Years ago, when I was young free and wild, I hitch hiked up and down New Zealand. I kept myself going by WWOOFing – I worked on farms in exchange for room and food. Two weeks here, two weeks there. If the host turned out to be less than pleasant, I chucked my stuff into my backpack again, and put my thumb back out onto the road.
My favourite hosts were a family of Mormans called the Gubbs. Brain and Karen, their 5 children, a lovable, outspoken alcoholic, who they desperately and altruistically tried to care for, their bees, their chickens, their pigs and their goat. They had previously lived in a large house, but when the Brain got sick, he decided there was no time like the present to follow his dream of building a house out of old car tyres, AKA an Earthship. So they sold their large and comfy home, and bought some land. While I stayed with them, they lived in an enlarged garden shed. Brian built their future home with the help of WOOFers like me, and the kids. Karen worked in an office for a little cash to keep them going.
Now, let me describe this enlarged garden shed…It was split into two. One half had the parents double bed, which doubled as the sofa. it also had a kitchen area similar to one you would find in a camper van. The other half had three triple bunk beds, and nothing else, other than piles of “stuff”. The compost toilet was somewhere down the path, and the shower was outside, powered by a hydro-electric generator, which sat in a small stream which ran through the property. In this luxurious living arrangement, they even had a sauna. They had dug a small cave into their clay hillside, which could fit 4 naked people who didn’t mind being cheek to cheek, sat over burning hot bricks, which they carried in carefully with hot tongs.
My days there were varied – one day I would be packing car tyres with clay, another day I would be cementing the tyres together to create a base for the 2nd floor. My favourite job was feeding the pigs. The Gubbs had bought pigs, because unlike in England, New Zealand supermarkets are (or at least were) allowed to give out-of-date food to farms for their livestock. The Gubbs saw this as a perfect permaculture opportunity to turn the free waste food into free bacon. So three times a week, Brian drove the truck up to the supermarket to collect multiple barrels of bread, cakes, vegetables and fruit, to give to the pigs. My really exciting job (that is most certainly not sarcasm) was to go through the food, and pick out all the good stuff – the stuff that was absolutely fine, and had just been thrown out by a technicality of flawed supermarket systems. Most of it was good, so I had to be really fussy. We all lived on this food, and the pigs got the rest.
One of my top 10 games of all time: throwing pink iced buns at the pigs while they ran around licking it off each other!
The Gubbs were an inspiration to my future, and I will never forget their love and generosity. I now have six ex-battery chickens, who are all getting their feathers back very nicely. They have begun to lay more now that they are recovering, and I picked up the 50th egg my girls have given me today. The novelty has most definitely not worn off.
Some supermarkets spray their out-of-date food with blue bleach, to deter skip-divers (people who go out after closing, to illegally dive into the skips and dig out the good stuff). My local supermarkets don’t even leave their bins anywhere where I can find them. Believe me, I’ve looked. But I am a determined young girl! I now have three independent shops in town, who have come to expect to see me at the end of most days, with my bicycle trailer. Some days, I cycle home with a trailer full of vegetables, bread end slices, pasties and hot dogs. You should see the chicken dance that my girls do, jumping around right and left like Santa Claus just arrived in broad daylight…..
Just incase I get myself into trouble, I shall admit no further. But I have happy girls and happy eggs. Less food is going to landfill, and my garden is being covered in happy compost.