My family and I have been on this journey towards self sufficiency for about 10 years now. We’re not there yet, in fact self sufficiency has never been the specific goal. It’s more a journey of relationship with the each other, the natural world and an exercise in community building and regained autonomy. The journey has been so enjoyable as each year, in fact each season, brings new adventures, more variety of produce, additional skill sets, knowledge and new friends.
People often ask me, ‘What inspired you to start down this road?’ To be perfectly honest, it’s more a matter of who inspired me, not what. Despite going from strength to strength as an employee of a successful international company at the time, I was fast coming to the realization that our economic system was, and is, quite fragile. Built on finite resources and relying on perpetual expansion fueled by ever increasing levels of debt, I came to an understanding that something had to give. But what could I do? It was at this same time that I came to learn about a number of very inspiring people and their stories.
Friends of ours had purchased 6 acres of land in Kangaroo Ground and it took many years for the approval process with council before they could build. The delays with council took a laborious 6 years to get building approval while they rented in the area in order to be within their future community. Although a successful teacher and published author, Rik was also a very capable handyman. His wife Kerryn designed the house and with her help, built it together. I’d always wanted to get more hands on so I got out there as often as I could and assisted with the construction.
Despite it being winter, despite the hard labour of mixing mortar and laying the large Timbercrete bricks, I enjoyed myself immensely. There was no monetary reward, but the intrinsic value of working alongside such people was priceless. Although wanting to get as much done as possible during his long service leave, what I observed was Rik always having time to chat with whoever visited the property, whether they were expected or not. As we worked together they shared with me their plans for sustainable features such as capturing their own water, installing a composting worm farm toilet, a complete solar system, extensive veggie gardens and fruit trees. They’d even planted quick growing natives suitable for fire wood in the first year they owned the land, brilliant forethought. I found this inspirational because, although by this time we had plenty of our own veg gardens, fruit trees and chooks, they were going to a whole other level, it was a big leap!
I shared with them how my wife and I had started watching Matthew Evans ‘Gourmet Farmer’ and how much we enjoyed it. They were quick to exclaim that we simply had to watch Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage’. We sought it out at the local library and from episode one I was hooked! To this day, Hugh is one of my all time heroes. Here was a man who had levels of charisma and personality that a dullard like myself could only dream about. Hugh’s ability to engage with any walk of life and bring people together around real, local, foraged, sustainable and delicious food is simply inspiring.
I then saw the documentary Food Inc, which by this stage had been out for several years. Watching the film, a sense of injustice arose within in me at just how exploitative of the natural world our industrial agriculture system had become. In my business and personal travels, I had seen first hand the exploitation of the worlds poorest in a ‘profit before people’ environment. However, I was now awakening to how the profit motive was quite pervasive in my own country when it came to our food system. The film featured a very bold and inspiring farmer named Joel Salatin. I sought out several of Joel’s books and his ideology on food, farming and family struck me like a swift kick to the nether region…….over and over again.
Between what I was learning at home about food and horticulture, the example of Rik and Kerryn, the envy of River Cottage and the inspiration of Joel Salatin, I knew that we had begun a journey that would change the course our lives forever. I also started to feel a little less like a weirdo with a bunch of strange ideas. Knowing there was a community of people questioning the status quo, and finding responses that were both realistic and fulfilling, reduced the impending sense of ideological isolation I had begun to feel.
In the three and a half years since moving onto our own 10 acres, I have met many more inspiring people. Local heroes who do amazing things on both the small and large scale. Many of them have become friends, some of them quite close friends, and this is the true pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. For someone who used to love nothing more than tearing across a motocross track while ripping up the dirt on a highly engineered crotch rocket, its been quite a swing to now only tearing up the dirt with a basic hand tool in order to plant seeds and mix in compost. Yet I can say with certainty, I wouldn’t want it any other way.