Village Dreaming

The beginning

Mara and Ralf, with daughters Ahlia and Artemisia, moved to 15 acres of fertile land at Balmpied in 2015. Over the past 4 years Mara and family have built a new home with multiple kitchens, a large vegetable kitchen garden, various orchards, a beautiful wetland to welcome native birds and provide habitat for dragonflies and frogs, and areas for keeping animals- chickens, pigs, sheep, ducks and geese. They have also built 2 farm-stay/Airbnb rooms.

Farming principles and methodology

The farm operates on regenerative principles. It also provides opportunities for groups of people with a passion for growing, preserving, baking, cooking and feasting to come together to learn how to establish their own kitchen garden and how to make the most from their harvest. Village Dreaming is a place where Mara and family, as well as guests, can experience village life at its very best.

Distribution of farm produce

As at mid 2019, somewhere between 500-1,000 kgs of fresh food is produced per annum.

Preserving, bartering and gifting: Food grown on the farm is eaten fresh and preserved/fermented  primarily by family and farm stay guests. Abundant harvests are preserved and stored in Mara’s specially designed cool room/pantry. Fresh food is bartered with other local growers and distributers, for example: Mara barters veggies for meat produced at nearby Jonai farm; veggie swaps with Meg and Patrick’s permaculture plot; veggies for tahini and cabbages and local olive oil with Su at Hepburn Relocalisation Network; eggplants for feijoas with Kirsten at Milkwood.

Community supported agriculture: In summer 2018/19, tomatoes from an abundant harvest contributed towards the community supported agriculture veggie box scheme, supplementing food grown at nearby Captains Creek Organic farm. These veggie boxes are distributed to locals through Hepburn Relocalisation Network and some boxes also go to Melbourne.

Selling produce: In addition to supplementing Captains Creek veggie box scheme (700 kg’s tomatoes), excess harvests are sold to local cafes such as Spade to Blade in Daylesford, Red Beard in Trentham, in minimum lots of 5kg’s. Publicity to promote harvests relies on Instagram, community emails as well as word of mouth.

Future plans

A range of fruit and nut trees have been planted and Mara expects these will produce harvests in the next couple of years. The trees include: lemon, lime, chestnut, walnut, apricot, hazelnut, apple, cherry, nashi and plum. Pigs will soon arrive and will provide meat for 10 families in the area. A large chook house is currently being constructed to provide eggs for the farm.  

Water access and rights

Water from tanks is used as a first source and bore water is used as a last resort. Mara does not have a water permit licence that allows her to sell excess.

Challenges

Infrastructure– a freezer would be helpful, especially during harvesting season and when the pigs arrive. An existing cool room is used, as are greenhouses. A chicken pen, wood shed and pig house are all in the process of being constructed.  A local abattoir is needed and Mara is very eager to see this happen.

Regulatory obstacles that limit the farm are those pertaining to water. A licence to sell excess produce is connected to a water permit. Water permit rules need to match new and/or individual situations. Water entitlements are expensive – the water costs more than Mara would make in selling, so rights have to be scaled to the size of farm. 

Making a living: the farm stay/Airbnb subsidises the running costs of the farm. This allows Mara to be full time on the farm, tending gardens, harvesting food, preparing food for guests, preserving in times of abundance, and teaching guests and others about regenerative farming.

Contact

Contact details: Mara Ripani, Allisons Rd, Blampied, 3364, e: mara@villagedreaming.com.au

Type: Small farm/grower, farm stay, bartering excess produce

Size and Location: 15 acres, Blampied

Products: Current Staples- raspberries, blueberries, currants, strawberries, eggplants, tomatoes, garlic

Hepburn Relocalisation Network

The beginning

Su Dennett established HRN with Maureen Corbett in 2008 as a means to support local farmers and food artisans; to encourage regenerative, permaculture, organic and biodynamic food growing practices; to reduce food miles; and to link residents with fresh, nutritional, ethically and locally grown food. The local Veggie Box scheme came about in 2009 when Su learnt about how much fresh produce was travelling from local farmers, in particular organic farmer Rod May’s farm in Blampied, to Melbourne. 

Purchase and distribution principles

HRN seeks out regenerative growers with the aim of procuring fresh and wholefoods, as well as specialities like tempeh, as locally as possible.

