*Post update, June 2017* The Rescued Animal Adoption Program at Back 2 Earth is now live. I am very grateful to have been a small part in its conception and I wish Marc, Jenny and animal rescuers/advocates everywhere the very best. To get to know the animals, donate or get involved head here: https://back2earth.net.au/adopt-an-animal/
After exceeding 2000 km of cross-country car travel, I arrived in Berry on the 21st of March, travel-weary, newly on antibiotics and still very much under the weather. My travel companions – my husband (aka Designated Driver), hungry one year-old Oliver, plus Louie and Lillian – were, like me, rather keen to stretch their legs after hours on the road en route from Kariong. Pulling in at Back 2 Earth, we were immediately struck by the tranquility of the place. I think I may have audibly sighed with relief. The pups who enthusiastically bounded over to greet us did nothing to disturb the serenity. In fact, they added to the pleasantness of the warm welcome we received from Jenny and Marc.
Having spent so many days on the road, staying in many places merely overnight, I was beyond tired. Hence my body was unable to fight off whatever it was that I’d come down with in Sydney and, after over a week of pushing on regardless, I conceded surrender and found myself in a doctor’s office in Newcastle. Antibiotics were prescribed (as I knew they would be). And so was rest. We had originally planned to stay just one night at Back 2 Earth. My exhausted body said “Stay for two!”, and once my body and brain reached a consensus, it felt right to extend our visit. Oh, the relief of having a place to call home for more than a night.
And what a place! I was delighted to find our self-contained cottage style B&B accommodation was generously appointed and featured a comfy open plan living and dining room, a separate kitchen (complete with all cutlery/crockery/mod cons) and several other features just perfect for a motel-weary family. The large bedroom was furnished with a comfortable queen bed and the children had a cosy bunk bed to share. The bathroom was a welcoming amalgamation of homely comfort and day spa. The veranda was the perfect place from which to greet the morning. And though it was too warm to justify using a log fireplace, I imagine reading a book in front of it would be a wonderful way to relax at the end of a leisurely day.
There are three accommodation options for visitors – all with gorgeous veranda views of Berry Mountain and the paddocks – including the Cozy B&B where we resided as a family.
Aside from the high standard of accommodation, there are some offerings that make Back 2 Earth rather unique in the realm of farm stays. The first is that the farm animals are not “working” farm animals, but rather rescued animals for whom the farm is a sanctuary and a “forever home”. The second is that Marc and Jenny continue to practice their respective pre-farm professions from specially designed buildings on the farm, meaning that Back 2 Earth is a farm meets holistic health retreat, where float tank experiences, massage therapy and psychotherapy sessions are all on offer for those who are interested.
Not only does the 5-acre farm produce its own organic fruit and vegetables, but the entire operation is run on the principles of sustainability, environmental awareness, zero waste and self-sufficiency. And it’s all the more impressive considering Marc and Jenny created it all themselves in an ambitiously short period of 3 years!
Exploring the farm in the rain
One thing that I love about the manner in which this particular farm stay operates (we have glamped on organic farms before in the UK), is that guests can design their own experience. From romantic getaway, to health & wellness retreat, to an opportunity to introduce your children to farm life and animal care/welfare, the experience of staying at Back 2 Earth can be… well, just what you want it to be!
If you hang out on this blog for the food content, you will no doubt be curious about the culinary aspect of the Back 2 Earth experience. The main thing to note is that the catered option is raw vegan. And whether or not you are familiar with raw vegan cuisine, you are in for both a surprise and a treat. Aside from the catered packages which can be tailored to suit your needs (we had one dinner and two breakfasts plus snacks), the self-catering option is generously complemented by the guest harvesting allowance; teas and vegetables can be picked fresh from the gardens for personal use!
Fresh fruit & veg juice to start the day
Marc is the chef on-site, responsible for most of the dishes and recipes that leave the farm’s strictly vegan kitchen. Aside from teaching interested guests about farm life, Marc also runs raw food workshops which can be tailor-made to suit specific areas of interest or health/dietary needs. My workshop included recipes and demos (plus hands-on experience for myself and the children) for raw burgers, cashew cheese dip, raw yogurt, golden milk turmeric chai lattes, choc mint pralines (with amazing raw mint fondant), and more! And yes, I did get to sample everything!
