"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Our journey...

Following on my post Make a difference yesterday, and for those who haven't visited my web page, I thought I should share our side of the journey thus far...

Some time in 2007 RMan decided that he'd had enough of the retirement / insurance companies making their huge profits, at his expense, and then paying out peanuts when payment was due.  Their projected income when he took out his policies in the early 1980's, for his retirement in 2018, fell far short of the cost of living increases which we've experienced in the intervening years.  I reckon that is their trick - ensnare individuals to take out a policy which seems to offer incredible incomes on their retirement, with no mention of CoL increases - which reduce that retirement income to a barely liveable amount.  RMan decided that he would withdraw what he was allowed (which under South African law equates to 2/3's of the current value - the other 1/3 has to be re-invested) and with that 2/3's he would purchase a property - our plot :-) 

History has shown that property is the best long term investment - and is not dependent on the R/$ or R/£ or R/¥ exchange rate, like gold, stock market share, etc.

If one purchases a property wisely, maintains it and improves on it, then your investment cannot help but grow.  And, in the case of a recession, such as we've just experienced / are still experiencing, yes, properties will drop slightly in value, but when that recession is done and dusted, property values will leap up again - without the risk involved in gold, shares, etc.

So purchasing a plot for investment purposes was our original intention.

But, then the bug hit - RMan wanted to go to the plot over the weekends in order to escape from city life.  That entailed having to have somewhere to stay - it was pointless increasing the bank balances of the local B+B's as that completely defeated the aim of withdrawing money from his policies!  So we decided to build a small house.  As we could afford it.

But - and that is a big "but" - I saw this as the perfect opportunity of doing it right - of treading more gently on this planet through leaving as small a footprint as possible.  Of making a fresh start in our lives...

And thus my hunt began ... and it started with the question which was the most practical and eco-friendly way to build?  We initially thought of building a sand bag house, but due to the bag on offer at that stage, and due to the wind, which constantly blows, and was blowing away more sand than we could get into our bags, we ditched that idea.

The shower room, constructed with sandbags,
which disintergrated with the wind
My second option was a cob house, as we had stayed in one in Barrydale, and it was amazing - cool in the heat of day, and warm when it was cold outside.  And the atmosphere that pervaded the interior - calm, peaceful and serene.  I loved it - in fact we both did!  However, a cob house takes manpower, and in that we were in short supply.  RMan doesn't like strawbale houses - he is concerned about vermin gaining access to the straw and having a party - for generations to come...

Unfortunately, it therefore had to be a brick build - my proviso was that if I couldn't have a sandbag / cob or strawbale house, then we had to build with local materials.  (And at the time I stamped my foot to emphasise my proviso :-) )

Serendipitously, in our closest town, Swellendam, there were locals who produced clay bricks.  So clay brick it was!  Our brick had a total transport footprint of 25kms.  Our labour we obtained even closer - using the locals from a small village 12 km away.

Thus we were providing employment and income to the locals.  Perfect.  We were giving back as we were taking.

Slowly, slowly choices were made.  We would be off grid in our new home.  I completely covet a wind turbine, and I'm sure that one day we will have one when we are able to afford it.  After all it is a perfect power generator for our windy plot :-)  I am so enamoured with wind turbines that my eyes glaze over every time I see one on the TV :-)

We have installed double glazing (not the norm in South Africa) windows and I found a company which recycles all the car bumpers / computer casings / plastic milk bottles etc. into resin roof tiles.  I also discovered Freecycle, and that membership has provided us with our kitchen counter and burglar bars for all our external doors.

Our cooking and warmth is provided by a wood harvested from alien trees, and cut by Working for Water, and which we burn in our Dover stove, which was also purchased within 45kms of our plot, and our clay floor tiles are again manufactured in Swellendam.  I have to tell you that the warmth (both visually and underfoot)and beauty of natural clay floor tiles is incomparable to what is on offer / what one can purchase at your local hardware store.  Mass production certainly short changes man.

