Wednesday, 2 January 2019

A chapter from the book "Full Circle-a journey of toilets I have known" by Audrey Sharp the Host at Caretaker Farm in NZ

Building a vegetable garden from waste 2018

The WWOOFing/HelpX Host/Helper Experience at Caretaker Farm.
Dinner time in summer 

Since August 1990 me and my family (my mother Dorothy and children Tamarah and Thomas while living with me), have hosted well over 1,000 people (aged between 14 years to 82 years) from all over the world, including  a few New Zealanders, as workers and helpers in exchange for accommodation and food at Caretaker Farm in Whangateau, New Zealand.

It has not always been easy for us or for them.

For 16 years of this time I was also teaching Taxation Law at the University of Auckland, part-time studying for a Master of Legal Studies, working as a tax consultant for 7 of those years at Inland Revenue, running a small shop in Warkworth for 11 of those same years and being a mother and a daughter on the farm. I also, as a by choice single parent, had the responsibility of paying all the bills including food for the volunteers as well as cooking countless meals sometimes for as many as 18 people when all the extended family were living on the farm.

Consequently at times I was definitely impatient and clearly a     "grumpy bitch" who did not always make theWWOOFing/HelpX     experience pleasant on every day for those "willing workers".

However on the other hand, some of those volunteers were not always "willing workers" who "cared" about what they were doing on land that they had been welcomed onto, evidenced by a variety of behaviors.

Too often I have found tools left lying to rust and rot by these"willing workers".
Working on the Community Earth Oven Project
I have also seen some of them do very little in exchange for the good food and accommodation they received and when things were broken by them so often I was not told of this only to discover later when I went to use the item that it was no longer usable.

Such breakages were as small as plates and cups, gardening tools and as large as vacuum cleaners and a wood chipper and a washing machine.

On only four of these frequent occasions did a wwoofer/helper admit their mistake and either offer to or in fact did replace the broken item knowing that I was not "wealthy" enough to easily do this myself.
making the concrete pathway
Unfortunately sometimes such an item was so sentimental that replacement was no an option and always for me at these times I was made to confront my own attachment to what is actually just a "bullshit material thing".

But do not think after saying this that the host experience for the family has been only a negative happening-far from it. Some of those who have come to the farm as part of this "exchange experience"  were such amazing people with not only great skills to share but truly "giving and sharing" of themselves. Many of them have also become "Facebook" friends for the longer term, still interested in the happenings at Caretaker Farm many years since they visited and worked there and very happy to meet me personally again and even to share their home with me when I have passed through their home place on my own travels even as an older backpacker.


Christmas time dinner

Then there are the relationships that have resulted from this "exchange experience".

In my own family for example my nephew met his Japanese partner; my daughter met her German partner; I met my Frenchman Fabrice and fell in love at 56 years old because his cousin and my nephew were friends and there was the possibility of a place to build a community earth oven.

Further many of those staying at the farm from various parts of the world have made life-long friendships; love relationships and even conceived while staying at Caretaker Farm.

A wwoofer drawing
The learning for me in this "exchange experience" is that all those who have stayed on Caretaker Farm since 1990 from all over the globe have different qualities and my continuing relationship or not with them differs depending on them and also how they remember their own experience with me personally and the time spent at the farm with our family and the other volunteers.

For example there are those special people from all over the world who give not only of themselves but expect nothing back.

Market Day helpers
The Kowhai Festival day in Warkworth

These special volunteers truly understand and reflect in their behavior the meaning of "cultural exchange" which is part of the WWOOF/HelpX philosophy.  These people are like "pearls or diamonds",  rare in the finding,  but precious when found. Such people remain true friends and are not just part-time Facebook followers,  no mater the age difference between me the host and themselves and they will always be open to  real"heart exchange"  where ever they live.

Often their Caretaker Farm experience, both good and bad, touched or opened or resounded in them in such a fashion that they hold that feeling in their heart for ever or perhaps it is more a reflection of their own special character which is so precious.

