From share trader and financial advisor to a strong and informed advocate for local resilience, Trevor Houghton has married his wealth of experience into a comprehensive whole. In this Voices from the North interview he shares some of the many transition initiatives already underway in Nelson that are bringing hope and strength to their community and readying themselves for the potential changes related to the post-oil world. The hour contains a clip from Transition Town founder, Rob Hopkins and part of Celine Dion’s awesome rendition of ‘‘Where is the Love?’

Al Gore had more than thirty years of experience with climate change. His message was simple. There are more than enough commercial solutions to solve this crisis. What’s lacking is the political will and the public focus. It’s up to the constituents to insisting on appropriate legislative support from their political representatives.

Trevor mentioned the idea of hunter/gatherer potluck feasts. All the food must be locally sourced through hunting or gathering it from gardens.

Trevor discussed micro-finance and the great benefit this has brought to third world people embroiled in generation slavery. For a site where you can help go to:

We looked at the present position and direction of Fontera and the New Zealand dairy industry as an example of an industrial agricultural model with globalisation problems.

The complete interview is found below:

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit:

In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews


Two nights ago I watched the documentary, Home, with a small group of friends. The film, approaching two hours in duration, is a visual feast. Entirely shot from the air, presumably from a helicopter, it provides an aerial perspective of stunning natural vistas most of us will never see.

It also displays the unprecedented and startling changes humanity has wrought to the earth’s surface in the last fifty years. And it extrapolates that more minerals will be extracted, with ever larger and more powerful machinery, from the planet in the next twenty years than in all of recorded history. (See my earlier related blog Ok Tedi and China Blue)

All this is based on a premise of unlimited, exponential growth and rampant consumerism; that bigger is better. The film makes it abundantly clear we need to act now, if not very soon, to slow the avalanche of destruction and chart a new and gentler course for humanity. We are not walking softly on the earth and the sea at present, rather we are raping and pillaging at a rate sure to severely impact the ability of our children to enjoy this still amazing planet.

I thought the film was well worth viewing from a perspective of earthly beauty. I did feel the focus on the negative lasted too long and was somewhat numbing and disempowering. There were hints of positive possibilities near the end of the documentary with examples from smaller and saner nations like Denmark, Costa Rica and New Zealand.

It would appear the adage, ‘Think globally. Act locally,’ is as apt as ever. The morning after viewing the film, I picked up rubbish from the beach and then spent satisfying hours in the garden creating a huge mound of compost from hedge clippings, garden scraps and seaweed. Once again I felt empowered, knowing I was doing my little bit to make the world a more fertile and better place.

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John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life. 


Downtown. Small, owner-managed shops. Friendly, safe places with people on foot who have time for each other. A nostalgic glimpse of the past or a whimsical wish for the future? Warren Snow of Envision New Zealand would like to see it as an enduring icon of the present.

 I first met Warren when he helped bring Micha Peled and his award-winning documentary to Kaitaia. You can read more on that here.  It was my pleasure to interview him on Voices from the North.

 Warren is passionate about waste reduction and sustainability and retaining and restoring vibrancy and resiliency to downtowns and small towns. He has worked with Stephen Tindall of the Warehouse and sees that model of retailing (based on the Walmart-model) as counterproductive to local foot-based retailing. Have you seen the revealing documentary, Store Wars: When Walmart Comes to Town? We discussed the detrimental impact megastores can have on small local manufacturing  as well as retailing. I See Red is a book describing one instance where The Warehouse spelled the demise of a local business that supplied quality products and created many jobs.

 Perhaps Warren’s easiest suggestion to improve our local communities is for each of us to spend just $5 a week more locally—at farmers markets or local shops. This single act can make a significant difference.

The music is We Are One by Dan Seals with vocals by Dan Seaforth. 

Here’s the interview:

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John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.


You can’t beat Paul Hawken for an eloquent dose of optimism in a world sometimes dominated by doubters. This arrived recently in my inbox and I’d like to share it with you.



“You are brilliant, and the earth is hiring…”

The Unforgettable Commencement Address to the Class of 2009,

University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009

 By Paul Hawken

 When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” Boy, no pressure there.

But let’s begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation – but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food – but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, re-imagine, and reconsider. “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown – Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood – and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit.. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe – exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, and author of many books, most recently Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. He was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., in May, when he delivered this superb speech. Our thanks especially to Erica Linson for her help making that moment possible.

Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See 

 In Search of Simplicity is now available as an eBook here.

“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit:

“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

“The author’s experiments and experiences working with nature simply amaze. . . . Beyond the Search is a treasure trove for those who enjoy planting and reaping as it seems nature intended, with respect for each animal and insect as belonging on the planet and therefore deserving of honour.”

Theresa Sjoquist on Suite 101

Raglan Harbour Kayak

New Zealand is not always as clean and green as the image NZ Tourism has so successfully presented to the world. Abundant orthographic rainfall and a varied and dramatic landscape have given this ‘lucky green country’ rare natural beauty. The green persists despite the best unintentional efforts to undermine it.

There are vast plantations of mono-cropped pine trees, serving to further acidify the already acid volcanic soils. Much of the country is planted in grass—familiar to viewers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—and this grass is covered with animals—sheep, stock and dairy cattle mostly. In many places, certainly where we live in the Far North of the North Island, these animals are not fenced from waterways, leading to pugged and broken river and stream banks and abundant erosion. Each time we experience heavy rain our beautiful Doubtless Bay becomes temporarily brown with silt and ugly foam fringes the beaches near estuaries, evidence of pollution leaching down to the sea. This results in damaged shell fish beds and adversely affects the coastal oceanic food chain from snapper to dolphins and orcas. The fisherman is not as happy as he once was. The bay is no longer teeming with the life it had when Captain Cook arrived in 1769 and proclaimed, as legend has it, ‘Doubtless it’s a bay.’

Enter modern day Robin Hood Fred Lichtwark of Raglan Harbour Care, who recently addressed a group of local citizens concerned about the present and future state of Doubtless Bay. Fifteen years ago Raglan Harbour was in a sorry state, rated as one of the most polluted in the country. A study showed it took on average 18 hours to catch a fish.

Fred, an ex-third generation farmer, turned his attentions to the plight of the harbour after a horrendous motorcycle accident partially crippled him and he found farming and commercial fishing just too difficult. Armed with a spade instead of a bow, in the mid-90s he spearheaded the fencing of waterways to keep out stock, propagation of native species and the planting of those hardy seedlings between the new fences and the waterways.




Farmers were initially reluctant to come on board but the success of Fred’s merry band on a demonstration farm in Raglan changed their minds. Something like 30% of the land was retired and stocking rates were still able to be increased. Erosion stopped, the waters cleared, and the health of the animals was restored once they stopped drinking from the very water they had been defecating in. Veterinary bills decreased and farmers made more money. The payback time was quick—just over a year.



The tree propagators and planters had originally been mostly unemployed (Fred referred to some as ‘government surfers’) and some, with little better to do, had been troublemakers. Now, fifteen years on Fred’s team takes great pride in their work and the Raglan police have had to let one officer go—not enough work!

The harbour is far cleaner. It and the rivers and streams feeding it have deepened and no longer turn brown with silt each time it rains. Fred exclaims, ‘I never thought I’d see clear water on low tide.’ Two fish per hour can now be caught (Fred claims he and other locals ‘in the know’ can catch their quota of snapper in an hour) and ecotourism businesses have sprung up like water-based mushrooms to take visitors to experience the dolphins, whales and diverse bird life that have returned to the area now the sea is again teeming with life.

Fred Lichtwark and the rest of the Raglan Harbour Care team have demonstrated New Zealand can truly be clean and green. Let’s hope other areas, including our beloved Far North, cotton on to Raglan’s example, get planting and fencing, and re-green this beautiful land.

For further information and startling before and after photos visit:


Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See


“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”


Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit:


“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”


Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

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I mentioned in In Search of Simplicity the inspiration I had received from Japanese scientist and farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka. He found through trial and error a number of secrets that nature revealed to those prepared to work with her and to observe keenly. This knowledge didn’t come easily to Fukuoka. He openly revealed in his writing that he almost killed the existing citrus trees when he first took over his father’s farm. But his wisdom, presented in books such as The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming  is a palpable testimony to the unswerving dedication of one man.

