Tires Together

One of our core projects here at Bhudeva is building our future house. We have been doing a lot of research on sustainable and ecological construction and we have been facing many challenges in bringing existing knowledge into context for our life here in Romania. Our latest design envisions a mostly underground house that will provide us with a year-long steady temperature of 21c without any energy inputs (neither for cooling in the summer nor for heating in winter). The core of our design is based on the concept of Earthships. At the heart of Earthship construction are massive walls built of tires that are packed full of earth.

So for many months we’ve been looking and asking around about tires here in Romania and this is what we found out:

  • Most tire dealers and repair shops sell some used tires that barely have treads but can still just barely be driven for 15-20 ron a tire (just to be clear – they are sold to people with old cars who can’t afford new tires).
  • Tire dealers are required to “recycly” through the state (represented by licensed operators) a certain amount of tires to offset new tires that they import.
  • The dealers are paid a symbolic 50 ban per tire collected from them.
  • Most of the collected tires are then sold off to different uses . Some are recycled (yey!!) into products such as car mats … however …
  • Many (we suspect most) are sold at a premium of 10-20 ron per tire (purchased in quantities of tens of thousands) to cement manufacturing companies (and their likes) who use them as fuel (boo!!) – it seems that a single tire contains a equivalent of 7.5 liters of oil!
  • We know of at least one giant pile of tires in Cluj-Napoca that is just sitting there slowly decomposing in the sun. We assume that other such piles can be found all over Romania.

Used tires is a waste product we (especially those of us who drive cars) are all responsible for creating. The concept of Earthships (built with earth-packed tires) was born out of recognition that this huge source of waste (available all over the planet) can be put to good use in creating houses (which it would seem are also needed all over the planet). Any recycling of tires requires high energy inputs (often starting with shredding). The thought of all the toxicity released when tires are burned as fuel (a single tire contains a equivalent of 7.5 liters of oil!) is mind-boggling. When used to build Earthships the tires are used as is and because they are completely buried they do not decompose or release any toxic gases (which they do when exposed to the sun).

Whenever we speak to someone in Romania about needing tires we quickly encounter an opportunistic greed. Regardless of the “asking-price-per-tire” we would also need to find a solution to sort through tires and have them brought over to our place which incur additional expenses. All this caused us to rethink about construction with tires – suddenly it seemed that concrete blocks that easily snap together would be much cheaper (and way faster to build with) then working with tires. However we really don’t want to resort to massive construction with concrete … so we scratched our heads and though of you … yes you ๐Ÿ™‚

Inspired by the awesome waves of goodness we encountered with the introduction of Cutia Taranului we decided to once again try collaborating with you – our fellow Romanians. Also in the spirit of Cutia Taranului we realized that the best way to get tires would be to go around the existing system rather than through it. It boils down to this … the next time you buy tires we would like to ask that you keep your old tires, don’t leave them to be used opportunistically as fuel.

Now look at your old tires … what do you see? Look closely … you are holding a personal invitation to visit with us at Bhudeva including at least a pleasant conversation, a tour and a tasty cup of herbal tea … and best of all you have become a contributer to a unique experiment in sustainable construction taking place here in Romania.

For our house we are going to need about 2000 tires (though we have other structures planned … so we will try to collect much more). Tires come in different sizes which are indicated with a combination of numbers printed on them. All you need to look at is the first number – the one that has the letter “R” in front of it. We need tires that are labeled as either “R15” or “R16′”. The larger “R16” tires will be used for the base of our walls and the “R15” tires will be used on top of them for most of the wall.

Lastly … since we are talking about garbage ๐Ÿ™‚ย  We are also going to need empty cans, empty wine bottles and used cardboard boxes. So if you are already holding on to tires an invitation to visit Bhudeva then pleaseย  hang on to these things you may be tempted to throw out ๐Ÿ™‚

Since tires are not often changed this initiative may move a bit slow so … please do spread the word to your family and friends ๐Ÿ™‚


Land of Peasants

I am writing this post sitting in my parents living room in Israel after watching Andreea in a live appearance on Romanian TV to speak about Cutia Taranului (I’ll update this post with the vide of the interview once it becomes available).

Since we launched Cutia Taranului we have been swept up by waves of goodness. All of Ildi & Levente’s boxes have found a home with families in Cluj; kind friends wrote about the project with their unique personal perspective and helped to spread the word (thank you Sam, Nora and Gina); a TV and news crew came out to inquire and help spread the word; we have been contacted by people from all over Romania asking when boxes will be available in their cities; we have been contacted by other peasants and are slowly helping them put together additional boxes (40 more boxes for Cluj will be announced in the coming days); Ildi and Levente have discovered a supportive and embracing group of customers new family amongst their fellow Romanians in Cluj; we have discovered that this country that is looked down at by other countries and too often its own citizens as being poor and corrupt is able to demonstrate qualities of trust, faith and support that have touched my heart and sent shivers down my spine … and I could probably go on and on.

