Our Story From Suburbia To Sustainable Living

Debbie Hunt of An Alternative Life Learning Centre

We (Deb and Kieron) were always passionate about our environment and sustainable living particularly after spending many years studying food security and working for an international development agency which was at the time focused on assisting small scale farmers around the world build resilience to climate impacts.

We were living a typical suburban life and knew that we were personally contributing to the problem, like everyone we considered ourselves to be “doing our bit” but we also knew recycling, walking to the shops and turning off the lights were things we did simply reduced our guilt. Our guilt over having a large 4WD and using excessive energy to run luxury items like pool filters, air conditioning and clothes dryers rather than significantly reducing our personal impact on the planet.

We wanted to do things differently, to see if we could find a way to reduce our personal impact, to increase our connection to nature and to live off the grid without all the luxuries. We wanted to find out if living our version of “An Alternative Life” was possible, so in 2012 we found a partially cleared off the grid bush bock, packed up and moved our family of four teenagers, two dogs, and 4 chooks from the suburban living on the central coast to our new home here on the farm in Bungonia NSW.

The property itself was a completely undeveloped bush block, the front half had been strip cleared except a few large gums and the previous owner planted some rows of radiata pine, leaving the clay soils exposed to the baking sun through numerous years of drought, the land was more like concrete than soil when we arrived. The back half of the block had thankfully been left as remanent bushland.

Determined to improve the land, soils and environment we set aside around 30% of the front half of the block for regeneration areas, we started with the area just up the slope from the cabin which now also acts as a wind break for the recently installed and planted cider orchard. Home to numerous small insect-eating birds, micro bats and reptiles which take care of the vast majority of pests in orchards and food gardens.

The growing conditions here are tough, it gets cold in Winter as lowest recorded temp since 2012 has been -10.6C and ridiculously hot in Summer with a maximum temp recorded at 48.8C in January 2020. The elevation of the farm is 740m and we regularly have very strong winds up to 100km/hour. Rainfall averages around 550 – 630 mm per year in drought years the average is around 330mm.

The soil here is extremely hard and nutrient poor. We keep and breed a number of heritage chickens and ducks using a deep mulch system in the coups they turn mulch and scraps into nutrient rich soil which we dig out of the coups every 6 – 12 weeks, we use in the gardens and to fertilise the fruit trees and replace the mulch in the coups. The ducks, chickens, native birds and reptiles are responsible for pest control in all of the gardens, we do not use sprays or chemical inputs of any kind, our motto “we work with nature, not against it.”

Creating climate resilient food systems have always been the focus of the farm and we believe we are one of if not Australia’s first purpose-built climate resilient farm. We have assessed the climate risks of the future and are constantly diversifying and adapting our food growing strategies to cope with increasing extreme weather events and unreliable seasons so that we have the capacity to continue to harvest food year-round now and into the future. The produce we grow on the farm is our primary source of food, providing 80% of our food needs and is our primary sources of income. We sell our fresh produce via at local markets, and through various outlets via the Open Food Network. Our upscaled herbal teas/ sauces and sustainable gifts are available from our online store.





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