Getting Up Close and Personal

If you follow us on Facebook, you might be seeing a bit more of our faces in coming weeks, because we’ve started doing Facebook Live videos.

Thumbnail of this week's Facebook Live video showing Katie talking about apricots in spring
Thumbnail of this week’s Facebook Live video showing Katie talking about apricots in spring

We need to put in a little disclaimer right at the start—don’t expect anything too professional, we’re definitely better farmers than we are videographers, and this first video is a bit ropey, especially the sound. We didn’t realise what a difference a bit of wind would make and it sounds like there’s a jet engine firing up in the background, but we’ll get that sorted before we do the next one!

So, why are we putting ourselves through the mild torture of videoing ourselves regularly when we could be quietly going about the business of growing organic fruit?

Doing a home visit to help someone get the most out of their fruit trees
Doing a home visit to help someone get the most out of their fruit trees

Because even though we’ve been teaching organic fruit growing for a few years now, we got a sharp reminder last week about how many people out there are still not aware of why it’s so important that as many people as possible learn how to nurture the soil and grow their own food.

It’s easy for us to get complacent because we’re often surrounded by people who ‘get’ that our food system is under serious pressure, so we were pretty shocked and saddened when we attended a function recently where one of the drawcards was the ‘sustainable’ food supplied for morning tea—every item was imported, out of season, or highly processed! And there was no organic produce at all! What was worse was that the organisers knew they had organic growers present and made a point of letting us know they’d put some thought into the food. Their version of ‘sustainable’ was to include some fruit and a couple of salads alongside the highly processed deep-fried offerings.

We could have wept…

But, instead, we went back to the drawing board and thought about what else we can do to help to get the message out there about the many, many benefits that come from growing at least a small portion of your own food organically, as well as sourcing food that has been grown in a regenerative farming system. People need to understand that these simple choices are incredibly powerful, and can make a real difference to your health and well-being, your family budget, and the health of the planet. And we decided we need to do it in a way that’s easy for people to access, free, and not too hard for us to produce. Hence, Facebook Live!

We’re probably also influenced by a dinner we had recently with some close friends who told us—almost in passing—that they’ve decided to pull out their fruit trees because they’re sick of putting in all the work of looking after the trees and not getting any fruit year after year, and why should they bother any more when they can just buy beautiful organic fruit from us?

Well, we were honoured, but also deeply saddened. These guys are great gardeners, take a lot of pride in it, and produce almost enough vegies to feed their family all year. But they were giving up on their fruit trees. They’d never joined any of our teaching programs because they didn’t want to muddy the waters of our friendship, they hadn’t wanted to impose on the friendship by asking for free advice, and we hadn’t wanted to offer unsolicited advice either. But we know they’re “that close” to getting a great crop from their fruit trees, there’s just small gaps in their knowledge that mean they’ve been missing a few small crucial jobs each year that have made the difference between success and failure.

Katie getting some spring jobs done in the orchardSo, we’re making it personal! We’ve realised we need to step it up a notch and provide a heap more information that touches people in a different way to get our message out there more effectively. We want to bring people onto the farm (without actually bringing them all onto the farm…) so you can see for yourself in real time what’s involved with producing your food, and that with the right guidance it’s really not that hard!

Look out for us in coming weeks and months—you’ll be seeing our faces a bit more often from now on (and please don’t judge us on our lack of video skills!).

Hugh standing near the fruit trees doing a site visit

Girls can be farmers too!

Having been a woman farmer for almost 20 years, and being around so many other awesome women farmers all the time, it’s easy to forget that most people still think of the stereotypical farmer as a man.

Luckily Kate Keegan, who is a producer at ABC ME, is aware that these stereotypes can make it harder for girls to choose some careers and came up with a brilliant idea for a television series to celebrate the International Day of the Girl called ‘If you see it, you can be it’.
Katie and Miley in the kitchen being filmed for ABC ME series If you see it you can be it
Katie and Miley in the kitchen being filmed for ABC ME series “If you see it you can be it”

The series matches young girls with interests and aspirations in particular fields with mentors, and Kate got in touch to see if I’d be interested in being involved in a ‘Farmer’ episode of this series.

Of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to simultaneously promote organic farming and farming careers for girls, so I said yes, and got to spend the day today being filmed with Miley, who is 8 and wants to be a farmer.

Being involved in the process of making a TV series was absolutely fascinating, and a real eye-opener. Kate and the production crew were incredibly friendly and non-intimidating, but they were also aiming for a great result, so Miley and I had to go through our paces LOTS of times for each little section of the production to make sure they had enough material for just the right combination of sound and video for each shot. It was pretty nerve-wracking at the beginning but as the day wore on we both got a bit more relaxed, and while we were making a cuppa in the kitchen Miley even came up with a great orchardy joke (hopefully it will be included in the final cut – look out for the joke about her friend Max).

