After growing up and living much of her adult life (so far) on remote country (a station north of Broken Hill, a station east of Coober Pedy, Port Augusta, Borroloola and Wirrabara), moving into a regional suburban town could have been a bit of an adjustment Melissa (Mel) Emery – but as we discovered, Mel’s continuing her passion for sustainability and making the most of what she has – even if it is currently a rented suburban back yard.

So what’s your background, Mel – where did you grow up?
I grew up on a farm in Western Australia. Farming is part of my family; my parents were both off farms too. Growing up, mum milked a cow, we had chooks, ducks, turkeys, geese – it was just how it was. We had a huge seasonal vegetable garden and dad would provide us with all the lamb and beef we needed from the farm.

It sounds idyllic!
I guess from a sustainability point of view it was, and also sustainable because you were growing so much of your own food – but it wasn’t until we moved that I realised how uniquely sustainably we were living and how important sustainability is to me. It’s also so much easier on land because you’ve got the space to have the ducks and the chooks and the sheep. You need to be a bit more creative when you don’t have the space.

And now you’re living in Roxby Downs, 600km north of Adelaide in arid South Australia. How did you come to be here?
We came here for my husband, Lee’s work in September last year from Wirrabara, where we lived on the family property. It was great, we had 30 chooks, eight ducks, (we managed to hatch three batches of chickens and two batches of ducks) and the ducks swam in the creek behind their pen. The land provides these opportunities. I merely took advantage of these to live as sustainably as I could.

After growing up on a farm and preferring to be surrounded by space that gives you opportunities to be as sustainable as possible, how have you found making compromises and adjustments now that you’re living in suburbia?
I grew up on a farm but haven’t lived on a ‘farm’ since I was 12. However I have always enjoyed living where I have space around me, where I have the opportunity to live as sustainable as possible.
It is different living here after having so much space but as a stay at home mum I have had the opportunity to think about ‘how we can try and live a sustainable lifestyle in a suburban environment’
It’s important to me to at least try and grow our own vegies and herbs.
I’ve planted cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, sweet potato and beetroot in pots, and we’ve put together the pallet garden in our outdoor area.

Yes – the pallet garden – it looks amazing! Tell me about it.
We did the pallet garden because we appreciate rustic surroundings and try to re use and recycle where we can, so I looked into what I could make a garden with and I thought pallets might fit in the space we had. I discussed it with my husband and then found some pallets locally, which fit the area perfectly.
They were pretty straight forward to make – we just stood the pallets up, cut lengths of wood to fit underneath to support the soil and then put hessian in to line/make little garden beds and hold the soil. The whole thing cost less than $100 for the plants and soil (the pallets were free.)

What do you have growing in the pallet garden at the moment? How is it all going?
We have oregano, thyme, mint, parsley, coriander, lemon balm, rosemary, basil, sage, lettuce. Succulents including alovera. It’s a process of trial and error. What grows best where.

What do you think the benefit of having a vegetable garden is to your family?
Fresh produce, lowering our ecological footprint. All while modelling/teaching our children life skills and the process of growing food. Enjoying the simple things in life and enjoying them together.

You have two daughters, what do they think about the pallet garden?
Tayla (nearly two) loves it, she’s picked some of the flowers, she likes to smell and taste the different herbs. It’s a lovely sensory experience for her.
I cook from it every second night or so, we come out and choose the herbs together, wash and then use them in our cooking.

What other sustainable/environmentally friendly things do you do day-to-day?
We also use cloth nappies. I grew up in cloth and looked into it with my first baby (Tayla); a friend had a girl 12 months older so she sold me a whole heap. Now we use them on both girls, winter gets a bit harder with drying opportunities but we’re lucky in Roxby that we get a fair bit of sunshine even in winter.

And the future – do you have plans for any new additions to your garden?
We need to work out what we want to do next and I’d love to look more into what we can achieve in a rental – we are looking into more potted fruit trees but you also need to be wise about spending money on things when you might have to move. We would love to have some chooks to reduce our food waste and produce fresh eggs. We will have to look into our rental agreement and council restrictions.

Thanks for being our latest Ecoceptional Mum, Mel – was so great talking with you and seeing your fabulous pallet garden! If you or someone you know would be interested in being profiled for our Ecoceptional Mum series, feel free to drop us a line here