If you love watching stars in your sleeping bag while listening to croaking frogs, if you want to pick happy vegetables and to eat the best yoghurt soup of the world, there is just one place to go to: the Narköy farm in Kandıra. There you can experience permaculture with some of the most open-hearted people in Turkey. Permaculture, building sustainable and natural systems, is the base of this farm, which is an education center, a hotel and a restaurant all at the same time. But primarily it is a place that shows how peacefully nature and humans are able to live together.
The “mother” of the farm, Nardane Kuşcu, is often found in the middle of her treasures, the plants. Between beans and rucola you can catch a glimpse of white hair and a radiant smile of a charming lady you just love to ask for good advice. We were lucky enough to have had a conversation with her.
CFL: How did you come up with the idea of Narköy?
K: The field of Narköy was bought seven years ago but the idea had been born somewhat before. I had this dream of creating a permaculture center such as this because food is not real food anymore; schools and the education system are separated from nature. This situation is highly unhealthy for us and for the world.
CFL: What is permaculture about?
K: Permaculture is about designing a sustainable life by observing nature and our world in an objective way. We need a permaculture approach not only when designing the rural but also the urban space. The aim is to create self-sufficient systems. In order to do this, we need to understand nature and its systems. Permaculture is mostly coupled with permanent agriculture but it is also about social life, our job, our relations with other living creatures and nature, fun and happiness.
CFL: How can we picture permaculture beyond agriculture?
K: It’s a comprehensive system of thought. For example permaculture gardens are easyto realize in apartments, urban gardens, schools or business centers. It is not difficult to make compost with organic kitchen waste, create soil and grow vegetables, salads and aromatic herbs on it. And while creating these gardens, we can gather our neighbours, old people, kids, just about everybody. All those people can learn together how to grow food, can socialize and can get a consciousness about recycling. This kind of work is an “eco-therapy”; it is very healthy for our spirit and mind.
CFL: I remember you told me your parents used to have a farm. Does your family background have a big influence?
K: I was born on a farm. In those days there were no organic labels; there was no need for this. Permaculture was the natural way of living. Humans and animals were living together in a self-sufficient way; neighbours were helping each other. My grandmother was spreading seeds for “wolfs, birds and also for us to eat” (aTurkish saying). We were using our own seeds. We had no plastic and no waste: everything was turning into something. We used to bake our bread and make our cheese. We were putting watermelon and tomato seeds into cotton fields for people to eat while working. We were not irrigating our fields. We were fishing in the lake near our field. At nighttime, children were listening to tales, they were sleeping under the stars in summer and they were asking grown-ups questions about the moon and stars. We knew how to dream. Our parents were saying: “If you have no dream, you have no work”. Narköy’s main motto comes from this.
CFL: So you wanted to get back to your roots?
K: When “Marshall Aid”came to Turkey, people started to throw “poison” into the fields, they became ambitious about producing more, selling more. I remember that lots of people were poisoned by these substances and died. Happy and healthy big farmer families started to fall to pieces. Children were not going into thefields anymore because of the poison. This experience made me get aware, made me remember the real farming. I started to search after “real food” and to look after my dreams.
CFL: Why do people visit Narköy?
K: When people are separated from nature, they don’t only loose their health, but they also loose their self-confidence, their creativity. They become lonely. Then they have this feeling of “lack” even though they can possess everything they want. They can damage the environment, sometimes unconsciously because they loose their ability to see the big picture. Only when we are in peace with nature we can establish peace with other people. When we realize that we are a meaningful piece of the big picture, we also realize that we are self-sufficient like a real seed. People come here to “return to self”, to realize their abilities with fun in a natural, real environment and to be able to do what they do in a healthier, better way. To find a sincere way to live together. Isn’t this the definition of “ecology”?
CFL: So your aim is …
K: … to be a bridge between people and nature.
CFL:Why did you choose Kandıra?
K: Kandıra is close enough to reach and far enough from the city to experience nature. We are lucky because Kandıra is a place which still protects its traditions, people are calm and “slow” and it is still out of reach of industrial dirtiness. There are small family farms and permaculture is naturally part of their life. All people working in Narköy are from the neighbourhood and it is a pleasure to work with them. We are trying to help them to earn money, while protecting their traditions, their fields and local values. We are working for Kandıra to become a “slow city”. Also the mayor and the local administration support us with Narköy.
CFL: I know your permaculture involvement doesn’t end at the fence of Narköy, does it?
K: Narköy is just next to a forest, that I call “grandma”. The endemic plants and trees of this forest are very important for me. We are trying to do our best to keep the diversity of the system. We also go to the forest with all the guests of Narköy for them to see this habitat, to create a connection and to make them conscious and active about its protection. We also offer them to stay one night in the forest, the heart of nature and this helps people a lot in their process of getting to know nature.