Raw food workshop
I asked Marc and Jenny how they came to adopt the raw vegan lifestyle. They explained that, while traveling in the U.S., Marc began to suffer from debilitating diet related illness. At some point in the trip after Marc had required a period of bed rest, they found themselves in a raw food café. Browsing through the book collection, they became engrossed in the vegan lifestyle-related literature. By the end of that day, they’d worked their way through several books and decided to embrace raw veganism. They haven’t looked back. And I am happy to report that all is well on the health front for Marc these days too.
If you are labouring under a misapprehension that eating raw food equates to subsisting on salads of leafy greens, rest assured the food at Back 2 Earth is anything but boring; think cashew yogurt unicorn smoothie bowls, coconut granola, 3-layer smoothies, bloomed wild rice stuffed tomatoes, spirulina crackers, golden milk lattes, organic fruit platters and dehydrated apple & cinnamon birds nests. Families visiting the farm with kids in tow may well discover what we did. Our little foodies were delighted by some of the most interesting, whimsical and inspired food we’ve eaten since we left Sweden… and it all happened to be 100% refined sugar-free, gluten-free, grain-free and plant-based (I think Marc is part chef, part magician 😀 ). The vibrant, nutrient-dense & delicious catered raw food options at Back 2 Earth are available at an additional cost if desired, and some are included with special accommodation packages.
3-layer fruit smoothie
Incredible breakfast spread for the whole family
THE R & R FACTOR
If there’s anything that will snap you out of an under-the-weather-melancholy funk, it’s fresh air, good food and a big old dose of perspective. On my second morning at the farm, I walked out onto the verandah to witness the sun rising over the farm. Playful puppy, Squishy, bounced around excitedly by my feet. At the recollection of his story (just weeks before he’d been left to die in a trash can), tears sprang to my eyes. I consoled myself by watching him happily tiring himself out, knowing that he’d found not only rescue but a love-filled home, thanks to Marc and Jenny.
A tuckered out little Squishy
Marc led me to the building that houses both the massage area and the float tank room. He explained the mechanics of the float tank process, such as wiping the glass area above your face with a wash cloth to avoid salt water dripping down.
Although the physical aspects of the float tank process are easy to relay (step in, wipe glass, close hatch, etc.), the internal process I went through during that hour is still very difficult for me to articulate. If you’ve ever had issues “sitting with yourself” then it may well bring some things up for you…. much like silent meditation, but intensified. For an hour I floated with myself, mostly in silence. I swung from finding myself in what I would describe as a semi-relaxed state to borderline anxious. As I watched my many (many, many) thoughts come and go, my body felt weightless, but my heart felt heavy. I felt claustrophobic, not because of the tank itself, which is surprisingly roomy and a very pleasant temperature, but rather because I was bombarding myself with “my stuff”; my thoughts, self-imposed obligations, insecurities.
As I bobbed on the surface of that incredibly salty water, my emotional stuff rose to the surface of my consciousness. And you know what? It is fine that it did. In fact, it is good that it did. The distractions and to-do’s that I often find myself wading knee-deep in prevent me from being with me. Or rather, just being. Anxiety starts to flare up as a result. And some of the best ways I have found to restore the equilibrium are to slow down, to sit with myself, to feel, to be in the moment… and, when all else fails, to cry.
As much as I found the experience confronting, I also found it healing in a kind of uncomfortable “break through” kind of way. The ol’ spiritual-awakening-in-the-form-of-a-rude-awakening scenario, that I am all too familiar with! At one point right near the end of the experience, I had to open the hatch a crack. There was just too much “me” in that space. I thought about all the people out there who naturally “get” relaxation. People who fall asleep on massage tables (what? Are you kidding me?)… or in float tanks. I am fairly certain we are wired differently. Or maybe I just have a ton of work to do on myself before I get to that point. Or maybe it’s not about work… maybe it’s about surrender. Or something.
