Category Archives: environmental education

Nature Play- Our weekly breath of fresh air

Hi.

I’m back.

After weeks, no months, wait… years?!? of not writing I am finally exiting out of baby-landia and getting back in the game. All of a sudden I have two actual kids, no more babies, and am finding that I actually have time to think about life. Time to contribute to something beyond the changing of bums and filling of mouths and “uppies mama”. So I thought I’d start by writing again.

I’ll start in with an easy post. What have I been doing for the past few years? You know aside from the whole diapering and feeding and holding. Which, believe me, is enough. Way more than enough. Enough to fill many a day and night.

But, on the days when I did have some spare energy, I’ve been a part of a mini movement in Whanganui. A movement of committed and sometimes slightly looney parents who are revitalizing the lost art of playing outside. Yep. Just playing. Outside. It is awesome.

 

We started as a few of us just getting together, then we became a facebook group, and currently we meet up weekly as a play group. It is the best part of my week, hands down, every week.

There is a lot that goes into the philosophy behind Forest Kindergartens and Forest Schools, and I am sure I will go into it in more detail in later posts. It has become a bit of a passion for me now. But put most simply, I love our nature play days because they allow me, no force me, to stop and just be with my kids in nature.

We play. We run. We splash. It is really that simple.

I don’t spend as much time outside with my kids as I want to. And the time we do spend is often while I am doing a chore, or my mind is occupied thinking about what chores I could be doing. Nature play is a scheduled interruption from that cycle. It is a forced pause in our lives to spend time as our “Zone Five” selves.

No matter the weather, or adventure, or misadventure (i.e. massive steep hill climb with toddlers in tow only to find out you’re headed the wrong way) the results are always positive. Nature play = happy mama = happy kids.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 8.12.10 pm

The Vegetarian Butcher

“Now that you’ve cleaned a chicken’s bum, I think it’s time to write your first blog post,” he says.

“Makes sense,” I say.

The Vegetarian Butcher

In the span of two days, I assisted in skinning a sheep; watched its butchering; plucked, gutted, and prepped a chicken. Farm life, am I right? That’s a lot of flesh and blood for a vegetarian celebrating five meat-free years and a year of being vegan-ish.

dsc_2630

I’d wanted to be a vegetarian since a very young age, in hopes of being more like 8-year-old environmental activist Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons. I didn’t take the plunge though, until I was 17 and decided I was done supporting factory farms. I did so somewhat begrudgingly because I had (have) a soft spot for meatloaf and chicken tenders and still claim that I’d cave for either, so long as it was smothered in ketchup. I’ve stayed strong, though, and even moved towards a vegan lifestyle last December, excited about the added challenge to cook without the use of animal products. My college running coach wasn’t so thrilled—through university, I was averaging 100km, three weightlifting sessions, and assorted cross training every week—but I felt incredible! I was eating cleanly, feeling fueled, and morally sound.

16244617_10158138229810230_1299421955_o

Here, as is typical of a farm, the animals are workers. Where Kaitiaki differs, however, is in the tasks expected of the animals. In permaculture, the long-term health of the land must be considered in every decision made. By housing the majority of our poultry in tractors that are shifted daily to new grass, the ducks and chickens are providing a service without degrading the land. In a stationary poultry run, the birds are compacting the soil, stripping away grass, digging ruts, and accumulating poo that’s fertilizing nothing. Eventually there’s no fresh grass or insects for the birds to eat and the land underneath is unsuitable for future cultivation.

dsc_2631There is the added task of moving the tractors each morning, but this tiny pec/delt/shoulder workout is hardly a nuisance when considering the range of good done by our feathered farmhands. While chickens and ducks are for meat and eggs on any other farm, those are merely added bonuses here—rather than demanding eggs from the birds, we graciously accept them as gifts.

So when misfortunes fall upon our animals (i.e. broken limbs or little dogs), it’s time to put my tofu-centric views aside and utilize Holmgren’s third, fifth, sixth, and twelfth permaculture design principle: obtain a yield; use and value renewable resources and services; produce no waste; creatively use and respond to change. In permaculture, we are quick to learn that looking at the big picture and the long term can surmount what seems desirable (or undesirable) in the moment. In this instance, an animal lost is a meal gained. I’ve always said that I’d rather eat meat than see it thrown in the trash; I might soon have to eat my words.

-Liz (Illinois, USA)

What I have Learned About (Permanent) Agriculture

When I arrived to New Zealand a month ago, I had no idea how it would be to work on a permaculture farm. I hardly had any idea of what permaculture was about. I grew up at a hobby farm with 190ha and have recently been working on a duck farm with 500ha, so I thought that the Lebo family’s 5ha would be ‘piece of cake’. But I was wrong!

16122348_10211495302365581_2118633362_o

My home country, Denmark is, like New Zealand a proud farm country. We produce a lot of grains and potatoes on our very flat landscape. I expected to see something similar here. But arriving in New Zealand has taught me that not only climate, but also landscape decides what the farmers grow and produce on their land. New Zealand has the most beautiful hilled landscape, where it’s often impossible to plow a field. Instead they produce a lot of wool and dairy from sheep and cows that easily graze on the hillsides.
The Lebo family has been taking advantage of the landscape of their property as well. Not only for their own benefit but also to benefit nature and the environment.

