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August 2013

The sense in eco-villages

When we decided to move to a rural property I envisaged all the food I would be able to grow and the bushland I’d be able to restore. But to be honest – the fastest growing thing around here is our ‘to do list’.

The sense in eco-villages. Chores like fencing and the equipment needed are shared

We’ve spent much of the last three weekends fencing, there are weeds to be controlled and it’s taken us six months to get water to the veggie garden.

The sense in eco-villages, where these and other tasks are shared among households or delegated, is clearer to me now than ever before.

I’ve been watching with interest the progress of a proposed eco village here in the Hunter Valley. The Shepherds Ground eco village is destined for a 277 acre property around 15 minutes from Morpeth and only 40 minutes from the Newcastle airport. It will provide 29 households with the opportunity to enjoy living on a sustainable and productive rural property without the work that’s associated with going it alone.

For less than we paid for our nine acre powerless property with no home and no water, co-operative members will get a brand new sustainable home (designed by Melbourne architect Gregory Burgess) on their own small block of land overlooking productive farmland; and a licence to use the common areas, including their own large garden plot down by the river. There will also be a bakery, apiary, café and market garden.

The “vibrant and creative inter-generational community”, according to Lucie Bruvel, one of the key drivers of the project, will be a place where it’s “easy to live sustainably and cooperatively”. The village lifestyle is one of the main attractions for Lucie. “I’ve lived in communities and small villages in Europe and love the sense of connection and cooperation that comes with village life. There’s always someone to share a meal with or mind the children”. “I was lucky enough to grow up on a self-sufficient farm. We had a milking cow, made cheese, and grew much of our own food. It was a wonderful childhood – but a huge amount of work for my parents.” says Lucie. “An eco-village provides much the same opportunities – but without the workload”.

If you are interested in finding our more about the Shepherds Ground Eco Village contact info (at) shepherdsground (dot) com or turn up to one of their monthly meetings (3rd Friday of each month) at Woodville Community Hall.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 25th August 2013

Have you, or would you, consider living in an eco-village? 

Other posts on the topic of sustainable communities. 

Verge of greatness

Neighbourhood kids creating a community verge veggie garden. Graeme Stuart.

Children playing in the front yard is something I rarely see these days. This apparent lack of neighbourhood play saddens me a little, so I was thrilled when I heard about a verge veggie garden created by some Newcastle kids. The garden is only a couple of weeks old and already has become a place for the neighbourhood kids to meet, work and play.

The motivated mum guiding the project, Cathy Stuart, said she wanted to help the neighbourhood kids get to know each other. “The children in our street attend four different primary schools, so despite many of them being of a similar age, they didn’t really know each other”.

Cathy’s daughters Alexa and Jasmine letterboxed their street, inviting the neighbourhood kids to help create a kids community veggie garden on their nature strip. Interest far exceeded their expectations. 14 kids and nine parents turned up to the first working bee, with many of them enthusiastically returning with their friends the following day. By the end of the first four days, 24 kids and 18 adults had helped out or simply popped in to see what was happening.

There are big plans for the project, including street stalls selling produce from the garden and a neighbourhood burger night. Cathy already has her eye on a neighbour’s nature strip as a spot for a few citrus trees.

So far they’ve planted lettuce, spinach, sugar snap peas, carrots, shallots, spring onions, strawberries, broccoli, pak choi, beetroot, potatoes, basil mint, rosemary, coriander, bush basil, dill, parsley and marigolds. All this in the first weekend. “I wanted the planting to happen quickly to get the kids excited” said Cathy.

The kids have been told they can pick anything they like from the garden, but that they need to leave something for others.

They’ll also be a kids-only ‘Veggies on the Verge’ committee. Aside from the usual committee positions of convenor, secretary and treasurer, there’ll be a projects manager, events manager and a range of other positions, giving the children some experience working together as part of a committee.

I can’t wait to see how this project develops. The benefits extend far beyond helping the neighbourhood kids connect. Parents are meeting and chatting, children are learning how to grow food, and friendships are being formed. Imagine if every street had a kids' verge veggie garden.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 17th August 2013. 

