Monday, July 12, 2010

Will the real Joneses please stand up?

""Keeping up with the Joneses" is a catchphrase in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to one's neighbour as a benchmark for social caste or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to "keep up with the Joneses" is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority... often causing conspicuous consumption and/or overconsumption."  Wikipedia

This blog plays on the idea that there is a new version of the Joneses who realise that consumption or financial wealth doesn't always make you happy, but quality of life and other things like giving back to society and having time for family and community do.  For those who didn't immediately get the joke in the description of our site, our tag-line tilts our hat at the notion of being the change you want to see in the world.  And this is a very big movement we're part of.  Look at the success of the Prius for example, compared to the Honda Civic.  A post-mortem on why the Prius dominated the market, was it didn't look like their existing similar model (Carolla), so people could drive around showing that they were keeping up with the new Joneses and wanted to do something about climate change, without having to wear tie die shirts, grow a beard, attend a protest rally or be ostracised by their neighbours.  Nearly everyone likes the idea gardening, socialising, spending time outdoors, or chickens, but not everyone likes a hippy.  If you're reading this, you'll be well aware that green is the new black.  Hippy is so 1960, eco-friendly is so 2010 and you get to buy all this new stuff too! (irony intended).

Anyway Mr Jones (the fictitious dad caricature of our abun-dense project) decided to go a permaculture art project on Saturday to see if he could learn another thing or two about how to be the Joneses from other people who were doing the same thing in Surry Hills.

So we rocked up and introduced ourselves and our concept of the Joneses.  The response by the project director PJ, "Oh, cool, is your last name Jones as well?"  

"Oh, cool, is your last name Jones as well?"  

And so we met Patrick Jones, his partner Meg, and son Zephyr - the REAL Joneses.  Our name isn't even Jones.  How embarrassing is that?

In the day that followed, we got our hands dirty a bit, realised that our companion planting list has some very big gaps in it (we were asked to help out on that bit), but the big thing for us was watching the people - those walking by with puzzled looks on their faces, those jumping the fence to find out what was going on, those jumping the fence to get their hands dirty, those bringing plants, and some other Joneses doing inspiring stuff and acting as a beacon for new Joneses, like our new mates Costa, the crew from the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Probably 200-300 people got involved on Saturday to finish the project, all of whom now have some sort of connection with it.

If you're ever in Surry Hills, I'd recommend having a walk through the site to see how little space you need and how densely you can plant an abundant food forest.  And if you're ever driving through Surry Hills to the Eastern Suburbs down Albion Street and stop at the lights at South Dowling, look out your left window and you don't even have to get out of your car.

To find out more about that project, and to meet the real Joneses, have a look at their site, The Artist as Family.  Quite possibly, these Joneses are the Joneses we want to be in the world.

Oh, and if you want to see what our fake Mr Jones looks like, he's in their photo gallery from Saturday with his head down planting.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Marjorie and Penny

It's really hard to appreciate how entertaining chickens are as pets until you get some and let them free range at your place.  Don't get us wrong, Mavis the blue collie is a laugh a minute and a favourite with kids, but put her together with our two chooks and it's far better than anything you'll ever see on the cartoon network.

We've had Marjorie and Penny for nearly a year now.  If I recall rightly, they were around 18 weeks old when we got them, and cost us less than $20 each, vaccinated and ready to go.  Within a few weeks of getting them they were producing two eggs a day each, and apart from the occasional broody patch, they've been flat out producing two eggs every day ever since.

Apart from entertaining the kids, entertaining the dog, and helping me weed the garden beds, they produce manure, aerate the soil, break pest cycles, accelerate compost and don't ask for much in return other than somewhere safe and warm to sleep, fresh water and the occasional bit of grain. And no matter where you are in the garden, they're never far away just in case you need a hard pulling out a weed or two.  They REALLY like human company, and are possibly more loyal than some dogs I've known.

There are some downsides of course - they like to explore and do their own thing, so don't be surprised if they go next door for a visit if your fences aren't up to scratch, poo on your verandah, or dig up any lawn or seedlings which aren't fully established yet.  Still, these are problems easily solved with a bit of temporary fencing, and are pretty small inconveniences in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, of course we've got spare eggs to give away.  Don't you?

One thing you might be prepared for is what to do with all the eggs.  14 eggs a week is a lot of eggs, which is great because you can use them and give them away to unsuspecting neighbours who don't realise how good it is to be the Joneses.  The problem of course is getting egg cartons.  If you don't buy eggs you don't get any cartons.  However this is simply solved, if you tell your friends and neighbours to bring around a half carton occasionally, you can send it back to them full of organic free range eggs.  I can't remember the last time we didn't have a spare half dozen waiting to be given away, which is always a great thing to do.

Or you can swap them.  Jack from my permaculture course was kind enough to give me a lemongrass plant in exchange for half a dozen free range eggs.  Bargain!  Bring on those Moscow Mule variations.

No Penny, that birdbath isn't for you!

No Junk Mail

For some reason, direct marketers in our area seem to think that the Joneses really like catalogues.  We get heaps of them.  Catalogues for white goods, consumables, obscure and weird products, and most strangely, specials catalogues for supermarkets which are more than 15km away from our place, despite the one local supermarket being a short walk away.

Given that we're trying to move away from rampant consumerism, into more durable goods, reduce our footprint, produce more of what we need on site, and also given there's only so many colour catalogues which are useful as mulch, at some point it's all got to stop.

We tried putting a no junk mail sticker on our letter box (took us a while to find one), and within 2 weeks, someone had taken the sticker off (at considerable effort  - you can see where it was), and the junk mail was piling up again.  We tried a hand written sign with sticky tape, it faded.  For a short period of time, we just gave up and just took the catalogues from the mailbox to the recycling bin every... single... day.  Shame on us, bad Joneses!

And then a few weeks ago, a nice surprise happened.  We renewed our subscription to the Australian Conservation Foundation, and in our first magazine was a free "no junk mail" sticker, which sits in pride of place on our letter box. And the tide of junk mail has stopped, while also helping a very worthy organisation.  Hooray.