Miley was accompanied by Mum, Lisa, and Dad, Adrian, who run a horse, cropping and sheep farm in western Victoria. They lead what sounds like a very exciting life breaking in horses and competing in rodeos (which explains all the cowboy boots at the door), though they assured me it has its fair share of mud, horse manure and repetitive jobs, just like all types of farming.

 

If Miley does decide to become a farmer she’ll be the sixth generation of her family to do so, and will be following the proud examples set by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all of whom took active roles on their farms.

It’s all too common for women on farms to think of themselves as the ‘farmer’s wife’, so it’s terrific for Miley to have the proud support of her family to think of herself – even at the tender age of 8 – as a potential farmer in her own right. I really hope she does go on to become a farmer, because farming’s an important job and we need farmers to feed the world!

All three episodes of the series (the other two are about a scientist and a firefighter) will air on October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child, on ABC ME. Now that I’ve seen the back end of the filming process, I can’t wait to see the finished product!

Cheers, Katie

Three reasons to get your farm certified organic (and four reasons not to)

Organic certification audit taking place
Hugh showing the NASAA inspector around the farm during our certified organic audit

We’ve just had our annual organic certification visit from NASAA, our certifying body. We’ve written before about the process of being audited here, and our journey to organic certification here, here and here.

Is it worth being certified? It’s a relatively big cost for a small business (it cost us $950 this year, plus a levy on our produce over $40,000), but the actual amount you pay depends on the certifier you choose, and the type of certification program you enrol for – there are some designed for very small producers, or for exporters, for example.

Funding announcement for Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance business plan - thanks RDV and Maree Edwards
Funding announcement for Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance business plan – thanks RDV and Maree Edwards!

It’s a hot topic for us at the moment as we start the business planning process for the new Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance we’re setting up on the farm. Organic is in the name, but all the enterprises on the farm will be running their own business, so it will be their own decision to make. Plus, each business is so different that they have different considerations in their own “pros and cons” list, but here’s the ones on our mind as we start to figure out how to handle this issue:

 PROS

  1. It gives our consumers confidence that everything produced on the farm is grown according to Australian Organic Standards. Some people argue that because the organic certification system is flawed, it’s not worth bothering with, and that it’s enough just for producers to say they’re following the standards. We disagree! Certification may not be perfect, but it’s the best system we’ve got at the moment. We’re mates with lots of other small farmers who have chosen not to get certified for a whole range of reasons that suit their business, and we respect their decisions. But we’ve also stood next to other growers at farmers markets who claim they’re ‘organic’ just because they’re not using insecticides, for example, but they’re still merrily using Roundup to kill their weeds, because if the chemical’s not getting on the fruit it doesn’t count, right? WRONG!
  2. It gives us access to markets that demand certification for organic produce, like the wholesale market in Melbourne. For micro-businesses that can sell practically all their produce to people they know, this isn’t an issue, but if you’re producing enough that you need to sell into markets that can handle larger quantities (and realistically, most farms have to be this big to make a decent living), then organic certification is a definite advantage.
  3. Alliance members on the farm will be able to collaborate freely. If not all the enterprises in our alliance are certified, we’ll have to be very fussy about keeping our businesses separate, to make sure we’re meeting the Organic Standards. For example because the orchard is certified organic, we can’t put non-certified animals in the orchard without following a documented quarantine procedure first, even if the animals have been managed organically on the same farm. This might seem like bureaucratic craziness, but the point of the Organic Standards is to protect the integrity of the organic system, so there’s really strict rules about bringing non-organic elements into it, which we totally support. We can’t expect an organic auditor to take our word for it that other alliance members are ridgy-didge.

CONS

  1. It’s more expensive. Yep, it is, but one of the reasons we’re setting up the alliance is to look at ways for reducing costs, sharing resources and keeping overheads as low as possible for small farming businesses, so we’ll be looking at ways of sharing the costs of certification as well.
  2. It’s bureaucratic. Yep, it is, because that’s what you have to do to demonstrate that you understand and are complying with EVERY part of the Organic Standards.
  3. It takes more time. Yep, it does, but only to get your documentation systems set up to allow for easy reporting and traceability (which is good business practice anyway), and 1/2 a day each year for the audit, which is a great opportunity to spend time with someone who’s experienced at looking at lots of different organic farms. It’s definitely not part of an auditor’s role to give farming advice, but they’ll often make useful suggestions for solving farming problems.
  4. It can make the end product more expensive. Yes, it can. If there’s an insufficient supply of organic feed for animals, for example, it’s going to cost more than the conventional equivalent. This is one of the ‘hidden costs’ that can make organics more expensive in general, and highlights the fact that we don’t have enough organic producers at every level of farming!

Part of forming an alliance here on the farm is that issues like this will have to be discussed, thrashed out within the group and decided on collectively – which should be fun, actually. Part of the brave new farming world we’re trying to create is a model for how small enterprises can share land and resources together and work side-by-side to make all our businesses more successful, and working out issues like this together is going to be part of the journey.