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Environmental activism starts with your decision-making patterns

What keeps us from acting for a healthy and just environment? 

 This is blog post focuses on environmental decision-making and why it takes us as individuals so much strength to join the collective struggle for a climate-just and environmentally sustainable future.

Wellbeing cannot be individually grasped. Instead, it affects the individual within a community in relation to a specific cultural-natural environment. This understanding of wellbeing foregrounds one’s inherent embeddedness in an environmental and social system. Do not be fooled that your unconstrained consumption of food, water and energy does not generate consequences in your closer environment. Often times these consequences hit home delayed and trick your mind in believing that they are not related to your own decision-making behavior. But they will, and they do already.

If science does not convince you, then perhaps your grandparents. Why not ask them about the changes of harvest yields, the length of droughts, the frequency of flooding and their impact on farming lands, or how recent and recurring extreme weather conditions have been destroying residential areas and infrastructure? Climate change and biodiversity loss are manifesting themselves in our neighborhoods, be it in rural or urban areas. And it does so differently across places in the world while also being felt differently by individuals and their communities– be it in different neighborhoods of your city or across the world more generally speaking. What can be stated is that those who already struggle with structural disadvantages and systemic poverty are more vulnerable to those environment and climate related impacts.

Here in Mitrovica

Let’s move from abstractions to everyday life realities. I am part of the Mitrovica team of GAIA and we have been devoting our energy to the construction of a rooftop garden on top of the library building of the city. Together with children and friends of GAIA and a local cultural initiative, 7 Arte, we crafted DIY raised beds, water irrigation systems, raised seedlings with love and care, and organized weekly meetings. These events were mostly visited by high school students from the city and our friends. Although modest in numbers, we were regularly visited by a few children who showed keen interest in what we are doing and to what ends we are taking our time to build a garden on top of a building in an urban environment. We certainly spent lots of time discussing the environmental and climate challenges already affecting the river flows of the local rivers, Ibar which is considered the most polluted river in Kosovo or Sitinica that shares an equal degree of heavy metal and bacterial pollution due to irregular domestic and industrial waste disposal. Similarly, we looked at the consequences ofprolonged periods of draughts on harvest yields by local farmers.. These local challenges were then compared with global patterns of environmental degradation and climate change –to make sure that Mitrovica’s case is no anomality and can be understood in relation to much wider environmental and social challenges. Despite passionate talks about climate change and its impact on water resources, often enough I would come across the phrase – but what should we do, we are only students and its mostly big industries and the political elite that either takes measures against the consequences of a fossil-fuel reliant economy, deregulated market economy nor does it pro-actively invest in public awareness of non-standardized waste-management or the health consequences of building another coal plant in Kosovo.

Discussing with our Open Day visitors

What can I do?

It should come only naturally that you begin to wonder what can you do against these localized global and interrelated consequences of our current way of living, consuming and producing? The possibilities are nearly as overwhelming as the gravity of the issue. One can and should do its part according to their own needs and demands. Instead of being exhausted by the mere thought that an individual could mitigate the pollution levels released by an outdated coal power plant, as it is the case in Kosovo, look into your backyard and take some time to consider your own CO2 footprint. It clearly takes more thanto watch “Before the Flood”, and be blown off your feet by the cinematic visions of climate change induced environmental and human suffering to make us transform emotive social media tweets about it into feet.. In fact, social media, albeit being an effective tool towards engineering collective action, it can trap your agency by making you feel like you’ve contributed through your tweet and therefore you need no longer act on it. Similarly, by engaging with environmental awareness raising online only, you may wind up overwhelmed by the infinite amount of emotive and reactionary content on problems and issues without attaining contextual knowledge on how the current situation came about and what can be learned for the future.

 

Why do I often fail to make more environmental friendly decisions?

