Tete Batu, Indonesia

A model of Sustainability

*** First Published in Sept 2014. https://www.mofga.org/resources/international/tetebatu/

On a recent surf trip to Indonesia, I stumbled upon a hidden village tucked away in the foothills of Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest volcano. Tetebatu is a village where modern society has yet to completely swallow up age-old traditions and a simple way of life.

Peoples of Indonesian tribes settled the area due to its magnificent views, fertile volcanic soil and ample water. Rinjani, the Indonesian island of Lombok’s highest volcano, provides substantial year-round water runoff in the form of streams and rivers. The original farmers started cultivating rice more than a thousand years ago by turning the slopes of Rinjani into a Garden of Eden. They began carving elaborate, extensive irrigation systems down the mountainsides that would continue to be perfected for the next millennia. As well as hand digging the irrigation systems, they also terraced miles of the hillside to form beautiful rice paddies.

Rice Seedlings to be planted out in paddies

This largely agrarian community has relied on subsistence farming for centuries since then, producing rice, fruits and spices. Since the introduction of new world crops, the villagers also cultivate chilies and tomatoes. The pioneers’ foresight at ensuring generations of success from these systems is truly surreal. Each generation reaps the hard work of the last.

Little has changed in the way of farming here in the last thousand years. Being in the tropics and having the good fortune of plenty of water from the volcano, food is cultivated here year round. The villagers have adopted little in the way of new crops and machinery. The entire irrigation system is gravity-fed, so electricity isn’t needed. Many hand tools, such as the hoe, are still used to weed and hill crops. Cows help till the earth between plantings. Reusable bamboo fences support crops such as tomatoes.

Most of the crops grown are consumed by the hundreds of people living in the village, with surplus sold to nearby markets, to the rest of Indonesia and to a few neighboring countries.

Women carrying forage for livestock

It is fascinating to see people working communally here. The antiquated village is spread throughout the farmland, and it is hard to see where one dwelling ends and another begins. There is a greater sense of collectiveness here than almost anywhere else in the world. It is very common to see more than 20 men and women working the same plot of land. Everything in Tetebatu is shared. Upon asking a woman with a child if it were hers, she answered in broken English that she was just looking after it while her friend came back from the fields.

Community coming together for a common goal

Tetebatu is a living model of sustainability in our age of industrial globalization. Working together toward one common goal proves that even mountains can be moved and transformed into viable villages where people can thrive under very simple ways. This collectivity makes Tetebatu special, as it could never have been possible otherwise. The developed modern world can learn much from a rustic village such as this one. Very little waste and pollution come from such a culture. Places like Tetebatu provide inspirational examples of living sustainably with our natural surroundings.

About the author: Travis Roderick owns Avella Farm in Hiram, Me

Indigenous Humans hold the answer

I was at a Rosemary Gladstar talk a few years back at the Herbal Symposium and she started off her talk by acknowledging that we are all indigenous humans. The idea of being a separate species from indigenous humans is an illusion and just as dangerous as, the one that we ‘Westerners’, are separate from nature.  We are all here, regardless of what we believe, coexisting the same Bio-Sphere we call Earth or Home. The air we breathe, the water we drink, all recycle back into itself in a finite way.  The consumption level of modern day humans, along with our population growth has lead to unprecedented amounts of biodiversity and habitat loss, contamination of ecosystems, and a huge depletion of natural resources that are left for future generations. When I was in college, I decided to look for solutions to these issues and found that while exploring indigenous areas, such as El Salvador and Southern Mexico, their ways of life and Ecosystems were much healthier.


I started off on my first farm in 2006.  I bought a 22 acre woodlot with a stream and beautiful bounty of mixed trees.  I cleared part of the forest to start growing vegetables and medicinal herbs.  There I lived, homesteading for almost 10 years, without running water nor electricity.  It was very much tied into the ways Indigenous humans around the globe live their life.  The buddhist phrase “Carry water, chop wood” has been very relative since I started this way of life.  I still get water from a hand dug well, local spring, rainwater catchment, or the stream.  If water is life, what are we doing as good stewards to protect our sacred sources of water?  Living close to the Earth in an Indigenous way has many teachings, the first being about water health and conservation.  We as Western World humans have pulled so far from being ‘One’ with nature.  This is why we are destroying it and taking it for granted, thinking that, it will always provide us with our basic needs.

