We hear a lot about the ‘Great Kiwi dream of home ownership’ and about how hard it is now to step on the property ladder. We hear of the housing crisis and we see people living in cars and garages, to people living in mansions. We hear about the lack of houses, that we need more houses in less space, cram them all in like sardines! But for homesteaders like us, it’s not so much about the house, but about more the land…
With land you can grow your own fruit and vegetables, raise your own meat, care for that piece of the earth in a way that nourishes it and your family. Raise your children to understand where their food comes from and to appreciate the effort it takes to produce it. The flow on from this is better physical health, better mental health and better earth health.
But how in this time of housing shortages and great land demand do we find our little piece of paradise?
The first step is figuring out what you want from life….
Do you want to earn the funds to pay someone else to set up or do the work on your property?
Do you want to work all week at your ‘real job’ and then all weekend at your ‘home job’?
Is your dream to not ‘go out to work’ but create your living from home?
Or do you want to let it all go, this consumer world and seek freedom?
These questions are the basis of getting you to think about your work/life balance, finding your focus, because if you don’t know what drives you, be it money, space to breath, sustainability, love of the land or freedom, knowing where your food really comes from, you won’t know where to head.
Next, what do you want from your land?
A place to escape to, no real expectations in regards to production?
Enough land to produce fruit and vegetables for you and your family?
Or meat and dairy?
Perhaps you would like to make an income off your land? Either part-time or full-time?
Write a list, brainstorm anything you are interested in, put it on a piece of paper. Then think what do I already know, what would I need to learn, how much do I really need?
This is a big question; how much do I really need?
We all have stuff; we have dreams and we have wants, the trick is getting what we need.
Distinguishing between wants and needs is a big step towards living a life on the land. I say this because the reality is you can live a life on the land in the midst of a city, if you have the right attitude. Urban homesteading is a growing practice, with yards being turned into vegetable and fruit gardens, food forests, chicken runs or even small livestock farms. Koanga’s 200 square metre urban garden is a great example of this, showing how much is achievable on an average section.
There are many small homesteads, one example we know personally is Anythyme Homestead which on a quarter acre, has many fruit trees, berries, herbs, a greenhouse and vegetable garden. She also currently has 53 animals. Chooks, rabbits and a couple of KuneKune, but she has also incubated and raised quail, turkeys and ducks. All of these livestock are raised for eggs, meat or for sale. With the use of a crow collar Anythyme homestead even runs a rooster with her chooks. This is what you can achieve on a section in the midst of a town.
But what if you want sheep, cattle or goats? How much land do you need?
While it depends on the quality of the land and grazing, a basic example per acre would be 3 to 5 sheep or one cow. Any more and your feed supplements would increase, therefore making it less cost effective. While having one cow might sound appealing, they are herd creatures and therefore need company, so if owning a cow is on your plan you might need to up your land requirements.
The one-acre homestead can still provide you with a large portion of your needs, providing you are willing to put in the time to establish and maintain it. This is where re-thinking how you eat can help. These days we have easy access to a large variety of fruits and vegetables, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were eating a simpler diet. In 1987 when David started work as a produce assistant there was a much more limited range available and seasons had a huge influence on availability too. So, when you plan your fruit and vegetable areas think about fruiting times to spread the harvest, plant what your family actually eats and consider perennial vegetables like globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus. Also cut and come again crops like sprouting broccoli and cutting celery, bunching onions, silverbeet and mesclun salads help spread the harvest from one planting. But most importantly just eat seasonally!
Chickens are the first livestock most people get, whether you raise them for eggs or meat as well dictates which breeds you should have. Some like shavers are bred for high volume egg laying, cobb are bred for meat birds while the larger heritage breeds are generally dual purpose. Poultry in general can be raised on a small area and their manure can go back into the property to help maintain fertility.
Rabbits are a high producing meat source that also only take up a small area, their lean meat is best in saucy meals we have found, but it is also very filling.
