One week in New Zealand and I’m already wondering where to begin…the beginning is probably a good spot for now I think.
The 36 hour trip from Ottawa to Christchurch was long but smooth, and tiring but very worthwhile. After I arrived and had a quick night’s sleep, Andy and I jumped in a little periwinkle-blue rental car and headed off on a three day road trip around the top end of the South Island. An early stop was at Castle Hill, a beautifully unique series of limestone rock formations…
Jet lag was no match for the stunning scenery as we climbed and descended twisting roads through Arthur’s Pass, traced the west coast, and admired the bounty of the fruit orchards on our way to Riverside Community, near Motueka. At Riverside, a community focused on promoting peace through cooperative and sustainable living, we were hosted by a lovely German family. These folks had contacted Andy with an interest in one day incorporating draught horses into their farming operations. With them, we visited a well-known horse farmer in their area, which provided Andy with a great chance to talk horses with someone with a wealth of experience and to browse through piles and piles of horse equipment. After a couple more stops at places with MORE stashes of horse equipment to peruse, we headed over to Marlborough to visit Seresin Estate, an organic and biodynamic vineyard and winery using draught horses to apply their biodynamic preparations. We had a great time chatting with the very kind farm team there and learning about how they’ve incorporated organic, biodynamic growing and horse power into their operation.
As we made our way back down to Christchurch, I had more opportunity to practice driving on the left hand side of the road. I am happy to report that my brain is gradually adjusting to the transition to a gear shift on the left and turning signal on the right. And Andy has been very patient and only a little bit terrified as I make the adjustment!
Since Monday, I have been focused on getting settled in at Toi Toi Manawa, our home, workplace and research centre. We have a cozy little set up with a trailer (or caravan, if you prefer) and tent tucked away behind some big California pine. There’s a little river across the field, rolling hills in the backdrop, and the odd hedgehog here and there. As lovely as this spot is, we will be shifting away from it before too long into some more insulated winter accommodations. And I thought I’d just left winter!
There are now nine of us at Toi Toi Manawa pursuing a range of research projects through the generosity and support of the Toi Toi Charity. Projects range from mushroom growing to raising Himalayan tahr (a wild goat relative) and from sustainable building to seed potato production. And, of course, horse-powered farming. As we work together to establish basic infrastructure and systems on the land (the program had its beginnings only eight weeks ago!), we are also well-positioned to learn from each other’s individual projects.
This week included some clean-up projects on the land, helping to build a new composting toilet, a couple of trips into Christchurch to run errands and a visit to the Biological Husbandry Unit (BHU) at Lincoln University to chat with some of their very knowledgable staff about our research projects and to pick their brains. In between all of this, I’ve also been acting as a set of crutches for Andy as he’s just had surgery on his knee and is working his way through the recovery process.
One of my main objectives while at Toi Toi Manawa will be to explore the viability of the CSA (community supported/shared agriculture) model in the New Zealand context. Despite the strength of agriculture and community here, CSA is a model that has not taken off as it has in many other parts of the world. By talking to as many people in the food and farming communities as possible, I hope to better understand why this has been the case up to now, what stumbling blocks are out there, and what opportunities there might be for CSAs in this corner of the world.
For the moment, with a weekend in front of me, I am looking forward to continuing the settling in process, exploring the land and the local village (Whitecliffs), and soaking in a little bit more of my new surroundings. Somehow, I think I am going to get along just fine…