Many of us dream of living 100% naturally. Despite our best intentions, it is almost impossible - our paradigm dictates that we cannot do without power, water, income, connectivity, food, transport (public or own vehicle), or fuel. We can however try to reduce our environmental footprint and live as lightly as possible.
These are some of the practical considerations for living remotely as we do.
On this farm, there are four households, all in wooden houses. With the temperature fluctuating from -6 in winter to +40 in summer, creature comforts are at times a challenge. We use wood burners and/or gas heaters during winter. In summer, we do our best to keep cool with wet clothing, roof sprayers, closed curtains, and water troughs.
Our state power company (Eskom) is unreliable and expensive, and getting electricity to the farm is out of the question. We all have solar power to varying degrees, with a generator for backup. To minimize the amount of power drawn from solar, we use gas geysers and stoves.
People in various locations are trying to live “off the grid.” Generally, finances dictate to what extent you can live almost naturally from a home power point of view, and how elegant (comfortable) your life will be.
Blessed with a mountain stream and water rights for household use, there is no major irrigation on the farm. We get our water from a solar pump in the river, which is pumped 170 metres up to water tanks, and gravity-fed via black pipes to where we need it.
We earn our incomes in different ways; landscaping and garden services in local cities, freelance online work, horse breeding and chicken farming. All come with sacrifices, such as having to be away from home during weekdays or being between contracts. We are all self-employed entrepreneurs.
Despite being so high up on the mountain, connectivity comes and goes via various mobile networks. Fortunately for green living and online work, we can get internet via a service provider from a tower at the top of a mountain 45km away. What a privilege and a blessing to be able to work anywhere in the world from a remote farm at the bottom of Africa!
In an urban setting, food gardening is possible (depending on water supply, soil type and space) and extremely rewarding. Some veggies grow beautifully in containers. Here on our farm, the first step for setting up a food garden is to secure the area against the local wildlife. We learned the hard way that food gardening needs to be protected against the onslaught of critters such as baboons, horses, porcupines, tortoises, moles, buck, chickens, and mice. We hope to create a fully enclosed veg garden in the near future. At this stage, baboons do not seem interested in salads (rocket, spinach, herbs, radishes, and kale) which I am growing close to the house in large apple crates.
Just this one action can make a dramatic difference in reducing one's environmental footprint. We try to source local products and services wherever possible, including food, local tradesmen, and labour.
Living in a city or suburb in a first-world country allows the opportunity of using public transport. South Africa’s public transport system was never great, and in recent years what there was has been decimated by corruption, incompetence, and crime. One's own transport for rural living is a prerequisite. The trick is to go to town as little as possible and shop smartly, especially with the current cost of fuel.
Food and other scraps are fed to the chickens and dogs. We reuse what we can and separate our recycling, which we transport to the landfill in town with our non-reusable or compostable rubbish.
Any efforts towards reducing our environmental footprint can make an enormous difference and is to be encouraged.