A handmade life
Before the house there was the garden and before the garden there was a pile of topsoil from the new road and before the new road there was – well, nothing really. Just two Scottish émigrés and their small daughter looking at a giant paddock thinking, “This is it then”. This being their newly purchased share in a 170ha eco village called Awaawaroa (meaning Long Valley) on Waiheke Island.
But they weren’t just any old Scottish émigrés; they were refugees from Findhorn. You remember. That Findhorn. The mystical community famous for birthing giant cabbages and the like in the wilds of Scotland. It’s still around, by the way. In fact all of the couple’s four children live there now.
But let’s go back to the new millennium when Lori Forsyth, partner Bruce Wallace and seven-year-old daughter Sophie stood looking at their vast grassy hills stretching out towards Awaawaroa Bay. They needed somewhere to live so the first thing they did was to bring in a caravan. Then they got to work building a shed, carving out a road, starting a garden and then finally hand-making 3000 mudbricks for the house, which took 18 months to build. Nothing to it.
Looking at the fecund garden and the comfortably settled house, it’s hard to believe all this took place just a decade ago. Usually people say, “Oh, we were young then”, but this couple weren’t. They were certainly younger, but Bruce was 56 and the three oldest children were grown up.
However, the couple weren’t eco newbies. Bruce had been a fisherman, farmer and builder and was always a keen vege gardener. He could spin, weave, play guitar and make jolly nice jam. Lori was also a keen gardener who made top chutney, though she worked as a counsellor, and together they home-schooled their daughter.
And then, of course, there was their Findhorn experience. Though the couple loved the community, they weren’t so keen on the climate, which is why they began to cast around for a more forgiving location. Eventually word of mouth via a distant (and then unknown) relative of Lori brought them to Awaawaroa. That distant relative (a seventh cousin once removed) is now their neighbour.
Awaawaroa was six years old by the time they arrived. In 1995, founders Rob Morton and Hanne Sorensen purchased the 170ha with the vision of creating an eco village. Seventeen years later, 15 families live here and it seems to be working since, in 17 years, only three families have left.
“Awaawaroa is more than a village,” says Lori. “You have invested in one another’s well-being through the ownership structure. We all get a hectare for our own use and the rest is shared land. It works well and the support is amazing.”
So at Awaawaroa there’s no need to lock doors or worry about where the children are. And now there’s barely any need for Lori and Bruce to buy food either.
Vegetables are harvested all year and meat and milk are just across the paddock. Lori’s latest passion is a part-share in two Jersey milk cows. Bruce shakes his head: “Been there, done that. Got the repetitive strain injuries to show for it as well.” Lori smiles. “I know, I know. Cows are hard work, but if I don’t like it I’ll just sell my share.”
Bruce prefers to get his protein by shooting the feral goats, pigs, pheasants and peacocks that pester their property. (Indeed, we eat peacock for lunch.) He’s getting to the stage where an easier life sounds good, though he still does battle with the off-the-grid power system involving windmills, passive solar heating and solar panels. But for Lori the fire of sustainable living burns stronger than ever. “I realised about five years ago that we have tipped over – producing more and buying less – and now I just want to go further.”
But both Lori and Bruce are keenly aware of their own eco failings, the worst of which is travel. Bruce says he’d decided he could give up flying across the globe – until a Scottish grandchild appeared.
“We don’t want to come across as holier-than-thou,” says Lori. “We’ve just chosen a way of life in which we can work part-time, work the land and spend time with people. And it’s not nearly as much hard work as it might look. Probably creating your own power is one of the hardest things, but for the rest things are set up now. We probably do only half a day a week each in the garden and we’ve got all this.”
She gestures in the direction of the garden from which they’re able to harvest crops as varied as asparagus, bananas, curly kale, kohlrabi and cranberries. “I still marvel that you can garden all year round here. It’s been bliss coming to New Zealand, especially since we can be outdoors so much.”
Now if Bruce could only work out how to plug Lori into the grid, his power generation worries would be over too.
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