Over the summer, I applied and was accepted to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) at an eco retreat called Paradise One in the Byron Bay hinterland. What originally prompted me to seek such an opportunity was the chance to be close to Byron Bay, my favourite beach town in Australia. Yet as it proved incredibly hard to obtain a job and accomodation there over the hectic summer period, I opted for a volunteer experience just a short 15 minute drive away. WWOOFing is also something I had been wanting to do having read about it in other blogs and it seemed a fantastic way to grow my knowledge of permaculture, plant-based cooking and sustainability. In addition, it proved to be a wonderful way to meet like-minded individuals from all around the world!
It was amazing seeing how such a large property and retreat centre could be almost entirely self sustaining. The extensive permaculture gardens supplied most of the fresh produce for the meals; the electricity was generated from 120 solar panels; and the site’s water needs were met by rainwater which was collected and UV treated. By accepting volunteers, the place was able to keep costs down and also able to educate and inspire potential changemakers from all around the world.
In return for accomodation and three plant-based meals per day, each day I contributed five hours of volunteer work. This mostly consisted of gardening in the vast permaculture gardens, cleaning the property, or blogging for the website. The rest of the time was free to bond with the other volunteers and we certainly had a lot of fun doing yoga, watching movies, belting out karaoke tunes, hanging out in the treehouse, connecting over a bonfire, creating artwork, swimming in the creek and baking vegan brownies.
On the weekends we would travel into Byron Bay and explore the town, swim in the sea and dry off on the sand. Other weekend trips included visits to Bangalow and Newrybar, hiking Minyon Falls and visiting the Rainbow Temple which had the most beautiful glow worms.
I learnt SO much from my stay.
Firstly, I learnt that permaculture refers to a sustainable whole-system thinking that values caring for the Earth, caring for people and fair sharing. It does not just apply to agriculture, but also to all aspects of living – including building, education, and economics.
In terms of your health, consuming organic produce means you will receive an array of nutrients and important phytochemicals (vitamins and antioxidants) without also intaking nasty residue pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Organic farming practices significantly benefit the planet as they do not contaminate soil and underground water, conserve biodiversity, reduce global warming (due to the fact that the produce is most often locally distributed), and minimise erosion.
Nature’s miracle cure for sunburn is Aloe Vera. If you break a piece off the plant, you will see a clear gel ooze out from the bottom of the stem. This gel has a range of medicinal properties (which I experience firsthand)!
Importance of Flowers
Not only do flowers attract buzzing bees to fertilise the plants so that they may bear fruit or vegetables for harvest, they are often edible and can be used as to garnish a dish or dessert, tossed into salads, or even made into herbal teas.
- In your kitchen, you can make almost anything from scratch (including kombucha, sourdough, preserves, jams and plant based mylks)!
- Black sapote is known as ‘chocolate pudding’ fruit and is best eat when it is very overripe.
- Taro is a root vegetable often used in Asian cooking.
- Kombucha contains acetic acid, which has the ability to kill harmful microorganisms in your gut; polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that help protect or act against cancer; probiotics, which can improve digestion and immune function; and both folic acid and B vitamins, which helps with the production and maintenance of new cells. These components all work together to help you maintain, or gain, a healthy gut microflora.
Most people have heard of compost. It is decomposed organic material that provides a variety of important nutrients for plant growth. Yet most people don’t consider its potential as nutrient-rich fertiliser and carelessly toss food scraps, lawn clippings and leaf litter straight into the trash. This is problematic in several ways. Firstly, the organic material becomes unnecessary waste that is taken to landfill. Secondly, the decomposition of this organic material in landfill occurs without oxygen and therefore releases methane gas (one of the most harmful greenhouse gases). Thirdly, it is not put to use as nature intended – providing essential nutrients and minerals for plant growth, improving soil structure and texture, storing water and holding moisture, acting as a mulch and creating an overall healthy soil. Lastly, tossing organic material means that the benefits to your health are not reaped. This is due to the fact that compost provides the soil with nutrients that end up in your food. It also increases soil fertility over time to ensure healthy nutrient-rich food for future generations that is free of synthetic fertilisers. To set up your own compost bin, simply add green matter (food scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, grass clippings and green leaves) to the compost bin as you collect it. For each part of green matter that you add to your compost bin, you should add two parts of brown matter (dry leaves, hay, sticks, dry grass or shredded paper). The pile needs to be turned to ensure that oxygen is supplied to the organisms living in the compost and that no unpleasant odours emanate from the pile. Once the organic matter breaks down fully, it can be added to your garden as a natural nutrient-rich fertiliser for your soil. Alternatively, if you do not have your own garden, you can find a municipal system or community garden to drop your compost to. It is easy to keep a bin or bucket for this purpose.
Despite so much learning (which cannot all be detailed in a single blog post), what surprised me the most was how much I learnt about the importance of community and connection. I formed such wonderful bonds with the other volunteers, the gardeners and the hosts and was also able to connect deeply with the natural world around us. I never felt alone throughout the entire experience and shared so many amazing memories, inspiring conversations, and hilarious moments.
It is amazing to think that though we have all gone our separate ways, each volunteer has taken a piece of “paradise” with them to make positive changes in their respective corners of the globe for a more sustainable, connected and prosperous future.