Communing with nature. Living off the land. Mind, body and soul cleansing. Community spirit and oneness. Consciousness expansion. Peace and love.
Deep down many of us want the ideals above but are either unable, unwilling or lack the courage to do those things that we know will be better for us and better for the planet.
This week saw my eagerly awaited trip to Lammas Eco-Village in South Wales, an expedition into the uncharted territory of off-grid living., a fact finding mission for our band of neophyte hippies to sequester information from the founders, Mr and Mrs Wimbush, in order for us to gain insights into their ten year journey from a barren greenfield plot of land, to a fully functional and self-sufficient settlement.
As a guy who has worked in and around IT projects for most of his life, I bring to the table my decades of structure, organisation and planning, so I took the responsibility to plan out our trip in advance, including timelines, itineraries and a large set of questions, the output of which would give us enough answers and direction to kick-start the build of our eco-retreat project in North Wales.
This is a work project not one of pleasure (although no doubt the journey and end result will no doubt be a joyous thing), and as such the trip was “allowed” under the strict “essential travel only” guidelines. Even still, I had a bad feeling before setting off that at some point over the four hour journey south, our collars would be felt at least once by the boys in blue, and in preparation for that eventuality I printed off all materials (Covid travel guidelines, agenda, emails etc) as a form of proof to plod that our trip was legitimate. As it turned out, the trip was “copper-free” and we arrived safely at Lammas, collars unfelt.
As we drove into the village, the first thing that struck us was the size. Each of the plots sized between six and seven acres and there were plenty of them (totalling seventy seven acres in all).
Our destination for the day however was Maes Melangell, the home of both the Wimbush family (pioneers of Lammas) and a newly-constructed and yet-to-be completed Lammas Earth Centre.
I had done some research on Lammas over the previous nights (reading the One Planet Life book as well as watching several YouTube videos) to provide at least some background knowledge on what the set up was like and what their journey had been like thus far.
But like a great many things in life, reading about something is one thing, experiencing it is markedly different, the whole day was testament to that.
We were greeted (after a few wrong turns) on the tracks by Hoppi (aka Mrs Wimbush), who welcomed the group warmly and invited us in to the main house for a socially distanced and hand-sanitised chat, so that we could get to know each other a little and our posse could set out its expectations for the day.
One thing that did strike me on the way in was how impressive their homestead looked, it was clear that the well-built dwelling house, the super-impressive Lammas Earth Centre, the animal barn and all of the cultivation areas had taken years to achieve and a ridiculous amount of dedication and hard graft (both physically and meta-physically).
With a hot cup of Bengal Spice Tea in hand, Hoppi walked us through their ambitious journey so far, all of us playing silent witness and in awe in what they had achieved to date and how they had done it. Their home was warm not only in temperature (from the amazing wood-burner and impressively insulated walls), but in feeling too, clearly the house was also wrapped in the warmth of love, of oneness with each other, with nature and the universe at large.
It became apparent early on that what we saw before us had taken an Herculean effort, not only in planning, designing, developing and constructing, but in terms of pressure and stress too. Here we had a small family (children were six and nine at the time) living in a small touring caravan on an empty landscape, with huge plans for off-grid living in their heads and one hell of a journey in front of them.
We shared our own plans for the eco-treat which were met warmly too, but it was becoming apparent (to me at least) that our embryonic project was very different than what was in front of us in terms of components, requirements and end-state.
The five of us involved thus far all have day commitments that we don’t foresee giving up any time soon, and at this point we don’t envision any of us living at the eco-retreat permanently. So it dawned on us that going down the One Planet Development route for our project was likely to be a dead end and overcomplicated from a planning and local authority permission perspective. Ours would be a different path than the one Lammas has taken, but it would have the same ethos are drive for sustainability.
After a warm exchange, Hoppi then took us on a tour of the site, explaining the exact functions of each building and zone, safe to say that we were all in total awe of what we were viewing.
Their plans were not only realised by their own hands, but by those of volunteers too. Through the use of an entire tribe of volunteers (over seventy in total) they were able to morph their barren landscape into something truly remarkable.