Then there are those who are just "passing through"  and who give somewhat while they are there but once they have left the place no longer give/remember or are even open to the heart exchange that can be between different cultures, ages and backgrounds in their own land.
Big Eric the bus has a new mural face
Beautiful painted mural
And finally then there are those who when they come to Caretaker Farm just take, giving only the minimum required and nothing really of themselves unless it is done conditionally. Then these individuals will continue that way all through their life whether at home or elsewhere,  holding only a memory of the travel itself rather than the volunteer "exchange" they experienced doing WWOOF or HelpX

Some of the same experience is true also for me as a host of these many people who have come to stay and exchange work at Caretaker Farm in the past 28 years.

There are those I will never forget:

the ones who have helped me so much through difficult times; who have touched my heart with their honesty and sharing; whose astrology charts I have mapped and therefore who I know a little more intimately as a result; those who are just incredible people with amazing gifts and/or skills; those who have left a little of themselves through either the Art they have created on the farm, the gardens they have built or the many other things they have done to contribute to the growing of this farm which in the end will hopefully benefit the wider community through education and cultural exchange.


Also in the group of unforgettable
volunteers are those individuals
(around 10-15%) who have either
completely "pissed" me off by
being lazy, negative, not listening and hence appearing stupid and slow, being city people who are completely out of their comfort zone or demonstrating an unwillingness to truly participate in the farm life, either spending their whole free time on a screen, or not talking or exchanging anything of themselves. Some of the very few (about 30 in 28 years) have not stayed for very long to know anything and have written very negative reviews of their experience at the farm or of me personally even if their time on the place was less than 3 hours, just one day or one week.

Unfortunately the human brain reflects longer on the negatives of life rather than the positives. I was once told by a "Marketing Expert" that when we experience something good we tell 5 people and when we experience something bad we tell 11 people.  At times my personal reflection and reaction and at times ridiculous obsession  on those few negative experience I have had with some of the WWOOFing/HelpX people who have stayed at Caretaker Farm in the past 28 years shows the element of truth behind that marketing expert's words.


In actuality the WWOOFing/HelpX movement for me as a host has been amazing. I love travel and through this experience at Caretaker Farm I have been able to travel all over the world without moving. There have been amazing exchanges that have taken place with various people who have stayed at the farm from playing music together, discussing world affairs, learning new recipes, getting certain projects completed on the farm which I would never have been able to achieve on my own without the physical help, particular skills, enthusiasm and encouragement I have received from these helpers.

The shop in Warkworth which operated for 11 years relied
solely on these volunteer helpers if we were to be open 7 days a week.
The Old Bakehouse Market Shop


Many of those volunteers who came to stay with us
did so not just for the cultural exchange on the working farm
but to improve their English and working in the shop
was a great help for that. Some found they learned more
conversational English during their stay with us than they did
in the 6 weeks paid English Language school they had been to
in Auckland city.

As a host I have learnt things from some of those  volunteers that have stayed  at the farm that will be with me for my life. A recent example was learning to make Healing Herbal Balms using plants grown on the farm from a young woman who demonstrated how easy it was to do when you have the available plants. I now market these balms which work very well under the label "Green Wicca"

Cutting wood at Vendee HelpX
 Today,  in early 2019 when writing this chapter,  I am now the helper rather than the host. I have left the farm for 5 months to travel both in Japan and in France and have been doing HelpX as a way of travelling and experiencing the life of the people for the past few weeks.

Although I am one of the older "willing helpers" at aged 62 I can hold my own according to the last host who had me collecting, loading and stacking Oak firewood 6 hours a day for most of the HelpX stay. It has been interesting to be on the other side of the experience and be the stranger in another person's home, to witness a little of their life and to be part of a cultural work exchange.
Some of the cut wood at the French HelpX
Just from this one HelpX so far, I can see that actually
those who came to Caretaker Farm were given a lot of trust,
freedom and the opportunity to offer their own particular skills
and talents to various farm projects or goals.

 Also the work hours were less and the opportunity to exchange between host and other helpers much greater.
 The same kind of family dynamics seem to operate however in all host households and any helper is able, if sensitive, to feel any emotional happenings in the household just as some of those who have been to Caretaker Farm will have felt ours.

