Starting a New Permaculture Journey in a New Country
After 20 years living in Queensland Australia where I had been embracing a permaculture lifestyle, I returned home to NZ to live near Marton in the Rangitikei, bringing with me my husband and son. This is not the area I grew up in so it was a matter of exploring and learning about a new area, seeking out like-minded people, building new connections and adapting to a very different climate from where we had been living. A blank slate on which to build a new life (below)
Five years before moving back to New Zealand we had purchased 5.5 acres of bare land on which to build a house and set up a homestead. We travelled back regularly to plant trees, make plans and observe our land through the seasons. During this time I researched permaculture activities, groups and people within the Whanganui, Rangitikei and the Manawatu and attended events to learn about local conditions.
One of the first connections we had was with Dani and Nelson Lebo from the Eco School and Kaitiaki Farm in Whanganui. Dani and Nelson host events and workshops, run nature-based play activities, lead onsite PDC’s hosting interns as part of a work-study program, and host tours of their property which is how we came to meet them. While I had plenty of permaculture experience I was now looking at the New Zealand environment, flora and fauna, seasons and climatic conditions from a permaculture perspective and it was fantastic to see the application of permaculture techniques in the New Zealand context at Kaitiaki Farm.
Planting a native shelterbelt(left). Nelosn Lebo tour of Kaitiaki Farm (above)
Even though I had completed a PDC in Australia I decided that the best way to build new connections was to take the 12 module PDC from RECAP (Resilience and Engagement of the Community of Ashhurst & Pohangina) which can be spread over 2 years and is lead by Sharon and Phil Stevens of Slow Farm. In addition to Sharon and Phil Stevens, students of the RECAP PDC are taught by guests who specialise in particular areas of design including Gary Williams, a water and soil engineer of Waterscape, and experienced and qualified eco-builder and lecturer in the built environment Matt Casslles. The modular nature of the RECAP PDC allows for greater access to a PDC compared to a block course and for strong relationships to be built over an extended time period. Personal connections are often further developed outside of the course with other students as most come from within the Manawatu region. After completing the PDC students are able to remain linked into the RECAP network being notified of future learning opportunities and projects.
The PDC is just one of the many offerings RECAP undertake with other initiatives focused on building a stronger sense of community, caring for the living environment and the local ecology, and developing new skills and connections that can help make their region sustainable, resilient, and self-reliant. RECAP seeks to advance education in permaculture and advance education that enhances the community's disaster preparedness and ability to respond non-violently to sudden change. These goals have led to a number of community projects including a community orchard, establishing a community garden and sharing shelf at the Ashurst Library as well as clearing and pest control in pockets of local bush.
While I would have loved to be a part of many of the activities happening in Ashurst I needed something much closer to home and so I joined the committee for the Marton Community Garden. The Marton Community garden is managed by a team of volunteers and provides free organic food for the community. The garden is open 24/7 so that there is no barrier to access and is also the home of the #FoodisFree Wagon where locals can share the excess from their own gardens.
In addition to providing organic food the garden often hosts workshops which this year included Zero Waste, Savings Pools, Willow Weaving, Growing Seedlings and Permaculture related Movie nights. Additionally, the Marton Community Garden acts as a distributor for heritage apple trees and heritage tomato seedling giveaways for the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust.
Marton Community Garden (above). #Foodfree Wagon (below). A RECAP workshop at Ashurst Community Garden (right).
Based on Whanganui the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust is a charitable trust, established to research the early prevention and treatment of disease through the medicinal properties of plant-based food and natural plant-based medicine. Mark Christiansen, the research director is credited with the discovery of the ‘anti-cancer’ apple Montys Surprise which contains very high levels of procyanidins as well as quercetin flavonoid compounds that have been shown to inhibit cancer cell proliferation. Further research by the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust is looking to find the best open-pollinated tomato varieties in the world for human health, particularly those highest in lycopene for cancer prevention, as well as researching traditional bean, peach, plum, and wheat varieties with a focus is on finding the very best varieties for the present and future health of New Zealanders.
While we were still living in Australia we looked at a range of building styles and had our hearts set on building a strawbale house. After a significant amount of research, visits other strawbale homes around the north island and a detailed site analysis we established that due to our exposed site, strong winds and driving rain over winter, strawbale may not be the best option.
However, the builder we had hoped would build us a strawbale home suggested we get in contact with eHaus who build certified passive homes and are currently building a co-housing development in Dunedin. It turned out that eHaus was able to deliver us a home that we love even though it is not the strawbale house we had our hearts set on. Our homestays between 18 and 24 degrees all year round without any heating due to a design specifically tailored to the orientation on our land, significant insulation and a heat recovery system.
Winter Temperature reading inside/outside the house (right). Heritage Food Crops Research Trust - Montys Surprise Tree Giveaway at the Marton Community Garden (left.) Our Farm slowly being developed (below)
We have been in the house for 12 months now and are starting to draw up more detailed plans for zones 1 and 2 now that we can see how the house has affected wind, water and sun patterns. In the meantime, we continue to plant more trees adding to the five hundred that we planted before building. I am also growing temporary gardens in the leftover topsoil piles, raising livestock, breeding chickens and farming our little piece of the Rangitikei organically.
While it has taken three years to rebuild my permaculture network here in New Zealand I feel incredibly blessed by the connections I have made and the doors these have opened to new and exciting opportunities. We are loving life in the Rangitikei, our new passive house and setting up our homestead in a climate that is not quite as challenging as Australia. I am also encouraged by the number of people keen to learn more about permaculture, organic food production and alternatives to the mainstream consumer-driven lifestyle. I am sure there are more people out there in my area quietly doing amazing things and I can’t wait to discover them.
Leftover topsoil terraced into temporary veggie beds (below left) Tree Planting 5 years on and new passive house (below right)
By Fiona Moorhouse – Arbordale Farm