Veggie boxes are available on a weekly basis during summer and autumn. Wholefoods are also set out on a table near the house on a weekly basis. Bulk quantities can also be ordered i.e. wheat and other grains for bread making, 10 litre casks of local organic olive oil.

Relationships with suppliers have been built up over many years. To minimise transport, wholefoods are purchased together with other similar local ventures such as Hepburn Wholefoods Collective and Spade to Blade catering.

Distribution of produce is promoted via local community networks; HRN emails, website and blog site; and via word of mouth.

Location of suppliers and quantities distributed

Su chooses the closest possible ethical growers. In some cases this results in produce coming from interstate.  Examples of some staple suppliers are listed below. Additional seasonal produce and suppliers are not included in this list.

Veggie boxes– Captains Creek organics- Blampied. Previously 40 boxes per week but more recently 8/9 boxes per week. Su indicates this reduction is due to additional veggie box schemes being established over the years as well people growing more of their own food.

Grains and Pasta– Burrum Biodynamics, Marnoo, NW Victoria; also Powlett Hill Biodynamic grains, Cambelltown 

Olive oil– local

Seaweed– Tasmania, brought to Victoria via people travelling

Quinoa and adzuki beans– Biodynamic growers in Deloraine, Tasmania

Rice – from Slater Farm, NSW. Rice is rain fed and not grown in irrigation areas

Pulses, grain and nuts- Avoca (central Vic), and South Australia

Dry fruit and avocados– from Irymple, north west Victoria

Tahini– not local

Fresh turmeric and ginger – Free Farm, NSW

Approximate Quantities p.a.: – Rice 400kgs; Grain 1 tonne; Pasta 100kgs; Pulses- 300-400kgs; Olive oil- 100ltrs;

Infrastructure

In this model infrastructure is kept to a minimum because the food distribution base is Su’s house. Not paying for premises or other overheads, and using personal funding, keeps costs down. Collection of goods is shared between other similar-focussed ventures in the local area, as outlined above. This allows prices to be kept to a minimum. Melliodora is a no waste community so bundling up bulk wholefoods into smaller quantities is done by using recycled packaging and glass containers.

Regulatory Obstacles

This small venture is outside regulations. It has not been set up as a livelihood. Local Government regulations are slow to change. Su is always working on the edge towards the common interest with the intention that regulations will ultimately change to reflect what is happening or needed. Tiered responsibility is needed in relation to impact of regulations- differing levels of regulation are required for different models.

Sharing information and models

As a champion of local ethical foods, and the first to set up such a model in the local area, Su encourages the start-up of similar ventures, such as Mary’s Coop in Glenlyon, Hepburn Wholefoods Collective, and new Veggie box schemes. Su works collaboratively to share information and suppliers and to explore suitable models.

Daylesford Culture Club

HRN runs Daylesford Culture Club, a community group that meets on the first Saturday of every month to encourage the skills and knowledges required for people to feel confident to ferment foods and drinks at home. DCC runs free workshops and information sessions about every aspect of wild fermentation. Previous workshop topics include medicinal ferments, sourdough baking, cheese making, miso making and olive curing. DCC teams up with local producers who grow vegetables for people to ferment: gherkins for the annual community pickling day and cabbages for the annual community krauting day. DCC was established in autumn 2016 by Meg Ulman, co-convenor of HRN.

HRN and DCC are auspiced by SHARE – Sustainable Hepburn Association.

Contact

Contact details: Su Dennett, Fourteenth street, Hepburn Springs 3461 e: relocalisehepburn@gmail.com

Type: Not-for-profit local ethically grown wholefoods supplier and Community Supported Agriculture veggie box distributer

Location: Melliodora Permaculture farm, Hepburn Springs

Products distributed: Seasonal vegetable boxes, pulses, grains, rice, pasta, olive oil, dried and fresh fruit, avocado, tahini, seaweed, nuts, honey, tempeh, fresh seasonal produce.

Spade to Blade

This is no ordinary catering business.  Sure Spade to Blade do weddings, events, conferences, parties but not in the way you would expect.  Every week owner Gary Thomas finds out what the local farmers are producing and tailors his upcoming catering contracts to fit what is available locally.  He’s been doing it for 25 years.  From small beginnings in the 1990’s running a Café in Hepburn, he now employs four permanent staff, several casual workers and more than a dozen front of house. 