My own sad days and happy days will have been as apparent to the various helpers who have lived with our family just as I as a helper was able  to feel some emotional issues at the host farm I just recently left.

Unfortunately the numbers of people doing volunteer exchange work through organisations such as HelpX and WWOOFing seems to be decreasing world wide as various governments tighten up their visa requirements for such volunteers. In New Zealand for example volunteers wanting to participate in such exchange must hold work visas and according to my French HelpX host this kind of participation is seen by the French government as illegal.

Further,  some hosts within movements such as WWOOF and HelpX have used this exchange system to "exploit' foreign workers and others that operate as true "commercial businesses" have used these workers as a way of avoiding actually paying for staff and/or paying employee taxes.

This kind of exploitation and tax avoidance operation however is not the norm, and so what has been a great opportunity for true cultural exchange as well as the sharing and or gaining of skills between host and volunteer, especially on small farm holdings, is under threat by "narrow rule-based" thinking by bureaucrats who have no real knowledge about a system of cultural exchange that offers far more than it sucks from the economy of a nation.

I offer up this chapter of words and images to explain a little to those interested my own experience at Caretaker Farm and beyond over the past 28 years. It is my first draft and will be added to as the book I am writing comes together as I am now determined to finish "Full Circle-a journey of toilets I have known".

Friday, 31 August 2018

Who Fights For Plants




We live in a world where there are people who fight for animal rights or citizen rights but who fights for the rights of plants to grow where they will, to not be cut or harvested before they go through their own natural cycle-i.e to make flowers, then seed, to die and come again if they are in the right spot.

Humans take plants for granted. We do not notice them particularly, pull ones out of the ground which we call weeds, control them through cutting their limbs as in the case of fruit trees so they can make us more fruit or so that the shape and size fits our specifications.

However without plants our species would die along with many other organisms because we eat either plants or other organisms that eat plants.




Plants provide us with food, fiber, shelter, medicine, and fuel. The basic food for all organisms is produced by green plants. In the process of food production, oxygen is released. This oxygen, which we obtain from the air we breathe, is essential to life.


Earth is called a green planet because of the presence of plants. Plants are essential to the balance of nature and in people's lives because plants are the only thing that are able to convert the suns energy into food and in the process convert the carbon dioxide that animals make eating each other and plants back into oxygen.They are also most essential part of the life of all the organisms living on the earth. Plants maintain the atmosphere. They produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.When people breathe, it is the oxygen that we take out of the air in order to keep our cells and bodies alive.




How many plant species are there in the world? Scientists now have an answer. There are about 391,000 species of vascular plants currently known to science, of which about 369,000 species (or 94 percent) are flowering plants, according to a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the United Kingdom produced in May 2016.


There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. However, there are hundreds of less well known edible plants from all around the world which are both delicious and nutritious.

Not only are there benefits from outdoor plants but the plants kept indoor also provide benefits for humans, in particular indoor plants reduce carbon dioxide levels, increase humidity, reduce levels of certain pollutants, such as benzene and nitrogen dioxide, reduce airborne dust levels and keep air temperatures down. Therefore all office environments can benefit from having indoor plants.




For all the reasons stated above I believe it is worth fighting for plants and at Caretaker Farm in NZ, using natural agriculture growing methods and permaculture design, plants have been allowed to have the right to be plants-I have allowed them their rights.






To understand some of the philosophy of Caretaker Farm watch the following video 
https://drive.google.com/open?id=17duRQCj1FvkxWC_nwDrgyusk8dXEZt6v

                         and remember we all need to fight for plants.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

June at Caretaker Farm

In June 2017 work on the farm involving our wwoofers was all about gardening-planting food, taking out and planting flower cuttings, pruning trees, mulching and tidying up around trees and garden areas now winter is upon us.

