Peanut and I
From JOHN FINLAYSON
At over 60 years of age I have been farming in Northern New Zealand all of my life; dairying, sheep, beef cattle, goats, organic orcharding and vegetable growing and obviously a few hens, ducks, etc; initially on a commercial basis on the family farm of 1,400 acres but then reality set in and I have now downsized to a more manageable 50 acres which suits me just fine. We live a reasonably sustainable lifestyle; not connected to the grid, grow or produce/make most of what we need and if we do require something from an external source then we will plan ahead and purchase it.
About 10-12 years ago I created and taught a series of programmes for our local community college which taught the young (and old) of Northland how to relearn those growing and farming skills and techniques that their grandparents took for granted and that I had been living by. It was such a success that it quickly became the mainstay and signature department in whole the institution until our enlightened bureaucrats in Wellington recently decided that it was not leading the youth into “jobs” and effectively canned the programme. Coming back to living off the land again was a huge shock as the change in my living attitudes had been both subtle and pernicious even for me who had been counselling about it for years. It was a very saluatory moment I can tell you.
There are two main reasons, amongst a host of others, that stand out for me as to why I have chosen the lifestyle I have. The first is the control it gives you over how you live your life. If a city dweller feels cold they either turn on a gas tap or flick a switch and presto, there is heat, albeit at the whim and mercy of the utility supplier who has control over delivery, price and quantity. I, on the other hand have that same option or I can go and cut and store enough firewood for my needs. If I decide to be lazy or don’t plan well then I am also accountable for those consequences; bottom line is that it is my choice. The same principle applies to transportation, food, and nearly everything else regarding daily life. I am also deeply concerned about the way supermarkets and retailers generate and create the image of endless abundance which is such an illusion. Most products are sourced away from the local district and come from relatively few suppliers. A very dangerous situation to be in long term and not sustainable.
The second aspect of my life I enjoy is being aware of and being a part of the natural cycles of our environment. There is little that can approach going out on a clear night with my grandson and pointing out the constellations and planets. Try doing that in the city! Nature can be violent and devastating as well as gentle and wondrous but it is never vicious. By being aware of the seasons and weather patterns you learn to adapt and prepare for most eventualities. As I write this it is a drear, thundery and wet winter’s day and so instead of digging in the garden (which would rapidly destroy the soil structure) or tending livestock I get on with converting my quonset barn into a home for my family. If I was in an office life would go on as relentlessly usual and I would probably not even know it was stormy outside (unless the power went out – Heaven forbid) until I was about to go home. This dislocation from the world around us is a very concerning trend to me. I often watch the hawks circling my home and although they are at the top of the food chain they are still constantly on the lookout for danger and are always wary; compare this with the average person walking down the street not even being aware of their surroundings (unless it is the smell of a pizza shop) let alone any potential threat.
Trying to reduce the reasons I love living as I do in a few lines is an impossible task and I admire and congratulate the other contributers on their efforts and I hope that I have conveyed at least some of the drivers I feel for my lifestyle. I would not call it farming just as I would not call a vegetable grower a horticulturalist – it is so much more than any single word can convey. I guess if you wanted to reduce all the psycho-babble I have spouted above into 3 simple words it would have to be “quality of life”.
Thanks to Gene and Dave for the chance to hear all of these wonderful stories and I urge others to send in their experiences. Like the by-line of old Dragnet TV show of many years ago (I think it was that one anyway) “there are a million stories out there and this is just one of them”.