And it’s is the essence of that very approach which has left a spiritual and collective resonance around the place, almost like a mycelium layer of positivity and love, woven into the very fabric of every component on site, borne from the many hands of like-minded individuals.
After the staggeringly impressive show and tell, we had the opportunity to wander the site on our own, I took the time to fly my drone over the site to get a birds eye view whilst my comrades meandered through various muddy pathways on foot, the site as impressive from the air as on the ground.
We finished our trek as the door to the main house opened and for the first time we met Tao (Mr Wimbush) for the first time. Set and setting are always important and the lunch of Pumpkin and Parsnip Soup with home made bread and goats butter transformed a basic meal to the best lunch of all time, ever.
It came across well on the videos I had seen, but in person, Tao’s calming nature juxtaposed against Hoppi’s effervescence made it a perfect partnership, and I saw the deep, loving and spiritual connection they both had for each other on a couple of occasions. Beautiful.
We shared our vision and hope for the eco-retreat with Tao and based on the components we wanted to develop (very different to Lammas), Tao advised that the One Planet Development wasn’t the best way to go for our venture and he suggested an alternative approach to achieve the desired outcome, to which we all agreed.
I was truly blown away by Tao, to be surrounded by such an amazing feat of construction and sustainable cleverness was one thing, but his calming, warming, nurturing, inspiring and guiding words (and well as long hair and beard), felt to me like I was in the presence of a modern day Jesus (affirmed by “L” on the way back home who thought the same).
As the darkness drew in and thoughts turned to the arduous long journey home in poor driving conditions, with a genuine sadness and gratitude, we bade farewell to our hosts for the day and headed back north to on-grid living, resigned and melancholic in the knowledge that workers boots and corporate laptops would called upon within just a few hours of returning.
We had so many take-aways from our trip to Lammas, hints, tips and nudges in the right direction we simply would not have hot had we not visited. We agreed that when we returned home we would double-down on our efforts to get things moving, albeit in a slightly different direction to our initial plans.
After visiting Lammas, Hoppi and Tao, it’s now very clear to me that one can live in the fruitfully in the future like we lived in the past, it just takes courage to detach oneself from what is, quite frankly, a broken and totally meaningless capitalist society.
That courage is within us all, we just need to do, there is no try…
Living even more sustainably in Twenty-Twenty-One is one of my primary goals (beyond surviving the impact of Covid-19 of course).
I made significant in-roads into reducing my own, my families and my colleagues carbon footprint (via a Sustainability Cook Book I released to the masses in late December). Some of it by my own volition and some of it as a consequence of this year’s limitations on travel and consumerism.
In the book “How Bad Are Bananas” by Mike Berners-Lee, it proposes that we should all try to live a 5 tonnes lifestyle (less where possible), and after doing the official UN carbon footprint calculation, my families overall tonnage was twenty-four tonnes, 6 tonnes per head, not bad when you look at the average in say Australia is twenty tonnes per head.
So a few further tweaks to the family processes next year (switching to hybrid car, off-boarding one of the children to his own house and eating a plant/fish-based diet with minimal red meat) will help reduce it to four tonnes per head. Phase One complete, Phase Two being the long term plan of setting up an off-grid small holding.
My foray into techno-agriculture (Blade Runner 2049 larva farm on standby) was met with some success. Growing my own produce (albeit in micro-quantities) gave me some insights to cultivating edibles and The Infinity Garden is currently performing admirably…
I have been impressed with the quality of the growth, I had heard mixed reviews on the outputs, but I must say everything that has churned out thus far has been very “Cuprinol”.
With an addition of not one, but two grow-your-own mushroom kits and a book of the greatest and best Indian Street Food recipes from one of the best (if not the best), restaurants in Liverpool (Mowgli), I feel more armed with organic opportunities already for the coming year.
A friend of mine “I”, who is also part of the eco-retreat build starting soon, has also just acquired nine allotment plots and is keeping an eye out for me so that I can join the collective, putting to bed my vision for a vertical garden in the confined space behind my house.
