Over the summer of 2014-15 Anna from our garden travelled to New Zealand to catch up with her sister who has started a new life in the top of the South Island. The location and approach of the community she has landed in is unique and inspirational. Pip & her husband Kieran McKay are outdoor instructors and adventurers. They dedicate much of their lives to showing school age children and also adults the joy and diversity of landscape around New Zealand. Kieran has recently linked up a cave at the top of Mt Arthur to create the longest cave in NZ. They have an inspirational life of which we could garner great knowledge from… So much so, Anna decided to do a Q&A with Pip about the place so FCGer’s could learn a little!
Can you give a brief overview of Whare Kotinga?
Whare Kotinga is a whare (Maori for: house) in the Takaka rural neighbourhood of Kotinga, at the top of NZ’s South Island. The house, and adjoining 1.7ha of land is rented off the owners who live on the hill above it. The rent is relatively high, so to make living in this amazing location sustainable, a ‘tribe’ of 11 adults and 5 young kids rented the space. 2 adults were in the sleep-out beyond the vege garden, another 2 and 2 kids built a platform in the field behind the house and erected a bell tent. The rest lived in the main house with has 3 double rooms and 2 single. The tribe has ebbed and flowed, and partly moved on, due to pressures of living and also working together (redeveloping a nature park and bush café across the road). We are now 8 adults and 2 kids, with another kid part time. We have come together in the traditional way of advertising for flatmates, are whilst we are very diverse in age, outlook and occupation, we are in some ways also very like-minded. We all value community, regeneration, sustainability, eating well, directly from land as much as possible (not via supermarkets). An important part of making our community work is the shared meals we have. We all take it in turns to cook the evening meal. We have also clarified and set down in writing the value set that is important to us, as well as holding regular household meetings.
The garden and animals are a huge part of the culture of the home – what do you grow and graze/coup?!
We have 15 sheep, 13 chickens, one rooster (and currently 11 baby chickens, some soon to be eaten!). We try to operate on permaculture principles as much as possible, though some of our systems are still being developed. For instance the chickens get fed with our food scraps into a contained area within their run. Other composting materials are added in here. The chickens scratch around in here and poop. Every ten days or so this pile is forked over into another pile, which is then forked over into a final pile. The chickens are good workers, making compost for us in only a few weeks. Ideally our chickens would have more free-range area. We want to create a chicken tractor for them.
In the garden we grow as much as possible! We have lots of edible flowers around and flowers which the bees love. Two of us live in a sleepout right beside the garden, with nasturtiums growing up the outside. In summer we would get woken to the buzzing of bumble bees in the morning. When is was warmer we were growing lettuce, spinach, kale, silverbeet, butternut, spaghetti squash, scallopini, zucchini, tomoatoes, kumara, corn, runner beans and bush beans, rhubarb, peas, carrots, leeks, onions, radishes, beetroot, fennel, a few potatoes, raspberries, grapes and lots of herbs. We also have a community garden patch on our neighbours land – we have combined forces to grow a three sisters patch. The neighbours have a animal farm park. All the manure from the animals gets taken to the garden patch. We prepared the bed by laying down cardboard, losts of well-rotted manure, some old bailage and some more manure. We planted pumpkins evenly spaced with circles of corn. Once the corn was big enough, we intended to plant beans to grow up it, but we were a bit late getting the corn it, it became a bit swamped by the pumpkin leaves and didn’t grow very fast. We didn’t end up planting the beans this year, but it’s been a great project! Now that its cooler, we have in the garden winter brassicas (broccoli, a few types of kale, cabbages), leeks, silver beet, broadbeans, lettuces nad feijoas. We have sown a few green cover crops in some beds to help them recover and built a compost pile directly into another bed.
The structures (tomato rig, semi circle wall) Owen has built are interesting – are these unique designs or did he develop them over a few seasons? Do they work?
The structures work really well. All built with wood harvested from the land or bamboo from our neighbours. Owen has built a lot of bamboo structure before, particularly for the Luminate Festival on Takaka Hill.
How does the wider community impact upon the successful running of Whare Kotinga?
Golden Bay as a great community recycling initiative called the ‘Golden Bay Buy Sell Swap’ – people list things either wanted or offered on the website. Sometimes things are offered for a set price, sometimes for a koha or for a trade or for an offer. We got the cast iron bath for our firebath by advertising on this website. It turns out a neighbour just a couple of doors down had one she wasn’t using! We have shared our excess kombucha scobys and obtained black boy peaches from someone’s surplus. And we’ve made new connections with other like-minded locals in this way! Our little community in the Anatoki Valley are very supportive. Within this community we have regular pot luck dinners (more common in summer than winter) and trade avocadoes for cider, borrow trailers and quad bikes, help with hay moving, yurt erection, sheep shifting, cow milking and bean sowing. The two kids are Whare Kotinga ( a 2 yr old and 3 years old) are raised as fully part of this community and love being involved with whatever is happening around the place. One of our neighbours has a big orchard of apples, pears, nashi, plums and qunices. We help cut the grass in the orchard and assist in pruning the trees and they let us take all the seconds of the fruit (from which we make cider, fruit leather, dried fruit pieces, bottled fruit, apple cider vinegar and lacto-fermented apple cider – this is amazingly good – I used this recipe http://www.bitsquareblog.com/2014/04/fresh-homemade-apple-cider-using-whey-lacto-fermentednon-alcoholic.html
What tips do you feel rural community house-share living have to offer which could benefit our community garden group?
Families who eat together, stay together! I recommend shared community meals. Generally individual garden plots are more productive than community plots. It’s important to have a balance of community time and individual time. A good consensus decision-making process and conflict resolution method are pretty important! The physical structures are easy, the people structures are hard! But community is so rewarding. Just because there is conflict, doesn’t mean things aren’t working. Conflict is natural. Make time to be away from the community too. a common thing people say on joining an intentional community is ‘I underestimated the time that the community requires and I over estimated my ability to give to it’.
What are ways that non-gardeners have contributed to your garden/home? For example in relation to our own garden… if we had community members who wished to be involved in the garden but there wasn’t any plots available what are ways they might enrich the community garden as a place?
Keeping the house clean and tidy, cooking, preserving produce. That could be a cool way for people to help with the community garden. Or helping build structures for the whole community to use. Maybe they could arrange with individual plot holders to build them a structure to grow their beans up in exchange for some beans, etc.
Any awesome garden recipes?
I have found that when cooking with the super fresh organic produce straight from our own garden, I don’t really need to use recipes, or lots of different flavours to enhance the cooking. I used to cook a lot of SE Asian food but I find I don’t need those flavours anymore. The veges are their own best flavour! In summer a favourite of our was a salsa made with our tomatoes, apple cucumbers, red onions, basil and chives, with a little olive oil, pepper and mineral salt added. At the moment I’m into making pumpkin and ginger soup – my ginger isn’t ready yet, so having to buy some unfortunately, but the pumpkins we have grown. Also loving leeks cooked on their own in a pan, with either a little mutton fat (from processing our sheep) or coconut oil, mineral salt and pepper ground over them and either a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar or tamari added.
We’ve also been experimenting with what to do with all our zucchinis that have escaped our attention and turned into marrows. We have made some great lacto-fermented marrow pickles.
Chicken on the loose
Can anyone visit Whare Kotinga?
Its not open to the public as such but we do get a lot of travellers turning up and staying for a night or two, usually when they meet one of the household, often from being picked up hitchhiking.
Well that’s a wrap… if anyone has any questions or feedback or wants to call by and visit Whare Kotinga on a trip to NZ then contact Anna plot 17 for more info!