A UN report earlier this year did a major study on the difference between the degradation of Indigenous humans land in comparison to how the Western World managed their land use.  The report was undeniably in favor that Indigenous humans “…have created habitats that are much more diverse and species-rich than typical agricultural landscapes—which are often vast fields with acre upon acre of the same crop. In some cases, there are 300 or 500 species in a garden.”  There are amazing benefits from these practices, which play a huge roll in promoting biodiversity, ecological restoration, and monitoring remote habitats.  Consumption levels of single use plastic, fossil fuels, and toxic chemicals (bleach, glyphosate, etc.) are also at a minimum or non-existent, instead, practices like composting and reusing are implemented. 18558604_1286820231414096_9058559073476390636_o

Indigenous insight to nature comes from many different points of view, that the western world can learn from.   A major viewpoint is looking at the longevity of the landscape, knowing that nature and humans are an integral part of each other, instead of seeing them as separate.  Managing land so future generations can more easily live in correlation with the land is in the foresight of their focus when it comes to planning.  This way each generation is not starting from new and a more collective, communal viewpoint is formed.  Another prominent viewpoint, that many Westerners are missing, is the connectivity to nature and the Earth, not only how different habitats can be managed to compliment each other, but also how we interact on a daily basis with nature.  Having a reciprocal relationship in all aspects of life with nature, will help us better understand that we need fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, and we need to better manage our local landscapes. There are many lessons we can learn from Indigenous peoples and local communities who are already sustainably managing their lands around them. 


History of Avella Farm


The word Avella is derived from the latin root Abella, meaning – BEE.  I personally have chosen this name for the farm due to where my Great Great Grandparents came from in Southern Italy.  They left the small farming village of Avella in the early 1900’s and landed on the East Coast of the US, making their way to Providence, RI.  They proceeded to have an enormous family,  giving birth to 15 children.  There is much talk today in our circles about honoring our ancestors and to me this is a direct link back to the old people whom gave up thousands of years of connection with a land they were familiar with to cross a huge ocean and start a new life. I am fourth generation Italian American on my Fathers Mothers side and the connection to these ancestors seems like I almost know them personally through stories, pictures, and channeling their spirit through my own DNA.  I grew up hearing much about the large Italian family my father and grandmother were part of, hearing about the gatherings, the communal living, and most of all the food.


I was raised on tradition; Italian swear words, huge family gatherings, and my personal favorite: the Sunday dinners. You knew that no matter who was around you could count on the pot of gravy being slowly cooked down to put over the macaroni.  In the early days everything was made from scratch. Semolina wheat flour for the pasta, tomatoes and fresh basil for the gravy, and special recipes for the meatballs.  These are the images that fill my childhood memories.  Being a food lover and environmentalist it was only natural that when I came of age I wanted to become a farmer.  My father raised my sister and I to know the basics about composting and growing food; knowledge passed down to him from growing up around his Italian uncles.  There wasn’t a year we ever went without a garden, nor a time that all leaves or food wastes didn’t get turned into soil for growing the tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, and squash. Having this knowledge passed down to me seemed like a waste had I conformed to the modern ways of life.  I took this ancient knowledge and expanded upon it, learning to save seed at around 8 years old, attaining wisdom about herbal medicine at 19 and cultivating vegetables at age 24.

I have been a farmer for most of my adult life, cultivating the soil mostly by hand, learning about the rhythms of the Earth to irrigate only with rain, and harvesting/growing medicinal herbs to keep the body healthy.  The focus has been completely surrounded around the aspect of health, health for our bodies as well as health for the Earth.  This has lead to the year round endeavor at two locations. Half the year is spent in Hiram, Maine and the other in Platanillo, Costa Rica.  At Avella Farm the mission is to practice ancient agricultural ways of producing high quality herbs, veggies, and fruit in a permaculture environment.  Sharing the knowledge through classes, demonstrations, gatherings, herb festivals, interns and farm stays is super important to the story of Avella Farm.  We strive to keep everything as practical as possible so humans can take the knowledge back to their communities and spread it around like wild flower.  I know my Great Great Grandparents would be happy with the life choices I have made. They would be happy that their Great Great Grandparents knowledge was not lost in our technological age.

Permaculture Part III


This is the last of a three part blog post on the introduction and direction of how permaculture became an integral part of the advancement of human life.  Starting around 10,000 years ago, we as a human race started to cultivate wild plants, turning them into viable sources of food and medicine.  This lasted all the way through the early 1940’s in the USA, ending with the Victory Gardens.  Americans grew up to 70% of their own food while most of the work force was away fighting in WWII.  Shorty after this, the advent of big agriculture quickly dismantled thousands of years of seed saving, plant propagation, and food traditions through what they called the “Green Revolution”.   This lead to catastrophic consequences.

We now live in a world where straying away from our ancient agricultural practices has lead to dire circumstances.  Right now 70% of all Americans are considered to be overweight or obese.  The change in diet, lead by big ag/pharma, has almost completely replaced the way we eat.  Instead of eating fresh foods that come straight from our backyards nourishing our bodies, we now eat GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)  foods laced with up to 22 different chemicals, coming from thousands of miles away.  These chemicals are wreaking havoc on bodies, esp. children, whom are more sensitive to such foreign chemicals.  The health costs that follow these diets is also detrimental, equating to almost 18% of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product).  There are so many ways we can save ourselves from this freight train speeding to the edge of the cliff.

