It was our last day in Cooktown and as we strolled through the botanic gardens, Dave’s phone rang. It was a Helpx host asking if we were available to stay for around a week or so and work on their property located 20km outside of town. It wasn’t part of our plan but we agreed to meet later that day.
Peter is the owner of Zazen – which translates to “the source” – a biodynamic permaculture farm that grows a large variety of herbs, fruit and vegetables and is also home to pigs, ducks, chickens, turkeys, peacocks, Lulu the cow, Buddy the dog, and Thom the cat. Only a quarter of the 40 acre block has been cleared for farming, and the rest is natural rainforest. Peter lives there with his wife Saeng and daughter Bo.
On arrival, we were welcomed with a big hug from Saeng and it wasn’t long before we felt right at home. Our accommodation was a bamboo bungalow hidden away in the rainforest and meals were eaten at the house. During our time at Zazen, we met many great people, including another farmer from Yungaburra, and Pat and Meg from Daylesford in Victoria, who were cycling around the east coast of Australia with their dog Zero and 2 year old son Woody. They are Artist As Family – check out their blog.
The farm is managed by both biodynamic and permaculture principles. Biodynamic farming is very basically described as holistic agriculture that incorporates spirituality and mysticism. Permaculture is “permanent agriculture”, which uses sustainable and self-sufficient farming methods based on natural ecosystems.
Produce grown on the farm include Cavendish bananas, paw paw, hot chillies, cherry tomatoes, various herbs, snake beans, avocado, taro and sweet potato, pineapple and eggplant. There were also chickens and ducks that produced magnificent eggs, while pigs and cows provided meat.
Peter also owns a small milling machine and cuts timber that he has fallen from his property. He built the dwelling on the property and is currently in the process of building another house using the timber that he has milled.
Juz’s duties included waking up at the crack of dawn to let the birds out of their coop. She would also collect the chicken and duck eggs and sprinkle some feed in the enclosures morning and night. The pigs were fed a bucket of scraps morning and night as well.
Once the animals were tended to, she would water the seedlings and pot plants, do some weeding and harvest chillies, eggplants or tomatoes until the sun got too hot. Then she would clean the kitchen, pickle tomatoes or pack produce into bags for the Saturday morning markets. In the afternoon, she would do some more weeding after it had cooled down. Once every two days, she would set up the sprinklers in the main garden. In the evening, she would help Saeng with dinner.
Dave’s duties were to help Peter out with his maintenance job. He also installed and extended sprinkler systems, re-staked crops, laid mulch, helped to cut down trees, and harvested veggies.
Peter and Saeng went on a brief holiday while we were there, and they asked us to man their stall at the Saturday morning markets. This was a great experience for us – collecting herbs and fruit, bundling them up with Saeng’s delicious cordials and sauces and then setting up the stall with Peter’s custom made shade. We were at the markets for around 2.5 hours and made over $200!
We will never forget sleeping in that bamboo bungalow in the rainforest – it was like living on a deserted island. We had the luxury of a fridge, sink and couch, electricity, and two single beds pushed together underneath a mozzie net. The first night was cut short by roosters that started crowing way too early, but after a while, we got used to the noises. The outdoor shower and toilet were also a novelty.
Also, the food was incredible! Duck eggs make the perfect omelette and those biodynamic bananas tasted like joygasms. Saeng was also a fabulous cook who made yummy curries, stews and noodle dishes, and her award-winning dragonfruit chilli sauce was a staple at the dinner table.
While installing some brackets for a sprinkler, Dave managed to hit his thumb with a hammer. Even though he iced it for the rest of the day, it was still really swollen and sore when we went to bed. After a sleepless night of throbbing pain, the pressure had to be released. In the morning, Peter said “You’re gonna have to heat up a pin until it’s red-hot, then burn a hole through the nail.” It took about half an hour for Dave to nervously, gently and very carefully get the glowing pin through the nail. Filming the whole process, Juz let out a little shriek as the blood finally splurted out. The relief was instant and the pain quickly subsided.
WARNING: This video is a bit gross – watch at your own risk…
We really enjoyed our time at Zazen – the place, the people, the food, animals. It was a great place for us to start getting some hands on experience with sustainable farming. We look forward to visiting similar places as we make our way down the east coat.
Thanks to Peter, Saeng and Bo for hosting us and sharing your amazing life with us.