All posts by ecothriftymama

Nature Play- Our weekly breath of fresh air


I’m back.

After weeks, no months, wait… years?!? of not writing I am finally exiting out of baby-landia and getting back in the game. All of a sudden I have two actual kids, no more babies, and am finding that I actually have time to think about life. Time to contribute to something beyond the changing of bums and filling of mouths and “uppies mama”. So I thought I’d start by writing again.

I’ll start in with an easy post. What have I been doing for the past few years? You know aside from the whole diapering and feeding and holding. Which, believe me, is enough. Way more than enough. Enough to fill many a day and night.

But, on the days when I did have some spare energy, I’ve been a part of a mini movement in Whanganui. A movement of committed and sometimes slightly looney parents who are revitalizing the lost art of playing outside. Yep. Just playing. Outside. It is awesome.


We started as a few of us just getting together, then we became a facebook group, and currently we meet up weekly as a play group. It is the best part of my week, hands down, every week.

There is a lot that goes into the philosophy behind Forest Kindergartens and Forest Schools, and I am sure I will go into it in more detail in later posts. It has become a bit of a passion for me now. But put most simply, I love our nature play days because they allow me, no force me, to stop and just be with my kids in nature.

We play. We run. We splash. It is really that simple.

I don’t spend as much time outside with my kids as I want to. And the time we do spend is often while I am doing a chore, or my mind is occupied thinking about what chores I could be doing. Nature play is a scheduled interruption from that cycle. It is a forced pause in our lives to spend time as our “Zone Five” selves.

No matter the weather, or adventure, or misadventure (i.e. massive steep hill climb with toddlers in tow only to find out you’re headed the wrong way) the results are always positive. Nature play = happy mama = happy kids.

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The Vegetarian Butcher

“Now that you’ve cleaned a chicken’s bum, I think it’s time to write your first blog post,” he says.

“Makes sense,” I say.

The Vegetarian Butcher

In the span of two days, I assisted in skinning a sheep; watched its butchering; plucked, gutted, and prepped a chicken. Farm life, am I right? That’s a lot of flesh and blood for a vegetarian celebrating five meat-free years and a year of being vegan-ish.


I’d wanted to be a vegetarian since a very young age, in hopes of being more like 8-year-old environmental activist Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons. I didn’t take the plunge though, until I was 17 and decided I was done supporting factory farms. I did so somewhat begrudgingly because I had (have) a soft spot for meatloaf and chicken tenders and still claim that I’d cave for either, so long as it was smothered in ketchup. I’ve stayed strong, though, and even moved towards a vegan lifestyle last December, excited about the added challenge to cook without the use of animal products. My college running coach wasn’t so thrilled—through university, I was averaging 100km, three weightlifting sessions, and assorted cross training every week—but I felt incredible! I was eating cleanly, feeling fueled, and morally sound.


Here, as is typical of a farm, the animals are workers. Where Kaitiaki differs, however, is in the tasks expected of the animals. In permaculture, the long-term health of the land must be considered in every decision made. By housing the majority of our poultry in tractors that are shifted daily to new grass, the ducks and chickens are providing a service without degrading the land. In a stationary poultry run, the birds are compacting the soil, stripping away grass, digging ruts, and accumulating poo that’s fertilizing nothing. Eventually there’s no fresh grass or insects for the birds to eat and the land underneath is unsuitable for future cultivation.

dsc_2631There is the added task of moving the tractors each morning, but this tiny pec/delt/shoulder workout is hardly a nuisance when considering the range of good done by our feathered farmhands. While chickens and ducks are for meat and eggs on any other farm, those are merely added bonuses here—rather than demanding eggs from the birds, we graciously accept them as gifts.

So when misfortunes fall upon our animals (i.e. broken limbs or little dogs), it’s time to put my tofu-centric views aside and utilize Holmgren’s third, fifth, sixth, and twelfth permaculture design principle: obtain a yield; use and value renewable resources and services; produce no waste; creatively use and respond to change. In permaculture, we are quick to learn that looking at the big picture and the long term can surmount what seems desirable (or undesirable) in the moment. In this instance, an animal lost is a meal gained. I’ve always said that I’d rather eat meat than see it thrown in the trash; I might soon have to eat my words.

-Liz (Illinois, USA)

What I have Learned About (Permanent) Agriculture

When I arrived to New Zealand a month ago, I had no idea how it would be to work on a permaculture farm. I hardly had any idea of what permaculture was about. I grew up at a hobby farm with 190ha and have recently been working on a duck farm with 500ha, so I thought that the Lebo family’s 5ha would be ‘piece of cake’. But I was wrong!