Growing food has been making somewhat of a comeback.  In recent years garden/seed supply sales have risen substantially, but no where near the mark to balance the amount of food coming out of the Midwest and California.  Only .7% of all land under cultivation in the USA is grown organically. (yes you read that right).  There are other hidden costs from humans straying away from permaculture, such as:  pollution costs, food not being as fresh/healthy, and a disconnect from nature, just to name a few. In a study published in Environmental Management in 2005, researchers estimated that there are 40 million acres of turf grass in the USA.  Humans have a choice right now to either continue on a path of destruction, with the data to prove, that will not lead to a sustainable future or we can choose to set upon a healthier path incorporating the systems of permaculture in our yards.  If we so choose to replace the grass that we painstakingly care for with fruit trees, berry plants, and medicinal herbs, we can change the course of our fate on the earth.

So many people have asked me during my career as a farmer: “What can I do to change all this?”  I simply reply that if you have the space plant a 10’x10′ garden, start there.  A garden of this size can provide you with over 200 pounds of food equating to almost $1000.  Think about the savings from your wallet, pollution, packaging waste, health, and not to mention that it tastes better. From there learn to take care of a few fruit trees or berry plants. With little maintenance these plants just come back year to year. An herb garden also requires very little care, planting things like mint, lavender, or lemon balm, which can all be used in things like tea or even to cook with.  If you’re business savvy start a permaculture landscaping company replacing all those ornamental bushes and trees with nourishing food sources instead.  If we just converted 1 million acres of lawn to permaculture that would equal to literally trillions of pounds of food being grown by ourselves.  This is a viable solution that would help in so many aspects to the problems that our civilization currently faces.

Permaculture Part II


Permaculture .. II

Permaculture was slowly integrated in humans lives around 10K years ago.  Ancient ancestors around the Fertile Crescent started for the first time in the planet’s history, manipulating the environment in a new way its never experienced before.  Humans in  this new creative lifestyle stopped having to migrate and were able settle into a more permanent location.  This came with profound changes in many aspects.  There became more people, more mouths to feed and more than anything, more people to treat medically.

We have discovered Human remains in caves in Iraq, dating back 60,000 years ago, that were using plant medicine.  These ancient peoples had some sense of healing from their natural surroundings.  Even Chimpanzee’s have been found that in the wild they will seek out noxious plants that they usually avoid, to cure themselves of parasites.  Its no big secret that plants help us animal life heal, in todays world, still about 75% of all drugs derive from plants.  The integration between plants and animals has been ever evolving for hundreds of millions of years.

Thousands of tablets have been documented from ancient Sumarian times, around 3000bc, about the uses of plant medicine.  We could imagine that the first agriculturists were very excited to have medicinal plants at their command through plant propagation.  They would have instead had to depend on natures offerings while they were nomadic.  Settling down and cultivating food and medicinal plants seemed like the logical thing to do to insure the viability of future generations.  They had the foresight of taking wild herbs, trees, and even honey, and cultivating them in abundance to help nourish and care for their sick.  All parts of the plants anatomy were used; roots, bark, seeds, leaves, and flowers.  Some of these plants included were willow, thyme, mint and even cannabis.IMG_8698

This meant that people started to live healthier longer lives.  Life was able to become a bit more comfortable knowing that if you were to get an illness a plethora of dried and live plants were at your disposal.  People even started to specialize in plant medicine, studying their effects on people and how they interacted with other plants.  The knowledge was gathered and stored in many cultures.  The Egyptians created one of the oldest scrolls containing over 800 herbs, Ebers Papyrus; the Greeks were blessed to have the father of western medicine: Hippocrates, and eventually every tribe around the world would have their own shaman or healer.  Accompanying these new found healers of the world were the farmers.  The farmers were the ones whom had to learn the herbs, trees, and bushes and how they grew, slowly helping them adapt to the new soils.

Permaculture became a way of necessity for our relatives thousands of years ago. It helped them accomplish a myriad of triumphs: the pyramids, Rome, and the Great Wall of China, just to name a few. These humans figured out how to manipulate their own environment to have a working relationship with their surroundings; a collage between the wild, integrated with your very own garden of eden.  This trend continued for thousands of years and still does in many parts of the world (70% of the world in 2018 still relies on plant medicine as their primary source of healthcare).  However, in the Western, so called, civilized world this inherited small scale farming tradition is waning fast to the point of extinction.  Fewer and fewer people are taking part in this ritual,  losing valuable information, and the outcome is having devastating long lasting effects on our species.  Permaculture as a way of life for both food consumption and growing our own medicine is a perfect solution to the crisis that has arisen today.  We can learn much from our ancient traditions as an Earthly race and the time has come to tap into such a wealth of knowledge.