Elizabeth and John Heij

Retirees, Aldinga Arts Eco Village

A better match to “natural income”

Basically, natural income is sunlight for energy, rain for water, and soil nutrients for food production. Over a number of years, we have become more aware of how the “developed” society in which we live has seduced all of us into debt – into living far beyond a sustainable natural income. We can see society is deeply in debt to the environment by the increasing impact of humanity, and the erosion of natural resources going on all around us.

Becoming aware was the first step. In the beginning, the challenge seemed enormous. What could a single household do? In a city setting, how could we possibly live on the sun and rain that fall on the roof, and the fertility of a modest suburban garden? The answer, of course, is that we couldn’t and, furthermore, we couldn’t even start to approach it without a major up-front investment of our financial income! 

After deciding, however, that any progress we could make would be valuable – both to us personally and to the Earth – we decided to try. We moved to Aldinga Arts EcoVillage as it was just getting started, and built a passive-solar, all electric, energy-efficient home. We installed a battery-backed solar PV system (9.6 Kw), and sufficient underground rainwater storage for all house and garden purposes (45 Kl). We built the soil of our modest garden by composting and mulching, and began growing our own vegetables. 

Now, nearly two decades later, how are we doing? We have had no electricity bills, only credits, from the start, and have used only about 1Kl of mains water (thanks to an incident when the pump broke down). Thanks to our “super-insulated” home, we need minimal heating and cooling but, what we do need comes directly from our solar panels during the daytime. We have been able to grow more than 30 different types of vegetable, but have settled on a smaller number of mostly salad types, and moved from extensive ground-level cultivation to a smaller, raised “wicking bed” to conserve water and reduce the effort of gardening as we age. We still need to purchase meat and fish, but have cut consumption down in favour of our own eggs produced via neighbourhood “chook” co-ops. Products from broad-acre crops such as wheat, rice and beans, however, still have to be bought. And finally, the only way we have found to tackle the significant energy and water embodied in additional consumer products is to become intensely frugal with our purchases, trying as much as possible to purchase only in response to genuine needs, not wants. After all “enough is as good as a feast!”

A few years ago, when fully electric vehicles first came onto the market in Australia, we bought a Nissan Leaf. While the range of this first model is less than ideal, it has allowed us to complete the elimination of fossil fuels from our household, as we can charge it directly from our solar PV system on clear days.    

Living in an eco-village is an enabling factor in a number of respects. The Village community runs its own Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), which means homes in the Village have no need to connect to the metropolitan sewerage system. This WWTP is a vital part of a closed-loop waste recycling system in which reclaimed water from sewage is circulated back to village orchards for fruit production on common land. Sewage solids, once “solarised” to sterilise them go into a worm-composting system together with villagers’ soft green waste and clean cardboard. Finished compost is returned to the village landscape, as is the mulch made from woody green waste.

The village also has a number of common-land orchards that provide plenty of fruit, nuts, and olive oil through most of the annual seasonal cycle. There are opportunities to join “chook” co-ops, for shared egg production, many opportunities to swap fruit, vegetables, and pre-loved “stuff” with neighbours, and also regular community-organised clothes swaps for all ages.

As retirees, we have put our financial investments into energy-saving, water-saving, soil regeneration, and building community support systems, rather than trying to earn taxable dividends from property or the stock market. As a result we feel both “future proof” and richly rewarded for our efforts.

Our home in the Aldinga Arts Eco Village

Our home in the Aldinga Arts Eco Village