Evidence for organics

If you’ve ever done our “5 Key Steps to Growing Great Fruit” webinar, you’ll know we’ve been following Rodale Institute Experimental Farm in Pennsylvania for a long time.

Checking out the Farming Systems Trial at Rodale Institute
Checking out the Farming Systems Trial at Rodale Institute

We’re interested in their Farming Systems Trial – the longest-running study comparing organic with conventional agriculture in America, but we were also keen to see the apple orchard, vegetable trials and green roof trial.

Actually, we wanted to see everything!

The apple orchard at Rodale
The apple orchard at Rodale

Rodale was set up almost 70 years ago by the foresighted Rodale family for exactly this purpose – to measure organic techniques against conventional.

It was the time of the “green revolution” when cheap mass-produced fertilisers and chemicals were transforming agriculture to the big corporate machine it is today.

From very early on, JJ Rodale was aware of the risks that conventional agriculture posed, but he needed scientific data to back up his ideas.

Healthy soil = healthy food = healthy people

JJ Rodale

Research is still their focus today, but they also help conventional farmers make the transition to organics, as well as educating consumers.

A tour of Rodale’s farm was always going to be on our agenda when we did a study tour of the United States.

It was every bit as interesting as we anticipated!

Checking out the compost pile - of course!
Checking out the compost pile – of course!

In many ways the work they’re doing may seem obvious and unnecessary, particularly to those of us who are are already farming this way and know it works.

In other words, lots of small-scale regenerative farmers around the world are already demonstrating the benefits in real-time, so why bother doing the research?

Because, while it’s very easy to think this info is common knowledge, and everyone’s already doing it, nothing could be further from the truth.

The sad reality is that only a tiny fraction of the food we eat (less than 5%) is grown this way.

The huge majority of our food is still produced using farming practices that are damaging the soil, leading to a slow decline in human health and contributing to climate change.

The science behind how plants take carbon from the air and store it in the soil
The science behind how plants take carbon from the air and store it in the soil

What Rodale does is provide the hard evidence that organic methods have measurably better outcomes in terms of productivity, soil health, nutrient density, and – importantly – profitability.

It’s this sort of evidence that provides external credibility for training courses like Grow Great Fruit Without Chemicals, so you don’t just have to take our word for the fact it works.

We need to spread the word about organic and regenerative farming, and Rodale just might help us do it a little faster.

10 ways to make money from your fruit trees

Do you want to make money from growing fruit?

Berries for sale at a local market

It’s easier than you may think – and we’ve put together our top 10 tips to get you on the right track.

On our study tour of America we saw farm stands, farm stalls and farm shops everywhere. Farmers and passionate gardeners on every scale are putting up their shingles to take advantage of the passing trade.

A typical roadside stall in New England
A typical roadside stall in New England

Of course conditions in Australia are different with our much smaller population and more restrictive planning regulations (commerce seems to be allowed everywhere and anywhere in America), but much of what we saw fits nicely with our 20 years of experience selling fruit in Australia.

Making a living from fruit growing is a big commitment, but if you have a passion for growing and making, it’s not too much of a stretch to turn your hobby into what Scott Pape (author of the Barefoot Investor) calls a “side hustle” and earn some extra cash.

Toffee apples with variations!
Toffee apples with multiple variations!

And if you think you’re too small a grower, or the market for “local/organic/home-grown” is saturated, think again!

In Australia farmers markets are a rapidly growing and highly successful sector, but it still only supplies a tiny percentage of food to a small percentage of the community.

There’s a big and largely untapped market of consumers who are increasingly interested in buying locally produced food.

Quince vinegar for sale at a cheese farm shop
Quince vinegar for sale at a cheese farm shop

So, how do you turn your passion for fruit growing into a source of cash?

