Trish Allen Interviews her Neighbours - Story 2
Introducing Karen Ward & Hamish Stewart
When did you hear about permaculture and what inspired you about it?
In 2008 I asked about starting an orchard and vege garden at our kids’ school, a very enthusiastic Edendale Primary. Looking for help and inspiration I came across permablitz and permaculture in the Slow Food magazine which led me to Dan Palmer and Finn Mackesy and a bunch of others who were incredibly helpful and supportive and generous with their knowledge to help us get off the ground. To say that I immersed myself in this whole project would be an understatement. Everything I read about permaculture made complete sense to me and was a perfect way to establish and run a school garden. I learned the power and joy of community in this place and it was magic. We applied for Edendale to be on the Garden to Table programme in 2011, which continues today. This 4-year project was really the springboard for my permaculture journey and our family’s involvement in the Permaculture community which is full of amazing inspiring people.
When did you do your PDC and where?
Online with Geoff Lawton 2014. Every parent who cannot get away, much thanks to him for doing this!!
When did you move to Matakana and buy your land? What was your vision for it?
Our family moved to Matakana Jan 2013 after thinking about it for many years. The catalyst was Rainbow Valley Farm coming up for sale in 2012. We raced up to see it, but very quickly could see it was too much work for us with 2 young children and a catering business to run. We bought a one-hectare clay field with a north facing slope and a magnificent view, 5 minutes up the hill from Rainbow Valley, and set about planning to build a house with architect Graeme North and designing a productive edible landscape with Daniel Tohill to provide food for ourselves and our catering business. Hamish had always wanted land and to build a house and I was obsessed with permaculture and food production by this stage, so it was an ideal move for us. We had also looked at retrofitting our Sandringham house with insulation, double glazing and solar and it all looked easier to start from scratch. Our two girls Ava and Isla were 12 and 7 and loved animals, the countryside and the beach. It was a great move for us all, although that’s not to say leaving our much-loved community was easy.
Can you tell us about your property and how you put permaculture into practice?
Our 2nd summer owning the land, we had no rain for 16 weeks. At this satge we had the landscape plan, but that did not include swales, and we had just one (leaky) pond. I knew we had to catch and store much more water to support the amount of food we wanted to grow, so 5 more small ponds linked by swales were installed.
We have planted hundreds of trees on our property over the last 6 years, windbreaks, fruit trees, support trees, natives, lots of trees that provide year-round food for birds and bees, all based around where the water flows. We have learned a lot about growing in a high wind zone and in clay!
Our house is a passive solar hybrid built with straw bale and wood externally and a lot of light earth walls internally. It is built with function entirely dominant over form i.e. almost every piece of it is doing a particular job relevant to heating or cooling or it fits a requirement of the way we live on a day to day basis or future plans. We had a licensed builder to do all the main structural work, Tim Oldham, who did a great job on the house and putting up with us all as we moved in when it was far from finished due to some unexpected life circumstances. The house is a work in progress still, 2 years after we moved in and 6 years after we bought the land. Clay plastered walls and earth floors are incredibly beautiful and incredibly hard, hard labours of love, and at times you simply cannot see the finish line, but we are now on the home straight and it is a beautiful place to be. I am super grateful to everyone who has helped us get to where we are.
And anything else you want to add?
I cannot finish without mentioning Trish Allen, who immediately welcomed us as friends to this community and has been a great source of inspiration, knowledge, contacts, and encouragement all the way.