The music that signalled the final stretch of floatation time began to play and I felt relieved. My session ended, I stepped out of the float tank, showered, changed, paused briefly to examine a crystal in the room (wondering if I’d receive some magical healing benefit by osmosis) and left the building. Marc met me outside and asked me how I had found the experience. I opened my mouth to answer that I’d found it “challenging”, then promptly burst into tears. At this point I feel I need to add that my husband – who, on any given day, is likely to be balanced emotionally without any concerted effort – loved the floatation experience, not because it revealed anything to him, but rather because it was thoroughly relaxing! In an understanding in manner, clearly unfazed by my tears, Marc nodded and explained that emotions can indeed surface as a result of the experience. My understanding, however, is that many (if not most) people, will experience what my husband did: serenity and deep relaxation.
Feeding the rescued animals was of course a highlight (and something the children still talk about now), but there is a lasting impression made too by the stories of the animals and how they came to live at Back 2 Earth.
The farm began with Marc and Jenny’s dream “to live a life based on kindness and compassion, to heal our health and to have as little footprint on the environment as possible”. From that initial spark of inspiration came a farm, a raw vegan, organic health retreat, farm stay and an animal sanctuary… which is now home to 75 animals!
One such animal is Alphie. As robust, friendly and somewhat mischievous as he is today, Alphie didn’t always feel so spritely. In fact his journey to the farm started with a horrific accident, when the gate of a speeding truck he was being transported in (along with many other baby goats), flew open. Alphie was one of the survivors but required medical care and rehabilitation, after which he was shuffled from home to home before finally finding love and stability at the farm.
Cheeky Alphie was a favourite
Jasper and Puddles (horse and donkey respectively) were rescued as a duo. Jasper had suffered abused as a young colt and, as a result of being beaten on the head and otherwise mistreated, he arrived at Back 2 Earth just a few weeks ago, skittish, dishevelled and dirty. Now well-fed, loved and housed with his good friend Puddles, Jasper is acclimatising to his new home, and each day is a little more curious, friendly, and confident. He finally has a safe home and haven. He finally knows something of human kindness.
I typed the following words on my phone on our last day at Back 2 Earth. As they still ring true in summing up my feelings about our stay, I’ll share them again here…
“The culinary experience here is amazing and it has opened my eyes to possibilities. But beyond that this place has had a profound and unexpected effect on me. As we prepare to leave for our next destination, I feel grateful… both for the chance to rest and recuperate (feeling much better, thank you to my friends who asked) and the wake up call. I want to contribute more to the world through kindness and Back 2 Earth is a fabulous inspiration.
As I sit here and type, I feel both strangely relaxed & slightly overwhelmed by my experiences. To be clear, this place is all about rest & recalibration. There is, however an element of #inspo (for lack of a better term) that provokes a deep emotional response in me. Perhaps it’s Mark & Jenny’s steadfast dedication to the raw vegan lifestyle coupled with an understanding, inclusive stance towards their non-raw vegan guests, some whom are here to heal. Perhaps it’s the fact that they built all of this on a dream, in a ridiculously short amount of time and with no prior knowledge/experience either with raw food or farming. And one cannot help but be moved by the rescued animals at the centre of this story and the new, happy lives they have been afforded as a result of Mark & Jenny’s incredible dedication to the betterment of circumstances for all beings.”
Literally within minutes of first arriving at the farm, my 4 year-old daughter exclaimed, “I want to be in this family!”, and no doubt now we have left she has taken her Back 2 Earth farm stay impressions with her both in memory and heart. I think we all have.
❤ Marisa xx
PS Want the chance to treat yourself and your loved ones to a fabulous Back 2 Earth farm stay experience? Visit me on Instagram for details and you could be the lucky recipient of a 2-night stay for up to 4 people including a delicious raw breakfast in the cozy. Valued at $600 AUD.
Some notes for allergy sufferers: If you’re lactose/dairy protein/gluten intolerant, you are in luck. All the food made here will be suitable for you. My husband is allergic to animals (particularly horses), grass, pollen and some foods, but interestingly had no symptoms during our stay. He did bring allergy medication with him just in case and I would recommend doing the same if someone in your party has allergies. Our daughter, who has very sensitive skin, had a mosquito bite that came up rather nastily on the last day, and en route to our next destination we stopped at the pharmacy in Berry (just 5 minutes from the farm) where the staff were wonderful, advising us on the best treatment for our daughter’s skin. If you have a very serious seed or nut allergy, you should be advised that the catered options at Back 2 Earth probably wont be suitable for you, but self-catering on the farm could be a possibility.
