“I love peanut butter. It’s a staple part of my diet,” says Stella Westmacott, a retired solicitor and CAFOD volunteer. “But a lot of peanut butter contains palm oil, which is a hugely destructive industry.”
Stella and her husband, Paul, live on a remote farm in the Welsh countryside. They made the decision to live simply following retirement. They are now almost completely self-sustainable: producing their own electricity and water, recycling all waste, and growing plenty of food.
“But we can’t grow everything,” continues Stella. “So we try to make alternatives. I make peanut butter myself with a recipe that’s so simple – just peanuts, a pinch of salt and some sunflower oil. No palm oil involved!”
Stella shared with us her knowledge and top tips – the small steps you too can take towards living sustainably.
“When I retired, I went on a permaculture course and learned so much about water: how much is wasted with every flush; how grey water (the relatively clean waste water from baths, sinks, and washing machines, etc.) disappearing down the drain has devastating effects; how all this effects the ecosystem at large.
“Here, we are not on a mains water supply, but receive our water via a borehole directly on the property. Recently, I have noticed that rainfall is becoming more extreme in Wales – lots of rainfall, followed by drought. This has made us even more mindful about our water use.”
Stella volunteers for CAFOD because she recognises the similarities of her struggle to live sustainably with those vulnerable communities overseas.
“We decided to install water butts to collect rainfall, as well as a compost toilet and a solar shower. We use the grey water in the garden. We make our own compost. We built a polytunnel so we can grow things all year round.”
Stella is also driven by a desire to reduce energy consumption. She is an environmentalist.
“We installed solar panels on the roofs to generate electricity for our home. This heats our water. If there is any excess electricity created, it goes straight back into the grid. We are also part of a local energy cooperative focusing on producing local renewable energy.”
But what are the challenges of living sustainably?
“One of our biggest challenges was cleaning. For most of my life, I used bleach to clean. Here, we have a septic tank system that decomposes waste. If inorganic materials like bleach are added, they kill the bacteria needed for the septic tank system to work properly. Therefore, I had to put my thinking cap on. After some research, I found alternative biodegradable products!”
Stella and Paul aim to create as little waste as possible.
“Of course, we do the usual: reduce, reuse, recycle. But the main thing we try to do is not create waste in the first place. We often try to repair things if they break, rather than buy replacements. I haven’t put a single black bag of waste out since we’ve been here. I compost food and regularly visit the recycling centre. I’m very mindful about what is going where.
“Being interested in the environment, I’ve always done my best to care for it. When I lived just outside Cardiff, I did litter picking on the beach. If you’re looking to start, you can do simple things like taking a carrier bag when you’re out and about and just picking up any litter you see.
“I’ve learned that everything we do, or don’t do, has an impact. It’s all about being aware of this, and doing our best to make sure that impact is not a negative one.”
This commitment to sustainability means Stella and Paul eat heartily.
“We grow artichokes, kale, beans and root vegetables, including carrots, onions and potatoes. In our polytunnel, we grow salad leaves, peppers, cucumbers, basil and coriander. We also grow lots of beetroots to make pickles, roasts and dips. We have apple trees, pear trees and strawberry beds. We inherited some asparagus beds, too.”
Inspired by her experiences, Stella thinks that everyone should have a go at growing something for themselves.
“If you have a garden and you don’t know where to start, just observe the garden for a while. Look to see where the sun is at different times of day. Think about the best places for plants to get sunlight. Begin by experimenting and trying different things.
“If you only have a little bit of space, you can easily create a wildflower meadow to attract wildlife and insects to your garden.
“I know not everyone has a garden, but you can even grow things on the windowsill, like lettuce, tomatoes and herbs. You can also grow things in pots.
“Growing things provides a deeper connection to nature, which has huge benefits for overall well-being.
“Most of the changes we have made are simple. Almost anyone can make the smaller changes in their own lives. It really takes no great skill or expertise – just an idea and a willingness to experiment.”
Find out more about CAFOD’s environmental work at cafod.org.uk/climate
The livesimply award is an opportunity for Catholic communities – parishes, schools, religious orders and chaplaincies – to respond to Pope Francis’ invitation in Laudato Si’ to “work with generosity and tenderness in protecting this world which God has entrusted to us”.
It is awarded to communities who can show how they have been living:
• in solidarity with people in poverty
• sustainably with creation.
Find out more about CAFOD’s liveSimply award
Take a look at our 100 liveSimply ideas
Stella’s commitment to a sustainable lifestyle with Paul is featured in the Catholic Universe this week.