Today at 10am, our group of thirteen packed up our bags from our final project site. Our past week at The Crossing was one of the most influential of the program.
The Crossing is a non-profit organization started by two wonderful, kind-hearted individuals named Annette and Dean. Their dream was to "provide conservation education experiences that develop young people's capacity to live more sustainably". They wholeheartedly believe that these experiences foster health and well being, build self-confidence, enthusiasm, hope and community consciousness. Those words sit on the wall of the solar powered, mud and hay building that has become the Crossing's main meeting area and represent Annette and Dean's mission in the world.
To say they that they have succeeded is an understatement.
Over 18 years and hundreds of volunteers after they decided to create this oasis of sustainability and permaculture, it's truly breathtaking to see what they have accomplished. On our arrival day, the couple walked us around the premise and shared with us how our volunteering would go. The living area is run entirely off used batteries which they showed us and explained how it was designed so that they could use the heat of the sun's rays most intensely during the winter months and less so in the scorching Australian summers.
Inside the kitchen, nothing goes to waste. All leftovers -- whether it be food or tea bags -- get dumped in the easily accessible compost and around twice a day gets brought out to the chicken coupe, which is designed sustainably (of course). The food gets dropped at the top of the pen that was strategically set up on slanted ground so the chicken's feet and feeding eventually brings all the food down to the bottom where, by that time, it's been stepped on and picked at enough that it's nearly soil again. The chickens are also connected to one section of the garden so that they can have a role in pest control and help move the soil around. This section is guarded by leftover tin so that eagles and other predatory birds have no way of attacking the chicks.
Nearby is where all the chopped wood for fires and other heating purposes gets stored, held up by reusable materials and held above the ground by reusable tires so that the wood doesn't get wet. It also faces away from the gorgeous wooded area at the top of the property so that there's less chance of it catching fire if a typical Australian forest fire hits unexpectedly.
Our bunking rooms were old refurbished train carriages, and their 17 yea- old son lived with a restored bus as his room until last year (see Mom and Dad, I told you I could live in my car if I wanted to!). As you may have figured out by now, the Crossing uses everything it has access to, preferably twice, and every item or section has at least three reasons for being there. We learned early on that all permaculture designs need to have that many reasons or more to make a successful and sustainable model. Some of the Crossing's areas had over 8 or 9 specific purposes and I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say it blew our minds.
In our modern world of expiration dates and constant consuming, it was a completely eye-opening experience to see how many products and concepts could be created by entirely used objects. Our first day was mostly spent just taking in and goggling at Annette, Dean, and past volunteer's extraordinary progress.
Day two was our first day of volunteer work, so after a healthy breakfast and an explanation on how to use tools safely, we set out to do our assigned jobs. There were four tasks that we rotated between: wood chopping, helping in the kitchen to prepare snacks and lunch, patching up parts of the sheep pen, and helping Dean shovel and fill in parts of the road that passed through the Crossing. Each duty was fulfilling and hands on, but one thing I can say for sure is that after cutting through New Zealand and Australia hard wood, we're all pretty well professional wood choppers. Bring on that easy, soft oak tree from North America any day.
Volunteering the second day was a bit farther away on the property and we had to cross a stream to get there. After walking past some cattle, bending under wire fences, and heading up a few hills, we came to where most of our day's work would happen. Our goal was planting over 70 native Australian trees in a little clearing. Dean explained to us how to properly dig up the soil with our tools and place the trees in so that they had the best chance of survival. After our day's work was done and we were sufficiently sweaty in our long sleeves and long pants (courtesy of the ticks we were trying to keep off of our skin), some of us walked down the hill and discussed how much we'd loved the task. Becoming that connected with nature, digging your hands into the soil, filling up the holes and adding the essentials, really lifts your spirits. Our day was full of laughs and smiles. It was great to feel a real sense of accomplishment throughout our team. Dean's congratulations to us on creating an entire forest from scratch was the perfect end to the day.
Our third day wasn't spent at the Crossing, but instead we took our volunteering to Potoroo Palace, an Australian animal sanctuary only an hour away. We met with the friendly staff who showed us how to do our job of weeding for the afternoon. With our man power of 13, the job took no time at all and we shared some incredible homemade lunch prepared by the sanctuary's chefs. Afterwords, we were taken on a personal tour of the area and learned all about Australia's unique native creatures. Two favorite exhibits were the dingoes, who are as capable hunters as wolves but can be as cute and cuddly as dogs, and the absolutely adorable echidna, which is technically a mammal but is really so much more than that. To put it simply, they're part marsupial, part bird, and part mammal. If that's not cool enough, their milk is pink and their tongue is so long it's at least one-third the length of it's body. Oh, and their babies are called puggles.
