Last updated 09:17 21/08/2014
Free-range: Poultry at the Marton farm of Max and Suzanne Varney.
It is a long way from New York to Marton, but Max Varney is pleased he made the journey.
He says he wouldn’t go back to where he was raised, except to visit his family – his parents and four sisters.
“The boys escaped,” he says, referring to himself and his brother, who is in Australia.
Max Varney came to New Zealand as an 18-year-old backpacker.
He hadn’t been here long when he met Suzanne. They were both picking apples in Motueka. It was love at almost first sight, and they got married five months later.
“We lived in a van and travelled about the country for 18 months,” Suzanne says.
Then they found their dream home and farmlet they could run their way, 3.5 hectares at Marton.
Suzanne’s parents are there, and that was partly why they chose that neck of the woods.
They live an alternative lifetstyle and like it that way.
“We have five goats, free range hens, rabbits, pigs and sheep and we will have a house cow – she’s a heifer, so we haven’t mated her yet.”
Max and Suzanne try to be as self-sufficient as they can.
“Unfortunately, the law says you can’t sell cheese. We still have to buy flour and rice, and pay rates. You can stress out trying to be self sufficient.”
Max says, in the end, trying to be self sufficient in everything is more costly to their health than it’s worth.
“It’s an incremental evolution. You find ways to produce one thing, then it’s on to the next. “You can’t be too pedantic. Otherwise, you could drive yourself crazy.”
He works part-time on a nearby conventional dairy farm, and milks once each day.
“They’re great people – and it’s the best dairy farm I have been on; they look after their animals. But the farming is not my way. We have some good discussions there and nobody forces their opinions on anyone else.”
Max and Suzanne have three milking goats. Another two are in-kid and due to give birth soon. They say kids are the funniest creatures, likeable, inquisitive and intelligent – they are always trying new things.
The family drinks milk from the three hand-milked goats, but because it is low in fat, it’s hard to make cheese.
But Suzanne says it is naturally homogenised and they like it.
They have some kunekune pigs, more because they like them than for eating. They are known to have a lot of fat. But some other breeds of pigs are grown for eating.
“Rabbits are the quickest and most efficient producers of meat. The term breed-like-rabbits comes to mind,” Max says.
They have sheep to keep the grass under control, and they eat some lamb meat.
It is about being responsible and knowing animals have had a good life.
“Many people are totally disconnected from their food now. They buy meat and milk in a supermarket and don’t know where it has come from.”
They have two children – Hazel, 6, and Lennon, 9.
Both Max and Suzanne say that on a farm, the children get to deal with and know about life and death. Both children are home-schooled.
“Our main reason for home schooling is we don’t want our children to be indocrintated in mainstream. consumeristic life. That is school’s main purpose,” said Suzanne.
Hazel is working at the table doing her letters when I arrive. She reads from some of the many preserves that Suzanne has made.
Green tomatoes fill one jar, another is quince jam, and there is plum chutney. They fill a row of the dresser in the warm kitchen- dining room.
Two cats sit by the fire lazily, Sally and Puke, and their dog, a small wiry animal called Floyd, wants a pat, and then watches proceedings. He gets on well with the cats.
They have livestock, but it is trees they are keen on, and permaculture.
“We have planted more than 100 fruit trees. Apples, pears, plums and some citrus. And we’re going to experiment with avocados, macadamias, pomegranate and persimmons,” Max says.
He says getting those established seems to be the tough part.
Permaculture means nothing by way of fertiliser or water is brought in, rather everything is composted and water that falls on the property is used. Nothing is brought in to make it more fertile – they say the system creates its own fertility.
“A forest is healthier and just as productive. Some are hundreds of years old and supporting lots of people,” Suzanne says.
Max says he hopes in time people will become less driven by consumerism.
“The thing about farming in New Zealand is, we say we’re clean and green but there is topsoil loss, depletion of the soil and desertification. Farms are propped up by artificial chemicals and fertilisers.”
He says it is only that there are so few people in the country that New Zealand can continue to make these “green” claims.
Max says there is never a dull moment, or not something to do, on their small farm, such as making cheese and breadmaking.
It started off as an organic block, but Max says when they read about permaculture, they decided to change direction.
He says they have moved away from commercial meat, fruit and vegetables production and towards a food forest and more perennial vegetables and less meat.
They have link up with the volunteers through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) programme. The volunteers are known as WWOOFers.
The WWOOFers work for food and shelter rather than payment. It happens all over the world and others have worked on the property.
“It’s an exchange of more than work for food and accommodation. It’s about learning from each other, sharing the abundance we’re creating and pondering ideas,” Suzanne says.
Permaculture is all about food produced on the property. It means their lawn is not mown (rabbits keep it down) and the place is not conventionally tidy.
“We are more about what we can eat from the place, than keeping it pristine, and that upsets some people.”
Max works part-time because it suits them. He says most farms are driven by profit.
“We’d rather have time than money. I make enough to get by on.”
– Manawatu Standard