How Two Penniless Hippies are Creating Serendipity Farm

WRITTEN BY FRAN AND STEVE PIMBLETT of Serendipity Farm

Fran and Steve are finding imaginative ways to turn four acres of inherited, inhospitable land in Tasmania into a thriving garden of prosperity. Serendipity Farm is a work of love, community, and can-do spirit we can all learn from. Be sure to read the detailed photo captions; they’re full of fabulous eco / green tips!

Some of what we harvested from our garden and herbs that we collected from a community orchard/herb garden. Just to clarify, we have only grown veggies since last year

Some of what we harvested from our garden are herbs that we collected from a community orchard/herb garden. Just to clarify, we have only grown veggies since last year.

Hi, my name is Fran, or ‘narf7,’ as I like to be known in my online excursions into understanding me and the world in which I live.

I Love Being a Penniless Hippie!

I just turned 50 and find myself echoing my parents:

”today’s music has NO soul…”

But when you had the 60’s and 70’s as your musical canvas, I think you’re entitled to a bit of musical snobbery. I’m going to wrestle out my story from the canyons of my memory. I might just have to listen to a bit of Bowie, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to spur me on…

This is the story of how I realized that being a penniless hippy is the best thing in the world!

Whenever you spot seeds hanging off something, fruit going to waste or cutting material blowing in the breeze you have to take advantage of this free resource. They might not grow but what have you got to lose?

Whenever you spot seeds hanging off something, fruit going to waste, or cutting material blowing in the breeze, you have to take advantage of this free resource. They might not grow but what have you got to lose?

My Life has Never Been ‘Normal’

I’ve never had what you would call a “normal” life. My parents were working class battlers and we never had the benefit of a cushion of money or savings to keep the wolves at bay.

An experiment in growing vertically

An experiment in growing vertically

I can’t remember a lot about my childhood, which is probably good because by all accounts it wasn’t the most memorable of childhoods. But when I turned five, my parents moved to the family 100 acre farm to care for it (and live rent free).

Far be it from uniting them and giving them a common ethos! Instead, it heralded the end of their tenuous and unlikely union.

We have certainly learned some valuable life lessons from our flock of free range hens. One of the most important lessons is NEVER underestimate their ability to scratch or eat just about everything that you don't want them to ;)

We have certainly learned some valuable life lessons from our flock of free range hens. One of the most important lessons is NEVER underestimate their ability to scratch or eat just about everything that you don’t want them to.

For the five years it took for my parents’ marriage to hit the rocks and sink, I was given the amazing chance to wander barefoot over 100 acres of land full of trees, plants, cows, aromas, dams and pastures.

As the property bordered onto an estuary that ebbed and flowed to the sea, I got the most amazing series of life lessons in my early formative years.

If it grows like topsy and you can eat it, it is more than welcome on Serendipity Farm. Its up to us to find out what does well here and try to source it. These cape gooseberries were already here and keep on keeping on like the Eveready bunny ;)

If it grows like topsy and you can eat it, it is more than welcome on Serendipity Farm. It’s up to us to find out what does well here and try to source it. These cape gooseberries were already here and keep on keeping on like the Eveready bunny.

Life on 100 Acres

This 100 acres of barefoot freedom sheltered me from the worst of my parent’s stormy decline. Mum kept geese to sell for eggs and meat – and I learned some valuable life lessons from them.

We had three large water tanks to supply our domestic water and a well that my seven year old sister and I dangled our four year old brother into with the promise of all the frogs he could stuff into his t-shirt…

A tray of homemade mango, strawberry and yoghurt leather prior to being dehydrated

A tray of homemade mango, strawberry and yoghurt leather prior to being dehydrated.

We had no phone and our toilet was a good distance from the house in the form of a modern composting toilet – without the benefit of composting. Life may have been tough, but it formed the inner narf7.

It fed my desire to learn, to discover everything that I could about the world. I learned from the trees, the plants, the animals, the sea, the tide, the moon – and nature took me under her wing and nurtured one of her feral children.

We always have eggs thanks to our hens being cold tolerant. We ended up with eggs all the way through winter when most "normal" chooks give it up as a bad lot. It was by sheer fluke that we ended up getting the right kind of hens for us, another one of those little reminders that if you give generously to the ether, it gives you back what you need :)

We always have eggs thanks to our hens being cold tolerant. We ended up with eggs all the way through winter when most “normal” chooks give it up as a bad lot. It was by sheer fluke that we ended up getting the right kind of hens for us, another one of those little reminders that if you give generously to the ether, it gives you back what you need.

Lost in the World

When my parents finally called it quits, mum moved away from the farm and suddenly life was complicated. I didn’t have my 100 acres of nature’s filter to process my understanding through and I had to develop new life skills.

I wasn’t very good at it. I spent my youth and my teenage years trying to find a niche to fit into with my peers.