16129846_10211495301045548_431072028_o

Their farm is 99% organic, where vegetables are grown in the flat parts of the property, while cows, sheep and goats are fed with grass from the hillsides. They have rehabilitated the biology of the soil of a compacted horse field, where they today grow lots of garlic, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and different kinds of fruit trees. They have started rehabilitation of wetland on their property, and planted poplars to keep the soil from sliding down the hill. All of this has already proven worthwhile and will continue to pay off in the future, to them and to the environment, which I found out is exactly what permaculture is about. Permaculture (Permanent agriculture) is about working with nature instead of fighting against it.

Since the day I came to the farm, we have been working hard on both small and bigger projects. I have been fighting thorny thistles and gorse with loppers and a spade. I have been fencing in the hills, which I find ten times harder than fencing in flat Denmark. I have planted, transplanted and watered hundreds of trees and vegetables. I have been weeding, feeding and sweating in the burning sun and I got to know the world’s best tool; the stirrup hoe.

16129468_10211495316645938_556347326_o

At a permaculture farm you have a small scale but big variation in plants and animals, which gives you different kinds of chores than on a traditional farm, which is often specialised in a curtain plant or animal. I knew that farming was hard work, but at this farm we do everything by hand and tools. No machines. That is hard work – and fun work. It gives me skills that I have never thought, I would get, and I am looking forward to learning more the next few months.

-Rikke (from Randers, Denmark)

Permaculture Internship: July-September, 2015

We have been blessed with amazing interns over the last five years, and now we are looking for another. Dates are roughly the end of July through September.

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 10.34.40 AM

We are midway through developing a large (5 hectare) permaculture property and renovating an 80 year-old home.

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 10.31.28 AM

Our interns have cherished their time with us and still keep in touch.

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 10.28.11 AMWe believe in hard work…

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 10.30.13 AM

…and fun.

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 10.28.20 AM

Our work has been featured in national and international magazines and websites.

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 10.33.32 AM

  We seek a highly-motivated individual who is keen to learn eco-design, holistic land management, organic agriculture and horticulture, green building, community organising, farm skills, and more.

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 10.32.36 AM  Contact us on theecoschool  –  at — gmail  dot   com

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 10.35.55 AM

Dr. Nelson Lebo is a professional eco-design eductor. He holds a diploma in permaculture and is a recognized permaculture design educator.

Screen shot 2015-03-31 at 10.23.51 AM

Permaculture Internship

We are offering an internship for the next two months for a very motivated individual interested in learning aspects of permaculture design and land management, organic horticulture and agriculture, animal husbandry, and eco-renovation. The internship is free with accommodation and meals included, but we expect a lot of work in return: some stimulating and some mundane. All serious inquiries should be directed to me. Feel free to pass this along to interested parties. 

Over the last four years we have developed a premier example of a suburban permaculture property. We are now in the process of doing the same on a 5 hectare farm. Below are some examples of projects we have going.

Here is a hugelkultur swale we have been building.

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.19.14 AM Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.19.37 AM

Here is a small commercial garlic crop.

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.20.44 AM

Hanging to dry. Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.22.27 AM

 This is an example of alley cropping with chooks. Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.23.20 AM

Here we are tractoring chooks through a young food forest.

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.23.39 AM

This little chook is raising these 5 orphaned ducklings.

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.24.29 AM

Minor breed sheep and water harvesting.

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.24.17 AM

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.23.07 AM

We are renovating the kitchen.

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.22.10 AM

And always adding insulation.

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.20.19 AM

Peace, Estwing

A Free Range Childhood, Part 2: Cultivating Action

Richard Louv is a journalist and author who recently spoke in our River City. He advocates for children spending more time in “the woods” as North Americans call wild places with lots of trees.

I did not hear him speak in W(h)anganui, but went to a talk he presented at Dartmouth College (USA) eight or nine years ago. From what I remember, he was full of facts, figures, and statistics as any good journalist would be. From what I gather he shared the same type of information during his talk here, although presumably updated.

It is not difficult to document the loss of wild places near residential housing. Nor is it difficult to document the time children spend in front of screens instead of playing in “the woods.”

But like most journos I have known over the last two decades – Chronicle staff excepted, of course – he only tells part of the story. To illustrate this point, I have to begin with a question: For what purpose should we be striving to “reconnect kids and nature”? In other words, why bother?

Here are a few answers I have heard:

To decrease behaviour problems

To get kids “out of the house”

To help develop observation skills

To encourage “respect for nature”

To ingrain an “environmental ethic”

Screen shot 2014-12-19 at 12.08.33 PM

In my opinion, the primary purpose of providing abundant opportunities for children to spend time in nature would be as part of a greater scheme to encourage the development of ecological literacy. Simply “reconnecting kids with nature” is not sufficient, and here is where Louv misses the rest of the story.

