I’ve always wanted to live a life that was connected to nature. Since I was a child I have enjoyed spending time outdoors surrounded by plants and animals. It was not until I got to university however that I really began to think about growing food and studying philosophy meant that the ethics of how we are treating our planet became really important to me. I began to think more deeply about our planet and our way of life, and read deeply about permaculture and green living. I met my husband and we both felt the same way – one day we would move to a rural location and live a more ethical, sustainable way of life. At first, sustainable living – growing our own food and living a more sustainable way of life seemed like a dream – something we talked about for the future but not something we could do right away. Neither of us came from wealthy families, and our rental accommodation meant we had nowhere to grow our own food. We made many strides in the direction of sustainable living – reducing the energy we used, taking low-impact camping holidays, thinking more carefully about each and every purchase – I joined a waiting list for an allotment where I could grow food and finally (after five years!) got that allotment and started gardening. But it was difficult to see how we could truly reach a point where we were living in the way we wanted to live.
“Anyone thinking that sustainable living is great for the future but not something they can do today should think again. As I learned, there is a way around many problems.”
Starting out in our careers, without money for a deposit for a home, we realised that we would not be able to do it alone. Fortunately for us, as for many, family was the answer. Though none of our family members had much money, two of my husband’s aunts felt the same way as us about sustainability. Over many conversations over several years, we decided that the answer was to pool our resources. Co-housing was the solution we had been looking for – a way to move forward towards our sustainability goals. After a number of setbacks, we finally found and bought out current property together. We all agreed that though we wanted to pool resources, we also wanted our independence. This property answers our requirements, with separate living space for each of us. There is a large house, huge outbuildings, and one third of an acre of land, including a mature orchard. It was enough for us to begin to set our plans in motion. Our third-share of the property will, in the end, cost as far less than it would have cost to buy even a modest home on our own. In everything we have done here since we moved in three years ago, permaculture ethics and principles have been the driving force behind the design and practice. In caring for the planet, caring for other people and taking only our fair share, returning surplus to the system, we have managed to get a lot further down the road towards our goals. My husband and I are also working on renovating an old stone outbuilding that will eventually be our forever home. The most important lesson we have learnt in the course of all the work we have done here is that time is our most precious resource. Resource management is an important part of sustainable living – but until we started down this journey, we had not really considered how important time was in every equation. We’re both in our mid thirties, and both still work full time, so have to fit in our growing and renovation around our other commitments. Time is definitely our main restricting factor, so we always use it wisely! But by continuing to work, to pay the mortgage and other expenses, we hope to be able to ‘retire’ much, much earlier than would have otherwise been the case – we understand that a shortage of time now means that we will have much more time later. Since moving in here, we have had so many great moments! Each harvest is a small victory, and every step forward in our renovations is a milestone. We’ve become almost self-sufficient in terms of fruit and vegetables. We have a healthy yield from the polytunnel and vegetable beds, and a great fruit harvest each year from the orchard. We keep rescue chickens in the orchard which provide us with eggs, and get help from local wildlife, which we attract with a pond we created and with other planting and habitat creation. Rainwater is harvested from the roof for use in the garden. Putting all those elements into effect and reaping the rewards have given us so much pleasure. None of what we have done here would have been possible for one person alone. Each of the four of us living here has different skills and aptitudes and each of us has our part to play. We learn from one another and though we each have our own lives, we also work together to achieve our common goals. Our number one objective right now is to finish the renovations and create a forever home for my husband and myself. The work outside in growing our own food is going well and we have already achieved a great deal of what we set out to achieve (though with only 1/3 acre, we still have a lot to do to maximise productivity). As well as continuing our work in the garden, the aim is to become more sustainable in other areas of our lives. Our new home when it is complete will make that possible. The outbuilding will become a two bedroom home, well-insulated and heated with passive solar and wood (a solid fuel stove will heat the space and hot water). We also plan to gain power from solar panels on the roof (though in the mean time, we buy 100% renewable electricity). Other than a lack of time, our main challenge is transport. I work from home and can walk or take a bus to where I need to go. I don’t drive. My husband on the other hand has to commute about 45 minutes to the nearest city for work. There is no public transport so he has to have a car. While eventually we would like to buy an electric vehicle, these are currently out of our price range. My husband does have a hybrid, however, which cuts down on the environmental cost. By cutting down on our living costs and living as sustainably as possible, we are significantly reducing the time for which this commute will be necessary. When I look around here, I think how close we came to giving up on our dreams of this sort of way of life. Things are not always perfect, but we are making progress every day. Anyone thinking that sustainable living is great for the future but not something they can do today should think again. As I learned, there is a way around many problems. If money is the problem, consider joining with friends or family, or joining a local co-housing scheme or intentional community. Think time is an issue? As described above, we are achieving a great deal even though we both have to work full time. Start small, choose slow solutions. Like every journey, the road towards sustainability begins with a single step, and it might be as simple as reading about permaculture, thinking deeply about the problems our planet faces, speaking with a loved one, or planting a seed…