Our Self-Sufficient Family Farm Experiment
Perhaps we're just an unusual family but we're doing something
unusual...The background...For several years we lived on an established
community near Nimbin NSW. In the past we had always owned and lived on
freehold blocks and really had not been exposed to multiple occupancy
communities. We bought into the community on the basis that it was
de-facto freehold; in other words, there really were no "rules" and no
over-riding community objective other than to provide a cheap place to
live. It was, in our eyes, cheap real estate in an extremely beautiful
part of the world. At the time, we figured that it was far better than
an intentional community where there was a stated collective goal.
As time passed we became more aware of other intentional communities striving to achieve self-sufficient living and sustainability. We could see the merits of community living as far as sustainable outcomes, shared infrastructure costs etc. Yet "our" community was doing nothing to become sustainable.
Despite over half the community members claiming to want to actually
grasp the real, tangible benefits of community living it became clear
that there was just too much resistance to moving ahead. Members paid
lip service to the ideal of sustainability. Becoming a self-sufficient
community was out of the question. To cut a long story short there were
big problems and fundamental flaws. In the end, two shareholders "lost
the plot" big time. They fought the community at every turn and simply
would not abide by majority rule and the democratic process (The problem
is rampant within multiple occupancy communities.) To be clear, it was
not the actions of those members that caused the problems... It was the
community's lack of process and inability to deal with problematic
shareholders that caused enormous heartache. We sold out as quickly as
possible to get back to freehold! We learned valuable lessons about
relationships within intentional communities.
Having tasted the possibilities and potential of living on a community, as a family, we decided to create a "family community" with the shared goal of sustainability and, hopefully, a high degree of self sufficiency. To set a clear picture for you we have three families, totalling 12 individuals. My wife (Heather) and I (Darcy) are the oldies - Nan and Pop - yet we have two children still growing up at age 14 and 11. Eldest daughter Kirsty and her husband (Quentin) have their own 4 children from age 10 down to just 6 months. Second daughter Amy and her husband Chris (As yet no children) also reside on our 40 acre farm. Accommodation is in separate but connected areas; main house, attached granny flat and new secondary residence.
Can It Work In The Longer Term?
Many people who see what we're doing are sceptical, they ask, "How's
that going?" with a certain tone indicating a desire to hear some juicy
negatives to reaffirm their belief that it won't work. Others are more
upbeat and encouraging, marvelling at our ability to "make it work".
So far we're about 12 months into the "experiment" and despite having had an enormous workload to sort out housing and extensions, increase water supply and get things in order there has not been any major conflict. We strive to accept each other "as they are". What we have seen so far are real tangible cost-saving benefits that the traditional nuclear family just cannot deliver:
- A multitude of skill sets on hand - welding/fabrication and construction experience, farming and horticulture experience, teaching skills, fitter machining skills even web design skills to generate online income
- One satellite broadband connection shared with wireless
- Cost savings on vehicle requirements and reduced vehicle movements (killing two birds with one stone)
- Built in child minding - there's always someone around to pick up kids from buses and allow parents some free time
- Many hands to aid in bigger construction projects and routine maintenance
- Being a close knit family we don't have to spend on trips to catch up
- There's always someone to deal with routine chores like locking up chooks and watering the vegie patch, allowing freedom for away time.
- Numerous shared infrastructure savings
- One fixed landline for phones instead of three.
In short there are many little cost-saving advantages but here's a big one... We can all live cheaply. Our children are not burdened with mortgages, they can save for the future or divert their off-farm income into other business pursuits. With a large enough piece of land it's possible to offer the same to our grandchildren and beyond. While we're a log way from actually achieving a self-sufficient lifestyle we're all excited about the ongoing possibilities this kind of family community can offer. It's clearly a better model than the traditional "nuclear family".