Teitei farm stay is a far cry from the often contrived version of a “permaculture farm” with clean fingered, felt-hat-wearing hipsters.
Smack bang in the middle of Viti Levu, Fiji, there is no pretension, or pretending to be anything on this land. What you get here is raw, eat from the dirt, shower in a bucket, in-your-face living.
From the moment you arrive, you’re welcomed into the family – invited to share in day-to-day chores on the farm, visit the local markets in Sigatoka, and before you know it you’re being invited to the neighbours place for dinner.
We talk to Kim Bowden-Kerby from Teitei farm stay about what brought her here and how she is living a life unhurried.
What were you doing before you moved to the Pacific? And what were your reasons for moving?
Immediately before moving to Fiji, we lived in Puerto Rico for 5 ½ years while my husband Austin was working towards his PhD in marine science. Before Puerto Rico, we lived in Micronesia (Guam, Chuuk, Palau and Pohnpei) for 14 years.
In other words, Austin and I have lived overseas since 1979, leaving shortly after getting married. We were always avid travellers and lovers of humanity who both wanted to live and serve overseas, even before we met. Austin’s desire to be a tropical marine biologist is essentially what brought us to Fiji.
What do you love about Fiji?
Just about everybody, and just about everything. I love our neighbours at the farm, Indian and Fijian – going to their events (weddings, funerals, ceremonies), visiting their homes and seeing how we are the same and how we are different.
I really love the people – their kind hearts and how I am really part of my neighbourhood in a way I have never experienced before. I love the view from my kitchen sink (totally open) to the hills that change hour to hour, day to day and season to season. I love seeing Austin all excited about his chickens (not so fond of the chickens that come onto my porch and poop on it) and I love the geese that mate while young and travel the farm in pairs forever afterwards.
Unlike Austin, I love Suva, too. It’s the only time while living in the Pacific that we have really had a city, where offices from all over the Pacific are located. There is a lot of cultural interplay, while still running at an island-pace.
Where did the name Teitei Homestay come from?
“Teitei” means farm or plantation in Fijian. It is easy to pronounce and easy to read.
Can you give us a brief history of how you built the homestay and how it has evolved over the years you’ve lived there?
My daughter-in-law, Monica, had worked in a 5-star resort and saw the potential for a homestay on our property, using the three-bedroom cottage Austin had built before a family reunion. The homestay was her ‘baby’ and was initially called Monica’s Homestay.
She cleaned and decorated, and got it ready. I don’t even remember how our first guests found us, but soon Austin’s sister hooked us up with Airbnb. We also put up a Facebook page (Teitei Homestay Fiji) and now get a lot of referrals through word of mouth. We’ve made small improvements over the years. When we had a group of 24 from Project Everest stay for three weeks, we bought bunk beds and transformed parts of the main house into dorms for large groups. In addition to homestay guests, we also hold training workshops for Happy Chicken and Permaculture – so the dorm space is great to have.
Teitei has always been an all-inclusive, flat-rate operation – which guests have always appreciated. As the property evolves there is more going on at the farm, so there is more learning to share. Now we have a proper chicken hatchery and a full-time hatchery officer so Austin can finally devote more time to his coral work. As the chickens are certified for export throughout the region, there will be a new dimension to the project that will be of great interest to guests concerned with international development.
We also acquired more property and have built a beautiful pavilion at the end of the hill, which makes a beautiful site for weddings.
The very best times, in my opinion, are when we have had families with children who get excited about the animals. It’s magical seeing Austin show the children the chicks hatching.
We’re not for everybody. Especially if you like your luxury. We are very clear in our sites that we have cold water showers, or hot bucket showers, that we do what we can about the insects – no guarantees – and that our chicken and geese can be loud.
What have you learnt since being on the property? Is your experience what you expected?
I didn’t especially like the property when Austin and I first saw it but he said he could make it wonderful, and I trusted him. I didn’t go in with any particular expectations except that Austin would do something good with it. I was wrong – he is doing something GREAT with it. I hoped I would like the neighbours, and that has developed into relationships far greater than I imagined. I never foresaw being in the hospitality industry – surprise! Life is great.
As believers of the Baha’i faith, you believe everyone is part of the same family and we’re all welcome in each other’s homes? How do you integrate your beliefs into the ‘everyday’ on the farm? Do you have any daily rituals?
For me, being a Baha’i is about loving our heavenly Creator and doing my best to love and serve everyone I come in contact with – recognising that every single person is a member of our one human family. I work every day at being more patient with and kind to my family, more conscientious in carrying out my tasks, more engaged with trying to help my community, more generous than comes naturally to me.
On the farm we have a practice of getting together before dinner to share stories of the day, songs and prayers – but this is not a prescribed ritual of the Baha’i Faith, it is just a practice our family has. We modify what we do when gathering together before dinner to fit the comfort level of our guests – I don’t recall us ever having guests that didn’t enjoy sharing stories and songs. Prayers can be left off if need be, because we can always have our own prayers in private.
Your family welcomes so many people from your community as well as travellers. How do you see your hospitality as a benefit to others?
We love sharing the land-based sustainable livelihoods knowledge that we have learned, discovered, and practiced with anyone who is interested – because we believe that prosperity is achievable in the islands when the land is loved and cared for in a sustainable manner.
Virtually every guest who is attracted by our description of Teitei and comes to our place is someone who we would have found as a friend and wanted to hang out with if we were both in the same town somewhere else.
What can visitors expect when they come to Teitei?
Cold water and insects (ha ha), big smiles, clean sheets, hot tea, open air, Dr. Smarty Pants (Austin) telling you heaps of stuff about everything, a farm tour with a very funny and knowledgeable guy (Junia), good food round-the-clock catering to whatever dietary needs – all farm fresh, cute neighbour kids, a river close enough to walk to, nice beaches half an hour away, and cultural experiences. This is the real Fiji.
What journeys have you experienced that have had a profound effect on your own life?
Nowadays I just go to Hawaii to visit grandchildren but the travels that had the most profound affect on me were my travels as a single youth in less developed areas – mainly in Aleutian Islands, Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay – where I really learned that we are all one human family.
What is your favourite thing to do in Fiji to unwind and relax?
Puzzles. And movies on the computer with the family. (Probably not the kind of answers you were looking for, but I’ve lived in Fiji 20 years so I’m home.)
What is your vision for the future of the farm and your community?
We’ll continue to develop the farm as a training centre in line with Austin’s vision, and tools for prosperity will be further developed and shared. Optimism will spread. To the degree that it is possible we will contribute to assisting the desert to blossom as the rose.
Why do you think it is important for people to spend time in nature?
Because it is real. Because otherwise how do you really know where you are and who you are?
You can book at Teitei Farmstay HERE
Keen to learn more about permaculture? Read our interview with the owner of Ngalung Kalla retreat in Sumba, Indonesia.