We know it’s winter when…

We know it’s winter when…we stop rushing to harvest the salad as early as possible before the sun makes the delicate leaves wilt and instead we switch to harvesting it when our hands have warmed up enough to have the dexterity to pick it! We know it’s winter when we pack away all our veggie shade netting and pull out the frost cloth to protect our delicate green leaves from freezing. We know it’s a dry winter when the skin on our hands is as cracked and dry as the soil itself and when we are still watering the vegetables in July (we would normally stop in April)! And we know it’s winter when we can take a holiday.

Things never stop needing to be done on the farm, we harvest and sell vegetables every week of the year, but one of the beauties of being in a business partnership is that you can step away every now and then and know that everything will keep on ticking and being cared for while you’re away.

This time last year we were just starting to prepare the ‘new patch’ with a run over by Dave Griffiths and his Yeoman’s plough. We grew our first crops on that fresh ground in summer and are now almost finished getting everything for winter and spring in the ground. The first caulis and brocs are ready for harvest and we may actually even get some brussel sprouts this year!

This winter we’re putting in our first rhubarb and asparagus crowns, cape gooseberries, and globe artichokes, which is very exciting. The thought of permanent rows of perennial edibles warms my heart. We’re also starting to put in some edible wind and roo breaks to protect our patch—pomegranates, citrus, elder flowers, and maybe even an avocado or two.

With the help of our lovely vollies we have also planted loads of spring flowering bulbs like daffodils, jonquils, irises, freesias and ranunculus. Just coz they’re beautiful and just coz by the time spring comes we’re all really hanging out for those bursts of colour to remind us the soil is warming up!

Grow well

Sas

When farmers get help, magic happens…

We had the pleasure this week of speaking at a conference in Canberra about being part of the Farming Together (federal) funding program designed to encourage collaboration between farming groups.
We were speaking about setting up the co-op here on the farm, and our “succession + growth” model generated a lot of interest, because there’s a lot of farmers in the same situation as us, i.e., thinking about retirement or at least wanting to step back, but not wanting to sell the farm or stop it being productive.
Previous generations solved this problem by handing the farm down to the kids, and 3rd, 4th or even 5th generation family farms are not uncommon. But things are rapidly changing and it’s no longer a given that the next generation will come home on the farm. So, we’re hopeful that the model we’re creating will be of use to lots of other people.
The sort of innovation that we’re demonstrating here was very much the tone of the conference. We came away feeling totally inspired by the other farming groups we heard from, and brought lots of new ideas back to Harcourt with us. Here’s some of the highlights:
  • Braidwood Garlic Growers Co-op, who are helping more than 30 members make a living from their very small holdings by learning and marketing together.
  • King Island Beef Producers Benchmarking Group, who told the story of taking a field trip to another group of farmers who were already experienced in benchmarking, and being amazed to find they had totally overcome their fear of sharing their financial and production information with each other! They went on to develop the list of shared values (in the photo) that has led to increased profitability for the whole group.
  • The berry growers co-op (who are way bigger than we’ll ever be, but still had great ideas to learn from), who presented the financial analysis showing the value of investing in crop-protecting infrastructure.
We’re not in the business of being the mouthpiece for government, but this was a really good program. In just 1 year they fostered 224 co-ops, worked with 750 groups, and helped more than 28,500 primary producers.
Inspiring stuff, but behind the numbers is the fact that this program worked really well for us, the farmers.  We got into the program after an initial assessment (by phone) and were assigned a business consultant, and after that it was their job to understand what we needed and apply for the funding to deliver it. We got great service and the professional advice we needed to develop our co-op with a minimum of our time taken up with bureaucracy, leaving us time to actually work on our idea.
In accordance with the unfathomable way that government sometimes works, this effective, bloody good-value program didn’t get funded in the last budget, so we’d like to give a big thanks to the Farming Together team and the team of consultants who helped us, especially the indomitable Clare Fountain.

Celebration and business growth (and how to combine the two)

Our first ever bushdance (called the Gung Hoe Down) will be held on the farm next Saturday (28th) along with a mighty harvest feast to mark the end of an incredibly successful season.

It’s the brainchild of the inimitable Mel and Sas from Gung Hoe Growers, and they’ve put heaps of planning into it, from organising an excellent local band known for calling a good dance tune, to designing a delicious menu based on food grown here on the farm, to sourcing local wine and cider to sell at the event.

As the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance (HOFA) continues to take shape, feasting and celebration has been one of the consistent themes that shows up on everyone’s ‘wishlist’ of what they want out of being part of this farming collective, so we hope it becomes an annual event – or even better, just one on our calendar of celebrations!

But there’s another reason the Gung Hoes are putting so much effort into creating a fabulous event. We’ve watched in awe as they’ve built their business rapidly over the 3years since they started, doubling and then redoubling the size of their patch, and steadily building up their customer base.

They’ve applied themselves to the back-breaking work with diligence, grit and barrow-loads of determination, doing everything by hand because they haven’t had access to equipment.

 

But like so many small businesses just starting out, they’ve been doing it on a shoestring, particularly as part of their mission statement is to provide affordable food to local people, which has meant they’ve kept their prices very sensible.

The rapid growth means they desperately need more physical space for storage and packing, but without capital behind them that’s a big ask.  In their typical thrifty fashion they’ve found an incredibly low-cost way of providing the infrastructure they need – but they still need to fund it.

Rather than follow the traditional business route of going into debt, they’re applying the same innovative spirit that’s seen their business grow and gain huge community support so rapidly into exploring new ways of funding business growth. And what better way to do it than combine it with a huge celebration – hence, the Gung Hoe Down!

It’s a big risk for them, as they have to commit to a whole bunch of expenses up front, but they have faith that by putting on a great party for the community they’ll be able to achieve their financial goal. They’re aware that not everyone likes to dance, and some people can’t afford a feast, so there’s a wide range of ticketing options. Check them out here.

And we have faith in them.  This event just perfectly sums up everything that Hugh and I love about welcoming these enthusiastic young farmers onto our farm – the determination to provide delicious and nutritious food to local people at a reasonable price, the innovative and clever approach to doing business, and the impulse to have a party at every opportunity!

See you on the dance floor or at the feasting table.