Mar 162015
 March 16, 2015  Posted by at 12:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , ,

Jack Delano Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, Sibley, Missouri 1943

Let me give you a quick update on our adventures down under: it’s already a month ago that Nicole was a key speaker at the Great Debate during the Melbourne Sustainable Living Festival. Time flies ever faster. I arrived a week later, and we spent two weeks in Melbourne in the granny flat of our friends Daryl, Lucy, Maggie and fierce border collie Sirius (Serious?) Black. Nicole and I hadn’t seen each other in almost two years, and that’s a long time when you try and run a company together.

Then, 10 days ago, we flew to Tasmania for the Australasian Permaculture Convergence, where Nicole was one of the keynote speakers, along with the very gracious David Holmgren and oldtimer permaculture pioneer Stuart Hill, whom I managed to squeeze a tap dance out of.

The Convergence took place in a little town named Penguin, on Tasmania’s north coast, which of course has a big statue of a penguin on the main road along its beach. It’s also sort of the birthplace of permaculture. Lovely part of the world. Do go see it when you get a chance. Great place to live too! We were invited to stay for the whole week with the very kind and generous Tom and Jerry (no, Jenny) in Burnie, a somewhat larger town half an hour away. Tasmania is quite a large island, with its own indigenous plants and animals, where only half a million people live in total.

The Convergence was a jam-packed 5 days with 200 people attending, with the everlasting challenge to find internet connection, much of which had to be done by tethering my phone. It is occasions like this that allow us to meet lots of people we would never otherwise have the opportunity to talk to, and there’s a lot of bright ideas in the permaculture movement. They just mostly need to be updated on the finance aspect of their world, and its consequences for everyone involved, and that’s sort of where we come in. Because David Holmgren, the guru of permaculture, is such a big fan of both Nicole’s message and my writing, people in the movement pay close attention to what we have to say.

It’s always a fantastic and at the same time humbling experience to arrive somewhere in the middle of nowhere at (for me) the other side of the world, and be invited to come stay with people who then tell you they’ve been reading you for years and consider themselves your biggest fans. That’s what happened when after the Convergence we were invited to spend two days with Phil and Lyn and stonedeaf Irish setter Rosie.

Wonderful people, and it’s at moments like this that you fully realize that the flipside of meeting all these fantastic people on your travels is that you have to leave them behind again at some point. In this case two days was definitely way too short. Traveling the way we do would not be possible if we had to stay in hotels etc., that would be a big energy drain. Staying with readers, with real people, on the other hand, keeps that energy flowing.

We flew back to Melbourne yesterday, where right now, as I write this, Nicole is doing an interview in the back yard of Sam, Helen and Laurie’s home for a documentary Sam and his cameraman Jordan are shooting on the theme: ‘What Can One Do In The Face Of The Crash?’. Tomorrow, we’re back on the road, or rather the air, to go to New Zealand, Nicole’s new home country. She’s moving soon to Wellington on the north island, so we need to get her stuff there from the south island. It looked for a while as if cyclone Pam, which devastated Vanuatu and other south Pacific islands, was perhaps going to disrupt plane traffic tomorrow, the 17th (it’s 15 hours later here than EDT), but the latest is that it’ll be alright. Not for all those who lost their homes on the islands, mind you.

We know there will be talks in the Bay of Islands area (details to follow), but other than that nothing’s carved in stone. So if you’re in New Zealand and you want to meet us or you want to organize events, drop us a line either by email or in the comments section. The internet (I like saying the Interwebs) is a great means of communication, and it allows us to do what we do, but meeting our readers face to face adds a whole, and very gratifying, dimension to the whole thing. So don’t be shy! We want to meet you too!

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    Travel Update The Automatic Earth Jack Delano Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, Sibley, Missouri 1943 Let me give you a quick update on our adventures do
    [See the full post at: Travel Update The Automatic Earth]

    John Day

    It’s heartening to hear of your travels down under.
    Look at the stars at night. It’s often nice and clear down there.
    Night sky is our lost birthright.
    The Southern Cross is cool, too.
    I’m flashing back to our family-of-6-Americans bike and backpack world tour in 2005-2006.
    We bike toured the circumference of NZ South Island.
    “Oh, you’re the American family. We heard about you” was our greeting at a rural guest house after riding through “Windwhistle”.
    I glowed with fatherly pride, though still bluish-white on both my hands..


    Don’t know if you’re heading up to the Auckland region but it would be great to attend one of your events, though things are a little hectic at the moment. However, I would happily offer a place to stay for a day or few (but I’d have to OK it with my wife, of course), if it was before April, even if it is still a bit of a mess then (I won’t go into why).

