Day in the Life of a Downshifter – Issue 9

By Wendy Steenwinkel

My downshifting journey to sustainable living has been long and tortuous, but full of learning opportunities. It is an ongoing process of skilling and adapting, and there is plenty more to learn.

I worked in pathology – in cancer screening – for over 20 years, and was paid fairly good wages. The work was extremely interesting and it felt worthwhile because I was helping patients, not just earning money. But when the corporate world took over the running of the laboratory, quality and ethical standards went out the door. I decided that it was time to rethink my career path and whole lifestyle.

I decided to study environmental sustainability, thinking this could somehow help me change the state of the world. Five years on, I have learned why western society has become spiritually and ethically bereft – it is infected by capitalist neoliberal ideology, which promotes individualism, rampant consumerism and continuous economic growth at the cost of the environment and caring society.

Knowing now that I am part of the problem I have actively tried to find ways of reducing my footprint – by downshifting.

I currently live on a flower farm in South East Queensland in an old granny flat that I rent cheaply from a friend. Work-wise, I do light cleaning jobs, and help out in the local coffee shop when needed.

At home I’ve been experimenting with aquaponics in an old bathtub and started a worm farm to dispose of fruit and vegetable peelings. The end products of both make great fertiliser for the vegetable garden. I also pipe the washing machine grey water out into the garden to water the little fruit trees. It hasn’t all been a shining success though – I’ve only successfully managed to grow beans, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins and herbs before a grasshopper plaque wiped most of the produce out! Large caterpillars have also damaged the fruit trees, so to make up the shortfall I buy fresh fruit and vegetable from the local farmer’s markets.

My friend Tina also lives on the farm and is on a similar downshifting journey. She and I have been successfully learning to live with less by sharing produce and collaborating on projects – she makes great beer and I make great pizza!

We are both trying to learn more basic skills needed to survive and to help others in a post-collapse society after the age of oil. Tina is much more experienced at growing fruit, vegetables and herbs, but recently I completed a basic permaculture course to become more knowledgeable. Meanwhile I have become very good at baking bread, making cakes, and creating tasty but healthy meals out of whatever is available. We have a huge mango tree on the property so I’m now also turning out some great mango jams and chutneys. The rosella plants Tina and I planted a few months ago are now bearing fruit, so it looks like we will have heaps of rosella jam too soon.

I’ve also been trading vegetables for eggs with an older lady up the road who has chickens. Eventually I would like to be part of a small sustainable community. Perhaps later I will have some worthwhile skills and goods to trade with our local LETS community, but for now I’ll just enjoy the learning journey of shifting life down a few gears.

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