However there is one interesting feedback that has popped out 2 or 3 times that surprised me and I believe deserves to be addressed. There are people for whom the word “peasant” comes with negative connotations … for them peasants is equated with a simple, primitive and poor life. As a result, when we speak of “peasants delivering fresh food directly to your doorstep” these people perceive us as patronizing … as if we, the foreigners playing “little house on the Romanian prairie” are taking advantage of the poorness of peasants.

In Romanian the word for peasant is Taran (spoken “tsaran”) for men and Taranka (“tsaranka”) for women. The meaning of that word is not “simple, primitive, poor people who live a shabby life in a shabby house growing their own food”. The meaning of the word is “man of the earth”. The Romanian language is not particularly pleasant to my ear, it’s a fairly “functional” language, it doesn’t have the depth of Hebrew – my mother tongue. However it has this one beautiful word that simply means “man of the earth”. I look forward to earning the right to label myself as “man of the earth” and I have nothing but awe and respect for people who are “of the earth”.

Romania is literally a land of peasants. It’s not an opinion, it’s not a romantic description … it is a fact. Practically half of the Romanian population are peasants. It isn’t a land of wonderous cities (it is a land where cities are basic functional creatures of necessity that rely on and support peasants). It isn’t a land of industries (however it was once the world leader in production of hemp and hemp products). It is a land of peasants. So much so that I have a feeling that when industrial forces swept across the planet during the previous century, some core quality of Romania (it’s nature?) resisted. Even now when it is under attack by unrelenting foreign financial powers, it, in its own way, is resisting change (though I am not sure it will be able to hold out much longer).

Maybe this is why in many ways Romania is a “backwards” country – where the village market parking lot is packed full of horse-carriages and not cars? Maybe this is why it has historically manufactured Dacia cars which are ridiculed by the west but perfect for a land of peasants – cars that are simple, cheap, long lasting (you can see many very old cars moving around Romania) and super easy to fix for local village technicians (qualities that were for the most part lost when Dacia became ambitious about expanding into European markets). Maybe this is why Romanian population is in decline – as if preferring to fade away instead of betraying its true nature?

After Andreea’s interview the show aired a story about some 40,000 euros of EU funding that, if I understood correctly, were intended to support local farming. I was amused (and slighty offended) when they used the images they shot for Cutia Taranului (at our place and at Ildi & Levente’s home) to illustrate their point. In that piece two people were interviewed, both officials who work in government agencies charged with distribution of EU funds to farmers and peasants. Both were wearing suites and ties and looked, to me, like aliens in a land of peasants. THERE, in them, I could sense a lack-of-interest at best and patronizing attitude at worst towards the “simple, poor peasants who should be grateful for the EU funds that come to their rescue”.

Then … ๐Ÿ™‚ there was another live english speaking interview (I could barely follow it because of the simultaneous translation) with an english speaking professor and a colleague from the UK. They were praising Transilvania and its food and spoke about food-tourism and all sorts of things – they love the place (Transilvania) and support and promote it. It was a very positive and supportive interview. One of the last questions presented by the interviewers was something like “What would be your one recommendation for us to grow in this direction?”. The answer was direct and simple “support your local producers”. I most definitely agree ๐Ÿ™‚

I am so relieved and proud that we were able to establish our life in the village and to breathe life into Cutia Taranului without any EU or other public funding (which we did consider when we first set out). Call me crazy but wouldn’t it be fantastic if Cutia Taranului could reach peasants and city-dwellers all over Romania? If it could recreate a traditional and sustainable coexistence of village and city? If it could remind Romanians of the natural abundance that is available to them? If it could recreate a sense of personal security (for both peasants and city-dwellers) in these unclear and unstable times? Wouldn’t it be super-awesome-cool if instead ofย hemorrhaging money to greedy foreign banks, Romania could softly gravitate, literally from the ground up, towards a natural economy that would enable it to get over its past mistakes (pay its debts) and keep its copper and all its other god-given natural resources?


Springing into Spring

I have fallen behind reporting on our most recent happeningย  … not because there haven’t been any but because there have been sooooo many.

We were blessed with a local gypsy worker who was all around excellent. He has helped us quite a bit over recent days. At first he helped us to clean out the area in front of the house. This included more destruction, cleaning and organizing. We now have a large open space and a huge and fairly organized pile of scrap wood.