Pigs are also suitable for the smaller land area, we raise Kune Kune which are a grazing pig, so while we need less supplementary feed they do take longer to mature to a decent size and take up grazing space. (Yes, you can eat Kune Kune, in the US they are often farmed for meat production)
Sheep and goats can provide you with meat and if you have the right breeds, milk! While you might only be able to carry a few, these can still provide lambs or kids to raise up over summer and then be sold or processed when the grass growth slows off.
Do you need more land?
We do. We have done our calculations based on what we eat and what level of self-sufficiency we wish to achieve. Being a low carb family of four, we would consume about 1kg of meat per day (plus lots of vegetables, dairy, eggs and some fruit and nuts). That’s approx. 30 kg of meat a month.
Which could factor out at:
Rabbit x 4 @ approx. 1kg each or 48 per year
Chicken x 4 @ approx. 2+ kg each or 48 per year
Lamb/Mutton x 8kg or approx. 4 lambs per year
Beef x 8 kg or approx. 96 kg per year
Pork x 4 kg or 3 to 4 pigs per year depending on size.
Plus, we want to be able to run a dairy cow or two.
This would put us at needing probably about 5 acres. Yet we are only on two, with over a ¼ of that area taken up by the house, sheds and fruit and vegetable gardens.
This brings us back to the big dilemma; how do you get the land you need?
If you are in the position to just go and buy it or arrange a mortgage then good for you, however many people are not. For many a combination of rising living expenses, plus land and housing property price increases have got to the point where it is no longer achievable to even save the funds needed for a deposit. This has led to many people embracing the tiny house movement, simplifying and decluttering their life so that they only require a small space to live in. Often this can also mean they spend more time outdoors and have more time and money to do the things they enjoy. These tiny houses can include little cottage or bach like buildings, earth-built homes, like cob or earthbag, or more commonly mobile homes, like buses, trucks and of course the trailer built tiny house. But even if you can manage to build or buy a tiny house you still need a place to put it. There are people who are willing to ‘rent’ you some land for mobile homes, but this can still be fraught with uncertainty. All it takes is a complaint to the council and you could be moved off the land at short notice. Buying your own section carries the same risk, but it also allows you the security of aiming towards compliance from the council. It seems some councils are struggling with the rise in tiny houses at a time when they should be actively embracing them to help curb our current housing crisis. The more people who follow this route and actively work with the councils to find solutions to any issues raised, like grey and black water, sewerage and septic systems, the easier it will be for others in the future. But councils also need to take action and adapt to the way the world is heading, they need to be more inclusive of these alternative ways of living, building and waste management systems, some of which have been used successfully for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Land sharing is also rising in popularity, while many may think of the hippy communes of old, this is often not the case. Probably the most common form of land sharing is community gardens, this allows people in more urban areas to gather and grow food together, sharing both the work load and the resulting harvests. The really great thing here is that it allows people who may be in rental or apartment situations the opportunity to learn and be actively involved in managing a productive garden and piece of land.
Then we have the land owners who invite others to live on their land, lease land or simply use it for shared food production. As long as you have people you can connect with or have a good working relationship, this option can have great benefits for all parties involved. The work load of a homestead or farm, large or small can be quite heavy. While paying people to help with this labour might not be practical, allowing them to live on your property with an agreement to help lighten the load may work well. It was common for families to work land together in the past but these days this often does not happen. So, opening your land to other people and families could be the answer for those that are struggling. The WWOOFing initiative has been a popular choice for people on their O.E’s wishing to experience life on organic farms in other countries. HelpX is another one which has a broader range of ‘volunteer work in exchange for free accommodation and food on farms, backpacker hostels, lodges, horse stables and even sailing boats.’ Since these two systems are so successful, why wouldn’t work in a longer-term scenario? As long as you choose like-minded people.
We can also take a step back here, as there are those who live in an urban environment who choose to do a similar thing, house share. Whether this be flat mates, extended family or just like-minded people sharing a house, it can provide lower expenses and work load. If you are currently in ownership of an urban property, look at what you have first. Can you restructure it to become a food providing space, do you really need that lawn? If you are interested in only really growing fruit and vegetables then the average yard size is probably all you really need. Houses too, can be restructured to provide a more suitable food production space, adding a greenhouse to the northern side can increase your yields dramatically and extend your growing season.