We know that spending time in nature is insufficient to develop ecological stewards or Kaitiaki of the planet because the generations of human beings who caused the environmental degradation we now face spent considerably more time in the natural world than the current generation of children. We may have fond memories, but they do not necessarily translate into sustainable behaviours.

Interestingly, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests the current generation of young adults – sometimes called Millennials or Generation Y – embrace much more sustainable lifestyles than Baby Boomers in spite of having spent less time in “the woods.” What is also interesting in that despite their eco-friendly lifestyles, most Millennials do not self-identify as “environmentalists.” Good on them.

Screen shot 2014-12-19 at 12.08.24 PM

What could possibly explain this apparent contradiction in Louv’s “Nature Deficit” argument? The answer is simple: Recycling. Here is what I mean from a big picture perspective.

In places like New Zealand, most people who engage in sustainable behaviours do so out of a certain level of ecological literacy, which consists of environmental knowledge, an attitude of care, and the ability to act.

Don’t laugh, taking action is a real skill and goes right to the heart of the apparent difference between Boomers and Millennials. Many Millennials had educational experiences in primary school that included learning how to take action on environmental issues while most Boomers did not. The classic example is recycling.

 Screen shot 2014-12-19 at 12.11.12 PM

If you are over 50 or under 30, ask yourself this question: Was there a recycle bin in your classroom?

Learning to take action is equally important to learning to care, but neither is part of what an assessment-driven education system demands: learning da facts! As parents and teachers who want to do our best to raise sensitive children who engage positively with their environment and community, it is essential that we do not take Louv’s prescription as comprehensive but rather as part of a much larger and ongoing learning process. If we miss the big picture, then nature walks run the risk of tokenism, and we will fail to prepare this generation of children for what is predicted to be an increasingly volatile world with greater pressure on limited natural resources.

To be continued…

Peace, Estwing

Screen shot 2014-12-19 at 12.08.14 PM

Sidebar:

Verti’s Free-Range, Local, Organic Garlic

2015 Permaculture Principles Calendar

Available today at the River Traders Market

World Famous in Whanganui

After nearly four years of determination, coordination, and cooperation, it appears I have become “World Famous in Whanganui.”

First of all, thanks to the thoughtful local resident who nominated me for the Pride of NZ Award. Does this make me a real Kiwi now? It is nice to be recognized for consistent and determined work to make our community healthier and more resilient to economic and environmental volatility. Screen shot 2014-07-25 at 6.59.51 AM

Second, thanks to all of the organizations, businesses and individuals with whom we have partnered over the years. Nearly every community project that my wife Dani and I have embarked upon in Whanganui has been a joint effort with others.

For example, our latest partnership was with the Whanganui Learning Centre and Castlecliff School. The project was an innovative whanau-focused learning initiative all about growing healthy veges in the challenging conditions of a seaside suburb (“with a holiday lifestyle” as the sign says). The project will be featured in a documentary film about school gardens in New Zealand.

Materials for the school gardens were kindly donated by Wanganui Garden Centre and Loaders Landscape Supplies. Both of these local businesses have also supported previous initiatives, such as the community garden on our front lawn. Thank you.

Probably our most successful partnership to date is Project HEAT (Home Energy Awareness Training). Project HEAT was initiated in 2013, and is roughly modeled on the Eco Design Advisor programme offered by seven councils around the country. After failing to gain support from the Wanganui District Council, we turned to the community itself.

 Screen shot 2014-07-25 at 7.05.43 AM

Lots of time and effort went into building a base of nearly 20 local entities that shared our kaupapa: everyone deserves to live in a warm, dry, healthy home.

In a cooperative manner, each entity gave what it could give. In some cases that meant donating the use of a venue for a presentation and in others it meant photocopying information sheets or loaning a data projector. In a few cases it meant donating funds to cover the costs associated with running a community outreach education programme. Overall, Project HEAT operated on less than a shoestring. Well over half of the time that I spent on the programme was in volunteer hours.

Just as important as the material contributions made by our partners was the moral support they provided. In other words, one does not feel like a “voice in the wilderness” when surrounded by others who believe in and support you.

In the sustainability and resilience movements it is our obligation to support all those around us. Together is how we move our waka toward a common goal. After council chose not to support Project HEAT, it would have died a quiet death were it not for a casual conversation with a friend and his show of support.

This year Project HEAT has been back on a lesser scale due to a number of factors. However, our partners deserve recognition for their help and support now that we are easing into the backside of winter.

Yes, there are lots of awesome organizations and businesses in Whanganui contributing to sustainability, and they receive plenty of exposure through our excellent positive-news-based local print media. But today I get to thank our 2014 Project Heat partners because without them there would have been no free series of presentations, workshops, drop-in information sessions, and home energy audits.

Big thanks to Tree Life NZ, Sustainable Engineering, Black Pine Architects, Richard Collins, Progress Castlecliff, the Josephite Retreat Centre, and other anonymous donors.

Also to be recognized are the Chronicle, Midweek and River City Press for helping publicize the 2014 programme.

In the weeks and months to come, our family will be going through some changes that will affect our ability to engage with the Whanganui community as much as we have in the past. Hopefully I will be able to keep up with this column.

 

Peace Estwing