A flourishing mixed market garden, growing between 50-60 varieties of vegetables and herbs each season, has taken a very co-operative approach to feeding the community.
Terrewah Farm is located in Kangaroo Valley, NSW and in addition to an orchard of around 70 temperate and sub-tropical fruit trees and a berry orchard, also runs about 60 dorper sheep, 130 pastured laying hens and a handful of dexter cattle.
Owner Kirsty Hambrook started growing vegetables on the farm nearly five years ago, although the patch back then was about a quarter of what it is now.
“Along with our own produce we also provide a platform for other local growers to sell their wares,” Mrs Hambrook said. “We have a mobile cool room that is licenced for meat transport and storage, so we buy and sell local beef and pork from other farmers.”
“We also buy and sell fruit and vegetables from backyard growers and other commercial operators that don't have their own established market.
“Using our collective resources we're able to supply an amazing range of fresh, local and mostly organic produce for families and restaurants in Kangaroo Valley.”
Mrs Hambrook and her husband started farming with no experience and no training.
“It's been a massive learning curve,” she said. “We had to learn absolutely everything from scratch – the hard way.”
Unafraid to get her hands dirty, Mrs Hambrook puts in 70 plus hours each week.
“If the sun is up, I'm working, and sometimes when the sun is down too,” she said. “With luck and good management that should ease up once we're finished this initial building phase.”
Mrs Hambrook’s passion for health, and in particular the food she eats and the impact its production has on the earth, provided the catalyst to take the leap into farming.
“I figured that if I wanted fresh, seasonal, nutrient dense, organic food that was eaten where it was grown and didn't destroy the planet, then I should make it happen,” she said.
“It's my goal to provide simple, fresh, clean, seasonal food for my own small community, allowing everyone a deeper connection with the seasons, a knowledge of where their food comes from and the ability to see it in action.”
Last year, Kangaroo Valley experienced the driest nine months in living memory, it was one of the challenges the Hambrooks have faced so far.
“It was a bit stressful for a rookie farmer,” Mrs Hambrook said. “If it wasn't for a kindly neighbour with an unused dam we may have been in serious trouble.
“Overall, our biggest ongoing challenge is the wind. We're in a bit of a wind tunnel here in the western reaches of Kangaroo Valley. The westerlies are a killer and our property is very wind exposed.”
Mrs Hambrook, said they had experienced small successes along the way.
“We haven't really paused long enough to reflect on our successes yet. We're still in the head down, bum up, paddle really hard phase,” she said.
“Our pasture has visibly improved over the last four years with organic soil amendments and careful grazing management, along with soil aeration and the sowing of deep rooted perennial and leguminous pasture species.”
Mrs Hambrook said most of what they do at Terrewah Farm is low-tech.
“The market garden is run almost exclusively on human sweat and hand tools,” she said. “On a scale as small as ours it doesn't make sense to invest in expensive technology. Having said that though, one of the best additions to our operation has been the online shopfront provided by the Open Food Network.
“It's a fantastic platform for small scale producers to interface with their customers.”
Their planned business model consists of three parts: Food production; tourism, which involves welcoming visitors and developing an immersive 'slow food holiday' experience for guests; and education, consisting of a series of workshops and classes to share the skills they have learned.
“For now, we're focusing on the building phase, getting the second and third parts of our business up and running,” Mrs Hambrook said.
“After that it will be a process of continual development, improving the soil, the pasture, and the productivity of our farm. I'd like to see the number of weekly customers eventually triple and for us to help put Kangaroo Valley on the map as a clean food destination.”
Find out more at terrewahfarm.com.au/harvest.html or visit the Open Food Network openfoodnetwork.org.au/terrewah-farm/shop
We haven't really paused long enough to reflect on our successes yet. We're still in the head down, bum up, paddle really hard phase.