At the last new moon we created seed raising boxes from old bookshelves recuperated from the Old Bakehouse Market shop. As you can see below we covered the seed with straw and within 2 weeks the seeds were sprouting up.
The work on the new raised winter garden on the top ridge continues as we plant and plant-unfortunately in 2017 the turkeys, possums and various insect predators were making this hard-a few herbs-borage, calendula, rosemary-were hanging in there despite nibbling and a pumpkin decided to grow despite the winter cool.
 Then there is the wood gathering and chopping-lots of branches, cut logs still laying on the ground where they were cut by Adrian in 2916 to be collected, split and stacked-gum, pine and kanuka.
 The raised-bed extension garden has proven a successful surprise in that despite the beds only having sticks, slip clay, ash, eggshells and composting leaves, branches with no real soil, the rescued plants from the matakana community garden that we replanted did very well-shoefly, calendula, borage, heartease, fennel, and small replanted vegetable seedlings all flourishing in this newly created garden space.


A big change at the farm in 2017 saw the removal of the 20 year plus fig tree on the left behind the clothes line pictured below-visitors arriving at the farm couldn't see the main house which was Dorothy's home. Because we needed a space close to the main house and dairy to build two showers and another compost toilet plus increased parking the fig tree had to be cut down-luckily cuttings taken from this fig tree have been planted on many other places on the farm.




 Fabrice was the brave one to slowly cut down the tree-it took him several days and the fig wood is drying near the caravan- larger logs, small sticks and then bits for the compost.

The removal of the fig tree has changed the energy in the front yard completely.  For years there has been no ability to see the front gate from the house as the tree had blocked the view. People also had to fight there way under the branches, especially when the tree was laden with figs. For Audrey the cutting of the tree while necessary was also traumatic. Trees are her passion and she has always been terrible at pruning and trimming let alone removing them all together.

The front yard after the removal of the fig tree

At this time Caretaker Farm has 4 woofers helping at present-Sarah from Seattle, Travis from the UK, Marie from Japan and Julien from France.

Now in 2018 the following pictures show the garden up the top and the new front entrance down the bottom. Still no extra showers and toilet, due to a lack of funds, and no wwoofers anymore either for the same reason but the farm muddles on now offering backpacker accommodation and accommodation for long-stayer local workers. Audrey produces 4 different herbal healing balms using the wonderful plants growing on Caretaker Farm.
The new top garden summer 2017/18
The herb spiral in the top garden

The top garden in winter 2018
The new front fence courtesy of Guil.


 Now the winter Solstice has passed and Matariki is almost over we can expect the light to return and everything on Caretaker Farm to keep growing and growing......




Monday, 30 January 2017

Creating a garden anywhere using "Natural Agriculture"as shown by Masanobu Fukuoka


Many people think it is too hard to create a garden or worry that they havent got room but I have found that it is much easier than you think if you do a raised bed effort using cardboard, woodchips or leaves, coffee, clay soil and compost. I am too old to dig and frankly having heavy clay soils makes digging almost impossible so this is the alternative which is still effective.

This is a garden created on Caretaker Farm in early summer 2015. 

plants regrowing in 2016
a raised bed garden created in 2015











The same garden reproducing itself in May 2017
This garden was the first using some of the principles of Masanobu Fukuoka-seeds planted in clay bullets and then some plants allowed to reproduce....Coriander, Parsley, Kale even strawberries sending out runners so 20 original plants become 80.


Self-seeded Corinader

Self-seeded Parsley

The following garden named "Pen Duick" was created in October/November 2016 with the help of wwoofers.

The area for the garden is cleared and fenced
Cardboard/paper is placed to cover the whole site











leaves are laid over the cardboard to create the beds

clay soil covers the leaves

the clay is broken up for the garden


compost followed by lime powder is sprinkled over the clay




Seeds are scattered and then covered with straw
The finished garden














Pak Choi growing a week later
Zucchini plants coming through the straw













The garden view from the bottom


Following the methods of  Masanobu Fukuoka of "Natural Agriculture", I scattered red and white clover with the various vegetable seed so that a living green mulch would help in the dry weather to keep the plants alive-below is the result now January 31 2017, three months after starting this garden. 



Cucumber plants within a living clover mulch
The garden partially cleared early May 2017
View of Pen Duick garden May 2017


Gardens do not have to be big to produce lots of food. 

Straw mulching and a garden place with lots of light allows salad to be grown over winter.
Garden pickings in winter