Attending FanFest 2013

I decided to go to Rosia Montana by car. It isn’t too far from Cluj (~130km) and I had passengers with me to pass the time in conversation.

Arriving at Rosia Montana is mostly uneventful. We were suddenly there – another Romanian village. The main and most noticeable change are the brainwashing banners hung by the gold mining company describing the benefits to the locals.

The event is organized and operated by volunteers. This was my first time attending such an event and I was really impressed. There is a headquarters area where there is a large campground and kitchen that feeds over 300 people (volunteers and guests) 3 times a day (though food is not cooked on rocket stoves but on very wasteful fires).

From what I understood the event was originally entertainment-based (mostly music concerts) that was intended to draw youth to the place. It seems to be maturing to something more purposeful with plenty of sessions on many social subjects (mostly flavored with activism). Activities take place in many locations.

I felt welcome but not belonging. The food was really good and offered me plenty of support given how outside-my-element I was.

The rocket stove session drew quite an audience and I can only hope that many more small cooking rocket stoves are now built and working.

The first Yoga session drew a small group ~10 people. The second was much larger ~30 people. Both were held in an unsupportive space: outdoors, on a rugged hilltop, in the sun, with plenty of sound from all over the place. The second session, out of respect for those who attended the first, was faster – enabling the newcomers to sort-of catch up and then to move on. It was, for me, a magical session. People were attentive and put in good effort. When it was over I felt that the practice had isolated the hilltop from the surrounding busy-ness and transformed it into an island of peace.

I can say much more about the event, the place, the people … but I don’t feel like doing it and don’t feel it is valuable. But I do want to make a note of something about the overall karma.

I have great respect for the people who make this event possible. It takes huge commitment and tons of work to make it happen. Yet I have my doubts about the long-term effects of confrontational attitude that dominates the event.

The most poignant example in my mind is the smoking. People there smoke a lot and its young people – they are aware and know what smoking does – and yet they smoke … a lot. They smoke openly in the faces of non-smokers and they do so everywhere. And I wondered why do they think that it is OK for them to destroy their (and others’)lungs and that it is NOT OK for the mining company to want to destroy a mountain (interestingly: the lung destruction is already happening while the mountain is still unharmed). In my mind there a difference mostly  in scale. Both represent an attitude of destruction towards nature.

It is easier and satisfying to turn against an outside enemy then to look inside. But I believe that actions motivated by such perceptions have limited effect and are likely to have undesired consequences.

I wondered quite a bit about taking action with the gold-mining company rather than against it. I realize it sounds like a futile effort but I believe that in the long term it may be a valuable one. I believe that the “us and them” mentality is wrong (incomplete, misinformed, immature, etc.). I believe that for both individual and social growth there needs to be continued movement toward a “we” mentality. I am cofident that moving in that direction will take a very different kind of effort (then the kind required to produce the event) and cause an expansion of awareness. Maybe pursuing a connection with the gold mining company will cause many of the young people involved to quit smoking? who knows.

Since my visit to Rosia Montana there have been large and peaceful protests in Romania. It seems that the movement (which has many fronts) has been successful (at least temporarily) in stalling the daft destructive (on so many levels) act of gold-mining (despite a threatened undergound hunger strike by a whopping 33 miners who, of course, support mining).

An interesting and rare historical perspective on Rosia Montana.

Evidence That EarthShips Do Not Work in Europe

That title isn’t quite fair because it isn’t exactly true. But given the hype around Earthships I felt it is a deserved.

This short post was prompted by a longer article where the author inquires into the performance of Earthships in Europe. He raises exactly the same questions I encountered in my research. He made an effort to reach out to known Earthship projects in Europe to inquire about their performance and this is what I read between the lines:

  • There are very few Earthships in Europe.
  • Most European Earthships do not have permanent residents (if at all, cats do not count).
  • There is very little information on performance.
  • From what little information there is, it seems there are severe performance issues.
  • There is very little sense of joy from all this.

The author is less blunt then me. I’ve written before that I think the Earthship “formula” is wrong for a cold and moist European climate. I also feel that the knowledge around Earthships is incomplete because I did not come across any information on why they are designed they way they are,why they work where they do and why they do not work in the European climate.

I did however find the Passive Annual Heat Storage book where (1) I finally found explanations on how underground houses behave and (b) answers to all the questions presented in the linked article and then some.

Five Dead Ducks

This post on my personal blog was posted there because it felt to me more personal than informational. However it does have some practical information on our flock and electric fence and what not … so you may want to check it out.

Monday - September 2, 2013

Fall is arriving. This morning at 09:30 the car ambient thermometer registered 13.5c … had to put two more layers when I went outside. Sudden change.