Then you need to consider your neighbourhood and greater surrounding area. Having neighbours who are like minded can also lead to a pooling of resources or green trade. By utilising each person strengths and resources a cohesive community can be created. This could be in the form of: one person has fruit trees, so they trade/swap that fruit for veges from another neighbour or for help around the property. Perhaps even for childminding while they get jobs done, simple things that once were not even thought about it, was just part of the wider family and community working together. I do believe that this is part of the issue, often we have been taught that we need to succeed and be independent, to go out into the world and make our mark. But this has come at the cost of staying close to family and support networks, of working together to achieve our goals.
But neighbour’s working together, can also extend to rural properties, especially if a larger property owner has sub-dividable areas or smaller sections they could sell off. By increasing the population of the surrounding area, they can also increase the employee availability. Many rural areas have suffered from a loss of population with people leaving to move to the cities, but by allowing land to be used in alternative ways, perhaps this could be reversed. Encouraging those people who choose to live of their land back into these areas could strengthen the community for all.
With this in mind, there are other ways of achieving your land goals. Like the pooling of resources and skills to buy a larger block of land which has the capabilities of supporting all of those living on it. Generally, ownership here would come under co-ownership, which can take on two forms;
- Tenants in common each have a share of the property. This can be equal shares or differing shares. If a tenant in common dies, the share needs to be dealt with by Will.
- Joint tenants each own an equal share of the property. If a joint tenant dies, the share is passed to the other tenant (they will become the sole owner).
But there is also the option of a trust owning the land and leasing it back to the trustees or other parties. Often these leases will be for 99 years etc., are resaleable and also inheritable. This allows the leasee’s to build on the land and develop it in accordance with the trust’s conditions/values. An example of a Community Land Trust is Kotare Village in the Hawkes bay. Often these situations will contain common land which is shared by all those in ownership or leaseholders.
The last option I have here is relocating. If you currently own land in a high value area consider the possibility of relocating to the regions and utilising the lower property prices to increase the size of your holding. But even in the regions the land prices are increasing to the point of being twice the ratable value in many areas. There is only so much land for sale and with more people looking to return to living off the land, demand for lower priced parcels of land can be high. But if you are in a position to move this option could also leave you left over capital to develop the property into a functional homestead. It may also allow you to decrease your debt load.
Decreasing your debt load is an important issue when looking at developing a homestead, whether rural or urban, and restructuring into a more self-productive and sustainable life. The less you owe the less you have to earn, the more you can produce yourself the less you have to buy in. The less you have to earn the more choice you have as to how and where you spend your time.
For us, here at Fodder Farm, it has been a long journey to get where we are, with many steps back as well as forward. But we have learnt a lot about land, our needs and to be flexible in how we meet the challenges before us.
One of our primary goals is to produce our own ‘clean’ food, to the point where all meat, dairy, fruit and veges come from our own endeavors and land. There may be some exceptions, bananas and avocados spring to mind, as we prefer the cool higher country regions for our location. As we calculated above, for our family, we would need 5 or more acres to achieve this, we currently have 2. So, we are looking into the value of our property and the value of land around us and further afield. Leasing has not been an option and as we like to live where our animals are, both to decrease travel and to allow for frequent monitoring of their grazing and health, it really is not suitable.
That leaves us with a couple of options
- Find a suitable piece of land within our price range.
- Find people with similar goals and style of living to co-own a larger property with us.
With this in mind we have to remain flexible. Factors for us to consider are the council by laws, land availability, location and possible land partners.
I believe flexibility and an understanding of how much land you need to achieve your goals, is the key to achieving your land dream. For some of you it might simply be about restructuring or refocusing. But for us it is simply more land however that pans out. If you have any thoughts or experience in this area, we would love to hear from you.