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Becoming Self-Sufficient with Rika Cossey
Episode 1618th August 2021 • AudaciousNess • AudaciousNess
00:00:00 00:48:00

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Rika Cossey grew up in Germany and has spent her adult life travelling and living in countries all over the world. Three years ago she moved to rural Sweden with her husband and two young children, living in a tiny house before buying a farm. Rika and her family are now attempting to live as self-sufficiently and as close to nature as possible. In this interview, Rika talks about:

  • what it was like living in a 39 square meter tiny house as a family of four 
  • how she learned to be patient and accepting of things she can’t control
  • how she deals with family members who question her life choices
  • why she’s made it her life’s mission for her and her family to be self-sufficient 

Rika now rents out her tiny house as holiday accommodation. For more information on how to book a stay at Rika’s farm, see www.rikacossey.com/about/tiny-house/

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcripts

Helen:

Rika, hello and thank you for agreeing to share your audacious story with us. Now, you're one of the first people on this podcast who’s actually come forward and volunteered to be interviewed yourself, which is great, because we found that many people, when we ask them about the audacious things that they do, they tend to say, Well, it wasn't really audacious, it was just something I did. So I do applaud your audacity in coming forward and saying, Yes, I think what I did was audacious and my story is worth hearing. I think we need more people with that kind of confidence to come forward in the world. So I wonder if we could begin with you telling us briefly, what are some of the audacious things that you've done, or are still doing in your life?

Rika:

I would have to go really far back, but I might not start at the very beginning. But I've moved a lot. So I grew up in Germany and I left roughly when I was 16, to go to New Zealand as an exchange student, which at the time was already... I come from a really small town and at the time, no one had really left and I was one of the first ones to ever do an exchange here in school, which people thought was crazy. And now it's not so crazy anymore. But back then it seemed really crazy. And that kind of continued, that kind of got me hooked on to moving around the world. So I left New Zealand and Australia, my husband's actually from New Zealand. And we traveled together, we went to Brazil, we lived in Hungary for a while, I lived in Slovakia for a while, and now we're in Sweden, and we're trying to really find, I guess we're trying to find what we really want and what we need to do ourselves. And, yeah, I think it kind of started really early for me. And what I do today is that I, so my husband and I, we own a small farm here in Sweden. And on that farm, we have a tiny house, a tiny house on wheels, where we used to live in for two years before we bought our farm. And now we're turning it into a guest house, which is very scary. And we're trying our luck with farming. So we got chickens when we moved to Sweden, and now we're getting ready to get turkeys and sheep. And neither of us has really got much experience with animals. And so this is quite a big step. And although I grew up in a small town, I'm not really, I was never really exposed to a lot of animals, we only really had cats at home. And I have cats again. But having bigger animals and more responsibility like that for living creatures is something that I find challenging, but I enjoy doing. And I think that's one of the things that has always really helped me, that I just do it. And it's quite interesting when you say that I'm the first one to come forward, because I know that what I do is not everyone's cup of tea, but for me, I wouldn't want to have it any other way.

Helen:

Yeah, I mean, there's a few things that we can pick up on there. What I'd like to pick up on is what took you abroad in the first place. You said you came from a small town where nobody traveled. And you were one of the ones to do that. So what was going through your mind back then? Was there some kind of calling in you saying that you had to travel or what was it?

Rika:

I think if you're spiritually inclined, you would say it was a calling. I just wanted to get away at the time. I wanted to get away as far away as possible and New Zealand happened to be on the other side of the world. And that's where I wanted to go. So I was always pushing, pushing further and pushing boundaries of where I was.

Helen:

What did you discover about yourself or about traveling or about the world in those initial years where you were traveling?

Rika:

I think, so the first time in New Zealand was really easy. I had great contacts there, I was welcomed into families that were really open. And that was really easy for me. I think my years after that, especially when I was in Slovakia, I just learned that I... there are things that I cannot change and I need to be patient with myself and everyone around me. And there are unfortunately also situations that aren't always pleasant. And that's okay, too. But, mind you, I'm saying this today after all the, like it’s been 15 years that I left Slovakia and that was the hardest year of my life. And I'm now happy to talk about it. But at the time it was really tough. So yeah, I think what I learned is to be more open and to be more accepting of what's coming in and to not try and control every situation.

