Spring Internship 2016 – Laura Frangelli
I arrived at Purple Pear at the very end of winter, the day before the start of spring, ready to get my hands dirty and soak up any info I could get my hands on. Earlier in the year I had spent 3 months in the Philippines at a Permaculture Field School and had completed my PDC and an internship. I came back to Sydney completely inspired, happy, energized and believing more than ever before that Permaculture was the answer to so many of my questions and concerns. I returned to my old life in Sydney, working in an office, living in a warehouse, and could not get over the feeling of dissatisfaction and a deep yearning to be surrounded by and connected to the natural world once more. I contacted Purple Pear about their internship, told them a bit about myself and Mark replied saying there was a spot for me if I wanted it. I was beside myself – an escape plan and a return to my learning! I quit my job the next day, packed my bags a couple of weeks later and off I went.
Kyla, the other Spring Intern, asked me the other day if my expectations had been met during my time here and I replied by saying that I didn’t really have any expectations so I guess, yes, my experience had been everything I had imagined, but probably so much more. I came here with the simple intention to learn as much as I could from 2 marvelous people, driving change in this part of the world – and that intention was definitely realized. Kate and Mark are beautiful, generous people and the internship is a testament to their kind consideration for all things. Everything is considered and planned but effortlessly so, that we mostly didn’t even notice the planning, everything was a considered lesson, and everything ran smoothly. I would go as far to say as these 10 weeks has been one of the most jam packed learning experiences of my life, and it hasn’t been exhausting one bit!
The first time I walked into their mandala garden I was struck by the amount of growth, I couldn’t quite figure out what everything was by looking at it from the outside, you had to stick your head in each garden for that. It was a natural jungle of food, the sound of buzzing bees humming in your ears as they devoured the brassica flowers from the broccoli that Kate and Mark had let go to seed for bee fodder. I remember my heart skipping a beat when they said that (the first of many heart skips) – everything of course makes perfect sense and is to provide closed loops in a natural ecosystem, PERMACULTURE! From there we hit the ground running and quickly found out that spring is a very busy time of year. I don’t think I have ever been so confronted with the gloriousness and abundance of Spring, it is quite a different experience in the city where you do not see the change of the seasons so much; see flowers burst into life and your vegetables grow before your very eyes – it is absolute magic, it is the only word I can think to describe it.
We have really learnt what it means to grow for 20 families in the busiest season of the year which involves lots of bed prep, seed raising, planting out, feeding, weeding and the best bit – harvesting. We prepped beds for Rhubarb, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkin, turmeric and planted all of that plus lots of bok choi, tatsoi, lettuce, fennel, cosmos, beetroot, spring onion, carrots, radish, beans, eggplant, chilli, and took care of mizuna, broccoli, cauliflower, spring onion, leeks, silver beet, rainbow chard, parsley, coriander, garlic, onion, cabbage in the beds prepared for us by the chooks. I have to say, I am seriously taken by the chicken dome system that they use here, I have developed a serious affection for chooks who do so much work for us and ask for little in return, why everyone doesn’t use them to grow food I do not know! They are put on a bed once everything in it has finished for the season, they gobble up everything that is left - clearing the bed, scratch up the soil - aerating it for us, they eat all the pests, fertilize by pooing all over the place, provide eggs, and are wonderful little animals to watch and pat. They are the real gardeners in this amazing system, all we need to do afterwards is dig a small hole, throw some compost in and put in a seedling – magic.
Making compost was my next magic revelation – we joined in on the composting workshop held here in September, Mark took us through the alchemy of building a compost pile in the most beautiful way. We learnt the theory behind of it and then 5 of us went into the garden and proceeded to layer various organic materials and sprinkle what Mark calls ‘condiments’, things like crushed egg shells, pony hair and basalt, we built the walls with thin lengths of wood stacked on top of each other to make a hexagon shaped frame. The real alchemy came when we added the BioDynamic preperations; Purple Pear are the centre for Hunter Biodynamics and Mark shared a plethora of knowledge about the harnessing of the energy of the cosmos – one of my favourite parts of my time here was listening to Mark wax lyrical about Biodynamics. We each took a corner and a different preparation, stuck a stake in the compost pile we had just made and pushed in the small ball of preparation. Then valerian was sprinkled over the pile, explained as a ‘blanket’, to put the compost “to bed” – heart skip number 236.