My home country, Denmark is, like New Zealand a proud farm country. We produce a lot of grains and potatoes on our very flat landscape. I expected to see something similar here. But arriving in New Zealand has taught me that not only climate, but also landscape decides what the farmers grow and produce on their land. New Zealand has the most beautiful hilled landscape, where it’s often impossible to plow a field. Instead they produce a lot of wool and dairy from sheep and cows that easily graze on the hillsides.
The Lebo family has been taking advantage of the landscape of their property as well. Not only for their own benefit but also to benefit nature and the environment.


Their farm is 99% organic, where vegetables are grown in the flat parts of the property, while cows, sheep and goats are fed with grass from the hillsides. They have rehabilitated the biology of the soil of a compacted horse field, where they today grow lots of garlic, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and different kinds of fruit trees. They have started rehabilitation of wetland on their property, and planted poplars to keep the soil from sliding down the hill. All of this has already proven worthwhile and will continue to pay off in the future, to them and to the environment, which I found out is exactly what permaculture is about. Permaculture (Permanent agriculture) is about working with nature instead of fighting against it.

Since the day I came to the farm, we have been working hard on both small and bigger projects. I have been fighting thorny thistles and gorse with loppers and a spade. I have been fencing in the hills, which I find ten times harder than fencing in flat Denmark. I have planted, transplanted and watered hundreds of trees and vegetables. I have been weeding, feeding and sweating in the burning sun and I got to know the world’s best tool; the stirrup hoe.


At a permaculture farm you have a small scale but big variation in plants and animals, which gives you different kinds of chores than on a traditional farm, which is often specialised in a curtain plant or animal. I knew that farming was hard work, but at this farm we do everything by hand and tools. No machines. That is hard work – and fun work. It gives me skills that I have never thought, I would get, and I am looking forward to learning more the next few months.

-Rikke (from Randers, Denmark)

Guest Post: Aimless Musings on The E.C.O. School.

James has been working with us as an intern for five weeks. Here are some of his thoughts so far.

There are few who would consider farming and food production spiritual endeavors. I personally never connected the two seemingly-separate pursuits for years. My time at the Eco School in Whanganui has changed my view of what it means to be a farmer, and I can no longer imagine farming without taking spirituality into account. The complex systems involved in farming extend well beyond the material and physical world, and bring the spiritual dimension into clear view. Becoming an expert in a single pursuit often reveals insight into all other aspects of life. As Miyamoto Musashi states in the Book of Five Rings, “If you know the way broadly you will see it in all things.”

I hesitate to even use the term “farmer,” as it is not farming that is being done at the Eco School, in the traditional sense of the word. “Farming” is far too simplistic a term, conjuring up images of depressed barns, monotonous rows of wheat and corn, swaths of tired land, and maybe some dreary-eyed cows huddled together on a worn patch of mud. No, this certainly does not give an accurate picture of the Eco School. While difficult to label and neatly box up, the activities here consist of (but are not limited to) animal and crop husbandry, land management, forest and wilderness stewardship, regeneration of soil biology, and philosophical education. I do not think the casual observer would associate anything from the previous list of activities with farming other than “animal and crop husbandry” as I certainly did not so many years ago. However, all of these activities are interconnected, and one cannot be done without the other.

To raise animals or crops for human consumption, as the word “farming” implies, we must first have a piece of land. I have learned that in New Zealand, a solid and unmoving piece of land cannot be taken for granted the same way it can in, say, Nebraska. It is concerning to see the abundance of fallen chunks of earth on surrounding hillsides. These slips, as they are called, are due to unwise grazing practices and weather events, which are unfortunately increasing in both frequency and severity. If a farmer wishes to continue utilizing her piece of land, she cannot be a passive victim of these events. She must proactively deal with these slips before they arise by planting trees, avoiding over-grazing (or grazing at all depending on the slope of the hill), and safely diverting and diffusing floodwaters. Animal access to streams must be limited to reduce erosion and water pollution. A farmer must plant trees to save the hillsides from disintegrating into the rivers or streams below, where they will be washed into the ocean. Yes, New Zealand is literally being washed away to sea by these indiscriminate events of weather. The farmer must dig ditches to drain fast-moving and dangerous waters away from steep slopes; she must displace this water so it can slowly be absorbed and used purposefully, and she must plant native plants that typically thrive in these environments. As Nelson, the patriarchal figure of the Eco School says, she must turn a liability into an asset.


