Hazelcombe Farm is for us Country. We belong to it, not the other way around. It is taking us on a journey of learning and personal growth, which will only end the day we die. Purchased years ago as a rural retreat, we now realise that we are not owners, but custodians. We want to turn this farm into an intentional community where we all work on restricting the mine-ness and developing a strong sense of our-ness and an interconnectedness with all that lives and breathes, even with all that does not live and breathe. Our dream - to recreate the Garden of Eden in this tiny pocket of the Earth, and to encourage others to do the same, wherever they may be.
Our Rural Retreat
Dan and I came to farming late in life. We bought Hazelcombe Farm from money that we had saved during our hectic life in the city. Although we had financial security, there was a trade off. We were lacking both the years of farming experience that comes from starting farming much earlier in life, and the energy and strength of youth.
Still, the valley and the farm are places of beauty, and we were happy just being here. Two Aboriginal friends who walked the farm for us said that it is a place of peace and re-creation. “Far from the madding crowd” the sound of traffic is a rarity and generally signals a visitor arriving or our neighbour coming home. Dogs barking, roosters crowing, chooks clucking, cows mooing, goats bleating, birds singing, frogs croaking. These are the sounds that accompany our days.
We tried to address the skills gap in any way we could. We learned from neighbours, and learned by doing, making mistakes and doing again. We did courses, we read books and more recently we have become addicted to Youtube. What an incredible resource! What were the basic skills we needed? How to make compost, how to grow vegetables, how to manage an orchard holistically, how to graze our animals to improve the soil and biodiversity, how to heal erosion in the creek, how to manage our animals holistically, how to build fences, do plumbing, electricals, build sheds ...
The Birth of a New Business
We realised very quickly that we would never be able to make the farm pay for itself with the skills we had at the time. We therefore defaulted back to what we knew – buying and selling products. The substantial difference is that as the farm and nature took hold of us, we couldn’t buy or sell just anything. Whatever we traded in, it had to be a quality product, made to last, and useful in both our current economy and in the foreseeable low energy future. And it had to be a product that we want to use ourselves.
The first product we became interested in was the scythe. Wow! Did we cop some hilarity from local farmers for wanting to sell a product that they or their grandfathers had resigned to the back corner of the shed decades previously! Yet we love the scythe. For us it is a symbol of the best of the “olden days”. It was used to harvest the grain to make bread and the hay for the animals in winter. It is forged in the same factory it has been made since 1540! Individually forged by blacksmiths out of a billet of steel, it is as far from the mass produced pressed metal garden tools as a lovingly prepared meal made of food freshly picked from the garden is from a fast food hamburger.
Our next product had nothing to do with gardening and farming, but instead of being a non-sequitur, it is another item that will help people loosen their dependence on the modern industrial world - the fermenting crockpot. With this you can ferment your vegetables. This provides you with a delicious condiment and an easy way to build your gut biota and thus your health. It also allows you to make use of a vegetable glut. Each time you grow a vegetable or fruit, then prepare it, preserve it or eat it fresh, you are quietly standing up to the big corporations and saying “I can and will take responsibility for myself”.
Future products? Based on the responses we’ve had over the years with scythes and crockpots, it’s become patently obvious that, like us, many yearn for quality hand tools. So we have started exploring a number of possibilities for other quality tools. Each to be tested here on farm for reliability and usefulness under Australian conditions. If satisfied, we then plan to start importing them as well.
The First Steps Towards the Garden of Eden
While our business grew, we continued our farming journey. As our skills and knowledge deepened, so too did our understanding of the potential of our land and the needs of our animals. We tweaked around the edges trying to make it happen. We had many small successes, learned a lot about ourselves and grew a lot, but something was missing.
Then in the dying days of 2016, that something appeared in the form of Adon. A young man with a radical view of life, he had spent the past 6 years travelling from farm to farm, up and down the east coast of Australia, learning by doing. His two years with Geoff Lawton stood him in good stead. Where others had said “It can’t be done”, his response was “I’ve seen it being done and I’ve done it myself so we can do it.”
