….It is beautiful here in the valley today. After two weeks of rain, and rain, and rain, finally we have clear skies. Tonight it will be cold. Yesterday, in the rain, we held a working bee at Tes, Shaked & Mel’s camp. A baby will join them in a couple of months. Through downpours we scraped the old paint off their bus in order to repaint and make it waterproof. We cobbed the newly built rocket oven into their kitchen teepee, cut slabs to build bridges over the parts of the path to the shared ablution block that are already knee deep with water and mud and made ferments to add to their food stores. Today at our house, in the sunshine, the momentum continues. Tomatoes and their metre deep in the ground stakes, are pulled out. Wheelbarrows full of weeds and dead plants and carbon crops are taken to the compost heaps. Brad plants seedling after seedling after seedling. My three year old brings me an arrangement of zinnias and shows me where the seeds are.
Yesterday, today, tomorrow, we work, for the Institute, for ourselves, for each other. As our funding deadline draws nearer, our work is tinged with sadness, stress, at moments despair. We plant crops and know that we may never harvest the seed, that we may never eat the produce, but we cannot stop and see what might be, for all that leaves us is cold, malnourished, bored and without hope.
We love it here, all of us, and the work we do is more important than most people will ever know, until it is too late. We save seeds, and we sell them so we can afford to save more seeds, but that is just a tiny aspect and a narrow view. We preserve biodiversity, integral to the survival of ecosystems. We build nutrient density and resilience into our crops and our livestock. It is not something that happens overnight. Three years of hard work have gone in so far, of research and application, of trial and error, of wins and losses. Of bed preparation and double digging, double digging, double digging. Even if we can move and plant seed elsewhere, it is such a huge set-back to start all over again. And who knows if we will be able to start again? Where will we go? How will we get there? Kay is in her 60s, and I know she has the energy to keep going here at Kotare until she drops, but I don’t know if she can pack it all up and start afresh elsewhere.
And we are more than seeds and plant material. We have our eyes wide open to the state of nature and the part the human race plays in it. Nature is not something separate from us, we are one. Nature is not something that we can fence off in zoos and national parks and say: “it’s ok, we’re preserving nature over here, we can go ahead and pillage the rest of the world of it’s resources”. “Resources”: a word we use to separate the natural world, the ecosystems, from human desire and greed. We put fish in a marine park, and they are ‘nature’. We leave them in the rest of the ocean, and they are ‘resources’. It is not that simple. We want to preserve nature and ecosystems because we are as much a part of them as the glaciers and the kiwis and the orangutans and the totaras and the grasshoppers. We want to preserve nature because we want to preserve US. When we rape our earth of it’s minerals, ore, oil, trees, water, fish, meat, SOIL & CARBON, we aren’t just depleting resources: we are committing suicide.
We know that peak oil has long passed. We know that drawing near is the time when the energy invested in producing oil will exceed the energy returned. We know renewable energy sources will never live up to the expectations of the world’s current energy usage, will not even come close. We know we need to find every way possible to consume less and generate more. Here at the Institute, we strive to do that, every day and in every way. We are by no means perfect, because like the gardens our regenerative process here is only three years old, and there is always more work to be done than there are willing and capable hands to do it.
The majority of Institute staff work for minimum wage. Some work for short periods for nothing, and the rest are somewhere in between, mixing voluntary hours with earning enough currency to survive in the wider world. Cars still need petrol and WoFs, mail still needs postage stamps. My family earns minimum wage for 30 hours per week and volunteers many more. It is enough to live a simple and happy life. An existence where the reward is contributing to a cause that is worthy of our commitment and living in a way we love on land that we love with people that we love. We want for nothing except the future security of our land. I married my husband here. My son took his first steps here, in Tes and Shaked’s bus. My daughter leaps out of bed every morning and begs her father to take her out to work in the garden. We have a community here who are like family to us. We eat together daily, we grieve together, celebrate together, support and heal and nourish each other through the good times and the bad. Like family we have moments of sheer joy where we love the pants off everyone, and periods of utmost irritation and annoyance where we can’t bear to be around one another. We love this place and all there is to it. We can’t bear the thought of leaving. That thought is a throbbing undercurrent to our days now. We could have as little as three months left. Surely someone will understand, will see what we see, enough to give us the funding to stay here and keep the Institute running. Surely. We’re not yet ready to give up hope.