Fukuoka maintains that our society’s motto seems to be that ‘Bigger is Better.’ People want to feel important through ‘important’ jobs. He saw that agriculture, in Japan and elsewhere in the modern world, has come to rely on chemicals and machines. In order to pay for the costs of these inputs farmers aim for higher yields and people get busier and busier.

fukuokaFukuoka suggests we can look at how plants grow in Nature—effortlessly. If man could work with Nature to grow his food he could live without much work and exertion.

After leaving his work as a trained microbiologist and research scientist, Fukuoka began to search for methods of growing that were more natural than the modern trends that surrounded him.

He developed a method of growing rice that involves no digging, ploughing or machines. He walks through his field(s) of high standing rice just before the time of harvest, hand sowing seeds of winter grain—usually barley—and white clover. After harvesting the rice, the rice straw is left lying on the ground as mulch and to return organic material to the soil. Some chicken manure is added.

In time the winter grain and clover seeds germinate and grow. Clover fixes nitrogen for the barley, reduces weed growth and its roots break up the soil.

Rice is usually sown in the spring, when heavy rains help it to germinate and discourage the growth of the clover. Barley straw is left on the ground, again as mulch and to improve the soil. Fukuoka hasn’t ploughed his fields in decades. In that time the soil has dramatically improved. Microbes, worms and other creatures broke down organic material and, together with the roots of plants, aerated the soil. He experienced little insect and pest damage, hypothesising that the plants grew stronger and more resistant in the undisturbed soil.

He decided to plant a steep hillside with citrus trees, without resorting to the building of terraces. He started out by dynamiting holes in the rock-hard soil for mandarin and orange trees. In time, he found an easier and more natural way. Fast growing acacias were established to fix nitrogen. Within seven years each tree was the size of a telegraph pole and could be cut down for firewood. The citrus trees were under planted with comfrey, burdock and daikon (long white radish, a traditional Japanese vegetable). The soil is now richer and more manageable and it supports low care vegetables (even comfrey roots are eaten and are claimed to be delicious) and a nearly pest-free citrus crop. He plants a few acacias each year to ensure a constant supply of firewood for heating and cooking.

Fukuoka states that chemically-grown vegetables may be considered as foodstuffs but not as medicine, whereas organic, naturally grown plants can be considered to be both medicine and food. This sounds like Hippocrates saying 2400 years earlier, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Fukuoka warns of the dangers of Europeans dedicating so much of their arable land to wine grapes and livestock. He says that an equivalent acreage, dedicated to the growing of grain and vegetables, could support many more people. He is concerned that the industrialization of society is wasteful and polluting. In Japan sulphur dioxide (SO2) from factories changes into sulphuric acid in the atmosphere, and has resulted in the widespread death of native pine trees. He sees that the world is moving forward quickly and without regard for the consequences of rapid change. One Straw RevolutionIn the West, people are separated from nature and industrial agriculture is based on what he considers contempt for Nature. In Japanese philosophy God is in Nature, the wind and the rain and the plants, in everything. Since God is in rice, eating rice in a conscious way puts one on the same level as God. He urges everyone to turn back to Nature for solutions. He says anyone can use ‘Natural Farming’. What he calls The Great Way has no gates.

The One Straw Revolution is Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge. In reading it I could see and feel that for Masanobu growing and eating food is indivisible from spirituality. What a contrast and challenge to the present global systems of food growing and procurement.

Two days ago I watched this movie with my nutrition class. Rebecca Hosking grew up on a farm in Devon. Her memories of her childhood are less than nostalgic. Farm life was drudgery. Her father called the work glorified sanitation work. It seems they were always shovelling manure. She was encouraged to leave the farm and get a ‘real’ job. She did. She became a wildlife film maker.


This movie is a coming home of sorts. Here’s what it says on the BBC website:


“Wildlife film maker Rebecca Hosking investigates how to transform her family’s farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future, and discovers that nature holds the key.


With her father close to retirement, Rebecca returns to her family’s wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, to become the next generation to farm the land. But last year’s high fuel prices were a wake-up call for Rebecca. Realising that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on abundant cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is.


Alarmed by the answers, she explores ways of farming without using fossil fuel. With the help of pioneering farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that it is actually nature that holds the key to farming in a low-energy future.”


The film is roughly 48 minutes in duration and is spread over five clips. I highly recommend viewing this. It is a wakeup call with a positive message. Once again it looks like we’d better learn to grow some food. Permaculture and organics appear to hold the keys.

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John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.