Written by Russ Benning
As a greenhorn green-thumb, I came into the interview for this month’s featured guest with a healthy dose of enthusiasm to learn more about the topic. I’m familiar with, and resonate with, the concept of oneness—permaculture per se, was something I was looking forward to understand in more depth.
If you were to ask me to describe what I thought a Polish born, German raised, horticulture designer and educator based in Howard, Australia were to look like, I’d probably nail, within five percent accuracy, our new friend Ewa Bekiesch. Greeting Joy (owner, designer, and photographer at Alive Magazine) and me with a big, warm smile, Ewa welcomed us onto her property.
Her big, floppy sun-hat and light, flowing clothing reinforcing the theme of a person who spends a lot of time, probably a majority, in her natural, functional habitat. Thirty five acres boasting over 140 different varieties of edibles in fact! I noticed that her woven basket was just half full with a few plants I didn’t recognise. I also noticed a sort of humming sound coming from a large shed nearby.
She lead us through her ‘food forest’ to a cute little shaded spot just passed the feature pond.
”Don’t fall into the pond!” she exclaimed in jest.
We shared a light-hearted giggle as we took our seats in our new setting. Learning quickly that this wasn’t to be an interview, we transitioned seamlessly into a conversation, fuelled by genuine interest and fascination with the topic and our subject. Her voice was pleasant and comforting. An upward inflection hinted at a positive approach to life.
I was fascinated to learn that as young child, Ewa and her family, living in communist Poland had no choice but to grow and preserve their own food.
“There was no food in the shops,” she shared.
We spoke briefly about the nature of a pagan lifestyle; working with seasons, moons, soil et cetera, the oneness and connection to the earth apparent in such a way of life. She went on to share that she always loved nature and gardening. Even when she lived in the city she would spend every free minute at her Granddad’s farm. She also shared that after moving to Germany where growing food was no longer a necessity. Ewa said she chose to grow her own.
“Because I simply didn’t like the taste of the store bought stuff”.
I probed to find out if she enjoyed it as much now as when she was a child.
“Of course, you can see it!” Ewa replied.
Curious to know if one led to the other, for example, her upbringing and her current immersion into the lifestyle; it seems that the two are indistinguishable. To me this is simply Ewa’s soul signature. Even her name means, full of life, or she who brings life to everything depending on translation and culture.
Horticulture is not just a hobby for Ewa—it’s a complete lifestyle. She shares her considerable knowledge with the world via her own website (www.permaculturehaven.com), facebook and telegram groups (Self sufficient living Australia – Practical solutions) which is growing with around 500 new members per week, as well as countless local initiatives, communities, and swap groups.
Not just a passion, Ewa has done considerable study to be a certified member of the sustainability community. She is a certified permaculture designer and educator, has a degree in sustainable living from the University of Tasmania and has a certificate in Food as Medicine from Monash University. I was delighted to hear, that as well as wanting concrete certification, she had an even greater reason for undertaking the qualifications. Adorably she tells me.
“So I can explain how to do the things in English.”
We discussed the importance of organic foods and how much healthier home grown plants and animals are for our consumption. When I asked how much difference it makes to nutrient density Ewa replied.
“It’s a lot. Naturally homegrown food is much more nutritious.”
A recurring theme that came up regarding benefits of growing our own food was summed up eloquently by Ewa.
“We can trust our own food.”
When I asked which speaks more loudly to her between people having better health or people having their own natural food sources, she looked confused and explained.
“One is not separate to the other.”
As I began to understand more, I discovered I really loved the concept of the Edible Landscape Design. A big part of her message is that you don’t necessarily need an abundance of space or time to make positive changes in this arena. Many of her previous clients have had very little time and she has been able to create a setup where the ongoing process takes no more time than it would to maintain a regular garden and/or lawns.
“If I do the gardening let me have something from it, not just the look you know,” Ewa tells me.
She has created all types of edible landscapes and Food Forests, a term that I now love to bits. She continues to discuss working with clients and laughs while she’s at it.
“Before I create a design for a customer, I ask lots of questions. Some like a nice and neat garden, some like more natural and wild like my place.”
She goes on to mention some of the important factors when considering your own food forest such as: soil, temperature, water supply, and orientation.
We continued our discourse as we explored more of the beautiful and plentiful property. It was like a running commentary of the relevant flora as we gradually made our way around, pausing intermittently for Joy to snap portraits for the feature. I noticed that Ewa’s basket was no longer half full, she had been progressively adding to it with todays mini-harvest; a photographers dream to have a subject actively assemble the most aesthetic ‘props’ if you will!
We met with Ewa’s husband Seb on the way back to the car and got closer to the humming sound I’d noticed earlier. As it turns out, there had been a road accident and all power was completely cut. The sound we were hearing was the backup generator that was powering the property. A quick glance into the shed and I got sight of a spectacular looking truck being converted to an off-road freedom machine.
These things combined helped me build a picture of exactly how self-reliant this couple truly were! The sense of freedom they must feel. Not only is the food incredibly nutrient dense, it’s also the love and attention that goes into the process.
“It’s so rewarding,” says Ewa.
When I asked her for one message to the reader she took a pause for reflection, then answered; then answered again, and again, and so on! Some dot points, in Ewa’s words for anyone interested in beginning their journey into horticulture and sustainability would be as follows:
Start growing food and don’t stop.
Everything is about the soil.
Spend more on quality soil instead of expensive plants.
You don’t have to have green fingers to start. You just need chicken sh*t and passion!
I walk away from this experience with much more understanding of the importance of what Ewa is so clearly passionate about. I now get to implement what I’ve learnt in an effort to increase, not only my connection with the earth, but also to improve my health using what I feel we’ve all known deep, deep down; Food IS medicine.
I’m also excited to report I got to meet a champion of what it means to be truly Alive (pun intended!).