I peeled my eyes open and looked around. The floor ran down the side of my face and a strange lady was staring at me with her ponytail sticking out the side of her head. As the background came into focus I realised that I, and not everything else, was horizontal. Another lady appeared and looked quite familiar. Yes. It was coming back to me a little. She was Lena, my WWOOFing host in Lithuania. They helped me to my feet and as I continued to adjust to being conscious it dawned on me that I had fainted. I had came to the clinic after an insect bit my leg and I had spent two days watching it swelling up. After receiving a swift injection to the ass I had collapsed – a common occurrence as a child but not in recent years. They gave me some cream and I was on my way. Within a few hours the pressure had eased and I was able to help out on the farm again.
Lena and Mantas had just begun their new life on their eco-village after having left good jobs in the capital, Vilnius. They had packed in the corporate life and bought a plot of land in Rokiskis. It was quite an adventure and I felt privileged to be their first WWOOFer at this pivotal point in their life’s journey. They taught me so much about permaculture. Mantas had just finished his training and was eager to get started on his own land. I soaked up his knowledge like a sponge.
Permaculture utilises ecological design and engineering along with lessons learned through microbiology to develop environmental landscape design, sustainable architecture and self-maintained agriculture. The three principles of permaculture are:
- Care of the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, nothing can flourish.
- Care of the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
- Return of Surplus: Reinvesting surpluses back into the system to provide for the first two ethics. This includes returning waste back into the system to recycle into usefulness.
Permaculture focuses on patterns in the landscape, the relationships between species of plants and animals and how such relationships can work together offering high yields, less labour and increased quality of life for all concerned – the whole becoming greater than the sum of individual parts. It seeks to minimize waste, human labour, and energy input by building systems with maximal benefits between design elements to achieve a high level of synergy.
Back on the farm, Lena and Mantas were teaching me about how to grow potatoes in straw. The spuds were placed directly on the ground and surrounded with cardboard before a layer of straw was placed on top. The tasty tubers grow by feeding on the gases generated by the decomposing matter as opposed to the matter itself. As the straw rotted, the potatoes grew vigorously. As I later learned in my own garden, the best part was grabbing the stalk and lifting a
group of clean healthy potatoes from the straw. And as for the soil below, it had improved in quality as it had benefited from the natural mulch. Mantas explained that we are only imitating the most productive environment possible – the forest bed. This made sense as if nature was left to it’s own devices, a forest is it’s optimum potential. This gentle manipulation seemed so mutually beneficial, I asked why this approach has not spread like wild-fire. He told me about how traditional farmers follow traditional methods all their lives and tend not to question them. As a result, new knowledge tends not to filter through to the farming community.
As my time there progressed, I became more focused on the elements around me, prevailing winds, light reflection off water and degrees and direction of slopes. It all seemed so important now. I am about to participate in a Permaculture Design Course in France and cannot wait to heighten my own relationship with nature. I felt frustrated while incapacitated by a swollen leg there. I had been raised to work hard and not be a burden and this had been an awkward couple of days for me. Yet Mantas and Lena took it in their stride. For them, this was a long-term project. Years would be spent developing a forest garden. They were no longer on the corporate clock. Nature guided their days and it allowed for a much slower pace. When I eventually commit to a country and begin my own farm, it will be my greatest challenge to embrace the slower pace. In time I’m sure though, it will be all I know and all I wish to know.
As a means of travelling, I’d highly recommend finding good hosts and discussion in advance about hours work expected and what type of exchange can be offered in return such as food and accommodation. As this was my first time, I consider myself very lucky to have met two wonderful hosts and I hope that their success will inspire many more.
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