For more information on this inspiring project visit Graeme Stuart's blog Sustaining Community Engagement: A kids vegie garden on the verge, Kids’ Vegies on the Verge – day 2, and Kids’ Vegies on the Verge Update

Image credit: Graeme Stuart

A DIY worm farm and a Stinging Nettle frittata recipe

A DIY worm farm made from recycled materials. Little eco footprints.

Making a worm farm using free and recycled materials is easy – easy enough that children can do it themselves with just a little help. I'm sharing how to make a worm farm over at Childhood 101

A Winter foraging feast. Stinging Nettle frittata with a side of Chickweed. Little eco footprints.

As you may have noticed, I'm a little obsessed with foraging. I recently shared a recipe for a Winter foraging feast over at the 1 Million Women blog. Can I tempt you to try Stinging Nettle frittata with a side of Chickweed? 

How to welcome wildlife into your backyard

Installing a Squirrel Glider nesting box. Little eco footprints

We installed a Squirrel Glider nesting box on our property. It was a bit of feel good measure after finding a Squirrel Glider trapped on one of our barbed wire fences. Unfortunately, wildlife being caught on barbed wire is all too common. Barbed wire kills thousands of bats, birds, gliders, kangaroos and wallabies in Australia each year. We're replacing the top strand of barbed wire with regular wire in the forested areas of our property to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Guilt alleviating objectives aside, creating habitat for wildlife in our backyards is a worthwhile gesture no matter what the size of your yard. As urbanisation increases and bushland becomes increasingly fragmented, the importance of backyards and urban green spaces for biodiversity conservation grows. Backyards can provide habitat for wildlife and increase landscape connectivity between reserves and parks.

Even the tiniest urban backyard can provide habitat for native birds, butterflies, microbats, bees and lizards.

One of the easiest ways to encourage wildlife is to plant a diverse range of local native plants, including prickly shrubs and grasses. Local native plants are more likely to be used by native birds in your area and prickly shrubs are useful for providing shelter for small native birds.

Most local councils will provide a list of plants native to your area. Here in the Hunter, we’re lucky to have Trees In Newcastle selling local provenance plants to the public.

If you don’t have space for a garden, a large pot of colourful butterfly attracting plants is feasible in almost any space.

Once you have native plants in the ground you can start adding interesting extras, like a bird bath, frog pond, butterfly box, native solitary bee house, and nest boxes for birds, possums, gliders or bats.

Squirrel Glider nesting box. Little eco footprints

Our Squirrel Glider box was made by a handy family member after a few not-so-subtle hints. I’m told it was relatively easy to make. There’s nesting box plans on the internet for all kinds of native animals or you can buy one ready-made. Maitland Mens Shed makes and sells various nesting boxes made from recycled timber, including Brush-tailed Possum, Squirrel Glider, and Eastern Rosella nesting boxes.

You’ll see all your hard-work undone, unless you keep your cat indoors or in a cat run and avoid using herbicides and pesticides.

For more information on how to welcome wildlife into your backyard visit and

Originally published in my 'Less Is More' column, Newcastle Herald 10th August 2013. 

Moments that matter

What Xanthe Saw at our little farm 1

What Xanthe Saw at our little farm 2

What Xanthe Saw at our little farm 3

What Xanthe Saw at our little farm 4

What Xanthe Saw at our little farm 5

What Xanthe Saw at our little farm 6

Xanthe recently spent a day following us around taking photos. I love that she captured moments that matter to us. 

The remnants of a nettle tea and damper twirl afternon tea...

Me in pink dishwashing gloves foraging stinging nettle...

Baskets of nettle waiting to be washed and dried (can you tell I'm obsessed with nettle?)...

Flicking through a field guide looking for something we spotted on our walk...

Them being typically cheeky...

And the last photo is my absolute faourite.... Me with my double chins and Daddy Eco with his smile lines. Xanthe has magically captured us being us. Me shoving baskets of weeds into the back of his car and him laughing at me despite stressing about the mess. 

She truly captured us. Not the posing us. But the real us. 

Here's a whole lot more photos from the day (please don't think less of my for the pile of dirt on our floor. Little Eco is seriously going to need house training once we eventually move out of the shed home). 

Thank you Xanthe. You have beautifully captured moments that truly matter to us.