Why I gave up my busy career for a tree change

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If you had asked me five years ago what I’d be doing right now, I never would have imagined I’d have moved to Byron Bay, written a wholefoods cookbook and become a mother. It couldn’t be further from my hectic life in Sydney, which included seven years of 3am wake-ups to present the weather. My partner Darren and I had visited Byron Bay for holidays when we first met and dreamed about moving there one day, but we never thought that would happen before retirement. Then, around three years ago, Darren had an opportunity to open a restaurant on a Byron Bay farm – a chef ‘s dream. Without hesitation my gut said, “Let’s do it. Let’s move to Byron Bay.”

I’m surprised now that I didn’t give more thought to the impact that moving away from the big smoke would have on my career and social life but it was too good an opportunity for Darren to pass up. Just three months later, we were living the dream on a rural property, drinking rainwater from a tank, waking up to the mooing of cows, getting fresh milk from the local dairy and building a restaurant from scratch.

We became so much more conscious of how much water we used – not just because minding our consumption was the right thing to do, but because we needed to be. Now I’m more connected to the land, I can’t help but become more mindful about how I deal with things like waste, and I seamlessly adapt to the rhythm of shopping at the local farmers market. Life is slower and getting jobs done isn’t always easy, but a 30-minute drive through the hinterland is much more rewarding than sitting in traffic. I’m also grateful to live in a supportive community; when I had my baby Archie, people we barely knew dropped off food and gifts at our house.

One of the reasons many of us are drawn to the coast and country is that we gain so much energy when we’re immersed in nature and enjoying fresh, nourishing food. It’s easy to forget how vital this is in our busy, modern lives. I inherited my love of wholefoods from my parents because that’s how they ate in eastern Europe, where making things from scratch was a financial necessity.

Picking up my life and turning it on its head reconnected me with that energy. It forced me to slow down and prioritise what’s important. And the beautiful thing about our country is that we can reconnect, even in the cities. Growing herbs on your balcony, cooking a meal, or planting a tree on National Tree Day are incredibly nourishing activities. I love seeing children getting their hands dirty and taking care of plants as they would a friend.

But I’d be filtering my story if I didn’t admit that I felt quite isolated and lonely following the initial “honeymoon” period. All I’d ever known was a career in the media, working crazy hours, attending social events and burning the candle at both ends. I’d never slowed down, and at first it felt quite foreign.

What exactly was I going to do? Had I made a mistake stepping away from a career I’d worked so hard at? A few months later I fell pregnant. Knowing that I wasn’t going to chase my old life for a while, I decided to just let go and surrender. So I cooked and baked and burnt things. I met local producers and asked questions. I returned to my roots and the old, simple ways of preparing wholefoods like my mother and grandmother did, and I never felt better and more nourished.

I found that being so close to our food’s source made healthy living so much easier. I really wanted to share this with others, so I began to write about my experiences and recipes in a blog – and found that thousands of other people craved a simpler and slower life. I then wrote my first wholefoods cookbook, Happy and Whole.

Now I work on a variety of projects, including a food podcast, The Pass, that I created with my friends Jeanine Bribosia and Sam Kennedy. But perhaps the most rewarding thing is watching my son picking and eating fresh vegies from the garden and putting his little feet in the sand every afternoon. And I’m grateful I’ve made the room to enjoy and share it with him.

Magdalena Roze is an ambassador for Planet Ark’s National Tree Day, which is today; treeday.planetark.org.

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