The strange world of blogging… and why I’m here

The portal to the blogoshpere

My portal to the blogosphere

I started writing this blog about a year and a half ago as a way to harvest my thoughts and research about sustainability and living a more sustainable life. I wanted to share my ideas and tell other people what I had found out. I wanted to show that we can make relatively small changes in our lives that can have a big impact, especially if we all work together. I also thought that it might be a good way to publicise the courses I teach and the crafts I make. I chose to blog with WordPress quite at random – I had seen someone else’s site, liked it and didn’t have much desire to spend too much time researching the options.

So, I chose a theme (quite an unusual one it turns out… don’t see many other bloggers using it… it’s called ‘Comet’ in case you are interested) and set to with the writing. I soon decided that I wanted to steer away from the very personal style of blogging… I didn’t want to share my inner feelings, whinge about the bus driver or get therapy from my blog readers. I wanted to share ideas and information about practical aspects of my life and making it more sustainable… and that’s the sort of blog I like to read too. That’s not to say that blogging doesn’t feel like therapy sometimes and it certainly helps me to get ideas straight in my head simply by writing them down and receiving feedback.

There have been some unexpected yields… I never expected to form friendships via my blog and to feel such strong connections to people all over the world, most of whom I will never meet. I never expected that my readers would engage so enthusiastically about some of my posts. Who’d have thought that a post on bartering would generate so much interest or one on how to deal with human remains? I also didn’t expect so many people who I know personally to read my blog and to feel that it was a good way to know what I’m up to. Perhaps the strangest thing is to go to events and have people exclaim “so you’re The Snail of Happiness” (my real name is Jan, by-the-way, for those of you who don’t know).

The Leibster award

The Leibster award

This is my 20th month of blogging and I’m celebrating it by participating in NaBloPoMo – a month of blogging every day. Here we are then, on day 11 and since this is a blog post about blogging it doesn’t feel too out of place to mention that I have received a blogging award from my fellow blogger The Belmont Rooster. They are funny old things, blogging awards… really a bit like a chain letter – you get an award and you get to pass it on to some other bloggers. So I have been nominated by Mr Rooster and I get to nominate some other folks. I don’t usually participate in this sort of thing, but I decided to make an exception this time; first because Mr Rooster asked me so nicely (thank you so much), second because it gives me an excuse to direct you, my readers, to a few blogs that am really enjoying at the moment and that you might enjoy too (they are my nominees below) and third because NaBloPoMo is making me completely blog-obsessed at the moment!

So, here are my nominations and recommendations for some good reading:

free food for rats is written by the lovely Anja, She describes delicious seasonal cooking as well as activities with her young family.

Permapeach: One person’s urban permaculture story documents Rachel’s permaculture adventures in an urban setting, with descriptions of community gardening, her allotment and her business, all based around permaculture ethics and principles.

westywrites may be my favourite blog right now as she describes her attempts to eliminate single-use plastics from her life.

gettin’ fresh is (and I quote) ‘not only about gardening but also about getting all that delicious produce to the table in a form that will tempt even the pickiest of eaters’.

and finally

Ecology is not a dirty word has some thought-provoking pieces and is written by another ecologist… always worth a read.

Hopefully these five bloggers will make their own recommendations and lead us all on to new discoveries. Meanwhile, for me that’s another blog post written in November and I’ve manage to accept my blogging award in a slightly unconventional way*.

-oOo-

* There was a set of questions to answer, most of which I have in the text of this article… you can find them here if you are interested.

Sowing the seeds of sustainability

The introductory permaculture course that I teach is called Sowing the seeds of sustainability – a great title that I cannot claim credit for. That honour goes to my friend Angie, who designed the course in the first place and has been kind enough to allow me, first, to help her teach it and then to run the course on my own. It’s a great course to teach and to attend (being a participant was how I originally found out about permaculture) and includes a trip to see an inspiring site. The actual visit depends on where the course is being taught, but over the years we’ve visited Station Road Permaculture, Brithdir Mawr, Lammas and Tir Penrhos, amongst others.

The next time I teach this course our visit will be to Angie’s place.It’s the first time I have taken a group there, but it will be really great for them to see some of the things an experienced permaculture teacher has done with her own home and land. And, as well as seeing the successes, it gives the opportunity to see what hasn’t worked, and how problems have been turned into solutions or designs have had to be tweaked.

