Our first full day on the farm started less than 4 weeks ago on June 8. We prepared everything the night before and set off bright and early. The drive would take us close to 90 minutes and we had to drop Harry off to Dog Safari in Burringbar, and conveniently, on the way. We wanted to arrive at the farm just before 10 am in order to coincide with Rod and Tania’s morning tea break. We found them in the shed when we arrived, sitting around a circular table, talking, laughing, and drinking tea and coffee.
I liked these guys right away. They were relaxed, friendly and really welcoming. We sat down and joined them, and the introductions began. Rod a farmer in his 40’s, lean and playful, and very passionate about Organic Food. Tania, Rod’s wife and co-farmer, strong, energetic and warm, she’d probably be in her mid to late 30’s. Aiden, (I don’t know his job title) but an employee who seemed very experienced, friendly and had a reputation for doing everything fast and efficiently! And last but certainly not least, Molly the dog! A young, playful, rather large puppy who was part of the family…
I felt at ease immediately. Rod, Tania and Aiden were all so welcoming and I knew right away we had made the right choice to come out and volunteer with these guys.
After introductions and a general chat about all sorts of things including organic food production, we prepared to get farming! It was a sunny day, so no need for gum boots. But, being winter it was somewhat chilly, so beanies, scarves, vests and jumpers were required. The growing area itself is up on a bit of a plateau on Rod and Tania’s property, and from the shed we had to take a drive down a steep gully and up the other side (even steeper). Our transport for this ride was to be a beaten up ute, which only fit 2 people in the front, so Rachel and I had to jump on the back of the ute! The ute tray is covered in a high canopy, made of steel mesh, which gave us something to hold onto as we stood on the back tray door. Rod joined us on the back, declaring with a cheeky grin and boyish excitement, “this is the best bit and the real reason I farm” And we were away….
The ride on the ute was heaps of fun, like a theme park ride with better views, and much more irreverent (not to mention free)…I was taken back to my childhood, when it seemed we were always doing things like this, slightly dangerous, fun and exciting. I guess you would call them ‘real adventures’…
Molly ran in front of the ute the whole way up. She’d take off and get way ahead of us and then stop and look back, wondering why we were taking so long. As we reached the top of the drive and made it onto the plateau we saw our first glimpse of the growing beds and the view!
It was a real surprise that the farm was raised up so high, well above the house and sheds. The views were incredible to take in. I noticed that I felt really embraced by the mountain ranges in the background, and also very close to the incredible energy of Mt Warning, which we could see as we farmed. For me this felt like further confirmation that we were in the right spot.
Spectacular is a word that comes to mind! Seeing all these vegies growing with the pristine environment of the Border Ranges National Park as a backdrop and The stunning Mt Warning National Park in the foreground. It was one of those ‘pinch myself I am surely dreaming’ moments. In fact we were so stunned, that we must have looked complacent, because Tania had to check that this was our first time at the farm. We both replied that we were just so elated we couldn’t speak!
Arriving at the top, we were put straight to work. Our job this morning was to spread out the beetroot seedlings, which were about 5-10cm tall, and give them more space to grow fully. Tania showed us the technique (she made it look so easy) and then we all got to it (we were much slower but Tania wasn’t concerned). The key thing was to move the smaller ones as Tania explained: they would have a smaller taproot, so less disturbance to these plants. We talked as we worked, and Tania shared how they try to continue to be creative with the farm; to try out new crops and make use of adverse weather conditions, to adjust to changing markets. They also loved to grow a wide diversity of crops, rather than stick to one or two things. hence we could see around us: spinach, shallots, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, radish, ginger, herbs, lettuces, asian greens and more…
Our next job was weeding between the young spinach plants. This was a faster task and a bit easier for us newbies! We learnt that day how important regular weeding is for an organic farm, relying on no pesticides, and how quickly weeds can take over and block sunlight or root space for young and even more mature plants. Tania told us a lot about how she came to be a farmer that day and explained that farming isn’t difficult work its just consistent. You need to stay on top of it and sometimes, especially in summer, this can be challenging.
There was more that happened that day; more talking, more learning, more laughter and let’s not forget the ute ride back down the hill. We made Aiden promise he would drive faster next time!!