Drought is as much a pertinent issue as is flooding and erosion, and must be addressed as well. Water stores need to be utilized or created to effectively deal with drought, and nothing holds water more readily and efficiently than wetlands. At the Eco School, we have strategically planted several hundred individuals of native species that serve several purposes. In times of flooding, they hold the hillsides together. In times of drought, they hold moisture that can be redirected to other areas of the farm. These planted areas will soon resemble native wetlands/forest, requiring yet another set of management practices. The reader should keep in mind that we began with the simple endeavor of raising animals for food. We have progressed to planting trees and native wetland species to fight erosion and favorably manipulate water, entering into the surprisingly-complex realms of land management, forestry, and wilderness stewardship.


We can finally get to both the literal and metaphorical meat and potatoes of farming. Once a piece of land is established as stable and usable, it can be utilized for crops/animals for human consumption. Remember that a significant portion of the land is closed off to husbandry of any sort, as it is dedicated to wilderness area, forestry, or otherwise not feasible to raise animals or crops on. Pastures and crop fields can be made of the remaining land. Thinking ahead, one must wonder: how will these fields continue to produce food 1, 5, 10, 100 years from now? They will require some type of fertilization or regeneration. This is best done by use of animals and their by-products. Poultry and ruminant species are used in combination with food crops and pasture to mutually sustain one another. The animals produce fertilizer and compost to feed the crops and pasture, which in turn produce food for the animals. Over time, these grazing practices add matter and biological components to the topsoil. Perhaps counter-intuitively, this makes the land more productive over time as opposed to depleting soil fertility. This means that the farmer’s children and grandchildren will be able to produce more food per unit of land than the previous generation. This of course assumes that the farmer and each subsequent generation use some of the responsible and sustainable practices I have attempted to illustrate.


We end up coming full circle. I could have begun or ended the discussion with the necessity for philosophical education on a farm like the Eco School. There is no place for chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or profit-centric thinking on a holistic farm that aims to be sustainable in its practice. A profit-centric view would scoff at turning potential grazing areas into forestry or wetlands, and would wonder why we need to bother with compost when we can simply treat pasture with chemical fertilizers each year. This is the prevailing view in our world, and unfortunately it is the same view that has so massively contributed to climate change, pollution, and arguably the diseases and disorders that now plague many western societies (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.). When we eat an animal that has eaten herbicide-treated, chemical-fed grass or grain, it is a small wonder why we get sick. When this animal is free to defecate in rivers and stomp over steep hillsides, it does not take extensive investigation to uncover causes of water pollution and where the land is going. Thus, the issue at hand is not one of technological advancement or a matter of accumulating knowledge. We know what the problems are, where they are coming from, and how to fix them. The issue boils down to a fundamental difference in philosophies. A typical farmer chases dollars at the expense of all other factors, which is again why I am so hesitant to call what is done at the Eco School “farming.”


The “KAITIAKI” sign hangs above the main entrance to the house, a constant reminder of the farm’s philosophical foundation.

Signs hang over both the entrance to the driveway as well as main house inscribed with the word “KAITIAKI”. When I asked what this word meant at the dinner table one night, it led to an interesting and spirited discussion, as is typical here. My understanding of the word is that it refers to a guardian of the land, one who protects and manages in a responsible, productive, protective, and helpful way. This differs I think from a steward in that stewardship implies a superiority over the land, that the land was put here for our use, care, or exploitation. I find “Kaitiaki” to be a far superior descriptor for the happenings at the Eco School in Whanganui than “farmer.” A philosophy steeped in sustainability and responsibility to one’s community is embedded in that word, and a pursuit of monetary or material gain does not begin to come to mind.


A family member recently asked me how one can be spiritual without believing in God or something greater than ourselves. This prompted an extensive internal dialogue with myself, and I wondered how to articulate my thoughts on the subject in an eloquent way. I have settled on the thought that recognition of the spiritual dimension boils down not to necessarily believing that something external is greater than ourselves, but simply in recognizing that there is more to reality than the merely-physical.

Certainly, one can see that a kaitiaki is not concerned with the material world alone. In some sense, a kaitiaki must recognize that there is more to our occupation in life than pursuit of money or material gain. Otherwise, they would see the world as a means to an end, they would see their acreage as potential dollar signs. On the contrary, a kaitiaki sees value in each part of their acreage because of its relation to the whole. Each aspect of the land depends on every other aspect, and they create a workable system together. If one piece is missing from the puzzle, the big picture is not realized or even able to function. A kaitiaki takes a holistic view to food production.