Coming back to the comment of being to young from our volunteers in the Open Days, it is noteworthy that age plays a factor in one’s access to knowledge in some cases, but it is not an excuse for being able to resist to current ways of living, if not changing one’s own habits and everyday consumptions. When it comes to decision-making, there are numerous ways of decreasing one’s impact on the environment. Yet to change one’s habits is easier said than done. Research about environmental decision-making points out to us that we deal with the environment similarly with the way we make decisions to consume and buy things. A theory looking at these processes is called “Behavioral decision theory.” It refers to the nature of us being decision makers who are confronted with cognitive limitations, illusions and framing, self-control, updating, confirmation bias, identification with means/methods and heuristics/intuition. At the same time, our social, political and economic context that we live in is highly changing and unpredictive. Together, these dimensions of behavioral decision theory inform us with the different mental process that prevent us, or prompt us to take action. In the case of Mitrovica, it would be foolish to say recycle and bring your bags to the closest trash site. There are no centralized recycling facilities in the municipality. Most of the trash lands either in a landfill, is shipped to a neighboring country or burnt.

What I can tell you, though, is to start your own compost in your backyard. Nothing is easier than that while, at the same time, you mitigate the current mismanagement of waste in your livelihood by preventing organic trash to end up in landfills producing greenhouse gases. Another benefit from doing your own compost is that you literally do not waste any food since it will be decomposed and turned into fertile compost. This soil can go straight into your vegetable garden and save you some Euros on garden soil.

Wrapping up this blog, if this is your first time reading about environmental decision-making and you do not believe in climate change, or your own capability to make a change I most likely cannot convince you to change. , It is proven that news will most likely not make you act as long as it tells you about distant threats that are far from your everyday reality and do not affirm what you believe to be true already. Bear with me though because this blog is part of an ongoing series of blog posts that tries to bring afore different explanations on societal, cognitive, economic, political, cultural, religious or environmental factors that enable or disable our concrete contributions in the collective strive for climate just politics and a healthy.

The magic of mushrooms

When I was a kid, I never liked mushrooms, and I never understood what purpose they have in nature. Now I love them!

They actually don’t have the use of sun; they use only the energy of the soil to synthesize their food. For field mushrooms they grow in manure, worked land. In the forest there is the micorrhizal symbiosis principle. To grow a mushroom “connects” its roots to the ones of another tree. They play a determinant role in the biodiversity of forests.

Sounds crazy? Mushrooms have many skills aha: some of them are toxic and dangerous… But some other are simply delicious!!

As mentioned before some mushrooms are delicious, even though identification is always a bit hard when you are not used to it some mushrooms are easy to identify!

But before identification there is the “harvest”: nothing easier than this, take a knife, a basket and a book about mushrooms and you’re off! Choose a day that comes after rain or humid weather in spring or autumn and you have lot of chances to meet with mushrooms.

Here in Boževce we try to gather information about what kind of mushrooms we have around. As being aware of what’s around us is part of permaculture logic and principles (Principle 1: Observe & interact/ Principle 3: Obtain a Yield) it is for us important to collect data, and mushrooms for eating around!

We realized that we have mushrooms growing in the garden beds, even though we realized that they might be deadly (Deadly cap, Amanita Phalloides)…

But some we found were edible, and good!! Like the field mushroom (Agaricus campestris) the shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus) or the Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

But rule number one with mushrooms is: if you are not 100% sure, if you don’t know, you don’t eat. Don’t collect everything you find. It can be dangerous and every time you find a new mushroom, take only one and check it through books, pay attention if there is not look alike specie. Some of them can be toxic, deadly.

I really enjoyed cooking mushrooms we found, it’s great to be able to cook with what grows right beside and does not need human interference at all, and plus it’s delicious!

The chicken of the woods has no look alike specie and is really easy to cook: cut it from the tree, wash it and cut it in slices, fry it in a pan with olive oil until it’s getting golden and then add cream, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs (rosemary, parsley…). You can eat this with pasta or even directly from the pan. Keep also in mind that’s it’s always better to overcook a mushroom! 

However, we still have a lot to learn about them, but for sure we’ll not stop now!

