Kathryn Stedman for TheHomeGrownCountryLife.com

River Bennett (Photography River Bennett)

Kathryn Stedman has taken the self-sufficent world by storm. Starting her farming journey in the backyard of a surburban home and expanding her knowledge and experience to a few arcres west of Sydney. Kathryn has brought us entertainment and insight into living the organic lifestyle while also creating a self-sufficent community around her. Wife to Kieron and mother to Josiah, Eva and Judah, this is her story.

Have you always been interested in living off the land?

Yes and no. Growing up my Dad always kept a large veggie garden and his Dad was a market gardener, so I’ve always considered growing your own food as a normal thing to do.

As a kid I loved being outside in the garden and growing things. My Mum always used to say that she thought for sure I would marry a farmer, but I married a real estate agent…pretty much the complete opposite. I do like to tease him about his ‘super soft real estate hands’.

As a teenager I did all the normal kinds of things that teenage girls do like hanging out with friends at the shops or beach, not so much in the garden. When I had kids my interest was piqued again. I think having kids makes you re-evaluate life and the way you are living. I really wanted my children to experience a ‘home grown’ childhood where the experience is real, the food is real and the people are real. It’s actually a bit of a rarity in our modern society. I feel that being involved in the process of producing your own food is a way to claw back a bit of down-to-earthness. It’s not just about the food itself but rather the skills, the relationships, community and the values. The awesome food is a big plus.

How and where did u get started? 

Well, we were living in a rented house in the suburbs with a really tiny yard, but I had that itch to get growing so I put a few small gardens in and grew what I could. It wasn’t that great because when you rent you never know how long you will get to be there etc. so you don’t want to invest too much.

When it came time for us to buy we had two options. We could either get a tiny suburban block with a massive house or we could go a little further out, and get a few acres with a shack of a house. Pfft. The shack was the obvious choice right??

After renovating and settling in I just started building one bed at a time. My first garden bed wouldn’t have even been a metre square, but I grew the lushest pak-choy and chinese cabbage I’d ever seen. That was all the encouragement I needed. I designed what I wanted my garden to look like in the end, and slowly just added one bed at a time. It’s still not finished.

With three kids, a husband, hundreds of chickens and baby pigs,  a crazy dog, a thriving garden and business. What does a normal day look like?

Hmm. Good question. I think people see all the stuff that my garden produces and assume I’m pottering around all day, every day in the garden. Not actually the case. Like most people with kids, my mornings revolve around getting them out the door and to school on time. Every day we can’t find socks and every other day someone can’t find their hat. Just the usual. Once they are at school I check on all the animals and make sure they have food and water. The pigs need to be fed twice a day, morning and afternoon. The chickens have feeders and waterers that just need to be topped up from time to time. If I’m incubating eggs, I turn them and make sure they have water. I quickly check the garden and water the seedlings. Of course there are a myriad of boring household tasks that need to be completed (washing, folding, cleaning, grocery shopping, dishes etc)…no explanation needed. I spend a bit of time writing, answering emails, photo blogging, and packaging orders. I breed chickens, so I might need to box chickens/chicks/fertile eggs ready for pick up or post (no need for alarm, I only post eggs).

I like to experiment a bit with recipes, preserving and general home crafting. If you never try something then you can’t perfect it. It gives me experiences to write about.

It’s usually after I pick the kids up from school that I get into the garden. I find if I’m outside it draws them outside too. I might top up a garden bed with soil, plant out seedlings, water. The kids like to help, especially with collecting eggs and picking produce. Strawberries never make it into the house; they are eaten on the spot.

Dinners are often inspired by what comes out of the garden. This is my starting point for meal planning. We eat very seasonally. At the moment we are getting loads of tomatoes, corn, kale and zucchinis. There are always leafy greens and seasonal herbs.

After dinner we have homework, bath and bed. Standard. And the dog? Well he is a goof ball, my forever friend, my shadow…the view from every window in the house. He is a mixture of lovable and annoying.

Your website is filled with useful information about organic living, blogs on life and now even selling supplies. Why did you want to start this site?

It really sprouted from my social media. I often share pics of things I am doing, making or growing, and people were always asking how, where, can I have the recipe please? It just seemed like the natural way to share this information. Ultimately I want to provide people with information and inspiration so that they can have the confidence to start their own ‘home grown country life’ no matter where they live. People are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of this lifestyle, but they just don’t know where to start. I want to show people that it is easy and achievable, you just need to do a little bit often, and hopefully the website will give them some of the things that they need to get started.

Fav thing to grow?

That’s a tough one. I have so many favorites. Well, there is silverbeet, which faithfully produces for years. Never disappoints. Very forgiving. It’s a real giver. It’s like the perfect husband! Growing pumpkins is like being pregnant. How many will there be? Oh my goodness it’s getting so big so quickly. I wonder what it will look like? This pumpkin pregnancy is taking over my yard and my life! They are so fun to grow. Fresh peas are like none you’ve ever tasted. Crisp and sweet with none of that deep-freeze aftertaste. Sun-warmed tomatoes are way better than cold ones and heirloom rockmelon, fragranced by summer…I can’t even describe what you’re missing out on. I like growing everything.

Lessons you have learned through farming?

I have learned to do nothing. Well, not nothing exactly, but I’ve learned that it’s ok to look at the sky while watering and be alone in my thoughts. We are all so busy, busy, busy all the time. Stressed and running under high pressure. Rushing here and there. We are conditioned to always be doing something, and even when we are doing nothing, we are on our phones or tablets. That’s not nothing. That’s constant bombardment and stimulation. When was the last time you got the picnic rug out and lay under the open sky and looked for shapes in the clouds or shooting stars? I bet it’s been a while. If you can teach yourself to do this (not rely on constant stimulation and entertainment), and your kids, you will all be much healthier.

I’ve also learned that by being responsible for at least some of what you consume will inadvertently create a more balanced and healthy life.

Through growing organic and heirloom varieties, I have learned that we are getting short-changed at the supermarket. Supermarket produce isn’t grown for taste or variety, but rather for its shelf life, the inbuilt packaging and its uniformity. There are thousands of varieties that consumers are missing out on.

What are some of the other things you are passionate about? 

Well, aside from my husband, kids, heirloom seeds, gardening, writing etc. I love, love art and creating things. It’s not something that I get a lot of time for, but when inspiration strikes I do what I can to make it happen. I love the freedom and the colour that painting brings, but I am a better drawer.

Any advice for other WolfpackMrs. women who would love to give their kids a healthy and organic lifestyle?

Just start with one healthy change and build from there. Make sure it is something realistic that you can keep up. You might start by sowing some seeds or keeping potted herbs. Instead of a pet rabbit, you may get a hen that will lay fresh eggs. Learn to make something you would normally buy in a packet. Don’t teach your kids that being a consumer and hanging out at the shops is the best way to relax and have fun. Do you want their relaxation and self worth to be tied up into what they can buy? I read somewhere (and I love it), ‘Kids should be bored enough to inspire imagination’. So true, so set them free in the yard/park and let them play, and don’t pack your hand sanitiser. A bit of dirt will build a stronger immunity.

Food should not be fixated on, but enjoyed. The best food education for kids is showing them where real food comes from and why it is good for their bodies. They are smart. They will get it.


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