Why I Farm: John Finlayson

Peanut and I

New Zealand

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”.

Cheers everyone.


Well who do we have here, my old amigo John and Peanuts,
How are you guys all in the very best of good health, how is the rest of the family
Long time no see, missed having our chats.
What are you guys up to these days.
It has been about five years since we last spoke
Marie an self speak of you guys often
It is funny one of our perspective clients had been asking what we had been up to in the past and your name was mentioned , and lo and behold he was on Linked in, and your name came up so here we are
Please get back to us, we would love t know what you have been up to.
Well John I will waited breath
Take care and God bless
Peter and Marie

Thanks for your comment folks. I really appreciate them all.

Gordon, you don’t need to wait until you are actually on your land to ‘be’ a farmer. The kind of farming that Gene and others espouse on this blog has more to do with attitude and awareness than merely working on a piece of land. Plan, dream and prepare for the day you get your dream plot of soil. There are plenty of guides out there in the paper and virtual worlds to help – a good avenue is anything to do with permaculture as devised by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Practical and holistic although there are plenty of other similar systems around.

Go for it and good luck.

Greetings from Michigan – your spirit-based approach is to the core. If only wisdom like this could trickle down! I am 26 and I don’t know if I would have listened well enough even five years ago, but I would have felt your points about this seemingly widespread dislocation and dependance well enough – if there’s anything to summarize the pains of postmodernism, you’ve hit it there. It’s an honor to hear from you.

Great post, John, and one of the best things about the Internet — we get to “talk” to people we would never otherwise know. I’ve never been to your neck of the woods but my husband stopped over several times when he was working at the South pole in the 1980s. He says it’s beautiful country!

You did a very good job of expressing why you farm, of all the one’s I have read, I like yours the best. You can tell by your words, that you really do love your lifestyle.

I am so impressed with this blog, everyone who contributes, seem to know how to put their thoughts and feelings in writting so well, maybe its because everyone is so passionate about farming. I wish I had a job that could make me feel that way. I am not a farmer yet, but plan on making the move when I retire in about 4 years.

Your words are what I long for. Thanks for sharing!

Each life lived in such fullness, John, adds immeasurably to the wholeness of our world. Thank you.

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