Helen:

Do you want to say a little bit more about what happened in Slovakia? I'm curious now.

Rika:

So I was in the east of Slovakia, there's two towns, Košice and Prešov, for those who listen and who might know a little bit more about Slovakia, and I was between those two towns in a small town of, so there were 600 people there, 400 Roma and 200 Slovaks. I didn't really speak Slovak at the time, or now for that matter. And I was tasked to live in a school for disabled children. And those children were severely disabled, some of them were blind and deaf, and I had to work and live with them. And I had no background in how to take care of these kind of disabled children. I had trouble communicating with the staff and I was all on my own. And that combination was extremely tough, because if you can’t communicate what's going on, if you're not understood, language-wise, but also emotionally where you were at, and then your task to take care of children in that case, that really rely on you, and that really need you. It was very strenuous and I was a volunteer a year, and I left for Christmas, I went home for Christmas, and I almost didn't come back. So I was in the school at the end, probably seven months. And at the end, I had managed to escape and create a little pod outside of the school where I was able to escape to on the weekend. But during the weeks I was at the school and I was, Yeah, that was really tough. That was just really tough.

Maribel:

Thanks for sharing that story. Rika. I wonder, through that experience, you mentioned that 15 years ago, you were very impatient, and that there are things that you can't change. And obviously, I have the impression that you have learned that. How did you learn to accept those things that you can't change and let go?

Rika:

I still wouldn’t call myself a very patient person, but trying to. I think I did... so when you travel and when you interact with other people, and especially if you're having to interact in a language that's not your own, that you kind of have to be impatient, there was no real other way. And I don't think I can answer that question any other way, then you have to experience it, and you have to go through it. And you have to accept that you cannot control everything. And if you want to... In my case, I can only say Slovakia was probably very difficult for me because I had high standards and high expectations. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to be a great time, I wanted to be close to the locals, I wanted to experience the local culture. I was really interested in how Roma lived, I really wanted to engage. But I just couldn't and having this blockage, whether it was self-made or whether it was forced upon me, I think just accepting that blockage is part of the journey. And yes, it's self-acceptance, I think that I learned.

Maribel:

I read somewhere that having high expectations is kind of like the first step to being disappointed. Can you say something about that? Is that something that you have experienced?

Rika:

It's something that I travel between, to be entirely honest, like I sometimes think yes, absolutely, if you have high expectations, then you're bound for failure because you can never live up to the expectations that you create. But at the same time, I also think if you have no expectations, then you will never be positively surprised. And you'll never exceed your expectations and you'll never reach your next goal. So I'm in between the two. I'm someone who likes to put up a lot of expectations for myself, but I've also learned that I have to be okay if it doesn't work. And I have to be relaxed enough to say, Okay, this didn't work. I need to try something else, or I need to take a step back and evaluate why didn't work. But I don't think having no expectations is the right way either. So it's a Yeah, it's a balance between the two.

Helen:

Nicely put, yeah. So you said then you moved to Sweden and are trying your hand at farming. What are your expectations of that?

Rika:

Haha, they’ve already failed, to be entirely honest. I told you, speaking of expectations, I wanted to, earlier this year, so we’re in July now, and in March and April, I set up a garden. I fenced it in. We have a lot of deer, so I set up the fence, I was like, okay, it's all prepared, the soil is there, the fence is there, my garden will flourish, and I started putting seeds in the ground and I set everything up. And then the weeds just took over in the soils, the soil is rubbish, the weeds just took over. And it's just, there's a handful of peas that have grown. That's it. So I'm learning. And that's like, I think that's the balance that again, that I have to find out. I had no prior knowledge of being able to mitigate that properly. And now I'm learning that I need to, for example, control the weeds. And I know, so we we moved to this property last year, and we're really very consciously taking our time of getting to know everything and not rushing to conclusions. And, for example, moving into our house that we have here, we’re very slow with remodeling it because we wanted to get to know the house before we started working on it, and not just move in and say this needs fixing and this needs fixing and we're gonna do this. But to experience what it's like to live on a property, to see where the light comes from, and what the rain does to your house and all sorts of things. So it's tough, it's really tough to come in and to think you're going to have a great life. And then to go, I might not, I might have to wait. I might have to wait a year or two before I can before I can even begin to get to where I would like to be.

