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‘What Can I Do?' By an SLC Grad

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Learning how to contribute to a better world through the Golden Bay Sustainable Living Course.

By SLC grad Jemma Knowles

If you have been struggling to see where you fit in making this world a better place for generations to come, this is the course for you; take time out from your daily life, learn, absorb, enjoy and be inspired to act.

Why Did I Do the Golden Bay Sustainable Living Course?

For Jemma Knowles the Sustainable Living Course was an opportunity to regenerate

I decided to join the course because I was close to burnout from activism and geographical separation from my community and sense of place. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to explore many of the topics that I have always wanted to know more about and never made the time for, in one of my favourite places. In our society, it is so rare to have the opportunity to slow down and learn again. It came at just the right time in my life when I needed a boost to keep going, to keep contributing to this world in a meaningful way. The people, the place, the energy, the magic…I found it incredibly nourishing and healing. It re-energised and inspired me and I loved every minute!

What Did Sustainability Mean To me?

I have worked in the environmental sector for a long time. I have grown up with a geography teacher for a dad who has passed on a passion for consciously understanding our role within nature. The concept of sustainability has evolved and grown within me accordingly and has really been surpassed by the terms regenerative and restorative. My focus before the course had been on national and local community initiatives in response to my growing awareness of the global climate, ecological and cultural emergencies. I have friends who live on permaculture holdings that I have always been fascinated by but never had the personal knowledge or time to learn all about it. I was familiar with permaculture principles but had not taken time to fully immerse myself into understanding and living them.

The Magic of Mohua/Golden Bay

End of course retreat: students explore The Outpost, Mangarākau.

The location of Golden Bay makes this course what it is. This special place holds a magic that is totally unique, it heals and nourishes the soul. Although I have always lived in the south of the South Island, or overseas, Golden Bay has held a piece of my heart since the first moment I came over the Tākaka Hill many moons ago. There is so much beauty with the spectacular hills and valleys, the caves, the meandering rivers, the bush, the coastline, the headlands and bays. Sandwiched between two breath-taking national parks, it is a place of contrast. On the one hand, a place where people who are exploring ways of living and working in harmony with nature, naturally gravitate towards and on the other, a place where traditional extractive industries also thrive. I feel that this contrast is important for the content of the course, it’s the reality of the world. Outside of the course, the never-ending opportunities to join in with the local community and instant access to raw nature really made the whole experience for me. It is a beautiful bubble in a bubble that is difficult to leave.

A Day In My Life On The SLC!

I would wake up to the glorious vistas of the bay, do some nourishing yoga, hop on my bike and go for a dip in the river on the way to the community gardens.

My swimming spot

The beauty and buzz of the gardens always hit me full in the face as I entered it each day, like coming home. After a short time of catching up with fellow students, we would start with a daily exercise to check in and ground ourselves. Then it was deep dive into the topic of the morning. Generally, there was a lovely balance of lecture, opportunity for question and answer, individual and group participation exercises, visits to existing initiatives and fun! Morning tea was always a special treat from Kerryn’s magic culinary skills and a daily tea infused with herbal delights from the gardens. Re-energised we would go back to class to have our minds expanded some more and lunchtime would then come as a welcome mental break. More delicious nourishment, laughter, hugs, meandering through the gardens, soaking in the Vitamin D and general bliss. It was important to be nurtured from the inside through decent sleep and food to keep going throughout the afternoon and generally, tutors cleverly planned lessons and activities in accordance with the energy level of the group as a whole.

Permaculture Design Queen Robina McCurdy shares her knowledge

Subtle lessons for existing in community were interwoven throughout the day; the rotation of Mahi groups responsible for tidying, cleaning, washing and preparing, the personal responsibility for washing up, the communal offering of gratitude before eating.

The crew at the Mussel Inn, Onekaka

The evenings, for me, were either spent winding down, joining fellow students for local music, workshops and food, exploring the local area or just gathering at the beach for a singalong and chat. We did quite a bit of exchange as well; massage in return for dragon dreaming exercises, dinner in exchange for sewing and bike maintenance! I did have to make time to be able to continue my external obligations and responsibilities, but they were all connected with the overall theme of the course so felt complimentary!

I would go to bed mentally and physically ready for sleep, smiling at all the wonders that the day had brought and wishing that time would slow down.

