Disaster is a word that strikes fear into most people. We usually believe disaster is out of our control. The actual happening of the disaster may be out of our control, but how we deal with it and how we come out the other end, is fully in our control. Last weekend we had a major rain event here, from an ex-tropical cyclone swooping through the region. Wind pushed trees over and there was major flooding in this and other areas. We were flooded in for 2 days.
We were lucky we were able to get all our PDC students in safely. Some ended up sleeping in the student chill bus, because their tents got too wet, but they all took it in their stride. The course still started on time, and even though power was out and the semi-outdoor kitchen was getting a fair amount of spray, we were still able to prepare warming, good food for all on the property. We cook with gas, so there was no problem heating the food.
Showers are heated with a wood fire, which the students usually fire up in afternoon break. Our water is gravity fed, so no power is needed to pump water and since all our toilets are composting toilets, there are no issues there either.
When we lost the phone line as well it was a bit disconcerting for some, since they were unable to contact family to let them know they were ok. But the phone was only out for 2 days. The power was out for 3 days, however we still had some charge in our solar powered batteries (even though we hadn’t had any sun for a while) and were able to at least keep the fridges and freezers going enough so we did not lose any food.
Most of the food consumed was from the garden, so it was just picked and prepared straight away. On Sunday, the first day of the course, we had pancakes for breakfast, sultana and spice cookies for morning tea, stewed vegetables (with meat for the meat eaters), brown rice and salad for lunch, and sprouted lentil and potato soup for dinner. The course itself experienced a little challenge in that the noise of the rain was extremely loud and made it difficult for people to hear, but students just moved in closer.
It was a great example for them to see that even if there is disaster around, if you prepare well you will be able to function quite well without having to rely on outside aid. We have a property here that is north facing, is quite sheltered and on a slight slope. The house is a queenslander style house, on stumps, so water can run underneath. Since we purchased the property, Tom has always been working outside when it rains, always observing what the water does on the property, where it runs and how to divert it from areas that should not get wet. He has implemented a swale system and is still planning out further swale work, interspersed with some dams to hold more water on the property. Trees that could have been a danger to the house or other buildings have been replaced with trees that are not as big and/or have a deeper root system. Plants, shrubs and trees have been planted to prevent erosion in prone areas.
We are in the process of weaning off grid power. We have not been able to afford the purchase of enough solar panels to go off the grid completely now, but the solar power we do have is great for backup at the moment. As soon as we can afford it , we will get more solar panels, and then we will be totally off the grid.
Another project we will hopefully start on this year is a bio-digester. This will capture the methane gas from manure, which we will then use for our gas stoves. We also would like to build a few small rocket stoves for students to be able to heat water for their tea and coffee. A cellar is also on the cards, to minimise dependence on fridges and freezers. Building a cellar in a subtropical area comes with its own challenges, and designs are still in planning phase. All these are exciting projects, that will possibly evolve this year during our internships on the property, and will get us closer to being completely prepared for disaster.