It’s Plastic-Free July. And I’ve got my reusable cup, but it’s just a jar.
One of the traps I think we can fall into is productising the fast life, just with nicer materials. What I want to do in the shop is turn back time about a hundred years in terms of understanding our role as consumers. A hundred years ago, not everything was available all the time and we didn’t have a dedicated product for each of our fast life habits. International trade was well in place, but it was more of a trade in treasures, less in cheap disposable commodities.
“Life has become too easy to do the things that once had to be worthwhile.”
– Kara Veugelers
We are consumers. We are top puppy in the food chain and we use the resources around us to survive and to enjoy our lives. To own this aspect of ourselves without eco guilt and shame, we can start to look more deeply into what we need and what we love.
I do love picking up my barista coffee, and my favourite reusable cup so far is this lovely jelly jar. Not too big, with clean lines, and a fully sealable lid, this baby fits more sweetly in my bag than any other cup I have had, feels good to drink out of, and gets compliments wherever I go. I do like a nice accessory compliment.
What I am ignoring for the moment is that it’s made in China in factory conditions that are possibly horrendous. But referring back to rule #1 – start where you are.
The general awareness of our impact on the environment has gone pretty mainstream in the last few years, but a lot of the changes we are making are still tied to products that in the end have a finite life and will end up in landfill. Silicone is one that tricked me initially – I thought it was silicon, the element, but in fact it’s a blend of silicon and plastic polymers that can’t break down in the environment.
Greenwashing: pretending something is environmentally friendly without looking at the whole story. In my twisted way, I always thought this was at least a step in the right direction, an acknowledgment that these things matter. But let’s look a little closer, think a little more deeply, slow down and enjoy the jam jar.
My pledge for Plastic-Free July is to remember to take my cup with me. A good tip I was given is that if I don’t have the cup, I don’t get the coffee. A little shiver of fear ran through me, and I realised that if I make that rule for myself, it’s a real commitment. That might just be enough for it to become an everyday habit.
As I typed out the title of this segment, I mistyped it as Generating Business Ideals. And really that’s true too.
Picking a card on this topic, I received the archetype of the Prostitute from the Caroline Myss deck. It’s an archetype we all grapple with. It’s the choice between survival and integrity. How far do any of us go in the trade? I don’t believe that purity and perfection are necessary or desirable. The compromise and paradox in any choice are part of the human equation.
There are two options at Greenspace – and of course the middle path is a mix. The first choice is to carry more packaged food, to go with what people have come to want and expect, and to stock a bigger range of organic standards, regardless of processing and packaging. Or I can stay with my heart towards zero waste, although I feel like I need a new name for it. And stay with my heart in community rather than commerce.
So how to make more money while staying true to my values? The shop is close to paying its way, and the studio too, but what’s missing for me is the story. I need to write up this process as it has been a huge learning experience, and a reflection of future pathways for ourselves and each other…
One year ago today, I paid my first week’s rent at 20 Tahi Road, on the punt that if I felt that Waiheke Island needed an organic shop, other people would too.
It’s been a big year.
My original concept was to connect the material aspects of living truly sustainably, through the ancient art of shopkeeping, via the current model of capitalism, and make as many of my values real in everyday life as possible.
Very fast I found how compromised this life is. I knew it already of course, but stocking shelves on behalf of a community who are intentionally choosing the best options available shows up the blind spots really fast.
Packaging has not been considered very thoughtfully in the big organics community overall, though that’s starting to change. Essentially our commodified food system is designed for long shelf life products wrapped in plastic, and I have made plenty of compromises in my waste-minimising plastic-free goal. If the product is great in other ways, whether supporting local initiatives, or being produced in regenerative relationship with the land, I can at least be someone who asks the questions and shares information about other solutions that are working. My vision is for beautiful, high quality, reusable packaging that is valued highly enough to reuse over and over again.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are harder to transport and don’t last as long. They are riskier for the shopkeeper and the purchaser. Not every apple is as good as the last. But the fresh fruit and veg give me the most joy at Greenspace. When they come in they bring new vitality to the shop and remind me why I do this job.
St John’s wort, plant of light – we think of it as a remedy for depression, but how much more poetic and inspiring is Charlotte Du Cann’s description, from her book ’52 Flowers that shook my world’ – “St. John’s wort is one of the great sun plants: a supreme universal connector” – and if you want a cup of St John’s wort tea after reading, I am open Wed-Sat 10-4…
“St John’s wort is a major herb of the European pharmacopoeia. It has been used for centuries as a nervine, as a sedative, analgesic and anti-inflammatory, a powerful tonic for the whole nervous system, for those suffering anxiety and hysteria. Recently it has been extensively employed as a herbal remedy for depression. Before industrialisation St John’s wort was understood as a plant of the spiritual realms. Its Latin name hypericum means “over an apparition” referring to the flight of spirits who found it obnoxious. It was used in exorcism, to chase ghosts and malignant spirits from the possessed and the “mad”. Even though most people don’t “believe” in spirits anymore, it is still used to calm those suffering from nightmares and for frightened children who wet their beds in the darkness of night. One of the main properties of St John’s wort is that it blocks the actions of certain conventional chemical drugs. It was this quality of preventing the conventional and the artificial in ourselves, in order that the intelligence of the sun may properly shine through, that formed the basis of the plant card:
“St. John’s wort is one of the great sun plants: a supreme universal connector. If mugwort is the doorway for the moon or intuitive, oracular self, St. john’s wort is the doorway to the sun or radiant self. This radiance may illumine and release even the darkest conundrum within yourself and by extension bring lightness and a sense of liberty to everyone you meet.