How it Evolved

He has brought his own experience of what works; along with emerging trends of small-scale agribusiness, the growth of consumer discernment about their food choices, learnings from the Slow Food movement and connecting with many unsung local farmers and well-known influencers like Rijk Zwann and Rod May.  Trusting his instincts to follow these trends he has evolved a way of sourcing and using high quality local produce that supports local farmers and provides an alternative to large scale commercial products. It ticks all the boxes to reduce food miles, use less waste, promote and educate about the value of local healthy food choices and provides delicious flavoursome food.   

The Slow Food movement has been a boon for local chefs and growers.  When attending his first gathering Gary felt like he had connected with his mob; there were others like him.  There was a sense of camaraderie with a whole network and a much bigger food map.  He did however see that many talk it but don’t do it.  He has had to work at it to stay successful in a changing landscape.

Food Philosophy

 Gary has a clear purchasing philosophy.  He starts with off using local farm produce, harvest from the catering garden and where appropriate local wild food windfalls.  His first choice is local and organic.  90% of his produce – meat, vegetables, grains and flour, oil, dairy comes direct from local and regional farmers. His second choice is local, third is organic and the last choice is conventional.

Financial Viability

Spade to Blade has a strong emphasis on supporting the local producers.  The practice is to pay the asking price, on time, without quibbling.  He explains that whilst the business doesn’t try to  compete with the commercial caterers that purchase in bulk and do cookie cutter serves, his business is financially viable and offers a diverse seasonal range.  In recent years his sales have increased, cost of production decreased, and he can often source the best possible variety of produce often cheaper than conventional food businesses where costs are high and waste excess. 

Use it all and limit waste

Using all of what is available and limiting waste is an important aspect of the business.   Whether it is purchasing a whole beast and using every part of it or making use of a massive crop of (say cucumbers) that are sliced diced fermented pickled preserved in a variety of ways; it is all part of a no waste philosophy.  Spade to Blade chefs get really creative.   You can see the micro version cycle of growing, harvesting and composting produce in the Spade to Blade garden.

Benefits Challenges and Insights

Maintaining good relations with farmers is paramount.  With their best efforts crop harvests are variable in volume and quality.  Co-production is a good practice.  For example, the tomato crop may net a bumper crop one year, then be inferior the next.  This is where the costs can be shared with standard pricing.  

Say YES to producers and work things out from there.  Never take produce you can’t pay for and always pay on time. 

Making a shift from being a sole trader to a company with a small staff has made a difference.  From the stress of trying to do it all himself he now has a great staff who want to stay, can be creative and make great food. A happy workplace is an important thing.  People want to be doing something worthwhile and feel proud of what they do. 

The general public are now more aware of the value of about the value of local food.

Also on the plus side is the abundance of remnant small production opportunities. 

On the downside the cost of competing excludes some clients.  Corporates for example often want vast cuts of the same meat.  This tends to creates excessive waste and is not an efficient use of produce.

Another challenge is that people often misinterpret what local food is.  Shopping for it locally does not cut the mustard!  Plenty of room to educate some locals, tourists, as well as local, state government and business.

The Slow Food movement has been a boon for local chefs and growers.  When attending his first gathering Gary felt like he had connected with his mob; there were others like him.  There was a sense of camaraderie with a whole network and a much bigger food map.  He did however see that many talk it but don’t do it.  He has had to work at it to stay successful. 

A Community Experiment

This region has strong community focus on relocalisation and frequently have community dinners.  One such dinner was requested by Su Dennett of the Hepburn Relocalisation Network.  Would Spade to Blade (aka Gary) orchestrate a community dinner where all the produce was grown locally?   He agreed on the conditions that it had to be a free event, all food was excess, low energy use in preparation and local. All the attendees delivered their produce to be cooked for the evening and the food preparation began.   It was a memorable experiment with a full hall of locals enjoying delicious and varied food.  Chestnut soup, pickled walnuts, acorn and apple pancakes were standouts.  The evening highlighted the creative efforts that prepared a sumptuous feast from the vast array of local produce.   It was a profound education for the uninitiated and good recognition of what was and wasn’t available in our region. 