I would not have thought twelve months ago that I would be that much more in-tune with nature and the universe in general, but it just goes to show that even in chaos, opportunities for positive change are there, one just needs to take a breath, focus and do…
The universe of late, it seems, has been listening to my silent screams of frustration, a frustration that most citizens of these lands are also going through true, but my inner torment may have called out louder than any voice.
Two weeks ago, I was knee-deep in my drive towards activism, consuming hitherto hidden truths relating to the pandemic, circumventing that bipartisan and collective narrative spun by ministers and selected scientists across all constituencies and component parts of the “united” kingdom, in search for answers.
Truth seekers, also known as conspiracy theorists to anyone not following the BBC and Sky News, sniff out alternative narratives, forcing like-minded individuals to go to ground, gathering in clandestine fora, coming together to gain both numbers and momentum.
It is a very difficult process, as not only are the authorities against them, but so is more than fifty percent of the population, and as such, fatigue can set in with the spectre of negativity and despair shrouding their every move.
Two weeks ago I felt tired, beleaguered from the fight, longing to get away from it all, longing to fast-forward six years to the time that I clock-off for the last time and head for the hills, literally, setting up a retreat in the rurals to live out my days off the land, self-sufficient and abdicating from the urban nation.
In a strange and timely twist of fate, I got a phone call the next day from my yoga instructor, asking me to design, develop and project manage the building of an “eco-retreat” in North Wales on a piece of land her family had inherited a couple of years back.
I had mentioned my retirement intentions to her just briefly in a passing conversation a few months earlier, not going into any detail at all, yet here we were, discussing the intent for her commune as if I’d written a best selling book on the subject and had implemented installs several times over.
Needless to say the three hour conversation we had flew by and by the end of it, my head still spinning, I agreed to start work on it the very next day.
The very next day was a work day, and with it yet another dollop of kismet came my way. I was given an action in work to develop a “sustainability cook-book” which looked to call out all of the things we buy, do and consume and what the impact of each has on the environment, in an effort to drive down the carbon footprint of the organisations 140,000 staff.
Clearly the oil and gas industry has a lot to do to convince folks in the outside world that it cares. They of course acknowledge that it has been part of the problem (for a long time) but that it is also primed to be part of the solution; that is to produce sustainable and clean energy for the planets inhabitants and ongoing industrial processes.
That starts with the staff. We can all choose to sign up to individual plans to reduce our own carbon footprints, we can choose to develop sustainable and clean solutions by considering the environmental impacts before any functional or non-functional requirement. We can all help to drive the shift away from fossil fuels to renewables and sustainable fuels, leaving the nasty stuff in the ground.
Clearly some individuals who work in the industry want to play their part in putting a stop to the managed decline of the planet, but only time will tell whether the bottom line of profit outweighs the need to be eco-friendly, but do something we must and if I can influence that and change the mindset of my colleagues, then that is what I intend to do on my last rotation before I leave the company.
We must not pay lip service to climate change. We have been accused recently of green-washing by Greta Thunberg and many others which may well be true to a certain extent, so we need to partner with such individuals and groups to deliver real change and sustainable energy for many generations to come.
So within forty eight hours, I had put together the basic plans to build an eco-retreat and a how-to guide to change the hearts and minds of a massive workforce.
They say that there is nothing like the taste of your own produce, and if the biltong produced recently had anything to go by, then those first lettuce and basil leaves would be equally as sweet.
I have been very impressed so far with the output from the Smart Garden. Incredibly easy (although expensive) to set up with zero maintenance, just plant the pods, fill the reservoir, turn it on, click back and whittle some whilst watching stuff grow.
Of the three plants planted, the lettuce was by far the fastest to sprout and bloom into edibles, closely followed by the basil. The tomato plant however has taken longer to get off the ground but the guide advised this in advance so not quite ready for my first BLT.
So today I took the lettuce and basil with some mozzarella cheese and salsa, and I must say it was great. Clearly the amount of produce that the smart garden generates isn’t going to allow one to go off-grid, but what it has done is given me an appetite (in more ways than one!) to install my vertical garden on the patio and come spring, start growing my own vegetables, herbs and plants.