Then we asked him to stay another day and help us clean out the large prune orchard behind the house. It was overgrown and overpopulated. We took down many unhealthy trees and provided better space for the remaining trees. Meanwhile I used the tree cuttings to build large Sepp Holzer style Hugelkultur raised beds of which there are 5 … with plenty of wood still hanging around (more on this project in a separate post).

Then we had him help us fix the rear (north wall of the house). It was in bad shape and we decided not to deal with it last year. Then a few weeks ago Andreea noticed a cool draft of air coming in through the wall above her head. So the wall has been fixed and hopefully will hold out for a long time (more on this in a separate pose).

Amidst all this work we finally launched Cutia Taranului. It has been amazingly well recieved. Waves of goodness are spreading out and coming back to us. Ildi & Levente‘s boxes have almost sold out. We have had requests for boxes from people all over Romania. We have also been contacted by other peasants who wish to join the project to sell their produce. We are overwhelmed by the waves of good-will this project has stirred. Andreea has spent many hours responding to emails and speaking to people. Next week, while I’ll be away in Israel, Andreea together with Ildi and Levente will be interviewed for both newspaper and TV. Fantastic energy.

During the weekend, right after the launch of Cutia Taranului, we were visited by some friends from the city together with some really nice people from organizations that are working to support peasants in Romania.

Cutia Taranului is another loud and clear confirmation that we are finally on our correct path. We are catching up with our Dharma and where there was once bitter friction there is now sweet flow. A true blessing.

Today I started out with some wood chopping but realized that I am physically tired. So I went back inside and got back to doing some coding – something I haven’t done since SweetClarity. I’ve begun designing and building a web-application that will enable us to better manage and organize the information that is rapidly accumulating around Cutia Taranului.

I am beat but very content ๐Ÿ™‚

Monday I am flying to Israel to visit my family (for the Jewish Passover holiday) in what is an almost historic family reunion. I’ll try to see some friends … but otherwise intend to rest. We have many things we want to do when I get back. This year is very different from last year. Last year we were in a race to finish preparations for winter. This year there is no race. Ahead of us is a vast space of exploration that we can now travel through and enjoy at our own pace. We are heading into a nice life ๐Ÿ™‚

Cutia Taranului – Celebrating Romanian Peasants

During the time we’ve been here in Romania we have taken an interest in the way of life we have chosen for ourselves – a sustainable and abundant peasant(ish) life. One of my first impressions of Romania (from my first visit here in 2009) was of the market in Piatra Neamt – I was blown away by the abundance, quality and affordable prices of vegetable produce in Romania. My jaw literally dropped, especially when I realized what a heaven this could be for a vegetarian like myself. Mind you this was in December – winter time when there the market offerings are not nearly as rich as in spring and summer.

However when, less then a year later, we arrived in Cluj, my impression of the market was … disappointing, especially since I expected to find an even richer offering since Cluj is a larger city and in Transylvania (west Romania) which is considered a more economically and culturally developed then Moldova (east Romania). The market had much less to offer and the prices were much higher.

Since this is intended to be a celebratory post I will keep my rant short. The peasant way of life in Romania is under a relentless attack from many directions. However we believe that the peasant way of life is not just a wonderful path towards an abundant life but is a strategic national resource in terms of sustainability. Simply put: Romania is still a country that can feed itself and that makes it a rare and special place on this planet. We feel that should be nurtured and protected.

With that in mind and heart, and as a celebration of both spring and Romanian Peasants, we are excited and happy to share with you a project, one that has been slowly brewing for almost a year. At first it was just an idea we tossed around openly. Then, shortly after moving out to Mociu we met Ildi and Levente, neighbors and peasants from whom we purchased most of our winter food supply (an abundance we are still enjoying), who, despite their justified skepticism listened to what we had to say and ultimately agreed to partake in our little experiment. Our idea was to create an alternate sales channel that would enable peasants to directly bring their produce to city-customers in a simple, reliable and sustainable way (bypassing the existing obstacles and abuses peasants have to deal with). The code name for the project was “Peasant Box” which in Romanian translates into “Cutia Taranului”.

The idea isn’t original, it has been applied in various forms in many places around the world. Peasant families offer boxes of produce that are delivered directly to customers in the city. Customers in the city can choose a box they would like delivered to them but not it’s exact contents. The contents of these boxes are a result of a delicate and miraculous collaboration between a peasant family, their work and Mother Nature. Therefore it changes with the moods of nature and the seasons of the year. By joining a box customers get healthy fresh food and a direct, continuous and co-supportive relationship with a peasant family.