Demonstrating what is possible

Gary Thomas is a food visionary who is principled, ethical and a committed community leader in local food production. 

To Contact

www.spadetoblade.com , E: nfo@spadetoblade.com or call Gary Thomas 0448 483 616

Mt Franklin Organics

After purchasing 30 acres of land about 17 years ago on the Eastern slopes of Mt Franklin, Florian established his small scale Certified Organic farm 11 years ago and farms about 3 acres of it. 

When you walk down the driveway of Mt Franklin Organics it is easy to be struck by the beauty, order and care for the land.  His land practices, solar energy and building design all contribute to environmental sustainability. After being a Chef for many years he was ready for a change.  He loved gardening, had the land and could read the trend of more and more people wanting to buy fresh, local and organic.

He grows veggies, herbs, berries and fruit and distributes mainly to organic shops, cafes, restaurants as well as selling at the local farmers market.  He also sells seedlings, garlic, onions, beetroot and pumpkin.  He can store garlic, onions and pumpkin in his shed but distributes the fresh harvest on the same day.

His produce is NAASA Certified Organic.

He is well regarded and well supported in the local community for providing good quality local, fresh, organic produce.  Some locals will only buy his seedlings to get a healthy stock, particularly heirloom tomatoes.  Although he says that ironically, fresh local produce is not even on the radar for some people.

 

Benefits

What he does contributes to a better lifestyle with better food.  It makes a difference.

Challenges

Unforeseen weather events are a constant challenge of every farmer.  For example he has had bumper crops of tomatoes, only to have a cold snap for 10 or so days ruining the crop.  Pests such as grasshoppers can ruin a crop.  These are the risks of being a farmer. 

Some regulations discriminate against small farm holdings.  Tourist properties can get their fill of bore water unmetered, but small-scale irrigation needs to be metered.   Discriminatory agricultural regulations are a common catch cry from small scale farm holdings.

He used to value add by making delicious jams and relishes but has found that constantly changing labelling laws and certifying logo changes rendered is unviable.  Mores the pity as they are delicious.

Financial Viability

Florian maintains that it is important to keep the money in the community.  He is recognised locally for the quality of his produce and he works hard to produce it.  He doesn’t employ other workers, but friends help with harvesting occasionally as a mutual exchange. 

Insights and Advice to Newcomers

With hindsight he would have built a bigger shed, planned fencing and grown less variety.  Each vegetable and fruit has different requirements Borrow as little as possible.  The weather poses a risk so the first years can be hard.  It is easier said than done.  Find a market before you start harvesting.  Go manual and get off technology, it doesn’t make the veggies grow better!

To Contact

E: florian@mtfranklinorganics.com.au

or call Florian Hofinger 0412 517 013

Danny’s Farm

History

Danny leased 5 acres of his father’s land in 2013. He wanted to establish a working organic smallholding which could one day support his dream to open a restaurant on the farm mainly using ingredients grown directly on the land. He wanted to educate himself through a firsthand experience of farming, connecting with the land, the seasons and the local community.

Becoming a farmer was a somewhat unconventional career choice following a university degree in English & Psychology, but after travelling through Europe WWOOFing on organic properties in Italy, France & Spain, he knew that farming and working with food was where his true passion lay. Inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage and “lunatic” farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface, he wanted to farm in a way that produced food with integrity, to care for the land in a sustainable and regenerative way, and to make a living doing something truly worthwhile and fulfilling.

The beginning

Danny started out with an inherited herd of alpacas, a small herd of Scottish highland cattle and the beginnings of a market garden. Then came three pigs (Piggy Minaj, Piggy Smalls and Greg) a flock of chickens and a hand-built clay wood-fired pizza oven, ‘the true heart of the farm’, says Danny. The market story started at the Daylesford Farmer’s Market in November 2014 with delicious free range egg & bacon wraps and since then Danny has gradually built up to 2 markets per week with a loyal customer base. This has enabled the conversion of an old horse float into Danny’s Farm Food Trailer.

Danny’s farm venture has been supported by friends, family & animals, WWOOFERS, a supportive local community, and the help of like-minded & inspirational people with a steadfast dedication to producing and serving high quality, seasonal and sustainable food.