Another round of winter preserves is just around the corner – should get started within a week or two. Drying is already well on the way (though becoming trickier as sunshine becomes less predictable – I’ve already lost a batch of prunes). Zakuska recipies are ready and pickling is just about ready to go.

It is now a recurring theme that at this time of year our exchange with Ildi & Levente changes from money into goods … and it is so pleasant  … for both sides. We are stocked up with honey for the winter (still not taking from our own hives) and hopefully in the coming weeks most of the veggies for Zakuska will come from them too.

I’ve improvised a shelter for wood with a large plastic sheet – two corners ties to the garage, one to a tree and a fourth to a metal post I put in the ground. It has a slope to drain water away and will hopefully hold out to the snows. I’m jut finishing cutting up for storage (in said improvised shelter) the wood from last! year. We should have plenty for this winter and then some left over. This year the wood will also be better seasoned (drier) so hopefully we will need even less. If time and money will allow it we may buy another batch this year to set aside for longer drying … so we would be set for 3 or 4 years with wood. The house porch is also fairly filled with wood that has been further cut (to rocket stove size pieces) in spring … I’ll cut some more in the coming months so most of the cutting for winter is or soon will be done.

Other then the Zakuska which can be an intense 2 weeks … this fall promises to continue to be mellow and relaxed.

As the temperatures are dropping I seem to be spending more time outdoors. Though I tend not to go outside unless the solar hot water boiler is hot or getting hot … my rule “if there aint hot water at the end of a day I aint gettin’ dirty” 🙂

I like this period of transition.


Fanfest 2013

For the past few years (I think 5, though I am not sure) there has been a summer event called FanFest in a place called Rosia Montana (~130km from Cluj Napoca). Rosia Montana is an area rich with gold and has attracted the attentions of greedy corporations who together with corrupted & ignorant Romanian governance have been working relentlessly to start mining operations that would have destructive consequences not just for Rosia Montana but the entire western area of Transylvania. I don’t know enough about the details of this long battle but my values put me on the side of nature.

A few weeks ago the organizers of FanFest invited to me come to the event and represent Cutia Taranului at a debate on social activism. I am a bit wary of such events since travelling, camping, festivaling and what not … are not in my nature. After a few days of consideration and a kind promise by the organizers that they would arrange accommodations (a place to sleep and food to eat) for me I opted to go.


Shortly after that I realized that if I am already there why not make the most of it? So it look like I will be quite busy at Rosia Montana:

  • I will be participating in the social activism debate.
  • I will be giving two “introduction to Yoga” workshops (Friday & Saturday).
  • I will be giving a workshop on how to build a 16 brick rocket stove and through it introducing the core concepts of rocket-stoves.

So I look forward to seeing you there, and if you are a reader of this blog please do come and say hello.


Australian Earthship Build Video

Dan contacted me and sent me this video of an Earthship built in Australia. The video includes image sequences that are packed with information. If I find any more information on this build with still pictures and words I will update this post with it.

Sheep Milking

After the spring sale of the young sheep the rest are grazing all around the place. They have a fenced roundup area which has to be moved periodically so that the ground does not get overcome with their urine and manure (just the right amount means it will flourish like crazy next year) … and they moved it right next to our place so one evening I went out to see their milking … it’s done twice a day 6am and 6pm. First the sheep are brough into the fenced area:


The guy carrying the stick is the shepherd (Choban in Romanian). He seems slightly drunk most of the day and very drunk at other parts of the day. This is what he does. He gets paid per season (essentially a year, though he typically has the winter months “off”) per head.


There are still a few suckling youngsters in the herd:P1060419

The milking process is efficiently executed using a smaller separate enclosure. They try to herd into it only those sheep that need to be milked though a few others slip in too and skipped (it is important not to miss any of those that do need to be milked). Ricky always gets very excited when sheep are herded and always wants in on the action … though not always useful:


Once all the sheep-to-be-milked have been collected into the separate fenced area it is closed offP1060425

And then their only way out is through the milking station which stands between them and “freedom”P1060426

Hand are washed (the two guys on the right are the owners of the herd and the one on the left is the shepherd)P1060428

And the sheep start flowing through. Notice that the shepherd  is taking his time … he will start after the other two and his milking pot will be filled when the other two are only half full … he’s the professional in the groupP1060430

You have to be alert, the sheep are happy to just run through to their freedom without being milked. They are usually caught by the tale or a hind legP1060432

And milked. There’s isn’t much milk in a sheep … they milk ~130 sheep and will have a yield of about 40-50 liters total … these are grass-and-weeds-fed-only animals. I asked but my Romanian is not good enough to receive an explanation of the purpose of the cup hanging in the milking pot.P1060434

On the other side of the wall the sheep are so crowded that they are practially lined up to pass through


Though there is a guy with a stick to prod and remind them and keep them packed against the two-passages. He can be (too!) fierce.


