The art of growing your own food
A New Plymouth man has given up a long career in education for a life on the land – on a third of an acre in central New Plymouth. Sonja Slinger finds a town garden teeming with organic produce and growing splendour.
David Cripps and wife Suzanne have developed their residential property to a full-blown food growing oasis. The front lawn has gone, and made way for raised beds growing all their vegetables and the rear sloping section is now planted out in 30 fruit trees, olives, avocados and berry vines.
Suzanne has kept her day job, in administration, but David's career in teaching seems now but a distant memory, although he only gave it up last year.
When I first spoke to him, he was sitting in a boat, off the coast of New Plymouth, fishing.
"Just gathering dinner for tonight," he said, by phone. You could almost hear the happiness in his voice.
With their two adult children left home and in university, many might see that time as an opportunity for a new career phase or to boost an existing, so what made David give up a solid career in education for a life in the garden?
He'd most recently been principal of Stratford Primary, and he'd taught in various Auckland schools before that. His first principal's position was at a small rural school west of Taihape, followed by a post in Wanganui.
Then the family moved to the United Arab Emirates, where David was a cluster manager for the Abu Dhabi Education Council, looking after several schools, before coming back to New Zealand and gaining the position at Stratford in 2013.
He left there last year to dig into this new chapter on life and hasn't looked back, certainly hasn't missed the pressure that working in education brings.
"I think we just became aware over recent years about our food, the way it's produced, concerns about genetic modification, the animal products that stock are fed – a lot of concerns.
"We'd lived overseas in the Middle East and food there came from all over the world. We just felt it was time to do something different and we thought let's find a place that we can do that, grow organically, and we ended up finding this place," said David, 49.
Part of their aim is to help the community as well, by giving to others. The couple are involved in establishing a new church in New Plymouth, a division of the Vineyard Church, already operating in Stratford.
"Being in a place and doing this work and realising that we can make a difference and we can bless others with what we can produce. As you get older I think you can do things differently. I just love it," David explains.
Both he and Suzanne are strong in their belief that healthy food equals healthy body and mind. "Wasn't it Hippocrates who said: 'Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food'?
So, in two years since they bought their Moturoa home, they have worked hard, developing several new garden areas, built pathways and terraces and fed the soil so it's healthy and producing.
"When we first came here, there was virtually no food growing of any sort, only one feijoa tree. There were a few pine trees, a magnolia and a flowering cherry," recalls Suzanne.
The couple initially had Greenbridge, sustainable property designers, develop a plan for the site which helped them get started. But it was when Suzanne and David studied at Witt doing organic horticulture with tutor Dee Turner, that they really started turning the section into a hotbed of growing culture.
There is now a huge variety of vegetables growing on the front lawn, a herb spiral out the back and various citrus growing on terraces, plus mulberry, olives, pear, plum, plumcot and apple trees for each growing season, plus some for cider.
They envisage it will take another three to four years before the trees really start producing. "The next step is to make our own jam, wine, cider and pickles," said David.
The biggest challenge so far has been the property's terrain and not being able to get heavy equipment because of its steep slope to the rear. A lot of the work has been done by hand. The flat area at the lower level is also prone to flooding and the couple lost a few hens last year when water rose quickly and flooded the hen house.
But with much of the development and had work behind them, they are mega enthusiastic about what they are doing.
"It doesn't matter how big or small your bit of land is, I'd encourage people to grow their own organic food and reap the rewards of their labour," said David. "It's hard to believe that we thought Round Up and DDT were our friends.
"We were probably like most kiwis, not organic, not eating particularly fresh food, just buying what was there, convenience really. When you work like I was, that was the thing, we wanted food that was fast, not necessarily the best."
But is our education system teaching our younger generation about food and nutrition? David believes schools try their best and he says Enviro schools are very good.
This is a New Zealand-wide initiative taken up by many schools, that encourages and teaches sustainability through exploration, discovery and connections with the environment. There are almost 30 in Taranaki.
But, David says, it's about getting the message at home, for children to actually see and experience with their whanau and friends growing food and living in a sustainable way.
"It has to be more than what happens in the classroom," David believes. "It's a lifestyle thing."
With a little spare time now that the garden is established, David is doing some part-time consultancy work with The NZ Heart Foundation helping nutrition trainers deliver the message in schools on good nutrition and food.
"Life is short. I guess people don't make the change until it's too late, I say make the change now."
- Taranaki Daily News