My kind of permaculture - Cassandra Lishman
- Living in satisfactory housing conditions is one of the most important aspects of people's lives.
- 99.6% of people in UK have flushing toilets in their house. (OECD)
In reality, if compared to ‘the average’ UK resident, our living conditions are pretty poor. We don’t have a flushing toilet. We don’t have hot running water. We don’t have constant electricity. When the hydro gets low, we have to resort to solar, which doesn't power everything so priorities have to be decided (do we power the freezer or the electric heater in our kids room?). And for the first 3 years we lived here, we had to carry water from a far away tap for all domestic purposes. I confess I do have a moan sometimes.
I am a very optimistic person, but the grind of it all, the relentless outdoor life, can take it’s toll. And with the added pressure of needing to prove a ‘land based livelihood’, living this way can threaten to implode even the most resilient psyche. I am not given to depression, and I thankfully have a strong physique. But really, sometimes it’s almost too much...
And when I am foolish enough to share my difficulties, some people, particularly family, have told me that they think the way we live is ‘just a lifestyle choice’. That there are easier ways of achieving the same aim. We could of course have a 9-5 job with an environmental organisation, in a town, with a regular income. We could have a mortgage, lots of hot running water, and no ‘financial worries’. Not to mention we wouldn't have the physical hardship, the daily routine of feeding animals, land maintenance, chopping wood, making fires, just to have heat or put bread on the table. And particularly at our age!
And why, with a first class degree, am I just a willow weaver? Why couldn't I get a well paid job? Rise from the muddy field, and realise my potential? Valid questions, indeed. I try to self reflect. Is it really ‘just a lifestyle’?
The answer is, actually, no. I do not feel I have any choice. I feel a real need to live in this way, an
urgent pull towards living close to the land. Living in direct contact with the elements. Totally responsible for growing as much food as possible, digging my hands in the earth. For living in a place I have pure water to drink, unfiltered, straight from the spring. And for taking responsibility to create my own warmth - the reason Prometheus risked all - to make fire. This contact with the elements brings out a new job description in me! I feel I am living as a sort of ‘modern day peasant’.
I also like to describe my approach to my life in terms of ‘closed-loop’ economics. I grow the food, process it, buy in as little as possible, eat it, create waste on site via compost loos, which in turn feeds the land. The cycle repeats. I strive to attain as close to a closed loop cycle in as many areas of my life as possible, particularly for basic needs.
This, in a nutshell, is my form of permaculture. It’s not dogmatic or prescriptive. It simply uses the basic tenets of permaculture - people care, earth care, fair shares - to form the basis for my decision making. You could say it’s bordering on religious, the way closed-loop thinking compels me to examine the details of my life and my decisions, and ultimately directs me. But I am not a Luddite. Even though I am a self confessed modern day peasant, a computer, the internet & ‘twitface’ are tools I openly use to promote what I do. I also confess we do own a car, though I am striving to find a workable alternative out here, with 3 kids (one special needs) in rural West Wales.
So to follow on from this - I am looking at ways I can continue to improve my closed loop micro economy. My newest project is developing the Lammas `Eco-pods. We get so many visitors here each year, and to date they only have limited choice of places to stay, including tents or local B&B’s. But being a businesswoman as well as a peasant - I could see that if a little visitors’ eco- building were created, people would love to rent it when they come to stay. Not only this, but we can serve them home grown breakfasts, and they can taste ‘the good life’ first hand. Here follows a simple analysis of the energy exchange for the pods;
- large amounts of time spent on social media promoting the project (powered by water & tea)
- people supporting the build, getting hands on
- a happy crowd when the eco-pods are made real
- income for us when they are built
- potential income from willow & felt workshops
- potential income from sales of produce
- convenient for other residents as visitors can come & stay comfortably on site
- happy visitors who can stay in a comfortable eco-structure
- education for guests on the comfort and beauty of an eco-building
- potentially this could help ‘mainstream’ the Lammas name through air B&B
- in turn this will hopefully contribute to the mainstreaming of the whole one planet movement
To me, this is a perfect example of closed loop finance. It has definite leaks in terms of environmental life cycles (how do they travel here?), but mostly I am happy with this as a good model for a land based business. And as it also has positive impacts on other strands of my land based livelihood - my workshops - it has great potential for a low input income for my family. And let’s face it - I need something that is low input! Having not even started to build our house, and certainly we aren't getting any younger, we have extremely limited spare capacity. So this is a good step towards building our own sustainable income stream, and contributing to the costs of building our own house.
It’s not that I want a lot of money, in actuality I have had to pull myself up from my poverty thinking. But just because I am drawn inexorably to living like this doesn't mean I need to be dirt poor. In the UK the peasant stopped being the norm a very long time ago.
I would argue - bring on the modern day equivalent!
Cassandra Lishman is understandably not admitting to being American and lives with her family at Fferm Plas Helyg in the Lammas Ecovillage in West Wales www.plas-helyg.co.uk
You can read more of her writing here www.greenlivingmuse.com and you can check out the Eco-pods here: