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 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.

Open inspections and beachy friends…

We’re finally here. Open inspections on our farm next Sunday, and our agent thinks our home will sell like lightning.

It’s been a long road. When we first bought our farm eight years ago, I never imagined ever leaving. I think nobody ever expects to leave a new home, do they?

It’s been a terrific home too. Our children have grown from being tiny (son 4 and daughter 2) to being strapping young people on the verge of being teens. I’m fully expecting our son to shoot past me in height over the coming year, and our daughter to do the same in the next two or three years.

They’ve grown up here, and we’ve all been very happy. But it is time to move on.

We’re staying in Dunedin. After the sale goes through, we’ll know what money we have to buy a new place, and we’ll start looking seriously then.

The house is so clean and tidy now, it feels like all we’ll have to do is move our furniture once we have a sale confirmed. One of the benefits of being a minimalist, I guess, is that you don’t have that much stuff.

I do feel a little like our furniture should maybe be fancier or newer – so many of the houses on the market seem to have “new everything” that I can’t help wondering how much debt their owners have! By comparison, the newest piece of furniture we own is our sofa, which is nine years old. We keep things forever!

I do believe we’ll make a great sale. Our views are spectacular and this is a truly special part of the land that we’re on. They’re not making any more land, and there are very few lifestyle farms like ours, fewer still on the market. Demand is high, and we hope that someone will fall in love with our farm, just as we did all those years ago. We’re also fortunate to have a great agent who has been with us every step of the way, and who I hope will guide us to a great conclusion.

Regardless of how busy it was, I took some time out last week to host a dear family friend who was here from England, and we went to the Moeraki boulders together, among other journeys. Sometimes, no matter how busy things get, you just need friends and the sand between your toes 🙂

Moeraki boulders...a brief respite from selling a home!

Moeraki boulders…a brief respite from selling a home!

First of the spring lambs :)

The first of our Spring lambs has arrived.

It’s a wee blackface girlie and we’ve named her Sonia, after world record powerlifter Sonia Manaena, who lives just down south of us in Invercargill.


I mean, if you’re going to name a lamb, why not name her after an incredible New Zealand athlete!

Anyway, Sonia seems to be doing well, and feeding well, and now we’re wondering when the next lambs will arrive. Usually we get a rush all at once, and certainly one of the other ewes is so fat she’s practically waddling around the property!

Sonia's mum Gabby giving her a kiss...

Sonia’s mum Gabby giving her a kiss…

It’s always lovely when the lambs arrive, but this time it has a hint of sadness about it, because if everything goes well, this will be our last spring at the farm, and my last time we have lambs. I’ll miss it.

Sonia says hello to the other sheep

Sonia says hello to the other sheep

This time next year I don’t know where I’ll be living – it’ll be somewhere in town, but I won’t have lambs, or a farm. It’s what we’re planning, but I’ll miss the joy of Spring.