It has been a whole year since I had the opening party. And it’s been a big year of downloading vision into reality. It’s the usual story – I might not have taken it on if I really knew what I was in for! But I have a lot of love for this project and that always helps.
It’s been a while since I came to understand the ways in which the structures that hold our lives in place don’t serve us so well, and sometimes I wonder whether we are going to make the choices that nourish us for the future. So many of our daily decisions are based on what works for me right now, what can I afford, what can I be bothered with, how much of a sacrifice am I able to make for a better world?
And what is the vision for a better world? The vision we have inherited is of progress, with technology always improving, and an ever-expanding economy to pay off our debts. But it’s starting to come into mainstream consciousness that our ideas of progress have too many externalities that haven’t been accounted for, and it’s time for a reset. What will that involve?
I remember coming across the idea of zero waste a few years ago, and thinking it was too hard, and anyway, not really my responsibility as the end consumer. If we allow all this plastic as a society, why is it up to us at the end of the line to make choices that make our own lives a little less easy? But as time has gone on I have had to integrate the understanding of the full life cycle of everything I buy into my worldview, and as I have done that it has become harder to choose the plastic-wrapped option (although I still do). There is empowerment in making choices that are aligned with our ideals.
My vision for Greenspace is to be a centre for everyday life, a test kitchen for ideas and sauerkraut (see below), a space that can hold the nourishment we need to step away from the forces that have infiltrated now too far, where a great big corporation is the main food provider for a community where we have so much more capacity to provide for ourselves. When we spend our money locally, it circulates and enriches a community, and local businesses also tend to take more responsibility overall for their rubbish.
I never really set out to be a business person, but the business model is the dominant one for now. I am intrigued by how Greenspace could take on a more co-operative model, but to start it up just seemed most straightforward to take on the sole risk and responsibility. I underestimated that first year in business, but through various strokes of luck and good timing with money and places to live and general good health and family and friends and community support I am still here! So I want to thank you all for being there along the way so far. Every moment of encouragement has been a spark of energy for my mission.
I love my role as shopkeeper – I get to putter about, yak over the counter (some might say too much), and there is always some peaceful task to move on to. It’s a nice day. And the concept of Greenspace is that our everyday lives can be beautiful, and based in community, and that in our small actions of choice over what we buy we can actually change the world.
Oh yes, and fresh produce is in.
I received a text message from my network provider a few days ago trying to get me excited about their 5G rollout in December. I checked out the more info link and discovered that with 5G I could now get instant online reviews of a product while out shopping, and one day might have holographic phone calls amongst other things that I also didn’t care about. I can see the fun aspect of it all, and the amazing cleverness, but I think it’s a big test of our collective willpower to resist tech fun at the expense of everyday life.
The lessons I have learnt since I first left Aotearoa 23 years ago have brought me to an understanding that life in a beautiful place with lovely people is a really good life. So many tech products use the metaphor of connection and interaction in their promotion, but there is still nothing more connected and interactive than in person communication.
Tech products are so flat in comparison with the rest of the world, and they know it. The information revolution is incredible, from writing and book publishing into the internet and smartphones. We know so much about the world now, it’s a beautiful thing. But how much is enough knowledge? Don’t we have enough? Let’s pause and review our progress. Let’s stop making new things, rolling out new networks, building new tallest buildings. Let’s just take a break.
A real change happened when computers got small enough to carry everywhere. People started being here and not here in a range of contexts. It used to be that you had to sit down at your desk in front of a machine with a screen and stay there. Talk on your copper landline, carrying analogue waves of your voice through a precious earth metal to the person at the other end of the line. The line was a physical entity, carrying the shapes of the voice, protected in a casing. These lines need maintenance as all things do, and if they are not maintained we will lose this means of communication. Digital telephony is not at all the same thing. There are lags and dropouts, signal is poor in some places. And the answer is to upgrade the system, increase the coverage, until the airways are so polluted with a radiation we know as little about as we did about nuclear power before all the horrors of that twentieth century experiment.
But the tech world is huge business. We have been sold upgrade after upgrade, and now here we are, at a point that quite a few people are taking an interest in how we can say no. 5G is a controversial technology, and I haven’t looked deeply into the research. But I think it’s time we started applying the precautionary principle, and stop adding new technologies while we are just discovering the many dark sides to the tech we already have. The airwaves are shared space, owned collectively, and we should have input into how they are used. I know it’s not likely that tech will stop being a mammoth global business in the very near future, but we can still hope.
I would say we have enough technology, we have enough knowledge, enough cool gadgets, enough ways to fill every waking moment with incoming knick knacks of information. Let’s learn to make chai or a loaf of bread or a treehouse. We don’t need holographic connection, we don’t need 5G.
Can dairying ever be ethical and sustainable?
My grandfather was a dairy farmer in Mangawhai, farming 40 cows to make a modest living for his entire working life. I don’t know in depth the farming practices he used, but I get a very strong feeling that when you have forty cows you know who each of them is as an individual. These were not times of being sentimental about animal lives, and yet there was inevitably an intimacy working with a herd that size.
I had a conversation the other day with a friend who has quit eating dairy herself because of the way the animals are treated even on organic farms, and another friend who couldn’t understand vegetarianism as an animal rights choice, because of the horrors of dairying – the separation of calves from their mothers, with the calves usually being sent to slaughter so we can drink their milk.
