Simple Living on Farms. How to Live the Very Simple Life.

In December 2007 we finally embarked on our simple living on farms adventure! With no mains water or energy available, we had to learn fast how to live a very simple life. We are happy to share the lessons learned and offer this sustainable living advice website for families living plain and rural. So read on for tips about saving money, how to cut consumption, grow food, and generally how to live a very simple life…


Already, of course, most people in the world live the very simple self sufficient life out of necessity. The westerner lifestyle is not the norm but the exception, but its days are numbered…

With global climate changing rapidly and potable water and oil reserves waning, I can’t help thinking that frugal simple living on farms and productive urban gardens could soon be an absolute necessity for most westerners too.

Though it’s not that hard to learn to be more efficient, when it comes to resources, most of us have been conditioned to be wasteful. Waste drives economic growth. So clever marketing propaganda has convinced many that it is our birthright to squander, misuse and spoil the world’s scarce resources.

In terms of ecological footprint, the wasteful 20% in the developed world use and desecrate more than the other 80% of the world put together!!! So if you think the biggest world threat is overpopulation, think again….

Our grandparents practiced the virtue of living the frugal simple life and now it is time for us to take up the challenge. Our survival may one day depend on our ability to live simply and cut consumption! In the meantime it is the only authentic way to happiness as well as reducing our ecological footprint to become more responsible earth citizens.


Saving money and life simple living is a reality for us now. No more rent to pay, and no more fuel costs for getting back and forth to our block. Those two things alone have saved us $400 a week in expenses which has paved the way for a partial withdrawal from working for a living, and a simpler happier life all round.

We are also saving money simple living on farms by:

Growing Our Own Food

We have a small flock of easy-care self-shedding sheep that will breed lambs for ongoing meat requirements. We are also building a chicken pen so we can convert food scraps into eggs.

Plant propagation area

Our seedling propagation area

To save money on chicken food I am propagating chicken fodder plants from seed in a little shade house rigged up from shadecloth rescued from the side of the road and a few star pickets. Soon I will have a complete self-sustaining chicken forest!

We are using the same shade house to propagate traditional, non-hybrid vegetables from seed, that I am transplanting into our new tunnel house.

We made the 6 by 3 ½ meter tunnel house quite cheaply using 6 meter poly pipe bent over pairs of star pickets, and covered with rescued shade cloth.

Below: Our tunnelhouse greenhouse for growing summer vegetables 3 months after building

I have built raised beds of my best farm soil augmented with selected soil improvers and mulched thickly.

Tunnel green house for growing vegetables

• Building stuff yourself, and

• Becoming a great scavenger!

...are other great strategies for saving money simple living on farms!


Simple living on farms that don’t have an established water supply forces you to become very water efficient.

Here it is currently summer - the bore contractors haven’t arrived and our new 20 x 10m shed is not yet equipped with a rainwater tank. So we have to cart in every drop of water, which makes it very precious indeed.

We bought two secondhand plastic 1000 liter cubes complete with metal framing – one for the trailer and one as the header tank. With sheep watering, fruit trees, vegetables, nursery and home use, we go through about one every ten days.

Water cube header tank

Our water cube "header tank"

Here our some of our simple living on farms strategies for using water efficiently:

Don’t Waste a Drop!

Showers, for example, are a forgotten indulgence. Now a bucket and a flannel suffice! We’ve found that 5 liters of water is enough to wash yourself, or wash the dishes.

For reasons of hygiene we soon developed a color system of buckets for different uses: Red buckets for personal hygiene, green for kitchen use (washing veges, boiling food, washing dishes).

Our fruit trees, vegetables and home nursery seedlings are hand watered by bucket or watering can. And of course we conserve water by mulching heavily and growing under shade cloth where possible.

Because we don't wish to toxify the planet by using a chemical toilet, we have made a temporary “solids only” composting toilet out of a wheelie bin part buried in the ground, and fitted with a toilet seat. After each use we throw in a handful of sawdust and close the lid to exclude flies.

Soon we will add earthworms to further process the waste. It doesn’t smell, and once it’s fully "processed" by nature the contents will supply rich organic fertilizer for the orchard.

Composting toilet wheelie bin

A composting toilet wheelie bin

Plan for Maximum Re-use.

