The Youtube Rabbit Hole is a real thing

By Andy Chanelle - member of the community from West Wales

The Rabbit Hole is real, and sometimes it goes deep. In February 2017, after buying an old minibus with the intention of making a casual camper van, we starting looking for inspiration and ideas on Youtube. 18 months later we’ve transformed our lives; we’re exploring new ways to live and work, and creating a closer relationship to the land. And we have a DIY camper van (doubling as the Beee Digital mobile office) that has so far taken us to 15 countries and on numerous wild camping trips.

The biggest change was a move from two small flats in the Forest of Dean to one big house with a patch of land and a music studio in West Wales.

What are we up to?

We have plans; a mix of ideas for business (a magazine, a touring cinema, making things), community campaigning (period poverty, bee-friendly farming) and sustainable living (food planting, surplus exchange), and these will be initially funded through web design and other communications work and, where we think it might be cool, through crowdfunding. And while we’re called Beee Digital, a lot of our effort is spent doing physical things.

2018, though, is our foundation year. We’re laying the groundwork for the future so we won’t (literally) see much fruit from our labours until at least next summer. Luckily, we’re not in a rush.

The most visible part of the project so far is the paddock; 1/10th of an acre that we’re turning into a kitchen orchard. We’re using a mix of cultivation methods including containers, permaculture beds, forest garden techniques and classical beds to grow fruit, veggies, herbs and flowers. So far, so good: we have actual things growing.

As well as attempting to grow food for ourselves, we’re also trying to provide for a rich and diverse animal, bird and insect population, so we also have wild patches, lots of tiny bee ponds close to bee-friendly plants, some slightly bigger ponds to foster insect populations and a small meadow of uncut grass, which will develop into a wildflower meadow over coming years.

There is so much satisfaction in watching a small squadron of bees drinking from your ponds or the slow reveal of a cherry from a tree you have tended. But there is also dismay when a newly planted pumpkin wilts and dies, or a tray of lavender fails to germinate a single plant from 100+ seeds.

The key is to treat both success and failure as opportunities to learn.

Corcovado at home

There are some obvious links with the Corcovado project, including working in concert with nature, rather than imposing our own values on it; investigating alternatives to traditional ways of working and supporting our lives; and trying to build solid connections between the online and physical world. These ideas would have been completely fringe ten years ago, but are likely to be the norm within the next decade. We like to think we’re getting ahead of the game so others might benefit from our mistakes.

Another vital aspect is trying to build a home that will provide inspirational spaces for friends, family and visitors and a relaxed, creative environment. So whether you make with a pen, paintbrush, guitar, needle and thread, camera or trowel, we think we’ve got it covered.

What have we learned?

We’ve learned that we know nothing, but that there are thousands of people out there willing to support and enable this project by sharing their knowledge, offering encouragement and friendship.

We have learned that YouTube offers unlimited possibilities for learning because so many creators want to share their passion and ideas. For example, we searched for videos on a van conversion, and found a project to build a global community, and that led us to the realisation that we could find land and try to make a difference to ourselves and the world, rather than waiting for someone to make a difference on our behalf.

We know how to grow tomatoes from shop bought produce (you cut them into slices and put them in compost!) because of a tomato fan from India; we are beginning to understand permaculture thanks to Morag from Australia; and realising we can work for this stuff right now thanks to the Corcovado vlog.

We are learning to learn.

Vision for the future

Next year we want to start harvesting, hosting events and taking the office out on the road more often. We’d like to tour interesting gardens, plots and smallholdings to share what we know and find out about others’ successes. We’d also like more visitors to the house and paddock — so if you fancy a trip, get in touch and we can talk.

By July 2019, our magazine should be established and supporting a small but active community of producers and makers, and we’ll know whether our business model can disrupt the magazine industry in favour of creators.

What do we need?

We have space and we have gaps in our knowledge and understanding of farming, business and community engagement. We want to bring in people who can help us learn and grow, or who will benefit from reconnecting with the land or rekindling their artistic ambitions. On a more prosaic level, we’ll be working on our magazine in the second half of this year, so we’re going to need writers, photographers, explorers and innovators willing to take a chance on a potentially industry-changing publication (and to be paid for their work!). Oh, and if you have any advice on setting up a small community cinema, running a successful Kickstarter campaign or growing good sweetcorn, we’ll happily drag you down to West Wales for a brainstorming/work session. You can catch us both on the Corcovado Slack group or email andy@beeedigital.com or gillian@beeedigital.com.