Beautiful abundant vegetables started appearing in our previously sparse gardens. Gardens sprung up everywhere. The tired old pest ridden orchard came to life. New trees were planted wherever we turned – fruit trees, nut trees, pioneer trees, trees that will one day grow into majestic oaks, chestnuts, plane trees.
We were concerned about the amount of water these plants would require. Adon’s answer – “We need to rehydrate the whole valley so water will no longer be a concern.” So we have started a program of dam and swale building. How long will it take us? I don’t know. The trick of putting in dams and swales is not to do too much at the one time because you need to put down a cover crop, mulch and plant trees on the newly mounded earth. That is all much more labour intensive than a bulldozer and excavator doing earthworks. Luckily there are many others interested in what we are doing. Volunteers have signalled they will come along to help with the planting.
But We're a Grazing Property!
When we first came to the farm and were faced with the necessity of selling or slaughtering our male animals, I found that very confronting. The old time neighbours laughed and called us city slickers. 14 years on and I still find it difficult. I find I can cope with an animal being slaughtered for our own consumption as long as it is done with the minimum of stress and pain to the animal. What I can’t get used to is sending a truckload of animals to the saleyards or abattoirs and getting a cheque in exchange. I feel like Judas getting his 30 pieces of silver! Yet, we are a grazing property and believe in the power of good grazing management to heal and increase the fertility of the soil and thus the farm overall.
We need a solution that allows for a stable number of animals whose main role is to improve the farm and provide milk with enough being born for occasional meat consumption and replacement. One decision we finally came to was to sell or give away our sheep. They breed prolifically, and presented us with a dilemma every year. We have kept our milking goats because we have a close relationship with them, and they provide us with milk and cheese. At this stage we intend to keep our cows too because we love them dearly, and also like making hard cheese from their milk. Our chickens are invaluable as they are moved around the farm in chicken tractors, tilling, doing pest control and fertilising the soil as they go, and we get eggs, some income (too many eggs) and an occasional chicken dinner from them. Our horses – well, they are our answer for transport when the fossil fuels run out so we need time to gain skills in managing them.
Most graziers want pastures to predominate with just a few trees for shade and shelter. We have decided to take a different tack. We intend to plant trees and understorey on the contours of the swales, in effect food forests, and fence these out to give them time to establish. We’ll graze the goats and cattle in the strips between the trees. The trees will provide fodder and shade for the animals and wildlife, and food for us. We believe that trees, particularly deciduous trees, build soil faster than grass does. Trees can also access minerals deep in our subsoils that are inaccessible to most other plants, and we need more deciduous trees to cool our valley down in summer and provide us with fire retardation. Apparently, “the net cooling effect of a young healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day” (https://www.coolaustralia.org/infographic-another-reason-to-love-trees). Trees help keep soils moist, but also help regulate soil moisture levels so with the combination of trees and swales, we are hoping to build deep soils and rehydrate the valley.
And the Intentional Community?
With the arrival of Adon, the idea of an intentional community, which had been rattling around in the back of our minds for a long time, suddenly appeared tantalisingly near. People often ask us what an intentional community is. Wikipedia has as good a definition as any …
An intentional community is a planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and often follow an alternative lifestyle.
Exactly what shape ours will take has still to be decided. We believe very strongly that for a community to function well, it is important for members to leave their Ego at the farm gate. Too many problems that the human species has encountered over our history can be traced back to either inflated or damaged Egos. One thing for certain, we have no intention of becoming an Eco Village. It is not going to be a “nice” place to live while you go out and work elsewhere. Instead we envision a farming community where everyone works on farm or on farm-related pursuits. And the common vision? To live in a strong, harmonious community that is constantly striving to create and maintain its Garden of Eden. A lone couple can’t create and maintain in perpetuity a Garden of Eden, but a community can.
Where to from here?
If you wish to follow our journey to create our Garden of Eden and our intentional community, please follow us on our blog. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Imagine if people started living in true communities again. Imagine if each of these communities took stewardship over a piece of land and started to convert it into a Garden of Eden – in Australia, in Africa, in Iceland, in the cities, in the country, in the gardens, on the footpaths, everywhere. The Bible starts with the Garden of Eden. I’m not religious, but the world would be a pretty special place if it was one huge Garden of Eden. John Lennon had the right idea …
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one