What is Good Life Style for Families
Downshifting to Sustainable Living and... Will That Property Deliver?

For families downshifting to sustainable living, deciding what is good life style is the first step to finding, planning, and developing the ideal self-sufficient small farm.

So start your adventure to a better life by defining your sustainable living aspirations. Each of these aspirations will require specific natural resources to be present on your perfect property. Here we help you work this out.

So, what is good life style for you? Your answer will be unique to you and your family!

However, when it comes to sustainable living, there are a few fundamentals to consider:

• Food production potential

• Sustainable shelter

• Height above sea level

• Local amenities

• Community


Your Food Production Goals

If you are following current global trends you’d likely be a little worried right now about the looming impact of climate change and peak oil on the future availability of essentials: I mean, what is good life style without food and water security?

So we, like other families downshifting to sustainable living, are heading for the hills and a more self sufficient lifestyle.

Of course, the other benefits of this tree-change are downright appealing anyway – such as clean air, healthy food, meaningful exercise and satisfying home-based work.

Yep, quality of life is the main driver for us!

Sustainable food production is an essential foundation whatever your motivation for country living, so lets look at it in more detail.

The quality and quantity of water, soil and climate that you’ll require is your family’s ecological footprint for food production – that is, the amount of functioning farm ecosystem you’ll need to support you.

It depends on:

• The number of people to be fed

• The degree of food self-sufficiency

• Your diet

These factors have a major influence on the area of land families downshifting to sustainable living will need to achieve a sustainable lifestyle.

As a general guide:

for each person you want to feed you will need around ½ acre (2000 m2) of fertile, arable land supplied with about 2000 kL of water annually, depending on crops grown, rainfall,evaporation, mulching, irrigation methods, and soil type.

Concerning diet, how you intend to meet your nutritional needs for protein is a pivotal point.

For example, it is said that a meat-based diet requires 7 times more land than a vegetarian diet: 3 ½ acres compared to only ½ acre per person.

So what is good life style for a vegetarian can be achieved on a lot less land than for an avid meat eater.

However, this estimate is based on conventional farming monocultures, which do not yield as abundantly as integrated, more complex systems such as Permaculture, ancient traditional farming, and nature herself. And in such systems animals are a very important part of the sustainable living ecology.

Animals increase your yields - they:

• Make productive use of land that is too poor for vegetable or fruit production

• Do useful work such as weed control or tillage

• Carry out important functions such as microbial digestion and recycling of low grade plant materials

• Provide other yields such as work, fertilizer, wool, guarding, warmth..

• Can earn cash income e.g sale of the progeny of pedigree animals

So it is really just a matter of deciding which types of animals to have in your farm system: poultry, milk goats, rabbits, sheep, cows, honey bees, etc, and making optimal Permaculture use of their needs, habits and yields.

Healthy animals depend on healthy soil

Property Food Production Potential

The capacity of a small farm to yield enough nutritious organic food to meet the needs of families downshifting to sustainable living depends largely on its endowment with these three natural resources:

• Climate

• Water

Soil Soil

Why is soil so important? In hydroponic and conventional farming systems, soil is just a dead substrate for plant roots to hold onto.

In these unnatural systems, the plants are dependant on soluble fertilizers, are intrinsically unhealthy, and produce food that is lacking in nutritional value.

Nutritious, health enhancing food is an essential pillar of what is good life style for sustainability.

And healthy food depends on healthy plants which in turn depend on healthy, living soil.

What is living soil?

Living soil is biologically active. It has the right balance of nutrients, water and air to support as much healthy life within it as above it in the form of earthworms, fungi, soil bacteria, and other microbes.

These create a strong soil ecology that will support a thriving and productive farm.

Soil quality depends on many factors, the chief of these being soil type and structure.

There is a lot you can do to balance soil pH, or improve the structure of very sandy or clay soils. However, productivity gains can be expensive and slow.

Families downshifting to sustainable living are best to start with at least some intrinsically fertile soil to begin with and then tweak it with the right amendments. And the soil type with the highest capacity for sustainable fruit and vegetable production is loam.


High on the list of aspirations of what is good life style for families downshifting to sustainable living will be sustainable shelter.