The radial structure of this plant is a clue to its effect upon the energy body: a sort of inner “architectural” expansion. Its own energy is extremely fast and dynamic and can accelerate the frequency of whomsoever comes within its field. From this perspective it is easy to understand why St. John’s wort is used by herbalists for depression. However if you wish to go deeper, to work at the root cause of this depression – rather than just “fixing” its symptom by giving yourself a sunshine boost – you will find it is related to a lack of interconnectedness with the living beings of the sun and earth, and the alienation and isolation felt by most human beings when cut off from this primal relationship.”
So Greenspace is an art project, a social sculpture, a gallery and studio. It’s an organic shop, a workshop space, a place for my community to gather and explore the connections between all layers of nourishment. As a contemporary artist, my training requires me to develop an understanding of the thought processes behind what I do, the ethics and the theories that have come through time and place into the way I operate in my practice, and in my day.
For the community, the primary function of Greenspace is as an organic shop. I need this aspect to function well and pay the bills, and I am using the classic retail model for this as a well-tested format in our current social model. My role as shopkeeper is clear. I need to stock the shelves with what is in alignment with my values and with those who shop here.
On top of this, I want build layers of regenerative culture, ways to empower our community to make excellent choices in relation to the basics of everyday life – food, homeware, bodycare. The politics of the everyday has been a longtime commitment for me, and this includes the spirit of everyday – our connections with nature, self and other people – deep ecology, whakawhanaungatanga across all beings and ways of being.
I want to create a place for people who care about this stuff to gather the things they need, to chat, to meet old friends and new – to build human interaction deeply into the values of the shop. As I collaborate with people this will naturally evolve. One friend has established a reading library, another is designing a garden where we will be able to pick fresh greens. I want to move past overprocessed foods, and create a community resource where we have access to a grain mill to create fresh flours, where we grow microgreens, and chop cabbage together at harvest time.
For me, choosing organics has gone beyond personal health, better flavour and texture, and into the bigger picture of how we farm, how we steward the land for our children, how we value our food and the people who grow it for us. A major aspect of this is how much we are prepared to pay so that our farmers no longer feel they have to use heavy chemical inputs in order to make a living. As a global society I think we need to make this choice collectively and fast. This might mean as individuals we are making personal choices that direct our income away from the supermarket and the jetaway break, those panaceas of the fast life, and towards a true improvement in everyday living for ourselves and those who nourish us.
From Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food:
“Eating is an agricultural act,” Wendell Berry famously wrote, by which he meant we are not just passive consumers of food but cocreators of the systems that feed us. Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience and “value” or they can nourish a food chain organised around values – values like quality and health. Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon as you begin to treat that expenditure not just as shopping but also as a kind of vote – a vote for health in the largest sense – food no longer seems like the smartest place to economise.
[Foreign Correspondent Penelope Brown reporting from the sunny south]
Hello dear readers…
I too have joined the MWM2M (Mass Waiheke Migration to Motueka). And like many
people who uproot themselves from a familiar and loved place I was in a sorry state upon
arrival to the mainland. My nervous system was shattered from stress, my back was out
and sinus problems plagued me.
Thankfully 8 months later we’ve found our new sanctuary here at Mountain Valley farm at
the top of the Brooklyn Valley. I’ve had a chance to stop and listen to my poor tormented
body ravaged from eight years of parenting and give it some proper love and attention!
After doing my usual self-care routines and still feeling average I sauntered to the local
Don’t you love when the perfect book just leaps out at you from the shelf?
Well, I found one written by nutritious movement expert Katy Bowman called “Move your
DNA”. I do believe her theories on movement are the missing link in my health puzzle.
Bowman advocates (among many things) walking barefoot on varied terrain, preferably on
an incline, wherever possible.
So here I am, two weeks later, walking my driveway barefoot daily in the middle of winter
for half an hour. Bizzarely it has become my relaxation, so great do I feel afterwards. I’m
waking at 5am most days, my stiff ankle that I sprained 7 months ago is now limber and not
sore. I’m also a much kinder mother and partner – result!
And the icing on the cake? Sleeping with no pillow (another Bowman recommendation).
Anything that gives this ole brain a boost I had to try and it’s awesome.
Now to get rid of my armchairs and dining table… On that note, I shall leave you and
continue this story another time.
Until then, I strongly encourage you to also free your feet and find some nice poky stones!
One of the wisest things we can do in our day is to meet ourselves where we are. Not in the past, not in the future, but here and now. What do I need today? What can I do today?
I remember many years ago when I started buying ecostore products, my partner saying to me, Well, it’s not going to save the world is it? And it’s true, it’s not going to save the world. But, it’s going to poison the world a little less than the more chemically alternatives. So that’s where I was, and it’s what I could do. Not much, but a little something to live my day more in alignment with my values.
When I started stocking Greenspace, I agonised about my cleaning products. I am still happily using ecostore products for now, but I am starting to feel that I might be able to take on the Zero Waste challenge, and their packaging is really not in alignment with this. And it’s not just the packaging, but the whole productised version of cleaning, and the whole productised version of life that our culture has created… but heading into that territory is going too far. It’s not where I am. I am a mostly regular weirdo living a fairly typical semi-conscious life, making the best choices I can as a fairly thoughtful consumer in a fairly busy day.
So right now, Greenspace has the three main ecostore products that I use – laundry liquid, dishwash liquid, and multi-purpose concentrate – in twenty litre plastic containers. Life will shift and change and new versions of this may come soon, but today, I am meeting myself here.