The second to last day was reserved for what Annette and Dean call a Design Day. After only an hour of outside work, we all came inside and got to watch a few inspirational short videos regarding different ways you can design the world more sustainably. My favorite was a TED talk from a guy named Dan Barber who runs one of the most successful restaurants in New York City, Stone Barnes. He spoke about the fish farm he gets his food from and how he found them. Originally, Barber was ordering food from importers that he realized were feeding their fish...wait for it...mashed up chicken! He was appalled that a corporation he was funding could actually feed their fish so unsustainably, and frankly, so grossly. Eventually, he found a farm named Blue Hills on the tip of Spain run by a biologist named Miguel, whose idea was to run a farm that was basically just a fully formed ecosystem. Blue Hills has pristine water for their fish to swim in, amidst lush green marsh, and has started attracting one of the largest bird populations in Europe. Some of the birds fly 150 miles to the farm and then 150 miles back to their nests, just to feed on the well treated fish. And even though the birds eat around one-third of the farm's fish, it doesn't effect the company. In fact, they can tell that the ecosystem and their fish are doing well by the changes in the birds. If the birds are happy, then they know the fish are doing something right and are ready for consumption. The idea of using such sustainable methods, seen in each of the videos, inspired all of us to be creative in our own plans, which came next in Design Day. We were all assigned to come up with our own designs using some of the ideas from permaculture we'd learned (leave no waste, produce a yield, harness energy, etc.) and from there, come up with ideas on how to make the Crossing even better. All in all the day was very successful, and I'm pretty sure some of us came up with ideas that could be marketed in the near future.
Our last day with the Crossing was spent on a five-hour coastal walk. The sun, which had been hiding rom us for most of the week, shined brilliantly over a blue-diamond sky and dazzlingly lit up the ocean. We spent the day hiking along some of Australia's most gorgeous coast, creating art in the sand, and eating beneath the shade of the volcanic rock by the water. The day moved quickly and so did the temperature, rising up and showing us just how hot it gets down under. We ended our day with a dip in the water and an ice cream in a nearby town. After we got back to the Crossing, we were all happily tired and ready for dinner and a shower.
Now, we're all sitting in our faithful van, heading into our last days together in Sydney. Some of us are sleeping, others listening to music, but I can't help feeling happy to be sitting here writing. We've all hoped to get the best topic to write about for our given blog, and I certainty feel I've lucked out. The week that we've just had is one that I think we'll all need days, months, maybe even years to let sink in, and I think writing about it has helped me recognize the incredibly unique experience we've all just had. Not only did we see the power of what a dream can become, but we witnessed what happens when you choose to live your life as a helpful, sustainable, global citizen. We glimpsed too the joy and contentment that follows.
Everyone wants to believe that they do some good in the world by choosing to recycle, or maybe picking up that piece of trash off the floor, but once you see how far you can truly take it, the way Annette and Dean have, it changes everything. We, as a group of 12 young adults, can no longer go back to being ignorant bystanders in the "real world" once we come back from this program or our year of travel. After these two months and specifically the Crossing, we have been given tools to change how we choose to live our lives. We can take the knowledge and use it to reconstruct our own homes and reduce our ecological footprint. We can pass the knowledge onto others and help them do the same.
It's just crazy; one day you're sitting at home, a regular student taking Environmental Science in school and passing it off as yet another class with little meaning in your regular life, and the next moment you're hand washing your clothes with homemade soap on a sustainable permaculture site in the middle of the Australian bush. Our lives are constantly in flux and connecting bits of our past to our future, and I only hope that we can all come away from this remembering the feeling we had while living so naturally and choose to make that change, whatever it may be. To hold ourselves to this standard we now know exists, we created a short yet crucial list of methods towards becoming better conservationists. We believe anyone can do these things, because they're not silly or inconvenient, they're choosing to help the world that we know sits in the palm of our hands
1. Create a compost-dirt, worms, fence, food waste! 2. Scope out local farmers markets 3. Start a garden 4. Vinegar disinfectant...get rid of unhealthy products (1/4 vinegar to 1 cup of water) 5. Make use of second hand stores 6. Deciding whether or not you really have to drive somewhere, or if you can carpool/bike 7. Find out what foods are seasonal in your area 8. Don't buy foods that don't come from your region 9. Get involved in your democratic process 10. Recycle properly. And if you don't know what that means, research it. 11. When you go to buy something think to yourself: "Do I really NEED this?" 12. Carry a water bottle! 13. Volunteer within your local community! 14. Use a reusable shopping back 15. The standard you walk past is the standard you set...so pick up that piece of trash 16. Bonus: Spend time in nature. It changes everything.
I'll miss afternoons of music, and being able to play guitar in such an open space. I'll miss the stars, untouched by any light or pollution. I'll miss waking up every morning refreshed by clean air, and I'll miss eating food I know was made with love and grown with care. And to Annette, who hugged me as I left, looked me deeply in the eyes and told me "You will find it"...thank you. Thank you so much.