And all three are in full-milking modeP1060441


And slowly the herd flows from the smaller enclosure to the larger one (which is wide open … yet the sheep stay inside).P1060449

Clean shoes are awaiting their ownerP1060451

Knees are used to keep keen sheep from passing through before they are invited in.P1060453


Beer is VERY big in Romanian villages … almost everybody drinks .. alotP1060459

But when you are the guy with the stick … you have to stay on the job otherwiseP1060460

When the milking pots are filled the process is paused and the milk is transferred into large (25 liter) aluminum containers






And the guy with the stick gets “busy” as fewer sheep are left:


And this happens twice a day


Hands are washed   P1060477

The pots are also washed and the milky-water is given to the dogs who happily make it disappear really fastP1060479

Some males showing off malesP1060480



The “structure” in the background is the “hut” in which the shepherd lives.P1060487

And this his dinner:P1060490


Some of the milk goes to personal consumption (including ours) and the rest is sold (via collection trucks) to one of the large national dairy-producers. There are other flocks whos milk is processed into cheese products. The milk containers fit perfectly into the trunk of an old Dacia … as if its trunk was designed FOR the milk containers. The Dacia needs to push-(as in by people)-started


Unlike horses and carriages (true 4×4) which for the most part start very reliably P1060495

Thursday - July 4, 2013

Started the day with a walk to Ildi & Levente go give them stuff for Andreea. The day before yesterday I was invited to a cherry picking … so yesterday I made my first Vishinitsa (Romanian Tsuika with cherry syrup) … came out very nice. So I sent some to Andreea together with a jar of the leftover cherry-mush – also yummy!

Then I did another coat of paint on the pieces of wood that can now be constructed into the bases for the 6 new solar dehydrators.

Potential rain tomorrow … so I headed out to collect the hay I cut into a pile (keeping for winter, when we use it as bedding for the flock). Since I don’t have a horse & carriage nor a carriage to hook up the car it was either do a lot of walking with hay stuck on the fork … or … I tried to use the wheel-barrow to create larger piles. I think it looked ridiculous but it worked. I managed to load and esily transport in a single wheel-barrow 4 or 5 times the amount I would have been able to carry by fork. A nice pile is standing next to the barn … proud … its my first … cut, turned, collected and piled on my own. I even brushed the sides so that the rain would wash off (though I will probably cover it with a tarp too). It’s already starting to look less impressive as it settles into place.

Took a break, ate, snoozed a bit … then didn’t really feel like working more. So I did some kitchen-cleaning, did my on-the-mat Yoga practice and …

… went outside to check the beehives. Good news is that the pre-emptive split we did about a month ago (there were signs of potential swarming … lots of males and queen cells) looks to have taken well – plenty of activity, brood, construction and honey collection – though still a small family. I hope they are able to get strong enough and collect enough honey to make it through winter. However I have a feeling that the original hive also swarmed. I saw two swarms .. one was just around the time ours should have … so it may have … and the other just today. I couldn’t spot the queen (but I can rarely do that), the hive is still very active, plenty of honey but I also did not see sign of brood. I did see two queen-cells … so … looks like swarming (the colony split and many left with the queen and honey stores to form a new colony) may have happened.

The flock is set for the night, dogs are fed, all the wood from the finishing stand has been brought inside, dinner is cooking … and I am calling it a day.

Summer Cancellations Again

Dear members of Cutia Taranului,

There are two things happening with Cutia Taranului that are causing us discomfort:

  • There are more than a handful of members who are asking for boxes once every two weeks (instead of every week).
  • There are quite a few cancellations piling up from members who are going away on summer vacation.

If Cutia Taranului was just about selling food then we wouldn’t be writing this. But it isn’t. It is about a supportive collaboration and for the most part long term relationships between families who produce food in villages and families who consume food in cities. One of the key features of this relationship is a continuous and reliable relationship for both sides. Canceling boxes (for either of the above reasons) compromises the reliability of the service.

Though its kind of dumb and obviosu to say this – we feel it needs to be said: plants don’t go on vacation and don’t stop producing food. The work and care that peasant families have put into farming does not and cannot “go on vacation”. The summer time, when people also go on vacation, is a time of peak production. Finally, after months of work, produce yields reach their peak … and just then … cancellations appear. The accumulative effect is a substantial loss of income for the peasant families for work they have already put in. Every time a box isn’t delivered is a direct loss to them. The work has been put in, the food is ready and the delivery route is already driven … but less boxes are delivered. This isn’t right.