This sort of sharing is an important part of learning, whatever the subject, but in permaculture the network that provides support, ideas and encouragement is particularly valued. The Permaculture Association in the UK organises a variety of events that allow people to connect (such as the recent convergence), but we tend to be technologically savvy too and so there are active groups on Facebook, for example.

One of the greatest ways to connect is during shared learning – and there are lots of courses available. However, almost all of them cost money and this makes them completely out of reach for many people. I was delighted, therefore, to hear from my friend Tracey that she is organising a permaculture course to draw people together from across Europe who would not otherwise be able to afford such a cultural exchange of ideas. In her own words:

What is my DREAM?

To raise enough money to offer TEN fully sponsored places on a full Permaculture Design Course to be held in Scotland in the summer of 2013. This would support people & communities in some of our neighbouring countries, who are facing huge financial challenges, namely Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, to share the knowledge wider within their local communities.

She writes:

People have asked why bring people from other countries to Scotland to do a Permaculture Course when I could offer to fund them in their place of residence.

The answer is… Because I want to create a celebration of cultures, bring people together, share the knowledge, celebrate the diversity, have a party.

Permaculture is all about valuing diversity and I know if we can reach the target then it will create an opportunity for a real diverse mix of people to be united on one course. I plan to make it a super duper course, as you can imagine!!

The approach she is taking is ‘crowd funding’ – where lots of people give a small (or large) amount to finance a project that they feel has value. Although bringing people together who are from different regions is costly, the benefits are likely to be huge, and she is asking that participants ‘pay it forward’ and go off and spread the word about permaculture and sustainability. Sounds like a worthwhile cause to support to me (and there are perks if you donate!). If you are interested in reading more about the project or giving a donation you can visit the Sharing a Living in a Gift Economy page ( please note this web address changed on 30 September). I love the idea of crowd funding, because you can make a real difference to a project with just a small donation.

Well, I’m due for a busy few weeks now, with courses to teach and to attend… who knows what exciting ideas will come out of them and what interesting people it will meet…

It’s good to talk

My recent blogging silence is the result of abundant face-to-face communication recently. I spent this last weekend at the British Permaculture Association Convergence. This event happens just once every two years, and is a rare opportunity to meet up with three hundred or so other like-minded folks.

In fact, it was the first time that I have attended the convergence, but it certainly won’t be the last, despite having to camp – an activity that I’m not terribly keen on. The whole meeting only lasts about 50 hours, but they manage to pack a great deal in: workshops, talks, walks, eating, drinking and dancing. There was even a cabaret and auction on Saturday night. I was spoilt for choice when it came to deciding which sessions to go to, but the ones I chose included two diploma presentations (candidates for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design must give a presentation to and receive feedback from a group of their peers), a presentation on designing a family garden, one on building sustainability into a business and one on grain and vegetable production. All were informative and genuinely enjoyable, but perhaps the best part of the weekend was meeting real people.

I am a very active member of a (closed) Facebook group for apprentices working towards the Diploma, and have become good friends with a great many people through this forum. However, I have never encountered most of them ‘in the flesh’ before… I didn’t even know what some of them looked like (like me, not everyone uses a photograph of themselves on Facebook). It was, therefore, a great joy to sit down with real people and share a real physical experience… including a muddy field, torrential rain, glorious sunshine, cake and cups of tea. The exchange of ideas via the internet is a valuable resource, but to consolidate this with a face-to-face meeting has added a whole extra dimension. Apart from anything else, we tend to keep comments relatively short when typing, but longer and more complex ideas can be expressed more easily when we are using speech. In addition, the lack of a time lag means that discussions flow more easily and there is the opportunity for more spontaneity.

So, what were the more concrete results of my weekend? First, the formation of a small group of scientists who have started putting together ideas about teaching aspects of science to support permaculture designers. Second, a new friend with whom I’m going to develop a bigger range of knitted permaculture teaching tools… with the intention of running a session about them in two years time at the next convergence. Third, the sale of my first set of knitted snails, along with another set sold for a ridiculous amount  in the auction to support the Permaculture Association. And lots of new friends to support and inspire me. Oh, and there was much hugging too!

There is a short film showing some of the activities over the weekend, but it only captures a little of the feeling of the weekend.

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