We are organic in conversion and this is our first commercial season selling fruit to wholesale markets. It’s also the first time I’ve really dedicated my time to have more of an online presence to share my journey, but more than that, share the information I’ve learnt along the way about food, society and health. How closely they are related.
To me, my photos I’ve taken, and videos too, represent my memories of accomplishments and achievements, mistakes and discoveries. I often check my photos as they represent our journey when checking things to try and create a relationship with compared to the year before but really I can see it’s hard to do due to the weather.
It was exciting to go through this process to become certified but I did feel that being new to farming, new to berry growing and new to the paperwork required was at times exhausting and overwhelming.
Being overwhelmed when you’re tired really does put pressure on how you think and your mindset in general. I’ve learnt over time to get more sleep, take a few more little ‘time out’ moments during the day and it’s been a whole lot better. Even though I can be deeply involved in thoughts while in the field, changing the focus to simply looking and taking in the vista has helped enormously.
Our first season was really a year behind for a couple of reasons, things we can’t change, and while it’s been excruciatingly difficult financially at times, it really has probably been for the best because it’s taken me a couple of years to simply understand the land, how farming works, and the seasons… those amazing seasons. Branded as if we have ‘4 seasons’ Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, but the weather patterns move around so much I think it should be 6 or 7 weather elements and then you have the moon – lunar activities if you’re a biodynamic farmer.
Do you know how much food goes through the markets – those wholesale markets whereby store owners come in usually on a Monday and Thursday morning, to buy and replenish the stock of food so you can cook a meal? It is in my mind, hard to comprehend. These are the hubs where farmers bring in their produce to be sold, either on the market floor themselves or through agents.
We chose agents to sell our produce. They are experienced, have the existing customer base. And this is where it gets a bit trickier. We’re organic. We have certification guidelines we adhere to as do they but what I did learn was how small the organic wholesaler market was. If you can imagine a place probably as big if not bigger than Tullamarine Airport where people take all their fruit and veggies to be sold, and in there imagine 4 places open to take in organic produce. It’s minuscule.
My farm as an organic grower, even smaller. We are a boutique style farm, even as we expand, our farm doesn’t rate anywhere compared to the big boys. 64 million runners are grown in Australia every year for the strawberry industry. Each one of those runners will produce for the conventional farm, a couple of punnets of fruit.
Some farms are so large they have millions of runners, highly geared for production sending out many thousands of punnets each day. It genuinely makes me wonder how you can maintain quality, and then it dawned on me after having some backpackers working on our farm, and sharing their experience of other farms… it’s all about the money. This is why you frequently see fruit in the supermarkets that is almost inedible. And really quite the reason my darling husband looked at me in amazement for years as I ate my way through punnets of inedible fruit. I’d say “Surely there is a good one here in all this fruit” and he’d say “I’m not eating them after I get one good one because I’m not expecting any more than one or two edible ones in a punnet.“
Growing organically is hard work. I think it’s more old fashioned farming, although it’s really about the inputs – what we put into our soil and how we fertilise that requires tracking and recording. I don’t think it’s hard forever, but more about understanding the seasons, looking out for things that will affect the growth of the plants and their yield.
While I continue to grow our farm with Andrew, given we’ve been together 31 years now, I might grumble and complain when I’m tired and anxious about the fruit and our income, how will this all happen when I see these plants and think OMG I’m supposed to make a living, pay wages and build a home out of this, and yet, going into the fields, day after day, seeing how much better the crop has been after so many mistakes, my doubts are removed when I go to the Farmer’s markets and talk face to face with the wonderful people who look forward buying our fruit, listening to my stories and thoughts, and tell me how wonderful it is. That is such a cool feeling.
I’m off for now and hope you’ve enjoyed this little read. I’m going to be more consistent because it’s now just as important to me, to share what I know as it is to grow it.