A Life Worth Living

The duo behind Crafty Gatherer drive social and environmental change through their sustainable lifestyle and clever, handmade solutions for life.

Winding your way up Te Puke Quarry Road to Marco and Tess Partridge’s hilltop home requires a delicate balance of rubbernecking (stunning panoramic views over lush farmland and the wider Bay deserve your almost-full attention) and meticulous skill behind the wheel (dodging oncoming cars on what feels like a one-way gravel road is no easy feat).

It’s definitely worth the trip, though — the local couple have turned their 12-acre property into a sustainable haven for themselves and their three young boys. For a start, it’s home to an organic orchard and vegetable garden, although the word ‘garden’ barely does it justice, with nitrogen-fixing trees and even a mini-greenhouse used to grow seedlings for the Te Puke community garden. Plus there are chooks, cows and lots of space for their four-legged pal, Toko, to roam freely.

“Living simply doesn’t necessarily mean slow paced,” says Tess. “Life’s busy, and we love that, but by living simply we’re connected with our food, with the seasons, with our neighbours and with nature, which makes us feel deeply fulfilled.”

This philosophy was personified four years ago with the launch of the couple’s artisanal craft company, Crafty Gatherer. They design and build eco-friendly products for the home and garden, using locally sourced materials. “Our products offer simple, sustainable solutions to everyday needs,” Tess explains as she rocks her gorgeous three-month-old son, Odi. “The clothes rack is definitely a favourite — I don’t know what I’d do without it, especially with cloth nappies!”

Crafty Gatherer’s signature Pulley Laundry Rack, made from locally sourced, untreated pine, hangs smartly from the lounge ceiling. Also inside is a snug fireplace, homemade wooden bunks, Agee jar lampshades, curtains made from woollen blankets and kanuka tree poles, and pots hanging from an old ladder in the kitchen.

Did we mention Marco built the house with his bare hands? He carefully constructed their cosy abode using a base of two shipping containers. “I’m a builder by trade and because there’s so much waste in the building industry, I wanted our home to be unique,” he says. “Being crafty in terms of how we use resources, and gathering in terms of how we live off the land, is what Crafty Gatherer is all about.”

Beloved family pet Toko in his kennel, one of the many second-hand purchases in their home.

Natural Evolution

Their sustainable lifestyle is second nature to the couple now, but they took a while to make their way there, with travel opening their eyes to possibilities and ideas.  

“We met at high school in Te Puke,” says Tess. “It wasn’t until we went travelling that we started to find ourselves and realise how we wanted to live. We went WWOOFing [unpaid work on organic farms] and spent time volunteering at an African orphanage and at Mother Teresa House in India, where we got to observe, listen and learn.”

Like many other New Zealanders living the dream abroad, they eventually settled in London to try and save a few pennies. “I was building and Tess was nannying, but we were broke! Our mates would go to the pub and we’d be at home feeling sorry for ourselves,” Marco laughs.

A year later, they were back in Aotearoa with their first baby, Tahl (a name inspired by a friend they couch-surfed with in Israel, meaning ‘morning dew’).

“We moved to the Koanga Institute, a heritage-seed saving organisation down in Wairoa, where we learned to create amazing, simple things like rocket ovens and solar dehydrators for drying produce,” says Tess. “While we were there, Marco completed an Appropriate Technology internship, which showed us how rewarding it can be to live off the land.”

Our travels showed us how we wanted to live, but we knew we had to make a living,” says Marco. “Crafty Gatherer was a natural way of making this happen,” says Tess. “Over time, Marco left his building job, and I was able to leave my corporate role to work on our business and enjoy being home with the kids.”

Crafty Ideas

Crafty Gatherer’s maiden product, the Broadfork, is a unique spin on a concept that’s been around since the 1900s.“Turning over the soil is an old school way of thinking and it can ruin your natural, beautiful soil life. Although the Broadfork, and its smaller sister, the Forksta, are made from high-strength steel, these tools effectively aerate your garden without damaging the soil,” Tess explains.

Another popular item is the Insect Hotel, which is exactly like you’d imagine —  a small box with tiny holes waiting for bugs to make themselves at home.“It draws good insects into the garden to help to pollinate fruit and vegetables, and deal with problems — ladybugs take care of aphids, for example. We build them by hand using natural wood, pine cones and bamboo.”

Marco and Tess source a lot of materials from Tauriko Sawmill, and also receive pine through one of the programmes at Vincent House Recovery Trust, which supports men with mental health issues and addiction to find work in the community.

“We love knowing we’re supporting them, and they’re supporting themselves to lead better lives,” says Marco. “As a society, we’re starting to realise that sustainability is everyone’s responsibility and we’re wanting to know where our products come from, which is awesome.”

Tess in the greenhouse; insect hotels aim to attract beneficial bugs and insects to help pollinate fruit and vege.

Sharing the Love

“I was brought up on a kiwifruit orchard and Dad was a dairy farmer, so we were always amongst nature,” Marco says. “Growing up around animals, kids understand the circle of life, which is important. Tahl and Jai have seen dead chooks and they’ve seen me go hunting.”

“The kids love our lifestyle and they help us with preserving, fermenting and making fresh bread and kombucha,” adds Tess. “We also love to save seeds — this is one of our big passions. Watching the full cycle is such a magical and beautiful process. The other day Jai said, ‘I want a flushing toilet like Nana’s one’ and we had to laugh, but when we explain to them why we have a compost toilet, it’s incredible to see them understand and share our values.”

After years learning and creating, Marco and Tess have started sharing their knowledge with others through Crafty Gatherer workshops — there’s a hands-on pizza oven workshop and mushroom-growing session lined up for November.  They also ran a highly successful cob cottage workshop a few years back, whereby a bungalow was built on their property.

“The cob cottage is a huge success on the Canopy Camping website — think glamping stripped back to basics,” Marco explains. “We had a group of people help us build it and they weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty — literally — cow dung was an ingredient in the walls along with clay, straw and a hydrated lime-sand mix.”

As soon as you step foot inside the bungalow, you’re greeted by the delicious scent of the macrocarpa ceiling. Outside, you’ve got everything you need from gas cooking and solar lights to a beautiful outdoor tub overlooking the twinkling city skyline.  

“The cottage is booked out most weekends — people love waking up to these views. It’s another great income stream to help us live our lifestyle.”

An hour with Marco and Tess is enough to make anyone want to learn more about living consciously, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. “Try to focus on your true values in life, simplify your possessions and understand that your purchasing power can influence social and environmental change,” says Tess. “When you concentrate on all you’re grateful for, you start to become more content — it’s a beautiful feeling.” Ⓟ

Crafty Gatherer is a regular at the fortnightly Little Big Markets in Papamoa and Mt Maunganui, or check out their products at craftygatherer.co.nz

First published in Issue 12 of Our Place Magazine.

Story by Laura Tuck
Photography by Alice Veysey