We learned early on about value adding and saving the harvest. These mushrooms grew from bags of mushroom compost that we used on our garden. Before we spread the compost on as mulch for our seedlings, we put the bags in a semi lit area and collected kilo after kilo of fresh mushrooms. We couldn't use them all and so dried some for later.

We learned early on about value adding and saving the harvest. These mushrooms grew from bags of mushroom compost that we used on our garden. Before we spread the compost on as mulch for our seedlings, we put the bags in a semi lit area and collected kilo after kilo of fresh mushrooms. We couldn’t use them all and so dried some for later.

I just wasn’t very interested in what they were interested in. I wanted to be a naturalist (not a naturist; bare feet was as close as I got to that particular stream of consciousness). And I wanted to fill my life with trees and plants and leaves and soil:

‘The older I got, the more the world got in the way.’

Me planting seedlings in amongst the mushroom compost in our first veggie garden last summer

Me planting seedlings in amongst the mushroom compost in our first veggie garden last summer.

Inheriting Four Neglected Acres

To cut a long and rambling story short, I ended up marrying, divorcing, having three children, and meeting my soulmate online half a world away.

If you select plant material (in this case cuttings) from a local source the resulting seedlings are more likely to do well in your garden. This little fig came from a cutting we took from a tree in the city that has since been removed. We also managed to get 3 more small fig trees by noting that the branches on a large fig tree had rooted to the ground. You have to keep your eyes open and be able to recognise potential in everything

If you select plant material (in this case cuttings) from a local source, the resulting seedlings are more likely to do well in your garden. This little fig came from a cutting we took from a tree in the city that has since been removed. We also managed to get 3 more small fig trees by noting that the branches on a large fig tree had rooted to the ground. You have to keep your eyes open and be able to recognise potential in everything!

Everything about us is opposite. I have no idea why we clicked or why we ‘work’ – but we do. Together we can move mountains, which is extremely lucky because in 2010 we inherited four acres of overgrown jungle when my father died.

We got our own rocky, mountainous slope along with soil that washed away when it wasn’t setting hard.

It was covered in every weed known to man and had been seriously neglected to within an inch of its life. The only thing that we didn’t inherit was the monetary means by which we could do what needed to be done to the property.

The lengths that we had to go to in order to harvest ANYTHING from our first veggie garden (spring and summer 2012). The possums and wallabies ruled the night and we had to fix what they had invaded in the day. This years enormous fully enclosed garden is our way of ensuring that we get a fair proportion of what we sow

The lengths that we had to go to in order to harvest ANYTHING from our first veggie garden (spring and summer 2012). The possums and wallabies ruled the night and we had to fix what they had invaded in the day. This year’s enormous fully enclosed garden is our way of ensuring that we get a fair proportion of what we sow.

And that’s when we learned just how bolshie a pair of penniless student hippies can be when it comes to finding cheap – or preferably free – ways to give us what we want and to arrive at a place where we want to be!

Homemade milk kefir

Homemade milk kefir

Self-Sustainable on Almost Zero Budget

Thanks to my early childhood experiences with nature, I’m always looking for ways to ‘first do no harm’ to the world around us. I’m a vegan (Steve isn’t) and visualise a future where almost everything that we need will be able to be produced on site.

We found many existing plants under the tangle of undergrowth that will work in our food forest. This is the fruit of Myrtus communis. It doesn't taste all that great on its own (or it would have been eaten by something ;) ) but it is used in the Mediterranean to make alcohol...sounds like a plan to me! ;)

We found many existing plants under the tangle of undergrowth that will work in our food forest. This is the fruit of Myrtus communis. It doesn’t taste all that great on its own (or it would have been eaten by something) but it is used in the Mediterranean to make alcohol…sounds like a plan to me!.

We’re using permaculture principles to give us what we want to achieve on Serendipity Farm. Even when it feels like we’re taking three steps forward and two steps back we’re able to find free solutions to most of our problems online and through the local (free) library.

Always be willing to extend yourself, to go hunting for what you need to know and to try to find alternatives and cheap or free ways to get what you need.

‘It’s amazing how resourceful you can be when you have no money!’

Steve disguised as "The Green Man" ;)

Steve disguised as “The Green Man”

Serendipity Befriends Us

We realise that we are incredibly lucky to have inherited this property but we have also been handed a series of problems that we need to solve before we move from our visions for the property to the realisation of our visions.

Home grown walnuts after harvest

Home grown walnuts after harvest

The first is that we have had to completely readjust our desire to do everything immediately. We are time rich and money poor and so we need to find other ways to get what we want.

We are constantly amazed at how what we need seems to fall into place at exactly the right time. We are believers in giving freely and we believe that:

‘If you are generous with your time, your possessions and yourself, things tend to work out for you.’

