Whoa. Whoa. I just need a few minutes/days/weeks to process my last WWOOF experience.
I spent the last week or so with a bloke called Hamish who lives in Fryers Forest, Fryerstown (15 minutes from the thriving alternative township of Castlemaine), where he manages the forest and teaches Permaculture. He laughed off the suggestion that it was a "hippy commune" - but if that's not a hippy commune mate, I don't know what is. I guess the fact that most of the residents have jobs and cars makes them somewhat different from a 70's-style "drop out, tune in, turn on" hippy - but for a suburban gal like me it was still something of a mind-f*ck to live in a community that has been carefully designed and built by its residents in preparation for future environmental collapse; where all the houses are connected either physically (with windows and doors between individual homes) or by a radio intercom system; where 95% of food is grown, foraged or hunted; where nothing new is purchased if at all possible; where cupboards are scarily bare except for a few recycled jars of organic, locally sourced spices.
Pathetically, I think the empty pantry was the most unsettling part for my food-obsessed self. I can deal with composting toilets, piss-weak solar-powered-showers, and sleeping open to the elements, but an empty pantry?! Panic stations!
One of the most confronting moments for me was when I was on my own in the house one evening, and realised I would have to prepare my own dinner from what was available in the garden and the very sparse cupboard. After the initial hyperventilating fit, I built up the fire, par-boiled some diced potatoes and fried them up with some Cavolo Nero and silverbeet leaves, and sprinkled over some grated cheese and an array of fresh herbs. And you know what? It was fine. In fact, it was better than fine, it was good.
A little lesson for me there in "what you think you need vs. what you actually need".
It was interesting to monitor my emotional response over the course of my week "outside the system"; from initially a little shell-shocked, to intrigued and wanting to absorb as much information as possible, to feeling hopeful for a greener, powered-down, local-community-based future, to eventually feeling a bit overwhelmed and tired of feeling bad about my current lifestyle and life choices. I guess it takes a particular strength of character to reject the casually abundant (and ridiculously wasteful) lifestyle on offer to the average affluent-Western-middle-class-white-dude.
It was eye-opening to say the least, and I have a huge amount of respect for people like Hamish who have the self-discipline and vision to live like that. Then again, it's a pretty exclusive movement whose more hardcore members have a certain piousness that's a little hard to stomach. I came away thinking I want to make positive changes in my life in order to live in a more sustainable way, but removing myself from the system altogether? Not for me, not right now.
So what changes can I realistically make? Well, I can read up on possible future scenarios. I can buy less and make sure what I do buy is made to last. I can check where my food comes from and source local produce. I can be active in my local community. I can grow stuff (I can grow stuff!). Gardening is magic, I am fast learning.
But first, I need a garden. My banana passionfruit seedlings need to have somewhere to grow and spread and bear fruit. Project next: home (of some description), with some land (of some description), with a local community (of some description).
Oh, and paid work (of some description).