Clearly pre-prepped soil pockets, water, light, heat and a total lack of bugs has allowed Crop 1.0 to flourish, I’m sure outside gardening will be a whole different ball-game but looking forward to the challenge.
Many lessons were learned during the processing of the first batch of biltong.
The box needed some upgrades. First was to close off all open holes, the mesh at the back of the unit was too wide and one gnat did manage to make its grubby way in to v1.0, so some cheap fly mesh was acquired and secured.
The small holes too on the side of the box (which house the dowels) were plugged by a handy box of washers I purchased decades ago that I’d never used (who would have thought a small box of plastic tap circles would have ended up on a caveman’s kiln years later).
Next up was the velcro for the door and top hatch, this was upgraded to magnetic strips (different polarisations) which both lock down everything, nothing is getting in, hermetically sealed (like a presidential Covid cavalcade…)
In terms of the fan, that worked perfectly in v1.0 so no changes were required there.
For heating however, I couldn’t find an old fashioned filament bulb so I needed to replace the LED one as it gave off no heat, and in a moment of clarity, my aged brain came up with the idea of a vivarium bulb. So after looking at various heat lamps (avoiding those bulbs in “Roxanne Red” – not the look you want in the spare bedroom!), I found a 50w ceramic bulb, which had the bonus of no light emission. Tried it out, burned my finger, so that worked!
Finally, I dug out an old dehumidifier my son used to use and plugged that in to take the moisture out of the room which would likely condensate and mold up the office.
In terms of the meat, I went to the local butchers this time. What a difference! As I cut the slabs, there was neither a vein nor a sinew in sight, marvelous!
I also changed the preparation mode too. I left the meat to chill for 12 hours in the fridge after applying the vinegar and dry rub, could not believe the amount of moisture that came out overnight.
So after wringing the last of the moisture out over the sink and via hand toweling, I applied one more layer of course salt and hooked them up (placing a metal tray in the bottom this time to prevent seepage on to the unit).
I think I will leave the meat longer this time, at least 7 days (SEVEN – one day for every Aston Villa goal last weekend against our arch nemesis), so that it becomes as dry as it can be to extend its lifespan. I’ll also use my new vacuum sealer straight away.
As for the smell, well there’s not too much I can do about that except to keep the office door shut and open the windows when I’m not in there, it is getting chilly outside now.
The whole of next batch will come with us to our off-grid cottage in Cornwall week after next, lock-down permitting. I’m not confident any will be returning with us!
Well I’m starting to get quite excited about eating my first crop of BLT (Basil, Lettuce and Tomato).
It’s been just four days and already the seeds are starting to germinate in my new smart garden (well the Basil and Lettuce is, not sure what is going on with the Toms yet)…
I’m surprised I’ve not had a knock on the door from the plod yet, as the garden sits on the windowsill of the office, it does look like I’m growing my own weed through a hydroponics system from the pavement outside.
The list below contains the food I regularly eat as part of my paleo lifestyle, applying the 80/20 rule (80% of the food and drink is strict paleo, 20% is the wiggle room needed so the brain or stomach doesn’t crave so much, e.g. root crops, cordials and vegan chocolate etc).
I have also indicated whether I can grow, forage or hunt my own food and each item has, in project management parlance, a RAG status (Red = Cannot; Amber = Difficult; Green = Can) and next to it, if it is amber or green, what action I need to take to acquire it (VG = Vertical Garden; SG = Smart Garden; F = Foraging; H = Hunting).
