This week it’s been raining a LOT. Over 250mm fell out of the sky this week – more than any single month since we’ve been here. It’s been helpful. Not just because our tank is now closer to full than we’ve ever seen it. But also, I have two assignments due today that I’d barely started before Monday. With all that rain, there’s been heaps of time to study, so at least those assignments will be submitted on time.

You see, over the last 4 years, I’ve been slowly ticking off and gaining qualifications. Mostly Level 3 certificates delivered online, which I find is a nice way to introduce myself to new subjects. I’ve paid for all of these qualifications out-of-pocket. None of them cost more than $1000, so everything I’ve learned has come without a student loan (this time).

I’ve plodded my way through them – one paper at a time, one after the other – in between other parts of my life. It began in 2016. I knew owning a lifestyle block was my ultimate goal, but I realised there was a massive gap in my knowledge. I grew up in the suburbs. From there, I moved to the city. Realistically, I didn’t know much about living on a farm. Looking back, the only things I actually knew at that point were:

  • Permaculture was a thing, and it sounded cool.
  • I didn’t really enjoy the monotony of regular office work. I enjoyed variety in my life.
  • I enjoyed, and didn’t suck at growing plants.
  • I like animals quite a lot.
  • I valued sustainability, conservation, and our native ecosystems.
  • I was kinda scared something obvious like climate change (or ridiculous, like a pandemic) might happen, and thought being at least partially self-sufficient could be helpful.

So I enrolled in a Certificate in Organic Horticulture being offered online at the time by SIT (it’s been discontinued since). I was still working as a petsitter and crowdfunding consultant. At one point, I was writing and submitting my assignments from a hotel in Thailand. In 2017, I knocked the bugger off, and thought I was done. I knew gardening now!

That year, I moved into a rental house on a dairy farm with my partner. It was a practice run for… pretty much everything. I set up a garden, and began putting the stuff I knew into practice.

One day, I was reading about designing food forests. Something in the book struck me. It was an American book and they were going over why it was important to have some knowledge about native forests. I realised I knew almost nothing about our own native trees and forests, or how they functioned. That seemed like a pretty important thing to gain some knowledge in. So in early 2018, I enrolled in a single undergraduate paper on New Zealand Native Plants through Open Polytech. It was a real slog because my mental health was a bit shambolic at this time, but I learned heaps. I vowed to take a break.

But almost immediately on completion, I found a free Certificate in Horticulture being offered by the Open Polytechnic. The topics were different to my first certificate, including a lot of the fundamentals. I did not know gardening as well as I thought. I began that late in 2018, completing it in early 2020. It made a lot of stuff click, but I needed a break. Again, I thought this was the last one.

By now I actually lived on a lifestyle block, and I owned cows. And it turns out I know almost nothing about cows or how to look after them besides moving them from paddock to paddock regularly. Don’t even get me started on fences. I had a whole lot more land to take care of than I had anticipated and it all felt way over my head.

Which was about the time I discovered the Certificate in Land-Based Sustainability Practices at SIT.

At this point, I just want the knowledge to be inside my head. So I’ve opted to double my study-load and do two papers at a time. For the last few months, I’ve been studying how to manage my land sustainability, and how to conserve and restore what we have. Today, I submit the final assignments. Next month, I get to start learning about livestock health and farm management, which I’m excited about. That’s the stuff I enrolled for.

But after this, I’m definitely going to take a break – from the formal learning at least. I’ve spent four years plodding through qualifications which have boosted me to a new level. And – I hope – give me the baseline knowledge I need to look after this place properly.

Now, I have piles of books to read. They’re about things like water management and designing sustainable properties. I’ve collected them, and I’ve flicked through them, but now I need to actually read them. Then I need to start planning and doing on a bigger scale.

Each time it rains, I am more and more frustrated about the water draining away. I’m keen to start building some water-saving technologies into our landscape to make better use of that resource and slow it down. The fences and weeds need attending to. The trapping and monitoring program needs to get up and running. There’s planting to do and seeds to nurse into trees. There’s a wetland to restore. There’s 4 cows ready for a freezer that we have to work out what to do with.

There’s still heaps to learn, but there’s also lots to do. I think after I’ve got this last certificate under my belt, I’m ready to throw all this learning into practice. But then again, I’ve thought that before as well.