The Nat­u­ral Step

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

Fur­ther eco­log­i­cal light was thrown on the busi­ness when they did a sus­tain­able busi­ness course through Otago Poly­tech­nic us­ing the ‘Nat­u­ral Step’ frame­work.

“Any smart busi­ness is tak­ing sustainability se­ri­ously,” says Phil. “It’s about be­ing at the front of the curve rather than lag­ging at the back.”

Part of the course was iden­ti­fy­ing one’s eco­log­i­cal foot­print and the Otago Poly­tech­nic had just fin­ished a study that iden­ti­fied half of New Zealand’s eco­log­i­cal foot­print was food.

“We thought ok, we are do­ing a lot in other ar­eas but all our guests are bring­ing in pack­aged, pro­cessed and im­ported foods and we have to deal with the waste.”

That was the be­gin­ning of the café. Up un­til then there was no food of­fered on the prop­erty. It also made good busi­ness sense, adding to the ex­pe­ri­ence of guests.

The café is vegetarian and sources most of its herbs and about 25-30% of its fresh pro­duce from the sur­round­ing gar­den, with the aim to in­crease that per­cent­age.

Dur­ing his favourite sum­mer at

Solscape, Phil took on a dif­fer­ent role and says it was won­der­ful.

“I was the gar­dener! If peo­ple wanted to talk to me they came and talked to me in the gar­den. It was fan­tas­tic!” Solscape is run through ‘a per­ma­cul­ture lens’ us­ing the three ethics: earth care, peo­ple care and fair share, and it af­fects all their de­ci­sion-mak­ing says Phil.

“The whole thing around per­ma­cul­ture is closed loop sys­tems where you’re not leak­ing re­sources. It can ap­ply to a busi­ness, the econ­omy of a com­mu­nity, a wa­ter sys­tem – any­thing re­ally.”

Phil says per­ma­cul­ture is a lot more than or­ganic gar­den­ing.

“It’s a life­style – it’s about how we ex­ist on the planet.”

In 2009 Solscape ran its first two-week in­ten­sive per­ma­cul­ture course and for many on the course, it was a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It can’t help but be trans­for­ma­tional.” Phil is an ac­tivist. Along­side de­vel­op­ing Solscape, he has spent half his work­ing life with KASM (Ki­wis Against Seabed Min­ing), head­ing it up for three years. Solscape has pro­vided a balance in his life to “stopping the bad stuff.’’

“Solscape is a cre­ative out­let – it’s about re­gen­er­at­ing things.”

On his yearly walk-about with Year 10 girls from Waikato Dio­cese School, Phil asks them ques­tions, like what do they think about the state of the planet.

“They are scared about what the fu­ture holds. They know the is­sues, but they don’t know how to ad­dress or ex­plore them, they’re not em­pow­ered. The cur­ricu­lum doesn’t ad­dress the is­sues they know are there.”

Usu­ally about half way through the tour, they find some hope.

“The pieces start fall­ing in place and for the last half they are re­ally en­gaged. We talk about Raglan’s world class re­cy­cling which di­verts about 75% of waste from land­fill.”

What started as a two-per­son dream has evolved into a big op­er­a­tion. In the early days Phil would put up a sign say­ing

‘Back at 3,’ load the kids in the van and take off to the beach for a few hours in the middle of the day. Those days are gone.

To­day Solscape is a com­plex op­er­a­tion, one of the larger em­ploy­ers in Raglan with 6-10 full-time equiv­a­lents which trans­lates to 25-30 peo­ple on a weekly ba­sis through sum­mer.

There are also any­where from 8-12 peo­ple on site vol­un­teer­ing their time. It’s a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for the WOOFERS scheme ( Will­ing Work­ers on Or­ganic Farms) and they may get up to 10 ap­pli­ca­tions a day.

“At some level I miss it (the life­style). The loss of that was un­in­ten­tional. I would ad­vise peo­ple to be wary of that. It can quite quickly move be­yond a place where it’s fun.”

His habit of bit­ing off more than he can chew has re­sulted in a large loan that’s get­ting larger. For now, Solscape is in a con­sol­i­da­tion phase, but­ton­ing down and get­ting rid of some of what Phil calls their “big nasty debt”.

He’s also aware of the need for a healthy work/life balance and reins in his salaried staff when they ex­ceed a 35-40 hour week. For the last two years, with mi­nor ex­cep­tions, he has taken week­ends off and al­ways makes sure the fam­ily has a good break.

But there are no re­grets. He de­scribes his time stew­ard­ing Solscape as a priv­i­lege and an “awe­some learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.” ■

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