sitting in front of a screen.

Peace, Estwing

Permaculture Kids: Integrate – Don’t Segregate

There is always a lot to do when practicing regenerative agriculture on a worn out horse property. But instead of the children getting in the way of getting work done, we try as much as possible to integrate them into the day-to-day workings on the farm, as well as with special events.

Verti, who is nearly 4, helps feed the birds every afternoon. She also loves digging drains, planting in the garden and picking fruit. Manu is still too young to help, but I can put him in a backpack and get a good three hours worth of work done. (I do occasionally forget he’s on my back and accidentally bump his head into a branch or low doorway.)

Another one of Verti’s jobs is to welcome visitors onto the farm and give a little tour. Here she is with 17 teenage boys from Wanganui Collegiate School this week.

We believe integrating the children with our work on the farm is all a part of instilling in them what is normal for a family: composting, cutting firewood, growing veges, raising hens, eating cockerels, and soon milking goats.

When we look towards an uncertain future of environmental decline and when many current occupations will not even exist, it’s really time to think, “What are the characteristics and skills we need to develop in our young people and how do we help nurture their development?”

The short answer is getting them outdoors as much as possible and away from screens of all types. That’s a start anyway.

 

Peace, Estwing

Driftwood Dream Playground

Our driftwood playground is finally complete…for now.

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The latest addition is a child-friendly ‘bridge/ladder’ over a roofing iron fence from the pigpen to the playground. How appropriate!

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Talk about a design challenge: making an overpass that is kid-friendly but pig-proof.

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All of the playground equipment is made from New Zealand native hardwood. The swing set is held together with galvanised threaded rod.

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It is a good example of chainsaw joinery.

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The wood is rock hard. I dulled the chainsaw blade in 15 minutes. The swing  will easily last for decades.

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And fun was had by all!

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Peace, Estwing

A Muddy Birthday

We celebrated our son Suleiman’s – aka Manu – birthday yesterday. The theme of the party was “Let’s make a mess.” (Manu is good at that.) The featured activity was the mud pit – aka farm pond partially completed. It’s amazing how much joy can be provided by clay and water. Fun was had by all.

No Manu, it’s your 1st, not your 21st!

 

Peace, Estwing

A Letter to My Children

 

Editor’s Note:This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle. Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 8.22.36 pm

Dear Verti and Manu,

Unlike Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, I do not have 45 billions dollars to give away, but your mum and I agree with Mark and Priscilla that “we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today.”

“We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.”

I’d like to give the two of you my perspective on what the Zuckerbergs have set as their two priorities to improve the prospects for your generation: advancing human potential and promoting equality.

Advancing human potential probably has a million different interpretations, and I’m sure the Zuckerbergs have different ideas than your mum and me. From what I have learned, the most important things we can do to promote human potential are these:

  • talk to and read to our children as much as possible;
  • limit all screen time as much as possible (down to zero is ideal) before age three;
  • create opportunities for creative, independent play for children;
  • get kids outdoors as much as possible, as long as they wear hats and sunscreen;
  • cultivate attitudes of helping, sharing; and gratitude in children.

I know that the two of you are decades away from becoming parents yourselves, but I need to get this stuff down while it’s fresh in my mind.

What the world needs most is creative problem-solvers. If we wire that in from an early age it contributes to maximizing human potential in individuals and societies. That is the best win-win we can plan for.

From what I understand, people are made of equal measures nature and nurture. It’s the same with garlic. Growing great garlic starts with superior genetics, but that’s only half the game. An exceptional crop requires ample high quality compost, heavy mulch, good soil, regular watering, and pulling at just the right time.

It is the same with growing great children, only with more compost and less mulch.

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Promoting equality is one of the major challenges of our time. Pope Francis himself has put it alongside climate change as the most pressing issue facing humanity. Sadly, both of these issues appear to suffer from an over abundance of personal opinion and an under abundance of research when politicians get involved. Our own community is exceptionally vulnerable to both, yet many of the decisions made by the local government make both issues worse. As economic inequality widens, we all suffer the consequences of increased social problems, crime, and violence alongside the negative effects of a depressed local economy. It’s literally a lose-lose for rich and poor alike, yet the trend locally is making things worse.

It’s sad but true, but what can we do to fight the tide and promote equality? The first and most important thing is to get those people who do not vote to VOTE in every election, especially local elections. Politicians on every level do not speak to ‘the people’, they speak to ‘the voters’. There is a big difference when you look at economic inequality.

Promoting equality also involves advocating for a capital gains tax and removing GST on fresh fruit and vege on the national level. Locally, it means lobbying councilors to reverse the regressive rates system that makes wealth inequality worse in our community while depressing local economic activity. Wouldn’t you think the Chamber of Commerce would be the first group beating this drum to the door of the council chambers?

