Monday, February 15, 2010

My inspiration Mondays - Rainbow Valley Farm

Twenty-two years ago Trish Allen and Joe Polaischer bought a 20-hectare wasteland in Matakana, north of Auckland, intending to turn it into a self-sufficient, organic farm based on permaculture principles. The eroded land was weed and pest infested, with heavy clay sub-soils that were a bog in winter and as hard as concrete in summer, and waterways that were choked with an introduced aquatic grass. 

Now Rainbow Valley Farm is internationally recognised as a model for permaculture and sustainable living, with its productive organic garden and orchard, energy-efficient passive solar home and rich lifestyle where animals, birds and bees are integrated into the edible landscape. 
One of the key principles of permaculture is energy recycling - stopping the flow of nutrients and energy off the site, so that a continuous cycle is created. Everything Trish and Joe have built keeps this principle in mind.

The couple obtained a permit to stock grass carp to clear the waterways, trapped possums, made tonnes of compost to improve the soil, built worm farms and mulched everything.

Initially they did all the work themselves, but later joined the WWOOF scheme (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), a cultural exchange scheme where volunteers learn about organic gardening and living by helping out on organic farms.

Sadly, Joe Polaischer passed away in February 2008, but Trish has carried on their good work, running summer tours and workshops. She produces most of her own food on the farm and sells any surplus at the Matakana farmers' market. 

Over the years the couple have planted around 13,000 trees, including timber, firewood, amenity trees and over 800 fruit and nut trees. The ultimate in recycling, they built composting toilets that provide rich compost for the fruit trees. Water comes from springs near the highest point on the farm, and is gravity fed to the house and gardens. Used water with all its nutrients goes to the orchard. 
A house cow provides milk to drink, while free-ranging ducks, geese, guinea fowl, peacocks and chickens give fertiliser and help control pests. In a cunning design, hot air from the chicken coop is vented through a bamboo partition into the glasshouse, which needs warmth, carbon dioxide and methane for germination.
They also built their egg-shaped farmhouse with permaculture principles in mind. It's heated by solar energy that is stored in the concrete floors and earth walls. A grass roof insulates the house while giving off oxygen to improve the air. Reading about their green roof got me so excited I tried to convince my landlord (also my mother-in-law) to let me put one on the roof outside L's room to filter the air before it comes in through her bedroom window. That was a no-go (understandably in a rental), but I have visions of one day building my own eco-house in all it's kooky glory.

The majority of timber in the Rainbow Valley Farm house is macrocarpa, milled from trees grown on the land, and the rest is recycled kauri. 

I'm so inspired by what this couple has achieved and want to go to the next Rainbow Valley Farm tour, but think I'll have to wait till next summer now.

If you'd like to get simple ideas for reducing your ecological footprint, check out Rainbow Valley Farm's list of 101 things you can do

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