This is what our windowsill tends to look like at any given time. A selection of seeds and "things" drying out ready to be used in some way or other. I have grown walnut trees, hazelnut trees, avocado trees, fig trees (from cuttings), chestnut trees and all sorts of other trees and plants to be used in our food forest for free because I figured that "what the heck...I will give it a go!". I am like a magpie when it comes to collecting seed. Most gardeners are very generous and will share something that they have grown. You just have to ask. There are also amazing seed swap days at the local Sustainable Tasmania group

This is what our windowsill tends to look like at any given time. A selection of seeds and “things” drying out ready to be used in some way or other. I have grown walnut trees, hazelnut trees, avocado trees, fig trees (from cuttings), chestnut trees and all sorts of other trees and plants to be used in our food forest for free because I figured that “what the heck…I will give it a go!”. I am like a magpie when it comes to collecting seed. Most gardeners are very generous and will share something that they have grown. You just have to ask. There are also amazing seed swap days at the local Sustainable Tasmania group.

Since 2010 we have managed to plant out many of the 900 potted plants that we brought with us and, despite having the worst summer – and now the worst winter – in decades, we are learning to adapt to the local conditions and are starting to acclimatize ourselves to the possibilities that owning our own piece of land has given us.

Some of the wooden spoons that Steve has created since deciding that he wanted to use some of the wood on the property that was too good to burn in our stove into something useful. We have given most of his wooden spoons away as blog prizes or to friends and family as gifts

Some of the wooden spoons that Steve has created since deciding that he wanted to use some of the wood on the property that was too good to burn in our stove into something useful. We have given most of his wooden spoons away as blog prizes or to friends and family as gifts.

We are almost finished creating a huge fully enclosed vegetable garden after discovering that anything less results in the native possums and wallabies eating your hard work.

Earl, one of our dogs, checking out some of the vegetables that we grew in last years veggie garden (despite the possum and wallabies worst efforts to eat them all)

Earl, one of our dogs, checking out some of the vegetables that we grew in last years veggie garden (despite the possum and wallabies worst efforts to eat them all).

The garden has cost us almost nothing!

We got strong netting from the local salmon farm that was happy for us to take it away for nothing. We got strong poles from a friend whom Steve helped remove the poles from someplace that didn’t appreciate them. And we got six trailer loads of aged horse manure for free.

All it took was a bit of hard work on our part.

A homemade loaf of sourdough bread from starter that I sourced from another frugalite that I met through our blog. She also sent me kefir grains and I have adapted them to my ethos (using homemade organic soymilk)...you have to try. If it doesn't work, you are no worse off than you were before you tried ;). I am still working on the sourdough, not quite happy with it yet but at least it looks the business

A homemade loaf of sourdough bread from starter that I sourced from another frugalite that I met through our blog. She also sent me kefir grains and I have adapted them to my ethos (using homemade organic soymilk)…you have to try. If it doesn’t work, you are no worse off than you were before you tried ;). I am still working on the sourdough, not quite happy with it yet but at least it looks the business.

We keep coming up against prospective problems. But it’s all in the perspective. Life can either be seen as a series of problems or as a series of adventures that are just waiting for you to throw yourself into. It’s all in the way you look at them.

If you can't afford something that you want for your garden try finding another way to get it. These are mango seedlings that we grew from seeds. We are going to see if they get big enough to plant out. We figure global warming is going to make Tassie hotter than it is now and in the future these little babies will be able to grow and prosper on Serendipity Farm

If you can’t afford something that you want for your garden try finding another way to get it. These are mango seedlings that we grew from seeds. We are going to see if they get big enough to plant out. We figure global warming is going to make Tassie hotter than it is now and in the future these little babies will be able to grow and prosper on Serendipity Farm.

Our Advice to Others

Our vision is to grow four acres of food forest. We had to go back to school to study horticulture. You do what you have to do to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

If we can do it, anyone can. All it takes is determination and the will to keep progressing forward. And don’t listen to that little voice inside you that keeps telling you that you are ‘too old’ or ‘too poor’ or ‘not good enough.’

Steve and I collecting our Diploma in Landscape Design

Steve and I collecting our Diploma in Landscape Design.

Take it as it comes and enjoy the ride. Remember it’s the only life you get, so live it to the fullest. We are.

FURTHER DETAILS

CONTACT FRAN AND STEVE

  • Email:  coniferus [at] hotmail [dot] com
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3 responses to “How Two Penniless Hippies are Creating Serendipity Farm

  1. Absolutely delightful article!!! Hats off to the art of positive thinking!!!
    Wishing you every success as you continue to reap your rewards from the harvest of hard but happy work!!!

    • Hi Jean, Fran’s story is very inspirational. I’m so pleased you loved it as much as I did! If you have a story you think that may help others, please do let me know. I’d love to share it. All the best, Krista

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