(The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and Reuters takes no responsibility for them.)
By Nick Rosen
LONDON (Reuters Life!) - It’s mid morning and Jyoti Fernandes has just received a call from a local restaurant in the wealthy coastal town of Lyme Regis, Dorset.
They need some mixed organic salad leaves in time for lunch - a rush order. The leaves are high-volume-for-weight and pack into three sizeable boxes.
“The Nasturtium petals are the most popular” said Fernandes, 34, who is from New Mexico.
Fernandes is one of a group of sustainable farmers in England with a vision for living off the land in a low-impact environmentally friendly way.
She arrived in southwest England with a small wind turbine in her suitcase, a dream of sustainable living and not much else. She bought her land, now renamed Fivepenny Farm, with her British husband Dai Saltmarsh using a loan from Triodos, a Dutch bank which specializes in eco-projects.
Saltmarsh slams the door of the four-wheel drive and sets off to deliver the produce. Fernandes talks while she picks the evening order.
At first the couple put up just two polytunnels on the land, she explains — tube-shaped, plastic constructions that protect plants and vegetables against the ravages of the English summer.
Then suddenly after six low-profile months the couple built themselves a turf-roofed, two-bed cabin, where they now live with their four children aged 4, 6, 8 and 10. Another six months and the local council issued an eviction order.
But Jyoti had planned her defense carefully.
She submitted all the necessary legal documents a week later. The local council took proceedings all the way to a public enquiry, but Jyoti was not fazed. In court she proved that her family could only make economic sense of their lifestyle if they lived where they worked.
The appeals inspector agreed with them, and gave a four-year permission to reside, which is likely to be renewed in 2010.
Fernandes may have found the key to a successful sustainable life “off-grid,” one which increasing numbers of people yearn for as mortgage costs rise and job markets shrink. Buy some land (in her case 42 acres of absolutely prime meadow and woodland), grow food - enough to feed yourself - and then some to sell.
Their water comes from the local farmer - he has given them access to a spring, but it is metered and charged the same rate as the local water utility. Power comes from a small, 300-watt wind turbine and two solar panels.
Two years into the experiment and “turnover is all right,” while the loan is being paid down on schedule.
“We are selling about 30,000 pounds ($51,770) worth of produce a year, but only 15,000 pounds is profit,” Fernandes said.
The couple won a grant from the European Union to build a food processing barn which will allow them to ally with other local food producers. It is also off-grid and powered by a larger wind turbine and several more solar panels.
They specialize in traditional and heritage varieties including more than 40 different tomatoes, selling their seasonal produce to local restaurants and in nearby Bridport market.
They are now putting the finishing touches to the timber-framed, thatched processing barn, which they will operate as a co-operative of mainly organic producers.
Fernandes is partly motivated by a desire for others to follow her example of sustainable off-grid living.
Under such a policy she envisages that houses would be built in connection with land-based businesses and livelihoods - such as small-scale organic market gardens, livestock or forestry enterprises, such as coppice products, charcoal burning, green wood working, timber production, forest schools, timber framing, as part of a self-sufficient lifestyle.
“What we are suggesting is to put together a policy that would be a good way for planners to be able to evaluate projects like these and give people standards to regulate and show what is allowable,” she said.
Editing by Paul Casciato