Health comes from the soil, is what Andy Jamieson (41) firmly believes. This advocate for permaculture is of the opinion that every one of us can, in a modest way, play a role in living sustainably and in harmony with nature.
While travelling through Europe in his early twenties, Andy was very impressed with the eco-villages he saw, especially Findhorn in Scotland. Now he has created a productive ecosystem at his home in Kalk Bay where everything works with nature, and not against it.
The green lifestyle at Findhorn immediately fascinated him, says Andy. “Even those years I was already interested in permaculture and worked as a volunteer in their gardens. That was my first brush with permaculture.
“One of the co-founders of Findhorn, Eileen Caddy, used to say that she communicated with the soul of the plants and that’s why they were growing so well.
“You should have seen the vegetables – they were enormous. There were wonderful gardens, dams full of frogs. I was really amazed. It was brilliant.”
Back in South African his life took a few twists and turns. He ventured into the world of digital design and IT, and had big plans to become a musician. “For a while that was all I wanted to do. Things only came full circle when I started my own house garden based on permaculture principles. I had a piece of land with a house that I renovated, and I wanted to tackle everything in a sustainable way.”
He furiously began researching how to reduce his family’s carbon footprint so that they could eventually live in an eco-friendly oasis, growing their own food.
“First I completed a design course in permaculture and that was when everything fell into place for me. Initially I did not want to do the course, but that was pure arrogance – I thought I had all the answers. My wife convinced me that it was necessary and that I would learn a lot. It profoundly changed my whole vision and now I am hooked.”
Growing up in George in the southern Cape till he was 13 years old was idyllic, says Andy. “In George I had incredible exposure to the natural areas around me. There was a lot of freedom. It was carefree days where we rode around on our bicycles and climbed trees. There was a big river near our house, and we enjoyed playing there. I had an ideal, privileged childhood.’’
Andy’s childhood turned him into a true nature lover and that is why he wanted his home garden to reflect the wild, overabundant wildlife he remembers from his days in George. At his house they collect grey water, use compost and build fertile soil to promote biodiversity. And, adds Andy, nothing is wasted. All leftover food goes into the composter. His house was built from biodegradable material and the family car runs on biofuel – recycled vegetable oil he collects from restaurants. The grey water is diverted to what he calls a ‘banana circle’. “Bananas love water – a banana tree uses about 25 litres of water per day and once it has produced its bunch of bananas, it is finished. We then chop down the tree and it goes back to the middle of the banana circle to feed the rest of the trees.” The insect and plant life also interact in the ecosystem, and that is precisely what he wants – he has even built an insect hotel. “It is a habitat I created for the insects. Yes, it is inevitable that they would eat some plants, but then again, they also eat the harmful creatures that feast on our vegetables. So we have created a balanced ecosystem.”
He feels it is his responsibility to live sustainably on the planet and that is why he has established his business, Leaf and Stone. “I continuously wondered what I could do to live differently. A sustainable lifestyle was the answer and most important.
“It solves many of the fundamental problems that the world faces. We are in a situation where people are abusing Mother Earth’s natural resources.
‘’Agriculture is the main problem, followed by pollution and deforestation. Permaculture tries to solve all this in order for our wildlife to thrive. Nature wastes nothing – you can farm in a way that promotes biodiversity. As with holistic grazing – you can farm in a way that is beneficial to the soil and traps more carbon dioxide in the soil, which is a natural way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There is thus a bigger impact on the soil and on the water. Less energy is used and in the end it is cheaper.”
Andy believes that as a gardener you are a custodian of part of the earth. And it is important to remember that the soil is not waste material. It houses a diverse group or organisms that play a key role in decomposing material and recycling the micro and macro nutrients that plants use.
His house is built on the foundation of a circular economy. It is aimed at eliminating waste and the continuous use of resources. It focusses on reusing and recycling in a closed circular system to keep pollution and carbon dioxide emissions to a minimum. Most homes do not work according to this concept, Andy says.
“Water is taken from a dam and used to flush a toilet, in other words we dirty the water and then we discharge it into the sea. The same with energy and waste material – we take plants and food from the soil, eat it and then throw the leftovers in the bin, from where it goes to a dump. And this can only continue for so long. An eco-house tries to close all those loops. Most of our waste goes to a biodigester that generates the gas for cooking. The rest is converted into compost that goes into the garden. Nothing leaves our yard – it goes back into the soil and feeds the plants. The same happens to the water.”
For now Andy wants to expand his business and get a few workshops going to show others how to live sustainably, as he and his family do. “We must build more fertile soil, put more plants into the soil and stop so many things going to the dump. To live sustainably is a journey – you do not have to have it down pat. You can do it step by step and in the long run it is much more beneficial to us as well as to the next generation. That is why young people should learn now already to live sustainably.”