CFL: … and get to know the animals!
K: It is also very important for us to protect the wild animals of the forest. Actually, deer are sleeping in our fields at night. Apart of those fields is used by us as an open-air classroom but only during the day. At nighttime, deer come here to sleep, they eat our beans, they drink water from our pond. We know that nature has its own logic and we are all linked to each other. We try to protect this balance for a sustainable life.
CFL: This part of Turkey is not that touristy yet, whichI think is very charming. What role does Narköy play here since you also run a hotel?
K: Narköy has also an important role in the process of our region to become an “eco-tourism” region. This kind of work helps keeping the diversity of the tourist sector, thus the economical sustainability of tourism and developing “green tourism”. We are happy to work for eco-tourism which lasts all-season and helps our neighbours to have an income throughout the year.
CFL: Beside your everyday business, you also run a lot of projects. May you tell us about these?
K: We are aware that what we have here is very precious. In order to transfer this spirit we create permaculture gardens in schools for children to learn where food comes from. Besides that we invite people from all over the world, students, artists, organisations, to cook with them and to show what we’re doing.
CFL: You also offer workshops for companies. What can economy learn from permaculture?
K: Permaculture is not only about agriculture, it is a philosophy of living. Sustainable economy is part of it. One of the most important subjects that the economy can learn from permaculture is “solution partnerships” instead of wild competition. Here, during the corporate trainings, we use the farm, the kitchen, the forest as training fields. We take models from nature, we show and apply them into economicsto create sustainable business models.
CFL: How does food reflect your attitude to life and the environment?
K: Food is not only the fuel of our body and mind but it also feeds our spirit. As we work together, we also eat together and we don’t only share food but also our social life. The food and the table are the heart of Narköy. We apply original Turkish recipes, create new ones or learn new recipes from the countries of our volunteers. We love to eat together with joy, fun and conversationand we love to do cultural exchanges during those meals. This world is everybody’s home and I think that it is the most basic right of all creatures to live in peace and to create our future together. Therefore we believe that it is very fruitful to look into each others’ eyes, to touch each others’ heart and to spendtime together.
CFL: The hotel and restaurant of Narköy have a really interesting architecture. How did you imply permaculture in architecture?
K: Narköy has been designed after a lot ofresearch with an international group, led by the architect Emir Drahşan. We thought about how to use renewable energies in the most efficient ways, which materials to use, which connection to establish with nature in terms of physical space. Narköy’s architecture cares about humans, their perception of themselves, of other creatures and of nature. Architectural design, interior design, landscape design and the organization of Narköy are working as one unit, feeding each other and working with the same aim: giving consciousness to people and turning them into active-actors in ecological thinking rather then staying passive-spectator/watcher. Everyone has an influence and impact on the world we are living in; we need to be conscious of this fact. So we can change it in a positive way with small, every-day actions.
CFL: How does the hotel architecture achieve this?
K: There is no room service but there is an edible landscape: so you need to be aware of the plants around you and you can take a pepino, a fig or another fruit – according to the season – from the garden if you want to have a snack at night.There is no air conditioning in the rooms because of people’s health and we are trying to decrease our carbon footprint as much as possible. But the content of the structure and the location of the windows are designed to have the maximum insulation in order to have maximum interior comfort. We have lots of furniture recycled and upcycled from the leftover of the construction, including our reception building: it was once the container-office we used during the construction.
CFL: Permaculture means long-term thinking and sustainability. What will Narköy look like in 20 years?
K: In 20 years, we will also be self-sufficient in terms of energy as we are today in terms of food. I hope that more young people will join us since this project is about their future. We will still be working on sustainable life, education and economics. And perhaps someday we won’t be needed as a “life school” because people will have started to go after their dreams.
CFL: If you could choose – would you rather be dead or keep living a bit longer as a healthy plant or an animal? If plant or animal, which plant or animal would you like to be?
K: The quality of life is much more important than its duration. Being an animal or a plant are both beautiful. There is a special shamanic technic that I do from time to time: it gives me the chance to experience being an animal or a plant. Each experience like this creates empathy in me towards other creatures and leads me in my “human life”, teaches me how I can communicate with them. If I werea plant I would be a dactylis glomerata (orchard grass). If a tree, a beech tree, if animal a falcon. Besides, humans experience death and life in every breath, every day. Even though I get bored sometimes from this world, I believe that there is no big difference between being alive or dead. In any case we will die when we finish our mission. I hope my body will have a beautiful transformation, hope to be compost and soil and hope plants will grow on me.