Yeah, me to, but this is where personal opinion gets in the way of robust research. Most people believe only what they want to believe and what fits their pre-existing perspective on the world. (Research, by the way, shows this quite clearly.) I reckon all we ‘little people’ can do is form robust arguments based on the best available data and findings, and set out to influence hearts and minds.

Everyone is capable of change, and it is possible to change the grossly unequal world we occupy. But it will only happen one person, one voter, and one politician at a time.

If you choose – Verti and Manu – to fight the tide of inequality yourselves, remember to take time out to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets, to smell the flowers, to catch a wave, to dance to Neil Diamond, and to get plenty of sleep. You’ll be in it for the long haul.

Much love from Papa

Creating Magical Moments for Children without Creating Rubbish

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

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Whether one attends church every week, once a year or not at all, Christmas is to a large extent a children’s holiday. It’s all about Christmas morning and “the look on a child’s face” when unwrapping gifts wrapped in ribbons and bows. Many of us have memories of this from both the sides – as youngsters and parents. It’s wonderful.

But the moment is fleeting, and many of the toys end up discarded or broken within a matter of weeks if not days. Ironically, a small plastic toy that brings a brief moment of joy could subsequently spend the rest of eternity in a landfill. Talk about heaven and hell!

In this season of pausing to reflect, lets pause and reflect on this extraordinary moment in history we occupy. Something that we buy on a whim at the dollar shop can persist within a buried pile of rubbish for hundreds of generations to come. Compare this to the first Maori and European residents of these islands. Few artifacts persist from each group compared to what landfill archeologists will be finding from us for centuries to come.

Of course there is nothing wrong with the desire to make a child happy, but I would argue that Christmas – or any holiday involving gift giving – is less about the ‘things’ and more about the ‘moments.’ The shiny plastic things that go “beep, bop, bang” are just one pathway to the moments we treasure. There are other pathways.

If the end goal is magical moments, then the design challenge is this: How do we create magical moments for our children without also creating a pile of rubbish?

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Like any good design, this one should be holistic, adaptive and cooperative. It should also dare to think outside of the square. For example, when thinking of ‘things’ to give a child, one consideration is not a ‘thing’ at all, but rather the gift of time. Does that sound cliché?

Whether it’s cliché or not, mountains of research show that what most children want is more time with their parents. Along the same lines, there are two mountains of research showing that reading to children under the age of three is about the best thing parents can ever do. On top of that, it’s free. How’s that for eco-thrifty?

Other gifts-of-time we can give children include a special day at the beach, a trip to the movies, a boat ride, a treasure hunt, a mystery adventure, or a Neil Diamond greatest hits dance party.

Fair enough, but at the end of the day most parents still want to give their kids ‘stuff.’ But even from this perspective we can design much more sustainable solutions than the current one-way trip to landfill.

In the field of materials cycling, the global leaders are chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough. The pair has been working on what they call cradle-to-cradle design for two decades. Put simply, cradle-to-cradle sets the stage for infinite materials recycling with no such thing as landfill. In fact, the motto of this design methodology is “waste equals food” – in other words, the remnants or leftovers of one process are used to feed another process. This is accomplished by creating two materials metabolisms: biological and industrial.

The biological metabolism can be explained in three words: let it rot. Nature has been doing it for millions of years. Any materials that come from living organisms can be returned to the soil to promote the growth of more living organisms.

An industrial metabolism involves all materials that do not come directly from plants and animals, which include metals, minerals, plastics and other synthetic materials. The challenge is to make the recovery and remanufacture processes easy and efficient to ensure 100% recycling so that a broken plastic toy would readily be turned into a new plastic toy – over and over. From this perspective, gift giving could be guilt-free forevermore.

But until that day, another strategy for low-impact holiday giving is to choose durable gifts that will last. Our household does lots of wooden toys, and my parents still have 40+ year-old wooden toys that they get out when the grandchildren visit. Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 9.16.59 am

For Verti’s birthday in August I used driftwood to build a fairy village for indoor play and a swing set outside. The totara, matai and rimu timbers are incredibly durable and will last for decades. If I’m still alive when it falls apart, I will remove the treaded rod for reuse or recycling (industrial metabolism) and let the ancient timbers decompose naturally (biological metabolism).

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Spoiler alert: Verti’s holiday gift from me this year is a strawberry patch outside our front door. Although I bought plastic planters, they will be protected from direct sunlight by a wooden surround made from weathered native timbers. The completed project will be attractive, durable, productive, and provide magical – and tasty – moments for years to come.

 

Peace, Estwing