Then I investigated eco-finishes.  I found a manufacturer of low VOC varnish, undercoats and paints in Cape Town, and we transport what we need, when we need it, with us when we go to the plot.  The render we applied to our walls contained a large amount of lime - lime cures by a slow process of carbonation, reacting with atmospheric carbon dioxide over a period of weeks ( www.buildingconservation.com/articles/cement/cement.htm )  Therefore some of the carbon dioxide we have produced whilst we have been building is now being absorbed by the lime render - again a case of taking and giving.  I love it :-)

I have discovered that 12 volts of power is plentiful for our needs and one can still have home comforts such as music (provided by the car radio I bought for RMan) and lighting (12 volt CFL's and LED lights).  There is even a 12 volt TV available which I have my eye on - I have to watch any episode of Grand Designs I can, and RMan needs to watch the Boks beat the Wallabies and the All Blacks. 

Our only problem area is a fridge - and I have sourced a solar powered 12 volt freezer.  I intend to use the freezer to freeze 5lt bottles of water which I will rotate and which will keep a cooler box at the right temperature so that it can be used as a fridge.  No doubt RMan's beers will have to have a stint in the freezer before they can be kept in the "fridge" - wouldn't do if he had to drink warm beers on a hot summers day - or anytime...

The last two items are like the wind turbine - all finances permitting...

And our hot water is provided by the sun in summer, and a gas instant hot geyser in winter.  Plus the grey water from our kitchen and bathroom is being directed to a simple reed bed.

Raised veggie bed in the making...
But the periods between being here in Cape Town and being on the farm are great and I was getting frustrated that my eagerness and new found ingenuity was getting stifled.  There was so much I wanted to do - for instance I was aching to plant vegetables on the farm, so that I wouldn't have to schlep them up with us each time.  But the raised veggie bed needs completing, irrigation taken to it and a shadecloth cover installed over it to keep out the local hares and fallow deer.  So that has to wait.

But, one night, as I was falling asleep, I suddenly had a light bulb moment - a lateral thought.  What was to stop me from doing what I want to do in our "fresh start", right here in Cape Town.  After all, I didn't have to wait for the right moment - the right moment was right now!
Hand knitted dishcloth

So, once again, my investigative powers took over.  There are some seriously wonderful blogs out there, such as  Gillie, Mr H, Mia, milkwoodkirsten, onestrawRhonda,and sprig's blogs to mention but a few.  With their assistance I have learnt how to make no knead artisan bread(perfect for my arm), soap, eco-friendly insecticides and household cleaners, essential oils, lip balm, a food dryer, a chicken house, a hot box, a wicking bed, an eco-friendly food dehydrator and knit my own dishcloths out of 100% pure, unwaxed, unbleached cotton, a simple shade cloth tunnel for my vegetable patch, and preserve all sorts of foods, amongst many other things.

And I have started a vegetable patch, or should that be patches, which have all the appearances of providing us with our needs in a couple of months, and which, because I now have the confidence and from which I have already had some reward, I will continue to sow in and reap from.

Shade cloth veggie tunnel

But, the most surprising discovery I have made is that I have enjoyed re-educating myself.  It is the most brilliant on-going journey I have ever embarked upon and one that I highly recommend!

It really is true - one is never too old to learn - all you need, and have to be, is willing.

What we need is to make a concerted effort to inspire and motivate the menfolk in our lives, so that they are willing and eager to join us on our journey ...  trust me though, the eco-friendly journey is a lifelong one - and one whose boundaries are constantly moving as you and I jointly discover, and share, ways to simplify our lives, and the way we live them, and lighten the load we are placing on our planet, without turning back the clock 100 years.

How are you fairing with the man / men / children in your life?  What has been the easiest eco-change to make - and which ones are they resisting most?


Mr. H. said...

Wow, the two of you have made incredible strides towards living a more sustainable life. You live in suc a beautiful place.

Dani said...

Mr H - thanks - you live in a beautiful place too :-) Thanks for the encouragement - I'm eager to do more though.