Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dodging bullets

Living here is a great privilege. We get to wake to bird songs every morning, and witness many life-cycles playing out. But there are also times I start pacing around the yard (or metaphorically in my head) because living here can also be like dodging bullets.

We've dodged quite a few in our six years, like the time David lost his job unexpectedly and we didn't know how to pay the mortgage; or when the flood churned up our yard and David was cut-off from reaching home for a whole week. They were a couple of the memorable ones.

Water erosion on old driveway

There has been a double-barrel aimed at us recently however, and unlike the first two examples, we've seen these particular ones coming for a while. The first was our eldest child starting high school. The nearest school, will require three hours bus travel, per day. We moved here when she was only four-years old, so "high school" was somewhere in the distant future. But now it's next year. How did that happen?

Attending high school for our grade-seven student, will be the equivalent of a 40 hour working week.

If that were not enough, the second barrel is being loaded as I type. We couldn't live here without our two vehicles, as the only public transport available is a school bus. One vehicle is now leaking a container of oil a week, and the other has intermittent electrical problems. We'll get the full diagnosis from the mechanic in a few days.

1998 Ford - purchased 2007 (intermittent electrical problems)

They're old cars however, and served us extremely well. To replace one car would cost around $10,000 and that's for a cheap one. Replacing two, could run between 20-40k. We'd have to borrow the money, which would sink us further into debt.

These tandem issues, forced a serious review of our situation recently. We have entertained the idea of leaving before, but it felt more like a choice then - now it felt inevitable. In our six years of living here, we've learned to dodge the bullets and become quite adept at it. If nothing else, country living makes you more resilient. But how could we avoid these two legitimate issues?

If we moved back into town, however, we'd have public transport so we could have one car, and possibly be able to spend more time with our eldest.

January 2012 ~ one of our many retaining walls

In the week I paced through the garden, instead of enjoying it, I had to learn to accept our lot. I started to imagine what I could do in suburbia, that would be as remarkable as here. David and I spoke about it, and we came up with some pretty good ideas. Maybe we will go back to suburbia (one day) but not without one last commando roll, dodging bullets first.

March 2014 ~ same retaining wall
dressed with marigolds and carpet roses

It was while discussing what we would do back in suburbia, I realised something we had failed to do here. We hadn't treated the land as if we could earn a living from it. Gully Grove was our "dream" and we didn't want to taint it with capitalism - it felt like we would be cheating nature. But if we didn't start earning a second stream of income, the chances of selling Gully Grove to a couple of day-dreamers like us, would be very high. Only they may dream of dirt bikes and pulling out trees to mow lawn.

When it actually came to going through with leaving, we realised it was necessary to both invest in nature, and ask the land to help pay our bills. If we had planned every stage of development (the top swale, for example) with the intent of making a fiscal return, we would've been working towards sustaining our dream for the long haul. All development was done as a labour of love however, and while that meant a lot to us at the time, capitalism was the harsh reality slowly bleeding us dry. We were forced to work harder off-site and feel more frustrated with the fruits of our labours.

Maybe it doesn't have to be that way forever?

Trees are an investment for life

The next step is making a plan based around what we already have invested money into. We think it would involve utilising the swale and chickens - the swale, because its our main source of water retention in the land, and the chickens because that's what we have most experience keeping. I need to do some research on local laws and get some tax advice, to guide our decision making process.

While I'm sure it will take a few years to make a decent return on the money invested, hopefully we'll be able to stick around Gully Grove to see a more sustainable development. We're not chasing a lot of money - just enough to help the property evolve. Otherwise we may as well spend our time more efficiently, back in the burbs. Nothing wrong with that, but we came out here with a vision to change something about our lives...and this is it ~

It's taking responsibility for being a producer and not just a consumer. Only on acreage, you have to take more responsibility because there is more to manage. By failing to add that into the equation, we've suffered for it.

Pineapple poking through the sweet potatoes
nearly ready to pick

As for our eldest and high school, if we receive a financial benefit for driving into town, selling our produce, then she won't have to spend every day on the bus. David may also have days he can collect her after school, once he's finished his shift. Is it going to be harder sending her to high-school from here? Yes, absolutely. But when you learn to dodge bullets as readily as we seem to do, it can become a way of life.

Come this Easter, it will be our seventh year at Gully Grove. There is an old Jewish tradition (at least in the old testament) where all debts owed would be forgiven on the seventh year. I feel that's what we're doing this year - a clean slate. Debt may still be present in our lives, but we've forgiven ourselves for not really knowing what to do with our gifts for the past six years. We will invest in the seventh year, with a clean slate.

There is so much I could write about this subject, but I'll save it for other posts.  As for now, we're making plans to stay and make our dream more of a reality than just words.

Any other acreage dwellers want to admit to the challenges that saw them contemplate selling up?


  1. I can't believe that Sarah is already entering high school! Wow.
    I like the solutions you have come up with and think that you are making wise choices which is hard to do when you have spent so much time dodging bullets.
    At the same time, I also know that there are lots of ways to get the land to produce an income and each one of us is going to have our own ways. Rather than talking about my baby stream of income I await more information on yours:)

    1. A baby stream of income is still a start. Doing research is scary at the moment, because all the compliance fees with government regulatory bodies in order to sell stuff, is adding up. If its hard producing food for ones own family, it's tougher attempting to provide food for others.

      But I'll still keep looking for a way. ;)

      I can't believe Sarah is entering high school either. It just seems like yesterday we moved here, and she hadn't even started school! It's an old cliche, but how time flies.

