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As we bumped across the open field of the campground near our house, en route to our favourite creek, my son leaned out the window and yelled, “Look mama! Grass!!” The New Zealand Department of Conservation, who own this campground and the vast majority of the land on the island, had just come through and neatly mowed the grass we were driving on, leaving piles of clippings behind. By now my son knows how much I love grass clippings. We parked in our usual spot near the water and I pulled two 60 litre (15 gallon) washing tubs from the back of our minivan, then promptly loaded them with fistfuls of clippings until our bare feet and hands were tinged green. “Alright, we got our grass, now let’s go play!” I hollered, and we all ran down to the water for a swim.

As mentioned in a previous post, the first thing we built when we moved here was a 4-foot by 4-foot compost enclosure using scavenged wood pallets. I knew we would need hay or sawdust or other green material for our composting system, which absorbs all our food waste, human waste, and diapers. But I had no idea how much. After using up the grass clippings from our own lawn, I began using the leaves raked up from under our trees, but we still needed more. And that’s how I became a scavenger.


Hunting for seaweed

It’s a bit of a thing on the island, scavenging. It’s so difficult (and expensive) to get things delivered here that most locals are quite resourceful. I never feel embarrassed when neighbours drive past while I’m pulled over on the side of the road busily stuffing grass clippings into a big burlap coffee sack, or when our car smells like seaweed because I’ve hauled loads of it in from our recent beach outings (seaweed is great for the garden).

We went camping this past weekend at a gorgeous spot down the road where ancient pohutukawa trees tower over meadows, and streams meander to an isolated beach. A flock of sheep grazed nearby and the ground was dotted with their manure. “I bet this would be great in the garden,” I said to Isaac, who replied, “Lins, don’t get too carried away.” Regretfully, I didn’t come home with a bucket of manure.

Camping at a glorious spot dotted with manure

The epitome of the scavenging spirit has got to be the recycling centre on the island, located just down the road from the dump (which is on Donald Trump road). The focal point of this busy spot is the “tip shop”, an open-air store that sells the junk other people don’t want anymore. They have a room of books, racks and racks of clothing, wetsuits, dishes, bikes, strollers, old building materials, and a whole room of toys.

Our kids love going there, and we let them pick out whatever they want when we do. One day our son fell in love with the remote for a remote control car (the car itself was long gone). Last week we found some old metal tea pots, which the kids have been playing “tea party” with for days. One person’s trash makes another person’s day.

The beloved "tip shop"

We recently needed a tarp to cover a precious load of timber we just had delivered. We could have bought one and had it delivered to the island for $10, but instead we swung by the “tip shop” on our way home and asked if they had any. The woman working there guided us to the backyard, where a pile of ripped and ruined tents sat in a corner. She handed me a pair of scissors. “Go ahead and cut the bottom off one of these, some of them are quite big.” I snipped the waterproof bottom off a 10-foot square tent and we neatly folded it up. Tarp accomplished! I needed a zipper for a sewing project as well, so I snipped one of those off too. We took it all home for $5.

And that’s how scavenging has become my go-to solution for composting, gardening, keeping my kids entertained with new toys, and acquiring bits and bobs that we need around the house. There's plenty to scavenge on the island to eat, from mussels to mushrooms, but I haven't learned enough about that yet to do it. And if I had more free time, I’d probably get more of my clothes from the secondhand shops as well. Every time I see a woman wearing a cute dress on the island and comment on it, her response is almost always a very proud, “Got it at the top shop!” But with two toddlers constantly in tow, I have yet to find much time to pick through the racks for something for myself. For now though, I’m pretty stoked to get a bucket full of grass once in a while.

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