Now, I would never describe myself as a country girl (growing up in London will do that to you), but over the last few years I’ve spent less time living in big cities, and more time living in remote, rural areas (like that time I lived on top of a mountain in France, or those summers I’ve spent at Camp Sloane in the middle of nowhere), and I think I’m actually starting to quite like it. As much as I love cities and the convenience and general awesomeness that they provide, I also kinda love the lack of social constraints and pressures that comes with getting away from city life and living the farm life for a while – I can wear what I want, shower (or not) when I want, not brush my hair (although let’s face it, I don’t do that very often anyway), not wear make up and so on. It’s a pretty freeing experience.
So why am I living on a farm? Well, if you’ve been keeping up with my last few posts you’ll know that I LOVE Australia and I intend to come back and try to stay here forever one this, my first year, is up. However, in order to do that I need to do 3 months ‘specified regional work’, which is basically work on a farm or fruit picking or something similar. As a city girl who’d just spent 4 months living and working in Sydney, one of the best cities in the world, I wasn’t really looking forward to leaving the comforts of my city life and heading out to the middle of nowhere to do work I really didn’t want to be doing.
Luckily though, we managed to find the BEST farm to work on. And I’m being genuinely serious when I say that I really think we could not have found a better place to do our required 88 days. As recommended by some friends, we searched on a website called HelpX (a database of hundreds of farms that are looking for volunteers) and sent off emails to a bunch of different places in varying locations around Australia. Our top pick, and the one we really, really wanted to work at was Honeycomb Valley Farm, and fortunately they seemed to like us, invited us to come for 3 months, and here we are, living the farm life!
We’ve been at Honeycomb Valley for about 2 and a half weeks now, but if feels like we’ve lived here forever. From day 1 it’s been a massive learning curve – between learning about the different plants, vegetables and herbs we grow, the products we make and sell (honey, teas, soap and much more), all the animals and their feeding routines, beekeeping, honey spinning, candle making, and how to run the shop – there’s a lot to remember! But now that we’ve been here a while, it’s all starting to sink in and become second nature. Off the top of my head I could tell you all the animal’s names, which animals go where (we have a petting area where some of the goats, sheep and other animals go during the day so guests can go in and play with them), what each animal eats, how many chickens are in each area, how many bees there are in a hive, the process of opening and closing the shop (although my maths skills could be improved… it takes me a while to cash up), which plants you can eat (and which ones taste nice or gross) and what they all do, and I’ve even learnt how to milk a goat!
So it’s been a lot to take in and I am loving it! We work excellent hours from 8am to 3pm (with a lunch break in the middle), and then we have the whole afternoon and evening to do whatever we want. There are 8 of us volunteers here at the moment and it’s been great to meet some other backpackers from other parts of the world, all with different interests but a common ground in that we all travelled to Australia and sought out something other than the normal fruit picking work to gain our 2nd year visas. We all take turns feeding the animals and cooking dinner for everyone (12 people including the family who own the farm) so my culinary skills are improving too! When we’re not working we’ve been doing a mixture of different things – mostly just hanging out on the farm or playing with the kids in the pool, but we’ve also been to the local nearby towns of Nabiac and Forster, as well as to a vineyard just up the road where we went to help pick grapes a week or so ago and got free wine in return.
I’ve learnt about leading an eco friendly and sustainable life as well as how permaculture works – everything we do and make here on the farm can also make something else or be useful in some other way. For example, we keep bees who give us honey that we can eat and sell, but we also use the beeswax to make candles; we milk Betsy the goat and use her milk to feed Katie (one of the baby goats), and also to make goats milk soap; all food scraps are given to the chickens who then lay eggs for us to eat and sell; we grow Rosella plants from which we make jam, tea and cordial; we have just planted Christmas trees which will then be cut down and sold in about 5 years time. The list of ways in which we use and reuse things we make and grow here just goes on and on. It’s a way of living that I’ve never really experienced before and it’s pretty awesome to learn about and be a part of.
“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.” – Bill Mollison
It’s been a pretty hectic and busy few weeks, but it’s absolutely flown by and I can’t believe we’ve only got 10 more weeks before we go back to Sydney! I am in love with this place and the people who live and work here and I’m so, so happy we found it. While we don’t get paid (the work is on a volunteer basis), we don’t pay for accommodation or food, so I really have absolutely no outgoings whatsoever, which is a massive saving bonus! Most of all though, my favourite thing about being here is that I just get to play with the animals all the time – where else do you get to bottle feed a calf, milk a goat, cuddle a sheep and stroke an alpaca on a daily basis?! Awesome.