When the Galloways purchased their farm just north of East London in the Eastern Cape three years ago, it was the culmination of a way of living they had started years before. Heartwood Homestead is completely off-the-grid, with the Galloways implementing regenerative agriculture practices to keep it running smoothly.
Roger Galloway, a graphic designer by trade, says that the move into farming was not intentional at all.
“I don’t think it was an intentional decision that we sat down and thought we’d have a career path or change of career paths. It just was one thing that led to another and then we ended up where we are now.
“We started with a veggie garden, and then we got some chickens. Then we moved and got some sheep and then we added some cows and next thing you know, we got pigs and rabbits and we scaled up.”
Karen Galloway, who still works as a physiotherapist, compares their move into agriculture to the children’s book “The Old Lady who swallowed a fly”. She explains that the move into agriculture was organic and stems from their circumstances as much as their personal desires.
“We had kids, and we had chickens, and then we had a garden, and then we had grass and we needed to cut the grass. We kind of borrowed a horse from next door [but] then he trampled on the plants, then we got sheep. I think we realised that sheep actually eat forbs, [not] grass, so we needed an actual grazer. And then we thought, well, we could get a cow.
“We were also living in a very rural part of the Transkei. Everyone kind of farms there and it just seemed silly to be living there and not farming.”
A regenerative, self-reliant operation
Heartwood Homestead is a working farm in every sense of the word. The Galloways run a truly integrated operation and have a chicken coup, a rabbitry, pigs and cows. They sell veal, raw milk, rabbit meat, pastured pork, free-range eggs, and dairy products.
Despite how unintentional their move into farming was, Roger explains that the way they set their farm up was very deliberate. He says that the farmland was completely undeveloped when they moved there three years ago, with bush and apex grassland being the only features.
“We instigated permaculture principles, and everything was very considered. So, the way we laid everything out, all the infrastructure and the flow of our movement and all the rest, it was all very considered and intentional.”
Permaculture design principles encourage farming operations to be integrated rather than disruptive, which explains why they did not try to change the land too much. “We kind of nestled buildings into gaps where there were spaces and in amongst the trees and stuff, so we didn’t have to take out bush or clear too much,” says Karen.
The closest municipality to Heartwood farm is Buffalo City, but this has little impact on the lives of the Galloways. They aimed to be as self-reliant as possible, which is why none of their basic needs are being fulfilled by their local municipality. They generate their own electricity, manage their own water supply as well as their waste.
Roger says that the vast majority of the waste they produce is routed back into their operation. “We recycle or compost or [give to the] worms or [take it to] collection points. And the toilet, we’ve got compost toilets, so we reuse all the [excreta]”.
Teaching, expanding, and building community
Roger explains that, while they would like to expand their operations to include mushrooms and ducks, they never intend to expand into a commercial farm. Karen agrees, saying that even with her work as a physiotherapist, she never works at bigger corporations.
“I like working in small hospitals where you can kind of keep your finger in all things. You can understand people from their homes. People often talk about making small-scale farmers grow up into commercial farmers. I mean, I’d like to be sustainable and financially successful, but I don’t want to be grown up into anything because the small-scale thing is what I think I can comprehend and what I can do.”
For Roger the farm works how they envisioned, with every process integrated and working together. “It’s the small-scale, holistic, diverse homesteading in a sense that we really value and specifically the integrated nature of all the different systems that work together.
“[For example], we’ve got a carpentry workshop, so we take the sawdust and that feeds the compost toilet, and then the [processed excreta] goes onto the food forest that produces food for us. The scraps go to the chickens and they give us eggs, etc.”
Educating other people around different types of farming activities is another pursuit the Galloways treasure. They do not only offer a carpentry workshop, but also a homesteading course that takes place every few months. They offered a farm-to-fork course for children recently. Even with their guesthouse, which is listed on Airbnb, they offer guests the chance to milk the cows and feed the pigs.
One of their recent ventures, which started last year, is an intensive internship programme for young people in the area. The programme lasts for nine months and interns get to learn as much as they can about small-holding whilst staying on the farm.
“It’s a bit like work shadowing. You shadow a whole bunch of different things, and you go ‘actually, I like this one’,” says Karen.
Roger says the course is aimed at school leavers and not agricultural graduates, as it is very broad and includes many aspects, not all necessarily linked to farming. “They do livestock management, they do vegetable production, tanning hides, shearing sheep, making butter, jams, and preserves. We also had some [courses on] morality, ethics and worldview. There’s a spiritual component to it as well. [Even] time management and research, and we discussed things like plagiarism. So, it’s a very, very broad thing. We also do small business management.”
He says the knowledge the interns obtain is reinforced through the school visitation part of the programme. They visit schools in the area and have the interns share what they learned. “We engage with high schools. We do workshops and then we select a bunch of [the learners] to come back to the farm for the day. Then the interns run the whole programme for that day. They talk through all the different systems and they really need to have internalised the knowledge to the point that they can then share it.”
Of course, no farming journey is ever without issue. The Galloways do not have a background in farming, so a lack of knowledge is something Karen says can be quite challenging. “Every time something happens or every new animal, you have to [learn] like it’s a crash course.”
She explains that one of the most challenging issues they face is that often, agricultural policies and structures just are not built with smallholders in mind.
“If you buy dip [for example], it’s in bulk. If you buy vaccines for animals, it’s in bulk. If you want to have a rabbitry, you need to have a rabbittoire. If you want to slaughter your meat as a small-scale farmer, it has to go via the abattoir, via the butchery and that’s expensive. You just lose all of your profits from the costs of those interim people.”
While necessary for public health, safety regulations can be quite onerous for smallholders due to what it costs to abide by those regulations. Karen says very often, in the region where they lived before, people could not implement them.
“There are a couple of regulations that make it much harder for a small-scale farmer to [comply]. Like, with chicken, if you want to slaughter and sell a chicken, well that’s illegal because you have to only go through a chicken abattoir. And then you take your chicken to the abattoir, you have to pay R20 per chicken or something.
“Trying to comply with the regulations is really difficult. And where we lived before, no one bothers to comply, which is sad. If you had reasonable regulations, then people could reasonably do it. Or if you had mobile abattoirs, people could slaughter and sell [easier].”
Still, despite the challenges, the Galloways continue to be inspired through their work. Karen says that being able to sample products you make with your own hands is different, and it is especially good for their three kids to take part in the farming process as they know exactly where their food comes from.
For Roger, the benefits are multiple and worth all of the effort. “It’s just the creating [of] life, it’s germinating seeds. It’s a positive environment and a healthy, healthy lifestyle. There’s a lot of creativity. There’s a lot of autonomy and [also] a lot of freedom.”
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