Alex, June 2019

Biology students helped us with observing wildlife

Look, I found a lizard! It must be a Lacerta viridis, with a blue and shiny head!” On normal days, you don’t hear sentences like this in Bozevce. But recently you could hear them a lot. Well, those two days were absolutely not normal when we had some biology scientists here doing research. A group from University of Pristina and University of Konstanz (Germany) spent some days here as part of a research seminar. This is the whole story:

Our property here is surrounded by nature. Now in late spring, everything is growing and blossoming and we sometimes get lost in belly-high green grass when we take a walk with our dogs. And of course, also all the wild animals now are out of their wholes, finished their winter rest and enjoy their life outside where they can find sun, warmth and food now.

For us it is quite important to know which kinds of animals are living at our place or close to it. Of course, on one hand, this is because of our personal interest – we appreciate the diversity here a lot and like to know which bird is singing here and who is digging a hole there. But, on the other hand, those wild animals are an important factor for the design of our permaculture property. Some animals can prevent damage of pests, some others can support growing of plants. Maybe one of the birds nearby likes to eat the caterpillars which are attacking our fruit trees at the moment. Maybe one of the insects we find can support plants in our garden. And maybe some little rodent likes to eat plants of which we have too much at the moment.

These are all little connections of the whole circle of permaculture and life here. If you know about them, you are a lucky person – but finding out about them takes time. “Observe and interact” is one of the twelve core principles of permaculture. We are trying our best to fulfill it, but after two years of working in this place the project is still at its very beginning. Sometimes, “observe and interact” the area outside the property moves a little bit into the background behind more important tasks like renovating the houses, woodwork and giving the garden a structure.

That’s why we were very pleased to host a group of biology students from University of Pristina and three scientists from University of Konstanz (Germany) here in Bozevce. Our friend Liridon Hoxha from the non-governmental organization “KEERC” (which stands for “Kosovo Environmental Education and Research Centre”) asked us if he could send one of his research groups here.

They came here in the beginning of May for two days and explored the reptiles and amphibians around here. We were invited to join their trips and to learn about those animals. Lizards, snails, tortoises, newts and salamanders – we found so many of them around. We learned how to differentiate different types of lizards and how to distinguish the gender.  – and to learn about everything else they knew because Karsten, Lorenz and Gregor from Konstanz could give us information about almost everything that was moving around our feet and flying in the sky. They distinguished 60 different types of birds at our place alone from hearing them singing! In the pictures, you can see that we found a lot of different reptiles and animals:

This visit was a big step forward for us in getting to know our surroundings better. This means that “observe” now is done more, so we will see how we can “interact” based on this new information. Anyway, no hurries, permaculture is a development which goes step by step. We were really happy to have this visit and are looking forward to eventually host similar camps in the future!

Antonia, May 2019

Introduction to Permaculture – workshop in Bozevce

The first time I heard about permaculture was actually last year during my volunteering with GAIA last year.

When I started to read permaculture books, the main topic that I was interested for was how to set up a garden and mostly how to build an efficient and smart property. Almost one year later I’m back again to Kosovo for a workshop on permaculture, but this time with a real PERMACULTURE TEACHER!

And I was not alone, we were 20 people from different countries with different jobs and different ways of thinking, but with one common goal: learn more about what permaculture is.

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Despite what I was thinking, permaculture is much more than gardening or building smart; it’s kind a way of living.

“It depends“ was the sentence you could hear in every time and in every situation.

Because yes, in permaculture it depends . You need to adapt your strategy to your environment, take into account every advantage or disadvantage you could find in your surrounding and apply different solutions to different problems.

The permaculture can be defined through 3 ethics and  12 principles which we should take in account if we want to improve our daily life.

Observe and interact                            Catch and store energy

     Obtain a yield                       Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

            Use and value renewable resources and services        Produce no waste

Design from patterns to details                         Integrate rather than segregate

                               Use small and slow solutions                   Use and value diversity

  Use edges and value the marginal                 Creatively use and respond to the change

I can’t really define what permaculture is in 3 lines, but the two guys (B. Mollision and D. Holmgren) who created it did it from these two words “permanent & agriculture”, which when mixed give “permaculture”.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you, one of the best and important value I found through those 3 days is  to take care of people not only about your garden!

