Caretaker Farm at 109 Ashton Road,
Whangateau was purchased by
Audrey Sharp in December 1988. It had previously been a
dairy goat farm run by Margaret Bush. Margaret had lived on the farm for 17 years
with her husband Stan Bush who had owned at that time all the land from Ashton
Road back up the valley behind to Ridge Road. All except 20 acres were sold by
Stan Bush to a Peter Greenwood in the late 1970's. Although not organic completely
in how the land was farmed Margaret did not use poison sprays on the land and as
well as farming milking goats, she had miniature horses, guinea pigs and doves.
Margaret also painted and produced various handcrafted items for sale from her
Audrey had been looking for a small farm property to
purchase for 2 years and had been considering the purchase of 50 acres further
up Ashton Road. As part of her research of the property she came and spoke with
Margaret Bush who informed her that she was also selling her place.
Audrey walked about the property and discovered 2
the land had a spiritual centre place on it protected by an old Grandfather
Totara in which she found a small heart shaped greenstone-it was also a place
the view from the top of the ridge on the property allowed her to see her
mother's house in Point Wells and the water-this view was not possible from the
property further up Ashton Road because of three large pine trees obscuring the
view-these trees were on the top of this property's ridge.
Although the farm had many old
buildings, namely two storage hay barns, a skyline garage used to house goats,
numerous goat sheds, a cold dairy building, studio and outhouse/shed, everything
was run-down and filthy. The house was unfit to live in and one of the barns not
only rotten but full of rats. There was some bush on the property near the stream
that ran through on the left side of the farm-mainly totaras plus a few large
kanuka, manuka and punga(tree ferns). The remainder of the property was in pasture
and around the hill there was a crisscross of goat tracks winding from bottom to top.
In September 1990, Audrey's mother Dorothy moved onto
the property. At this stage we had began pulling down the house and were stacking
all the old materials for future recyling. Dorothy moved
into a Caravan shifted from Point Wells, and Audrey into
the studio. Audrey was pregnant with Tamarah
who was born 12 November 1990 in the nearby Warkworth birthing centre.
Thomas was actually born on the property on 28 August 1993.
Initially in the first year we did little, only running sheep and getting to know
the land and its environment. It is important to observe a property over a 12
month seasonal cycle in order to understand where wind blows, how the land handles
rainfall and how the sun moves around the property.
In the second year Audrey began a nursery -growing plants
from seed, growing on small plants also from cuttings and began seeding and planting
the hillside with surplus plant stock. A NZ forest requires 3 foundation plants
to start its development from scratch-Audrey gathered manuka, kanuka, coprosma,
and fern spores and then walked around the various goat tracks throwing seed onto
the pasture. From this the forest has grown and encouraged birds to also drop
further seed as they explore the establishing trees.
In 1996 we began raising and selling fowl, rare breeds and bantams/crossed for
their reliable egg laying, cockerels for meat plus weaned kune kune pigs, plus
concentrated on forestry and firewood planting within the regenerating seeded bush.
Building the school accommodation and recycling all the existing buildings into
useable space has been happening since 1993 depending on finances. We have
completed sleeping and living spaces for up to 14 people and aim to eventually
accommodate 20-25 persons sustainably on the property. We continue to work on
this part of the project as money and skill allows.
Garlic growing began in 2000 when Audrey went back to
working in Auckland fulltime to earn money for farm development and is still
happening. For 5 years previously we had been growing organic seasonal vegetable
along with the chickens and selling them for sale locally.
The history is still evolving as we continue in our journey on
Caretaker Farm touching lives along the way as
we achieve our goal towards the educational farm centre for English learners and
youth wanting a practical and creative alternative education in a sustainable
and organic permaculture farm environment.