Nearly a decade ago, I was watching an episode of a show called Radar’s Patch. In it, Te Radar visited a food forest. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term, and it was the moment that started me on the path to where I am now standing.
As I went to sleep that night, I imagined myself walking out my back door, holding a cup of coffee and heading out into a food forest. As I walked through the forest, I picked my breakfast from the trees and bushes I passed by.
I was completely hooked, and it’s fair to say I’ve been under the spell of that dream ever since.
Over the years, the dream grew. In my head, the whole place was real. I just had to find the physical manifestation of it, purchase it, and I’d be on my way.
During that decade I left my city job, learned how to be self employed and “self sufficient”, and gained multiple horticulture qualifications. I lived on many farms and lifestyle blocks around the country, worked with stock, milked cows, and observed the seasonal rhythms of farming.
Then, this year I managed to purchase more than 10ha (10 rugby fields) worth of grass, and more than 4 rugby fields worth of old, original native bush in Te Hiku (Far North), New Zealand.
There has, of course, been more to the journey between when the idea first took hold and today. It hasn’t always been easy, and it’s nearly broken me a couple of times. But here we are, finally, with our own piece of our own version of the Kiwi Dream.
The work ahead of us (to be entirely honest) is completely and utterly overwhelming. The bush area has some obvious pests (both animal and weed) that need to go, as well as tracks to be built to access them. Then, there’s the absolute metric shit-tonne of trees that need propagating, planting, and caring for in order to eliminate the grass.
The big plan for this place is to plant trees. More than half of what is currently grass will end up being trees. Many will be native. It should regenerate back to native bush once cover is established and the pests are knocked down, but I’ll still need to plant a lot of pioneer species to start. I’ll also be planting my food forest, timber-producing trees, and other useful plants to use as stock fodder, windbreaks, biochar fuel, and to recycle nutrients back through the soil organically.
Water is going to be a big thing here. We’ve seen what a 100mm rain looks like. From a drainage point of view, some farmer of the past has done a really great job of ensuring the deluge safely leaves the property and out into the waterways. Which from my point of view here in 2019 with a resilience mindset is not really that helpful. I don’t want floods, and I don’t want everything to be a boggy mess, but I do want to hold onto water and store it. The flip-side of the excellent drainage is that it’ll get very dry when it’s dry.
We’ve found an awesome, mostly intact bush pond (see pic above) which I’m thrilled to be able to look after. But it’s not the only spot on our property that is, was, or could be a water-feature. Did you know only 5% of Northland’s wetlands still remain? They’re super important for so many reasons, which I’m sure I’ll get into in some future blog.
At the back of our property, there’s a spot that looks like it was once a wetland. I’m excited because I’ll be able to restore it. But I’m also really sad I have to. There are literal scars where our farmer of the past ripped the environment apart for the sake of a few more heads of stock.
So there will be council experts to consult, engineers to engage, dams to gain consents for, then build. Possibly a pond (or two) to restore, as well as a wetland the size of Eden Park to rehabilitate.
Plus, when I get bored of all this work on the land, there’s also the teeny tiny task of a house to build at some point in the future.
To support all this activity there will be grants to apply for, volunteers to engage, and support to seek because the really overwhelming thing about it all is it’s really hard to manage a lot of land by yourself. Especially when 9 years ago you lived in a townhouse overlooking spaghetti junction.
The self-doubt is real, fam. But I also know that I have an insane amount of support in the people around me. And that bit of my life I skipped over earlier in this post is the bit where I learned how to focus on what’s important. It would be so easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of work there is to do here, but I’m just trying to do one thing each day that gets me a little bit closer to where I want to be.
I’ve started to joke I’ve purchased a never-ending to-do list. I’ve seen someone else describe it as a “life-sentence block”. For so long it’s felt as if arriving here would be the magnificent end, but the truth is there’s so much more work to do before that morning I first dreamed of finally comes true.
Even though it feels like the end of one journey, it’s merely the beginning of something else entirely.