You'll want an environmentally friendly home that is:

• cheap to run, and

• cheap to build.

A Home That’s Cheap to Run

A home that works with, rather than against, the climate is therefore the way to go: a home designed to be passive solar.

Though clever solar home design can make most sites work, classic passive solar floor plans have the longest axis housing daytime living areas and facing towards the main solar aspect (north if you live in the southern hemisphere, south for the northern hemisphere).

So your perfect property will ideally include a good home site facing the sun.

If your property has an existing home you can use the same passive solar principles to assess its potential for retrofitting for improving how it functions with your climate.

A Home That’s Cheap to Build

Families downshifting to sustainable living can save money house building (and help the planet) by utilizing renewable and recyclable materials, and by doing some of the construction work yourself.

There are many house building technologies that lend themselves to owner -building including straw bale, rammed earth, mud brick, earth-ship (tires and earth), cob homes, wattle and daub, and adobe. Sustainable building depends on having suitable materials near at hand.

Since our own small farm property is located in the hills of outer Perth near a wheatbelt area, we are opting to build a straw bale house.

It has great insulation properties and is relatively inexpensive and easy to do. We’ll also be making use of tires - a cheap and readily available suburban waste product.


Temperature and rainfall variations throughout the year are largely a factor of your regional climate, be it moist subtropic with wet humid summers and warm dry winters, to hot, dry savannah with hot dry summers and cold moist winters.

So get a grip on your local climate and the temperature and rainfall variations you are likely to get.

As all farmers would be aware, local climatic factors affect both the species and varieties of plants and animals that will provide a good yield, and the intrinsic food production potential of a farm.

And all these will vary from region to region, from property to property, and even from area to area within a property:


Rainfall will dictate the productivity of rain-fed pastures, crops and trees, and the amount of water you can hope to harvest in dams and rainwater tanks.

In general, hills attract more rain than flat plains, and the further inland you go, the less rainfall you will get.

And rainfall can vary a lot from one area to another.

I used to live in the Shire of Beverly about 150 km inland of Perth, Western Australia. At one end of the Shire the annual rainfall was 600 mm (24 inches), and dropped rapidly as you went further inland down to only 300 mm (12 inches) at the other end!

Check with the local weather bureau on the average annual rainfall figures for locations you are considering downshifting to. The sustainability of your new lifestyle depends on it!

To calculate harvestable rainfall runoff:

You can calculate the amount of rainfall runoff you can harvest in a year from a given area as follows:

Annual rainfall x catchment area x runoff co-efficient*

The runoff co-efficient is the proportion of water that runs off, rather than soaking into, the surface in question. For a house roof or bitumen road it is close to 1.0 (i.e. almost all of the water runs off).

For very rocky land and barren clayey soils it is around 0.9.

The more vegetation on the land, the less the runoff so that very thick bush or forest could have a runoff coefficient of only 0.1.

So annual rainfall harvest from a house roof with an area of 150 m2 in a 500mm (0.5m) annual rainfall zone would be:

0.5m x 150m2 x 1.0 = 75 m3 (75,000 litres)

And...you can save money by learning how to build a water tank yourself!

Land too wet or dry?

On agricultural land there are many strategies that can be used to retain the water that falls in the landscape for use by your plants rather than letting it run away.

You can also utilize earthworks to strategically divert water away from areas prone to waterlogging.


Temperature obviously varies from region to region, and at each location throughout the year.

However, there is also considerable "micro-climate" variation within any property, for example:

• A North (South if you are in the Northern Hemisphere) facing slope will be warmer than one that does not face the sun most of the time.

• Rocks and stones gather heat during the day and release it at night, raising minimum temperatures.

• Frost tends to roll downslope so that low areas will tend to be frostier than hilltops.

• Wind exposed sites will be drier than sheltered sites.

• The shade and moist air under trees provides a cooler micro-climate than hot exposed areas.

Different microclimates on a property will provide potential sites for growing different types of food crops.

And you can use Permaculture design techniques to modify and enhance microclimate.

Consider using whatever other resources your property or location provides such as stone, timber or mud. If we’d had a good supply of suitable soil on the property we could have gone for rammed earth.


