Whakamarama is a place not far from Tauranga, in the district of Bay of Plenty. I found myself a place to volunteer on an eco farm. Which was interesting to me because I want to learn more about being self sufficient and sustainable. This eco farm had one dog and one cat, three pigs, three horses, two goats, eleven sheep and a bunch of chickens. And a very small lamb that had to be bottle fed.
I was already familiair with Workaway: the website where you can find volunteering work all over the world. I was volunteering in Finland (2014) and Albania (2017). After being a tourist for three weeks, I wanted to discover some authentic Kiwi culture. So I ended up with Kay: a very warm and welcoming person who makes you feel immediately at home when you come through the door.
My task was simple: be sure that the animals are fed and happy. Well that’s easy and fun to do. So every morning started with bottle feeding the lamb, feeding one of the horses and the chicken. Watering the seeds in the greenhouse and the vegetables in the garden if necessary. Then I went for a walk with Monty (dog) and Etoille (lamb). Checking out the property. Do the goats have enough water and grass? Are the sheep happy and still all together?
I had a real good times also with the other volunteers. We all had our own tasks. This German woman was keen on weeding the vegetable garden, cleaning and baking. This guy from Uruguay was doing some hard work on the property with cutting bushes and the French girl was a horse whisperer who loved cooking and made breakfast in the morning.
Growing your own food
Growing your own vegetables is also part of being self sufficient. You need to know something (or a lot) about how to let seeds grow up. What works and what doesn’t work. Kay’s place had more than ten vegetable gardens which all needing their TLC. And water. Lots of water. And weeding. Lots of weeding.
Chickens provide eggs. If you are not vegan, then eggs are very useful for baking and cooking. But the chicken need to be fed. I don’t know if it is economically interesting to have your own chickens if you are not selling the eggs. Anyway, chickens are very nice to have around the house.
How about meat? At the place in Whakamarama meat was not provided by the animals living here. They were more or less rescued. The goats and sheep weren’t used for the milk either. All of that was bought. This place had some fruit trees but that would never be enough to feed everyone. Especially since there were always volunteers.
What I learned
If this is your dream, you need a lot of money. Therefore, if you want to do this on your own you need to work fulltime. That means you need help to make your dream come true. Working with volunteers is a great way to get the help. Not for free but of course it is a bargain. You provide a bed and food. If you have the right team with all different skills, you can make it happen.
Having a few animals means you have to have enough grass. Sheep, goats, horses and pigs eat a lot. So you need enough paddocks to feed them all and to let grass grow in another paddock at the same time. That is a lot of land. And that needs maintenance.
Being self sufficient is not easy. You need to have your own water which means a lot of tanks around the property. With intelligent systems so animals get enough water, so can take a shower and use the washing machine at the same time. When it is a dry season you can have serious water shortage.
All in all a lovely experience. I stayed at Kay’s place for two weeks.