Honeyville is hardly sweet. It’s ambitious and elemental : an eco-village on paper; in reality an old farm near Jay Bay with restored and restructured houses that are powered naturally, and an idea waiting to be approved by government officials. That could take aeons in SA’s current dispensation and I don’t envy alternative architect John Barrett his goal of developing a legislative code for the movement in South Africa. But I do envy him his decades of experience with contemporary and natural building.
Unsurprsingly, John is an intellectual, a creative one who focuses on blending aesthetic and functionality in planning and construction towards a more integrated living environment. Think Andy Goldsworthy but with buildings and vegetable gardens.
John believes in harnessing the power and fecundity of natural cycles. He also believes in harnessing the power of story and imagination and entertained us with his philosophies and enthralled me with his knowledge of building with re-purposed and found natural (local) materials. “Mainstream education is an indoctrination,” he declared and continued converting a small cottage into a sustainable home using building rubble and brawn.
Actually, the brawn came from Karo(lien Vollaers), queen of the valley, co-owner of Honeyville and life partner to John. She wields a pick axe like a dancer and takes care to bless every new tree that goes into their soil.
Together they turn anecdotes into actions and practise permaculture to honour the swathe of gentle slopes and peaks around them. Most of it is dedicated nature reserve, and all of it believes in swales and intentional community. Their process of ‘unlearning analogue existence’ to unleash wisdoms of old (and new) leans on tenets like ‘water that is too clean has no fish’ and ‘no cull, no till’. It’s a reciprocal approach, for nature is cyclical : what you put in, done right , you get out tenfold.
While we were there, it felt natural to sow soil tester crops with them…
and collect cow dung as compost…
for the trees we planted…
We threw a floor which meant learning how to drive a wheelbarrow (Sarah) and moer a stomper (moi). I felt like a child, discovering I have the skills and strength to build a house, start an orchard, and maybe feed myself off the land. And if ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, is it ironic that it was a child who got the temporary villagers singing? No, it was natural. On the last night, around a starlight fire,with an orchestra of John’s carefully collected African musical instruments and his two preteens as band members, we succumbed to the influence of our hosts’ embracing energy, and the quietest in our crew threw caution to the wind and opened up her lungs to reveal the voice of an angelic siren.
My memories of Honeyville are its warmth and wonderful way of opening us up. And that’s probably why it’s going to work, given enough time and the right stakeholders: because its purveyors have knowledge, spirit, enthusiasm and persistence.
(looking for the previous post?)