Currently the project is an experiment with one peasant family. All it takes is 50 families in the city of Cluj-Napoca for them to sell almost all of their produce (available as either a small or large box). It would guarantee them a steady and reliable income without having to pay the outragous fees of the city markets and without having to stand in the markets long days. There are other long term benefits – but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves ๐Ÿ™‚ If this experiment works we hope to see many more boxes being offered by peasants to cities all over Romania.

All that is left is to invite you to have a look at Cutia Taranului, and if you live in Cluj-Napoca maybe you too can enjoy the wonderful produce that Ildi and Levente grow ๐Ÿ™‚

Sunday - March 18, 2012

strange day of soft doings … really warm weather … we hired a local to clean out the front yard (may take 2 weeks) … took some photographs of/at Ildi and Levent, I saw bees in hives incuding eggs and a queen … and … well … feeling calm and tired – strange mix ๐Ÿ™‚

Saturday - March 17, 2012

Another sunny and even warmer day … bare arms were spotted in the fields ๐Ÿ™‚

I started with (finally) installing a light at the entry to the house. I couldn’t detect a current in the existing -lamp wires and we prefer to avoid playing with any existing wires so it doesn’t crumble and fail the entire house. So I installed new cable running through a broken part of a window into the bedroom – and to turn on the light we need to plug the cable in. Clumsy … bet there is light ๐Ÿ™‚

As I was doing this I saw that our neigbhors were pruning their trees and they had piled together a bunch of cut branches and were preparing to torch them. I sent Andreea to them and she stopped them and we got two nice piles of tree trimmings. We carried to our property the trimming that had already been cut and they were kind enough to carry the additional trimmings close and onto our property. They couldn’t understand (a) why we were collecting their garbage and (b) how come we really weren’t turning the land in our fields. Hint – the two are connected – raised beds ๐Ÿ™‚ We’ve already started piling up bits of trees for our first raised bed … and they made a nice donation to that effortย  … more to come on that soon.

Then we got on with our main project for today – getting started with the temporary green-house for getting our seeds started early. We hacked together a slightly raised frame (all scrap wood) in the field next to the well (so watering should be easy). Andreea filled it with cuttings (see above mentioned neighbors pile) so there to we would enjoy some water retention capabilities (and be less dependent on watering).

In the cuttings we found two that looked like willows – so we planted them too … potentially two new trees ๐Ÿ™‚

And to bring the work-day to its end I hauled up 4 wheelbarrows of horse-manure – also a gift from our neighbors (who’s son hauled up the 5th and last batch). That was a difficult (uphill) task … pooped (some pun intended) me out ๐Ÿ™‚

Next up is putting in arches from willow cuttings, filling it with dirt mixed together with the horse-manure, buying a plastic cover and setting up a fence around it to keep the chickens out (hopefully in a few months the chickens will be fenced in … making gardening life easier for us).

Friday - March 16, 2012

Today was a special day. The sun came out, there was no wind (the two previous days were very windy and we didn’t feel welcome outside to work), snow has almost disappeared (except for a few patches here and there) … and we had a lovely day of work. At first we both dressed in our thermal layers but we both quickly came back inside to take them off. It was really warm.

Our project for the day was organizing the half of the barn in which the flock lives. We are getting plenty of eggs and even the ducks have begun laying. Brooding season is just around the corner and we prepared nesting and brooding boxes (which we can completely isolate when necessary) for the flock to get used to. We converted two old crates that were lying around into “duplex nests”. I got the tops detached and built separators in each box while Andreea cleaned them out and painted with with lime. We also built an improvised space that can be closed off for two more nests for the ducks. So we are pretty much good to go. We have started setting aside eggs … so … now we wait ๐Ÿ™‚

And …. drum roll … we spoke to the internet guy again … and he apologized, said he had no more excuses and will come next week to get everything going. That would be soooo great ๐Ÿ™‚

2nd 1st Shower

The day before yesterday I managed to get running water into the house again. Yesterday morning I was relieved to see the infrastructure survived the still freezing night temperatures. It was flowing just fine. Yesterday evening we showered again .. for the 2nd 1st time … and it was just as wonderful as the 1st 1st shower.

Warning – true story ahead. Some years ago (while still living in a city in Israel) I needed to make a large batch of tea (I don’t remember why). I remember standing in the kitchen wondering how to go about it. In my mind I saw a bunch of cups on the counter with a tea bag in each. It felt too complicated. Andreea caught me pondering and suggested I simply put the tea bags in a large pot with hot water. At the time it seemed like a genius solution … and no I am not really that stupid I was however “programmed” to doing these a certain way. One things “programs” fail to do is deal with things for which they aren’t programmed.