Earth Care                         People Care                          Fair Share

permaculture ethics

One of the GAIA’s project that I was involved in was 3peas project which was basically bring peace through permaculture. Since almost 2 years, volunteers from the entire world are working in the small village of Bozevce to build a place where it is possible to gather people from different backgroudns around the same table to learn about permaculture.

How permaculture is connected to GAIA’s Project?

In GAIA Kosovo we believe that we can change the world by small and personal actions, so what can be a better example than using permaculture to grow our food, collect water, reduce our waste, save our energy and care about people and future…

Max, May 2019

 

International Permaculture Day 2019

On this day of International Permaculture, we celebrate its diversity and use around the globe.

Permaculture initially emerged as an antidote to short-term agricultural practices and its socio-ecological and economic consequences in Australia in the 70s. Its evolution was significantly driven by the transnational spread of environmental and peace movements as well as the accessibility of scientific reports on the limits of growth on our planet. Be assured, you will have a hard time pinning down the meaning of permaculture. It has attracted the attention of a diversity of minds from across the world and spread with a determinacy found in the streamline of a river. Some like to refer to it as “a revolution disguised as organic gardening.” What is crucial to the self-conscious development of permaculture is its adaptability to any context.

From May 4th-6th GAIA has been gathering its volunteers and friends from across Kosovo, Serbia, Germany, France, Austria and Australia amidst the rolling hills of Bozevce for an introduction to permaculture by Pippa, a permaculture teacher who is originally from Australia.

Applying permaculture design principles to our volunteering work for GAIA means an engagement in an ongoing learning process about the people and the environment. The majority of us work for positive social and environmental change within Kosovo and Serbia, yet we face different challenges and needs. In the past few days, we have been able to expand our personal and group understanding of the different volunteering experiences through the application of Holmgren’s 12 principles and different analysis strategies of permaculture. Together, Pippa’s insights into the practical and ethical richness of Permaculture equipped us with practical tools and inspirations to contribute to permaculture’s pursuit of transforming destructive realities into more regenerative ones.

Starting a community garden in Mitrovica

Nestled on the 6th floor of the public library of Mitrovica, GAIA’s community garden has been sprouting its roots across the grey firmament of the building since the beginning of this month. The idea to create a public gardening stemmed from the desire expressed by our local volunteers, Mev, Mimoze and Genti as well as our cooperating partner 7 Arte, to foster new green spaces within the urbanized landscape of the city.

Mitrovica is facetious to say the least. The city buzzes with events organized by the civil sector and young people filling the public spheres which contributes to an overall vibrant atmosphere. Students are eager to participate in events and volunteering with local organizations is very common. The city is also known for its bridge that reaches across the Ibar as well as across the different communities living in the city. Its socialist legacy, embodied by the Trepca mine, is well anchored in the public memory of different generations – while the traces of the immense human suffering of the Kosovo war remain encapsulated by the continuing presence of foreign peace keeping forces patrolling the streets.

Mev, Mimoza and Genti our local GAIA volunteers brought forth the challenge; that green spaces are gradually shrinking as construction sites mushroom on all corners of the city. Mitrovica’s urban landscape is growing – which is a positive development overall, but at whose and at which costs? A large share of families is living in apartment nowadays and do not have the possibility to have their own garden to grow their own vegetables and avoid industrially treated fruits and vegetables. This rapid urbanization leads to a trend that food consumption and production are increasingly separated from consumers as well as local food practices. Especially younger generations gradually become desensitized to traditional knowledge concerning gardening, harvesting and cooking held within their families. Finally, urban development through deregulated construction projects heavily bears down on the natural landscape of the city. New buildings hardly ever consider environmental impact assessments and infrastructural needs in their building process. It all boils down to the desire for economic growth at the expense of eco-health and the nature’s ability to regenerate from exploitative development practices. In the context of Kosovo, this debate needs to be thoroughly addressed through the inclusion of a well-informed and critical civil society. Without going into much more detail, the peace garden serves the purpose to sensitize young and old to the underpinning rational of permaculture in an urban and developing context and thereby offers a locale in which the right to development and its wider socio-ecological dimensions can be addressed.

