“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”
My river starts in Malta in 1985, my parents chose Aimee as my name carrying the meaning of Beloved. My first experiences of nature are early in childhood running around grandad’s fields and country dwelling and at the boathouse by the sea, eating thick slices of Maltese bread smeared with red juicy tomato, drizzled with olive oil and speckled with salt and pepper. Never tiring of running, swimming and causing mischief we spent many hours playing at one with nature.
As we grew older my father used to take my siblings and me to the fields, his favorite crops were broad beans and peas. I have vivid memories of eating broad beans and beans straight from the pods I pulled off the plants. The mere existence of this abundance in itself a miracle, crops grown only with rain and no irrigation system in hot and sunny Malta. It was not immediately clear to me that what my father was doing was not quite right, this insight came much later, in my teens. Right then I made the acquaintance of the blue chemical fertilizer, I was forbidden to touch it, I did not understand why he would put into the ground something that was toxic to touch and then we would turn that into food. When asked why my father a little angry pointed at the soil and said, nothing would grow here without it. This was perhaps one of the first of many moments of awakening.
By 2001 it had become clear to me that something or indeed many things were fundamentally wrong, everywhere I looked was injustice, poverty, ecocidal and antisocial behavior. This discordance became increasingly hard to live with and for two years I battled within myself to continue living, find a way to cope and channel this energy away from the same self destruction I was experiencing around me, there was no support and no understanding. I felt increasingly angry, frustrated, helpless and alone. This time was marked by a surgical operation that saw me deprived of my appendix. It was right there in that hospital bed that I decided that in order to live I must seek support elsewhere, at that time and in that frame of mind I decided that this was best sought out of my home country.
By the end of that year I started a course in Hospitality Management that would put me on the Isle of Man by 2006. Here was my first encounter with a different kind of nature, the practices of organic farming, the gentle treatment of farm animals and the possibility that life on and from the land was possible. Walking through the countryside flanked by sheep on pasture, the green lands and abundance of water and life. Life became once more full of hope. I met nice people, became acquainted with the concept of food growing in allotments, without chemicals and a life without judgment. I understood life was possible with freedom to be oneself, with the possibility of fulfillment, peace and creativity.
In 2007 after almost a year I decided to stay, this meant I had to break my course before completion, a decision made in fear that once back in Malta I would not be able to leave again. I applied for a job where my boyfriend at the time was working in finance. I met many wonderful people working there, accepting, loving and supportive. This time in my life was in many ways instrumental to grow my understanding of the financial system and the socioeconomic factors that shape our world.
During my 10 year career in finance some things became very clear to me, the financial system today is nothing more than a machine to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, speculative markets pander to the human quality of greed and addictive dopamine induced highs of gambling, the day to day activities to perpetuate this system generated guilt, anger and shame in me like I had never experienced before. For years I tried to attenuate this grief, guilt and anger by volunteering my free time to those suffering on the other end of the scale, millionaire wealth management during working hours, drug addicts and troubled youths after hours.
The learning curve was steep both of the social work front and on the career front as I advanced up on the career ladder. This wide and extreme view of the spectrum together with the difficult emotions brought me to my knees, the first time in 2012 I left my career position and spent time working with the social work projects. I was financially poorer but my mental health improved, I felt like I was doing something worthwhile.
When we later moved to Malta I had to go back to work in finance to make ends meet. At the time I seemed blind to any other options. Part of me enjoyed doing what I was good at together with the take home pay and another part of me started dying again. If was not until I moved to Spain that my outlook started changing.
In 2015 the company had put me in Mijas on top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and in the distance I could see the Atlas mountains, in a 3 bedroom house, I lived on my own. This was the first time and the only time I lived on my own, my most poignant memory of this time is sitting on the terrace with a glass of wine and a fruit salad looking at the stunning surrounding views and crying out of sheer loneliness and grief that there was no one there to share it with. In that moment I decided that in order to save myself from descending into a deep and life threatening depression I would have to do something about this. I decided to sign up to couchsurfing as a host, this would mean that I could share the house that was paid for by the company with others on my terms, in a way that I felt safe.