I love eating dairy. I love butter in my frying pan and cream in my coffee. Dairy is incredibly nourishing. Butter contains vitamins C, D, E & K, fat-soluble vitamins that hold our cell walls together and keep our cartilage intact, systemic processes that help us feel good and happy in the world. I have also come across the idea that dairy produces mild painkilling effects not dissimilar to morphine, and I am okay with that.
I didn’t buy butter for a few weeks and I found that olive oil is of course a perfectly viable solution for the frying pan, if not the coffee cup. Many people have substituted soy milk for dairy in their hot drinks, and yet soy is a major GE crop, so unless it’s organic it’s questionable whether we want to encourage use of this crop. Soy is also an endocrine disruptor unless fermented in traditional ways, and so maybe isn’t ideal for our hormone balance. It’s also difficult to digest and can cause irritation in the gut lining.
Others have switched to nut milks. If we are looking at packaging, we can see that ready-made nut milks are deeply unsustainable. Nuts are also treasures, the seeds of trees which have the life purpose of perpetuating their lineage. These trees produce many nuts, but again, unless they are organic, they are farmed in soil-depleting conditions and the use of pesticides on California’s almond groves has been associated with the frightening decline of bee populations.
The raw vegan diet has become popular over the past few years, and for good reason. We have been eating too much industrial meat and dairy and our consciences and our bodies have been rebelling. But the food we have switched to is often hard on the gut lining and depend extensively on imported foods.
If you have ever seen a cashew tree, they are big and they are abundant, but each cashew fruit only produces one nut. When I was in Cambodia and wanted to try the cashew fruit, I bought a bag of nuts from a convenience store to show our driver, and he expressed surprised at the enormous number of cashews I had been able to afford. It gave me a small shock of recognition of my relative richness, and also a feeling of imbalance that I could come to his country and raid his pantry like this.
Cows are lovely beasts. They are a domesticated breed which means that they have co-evolved in relationship with human communities. My ancestors in Europe were deeply integrated with these relationships, and I can only imagine that the practice of dairying emerged from the observation that cows often produce enough food for their own children, and then some. They have also been selectively bred over generations for these traits. And while there is a perfectly reasonable argument that baby food for cows is not adult food for humans, these practices have somehow become deeply embedded in our lifeways.
New Zealand is a dairying nation. We can grow almonds and hazelnuts and macadamias, but we probably won’t be growing cashews any time soon (or maybe the climate will enable that sooner that I think). Maybe we don’t need to stay a dairying nation, but I am curious about whether there is a possibility that our green pastures can support ethical and sustainable dairying at least during a re-balancing period.
I did a quick internet search and found this, a genius plan to keep cows with their mothers by bringing the milking shed to the family, and package their extra milk in reusable glass bottles (who came up with that idea??!)
I am trying to source sustainable and ethical dairy for Greenspace with packaging that isn’t destined for landfill, and at the moment I am ok if it can’t happen. Those of us who love our dairy have many other places to buy it. But if I can get hold of some of the good stuff I will be very happy.
I am very curious about the many layers of ethics and sustenance involved in any food choice. We have come a very long way away from traditional eating patterns where entire community groups had much the same diet. We have made many different choices in our lives and our bodies have many different needs. I am working on a non-judgmental and curious approach to all these choices.
This essay is a riff on ideas that I have come across over many years, and so I don’t have all the references to back up my opinions. In an ideal situation I would spend some time in the library checking my facts. But for now I am putting this out there for discussion purposes. Let me know what you think.
So it’s August now and time to evaluate how #plasticfreejuly went… I made it through with the coffee jar – not a single takeaway cup was sacrificed for my coffee habit in July 2019, yay! Feels like I am in the groove now, but as always I will have to be mindful not to let it slide as time goes by.
Meantime here is my entire landfill output for the month of July, business as well as personal. Not too bad I think, when I see some of the overflowing wheelie bins on the street each week, although now I am into it I would like to see it getting smaller and smaller each month… I do generate a lot more rubbish than this, but there are many waste streams involved:
Recycling: I do quite a bit of recycling – Greenspace deliveries usually come in cardboard boxes, and unless a keen gardener comes by to use them for mulch, and after my daughter has built herself a house or few, I take them down to the transfer station. I don’t use a recycling bin any more – I found out that one of the main problems with co-mingling is that by the time the waste gets to the sorting centre the glass gets smashed into the paper, and then neither paper nor glass is fit for recycling at all (check out Xtreme Waste in Raglan). So now I sort it myself into the big bins at the tip. This is a great way to get to know your rubbish! I am pretty slick at the job now, and pop in a couple of times a week so it’s a fairly minimal job each time.
Soft plastics: now that Jerome Wenzlick is making BioGro certified organic fence posts out of plastic I take my softies to the bin at the hypermarket.
Compost: the other main place my rubbish goes is back to the earth. I am not an organic composting purist at the mo as I don’t have a major garden going on. My compost is definitely an experimental landfill diversion rather than a high end garden-ready product, but theoretically it will all eventually break down – waste paper goes in, tissues, paper towels etc, and the new home-compostable plastics (and a bunch of takeaway coffee cups from my former life). If I did have a lovely garden I wanted to produce compost for, I would probably do a smaller, more boutique setup and keep it more organic.
So half a red bag to landfill this July – let’s see how #plasticfreeaugust goes!
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.