Living here in Bhudeva has drastically changed the way I do things. Not only am I required to learn lots of new things (right now there are more new and unknowns in my life then there old knowns) but I am required to change how I learn. What does all this have to do with a shower?

Well showering is a program like any other. When we first arrived here we didn’t have running water. My “shower programming” went haywire. Fortunately Andreea knew of an alternative “village bathing” program. It’s pretty simple: All you need is a small plastic tub (large enough for you to sit in), some heated water mixed together with cold water and a small rag. You start with your face when the water is cleanest and soap-less. You can sit in or over the tub for washing your genitals. Then you use the rag to wash your body part by part. If you happen to be a couple then a “village bath” can be a wonderful gift of grooming … and beyond ๐Ÿ™‚

I was fascinated to learn that it is possible to bathe without electricity or running water. I was also amazed at how little water is needed for it (talk about sustainability). But more importantly I learned (yet again) to be adaptive and flexible. I felt empowered by it.

If you live in a city and depend on electricity and running water and they fail (which they occassionally do) there is nothing you can about it. You are helpless. When we purchased our pump I remember thinking what we would it should if fail? should we get a spare pump? what it if fails in winter and we are snowed in and we can’t get to the city to get a new pump? Well those questions have been answered … and the answers are simple and peaceful. When we were without running water for a few weeks we still had waterย  – of course we had to schlepp buckets from the well … but we had a well with water for shlepping. Our rocket stove (which requires schlepping of wood) continues to generate heat without electricity. Our practiced ability to live and function independently is empowering and liberating – it is a core skill in moving towards a sustainable life.

However it was fantastic to stand in our home-made shower with running hot water again ๐Ÿ™‚

Friday - March 9, 2012

We have been going through another period of freezing temperatures in the night, some days warm up others do not.

In the last few days I have renewed my effort to restore our running water. It was quite an obstacle course. First getting the pump working indicated a pressure problem which led me to check the pipe going into the well only to find it was ruptured due to freezing. So we had to go to the city to get a new pipe, got the wrong size (long story – take nothing for granted is all I would say at this point … got pissed off. Tried to make use of the wrong sized pipe. Failed. We drove to the city again (this time also to check up on an opportunity to buy a second hand polytunnel – which turned out to be not that good of a deal) … got new pipe.

Today I got back to work. Almost everything had frozen again … and after a long day of work I am happy to say that it looks like we have running water again. I honestly do not know if it will survive a freezing night … but at this point all I can do is hope for the best. Everything is better protected but still not fool-proof. Tomorrow I will take care of the plumbing leading water out the house and maybe we’ll be able goย  shower at home again ๐Ÿ™‚

Thursday - March 1, 2012

We’ve been silent because 1) not too much has been happening and 2) Andreea was ill after which 3) I was shortly ill. We’re both much better now … though both bodies are still slowly recuperating.

We had a really nice today – March 1st is considered the official beginning of spring in Romania … and it really came off as such. After two freezing days, today was sunny and relatively warm. It’s a new sensational experience for me – white still being the dominant color in our south-facing hill across from the house … yet warm. The mud is a giveaway – white is slowly giving way to brown. I am not yet at peace with mud … especially ours which is clay-rich … so really slimy and extra muddy. It’s amazing (for me) to see puddles on exposed earth – indicating that the soil is saturated with water.

We went out to the village center for a small celebretory cake and coffee. We got before the guy who brings our milk (he usually leaves it there and we pick it up later in the day) and so we met with him too, paid him for the February milk and collected the fresh bottle. We spoke to my parents to let them know we are both well, picked up a couple of things in the hardware store, postoffice … and headed home. Andreea took in some sun while I changed to work clothes and got to work.

Yesteday Levente was here and helped me work on getting our water flow restored. I won’t bore you with the details … we made great progress (though still no running water) … and we had to protect everything from freezing again (as we may still get frosts during the night). That included covering the well itself with a temporary plastic cover – the well acts as a cold sink … and the pipe running down into the water can freeze. So today I headed into the workshop and got to work on a proper well-cover. I had a great time … hacked together a cover that is partly anchored and partly opening. Got it done and assembled and all went well. It was a f first “all nail” project … except for drilling the concrete (I really hate working with concrete) of the well-casing.

Meanwhile Andreea got to work on our deteriorating kitchen space and cleaned stuff up there. We are now indoors, the rocket is warming up the room, water is heating for a “Romanian village bath” … and evening is upon us.

It’s nice to be gradually coming out of winter hibernation. This will be out first spring here (we first saw the place in winter and moved here in the following summer). We’ve got a current list of projects to get started on … and as weather permits we are heading into another round of creation ๐Ÿ™‚