More magic was experienced when learning about biodynamics. The first time Mark opened the wonderful big wooden chest to uncover another chest inside it full of preparations I felt like I was being shown something very special, a kind of treasure; potions in a wizards box, but of course they are like the compost, an example of nature’s magic not Man’s at all. We were lucky to be here while the cow horns full of 500 were pulled up as well as a ceramic container of 503 and to watch 501 being painstakingly ground down and filled in horns ready to be buried in the ground. Cow Manure will never be quite the same in my mind; it is a precious commodity full of everything you need to grow amazing food. I love that Biodynamics encompasses a philosophy on growing, it is not just a practice, it is a way of thinking, of being, of understanding. Very early on I asked Mark if he saw a yield increase since using Biodynamic preparations to which he responded in his cool, calm way, something along the lines of I feel that it works and I like the idea of it and the ideas that go along with it so that is enough for me (I’m seriously adlibbing here, Mark is much more eloquent than I!)
but his response spoke to the idea of intention, energy and faith and I liked it, so it is something I return to often when questioning Biodynamics but also other things that I believe in and that I feel work but don’t quite know why.
Kate and Mark are serious dooers, Kyla and I have done so much in our time here but each daily achievement of ours are 10 for Kate and Mark – they are the definition of motivation, energy and passion and it kept us going every day. I could list the things I did or learnt in my time here but I feel like it wouldn’t do the learning justice as with each newly learnt skill came a host of personal learnings, sometimes spiritual, sometimes cosmos related and often an education on the people around you and the person you aspire to become. But I can say that Kyla and I put up a fence (which we were very proud of), wrangled 20 chooks in a day (but left Mark to do the poor Rooster), made bread and cheese (my 2 favourite things in the world), built a chook dome, learnt about the wonders of Steiner, learnt how to pot up, plant out and take care of growing food, we learnt patience, we learnt when to be quiet and when to speak up, we learnt about how wonderful it is to share 3 meals a day with others (and to always have morning tea), and that you are only limited by your imagination (which should be endless). We saw the arrival of 3 geese, 30 chooks, 2 calves, 1 pony and the departure of very many beautiful veg boxes and happy little children each week. We laughed each day, tried to work as hard as we could, had challenging conversations, felt the sun on our face and the soil between our fingers and loved every minute of it.
It is by doing that we learn, we can sit in a classroom for years and learn about growing food or how an ecosystem works but it is not until you are in it, until you feel it and breathe it and get it all under your nails that you can truly understand, and that is what we have has the privilege of doing here for 10 weeks, as well as be welcomed into a truly beautiful family and observed a life worth living, a life that turns the wheels of change. Kate and Mark have created something truly remarkable at Purple Pear, their intention is not to make bucket loads of money, it is not to profess that they know everything, it is not to preach their way of doing to others, it is to teach where learning is wanted and needed, it is to live by their ethics and tread as lightly as possible considering each action they make, it is to provide glorious food that is produced as naturally as possible, it is to encourage biodiversity and closed loop systems, in my mind what they are doing is keeping the dream alive – the dream that has been very alive only in the depths of my mind until now. Start where you are, use what you have; I have learnt that this is what you need to do to make the changes you desire in your life, Kate and Mark have inspired that in me and as Kate would say “Just STOP IT!”, stop doing all the things in life that do not make any sense, that serve only you, that are not in line with your professed ethics, that harm the earth, so STOP IT and DO IT I will, with the sights and sounds of Purple Pear in my heart and mind.