There’s a lot to take in at Melissa and Aaron Jacobson’s 1.4 hectare South Taranaki section: The orchard, tiered vegetable gardens, Ginny the king pig, Heidi the goat, and the compostable toilet beside the front door.
It’s all part of the couple’s goal to be as sustainable as possible – to close the loop, as they call it.
The compostable toilet is the most extreme way of doing that, Melissa said.
“We see it as the ultimate sustainability. It’s a mindset thing, we use perfectly good drinking water to flush waste away, it’s a strange concept to a lot of places that struggle with water. ”
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The toilet inside urine diverted, which they plan to dilute and give back to the fruit trees, and then faeces are covered with wood chips which hides the smell and composts.
At the moment, they are using a demo version they created, but plan to completely remove their fully functioning flushing toilet inside, which Aaron installed just three years ago, and replace it with a composting one.
Ten years ago when the couple moved to the property – which they call The Little Insect Farm and is 11 kilometers inland from Eltham – it was just a house on a hill surrounded by paddocks.
And in a bizarre turn of events they ended up swapping houses with the previous owner.
“The people that lived here bought our property in Hawera, they wanted to live in town, so it was kind of perfect,” Melissa said.
The couple have three kids Lucas, 14, Cohen, 9, and Alinka-Jean, 6, and work at Taranaki Diocesan School in Stratford. Melissa is a biology teacher and Aaron is a lab technician.
So with a background in science, their sustainability journey was not such a leap.
Melissa said they had big plans when they first moved in. However, it’s taken a long time to get things done, something she’s ultimately pleased about.
“We would have missed out on the learning and done things so differently,” she said. “You have to live a full year to really understand your land.”
The Jacobsons inherited a few issues with the property such as greywater just flowing into a paddock and a “septic tank” that was just a hole in the ground, both of which were legal at the time of creation, so the couple had to just deal with them.
The garden was part of The Sustainable Backyards Trail, with the couple showing off what they do including farming mealworms as an alternative, sustainable protein source.
The plan is to turn their sustainable way of life into a full-time business, especially the edible insect side of things.
Once finances allow they plan to set up shipping containers and create the perfect conditions to farm the mealworms to commercial standard.
“With the Sustainable Backyards Trail we had this whole insect talk set up and had taste tests, and we didn’t expect many people to be in it but everybody, apart from one group, taste tested.
“It was really exciting.”
Aaron describes the flavor of mealworms as nutty or like mushrooms.
At home, they just dry-roast them.
“The kids love them like chips, we don’t even get a chance to eat them,” Aaron said. “It’s been really awesome to show the kids how to look after themselves.”
Melissa’s background is in entomology, the study of insects, and she says she would regularly eat bugs at university.
“One of our professors would often roast up locusts for us to try. Lots of countries eat insects, and it makes sense because they are abundant. ”
She says you can even buy a mealworm in a powder form, so you can add a scoop to your morning smoothie if the idea of eating a bug wasn’t your thing.
However, it would be an expensive addition as it goes for $ 200 a kilogram.
“We don’t eat them all the time because we don’t have enough volume, but eventually we will.
“We know that a lot of people will just be buying them for their pets, but we’ll set it up that the processes we’re doing that humans can eat them too if they want to.”
The steepness of the section has proved difficult at times but Melissa and Aaron are nothing if not problem-solvers.
When a tractor couldn’t access the paddocks to cut grass to make hay, they decided to find a way to do it themselves.
Aaron cut the grass by hand, they turned it multiple times a day for a few days, and then made a mini bailer out of timber to create hay bails.
“It was really satisfying,” Aaron said. “I swear we’re the laughingstock of the town.”
Melissa and Aaron are sharing their work at The Little Insect Farm through the new platform Secret Garden, which they recently joined.
Similar to Airbnb but for gardens, people can go on and book in tours and workshops.
Most visits would take around two hours, but the couple got their first visitor through the platform was there for three.
“It turns out we’re very, incredibly passionate,” Aaron said. “When you’ve got something like this at home waiting for you, it’s all you can think about.”