Although I have only just started to grow basil, lettuce and tomatoes in my smart garden, the list below is my typical weekly shopping list, over time I hope to replace all of the amber items with green (red items being either luxury or things which will fall off the list over time), and self-produce all such green items rather than purchasing them from the local greengrocers, butchers shops and Bargain Booze store…
It’s also fair to say that with my limited space, I won’t be able to produce anywhere near enough food to disconnect myself from the food-grid just yet, but the skills and lessons learned over the coming years will set a true foundation for off-grid living which takes place in a mere 2462 days from now…
1. Bananas 🔴
2. Blueberries (F) 🟠
3. Strawberries (VG/SG/F) 🟢
4. Raspberries (VG/F) 🟢
5. Apples (F) 🟠
6. Kiwi Fruits 🔴
7. Ginger (VG) 🟢
1. Sweet potatoes (VG) 🟢
2. Carrots (VG) 🟢
3. Potatoes (VG) 🟢
4. Onions (VG) 🟢
5. Broccoli (VG) 🟢
6. Cauliflower (VG) 🟢
7. Mushrooms (F) 🟠
8. Tomatoes (VG/SG) 🟢
9. Sweet Peppers (VG/SG) 🟢
10. Leeks (VG) 🟢
11. Parsnips (VG) 🟢
12. Pak Choi (VG/SG) 🟢
13. Cabbage (VG) 🟢
14. Celery (VG) 🟢
15. Chilli Peppers (VG/SG) 🟢
16. Peas (VG/SG) 🟢
17. Garlic (VG/SG) 🟢
18. Ginger (VG/SG) 🟢
19. Lemongrass (VG) 🟢
20. Basil (VG/SG) 🟢
21. Apple Mint (VG/SG/F) 🟢
22. Rosemary (VG/SG) 🟢
23. Coriander (VG/SG) 🟢
24. Chives (VG/SG) 🟢
25. Parsley (VG/SG) 🟢
26. Black Pepper (VG/SG) 🟢
27. Vegetable Stock (VG/SG) 🟢
28. Coconut Milk 🔴
1. Eggs (H) 🟠
2. Salmon (H) 🟠
3. Asparagus (VG) 🟢
4. Spinach (VG/SG) 🟢
5. Lettuce (VG/SG) 🟢
6. Tomatoes (VG/SG) 🟢
7. Spring Onions (VG/SG) 🟢
8. Cucumbers (VG) 🟢
9. Tuna 🔴
1. Biltong (H) 🟠
2. Nuts and seeds 🔴
3. Vegetable crisps (VG/SG) 🟢
4. Vegan Chocolate 🔴
5. Blackcurrant Cordial (F) 🟠
6. Elderberry Cordial (F) 🟠
7. Herbal Tea (VG/SG/F) 🟢
8. Red Wine 🔴
9. Coffee 🔴
1. Venison (H) 🟠
2. Salmon (H) 🟠
3. Mackerel (H) 🟠
4. Tuna 🔴
5. Vegetables (VG/SG/F) 🟢
6. Salad (VG/SG/F) 🟢
Maybe I need to start watching the 70’s sitcom The Good Life to get some hints and tips from Richard Bryers and Felicity Kendall (mmmm Felicity Kendall…)
Back when I had a BBC TV licence (Covid coverage was the death knell for me), I used to watch the programme Click, which as an IT nerd gave me some insights as to what gizmos and gadgets were making their way onto the scene.
One such gadget I recalled from last year was the concept of Smart Gardens, hi-tech hydroponic/LED systems which allowed one to grow small fruits, mini vegetables and herbs (with a “h”) from the comfort of their living room, kitchen or in my case, office.
Following on from our foraging foray a fortnight who, and following the wife’s recent membership to a “UK preppers” group on The Book of Face, we wholeheartedly concurred that from next Spring, we would start to grow our own fruits, vegetables and herbs (with a “h”) from our small patio garden.
The only downside of living where we do has always been garden space. We have never complained too much though as there are plenty of green spaces nearby and we can see both the sea and the beach from our daughters bedroom.
So whilst I draw up plans and schematics for our proposed vertical garden (raised beds for beets, onions, potatoes and carrots as well as wall planters for fruits and herbs), my mind switched back to the here and now, so after a trawl through Amazon I found the not-so-cheap Smart Garden 9, as advertised on the BeeB.
After humming and harring for a couple of days, I connivingly waited for the wife to drop into the hypnagogic zone and received her royal seal of approval to proceed with the purchase, albeit from the realm of slumber.
I woke up this morning quite excited for the delivery man, and as promised, the service level agreement was not breached and the goods arrived on time.