A secure location is integral to what is good life style for sustainable living. We’ve been following climate change pretty closely and the global warming research suggests that sea level rise is a significant risk factor.

In fact, we recently sold our coastal property because of this concern.

Insurance companies stopped insuring for flooding in our area a few years ago for good reasons. After all, they are the risk assessment experts!

While projected global sea level rise is predicted to be very gradual, actual climate change is racing ahead of official scenarios. Like other families downshifting to sustainable living we are concerned about the risk of abrupt sea level rise.

Why? Well, some scientists point to the instability of the West Antarctic Ice Shelf which they say is only very precariously held above sea level and disintegrating rapidly.

The danger is it could suddenly slip into the ocean, causing global sea level to suddenly rise by 6 meters. If Greenland ice melted away completely it would have a similar eventual impact on sea level.

To be on the safe side we have opted for a property as high above sea level as possible (ours is 160 meters). If you’re wondering - how do I find my height above sea level - either ask your local council for contour (digital elevation) maps of the property you are interested in, or generate your own flood risk sea level rising map free. LOCAL AMENITIES

Before families downshifting to sustainable living take the plunge they need to consider a property's access to local amenities which can have a profound effect on the quality of their new lifestyle.

Come across cheap rural land for sale? Tempted to buy?

First ask yourself why is it so cheap? The biggest factor tends to be distance from shops, services and other amenities. Location, location, location!

When we were living in the sticks at Beverley there was a definite clash between my kids and sustainable living.

What is good life style for them includes access to friends, shops, movies, concerts and later jobs and higher education facilities, which our beautiful property just could not deliver.

Unhappy kids means unhappy parents, so we moved back to the suburbs until most of them left home, and are now heading for a location on the outskirts of our major city of Perth so we can enjoy the best of both worlds.

There are other factors contributing to cheaper land but they all boil down to low buyer demand. That might be because of low rainfall, uninteresting views, flood risk or a host of other reasons so do your homework and think hard before committing yourself.

Could a smaller property closer to civilization meet your sustainable living objectives just as well? With oil prices projected to escalate in the years ahead, you definitely don’t want to move somewhere where you’ll be highly dependent on transport.

And also ensure your property has access to broadband (satellite is expensive, especially with the download appetite of kids). I tip that the internet is going to become increasingly important for information, networking and business.

That means opportunities for you to be part of the action and cash in on

potential small business ideas for your farm, so keep your options open!

Celebrating as a community is a cornerstone of happiness


Your sustainable living adventure will be more successful if you develop relationships in your new local community. Interdependence engenders resilience in natural systems, and in today’s increasingly uncertain world, the same is true of communities.

Consider resources for example.

In Permaculture, waste is considered simply to be an under-utilized resource. What one person can’t use, perhaps you can make good use of, and vice versa.

So foster community relationships to enhance your access to cheap supplies and services that will allow you to build up the productivity of your small farm and barter your opportunities to help others.

Chances are, if you are like most people living in suburbia you don’t even know who your neighbors are, let alone socialize with many people in our local community. That’s more than a shame...

International research on happiness shows that feeling like you belong in your local community has a big influence on how happy you feel.

In fact, the happiest people on the planet are not the richest, best educated, healthiest, or even the safest. The single factor they all have in common is celebrating together as a community on a regular basis.

So what’s the community you are thinking of moving to like? How often do they celebrate together? Checking out their events calendar (usually available from the local council) will give you a clue.

Families downshifting to sustainable living in the country will find that country people are on the one hand very helpful and friendly, but on the other hand pretty close-knit and apt to gossip (about you!). So don’t reveal things about yourself that you don’t wish to become local knowledge!

And get involved with local activities. It definitely accelerates your assimilation into rural communities and helps you make new friends and useful contacts.

If there’s nothing much going on, then start something yourself. Around 65% of tree-changers do, and they are the ones who report the highest satisfaction with their new country lifestyle. It's a big part of what is good life style.

And of course, you can soon become part of our virtual community here at Small-Farm-Permaculture-and-Sustainable-Living.com.

In the meantime, don't delay in joining or starting a local group to prepare for the hard times developing in the aftermath of Peak Oil.

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