It isn’t right because the burden falls completely on the shoulders of the peasant families (both for the work and the loss of income). The peasant families won’t say anything because you have put them in an uncomfortable situation. They are grateful for your memberships … more and more so as time passes and the relationships become long term ones … and so they are uncomfortable saying anything about this, but it hurts them.

We wrote about this last year (and were very happy when a few people acted accordingly) and suggested that the best option is “pass it on”. If you go on vacation or have to cancel for any reason try to find someone else: a friend, neighbor or family who can accept delivery of the box instead of you. This is really the best solution where you don’t have to pay anything, the peasant family get full payment and someone you care about gets to enjoy wonderful fresh food.

However given the cancellation this year we feel the need for a more aggressive intervention. As we see it there are two other options to better (than the current one-sided situation) deal with this:

  1. Members who go on vacation (or cannot find a way to deal with weekly deliveries) will have their memberships cancelled and their places will be made available to others.  When they come back from the vacation, if places are still available, they can sign up again and continue getting food. Please keep in mind that there is a constant waiting list of people, so we expect these places will be quickly taken up and will not be available when you get back.
  2. Members who go on vacation (or cancel for any other reason) will be required to pay half the price of every box that they cancel. This payment will honor and value the continuing membership that is being reserved for them. This way the burden of cancellation is divided between peasant families and members.

The 1st option isn’t appealing to anyone (except maybe new members in the waiting list) – it is forceful and feels alien. We prefer the 2nd option. We believe it is better aligned with the “continuous and reliable” aspect of a healthy Cutia Taranului relationship. It will remind everyone and demonstrate that the membership itself is valuable and deserves to be appreciated.

We will be encouraging the peasant families to go with the 2nd option. We hope that they won’t need to – because we trust you, the members, to do the right thing and be one step ahead of them (the peasant families). Maybe there is another option we haven’t seen. Find it and make it happen. Please take responsibility for your part in this precious relationship – if you are going to cancel, please do it right.If you appreciate fresh food appearing at your doorstop reliably every week then please show your appreciation by providing the same reliability to your peasant families. If you are going to cancel you may as well do it right.

Weather Report – Spring 2013

Following what felt like a drought during winter we’ve had an extreme spring. After the snows melted (for the last time) temperatures soared and it felt like we skipped over spring and into summer. It was really hot and really dry for 5 or 6 weeks. Then spring rains arrived. It’s been 3 or weeks of almost non-stop wet weather. Temperatures dropped (came down as low as 6c for a few nights), we even fired up one of the rocket stoves a few times. The weather has been mostly overcast, though we’ve had enough sunshine to start using the solar dehyrators (mostly plants for teas).

Most prominently we’ve been getting lots of rain. This has been quite a relief given the super-dry summer we had last year. While Europe is experiencing destructive flooding we are being blanketed by precious, well paced and well spaced (there’s time for water to soak into the ground) rains. I’m also doing a few experiments regarding water (much more on that in future posts) and the rain has been very collaborative.

A couple of weeks ago we got word from one of the Cutia Taranului producers that they were hit by hail and lost almost their entire crop. This morning we got a call from another small producer (getting started in life as a peasant and new to Cutia Tarnaului) who just notified us that he too lost most of his crop to hail yesterday. An hour or so later Andreea called me out to check out the bees – they were dancing like crazy outside the hive. It looked like swarming behavior – though it should not have been because we pre-emptively split the hive to “cheat swarming”. Andreea suggested that maybe they were indicating a change in the weather … and indeed ominous dark clouds were not far away.

Within minutes a storm broke out. Strong south-eastern winds (usually our winds come from the north-west) with strength that we’ve never seen before (granted we’ve only been here 2 years). Visiblity dropped as a blanket of water came down (and sideways) from the sky. A few lightning bolts also hit the ground. The winds have settled, yet moderate rain continues to fall.

I went for a walk outside to see my water expriments (going very well). Many grasses, a patch of mint and all of our potato plants are bent and leaning in the direction of the wind. One of Ildy and Levente’s greenhouse covers ripped open and seems to have been blown completely off (we can only see the arches of a naked greenhouse from where are – we are waiting to hear from them if they have suffered any other damages).

It’s all so fragile. We (all of us humans on the planet) live and exist within a certain tolerance of natural fluctuation. The more we stress the ecosystem the more extreme it becomes … extremeties that are outside of our tolerances of existence … expressing those stresses directly back into our life.

We must stop taking and start giving.
We must stop pushing and start dancing.
We must stop denying and start accepting.
We must stop denying and start embracing.
We must stop resisting and start surrendering.