Thursday, November 27, 2008

Guest blog from a wandering minstrel: On the three occasions we’ve been hosts to volunteers, we’ve asked them to write a guest blog. We also asked David to produce a permaculture design proposal for a section of our land (a blog on that soon) and therefore he hadn’t the time to write before he left, so here’s his epistolary blog …

Hello there Stuart and Gabrielle!
I've finally found the time to write to you both and reflect on my days at your smallholding. After a hectic 3 weeks, I've nearly reached the end of my travels in France. I spent a nice extra week in Brittany hanging out with friends and drinking lots of cider and playing guitar on market days. Then I spent 3 days in Paris walking the streets and drinking coffee. I've just arrived in Avignon after 2 fun weeks in the south Alps with friends working a small property building stone foundations and construction willow contraptions. It snowed the last day, which was nice. Tomorrow I go to Bordeaux to celebrate more with good friends from home before starting my 5 month 'permaculture' adventure through Spain.

My blog entry
I arrived on Stuart’s and Gabrielle’s (henceforth S&G) smallholding in late October with a whole 6 months of travel through France and Spain awaiting me. The purpose of my travels was to visit various permaculture projects/farms to compliment and further enrich my 2 previous years of study in Kinsale Ireland, where one can do a full-time course in Permaculture and Practical Sustainability, which I thoroughly recommend! I wanted to hit the ground running and get stuck in to the smallholding life straight away. I was delighted to find that S&G's place offered everything I was looking for.

It wasn't long after arriving that I realised I had chosen a great place to spend the week; a series of funny coincidences gladdened my heart and the previous arrangement of sleeping outside in a yurt was upgraded to first class and I was given my own room in the house (an unusual but very comfy converted barn). The deal was I could stay in the house if my personality didn't prove corrosive to both S&G's ears ... it didn't thankfully.
I was given a very warm welcome and I guess I could start by mentioning how very well fed and looked after I was every day. S&G are fantastic and generous hosts. Imagine giving an Irishman free access to a fridge full of beer and every night and indeed sometimes by day a bottle or two of wine would be opened. We ate delicious foods, including lovely meat reared on the farm, rabbit, sheep; pork and chicken, and veg and salads from the garden. A warm fire would magically light itself in the morning before I arose from bed at the early hour of 10am ... and stay lit all day to welcome us in after a days work at which time I could sit back and delve into their extensive library and permaculture DVD collection.

It wasn't all sitting back and relaxing though! Thankfully I was in the mood for some decent hard work and it proved for the most part rewarding and relevant to what I wanted to learn about. I was gladly very much on the receiving end of information at their smallholding but was delighted I could pass on some of my own knowledge and experience (photo shows me doing a soil test). I wanted to learn about keeping animals and got first hand experience of doing so. Much appreciation to S&G for teaching me what they knew and being so willing to answer all my questions. Alas, I never got to see the pigs but they tasted very good. The chickens are hilarious and it made me realise they are a most useful bird on the farm and one I would definitely want in my own place. I got a good grounding in keeping chickens, what food and housing they require and the workload they involve. I got to help construct a chicken house (see right) and even got a taste of the slaughtering process, also with a rabbit, which was a new and worthwhile experience.

The cider day was great fun. I couldn't help thinking how great it would be to finish the day with a nice bottle of cider and indeed we were invited into Paul’s and Christiane’s house for precisely that. It impressed me to see the connections S&G have made with the local community, trading one skill for another and helping each other when required. Gabrielle dresses up as a true Bretonne and plays her violin with a local traditional group, Stuart ploughs a local farmer’s land and exchanged a year’s wood for an artist friend to paint a mural at their house. And fair play to them for learning the lingo!
My time at the farm gave me good idea of the time and dedication involved in living this kind of life, it's a big commitment but a rewarding one. You need a strong back and a love of work. I enjoyed S&G's approach. They've thrown themselves in the deep end and are very willing to make mistakes and learn from them, and share their experiences of their site, which they are clearly passionate about. We had some interesting discussions each night about permaculture, it's philosophy and the meaning of life ... (photo show me inoculating stumps in their woodland with conifer cauliflower mycelium.

I'm just the third volunteer to find my way to this quaint little part of Brittany. there'll be plenty of work to do in the future so I hope others are lucky enough to hook up with Stuart and Gabrielle for a week and get involved in their smallholding. Many thanks for a great week and best of luck in the future. I'd love to make it back someday. Especially to try that cider we helped make!
Till next time
Best wishes