We have a “slops” bucket for all water that we’ve used once, that can still do for our fruit trees.

This includes the water drained from spaghetti and boiled potatoes, our urine (great source of nitrogen for plants that citrus in particular will flourish on), dish washing water (sparingly use an “eco” brand of dish washing liquid.

Scrape dishes into chicken bucket, worm farm bucket or dog bowls, then pre-rinse with a tiny bit of water before washing properly), and water from our personal bathing buckets.


For the first six weeks on our farm, we had no mains power. Instead we used a small 950 watt generator. This was enough to run a cement mixer for laying our concrete floor, and later to run household appliances.

However, we found that it couldn’t handle more than one medium power use appliance at a time, and heavy users like kettles and toasters were out of the question.

So for simple living on farms without mains power:


Rationing generator time between the children’s TV or computer, our TV or computer, a small bar fridge, and giving it a break. Ideally you shouldn’t use such a generator for more than 8 hours a day or they’ll soon pack in, which is what happened to ours more than once.


Occasionally we used an 1800 watt inverter to convert power from our car battery to 240 volt use so we could give the generator a break and still watch a DVD. Good inverters cut out before your battery goes flat, but park on a hill just in case!

Energy Alternatives

In the short term finding alternatives to electric power wherever possible was a necessary coping strategy.

We cooked on a twin burner gas stove, and brought in a bag of ice every second day to take some of the load off our tiny refrigerator. We also had to shop every second day to maintain food quality.

These strategies are neither money saving nor energy efficient in the long run, however, as the cost of ice, and cost of fuel for the car and to run our generator, was significant.

Though the workshop is now connected to three phase power, we have a great wind resource here in summer (the easterlies are pretty strong most nights) and have brought in wind turbines that we plan to put up to provide power to our future home.

Gravity Powered Reticulation

Permaculture is about conserving human energy as well as other forms. We soon got tired of carrying endless buckets around, and put in a poly pipe reticulation system.

We saved money by recycling discarded polypipe from the side of the road (though it is cheaper to buy new poly than it is to get plugs to repair stuff with dripper holes in the wrong places), and making our own drippers.

In practice, with our low pressure looped circuit reticulation system, we found just a few meters of head pressure was enough for all but the most elevated trees.

I would recommend that you have your header tank at least 8 meters higher than where you wish to drip reticulate. You can get by on less, but would need to partition your irrigation system into smaller sections that are watered one at a time to keep pressure up.


As oil and fuel prices go up, so does food. Since it takes 9 calories of oil and gas energy to produce 10 calories of food by modern industrial agriculture methods, food is only going to get more and more expensive. Add to that wildly out of whack climates and water shortages, and I think we could be in for hungry times ahead.

Cuba had the transition from industrialized agriculture to a post-oil economy forced upon them in the early 1990’s by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite strict food rationing, the average Cuban lost 20 pounds in weight.

Everyone, from plumbers to medical practitioners, started growing food on any scrap of land they could find. Now Cuba has converted to organic farming methods using traditional plant varieties, and farmers enjoy one of the best paid professions.

There’s a taste of what we are in for over the next few years! My advice? Learn how to grow your own food now.

What we are doing:

Growing our own food

In our Permaculture landscape design, most of our 5 acres is dedicated to livestock. This is because, to feed families living plain and rural, it takes a lot more land to grow livestock than it does to grow fruit and vegetables.

We are setting up grazing and specialized fodder forest systems for meat sheep, milking goats and poultry.

In addition we are establishing a small home-use orchard and different vegetable growing systems: small intensive tunnel house (now), and “wild vegetables” that will be yielded synergistically from the poultry and orchard systems (when we have more water!).

Recycling food

Every calorie is sacred! So simple living on farms requires you to waste nothing.

Meat scraps go to the dogs (no cooked bones though please) from which we make a very tidy hobby income as registered breeders.

Other food scraps go to the chickens and are converted into eggs.

Any other thing that was once alive makes useful food for the worm farm. This includes vacuum cleaner dust, green weeds, egg shells, potato peels, newspaper, manure, and hair. The worm farm yields fabulous liquid and solid plant foods that help to grow our vegetables and fruit.

So that’s our start to simple living on farms. It feels great to be finally putting everything into practice!