Here’s our top 10 tips:

  1. Feed yourself first (including preserving some of your summer crop for winter). The more of your own food you grow, the less income you need. Plus food you’ve grown yourself is more nutrient-dense and satisfying than any food you’ll ever buy.
  2. Focus on quality, both in your growing and your presentation. This is exactly what the Grow Great Fruit program focuses on, so if you’re serious about making some extra cash from your fruit trees, we definitely recommend you join the program.
  3. Offer choices to maximise your profitability. Different types of fruit or other produce, different varieties, different price points, different value-added products – all will help you sell more. We explain how to plan your trees for maximum variety and a long harvest in Grow a Year’s Supply of Fruit.
  4. Know your stuff – for example, the name of the variety you’re selling, or the technique you’re using to make cider. Become the expert.
  5. Be transparent – for example don’t make up BS excuses for why it’s “too hard” to grow organic. Just be honest about what you do and why.
  6. Find and know your market(s). There are SO many ways to connect with potential customers these days, and thanks to social media (see #7) many are free or low cost. Farm stands, online sales, Open Food Network, CSA, local school networks, farmers markets, weekend markets, deliveries – there’s a a lot of ways to manage the logistics of getting the food you grow to the people who want to eat it.
  7. Connect with your customers through social media, particularly Instagram (which devours food photos). Social media marketing is really simple – just tell your story of why you love growing food and how people can buy it. It just takes some care, time and dedication.
  8. Value-add. Aim to use everything you grow in some way, and particularly to turn your low-value produce into something delicious: jam, vinegar, cider, juice, baked goods, pickles, preserves, sweets, pies…the list is limited only by your imagination.
  9. Be creative – what do you have/grow/make that somebody wants to buy? Or what “waste” products could you source from other farmers and repurpose? Think outside the box, and don’t be scared to try something different.
  10. Set some goals and have a “can-do” attitude. While you’ll save yourself a lot of time and stress by staying within the relevant laws (eg, using a registered kitchen), there’s still many ways to legally and safely grow food for sale.

In a world where many people are completely disconnected from where their food comes from, micro-growers can play an important role.

Not only can you help feed your community with your excess produce, but you’ll also be setting a great example of how to grow your own food, as well as making some extra cash and proving that money really can grow on trees!

A small orchard stall selling peaches, maple syrup and maple walnuts - yum!
A small orchard stall selling peaches, maple syrup and maple walnuts – yum!

Helping out on the farm

We—Penny Kothe and Paul McKinnon—are former owners of Caroola Farm,  in the NSW Southern Tablelands, and we’ve been helping out at Tellurian Fruit Gardens for the past month (which is really exciting, as our farm was the first farm Ant ever worked on). We sold our farm at the end of 2018 and are on the road helping those in need in rural and regional areas – follow us at www.facebook.com/loadsofrs/ 

What is LoadsOfR’s? “Rural, regional, remote, relief, respite, on the road” – seriously, loads of R words we can use and we could not pick just one or two…” says Penny.

To both of us, regional and rural areas are about community, building community and keeping community. “We have driven through too many small towns in our travels where the shops are empty and the street devoid of people,” says Paul. Our future plans are to travel Australia and help those in rural areas in any way we can.

We have varied backgrounds, but most recently running Caroola Farm, a certified organic farm based on permaculture and holistic management principles in the NSW Southern Tablelands farming small numbers of sheep, cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, market gardening, fruit orchard and preserves. We also have a huge range of business skills from finance through to marketing and customer service along with experience in repairs, equipment, maintenance and small building projects.

Paul and Ant sorting plums

Since arriving in mid February, we have been helping with picking, packing, preserving and pruning fruit, packing the CSA boxes for Ant at Tellurian Fruit Gardens.

Penny preparing fruit for preserving

But we certainly got more than we bargained for, as the property is home to a variety of other enterprises under the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op banner.

Katie pruning apricots trees

It’s been really exciting for us to see another property, albeit set up differently, running a market garden, fruit enterprise, setting up a micro dairy, producing fruit trees and online education, we think this is the future of small-scale farming and it’s great to see a model being implemented.

Paul picking Amber Jewel plums

Apart from helping with Tellurian Fruit Gardens we’ve watched the Gung Hoe Growers plant, water, harvest and weed their vegetables for their CSA members and restaurants.

Mel planting in the Gung Hoe patch (with Scally supervising)

We’ve gone and watched Tess milk her beloved cows, and Oli helping finalise the dairy.

Tess and Roberta at the mobile milking parlour

Merv and Katie have given us an insight into fruit tree budding and grafting, and we’re excited to see the variety of online courses that Katie and Hugh have to offer under Grow Great Fruit.

We were fortunate enough to be invited to Thanksgiving Dinner which happened to be our last evening at the farm—shared meals are a really fantastic way to build community.

Shared meal – good company

Being at Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op has been an absolute pleasure and inspiration, and we look forward to seeing how the collective grows and flourishes into the future.

Penny and Paul