One Straw Revolution: Part Two
Graham R. Cooper
You say you want a revolution Well, you know We all want to change the world
from ‘Revolution’ – The Beatles (lyrics by John Lennon)
It was the early 90s – we’d just moved on to the homestead. I wanted New Zealand’s mainstream agricultural and horticultural practices to change. I wanted to change the world, our part of it anyway – for our island nation to live up to the clean, green image it promoted to an overseas audience.
Our temperate climate, fertile soils, vast tracts of farm land, and the depth of the expertise already available in our rural sector meant that organic farming made sense on all three fronts: economic, social and environmental.
Thirty years on and worldwide demand for sustainably produced food is insatiable – premiums are paid and demand far exceeds supply. For New Zealand, an opportunity lost and never to be regained.
In last week’s post (One Straw Revolution: Part One – Modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully (grahamrcooper.com)) I talk about our 1993 disastrous first foray into the use of mulch. From that, you could well have got the impression that the Coopers would need to adopt more ‘conventional’ horticultural and agricultural practices just to survive the homesteading way of life.
And to move from survive to thrive, I should have gone back to full-time teaching and June to nursing. Two professional salaries – wow! we’d be able to pay people whatever was needed to ensure we thrived on the land.
What’s the average length of stay on a Kiwi lifestyle block? Seven years three months.* A lifestyle that, more often than not, requires two incomes as a prerequisite.
What’s our length of stay so far? Twenty-nine years one month.
Sorry to shatter any illusions you may have, but you can’t have it both ways. It’s those that don’t make the commitment to personally work hard on the homesteading side of things that end up in the ‘few years of country life’ statistics.
You can only get a deep and enduring sense of place if it’s experienced first hand over a long stretch of time. You either immerse yourself in the homesteading way of life, year in, year out, sucking up the bad and revelling in the good, or you play at it for a while and then sell up.
For many years we had a way of life that more closely conformed to the ‘variation on a theme’ explanations that are out there as to what modern-day homesteading is all about.
Here’s the list of enterprises we had on the go at various times over the first twenty-five or so years of living here:
- House cow for milk, cream, yoghurt, meat (her calves when full-grown), butter, butter milk and whey (fed to the pigs), farmhouse cheddar cheese, manure;
- Bees for honey and pollination (two hives for 20 years);
- Pigs for pork, bacon, manure;
- Meat rabbits: a buck and two does (NZ Whites)
- Ducks for eggs (make the best pavlovas), and meat;
- White Sussex and Black Australorp hens and roosters (both dual purpose breeds), for eggs, meat, chickens (flock replacement), manure;
- Wine made from elderberries, plums, parsnips;
- Black and coloured sheep for wool, meat, manure (had a small flock for 20 years);
- Hay made from our own pastures;
- Eighth of an acre in fodder beet (for the house cow);
- Eighth of an acre in swedes (for the cow and sheep, and a few for us);
- Eighth of an acre in potatoes (for our family, and sell surplus)
We’re no longer doing any of the above, but there’s a high degree of self-sufficiency evident in many current enterprises, most notably: dairy (milking goats); cattle; meat; hens (eggs); vegetables; fruit; fertiliser; stock pasture; firewood; bread; home heating; water heating.
But I’d ask myself: Were we still modern-day homesteaders now that we’d cut back in so many areas? Would the blog need lots of ‘how to’ sections of the kind that were so prominent in most of the homesteading blogs. In fact, it’s taken me until now to get comfortable with calling myself ‘a modern-day homesteader’.
Now I say, what team June and Graham busy themselves with these days is still good enough for ‘modern-day homesteaders’. Now I say, it’s a big, wide world out there, and there are people interested in my take on the subject. And ‘how to’ does get its share of blog space. Especially if you add ‘how not to’!
When I started blogging a year ago I wanted to write about our way of life without placing it in any particular category. But when people search online under broad general interest themes they’ll type in ‘travel’ or ‘cooking’ or ‘fashion’ or ‘homesteading’ or whatever.
So about three months ago I started to re-brand. I was no longer the “blogger from Little Owl Gully” as a friend put it. I was now “the modern-day homesteader blogging about life at Little Owl Gully”.
My key motivation was, as the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan coined it, that: ‘the medium is the message’. If you want to get your message out there then you’d better conform to the dictates of the medium. There are nine major blogging categories and ‘homesteading’ is one of them. People google ‘homesteading’ not ‘Little Owl Gully’.
In our youth, we want a revolution, we want to change the world. As you get older, you realise that worldly concerns go on pretty much as they always have.
In her mid-70s, the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said: “There is something to this getting old after all, … I have enjoyed everything as much as I could and as long as I could.” As for me, well I’m sixty-seven, and it’s that kind of acceptance that helps me live a life without regrets.
Continuing as a homesteader, and starting to write a blog, have helped me accept that: “I have enjoyed everything as much as I could and as long as I could.”
Bugger retirement! There’s work to do!
I was meant to be telling you about our current mulching regime. Oh well, there’s always next week. Better title it One Straw Revolution: Part Three. See you next Monday.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully for this week. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.