All we ever do is have meetings

An alliance meeting in our kitchen
An alliance meeting in our kitchen

Setting up the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance (we’re still waiting for someone to come up with a better name….) is exciting, fun, stimulating, inspiring and reinvigorating for us old farmers, but mostly, it’s a lot of meetings!

On the phone, by Skype, in person, at offices in the city, here on the farm—we have been talking to a lot of people about this project over the last few weeks.

Meeting with Clare from Sorted4Business (in our kitchen) to work out the finer details of where all the alliance members will fit!
Meeting with Clare from Sorted4Business (in our kitchen) to work out the finer details of where all the alliance members will fit!

We’ve been going through a thorough process of interviewing and getting to know each of the applicants for the orchard lease, as we’re keen to choose the person who will be the best fit for the opportunity. We’ve had multiple meetings with other alliance members as they start to work through the detail of setting up or expanding their businesses. We’ve had regular meetings with our business consultant, Clare, to work through the many layers of complexity involved with our business development plan, we’ve met with professionals to get advice on various aspects of our plans, and had meetings with the funding body to report on our progress and discuss next steps. We almost don’t have time to farm any more!

We’ve also had some welcome interest from the media about what we’re doing, and are now starting to get inquiries from other farmers and farming groups interested in doing something similar on their farms. As part of our mission here is to develop a replicable model that can be implemented all around the country, we’re happy to share our progress so far, but all this talking is keeping us from our fruit trees!

Spring is such a crucial time of year in the orchard, when it’s more important than any other time of year to keep our eye on the ball so we can anticipate and respond to the weather to protect the trees while they’re flowering and the fruit is setting. If we stuff up now, we pay for it for the rest of the season!

gala blossom

So we’re feeling a little distracted by nurturing two completely different ‘babies’ at the moment—this year’s fruit crop, and our fledgling alliance. Both promise great things and deserve our full attention, but we can’t wait until we’ve steered them through these early, risky stages and can stand back a bit and take a breath!

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