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permaculture

Update from Home

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Update from Home

All of a sudden it’s been two months since I came back to Finland, so an update is in order. It’s customary to write a thoughtful and insightful post looking back on all the events since Day 1 a year and a half ago. I’m going to stray from that tradition though. Partly because I’m neither thoughtful nor insightful… but mainly because looking ahead has always felt more interesting. The future is more important than the past.

I will say though, that even after a couple months of spending time with family and friends, plus making some new friends, I don’t miss the road much yet. Not even when faced with the dark and cold Finnish winter. So my decision to take a break was correct. (By the way, I haven’t been taking photographs either, except for the last two at the end of the post from an overnight trip on Black Friday. The others are random unpublished photos.)

First trip with the bike back in Feb 2017.

Instead I’ve continued to read up on permaculture and related topics under the umbrella of sustainable life. My interest has only increased. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Our current system of growing food is entirely unsustainable. We use 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce 1 calorie of food. The CO2 of this fuel of course ends up in the atmosphere, but it only gets worse from there. Tilling the fields for monoculture causes all kinds of problems. The nutrient-transferring fungal networks are destroyed, microbial life is killed, the soil’s capacity for holding rainwater is greatly reduced, nutrients disappear increasing the need for chemical fertilisers, crops are more susceptible to pathogens, biodiversity plummets, and the list goes on.

And for all this destructive and resource hungry tilling we pay a very significant price in climate change. When the soil’s organic material is lost, some of the carbon ends up in the ocean, and the rest in the air. Soil is supposed to be a carbon sink, and yet what we’re doing to it has caused it to release about 80 billion tons of carbon. To top it all off, this loss of organic material can eventually lead to desertification.

Not a great system overall.

The spiderweb, on the other hand, works great.

All of this really needs to change. There’s a lot more to sustainable life than food production, but since it’s such a crucial first step, that’s the one that seems best to start with. I would love to learn and practice self-sufficiency with natural sustainable methods, and that is indeed the plan. As soon as I can find some suitable land.

That last detail has been the obstacle so far, especially with severe budget constraints. So I figured I’d ask you, dear readers, for tips! Tell me where I can find a cheap old cabin, farmhouse or other piece of land with at least some forest around. For sale, rent or other(?). Probably between 1-5 hectares, off grid and remote is fine. So far I’ve been searching in Finland only, but might consider interesting enough alternatives elsewhere.

Where would your dream location be for this kind of plan?

I’m against Black Friday consumption, but a few candles are okay.
Good old Finnish kota.

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Now what?

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Now what?

At the end of August I was in a random little village in the Lika district in Middle Croatia. I meant to just pass through, but it was raining and my sleeping bag was already wet from the previous night's massive thunderstorm, so I checked Warmshowers for help. There happened to be a host just around the corner.

That moment - checking my phone while sheltering from the rain outside a closed post office - seems to have become quite a fork in my journey.

The massive cave in the same village I later got a tour of.

Within minutes I met with a young girl called Lana and stayed at her home with her wonderfully warm and welcoming family. She had her own little hut and garden, and taught me about this concept called permaculture. Some people have summed it up by calling it Applied Ecology. The words come from “permanent agriculture”. As in agriculture that doesn’t destroy topsoil at an alarming rate, nor require constant watering, fertilising, fossil fuels and pesticides. Working with nature instead of fighting against it.

But it goes beyond growing food, encompassing rainwater collecting, renewable energy sources, natural building materials, even approaching a zero waste lifestyle and off-grid living, among other things. In essence, it’s an answer to the elephant in the room question: Yes, climate change is coming, but what to do about it?

There’s a storm in the horizon. A lot of them, in fact.

I think about that question a lot. I’ve even written (and soon deleted) long blog rants about the issue. Sometimes I’m almost depressed about the world’s obsession with consumption and destruction. In too many places I’ve witnessed the effects of mass tourism and the way it ravages the original underlying beauty it seeks. Yet no single drop of water feels responsible for the flood. Even my own rationale for what I do has been a naive and vague hope that my photos might somehow inspire people to protect the nature they portray. That’s probably not true, however. Honestly, the real consequence is likely to be merely an increase in wanderlust and yet more tourism.

So as I learned about permaculture, everything just clicked. My blurry idea of maybe some day retiring by a lake and a forest in a little hut, perhaps growing some vegetables, suddenly turned into a clear picture and a plan. Something I could start creating now instead of decades later. It all seemed to fall in place. It may not be THE answer to the world’s problems, but it feels like the answer for me. I did a lot of research on the topic while making my way south through Croatia.

The lights of Split from a campsite with a view.
Miumiu was orphaned and rescued from the road as a kitten.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina I had a chance to visit another permaculture farm, run by a guy called Bambi. He, too, was on Warmshowers, happily hosting any bicycle tourer who happened to be passing through. I stayed for a week, sometimes alone with his cute kitten, sometimes with up to ten other bike travellers camping in the yard. When I wasn’t doing research, I was sharing stories of life on the saddle. Most other visitors were in the earlier stages of their journeys, happy and excited. I was the only one who didn’t feel like continuing.

15 people from all over Europe, with a couple from South America and Asia came and went. I watched as each of them rode away after a night or two. Usually it’s me who's pedalling away and disappearing behind a corner. The briefness of these meetings is much easier to deal with when I’m the one on the bike heading towards new experiences. This time I felt a pang of sadness while watching people leave.

Ivan, Eric, Bambi and Amir sitting down for breakfast.
One day a lot of people arrived suddenly. There was a sixth tent but they left before the sun rose enough for the photo.

Still, the thought of joining them never occurred. It was at Bambi's farm where I published my last blog post. Only a couple days later coming to a realisation that there was no need to wait around a few weeks to see if my feelings would change. I booked a ticket home.

I carry a notebook where I jot down ideas and thoughts about permaculture. On its cover is conveniently printed “Stop dreaming, start doing”.

That’s the principle to follow. I need a break from the bike trip, and now I know exactly what to do during that break.

The road didn’t take me where I thought it would.

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