Winter warmth…

Gung hoe digging bed-490x367

As I step into the cold air and the icy wind I shiver and walk towards the patch.  Sas and I have been tag teaming lately with leaving town, and now she’s away.  I miss working with her and notice the difference from the power of two to one!  As I walk around observing whats growing, I am filled with admiration for the green things in the ground.  For example, the broad beans; it’s bloody cold and yet they are still growing roots and bursting leaves into the outer world.  I never tire of the energy which one single seed contains.  As I continue to walk around I see the sweetpea shoots becoming tiny tendrils and the snowpeas just poking through the earth looking for the sun.  It’s so exciting!

Gung hoe bend weeding-471x628

They’re growing in a bed that a friend came out to help dig.  They will continue to grow up the fence that another friend helped us build.  The tools which I am about to use we bought thanks to an amazingly generous donation.  The land we are on has been made accessible to us by Katie and Hugh.  The garlic looks well weeded because another friend wanted to help, and I can rest easy knowing that the seedlings are safe from frost or hungry bugs in the glasshouse thanks to our friends at The Healing Well.
Gung hoe seedlings-490x367
I walk around acknowledging and feeling incredibly grateful for all the combined efforts that have got us here.  The support continues and even though its cold and slow, this is the time to take stock, and relish the season.  Winter can look grey and empty, but so many things are happening under the surface.
Like the seed in the soil, all the belief and enthusiasm and helping hands are giving us strong roots to pursue our dream.  Corny, I know, but completely true.  So thankyou. Thankyou.  Thankyou.
Now, I gotta go dig!!

You can take the farmer off the farm…

katie and hugh at the farm byron bay

We’re taking a few days holiday off the farm. Well, when I say holiday, I mean working holiday. We try to get away at least once a year to do a review of the past season and plan for the year ahead. There’s two reasons we get off the farm to do it – one is to get away from the constant call of farm work, and the second is that while Hugh acknowledges the importance of strategic planning, he hates doing it only marginally less than having teeth pulled, so we’ve found that removing ourselves to a beautiful off-farm location softens the blow somewhat. (To put this in context and so we don’t sound like self-indulgent wastrels, we’ve been doing this for years and have had to choose some very low-budget options at times, including borrowing friends’ holiday houses, and staying in a caravan!)

Anyway, after a couple of days of good work, cabin fever threatened, so we decided to go exploring the gorgeous hills and valleys around Lismore, northern NSW. What a beautiful landscape! Inevitably the day turned into a busman’s holiday of visiting farms, dropping into farmers markets and talking to farmers, and I must admit we ended up suffering a little bit of climate envy while admiring the deep rich volcanic soils, lush semi-tropical vegetation and rainfall! Oh, the rainfall! Some places we visited get more than 3 METRES of rain a year. While this would pose its own challenges for disease control, it certainly put our 500 mm (if we’re lucky) annual rainfall into perspective, and made us more conscious of what an arid landscape we live in.

But the real revelation was the mid-week farmers markets we encountered. What an amazing farmers market culture exists around northern NSW and southern Queensland – most towns seem to have a weekly market, and there’s a farmers market somewhere in the region every day of the week except Monday.

murwillumbah farmers market
The mid-week farmers market at Murwillumbah – beautiful produce, and very strict rules about no dogs or smoking!

It really felt like a culture of shopping at the weekly farmers market is quickly becoming the norm in that part of the world, opening up lots of new opportunities for small and medium-sized farmers to take more control of their businesses by selling direct to their customers. It was all very inspirational, and great news in terms of my project. Part of my vision for the project is to work towards a culture of farmers markets being the normal and accessible way for people to shop, and after today’s tour, it’s not feeling like so much of a pipedream.


A delicious organic afternoon tea at an absolutely gorgeous farm shop just outside Byron Bay completed a very restful day off, left us feeling inspired and recharged our batteries.  Now, back to the strategic planning…

Since my last Blog I’ve:

  • Agreed to take part in the Great Debate on the topic ‘Organically grown produce is more beneficial than conventionally grown produce’ at this year’s national Apple and Pear Australia convention in Surfers Paradise in June
  • Done an interview for Farm Magazine in The Weekly Times
  • Agreed to present the opening keynote address at this year’s Connecting Rural Business Women conference in August
  • Met (at a teleconference) all the other RIRDC Rural Women’s Awards state winners (and am looking forward hugely to meeting them all next month)
  • Organised details for attending the Company Director’s Course in Canberra in July (and went clothes shopping so I’ll have something to wear!)
  • Approached two industry representatives to invite them to the formal dinner in Canberra in August where the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award national winner will be announced
  • Been working on my project – pondering the most effective way to communicate with stallholders to get them engaged with learning a new skill, writing emails to stallholders, working on the Strategy for Market Managers, and deciding workshop dates.

My project, called “Growing Communities Around Farmers Markets” has been made possible by the RIRDC Rural Women’s Awards.

White with one?

Compost tea is an alchemically magnificent elixir, essential to creating balanced and healthy soil teaming with life. Healthy soil means healthy veggies, which nourish and fuel health-full people.

One of the first things we did when we were negotiating the land lease with Katie and Hugh was to get a soil test. Initially we wanted to test and make sure that there were no dangerously high levels of heavy metals or residual pesticides which would make it difficult for us to grow veggies for consumption. Despite MAFG being a certified organic orchard since 2007, it also had a history of chemical farming practices prior to the organic conversion Katie and Hugh have nurtured the land through. They have done a lot of soil remediation work to bring the soil in the orchards back to a healthy balance free from heavy metals and pesticide residues. With regular applications of compost and compost tea to feed and promote beneficial microbial activity in the soil, they have been able to counteract the negative effects of decades of chemical farming. Heavy metals do occur naturally in the soil from the weathering of rocks and minerals over time, but there is a difference between safe and natural levels and elevated levels due to human actions.

Our soil test came back almost clear. Good enough for us to decide wholeheartedly to go ahead and get digging, but not good enough to pass the organic standards in our first year of production. So, like Katie and Hugh have been doing for years, we are now beginning the process of working with our soil to bring it back into full health and balance. It is after all an ongoing process and relationship with lots of microscopic creatures we can’t even see.

Hugh has kindly showed us how to make a delicious brew of compost tea in the big brewer they use to make tea for the orchards (below) but as our patch is so wee, he has also rigged up a much smaller version for a 20 litre bucket which we have been brewing our compost teas in and then spreading with our high tech watering can (see second pic) onto the garden beds.

2010 11 03_0481-500x375


Soon we will get another soil test which will give us a more in-depth snapshot of what the nutrient and organic matter levels are in our soil too, and this will help us to know what kinds of manures and natural fertilisers to use in the market garden to make sure our veggies are growing in a rich and diverse soil. It is so fantastic to be working side by side with Katie and Hugh and learning from their experience and knowledge of this land.  Shoulders of giants and all that…