Farming principles and methodology

Danny is devoted to producing sustainably-grown food using organic and permaculture techniques. He grows seasonal heritage veggies, has a diverse fruit & nut orchard, and holistically manages cattle and poultry in a rotational system. Whilst Danny adheres to regenerative and organic farming principles, including free range animals, the farm is not certified organic because the grain fed to the poultry is not certified organic. Danny chooses instead to use local grain for the animals as the closest organic feed option comes all the way from Queensland.

Water access and rights

The farm has stock and domestic water rights, including dam, ground and rain water. Regulatory obstacles in relation to water access prohibit Danny’s capacity to sell irrigated fruit or vegetables- see section below.

Distribution of farm produce

Farm baked produce is sold at farmers markets in Daylesford, Ballarat, Creswick, Ballan & Melbourne. Some baked produce is sold to local cafes in the Daylesford area. Excess produce, including vegetables, fruit, nuts, eggs etc are gifted and exchanged with other local producers and community members. 

Challenges

Access to land without incurring a heavy debt is one of the biggest challenges for young people wanting to farm as a career.  Danny has been fortunate in being able to lease 5 acres from his father, which makes the venture more affordable. This has also allowed Danny to trial farming, prior to making a larger financial commitment. The 5 acres has enough accommodation to enable farm stays and WWOOFers to stay on the property and help with farm work. 

Infrastructure– a local abattoir that processes poultry is needed. Currently the closest poultry abattoir is on the other side of Melbourne and access is tricky for small new farmers.

Regulatory obstacles that limit the farm are those pertaining to milk pasteurisation and to commercial water. Danny is not able to utilise milk produced on the farm (in ice-cream and baked goods) because of these regulations. Commercial water regulations prohibit Danny from selling irrigated vegetables and fruit produced on the farm. The ‘one size fits all’ in relation to water rights is problematic for small famers. The administration for 1 megalitre of water is the same as for 100 megalitres. The application costs alone are $2-3,000, which is a heavy burden when starting out, and then the water has to be paid for on top of that. Surface water is effectively locked up leaving bore water as the only alternative which presents extra drilling costs. 

Making a living: Danny is committed to growing food as a livelihood, not as a hobby. As a small grower, selling value added items makes the farm more financially viable. He is keen to explore complementary enterprises that can support each other, (such as Harcourt Organic Farm Coop), a venture where food growing, responsibility, cost of land, tools, equipment and infrastructure are all shared.

Learnings and future plans

After five and a half years of farming Danny is integrating his learnings and making commitments to the next stage. This next stage involves exploring the possibility for a subdivision of the land on which he farms to allow him to purchase a 25 acre portion. The next stage also involves developing a closed loop system which integrates Danny’s determination to reduce waste, to provide meaningful employment and to grow nutritious food where people live. The emphasis of this new venture is on growing fresh herbs, salad and microgreens, using waste wooden pallets and waste 2-litre milk containers as wicking beds. Danny envisages this venture as a cooperative social enterprise with the design and prototype shared around the world through open source systems. The enterprise will also include an educational component with schools and disability groups, showing young people how to use waste products for growing food, demonstrate simple ways of growing nutritional fresh food for people, and inspiring change. The tops of the milk bottles will be fed through a plastic munching machine contribute to manufacture of worm farms and so on.

Initial discussions with Hepburn Shire and with Daylesford Neighbourhood Centre have met with positive responses. Danny envisages the venture being based in local towns where the waste is generated, where larger numbers of people are living, and where employment is needed.

The venture can be established with simple infrastructure – a couple of shipping containers with rain water tanks attached, plus poly-tunnels.  Keeping it simple is important so it can easily be replicated in other locations around town.  

As another venture towards becoming more carbon neutral and minimising his use of fossil fuels for personal transport, Danny has purchased an old vehicle which will run on used vegetable oil. This new vehicle will transport Danny’s value-added produce to local markets and cafes.

