#spareChange: Happy As A Pig In Shit.

In Blog, Interviewsby Rashers TierneyLeave a Comment

Mark Boyle and some creature that is most definitely not a pig.

Mark Boyle and some creature that is most definitely not a pig.

Pull on a pair of crusty old boots and get all willy wonka with us as we chat to Thomas Smith about edible landscapes, homemade toasters and much more from the world of permaculture.

Thomas is involved in The Happy Pig. It’s a potential free space being set up by a bunch of heads with  a 3-acre small holding way out Wesht. With promises of free booze our ears piqued up around their crowdfunding campaign. They indulged our ignorance and let us probe them about the world of permaculture.

Can you explain to us urbanites what the hell permaculture is? It’s something to do with frost and icebergs right?

Believe it or not it has nothing to do with frost, icebergs or footballers’ dodgy haircuts from the 1980s! Permaculture is a method of ecological design and living which prides itself on observing and learning from natural processes, and then trying to create human settlements modelled along these lines. For example, it encourages things like diverse, polycultural planting of crops, rather than the monocultures which we’re used to being surrounded by; and focuses on how different elements of a living system interact, rather than reducing things to individual components.

There’s a bit of an old back-to-the-land buzz off what you are doing. It might suit you lot, but what about the rest of us in the cities? What changes do you think we can make in our urban wastelands?

It’s funny to think it’s even possible to have a back-to-the-land buzz when for most of our species’ history we never left it! Perhaps we should think of it as going-home-from-the-weekend-city-break. But, while we’re developing a community based in a quite a wild, rural environment, permaculture is very practical and nowadays engages a lot with urban environments. Edible landscaping is just one approach, replacing often bland ornamental along roads and in parks with free-for-all fruit and nut trees, edible shrubs etc. Seattle recently made the news worldwide for its plans for a seven acre permaculture-designed edible food forest right in the heart of the city. Part of the aim of The Happy Pig is to make sure we aren’t simply retreating into a rural idyll, and allow people to learn about these kind of movements and the need for greater systemic change. Then perhaps they can take radical ideas back to their lives, whether that be urban, rural or whatever.

How does it link into this closing the loop idea that you have in your explanation text?

Closing the loop is about looking critically at the linear logic which our society works with, using masses of resources from far off places to create masses of waste which we send to other far off places.

Instead we’d like the Happy Pig and this place in general to be abundant in beautiful foods, drinks and other useful things which come from the land under our feet. Some of the things we’re involved in indicate what’s possible in this respect, from growing Soapwort for producing free soap and New Zealand Flax for producing ropes and ties, to willow for baskets and keeping bees for honey and wax. Breaking out of the mental constraints of capitalism’s drudgery and freeing our imagination is as important as the practical skills involved. In some ways the latter is the easy bit.

Tell us more about this free booze idea? We’re well into that.

I bottled up some wild gorse flower wine yesterday (gorse is that amazing ‘weed’ with yellow flowers that smell of coconut) which cost a tiny fraction of the price of heavily-taxed booze in the shops and tastes infinitely better. Some of our other creations have been apple crumble wine (apple and cinnamon) from apples that were a gift, and even parsnip wine! Better yet, we plan to produce oodles of cider which requires nothing but apples and wild airborne yeasts.

So with The Happy Pig we plan to make this sort of simple knowledge accessible, as well as all the other skills one might want to learn in closing the loop – wild food foraging, natural building, radical economics, vegetable growing etc. People can find out more at Crowdfunder.

One of your lot, Mark, went on a fairly loo-la two year mission to live without money. How the hell did that go?

He seems to have survived it fairly intact anyway, even indicating that in that period he was fitter, happier and stronger than he’d ever been. Mark picked up a caravan on freecycle, skip-dived in the city for some of his food, grew or foraged the rest on the farm he’d set his caravan on as part of a work exchange, and wiped his arse with the Daily Mail. His book can be read online and if the Happy Pig reaches its crowdfunding target, I’m sure you’ll be able to ask him how it went at a course, if he isn’t slurring too much from home-brew cider!

Okay, so he survived without cash – but what about Facebook? In this off-the-grid version of society you lot seem to be cooking up, how are we going to find out what our ex-girlfriends, next door neighbours cat is up to? (I think this is in jest, but I would be interested in hearing something about communications technology and permaculture as a response…)

Personally,  the more connected I’ve felt with people on a face-to-face level, the less I feel the need to engage with computers and mediated connection. The world I’d like to live in is less frenetic and bombarded with online communications. It’s a controversial topic, as technology is somewhat sacred these days.While many people interested in eco-living would like to keep their laptops and servers running and thus might disagree with me, I find it slightly difficult to imagine a world where human-to-human coercion and slave labour in China isn’t an issue but we can still peacefully and cooperatively somehow mine and manufacture all the materials necessary to build and maintain an enormous server.  I know I certainly wouldn’t be able to do much. A guy in the UK recently tried to build the most basic Argos toaster and a year of his life and £8,000 later, he had something that barely functioned.

In that video lad there, there’s room for woofers and all sorts of nonsense, but truth be told – when’s the bloody rave on?

You’d better get brewing and we’ll see what happens!

They’ve 20 days left and could do with your support. Slot some coinage in that piggy bank.

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