My first couchsurfer was Ondrej, he introduced me to the workaway / woofing concept. During the next 2 years I hosted over 300 visitors that came from all corners of the world. From these visitors I learned about all possible ways of life, permaculture, the rainbow family, eco communities, festivals, squats, co-housing projects etc. etc. They gave me the courage to step beyond my comfort zone and I started traveling every weekend to different places all over the south of Spain and Portugal, often alone but sometimes with others. I visited projects and saw how applied permaculture, sharing and kindness was a viable way of life. In 2016, I met Franz, both at a crossroads with similar visions we started Eco Hacker Farm, with locations in both Spain and Germany we dove into retrofitting our buildings and practices using permaculture ethics as an anchor to make decisions.
The spanish town house became a place of learning and permaculture practice. The garden once a dry and desert steep rock face turned into a place to grow food. Together with regular visitors and events it was a resounding success. Sadly though no one answered the call to take it over when a year later, I left my job and decided to move to Germany to work with Franz.
Our applied permaculture projects are driven by the needs of the community, the buildings and land we are stewards of and our goals to spread permaculture into the world.
Some of these projects are:
- Compost toilet design, building and maintenance
- Rainwater catchment
- Compost production
- Mandala vegetable garden
- no dig gardening
- organic food production
- paper, straw mulching
- steeped nettle fertilizer
- tree planting
- Veg and fruit products – Juice / jam / dried / pickled
- wild foraging
- fostering a natural mushroom patch
- soil building / chop and drop
- chickens and ducks for slug and weed control, egg production, compost, meat
- Volunteer dormitory renovation and redesign
- Communal hackerspace
- Introduction to Permaculture
- Permaculture for Hackers
- Permaculture for Urbanites
- Insect hotels creation
- Young coders summer camp
Aranya’s book on permaculture design was my first ever purchase in terms of permaculture books in 2018. Before that I attended the Permaculture Design Certificate course run by Andrew Millison for Oregon Open State University in 2017.
My online learning was heavily influenced by permaculture practitioners on permies.com this kept me grounded into practical applications that I could experiment with on our site whilst providing me with the value of context.
Living in the countryside, I learned to accept and adapt to my limitations in terms of time, physical strength, work and life balance and also in terms of resources. Since I walked away from my career in finance my life has changed considerably, not only in terms of surroundings from the city to open countryside but also in terms of disposable income. Adaptation has been incredibly difficult and at times painful. As I enter my third year here I feel that I have finally started moving through the process where I can focus on which income flows I want to pursue. Part of this Action Learning Path is to hone into these and enable me to adapt faster for the implementation phase.
Attending the Permaculture Design Certificate course at High Heathercombe Center run by Aranya and Klaudia Van Gool in November 2019 filled me with hope and inspiration, I feel a lot of impetus to kickstart my diploma.
Many of the course attendees were also inspiring from Steph who works with children echoing an invitation received from Lea to give sessions at the local forest kindergarten. Olivia whose family have an organic farm echoing our struggles to produce a crop to take to market with a side income of accommodation also echoing our plans for the Ecolodge. Sameer the London urbanite echoing the permaculture for urbanites course I ran earlier this year. David the permaculture designer living in a van designing beautiful gardens at festivals, echoing my own desire to spread beauty and permaculture at festivals. Eti bringing permaculture to the public through puppetry and reminder to use play for art, culture and education, Janet on the board of her local group presenting permaculture to people who make decisions of how funding should be allocated. Maria running yoga courses and learning skills to apply for her own food production. The experience, sharing and network benefits went beyond the knowledge and practical skills learned during the course. It has made me question my interaction with the volunteers and how their experience could be improved and enriched during their stay with us.