Helen:

Good. And what brought you to Sweden and to this particular place and to the idea that you wanted to start farming in the first place?

Rika:

All coincidences.

Helen:

Coincidences Do you believe in those? Do you believe in coincidences?

Rika:

Yes. Oh, yes. Yeah. So it's, I often get the question why we moved to Sweden and I sometimes joke my answer because I'm a big fan of Ace of Base, for those who grew up in the 90s.

Helen:

I remember Ace of Base.

Rika:

But it was, honestly, so we lived in Australia before and we lived a very suburban life, where my husband worked and he travelled into Sydney every day. I was home with two small kids. And we were just tired, it just wasn't working for us. So we decided we need to come back to Europe. We wanted to come back to Europe. And I didn't want to go to Germany. So we just basically flipped a coin and had a look around. And we came to Sweden. And we wanted to have a tiny house. And we got a builder here, we found a builder who could build our tiny house to what we wanted. And then we lived in the tiny house on rented property for two years. And then basically in those two years, we were looking and property-hunting and then found our property last year and moved.

Maribel:

How was the experience, I'm really curious about that, of living in a tiny house. Can you explain to us a little bit how tiny a tiny house is for four people, I think?

Rika:

Yeah, so we're four. Our tiny house is 10 meters long and 3 meters wide. But it has two levels. It sounds massive, but, so we have a loft level where you can’t stand up. It has floor space of 39 square meters. And so it always shocks people a little bit. But we left with two kids and working from home in a tiny house on wheels, which is quite extreme. But I absolutely loved that. I loved the fact that the house was designed for exactly what we needed. So we had a dedicated working space, we had a dedicated storage space, we had dedicated play area for the kids. So it was all the way we need it. And we moved in and it was immediately ours. And I think that made it so easy for us. It was just what we needed in that moment. And my kids have now unfortunately outgrown, literally outgrown the tiny house. My son complained that he couldn't play in their room anymore because it was just not big enough. So it was absolutely right for us at the time. And we were, just at the beginning we talked about the fact that we have a thunderstorm here at the moment. And that's one thing that I really miss in the tiny house where you are much closer to the outside world. So our bedroom, I don't know how thick the ceiling was exactly, but it always felt like when there was rain outside it was just drizzling on your head. And that's just fabulous. You can lie there, you can hear the rain, you can really feel the wind and you’re nice and dry and I don't have the same in our house now.

Maribel:

So you seem to be very close to nature. And now you have a farm. What does it give you?

Rika:

It's a good question. I don't know, I think I enjoy city life, it's nice, but I get overwhelmed by people and I get stressed if there's too much going on. And I can sense if I, for example, when I travel and I'm just going with the flow, I get really stressed out when once I realize that that's happening, and I've just pushed along. I always like putting on a handbrake and saying No, I do not want this, or I need to do it differently and found life and out in the country. And that gives me that ability to, to come back to who I am. Yeah, um, but it's honestly, I don't, I can't really answer the question straight out. What made me want to go back to to nature and why I would have done that wasn't a conscious decision, I don't think.

Helen:

Can I ask how old your children are?

Rika:

Six and eight.

Helen:

And can you say something about the challenges of living in a tiny house or bringing them over to Sweden from Australia or moving into the farm or any of the challenges that you've faced with a young family?

Rika:

To be entirely honest, my immediate family, my kids and my husband, they were never the problem, was always the outside, so my extended family back in Germany. My kids, they're extremely adaptable, we're very close as a family. So my kids have never really questioned what we're doing or struggled against it. They sometimes asked me, my daughter asked me the other day when we're moving again. So I think they kind of inbuild they were always on the move, which made me a little bit sad at the time, but I think they're just so used to adapting and being, not being pushed around. But being in new environments. So it's seems to be very normal for them. My extended family was tougher, because they didn't understand what we were trying to do. They didn't understand why we would want to live in a tiny house. My mom at one point asked me why we don't have a real house, that she felt sorry for us that we didn't have a real house. And just questions like that, really. Those were difficult to answer and to face because I love my extended family. But having to explain my decisions without the acceptance first was difficult to do, is still difficult to do.

Helen:

And how do you do it?

