Rethinking sustainability…leaving the farm

Early this year, I sold a small organic farm on the outskirts of our city, and moved back into the suburbs.

Our farmhouse in the morning. It was idyllic, beautiful…and not sustainable.

I didn’t really have a choice, to be honest. I was divorcing, and the place needed to be sold for financial reasons anyway.

But prior to that, being on the farm for nearly a decade had made me rethink what sustainability means, and how we can move forward in a world that seems intent on, well, not moving forward much at all.

Petrol…the fly in the ointment

We were extremely car-dependent at the farm. There was no public transport. The nearest supermarket, bank, school – all of it was a drive away. There were no buses or trains. This was a huge hurdle to sustainability.

I was routinely spending $100 a week on petrol, and my partner was spending the same. Getting around drained our energy, our time, and our finances.

It was lovely living on the farm and having heaps of space – and animals! – but there was a lot of work behind the scenes that I didn’t expect and that cost a lot as well.

Did I make a mistake moving to a farm? No. But I don’t think that type of lifestyle is the way forward for humanity, as a whole.

It’s appealing, and it stirs in us a vision of an idyllic past, but it’s not practical for a sustainable future.

The present…around the corner to everything

When my new partner and I bought a home this year for our four kids (two of his, two of mine), we bought a very, very walkable home.

Our new house and garden from the rear. It’s in a lovely sunny spot, central and walkable to everything.

The bank is a two minute walk around the corner. There’s a park just across the road. The supermarket is five minutes’ walk, with shops and cafes and restaurants in-between.

Our Walkscore at our new home is 74. That translates as “Very Walkable. Most errands can be accomplished on foot.”

Our new home is very walkable, with a great “walkscore”. See https://www.walkscore.com/ to find your own walkscore!

By comparison, our Walkscore at the farm was 0. “Car-Dependent. Almost all errands require a car.”

The difference is striking. Our kids walk to school, unless the weather is bad. My partner can walk to work – and does. I can walk into the city, or a bus runs right past our door every few minutes.

Most days I don’t use the car much, if at all.

I’d been wondering how I’d possibly be able to stay at the farm should I ever stop driving. Living here, that’s never an issue, because I simply don’t need to be able to drive.

What does sustainable really mean?

There’s no point in running an organic farm if you’re using three tanks of petrol every week to get anywhere.

You’re trashing the planet, no matter how organic your veggies are!

By comparison, the suburbs can be more sustainable if you live with a large group of people together, share your energy costs, walk for a lot of your journeys, and the journeys you do need a car for are short.

Plus, from a purely financial point of view, I’m not spending massive amounts of money on petrol every month. I don’t particular want to make oil companies richer. Does anyone?

Of course there’s more to being sustainable than petrol and cars. Suburban chickens, worm farms, backyard fruit trees, and an unpackaged, locally-produced diet can all play a part.

home made chicken tractor

Suburban chickens can play a role in sustainability.

So can handing-down clothes, buying locally-manufactured clothing or secondhand, using a capsule wardrobe, and limiting imports.

A capsule wardrobe can be a part of modern sustainability.

Finally, reducing family size through access to contraception, ease of access to abortion, education, and solid welfare support all play a role, as can voting on environmental lines and social welfare concerns.

Moving forwards to a new sustainability

I’m not sure what genuine sustainability will look like in the future. But, looking back, I know what it isn’t.

I know we need to reduce car usage, and we need to make our cities more walkable, and lobby to make public transport better and easier to use.

Perhaps we need to open our minds to new ideas, and discard old dreams that don’t fit with a modern reality.

My farm was lovely, and it was organic but sustainable?

No. I can’t say that.

However, I hope our new home in the suburbs might be…one day.

Blended families, minimalism and compromise…

I’m a busy mum with two kids of my own – a son (12) and daughter (10).

And kind of like The Brady Bunch, I’ve inherited another two kids with my partner, who has primary custody of his son (16) and daughter (11).

Four kids. Yikes! I often wonder how on earth this happened to me. But it did!

Mixing families is never easy. Over the last few years, as we’ve introduced our kids to one another, we’ve all had our share of ups and downs, and we’re doing pretty well, I think.

But with mixing families, we also have to make some concessions. One of the concessions my partner and I decided we wouldn’t make was on giving the kids space of their own.

Our options, when we first moved in together, were as follows:

a) Put the boys in together (16 and 12) and the girls in together (11 and 10, but from different families in each case, and my daughter has special needs and doesn’t sleep well)

b) Put his kids in together (a 16 year old boy with an 11 year old girl) and my kids in together (a 12 year old boy and a 10 year old girl with special needs)

c) Give the oldest (his 16 year old boy) a room of his own and make the others share in some way

d) Give the youngest (a girl with special needs a room of her own) and make the others share in some way.

None of the sharing options worked well. So we settled on a different option altogether, and decided that all of the kids needed their own room. Their own space.

It was hard finding a home that was big enough on our particular budget, and in the end, the home we’ve found is beautiful and in an ideal position, but it does need some work. We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get busy! That was the compromise we were willing to make.

The compromise we made also meant that my dream of owning a smaller home went out the window. I’m now the minimalist with a five bedroom home!

I’m the minimalist with the five bedroom home!

What I’ve learned from this is that people are more important than ideals. The house is bigger than I wanted, and I feel like an old fraud, preaching minimalism while living in a big house. But it is what we need, for our particular circumstances, with four kids from two families and one of those kids with special needs.

The truth is, minimalism means own what you need, and nothing more. If you need a big home, then buy the big home and don’t feel guilty. I need a big home, every square foot of it will be used.

My version of minimalism might be different from yours, and yours might be different from the next person’s. Have what you need, and be content. We’re looking forward to moving into our new home, and everyone having space of their own.

Sometimes space is a good thing. Especially when you’re blending families 🙂