    2. I actually have a business plan and it was very discouraging to see how much goes out the window towards things like insurance and liscences. On top of which you have to usually invest in supplies and advertising. HOwever, by the time we projected into the third year, we were making a happier profit. The first year is the hardest.

    3. Thanks for that reminder! They say what will make or break a small business is the first year. Having a sound business plan is important. So glad to hear you have a happy forecast for the third year. :)

  2. Home schooling?
    I certainly would not want to leave either and have always felt where there is a will, there is a way.

    1. We did try home school a few years back, but the impromptu flood changed everything. At the time I knew I couldn't keep up with her learning, and put our yard back together, so she returned to school.

      We have discussed home school for high school as well. It may evolve as a solution, but only if that's what she wants. At the moment she wants to try high school because all her friends are going. ;)

      Always a will here, lol, now we just have to find the way. :)

    2. Chris, have the online high schools started up in Australia? They are part homeschooling, part public schooling. Students have to go to the campus every week for tests, gym class, music, tutoring or whatever but overall the classroom time is spent at home.

    3. Not sure if it's the same thing, but we have Distance Education, which is basically school done via correspondence, with meetings at a school facility necessary only for exams. It's not free, you have to pay for it, but this was the option we were considering if Sarah did want to do Home Education for her high school years.

      The curriculum is too extensive for me to set up for her, while also having to manage her younger brother and a potential small business. It's good to have options. :)

  3. Chris, I really feel for you and your family facing this dilemma - and admire your resourcefulness and courage in facing challenges.

    Yes, it can be tough living on affordable acreage (i.e. land far enough away from suburbia to be affordable). The decision to buy our place was made using heart, and the head only came into it to confirm that the price was well within means. No one tells you at that stage that there are so many costs associated with this lifestyle, both on-property and off. But the lifestyle is well worth it if one can find ways to minimise or eliminate the costs.

    We have just found out that our six-year old solar power battery bank will need replacing very soon, and so far the manufacturer seems to be stonewalling on meeting their warranty obligations. So we could be up for something approaching 20k - not a cost that we anticipated at this stage, but rather in another 5-10 years. Being partly self-funded retirees means that we probably have to bite the bullet and shell out the money, knowing that this brings the point when we will be entirely dependent on the pension (and probably forced to move as a result) that much closer.

    I wish you lots of success in finding a workable solution that keeps you on your property and providing a fulfilling life for the whole family.

    1. I know exactly the predicament you're sharing. No-one wants to leave, but financially it sometimes makes the most sense. In the end you have to weigh-up what you can manage financially.

      Having said that, I hope the battery manufacturer will come good on their warranty. Have you been in contact with the ACCC regarding a complaint of what the manufacturer advertised as their warranty? In the past I've found the ACCC helpful in negotiating settlements between retailers and consumers. You may not get everything the warranty said it would cover, but you may get something towards compensation.

      I do wish you well on sorting that out, because 20k is a lot of money.

  4. I hope you can find a way to stay there, Chris. It looks such a lovely place and you've done so much work.

    The only way I will leave here is if I get too old to manage it!

    1. Thanks FnS. :)

      Dave and I keep joking, the only way we will leave here, is in a box, lol.

      Having said that, incapacity is still a legitimate reason to leave. I know you will dodge the bullets for as long as you can too. ;)

  5. Hand raised here! This very thing is a constant topic at our house. Dan is an over the road truck driver and he hates leaving. He constantly laments how little time he has at home to get things done. I tend the garden and the animals and he does the building and repair but would love to have more time to get involved in larger scale planting and growing such as grain.

    Do you have anything like our CSAs (community supported agriculture) in Australia? If you could get to a point where you produce a nice abundance and could sell subscriptions, you might could do very nicely especially if your customers pick up their weekly food boxes. And subscriptions mean you'd have a fairly good idea of income expectations. We haven't done it because 1 - it would take the two of us and 2 - I've had too many plant disease, insect, and critter damage. So far. It does seem the perfect permaculture solution, however.

  6. Dave is the same Leigh - loves to work in the yard, but has to divide his time up between work, family (extended family too) and trips into town for necessities. We all chip in where we can help but there's a lot to get done. Commitment is key. :)

    We do have CSA's, but I was thinking more of a niche market because we do live in a farming area. Even the organic niche has been taken care of by several up-market organic shops in town. I'd have to grow something other people weren't supplying. I've got a few ideas up my sleeve, but as always, research comes first. ;)

    I have narrowed down my business model to small scale niche market, which can be run by myself (with a young one in toe). That's what I'm aiming for anyway.

  7. A niche market sounds perfect for you and is probably what I ought to focus on as well. Successful CSAs seem to require a lot of hands to keep them productive. I so agree that commitment is key! Whenever I get discouraged I ask myself where else is there to go? The answer is nowhere.

  8. That's the inconvenient truth isn't it, where else would we all go? There is always somewhere else, but not necessarily a better somewhere. Just a different somewhere, requiring the same mental enginuity to navigate the challenges which arise.

    Niche market is perfect for small scale production, but I do have to test the market is there. One thing which isn't grown as readily, is Asian and African vegetables, and there is a growing portion of the population who would demand it. They're the type of vegetables that would grow well in our locale too.

    I hope you can find a niche market in your area, because as much as we both like to garden for fun, it wouldn't be so bad to garden for profit either. ;)


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