    I’m interested to hear that Nicole is moving to Wellington. I thought Atamai was her new long term home. As she was inviting others to join, I wonder what changed her mind after only a year (is it a year?) and what she’s moving into in Wellington, a “big” city.

    By the way, it’s “the Interweb, not Interwebs”, at least here in NZ. A combination of Internet and World Wide Web.

    Nicole Foss

    It didn’t work out at the village, so I’m moving on. There’s no means for me to make a living at the top of the south island, and no support at the village in the absence of employment possibilities. Access to basic facilities got progressively curtailed until there was essentially nothing left. There should be greater opportunities in Wellington.

    I don’t have Auckland area presentations scheduled so far, but if I do later then I’ll mention them here.


    Thanks for the update, Nicole.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do and wherever you decide to go.

    Dr. Diablo

    Sounds fab, I hope you all have the most wonderful time.


    @ Nicole,

    “It didn’t work out at the village, so I’m moving on. There’s no means for me to make a living at the top of the south island, and no support at the village in the absence of employment possibilities. Access to basic facilities got progressively curtailed until there was essentially nothing left.”

    Hmm… hoping you could expound on this statement Nicole?

    It sounded as if things were going well at Atamai, and this is the first I’ve heard about it not really working out. Particularly curious if you think this unworkable situation was unique to Atamai, or something all ecovilliages face as a potential problem for those individuals looking to escape their big-city, wage-serf style of living?

    Also, have you left Canadian soil for good, or is this still just a long-term trip?


    Charles Alban

    hi nicole

    i’d like to second gbv’s post. what was the fundamental problem with atamai? these kinds of communities are crucial for our long-term survival. we need to know how to make them work. maybe you could do an in-depth analysis of intentional communities. what works and what doesn’t. i believe there are a number in NZ. it seems to me the economics are crucial. everybody has to be able to meet their needs on the property, without having to drive to town looking for a paycheck. this means sharing in a joint income source.

    the Fellowship of Intentional Community ( has a great deal of info on the subject.


    Hi, Nicole – I’m just back home from speaking at the Permaculture Voices 2 conference in San Diego. The topic of “why it didn’t work out” is a very old one in the permie world- and many others; but no one seems to be getting any real traction in the analyses; nor are new alternatives really popping out. Rob Hopkins has done real wonders with the Transition movement (and continues to ) but as he, and we, know; Transition guidelines have proven difficult to translate for some regions; most certainly for the US.

    I know your analytical brain. And your ability to see old problems from new perspectives; I think it would be hugely valuable for you to analyze why it “didn’t work out” for you and Atamai, and write it for publication, maybe in the Permaculture Activist?

    I became interested in “utopian” communities when I was in high school; wrote several school papers on the topic. “It didn’t work out” is the fate of pretty much all of them, over hundreds of years. I really want to hear your insights; and thoughts.

    I’ve been living the hermit life, as you well know; but- we really need to build a community here; still working on how and what. When is easy- asap; it’s the p that’s the problem.

    Charles Alban

    here are a few communities i think are successful…auroville (India), dhamanur (Italy), tamera (portugal), findhorn (scotland), eco-valley (Iskcon-hungary), twin oaks (VA, US). the US has several.. earthaven (NC), eastwind, dancing rabbit, sandhill farms (all MO), etc. some are egalitarian income-sharing, others not. arcosanti in AZ is also worth a look.

    The Ubuntu movement recently founded by michael tellinger in south africa has one of its core tenets the formation of communities based on the elimination of money and the principles of “contributionism,” as outlined in his book.

    also one community global
    and new earth nation

    we desperately need to see these worthy efforts succeed. they need all the support they can get.


    Charles- thanks! Been a while since I really dug. I’ll check these out- but later; at the moment, my sheep are out- tired of the winter paddock… 🙂

    John Day

    Let’s not put Nicole in an uncomfortable position.
    First, go to this site:
    Then click on the map of the village. It’s like Google satellite view.
    Back out a little.
    The village is on a hilly spot between an upper plateau and the lower plain.
    Upper and lower are obviously actively farmed.
    Akamai is the bad part that could not be farmed.
    The website itself is not an appeal to somebody who is on the path to building an ecovillage of working, farming, fix-it-yourself type people.
    The website is a sales pitch to the worried well-to-do.
    This place is short on people with “farm-smarts”.
    Anybody who has actually grown some food, or lived on a farm/ranch might look at this and think it is missing the obvious, which is the good farmland that the folks above and below claimed a century before.
    I’m looking for the opposite, land that was farmed 150 years ago, but is now fallow, or growing hay, undervalued, good alluvial bottom land, black-dirt. A dam upstream to deal with flooding of the rich flood plain is a nice touch. I’ve found something meeting this description, and if it’s still there in 14 months when all the kids are out of college and med school, I’ll be prone to make an offer, though I hate making deals with banks.
    The first step is doing the layout and planting fruiting and fuel trees, to keep an ag exemption. A utility building and a well come next, right?