Rika:

With patience, and sometimes just with facts. So I'm quite looking forward to, my mom is gonna come in a week's time, and stay in the tiny house as a guest. So I'm forcing her to accept what it means to live in a tiny house.

Helen:

That's a good way of dealing with it, then. Ask the question, how can you do that? Well, you're gonna do it!

Rika:

Yes, it's difficult. You might know this, that in Germany, there is still this stereotype of a farmer who lives on the land and who is a little bit stupid, and just like farms and has animals. And it's got like this stereotype of, why would you do that? Why would you grow your own animals, slaughter your own chickens, and all these things, when you can just get it from a supermarket? Yeah, so this attitude towards farmers is not a good one. And that's what my family put on us as well. And when I'm being called a farmer's wife, then I don't really like that, because of this ingrained German stereotype that comes up in me. But I have to remind myself that it's okay, it's what we have to do. And there is a... I don't know how much time you guys have, there is a huge purpose behind why we're doing what we're doing, which is that both my husband and I are very concerned about the state of our planet. And we want to prepare ourselves and our kids for what's coming. And we want to go back to how things were done even just 100 years ago. So raising our own meat, growing our own vegetables with all its challenges is, that's essential to our mission in life and to prepare our children to be able to do that. And our children they have seen us killing chickens and they haven't gutted them themselves. But yeah, they've watched

Maribel:

So you're saying, Rika, that you're preparing your family for what's coming? What's coming?

Rika:

I mean, we're recording this just as Germany experienced massive floods last week, and I think we're in a state now where we don't we don't know what's coming. We don't know if societies are going to collapse, we don't know if the weather is going to play tricks on us, if I may say it like that. I don't like speaking of the doom of the world, but I also want to be prepared for any emergency. So if there is a power outage, for example, I want to be prepared and have a generator on hand. If there is a collapse, like it's sort of happened in the pandemic last year, that supermarkets don't get enough supplies anymore, I want to be prepared for that. I want to be able to feed myself, even if I can't go to a store. And especially in a country like Sweden, where there's a lot of reliance on electronics and electronic paying systems, for example, I also begin to question that and I wonder what happens if there's no power anymore? If you build your system on sandy ground, then what happens if the sand gives way? So it's, like I said, if we had a lot of time we can get into that. But for me, when I look at the state of the world today, and at all the prognoses for the next 10 years, for the next 50 years, which is my kid's life expectancy, then I get really worried. And I try to counter that with activism in the way that I try to prepare them for being self-sufficient. And to not have to rely on a system that might or might not still be here.

Helen:

So if anybody listening to this podcast, Rika, is interested in doing the same type of thing, has the same type of concerns, what advice would you give to them?

Rika:

Explore your options, explore what you can do, I often get this question that not everyone can run a farm. And I totally understand that. But what everyone can do is explore the options. So what can you minimize in your consumption? For example, can you minimize the way you shop? The way you go to the supermarket? The way you shop for everything else in life? The way you spend your money? Can you minimize the way, your dependency on traveling? Can you rethink the usage of your car, because if the price of petrol goes up, then you will not be able to use your car anymore. And then can you rethink the way you travel? So there's a lot of things that we can take into our own hands. While climate change is not something that we can solve on an individual level, we can each prepare ourselves for taking touch of our lives again, and not being so dependent on bigger systems. And I mean simple examples as you can learn to cook. If you are able to prepare your own food, then you're independent of processed foods from the supermarket. Things like that, learn about food preservation, that's one of my things is that, when I have a garden going, once it's set up, I need to establish a good routine to store my vegetables and not let them go bad or have them taken over by rats or whatever. One thing that I really look for here, as well is the local community. So we know, for example, we have a dairy farm down the road, and we're getting to know them now. And they're a Dutch family that's moved here last year. So we have something in common. But just getting to know our neighbors, so we have the dairy farm, and then we also have on the other side of the town, they have cows, and they also get pigs, so pork delivered from another farm. So we're kind of building up our network of where we can get stuff if the supermarket closes, or if the chains fall flat. And there's a really cool system in Sweden, in many Swedish cities, where local farmers organize themselves on a Facebook group, and then just post what they want to sell that particular week. And then you order it on Facebook, and then you pick it up. And it's really nice. And it's all locally produced, and directly from the farm. So you can talk to them and say, what you want or what you didn't like, or whatever. So having this local network is actually quite easy in Sweden, I didn't expect it this way. But there's a lot of local networks of producers who just get together and encourage each other, learn from each other, teach each other and buy and sell from each other. So yeah, we're really setting up our local roots here to also counter that. Because we can't have everything on our farm.

