Building a Community?

That healthy communities, and recognition of the interconnectedness of communities, is critical as we go on as a human civilisation I would have thought is a given.

But first, let me make it clear that when I say communities I mean all communities, both human and non-human. As far as this post is concerned however, I will concentrate on how human communities could fit better into a natural landscape.

What is the “natural” human condition?

As I look at our modern society I cannot help but be aware of how we put different segments of our communities into unnatural silos.

An example would be how we separate the elderly into rest homes or retirement villages where they are no longer part of a diverse community. In fact, the new large Retirement Villages appear to be based on a business model of making sure that every available cent is extracted from residents before they die. Sometimes we need to look at the past a little to get a different perspective.

In older times, and we are talking only prior to the industrial revolution in the west, and even more recently elsewhere, older members of the community were respected, cherished, and had an active role to play. Their wisdom based on years of experience was valued, if not followed. They mixed with children and other members of their community daily. This is I think a more natural and healthy way in which human societies function.

We see the same sort of silo thinking pervading how we humans interact with the landscape. Rather than small healthy and diverse communities working in and with nature, we see instead monocultures, whether dairy cows, sheep, or various forms of crops in rural areas while sprawling cities grow ever larger.

What Do I Think We Need to See Instead?

What I see is detail, thinking small. Micro enterprises that sit well within the landscape.

Would that few hectares of land be better as part of an immense farm or is there an opportunity for a family to make a decent living growing some sort of crop? For instance, when I look at our own landscape at Pukeokahu, I can see that there are many pockets of land that could well be better suited to say nut trees, maybe inoculated with truffles, rather than just sheep.

Patches of native forest can be fenced off to promote more bio-diversity, but also to allow a highly selective harvest of specialty trees with the timber used to create beautiful furniture. As the aim would be to ensure the full benefit flows within the community, the wood turner could live locally.

The ever-expanding vegetable garden at River Valley Lodge could one day be a micro enterprise where someone could make a living growing organic nutrient dense fresh produce. Someone else, or the same person could take any surplus and create authentic tasty relishes, chutneys and jams. All this with that person(s) living within the community.

As these micro enterprises flourished, there would be opportunities for others that did not take their raw materials directly from the land. People such as artists, and if there was fast reliable broadband available, why not people involved in some form of IT. There are no doubt also other opportunities for some sorts of tourism businesses (such as River Valley) as travellers seek to escape the masses that invade all the “must” sees. All these people working in these enterprises living side by side with people working directly on the land.

Some would argue that these ideas would just create cottage industries. In a sense this is correct, however what I am really talking about is layering. Our area, hill country pastureland, will always be primarily best for sheep and cattle farming, with pockets of exotic species forestry. That will not change in the foreseeable future.

But just imagine how much more resilient and productive much of our natural landscape could be if we encouraged micro enterprises, and communities that not only worked with the land, but also saw themselves as custodians, small eco-system managers if you will, who try to live in a balance and interconnectedness with natural communities.

We modern humans have lost much of our connection with the natural landscape. I think it is critical that we rediscover that connection, both for ourselves and for the natural communities of which we are a part, and on which we depend for our survival.


Brian Megaw

Organic Vegetable Garden at River Valley Lodge

Mixed Hazelnut and Tagasaste planting at River Valley, Taihape, New Zealand

The ever-expanding vegetable garden at River Valley Lodge could one day be a micro enterprise where someone could make a living.

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