A new film shines the spotlight on our organic and sustainable heroes. Philippa Jamieson finds out more.
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Climate change… la la la la la. Environmental destruction – I know, it’s terrible! Social breakdown, economic collapse, help, what do we do? Living the Change is a documentary that features courageous Kiwis with practical solutions to these massive problems.
Filmmakers Antoinette Wilson and Jordan Osmond are themselves trying to ‘live the change’, in a 20m2 room at the end of a shed on a friend’s land near Katikati. The place isn’t plumbed; they have a bucket and use rainwater, but it’s palatial by comparison to where they were.
The pair met three years ago at a year-long community project in Victoria, Australia, learning how to live simply, grow food and build tiny houses. Jordan filmed the project and A Simpler Way was the documentary that resulted.
In high school Jordan became fascinated by the impact that documentaries can have. “Food Inc had a big impact on me – I changed my diet a bit,” he says. The self-taught filmmaker began making short films on tiny houses and earth building.
Antoinette was working at Wairarapa Eco Farm when she applied for the tiny house community project. After living in Argentina for six years, she had moved back to New Zealand for a healthier life.
“I’ve had gut problems for most of my life, and these were exacerbated in Buenos Aires, which isn’t a great place to find healthy food. In 2007 I went online and by a stroke of absolute fortune I discovered Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions. Blew everything out of the water for me.
“I became interested in everything, not just food, but the paint on the wall, the clothes on my body, the creams I was putting on my face.”
After the simple living project, Antoinette and Jordan travelled around Aotearoa New Zealand for two years making a series of short films about permaculture and resilient living. Out of these grew Living the Change.
Organic, holistic and permaculture growing
About a third of the film relates to food in some way.
“One of the biggest changes people can make is food: what we eat, who we buy it from,” says Jordan. “Organics, growing your own, supporting regenerative agriculture is the way of the future. Pouring pesticides on the land has to stop.” Jordan reacts to the Hi-Cane sprayed on kiwifruit – not great when you live in the Bay of Plenty.
Growers in the film include Robyn and Robert Guyton (Riverton), Andrew Martin (Katikati), Wiremu Puke (Parapara Gardens) and holistic grazing farmer Greg Hart (Mangarara Station, Hawke’s Bay).
Andrew Martin swapped a materialistic life working in the finance sector in Sydney, for a simpler life in New Zealand. He now feels happier and deeply connected with the natural world at his permaculture property.
Frank van Steensel and Josje Neerincx of Wairarapa Eco Farm talk about their CSA (community supported agriculture), which connects farmers and communities, provides reliability of supply and income, and a sense of belonging and connection with the land.
Healing our separation from nature
At the root of many problems is our disconnection from nature, and one of several to articulate this is the only non-Kiwi interviewed, US author and thinker Charles Eisenstein. He makes a statement as a ‘degrowth activist’ just by wearing a cream-coloured jersey mended with red stitches.
“When we cut ourselves off from any aspect of nature, we create a wound,” says Eisenstein. “This is painful and we yearn to recover our wholeness. Due to ideology, the economic system etc., the reunion we long for is unavailable. This drives consumerism, greed, neurotic behaviours that seek to compensate for the missing relationships.”
“We are not separate from the wild world,” says Robert Guyton. “It’s going to realign us fairly soon… unless we recognise that we need to be fully integrated into that world.”
The precariousness of the dominant financial system looms large in the film.
“There’s going to be a collapse in one form or another,” says Charles Eisenstein. “The money system demands endless growth.”
We have to design and develop an economy that operates within ecological limits, says permaculture designer Shane Ward. “That’s our only safe bet. It’s our only bet at all.”
Setting up alternative systems now will make us more prepared and resilient. Sharon Stevens woke up one morning with the idea of starting a local currency, and so LOAVES was born: Local Original Ashhurst Voluntary Exchange System. Also interviewed are Phil Stevens and Helen Dew, founding members of Living Economies, and Maria Lee of Diamond Harbour School, whose pupils were filmed making kale chips and broad bean dip from their garden produce, helped by locals paid via the timebank.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Closely linked with the monetary system premised on infinite growth is rampant consumerism and the destruction of planetary resources.
Enter those down-to-earth Kiwis who are making a difference by going rubbish-free, such as Waveney Warth and Matthew Luxon. And the Bayswater Repair Café, where people fix appliances and bikes, mend clothing and furniture. The social connection is equally important; an older man reports a sense of belonging and feeling useful, passing on his skills.
We need to think ‘resource’, not ‘waste’. Wanaka couple Greg Inwood and Lisa Johnston show their humanure composting system, starting with a bucket, and emptying the solids into a compost heap with kitchen and garden waste. They monitor the temperature to ensure it’s hot enough to ‘nuke’ any pathogens. After a year or so, the beautiful rich compost is heaving with worms.
“I find it extraordinary – it’s one of the indicators of our disconnection – that we mix good quality drinking water with our shit,” says Antoinette. Composting loos “would be so much more cost-effective, so much less work for the council.”
Can technology save us?
Some people have faith that technology will save us. That we can invent our way out of the problems. So why haven’t we done it already?
“I’m not disillusioned with solar or wind or anything; I know that the substitution of those things for fossil fuels isn’t possible,” says Susan Krumdieck, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Canterbury.
“So as long as we keep telling ourselves the story that it is, we aren’t actually doing the thing that we have to do, which is just leave the stuff in the ground. Which means what? There’s only one thing you can do then, which is to use less of it. A hundred years from now, every solar panel we build will be toxic waste.”
This could be the best film you see all year. But don’t take my word for it; see it for yourselves.
Living the Change
Directed by Jordan Osmond and Antoinette Wilson
Running time 85 minutes
A Simpler Way
Dir. Jordan Osmond, Samuel Alexander. View free online, buy it or host a screening: happenfilms.com/a-simpler-way
Philippa Jamieson is the author of The Wild Green Yonder: Ten Seasons Volunteering on New Zealand’s Organic Farms (New Holland Publishers, 2007).