Helen:

Yeah, that is really important. And I do think going back to local production is going to be crucial in the future as well.

Rika:

Yeah, and like I said, the easiest thing you can do to be independent is to cook for yourself and have your own source of food. It always strikes me when I see how many people rely on supermarket foods and how many children think that milk grows in a carton.

Helen:

Yeah. Your kids must be learning so much. They must be having a fantastic life.

Rika:

They don't know any different. That's just what they know. And like they're so used to everything, like we have bees, you get the honey out. That's just what you do. That's where the honey comes from. They don't understand that others don't understand. And it's sometimes, it's really funny, even here in our rural town, not many people do this, especially with kids. So I think my kids sometimes struggle to understand that others don't have it this way.

Helen:

How can you see the future panning out for both yourself and your husband and for your children?

Rika:

That changes on a daily level. I would like my future to be one where I can do things on my own, I'm able to do it and I can choose not to do it. So having the choice to go back to a system or to do it myself. I think that's the future I would love to see for myself and for my family to be able to voluntarily participate in something that I don't have control over and not be forced to do it.

Helen:

A question is coming up for me about values. Can I ask you about your values, Rika?

Rika:

Yeah, my biggest value is honesty and authenticity.

Helen:

What does that mean for you?

Rika:

There is a meme that I saw the other day on Facebook, which really made me laugh, there is a T-shirt that says, I'm German so I say what everyone else thinks. And that kind of encapsulates it for me. I try to... I sometimes can’t hold back my opinions and sometimes I do fall on my face with them. But, it seems like a long time ago now, but a few years ago I worked in an office job. And although I really supported the organization, the job I was doing was just not for me and the organization culture was just not for me, and I really felt out of place. And looking back on it now, I know that I wasn't living and working in an authentic way to me. So I was just doing a job. And because it didn't fit, I left, unconsciously at the time, and now I know why I left, but I really struggled. Yeah. So authenticity and honesty is my two biggest values.

Helen:

And do you feel you're living those now in the situation where you are?

Rika:

I think so. Yeah, more than I would, for example, in a city life.

Maribel:

I admire that quest to continue looking and well in, in your case is with traveling, to find that authenticity in your life. And also, what you mentioned that not everyone is applauding what you're doing, on the other hand, criticizing. And still, you do what you want, how does that feel?

Rika:

It's sometimes quite confronting, and sometimes it's really scary, but I want to just push through it. So I mentioned the tiny house being a guest house. We had our first guest last week, and the day before we hooked up our gray water system and everything was very last minute. And I said, you know, I'm not going to cancel this reservation, we're going to pull through it. We just have to do it. And sometimes I find that more satisfying than delaying and putting it off.

Helen:

You learn from it, you get your feedback, and then you learn from it. Exactly.

Maribel:

80% is good enough.

Helen:

Rika, we're coming towards the end of our talk. It's been fascinating, I've really enjoyed what you've talked about. And it's very close to my own heart, because that lifestyle is kind of what I'm heading for where I am as well. I'm going to ask you one final question. And this has to do with the name of our podcast, which is audaciousness. And the audacious part is about having the audacity to do this thing that you do in the first place. The word ‘ness’ is an archaic word which is used to describe a spit of land, which juts out into the sea and remains standing no matter what the elements are throwing at it. So the question, our final question to you is, what is it that keeps you standing, gives you the solid ground to keep on going and keep pursuing these goals that you've been pursuing, despite everything that life has thrown at you?

Rika:

I knew this question was going to come, so I'm well-prepared. I think my ‘ness’ is my curiosity. I don't know where it comes from, really, but it's just this need to keep trying new things and to not stop and to to explore what else can be done. And to keep looking and learning. And yeah, to keep trying.

Helen:

Lovely.

Maribel:

Very nice.

Helen:

Thank you very much, Rika for speaking to us. This has been a lovely interview. I've enjoyed it. Thank you so much.

Rika:

Thank you.

Maribel:

Thank you very much for your time.

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