Published: February 8th 2009February 9th 2009
Fifteen kilometers inland, following the cool air as it blows over the gorgeous beaches dotting the Bay of Plenty, lies an often overlooked yet fertile bit of land, a place that prides itself as "The kiwifruit capital of the world". This district, known as Te Puke, has a lot of character and a hell of a lot of kiwis.
It is here that I've spent the past week or so, on a humble farm run by a lovely couple in their fifties, and their one hundred acres of avocados and kiwifruit.
Oskat farm, as it is called, is owned by Shelly and Owen Williams, a pair that grew up in this very area, and after being high school sweethearts, raised three daughters on the 300 acres of farm and forest land they inherited. Now with their children grown and married off, they employ the help of wwoofers such as myself so as not to fall behind on all the weeding, pruning, tinkering and repairs a self-sustaining organic farm requires.
Oskat farm started as just sheep and cattle pasture, of which part of the land still is dedicated to, a place where these homely beasts spend their days slumbering and grazing in
utter ignorance of the rapidly changing world. The animals pretty much mind their own and take care of themselves, as if they were really in the wild. Most livestock in New Zealand is raised this way; farmers simply allot them some land and allow them to go through the natural courses, interrupting only for the occasional shearing, and the eventual trip to the slaughterhouse. Most of the meat Shelly cooks for us here is from their own animals, and its been a treat to enjoy roasts of savory organic home-grown lamb and beef.
The other things we eat here, mostly the potatoes and veggies harvested from the lovely patchwork garden next to the house, are a reminder that food you grow yourself always tastes better.
The rest of the property is dedicated to native forestry that they use for firewood in the winter and income from lumber sales. After a hard morning's work, myself and the other wwoofer here with me, a young British fellow who is forever playing his guitar, and instigating sing- alongs, like to go for a bit of a wander, picking the wild blackberries and wine berries that are abundant in the lush canopy of the
forest, or trying to fish out a trout from the decently sized river just a ten minute walk from the house. Intent on catching a big fat fish, we dug up a bunch of grubs from Shelly's garden and had a go at it. But instead of a nice tasty trout, all we caught was a slimy, smelly river eel, which is still sitting somewhere in the icebox.
Every day here, the work's been different and likewise, every evening, we've managed to entertain ourselves in a different way. One day, it will be a game of cards or pool, the next, a party of neighbors or relatives will drop by for dinner and a campfire by the river. The other day, Shelly's son in law dropped in with his pickup truck full of friends, hunting dogs and rifles. They took us "shoo'in", first just clay disks as target practice, and then for some pheasants out in the forest. While I wasn't keen on hunting any pheasants or possums, I did take them up on the challenge of shooting some clay disks. Shooting a rifle wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, but with the first shot, I almost
exploded my ear drums, leaving my head dazed and ringing for hours.
Before I had left Chicago, I chose Omnivore's Dillema
to bring with me to read. It is about an investigative writer who visits a factory farm, an industrial organic farm, and finally, a mom and pop pasture, in order to follow a meal right to its source. Reading about the way America farms its food while sitting on the porch at Owen and Shelly's, watching the cycle of life take care of itself, is quite the stark contrast. I read a bit of the book out loud to Shelly, about how in the US cattle are kept indoors, fed corn, and given antibiotics in case they get sick. And she, a woman who's spent all her life on farms and amongst livestock, looked at me as if I just said the most mental thing. The idea of keeping any animal other than a chicken indoors was utterly ridiculous to her. And as for the antibiotics, she said, "Why on earth would you medicate an animal? Why, if you see its got a bit of mud butt, you simply bring it round the house for a sip of apple
cider vinegar". Although meat and produce in New Zealand are expensive compared to the prices you would find things at in the states, you don't have to worry about your food being doctored up with stuff. There are no hard decisions to be made at the grocery store about whether you should buy the organically grazed or hormone laden milk, and no need to seek out a Whole Foods for your organic produce. Farming is also one of the most self-sustaining, sure-footed things one can do. Although businesses in New Zealand are taking heavy losses due to the current international recession, farmers here remain virtually untouched. The price of meat is holding steady, and farmers tend to be fix it all kind of people; repairing their own roofs, building their own trucks even. I think perhaps we often overlook the strength, especially subversiveness and revolutionary potential, farming can empower us with. And, you're also free to shoot off guns on your own property :)
Until next time,