The garden opens twice a week to have young adults and school classes from across Mitrovica participate in ongoing activities. These range from constructing raised beds out of recycled materials, planting seeds and transplanting them into flower beds. Permaculture approaches to gardening inform our ideas and guide our decisions towards using the patterns and resilient features in the natural and urban ecosystem of our garden. This journey began by forging a synergy with 7Arte, a local cultural initiative that has been eager to establish its own garden and share their library and terrace with us. It further translated into using materials that would usually end up on the waste dump for raised beds and decoration, and inventing our own irrigation system to water feed our seedlings. In order to connect our actions with the larger context of climate change and environmental stressors, the open days offer visitors to engage in open discussion formats on environmental challenges faced globally and felt locally. These topics change each day and vary between the use and functions of natural remedies such as herbs, the interrelation between water, energy and food security in Kosovo, eco-health and air pollution in Kosovo, the perils of hydropower in preserved terrains, climate change, and the use of pesticides and its havocking impact on bee stocks and pollination cycles. It is truly encouraging that everyone brings with them valuable knowledge and experiences about their social and environmental livelihoods and seeks to relate their experiences with more regional and globally felt challenges. By redirecting the discussions through a system-thinking perspective we hope to co-create an environment in which we can learn strategies and define tools that support the transition from a dependent consumer to becoming responsible producer within their own arm length.

One of our biggest challenges is to make motivated gardeners from Mitrovica feel comfortable enough to take over one of our open days and make it theirs, teach us about their needs perception and interests to increase the sustainability of the project. The open days will be continued throughout the summer months and hopefully see more flowers laughing in our garden.

Rosa

Neighbours

Not very long ago, people made stools by joining pieces of wood, baskets by weaving branches, bowls by shaping clay, spoons by carving twigs and ropes by tying fibers. Today those very diverse things are all often produced out of the same material: plastic. But in the houses of our neigbours we have found signs of that past that will also become our future, whether we like it or not, when we run out of oil. Sometimes it was an old hand tool or piece of furniture, though more often just a few words thrown carelessly after the phrase “people used to …”, as if they were empty talk. But those memories are worth much more than what their very owners think. They are our only chance to earn back some of the wealth of knowledge and craftmanship lost to industry in the modern age. That is one of the reasons why we have set out on recording our neighbours while they go about their daily business taking care of animals, making cheese, pies, preserves and brandy, working the land and cutting wood. But it is not the only reason, neither it is the most important.

Forest Garden Workcamp

Hello again!

This is Antonia, the German who is spending a year in Bozevce doing weltwaerts. This time I want to tell you something about our last workcamp. We had some people from Kosovo and Macedonia coming here for helping us to create a forest garden.

 

What is a forest garden?

In one sentence: A forest garden is an ecosystem created by humans that gives the best of nature to plants and animals and gives food to humans as well. Humans can create an area where plants and animals have a good life – and we get something for ourselves from it as well. Isn’t that fancy? Yes, it is! And it fits perfect in our permaculture principles of sharing and living with nature. So we want to have it here as well, of course.

Mud & Straw week in Bozevce

Hi!

This time it is Antonia blogging here. I am a long-term volunteer from Germany and I am in Bozevce since September. Since I arrived, we did a looooot of stuff! For example, we insulated our red house. Completely by hand and our insulation materials were straw, clay and sand. What sounds like a hard job was actually really funny – because we had many lovely people here helping us.

Ok. I can feel the question mark rising in your face. Insulation with straw, clay and sand? How does it function? Here is an explanation.

Straw is a material which can keep heat easily, in an even higher percentage than some of the modern insulation materials. There are even houses built with walls only made of straw and in the old times it was quite common to use it.

In our case, we added the straw as an insulation on the outside surface of our red house. We call it “red house” since it is made of red bricks. These bricks did not insulate good. So here is what we did to improve the situation:

 

Insulation – a step-by-step explanation