For wellness seekers: From therapeutic and relaxation massage, to Eastern cupping, reiki, floatation tank usage and EFT, there is much to be experienced in the way of healing treatments. Marc is a specialist oncology massage therapist and Jenny is a clinical psychologist who offers individual psychotherapy, couples, parenting and pre-marital counselling onsite for interested parties.
For food lovers: Aside from enjoying the on-site catering options or participating in Marc’s workshops, house made snacks and treats can be purchased directly from the farm or online. The crackers, dried fruit roll ups and gluten-free granola clusters are all delicious, as my family can attest! 😀
For vegans: Welcome home! You will love it here! If you want to know more about the benefits of raw food or the art of cooking it, Marc’s personalised workshops have you covered. You can chat with Marc about your specific areas of interest, or do as I did and allow him to make a few suggestions for your raw food demo that will cover some different bases; sweet, savoury or both.
For omnivores: Welcome home! You will also love it here! In fact, Marc and Jenny find themselves endlessly surprised by the number of people who visit Back 2 Earth and decide to adopt lasting, healthy changes when they return home (for example eating organic food, enjoying meatless Mondays or instituting some other practice as a result of what they have learned at Back 2 Earth about sustainability and wellbeing).
For families: It goes without say that most children will find themselves fascinated by farm life and enchanted by the animals here. The opportunity to be involved in the daily workings of the farm, learning which animals eat what, how to gently approach and interact with animals, and how to care for/feed them is a fabulous hands-on experience for young and old alike.
For couples: Something I wasn’t aware of before we visited the farm is that Marc and Jenny run couples retreats that comprise a host of inclusions, including therapy sessions with Jenny. The purpose of these retreats is to strengthen connection, rejuvenate and reconnect, and I can absolutely see how this offering could be of benefit to any couple, but particularly those whose schedules have made it hard for them to touch base in an emotional way day-to-day.
For groups: Back 2 Earth allow groups to utilise spaces on the farm for their own events, workshops and retreats. Catering can be arranged if desired.
For animal lovers: If visiting the farm, the close encounters with the animals will be a highlight, but if you’re keen to be a part of the Back 2 Earth family and contribute to the rescue and welfare of these very special residents, an adoption program is currently being set up. This means that very soon friends of the farm – near and far – will be able to connect with the animals, hear their stories and be part of their healing process.
CASHEW YOGURT UNICORN
A recipe by Marc Hammond
We ate these tasty treats for breakfast (‘we’ as in, my entire family, including baby Oliver). And they were so lovely that we found ourselves negotiating with each other over remaining bites and crumbs! I appreciate that some people find themselves unsure about “unicorn food” (or fantasy food), but if you’re curious and looking for an easy, wholesome recipe to try with a touch of whimsy thrown into the mix, this could be the perfect one for you!
Flesh from 1 young Thai coconut
250 ml cashew nuts
125- 250 ml water
2 dried figs (or 1 tsp maple syrup)
½ vanilla bean (optional)
- Blend all ingredients together in a high-speed blender or Vitamix.
- To create different colours/flavours, blend fruit* (or superfood powders such as spirulina) with the yogurt mix.
- Refrigerate overnight and serve as is, or use to decorate breakfast pizzas or other treats.
- Purple – blueberries
- Red/Pink – raspberries/strawberries/watermelon
- Orange – mango/rock melon/persimmon
- Green – kiwi
- Yellow – pineapple
GRANOLA PIZZA BASE
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
3 tbsp sunflower seeds
3 tbsp chia seeds
1 cup date or fig paste (soak dried fruit overnight and blend to make your own)
Additional dates or figs, chopped
2 apples, peeled and grated
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla powder
1 tsp maca powder (optional)
1 tsp baobab powder (optional)
- Combine all ingredients. Measure out approximately 125 ml of mixture, spread and flatten into round circles.
- Dehydrate for around 15 hours or until as crisp as desired.
- Decorate with organic cashew yoghurt, fruit, coconut or nuts.
*Our thanks to Marc, Jenny and the animals at Back 2 Earth for sharing their home (+ food and recipes) with us. And though we were treated to this fabulous experience, I gladly and faithfully share my impressions here in gratitude for the wonderful time we had.