And so to the unboxing…
Rather amusing Chinese proverb on the inside box, who could argue with that logic, smart bloke that Confucius fella…
Outer cover off revealed the LED lighting system and the “free” pods, Basil, Lettuce, Tomatoes (vegan BLT)…
Who knew that the island of Hiiumaa off the coast of Estonia is one of the cleanest places on Earth. Who knew that the island of Hiiumaa even existed…
BLT in all of its plasticised glory. Shame that they couldn’t come in more biodegradable wrappings, everything else in the box was cardboard and 100% recyclable…
The main unit, which contains the water reservoir and nine empty micro-pods, ripe for the planting…
Did I say there was an instruction manual to begin with, as a bloke this was of course superfluous (until I got stuck)…
The main unit set up, LED attached to arms and mains adapter primed…
Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink (unless you are a plant). Four litres added to the reservoir and one of each of the BLT potted. I decided to do one of each at first rather than overload the unit, taking lessons from the first batch (much in the same way as I did for the biltong recently).
There she grows!
A cautionary note and lesson number one learned, fill the reservoir at the point of habituation not as I did on the dining room table on the floor beneath, I do hope I didn’t flood the pods with all of the swishing around.
Looking forward to seeing how the first batch grows, with the Mighty Cthulhu and the Ever Bubbly Bubblies of Shub Niggurath watching over them, I’m sure things will be just fine with a bit of cultist chanting.
One of my favourite films of all time is Into The Wild, an existential journey of a man who turns away from a promising career in law and instead chooses a life less ordinary by today’s norms.
The inspiring yet ultimately tragic tale of Christopher McCandless (portrayed expertly by the then young Emile Hirsh) strikes a chord for those trapped in a similar situation, faced with a life changing choice.
The film resonates on several levels, of how important nature and relationships are and how unimportant material possessions and conformity really are.
Most of us choose our own paths, although sadly some have paths chosen for them, victims of society or oppressors. Seldom it seems do we make life-changing alterations to our paths, instead opting for safety and reduced risk.
JFK said it best when he exclaimed (in relation to going to the moon):
“We do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too”.
Last weekend, I met up with my old buddy “M” for a walk in the Clwydian Hills in North Wales, the first time we had been in each other’s extended company since our “Not the New Years Eve Party” on the 3rd of January this year.
We set off early (separate cars) and reached our destination as the early morning field mists began to dissipate as the sun rose higher in the sky.
Opting for the forest route, we bimbled and talked for almost three hours about Life, the Universe and Everything, taking in the flora, fauna and vistas as we wove in and out of copses and along the long and winding path.
Our paths have not been too dissimilar to date, both work in IT, married with children, houses, cars, pensions etc.
We both have a passion for consciousness theory and spent most of our morning discussing time; does it really exist, does the arrow of time only ever go one direction, is our life path predetermined or do we have free will to influence it, are there infinite paths which all play out in hidden dimensions and it is our choices that steer us to the one we perceive as reality?
We talked about our shared goals too, to retire as soon as we were able and lead that life less ordinary, and I shared my own vision of what that may look like; a small holding off-grid, away from everything that has polluted humanity to the extent that we see today every time we turn on the news.
One thing was for sure, time flies and before we knew it we were back at the cars and heading home.
As I drove home, a song came on my playlist from a prog rock band from the UK called Haken. “M” and I had seen them live a few years back (back when live music was still played – I miss it so much), after which we chatted to the lead singer a while, blood nice chap.
Decanting my hiking gear from the car and sitting down with my mid-morning brew, I chanced to read over the lyrics of the song, and how wonderful and poignant they are:
“This life is a dream A gift we receive To live and to love We forge The Path
Our nightmare in birth Our struggle for worth In vain we carry on Our mission to become
Adapt to this world It’s a chance we must take We’ll sing our song We’ll play our hand”
We are all on different paths, our own journeys through time and space, yet sometimes our paths converge with those of others. We should cherish the moments where we can walk along side others, for those moments, those fleeting moments (like my morning trek with “M”) interlink kindred spirits and it is the metaphysical relationships with fellow man that makes us what we are, human…