From one crop: Fox's market garden journey

Chloe Fox started her market gardening journey with a single crop

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GARLIC MARKET: Seymour's Chloe Fox gained skills and knowledge for her current market garden operation by growing garlic.

GARLIC MARKET: Seymour's Chloe Fox gained skills and knowledge for her current market garden operation by growing garlic.

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From garlic to heirloom vegetables, Seymour's Chloe Fox has come a long way.

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A year of growing garlic proved the impetus for Seymour's Chloe Fox to eventually run her own market garden on the banks of the Goulburn River.

Ms Fox took over Somerset Heritage Produce in 2016 from Robbie Keck after first working for him at the market garden he had set up.

But she said her passion for market gardening was bolstered at a Farm Incubator program at La Trobe University, Bundoora.

It's there she first met up with Mr Keck.

"The PopUp Garlic Farm Incubator runs programs designed to get people into farming, or give them access to it," she said.

"It runs over a year, or a full garlic growing season.

"You sign up and are given a plot of land, where you work with other people.

"You turn over the land, you plant your own crop of garlic, you do everything to the point of getting it to market, then you market it."

WIDE VARIETY: Somerset Heritage Produce grows crops from asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, onions, rhubarb, silverbeet, peas and beans, to kale, Japanese baby turnips and heirloom tomatoes.

WIDE VARIETY: Somerset Heritage Produce grows crops from asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, onions, rhubarb, silverbeet, peas and beans, to kale, Japanese baby turnips and heirloom tomatoes.

She said it was an easy way of getting into market gardening, an area she already had an interest in.

"I had been working as a World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms volunteer and it seemed like a way to jump in, while I still had a job."

She came from New Zealand with her parents when she was 10 and worked in hospitality before starting the incubator program.

"I had always been interested in food politics and how food is grown," she said.

"Farm Incubator gave me access into the world of market gardening and gave me connections.

"It made me realise this could be a viable, full-time job."

From the 1.6-hectare farm, she now supplies vegetables to some of Melbourne's top restaurants, farmers markets and sells through the online platform, Open Food Network.

The business produces crops from asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, onions, rhubarb, silverbeet, peas and beans, to kale, Japanese baby turnips and heirloom tomatoes.

"We are just finishing the summer crops now, mowing in things like tomatoes, eggplants and chillies," she said.

"It's hard work; it's easy to have an idea that is a bucolic lifestyle - there are times when it's like that - but it's one I have chosen.

"I like eating well and having tangible things you can see at the end of the day, or the season.

"It's an opportunity to grow really good food and do it in a way that creates a healthy environment around us."

Ms Fox said the farm had a great diversity of insects, animals and bird life.

"We are not certified organic, but are fully organic in practice," she said.

She said going organic took a lot of work in terms of paperwork and meeting strict regulations.

"I'm not sure it is the best use of my time," she said.

"If I was going to be selling a lot more to wholesale outlets, or larger supermarkets, I might go down that path, but the way the business is, right now, I don't see the value in that."

Somerset had few pest and disease problems because it grew such a diversity of crops.

"If we are looking after the soil, and growing that diversity of crops, we are not going to have that build up of pests and diseases," she said.

"I am not saying we don't get any, but we don't just have an acre of broccoli, so we are not getting that concentration of problems."

During the height of the pandemic, some of the restaurants Somerset supplied had to close, so Ms Fox said the farm ramped up its presence on Open Food Network and at farmers markets.

"We opened up extra hubs in Melbourne," Ms Fox said.

"Farmers markets sales went up, with people being locked down and cooking more at home.

"The farmers market was a big outing for us, every week, and a couple of the restaurants started doing produce boxes as well."

She said Somerset lost ground during COVID-19.

"Selling that way is a lot less efficient than having a lot of big restaurant orders, each week, so we had to work logistics and packaging systems," she said.

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