Expanding trust horizons in Karangi
A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday 6th April, 2013
In February last year , Canada-based blogger Nicole Foss (www.automaticearth.com) spoke at the Cavanbagh Centre in Coffs Harbour, as part of her speaking tour of Australia and New Zealand. Nicole is now back in Australia for another speaking tour, though she won’t be visiting Coffs on this occasion.
In Coffs as elsewhere, Nicole offered her perspective on what she terms the unfolding ‘deflationary depression’, caused by the build-up of unsustainable debt levels throughout the global economy, combined with the anticipated impacts of dwindling supplies of cheap energy. Events in many countries in southern Europe would seem to offer early confirmation of her analysis.
Nicole also talked about the shrinking ‘trust horizon’ that she believes will accompany a prolonged economic contraction. She argues that ‘relationships of trust are the glue that holds societies together’; and while in good times trust expands and the sense of ‘us vs them’ recedes, the opposite is true when hard times fall.
Putting this in a wider historical context, Dr Ben Habib of La Trobe University notes how the Chinese people coped with around 140 years of upheaval, revolution and war from the 1830s to the 1970s by ‘drawing on a cultural practice called guanxi (pronounced “gwan-shee”) which is about maintaining networks of ongoing personal relationships based on mutual benefit through reciprocal ties and obligations.” It was guanxi, according to Dr Habib, that enabled ‘greater social stability at the local level in China than would otherwise have existed during this turbulent period.’
Enter Sam Mihelffy, who migrated to the Coffs Coast with her husband Aaron and young family from Noosa five years ago. They bought a 34-acre property in Karangi, with established stands of citrus, pecans, macadamia, avocado and custard apples. They added some blueberries, apple trees, a vegie garden and most recently dragon fruit; and for the first time in their lives became farmers.
At the start, they weren’t ready for taking on this sort of life project. “It was mind-blowing”, says Sam. “We definitely moved in there with our hearts and not our heads, we didn’t really take on the concept of growing on such a large scale. It’s been a massive learning curve, and we’ve only really scratched the surface. But it’s something you evolve with, it’s really exciting.”
They diversified the farm by fencing it into three paddocks and adding a flock of 30 sheep, three alpacas, six ducks, a shetland pony and a pet pig. So was born the concept of ‘Me-Healthy Farm’ (a play on their name, Mihelffy), a ‘whole farm’ experience. Sam and Aaron opened the farm on Sundays for friends and the public to visit, buy fresh local produce at the farm shop (both from their own farm and nearby properties), and relax with a cup of coffee and some homemade cake, while kids could run around and feed the animals.
Providing that direct connection with farm animals was a big part of Sam’s motivation. “A lot of kids, even in Coffs Harbour, don’t have that experience, not even with the sheep”, says Sam. “A baby lamb being fed, they have no concept of that, so it’s really that we could show kids, hey look, this is what it’s like to live on a farm, come and have that experience for the day.”
And the concept proved very popular. “The fact that the kids could roam free was a great pull for parents”, Sam says. “They got excited about the fact that they could chill out, the kids could feed the animals – there were so many different aspects. And get some fresh produce. It was a real experience – and we don’t have that happening any more [in modern society].”
Sadly though Sam and Aaron have had to pause it for the time being, because the amount of work involved in having their farm open every Sunday with a farm shop, was proving to be too much with a young family. But it’s time could come again – and given the need to strengthen our trust horizons – it might be sooner than later.
In Sam’s words, “This is where we should all be going. It’s really what we want to do. It wasn’t just about us – it was about our local community, [about] all the local products of the area. This is what we need to do, get back into that trading idea, someone specialises in garlic, someone specialises in ginger, someone’s doing beef, someone’s doing honey. If anything ever happens, we need to create that community where we can support each other.”