My SLC Family

Oh, I found tribe! Just what I was looking for. Not just in the other students but also in the tutors, volunteers at the gardens, the trustees and the wider community.

We had quite a diverse range of ages, backgrounds and experience but came together in a really beautiful way. I experienced in-depth conversations about life and our place in the world, with consideration and awareness for each of our different, unique perspectives. The sharing of knowledge between students was just as valuable as the lessons from tutors. I experienced a whole lot of love and laughter and genuine care and support. It’s a wonderful feeling when you connect with people that you feel that you have known your whole life and that you know will be a part of your life forever.

The tutors where wonderful, every single one had so much to share and gave us so much; for that I will be eternally grateful. It was evident that they did not do it for the money but for a love of life and a desire to pass on their knowledge to make the world a better place. This was totally evident.

The Best Bits For Me...

Compost magic

The module topics are what enticed me to the course. I had expected more personal resilience and wellbeing/regenerative cultures and am happy to see this being integrated more in subsequent courses. I feel that being able to connect with ourselves, each other, our communities and the nature of which we are fundamentally part is an essential tool for facing the reality of our world. Not only on a personal level but also to be able to hold and support others as their awareness grows and as events unfurl that impact their daily lives. I found the way the course was delivered to be quite traditional. Whilst this was on one hand surprising, it was also quite wonderful to just sit and listen and absorb the wisdom of the tutors (which was immense!). There was a lovely balance of lecture, opportunity for question and answer, individual and group participation exercises, visits to existing initiatives and fun! If it has been a while since learning at this intensity then it could be overwhelming for some, I personally loved being able to relax and enjoy the journey without feeling the pressure of responsibility to deliver or organise.

Kia whakatomuri te here whakamua - I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on the past.

I LOVED the Māori perspective class and guest speaker introduced by Robina in the community resilience module. I feel that seeing the world through ancient eyes is essential to finding the solutions to the challenges we face and have been faced by many for a very long time. By connecting with, and understanding, indigenous wisdom and culture and why they have been suppressed, those of us in cultures who have lost our indigeny, our sense of place, our connection and respect for nature might just be able to find our way again. It struck a huge chord in me and had me in tears.

My other favourites were the natural building module and permaculture design as a whole. Mainly because I had never done any form of natural building, so it was all new and so wonderfully hands on! It was also amazing to see the examples out and about in the bay and be inspired by people’s ingenuity and can-do attitude. I loved how the permaculture principles were expanded from just how to best grow food with minimal impact to social cohesion and ways of being. Everything slotted together. Plus Robina was one of the most inspirational humans I have met and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to learn from her.

The Harder Bits...

The reality of the climate, ecological and cultural emergencies was not new to me at all. I observed many pennies dropping for others hence the need for provision of a nourishing container for emotions. The sustainable business module was not a new topic for me but I enjoyed exploring it with others and contributing to it. I love working in groups so that was not a problem. It took much more effort for me to learn which plants and trees go where and why and I really welcomed working alongside people with much deeper understanding and creativity. Every person who attended the course contributed in some way to the overall sharing of knowledge and experience.

The worst bit of the course was that it had to end!

What Next...

Since the course, I have been continuing to work on my personal project to turn a piece of pastureland into a community-owned regenerative agriculture farm and community hub.

A small part of the vision of the project is to hold similar workshops and courses to the one that I experienced in Golden Bay. I will be living next door to this land, on a 20-year-old permaculture project in a straw bale cabin, off grid. This course gave the gentle nudge to take this next step on my life journey. I have shared what I have learned with my family and friends, colleagues and fellow activists and they have been inspired to expand their knowledge and make changes to their connection with land, food, community and the planet as a whole.

SLC family!

I have loved meeting up with my permie family and enjoy our banter, care and sharing of knowledge and pictures through our chat group. Wherever we are, our connection runs deep.

I feel that the knowledge, experience and life-long friendships that I gained from this course are priceless to me and making the financial and time commitment is a decision I will never regret. I felt that it was a taster and a real lesson in the fact that this all can’t be learnt overnight or in a ten-week course. It confirmed to me that I owe it to myself, future generations of all beings and mother earth to continue this learning journey for the rest of my life with strength, courage, determination, curiosity and gratitude.

So much gratitude to the trustees, the tutors, my fellow students, the land and other humans who contributed to this rich experience.


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