“It’s all linked and never finished”. And Carl Mintern wouldn’t have it any other way now he’s discovered the joys of self-sufficiency, Tracie Beardsley reports in this month’s A Country Living.
After restoring an old farmhouse in Lovington, local builder Carl found himself moving into it. His client had decided to rent the property rather than live there, and gave Carl first refusal and a significantly reduced rent. The house came with eight acres of land.
Four years on, Carl and his wife Jackie, along with their three teenage children, have created a self- sufficient lifestyle, living off the land as much as possible.
Carl explains: “Until that point, we had no intention of growing our own food. I’d grown a few carrots, and we’d kept a few hens for eggs but the idea of self-sufficiency and doing things to the level I do now just wasn’t in my zeitgeist.” That level includes producing as much of their own food as possible.
Their smallholding is home to a menagerie of hens, ducks, pigs, goats and sheep.
Feeding stock with the by-products of bakeries and fruit and veg shops that would otherwise
go to landfill reduces waste and their own carbon footprint.
“Every animal pays for itself,” Carl explains.
He makes his own cheese and ice-cream – enjoying 20 pints of milk a day from two goats. He even slaughters and butchers his pigs himself, having learnt how to do this from books and YouTube. His first pig took him three days to slaughter and butcher. Three years on, it’s gun- to-freezer in three hours.
“What became clear to me from the moment we moved in was that we shouldn’t waste this opportunity. I’d never had land before. I didn’t want our time here just being the same as what we usually did –
working, watching Netflix, going to bed. This desire was coupled with an immense sense
of custodianship of the land.”
Hitting the ground running
The boxes were barely unpacked when Carl set to work. Within the first year, he’d created a vegetable garden, erected a polytunnel, bought in pigs and goats to rear, started digging a pond and learnt about bee- keeping.
He’d already taught himself how to forage and is now an expert, leading foraging courses across Dorset and Somerset and most recently writing a regular column on the topic here in the BV (see this month’s on page 56).
“I’d had a rural childhood – poaching trout and dabbling in foraging,” he explains “but I really got into it when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I couldn’t work for six weeks while I underwent chemotherapy so I immersed myself in mushroom foraging and went from becoming an enthusiast to an expert.
“Wild, edible plants are a ridiculously neglected amazing source of free food – absolute gems,” he explains as he shows me a kitchen shelf groaning under pots of dried foraged mushrooms and walnuts. “We’re not talking food miles, we’re talking food metres when you walk and forage.”
Carl shares his passion for self-sufficiency in a series of brilliantly informative podcasts – just look for the ‘self sufficient hub’ podcast to listen in.
“Wherever you live, whatever your lifestyle, you can grow some of your own food and be more self-sufficient than you are. I want to share my ideas and passion with anyone prepared to listen. Growing your own food is the Swiss army knife of sustainability. It improves soil health, it sequesters CO2 from the atmosphere and it tastes incredible! And when you sit down to a meal and literally everything on the plate is something you have helped produce – that’s a phenomenal feeling.”
Big plans and new adventures
Sadly, the ‘Good Life’ is drawing to an end in Lovington as the owner of the farmhouse is reclaiming her property. But Carl is determined to continue his self-sufficiency adventure. “I’m planning to buy a field where I can create a learning centre and set up the smallholding again.
‘’My vision is that I can teach people the skills I’ve gained – the principles of permaculture, how to grow your own food, to preserve, to forage, to compost, to make cheese, bake sourdough, master the art of fermenting. I want to pass on to others all the things I’ve spent the last four years immersing myself in – things I didn’t realise I loved until we lived off the land.”
Quick-fire questions with Carl:
The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery; self- sufficiency learnt on the great plains of America, covering everything from milking a goat to midwifery.
Dinner party guest?
Sam Harris – neuroscientist and moral philosopher, master meditator – I’m a big fan of his.
What would be on the menu?
Something in season of course!
by Tracie Beardsley