April saw the turning of our first sods, the mounding of our first beds and the planting of our very first crop…garlic. The most intense and colourful, the juiciest and most pert of our previous year’s crops were lovingly planted on a whim and a prayer that this here farming endeavour would work out. Two days after planting the kangaroos and dogs had danced across the beds, 3 months later and the cockatoos decided to have a taste and now 7 months later its our turn!
Consulting our lunar calendar to find the best day to harvest the garlic for longevity, we dug up just over 22 kg of beautiful garlic. It felt a little like the birth of our first born and we paid the heads no less attention than you would expect of new parents! The garlic has been hanging and drying in the shed for the past few weeks and the time has now come to plait them up and send them out to the plates of our community. Just in time for Christmas!
It has been such a joy in preparing and planting this crop and watching it grow as our humble little patch and all our green babies have also been growing, it is a truly exciting moment to have our first big crop that we can sell to all our wonderful supporters.
As there is a limited amount of plaits available, we’ve decided to take pre-orders until we run out. You can either facebook message us or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to place your order. Orders close on Monday 14th December but get in quick because its first in first served. What we have on offer are:
½ kg plaits (roughly 15 heads of garlic) for $25
1kg plaits (roughly 30 heads) for $50
Collection will be either from the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens shop on Friday 18th December from 10 am to 4 pm or from the back of the truck (location to be decided) between 5.30 and 6.30 pm on the same day.
We have saved enough of the best garlic to plant out next year’s crop, and we’re getting ready for another big crop in 2016, so watch out vampires!
Well, I’m nearly at the end of my internship — this time next week will be my last day. I can’t believe it! My stay here really has flown by, even with nearly an extra month added onto the original 3 months. I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to leave — there is so much more to learn. And there’s so many wonderful varieties of fruit still to ripen and enjoy. But, when I look back on my time at Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens, I realize that I’ve come a very long way since I got here.
I could talk for ages about all the awesome practical skills and knowledge I’ve gained on the farm, all the fun I’ve had, and how lovely it has been to be part of such a beautiful family and community. But what I want to share with you is more of my personal journey. I have had so many incredible experiences that have been nourishing, exciting, beautiful, and that have changed me as a person. And many of them have been born of the more challenging moments.
For example, I am learning to back the tractor with the trailer on it, and I can tell you right now it’s not easy! I nearly gave up the first few times after going back and forth and back and forth until my arms ached, feeling like I was getting nowhere. But, after a very cathartic scream at the tractor, I gathered my wits, asked for help, persisted, and eventually succeeded. So great.
Farming requires so much from you as a person. You need a huge range of knowledge and practical skills, from knife sharpening to judging when a flower bud is about to blossom. But the most important thing I have taken from my internship is developing your inner life skills. Through their approach, Katie and Hugh have taught me many valuable lessons, such as the need for resilience and a positive attitude, and that there is no shame in asking for help and not knowing how to do something, especially if you’re willing to learn. Or the benefit of being able to go with the flow when you have a set back or things change unexpectedly. And the joy there is to be found in the simplest things, like the first tiny cherries appearing on the trees.
You can never know everything about farming or growing food. If you wait until you feel like you know it all before you start, you’ll be waiting a very long time! Farming can be hard work but it’s mostly incredibly rewarding and there is nothing I would rather be doing. So, even though I feel like I could spend a lifetime learning from Katie and Hugh, my time has nearly come to drive off into the sunset and start my own project. I’m excited (and a little scared) to continue my journey, see what I learn along the way, and what kind of farmer I turn out to be.
Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it – is ubiquitous. It’s so much part of modern life that it’s almost pointless even contemplating whether you think it’s good or bad, though luckily, we all get to choose whether, and how much, we participate! If you follow the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens Facebook Page, you’ll already know it’s the main way we spread our news, like the day we met Costa…
The project I’ve been running this year with my RIRDC Rural Womens’ Award prize bursary is called Farmers Markets Building Communities and it’s all about teaching stallholders at farmers markets how they can use social media – in this case Facebook – to bring more customers to the market. So I’ve been talking to lots of farmers and other stallholders about social media and believe me, everyone’s got an attitude about it (and it’s often not very complimentary).
The reality though, if you’re in small business (at the least the type of small business we are – a small organic farm selling at Farmers Markets) is that it’s almost irrelevant what YOU think about Facebook, because like it or not, that’s where your customers are! If you want to market your business effectively, you’d be kinda crazy not to wrap your head around social media.
Here’s a few stats that might convince (or horrify) you about why Facebook is a handy business tool:
10 million Australians use it every day
They spend an average of 1.7 hours on it
They check in an average of 14 times each day
5 million people watch a video every day
Food and recipes are one of the most common topics discussed (and photographed!)
The age of the average Facebook user is a bit older than the average Twitter user, but guess what? The age of the average farmers market shopper is too. Guess where most of our potential farmers market customers are? Yep, they’re on Facebook.
It’s not all about business though. The bit we like best is that we get to actually have a relationship with our customers. Facebook, Twitter, and even this blog let us have a dialogue with all the people connected to our business, many of whom are also friends. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has commented to me, in person, about a post they’ve read, and we’ve gone on to have a great conversation.
We love that social media lets us talk directly to our customer more effectively, more affordably, and in a more targeted way, than ever before. Previously we had to spend lots of money on newspaper ads that were shown to everyone (regardless of whether they were likely to be interested in us), and they saw it once! For the same budget we can talk directly to the people who ARE likely to be our customers, and who live where we’re likely to be doing a market, for a fraction of the price.
So, thank you to everyone who’s out there reading this blog, ‘liking’ our Facebook posts, and engaging with us on Twitter. You’re part of our Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens family, and it really helps to break down the barrier of isolation that so often affects farmers. We feel like we’re part of a community, we feel like you’re sharing the farming journey with us every step of the way, and we appreciate it!
Now I just have to figure out a way to influence those farmers markets stallholders who think they should be using social media, but haven’t quite got over their prejudices yet!
RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Award – week 34
Recently and coming up:
Met with my project mentor to discuss how it’s going
Met with Melbourne Farmers Markets to discuss my proposal for the next stage of the project
Heading off to Canberra this week to speak at the NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia) national conference
Being interviewed in Macquarie Radio this week
Taken part in a RIRDC study into collaborative business approaches for primary producers
Found out I passed the Company Directors Course, and booked my place for the award presentation evening!
My project, called “Farmers Markets Building Communities” has been made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Awards.