Living off the land: The joy of self-sufficiency and how to get started

Living off the land: The joy of self-sufficiency and how to get started

New Zealanders are wonderfully connected to nature. It was one of the first things I noticed when I arrived here from the UK three years ago. Over here, hiking is awesome no matter what your age, camping doesn’t need Glastonbury to totally rock and without fail, every change of seasons sparks a million conversations between foodies excited for what the new harvest has to offer. Such respect for nature seems to nurture a greater, more sincere appetite among New Zealanders to attempt self-sufficiency. At least everyone I know – whether they rent or own a property – makes the best of their outside space by growing at least one fresh food item at home. Put ‘self-sufficient living NZ’ into Google though and it returns dozens of blogs, news articles and forums dedicated to the topic, often the word ‘dream’ alongside it or slightly less optimistic phrases or questions such as: ’reality check’, or quite simply: ‘is it possible?’. So how closely does the idea, or indeed the dream, of becoming self-sufficient, match up with reality? And for those of us to whom the word ‘pot’ means nothing more than a cooking utensil, how best to make a start? Anna Mahy, who owns Preserved Cook School & Eatery with her husband John, says the key is to start small and simply. At Preserved, Anna and John teach students traditional methods of salting, fermenting, curing, preserving and pickling food. The couple pride themselves on growing much of their own food and partner with their community to plug the gaps. “Getting started is easy,” Anna assured me. “Put a herb pot in your...
A Challenge Worth Taking On

A Challenge Worth Taking On

When I first reach Frans de Jong at his Matamata orchard Southern Belle, he asks me to call him back in five minutes since he’s busy checking the weather. “A very important part of the job,” Frans tells me through a joyous laugh and a thick Netherlands accent. A family-run business, Southern Belle is the current supplier of delicious Red Sweetpoint capsicums to dozens of Ooooby customers each week. It also produces feijoas. Last April the orchard was announced Supreme winner of the Waikato Farm Environment Awards where it collected the Harvest Award, the Innovation Award, the Integrated Management Award and the Soil Management Award. “It was very humbling,” says Frans who tells me that his arm had to be twisted to even enter the competition. “As a family, we usually work longer hours than most. But I’d like to turn that into a positive.” Frans credits marking oneself out from the crowd as the biggest challenge for smallholders and a factor likely to determine whether or not they will achieve success. “We’ve established ourselves as a quality grower by doing things totally differently,” he tells me. “That’s not to say it’s always easy to do, but you have differentiate yourself to make it work.” So how did he do it? While at first the de Jong’s listened to advice from the previous owners of their farm, it wasn’t until Frans applied his own background in analytical chemistry to processes at Southern Belle that the magic started to happen. “You start to look at things differently and understand the biological system,” Frans explains. “For example, learning to use predator insects to control harmful insects and beneficial soil microbes in the root zone to...
Should NZ copy France and force supermarkets in giving unsold food to the needy?

Should NZ copy France and force supermarkets in giving unsold food to the needy?

When the French government announced a ban on supermarkets throwing away unsold food, New Zealand was one of a number of countries to throw in their two cents worth on the matter. NZ Listener food columnist Lauraine Jacobs weighed in on the topic when she tweeted: “C’mon NZ. It’s not rocket science. France becomes first to force all supermarkets to give unsold food to needy.” Under the new law, supermarkets in France with a footprint of 400 square metres or more must donate food no longer fit for sale to charities or for animal feed. Yet research from France’s Ministry of Ecology shows that shops are responsible for just over a tenth of the 7.1 billion tonnes of food wasted by the nation each year – 11% in fact, of which 5% comes from supermarkets. And consumers? The average French national generates 67% of those 7.1 billion tonnes, which equates to about 20-30kg of food wasted per person each year. Even more horrifying than that is how around 7kg of those 20-30kgs is food that’s still wrapped. Assuming our situation is about the same as France, shouldn’t we first be looking to unpack our own waste behaviours before we start dumping the blame on supermarkets? While there’s been no specific research into the amount of food New Zealand supermarkets waste, The Waste Management Institute of New Zealand (WasteMINZ) has done plenty to lift the lid on amount of food binned by households.  WasteMINZ estimates that the average family buys and chucks out some $563 worth of unused food each year, which amounts to 122,547 tonnes of food and costs the nation about $872 million per year.  As a consumer, I know there’s more I could...