I have come to see farming as intrinsically spiritual. A true farmer, or kaitiaki, sees the world as interconnected, each aspect just as valuable as the last. No part of the land is more important or valuable than another. When one can see the interconnectedness in something as simple as a piece of land, one begins to see the interconnectedness of all things. One acknowledges that CEOs of corporations could not produce if the garbagemen did not come pick up his waste, that the field cannot grow without decay, that birth cannot be without death. There is simply not one without the other. What is more spiritual than the realization that opposites are intrinsically contained within another—in other words, that all things are contained in another, that everything is ultimately made of the same “stuff,” that everything is ultimately unified as one?


A pumpkin plant sprouts from a decaying pile of compost, a vivid illustration that birth cannot exist without death.


Permaculture is about changing the way you think

This is a guest post written by Marina and Heloisa – two interns from Brazil who have just finished their time with us. 

“Exciting!” That was the last word I heard from Dani before she came to pick us up at the bus station and since then this is what has been happening. 🙂

Every day a new discovery, a new point of view (I’ll never look at the bare hills with the same eyes again), a new lesson, a new challenge, a new chance of earning Verti’s love again 🙂 , a new farm adventure and lots of problems and solutions to be found. As Nelson says, there is always an emergency – this is a farm!

Every day when we wake up, there is always a list:blog1

Based on the priorities (if there is no emergency like taking rebel chickens back to their coop or rescuing lost goats) we move on, usually performing:

2 jobs in one – Digging the pond…blog2

… and transferring the clay to protect a sliding bankblog3

Transforming a liability (fallen leaves on the road)…blog4

… into an asset (the leaves will work as mulch to retain the water in the soil)blog5

Along the way we had some communication problems due to our native language being Portuguese (like: “there is a buffalo in your property”, but actually it was a bull 🙂






But as Dani and Nelson are “natural born” teachers, confusion always ended up as a lesson.

Nelson and Dani complete each other: Nelson is a very knowledgeable person that is completely transforming their land to give back all of the resources to nature that have been taken from it in the past and Dani is a very open and people person – always giving some key tips and willing to transfer all her knowledge no matter what (yipee, two more people trying to make the world a better place and accessible to everyone!!). By the way Dani, you are a really brave woman: mom 24 hours/day, Spanish teacher, Kindy teacher, Internship teacher, consulting professional and you still can find some time to cook, eat and sleep J

This month and half we had at Kaitiaki farm was a really intense experience – we had lots of internal conflicts but what helped us to learn how to respect others way of life and Nelson and Dani helped us to transform ourselves – as Nelson says, permaculture is about changing the way you think.

Nelson and Dani, thank you very much for opening your house and life to us! We’ll feel eternally thankful for that (and will try to put in practice all the lessons learned as well as spread everything you taught us). Thank you very much for all the moments and all the great and organic meals 🙂 (this is something that the interns will never feel… hungry!!)


All grown at Kaitiaki: chicken, pumpkins, courgette, tomatoes, potatoes, lime, rosemary, thyme and much love!

-Marina & Heloisa

Sorting Bowls – Natural Play at 18 Months

Eco Thrifty Baby hit the big 18 month mark a few days ago. While tidying up her room I realized that the same bunch of toys had been in heavy rotation for a while, thanks to getting prime position on her shelves, rather than tossed into the basket. Time to switch things up, I suppose.
Looking at her toy basket, I was having a hard time finding lesser used toys to promote. I feel like we have enough toys. I would even say we have a lot of toys. But compared to most play rooms our stash probably looks small. But, I don’t really want to run out and buy her any more toys. Quality over quantity, right? So how do we keep her stimulated and engaged using the toys we have?

Well, ETB has long been an afficionado of containers. Tupperware and recylcing being two of her favorite varieties. She also lately really likes matching and puzzles. So, to make use of some of her toys in a new way, I created some sorting bowls.

I gathered a variety of objects, each in multiple colors. Put everything into some wooden bowls we found at an op shop ages ago. And voila! A cornucopia of colorful, sensory, brain working stimuli.

IMG_4613Of course, ETB promptly came in and dumped everything out all over the floor. But then….

We started putting things back into the bowls together.Me picking up objects and handing them to ETB to put in a bowl. I still had color on the brain, but ETB started sorting by type of object. SHE’S A GENIUS!! Well, maybe not. But I was super impressed. We sorted and dumped for about a half hour. Almost a week later she is still really into it, although she gets angry at me if I try to put things into the “wrong” bowl. Sometimes its hard to tell her method, but I am sure that orange necklace and blue clothes peg have some similarity that I wasn’t seeing. (Silent “e” perhaps?).

IMG_4608   I am sure that educational theorists would say that this is teaching her brain how to categorize and conceptualize and blah blah blah. What I know is that it meets a deep need in her to order things and tidy things (a need I don’t have an ounce of). It also seems to be keeping her out of our recycling for the time being.