Contact

Contact details: Danny Kinnear, Richards Road, Blampied, 3364, e: danny@dannysfarm.com.au

Type: Small farm and secondary value added produce business

Size and Location: 5 acres leased from family, plus access to 125 acres

Products: Eggs from free range chickens and ducks, meat from cows, fibre from alpacas, value added baked foods and icecream

Brooklands Free Range Farms

A Regenerative Family Farm

It took Natalie Hardy and Jonathan Hurst 5 years of research to find the land suitable for their regenerative family farm.  The land had to tick a lot of boxes – size, affordability, proximity to Melbourne and good soil.  Jono hailed from a big family farm in New Zealand but had been working in hospitality in Australia.  It was a pivotal moment while waiting for a bus home one day he saw a poster on the side of the bus stop.  It was a graphic picture of a sow cramped in a muddy sow stall feeding piglets.  Confronted, he thought, ‘there has to be a better way.’  It reignited his desire to get back into farming and do it ethically.  Nat had a veterinary background and was trained in equine herbal medicine, so farming was a great fit for both of them.  Eleven years on Nat, Jono and daughter Ruby have been working their farm now for six years.

What they do

They specialise in rare breeds, farming Berkshire Pigs and British White Cattle. The stock is ethically born and raised outdoors on 270 acres of owned and leased chemical free volcanic pastures in Blampied.  They have 16 breeding sows, 2 boars and approximately 100 growers; and 16 registered British White beef cows, a bull and around 40 head of growers; all grass fed. As a family affair, they only outsource to the butcher and small goods maker.  

Progress and Prizes

Nat and Jono sell directly to the public, starting at Farmers Markets as the best place to get their produce out there.  Fortunately they both love talking to people as they need to be at the markets in person.  Initially intended it to be a slow growth model, people loved their product so much it has motivated them to do a huge amount of hard work to build the business.    They are very time poor, with as little as three days at the beach for annual holiday.

It seems they have moved really fast, but in truth they started with a lot of research, an empty paddock and a lot of hard work. Already they have won prizes and media attention for their efforts.  They were delighted to be featured in food icon Alla Wolftasker’s latest book.   They do farm tours with Wesley College every term, who in turn give them 1.5 hours help on the farm.

A fairly impressive milestone for a family of three and 6 years of hard work. 

Soil, Animal and People Health

They really concentrate on healthy soils as the basis of their farm – looking after microbes, bugs and fungi in the soil.  They see soil health as an imperative that underpins animal health, which in turn contributes to people’s health.  They don’t spend money on chemicals or fertilisers and work to improve pasture with biodiversity, aiming to get as many as 16 different varieties of pasture and different root structures.

Making the farm drought proof is important and they hope that when they eventually move on others will carry on the tradition.

Financial Viability

Nat and Jono are paying off a farm mortgage.  So far, every spare bit of cash has gone back into the property.  The most recent edition is a watering system that will save them 2 hours work per day in summer.  After years of carting water they are starting to see light.  Comparative bliss!

They recognise the importance of futureproofing themselves financially as well as environmentally and are mindful to be prepared for unexpected events and not to overstretch themselves.

Benefits and Challenges

There is so much they want to do but it all costs money, so it is about doing bit by bit.  They would love to be mortgage free but that will have to wait.  Insurances are crippling and regulations are mainly designed for large scale commercial agriculture and are constantly changing.

They have received a lot of help from the Victorian Farmers Market Association (VFMA) to work with regulators. For example, to sell at a farmers market they need to be able to use a registered refrigerated vehicles. Even finding out who is responsible for these decisions is a really challenging issue.

They had a rough trot when Jono’s dad passed away after being sick for 18 months. While Jono was overseas with the family Nat ran the farm.  There were a lot of missed farmers markets and lost wages.  They were grateful to be able to keep going and receive good advice and help from the Rural bank.

Best and worst

Nat is reminded that, ‘Every day is pretty special up here, living a life in the country doing what we love doing and providing good healthy food for people and animals, and soil, bread from Twofold Bakehouse and Veggie box from Angelica Farm.’  They remember this on the days they are up at 4.30am organising the food trailer or putting straw in a pig shelter in wild weather or preparing for bush fire and extreme weather events.

Advice to newcomers

It is important to do the research and get clear on what you want.  Dream big but go in open eyes and financial backing.  Get the location and land right.  Start young!  Network with other farmers who are doing what you want to do. Nat and Jono really love what they do, or they wouldn’t be doing it.  It was their dream and see the benefits of being in a massive food hub so close to Melbourne, surrounded by people like themselves.