    “Anybody who has actually grown some food, or lived on a farm/ranch might look at this and think it is missing the obvious, which is the good farmland that the folks above and below claimed a century before.”

    Which if it is that obvious, why did Nicole not immediately pick up on this? Speaks to her judgment IMO. In any event, seems like there is alot of moving around these days given that we are on the “verge” of deflation. So much for buy yourself a learning curve… Ann.

    Charles Alban

    interesting piece on radio NZ national last night
    about the problems on maori communities with the elders passing and the young migrating to the cities in search of paychecks. this is the fundamental problem we all suffer from…the need for cash income. this can only be solved by egalitarian income-sharing communities that share all their resources so nobody has to depend on their own meager resources. united we stand, divided we fall, and get picked off by the vultures.

    the romans had an interesting concept called a “gens”, which was essentially a legalized tribe. A large group of people take care of their own needs (including diety worship) like a large extended family. nobody is left to fend for themselves.

    John Day

    @ Cory and Charles Alban,
    Nicole has a family place in Canada, or did already have 5 years ago, and does know what partial-self-subsistence entails. “United we stand”, indeed. I don’t know more about Atamai than I said, but we did bike tour through Motueka in early 2006, as we surveyed New Zealand as a transplant family home.
    We didn’t settle, though I did interview for a job, and it was offered (in Christchurch, though).
    Not enough factors aligned to make it feasible. We are remarkable dependent upon our place and relationships within that place, especially as we get to middle age. We have so many networked responsibilities, which call us, and so many networked human resources, upon which to call. We have so much social capital, a real social economy.
    You don’t know what you’ve got, til it’s gone, or you try to relocate without it.
    Maori have to go where the jobs are. There are no Moa to hunt. Extinct.
    Lots of native Hawaiians now work in Las Vegas. Jobs.
    Nicole did specifically mention the lack of funding for a transition to Akamai.
    No jobs. No farm on-site. That narrows the list of who can live there to the “worried well to do” that I mentioned.
    It’s not such a good answer to the reasonable worries, since that outside money comes from a distributed and interwoven economy, and will likely evaporate if that economy folds.
    I know I’m preaching to the choir on all this. I’ve had some failed transitions, and have concluded that I really have to shelter-in-place at this point (56 y/o) in life. My wife and I have so many ongoing family-care responsibilities to the generation before us, and still to our adult children in college and med school.
    Where’s that “12 acres and a mule”?


    I’d echo the hope that Nicole expands on the problems of eco-villages and/or community land trusts. Kotare Village, mentioned in a post last year, seems to have gotten over some issues (primarily financial, unfortunately) that almost caused it to fail and seems to be headed in the right direction. I’d have loved to have given that a chance but familial responsibilities makes that impossible.

    It’s a shame that Nicole couldn’t make a “living” without needing (more) cash. Such is the world we live in.

    Ann, yes, one might say that Nicole’s judgment was off but no-one has all the answers – that is what we must always remember. You make the best judgement you can with whatever information you have at the time. You’re lucky if you get the chance to change your mind, in light of new information. Not everyone has that chance.


    “You make the best judgement you can with whatever information you have at the time. You’re lucky if you get the chance to change your mind, in light of new information.”

    Agree Tony. Irony is, as 2009 rolled on to 2010, 2011 and the “pushing on a string” “immutable as thermodynamics” liquidity crunch was suddenly looking very very mutable, it might have been wise incorporate that new information and revise that whole timeline thing accordingly. Sadly, that never happened…



    I agree with that, Ann. However, I’ve come to expect bloggers and politicians to never say they got something wrong.

    Nicole Foss

    A great deal of new information emerged at the village after I arrived there. I made my decision accordingly. I am now happily living in Wellington and looking for new opportunities in NZ. One day I will write a dos and don’ts for ecovillages, since there are many lessons that have emerged from the many ecovillages I’ve visited. I did a segment on this in the new DVD material I filmed in December. It’s now in post production.


    Dear Nicole and Raul

    This was a very interesting post, especially because it concerns the very human side of being late modern – creating a story about the struggles of living in this very strange world. All the great themes are here – dystopia, utopia, and the pragmatic struggles of the everyday as well as the problems and possibilities of human relationships. This is what makes a great story that in some way we can all relate to. In some ways it reminded me of the old automatic earth.

    I wish you both well

    Best John

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