Paul runs Thriving Foods Farm, a traditional market garden in Koo Wee Rup, alongside his partner Claire and their little bub. Thriving Foods Farm is a traditional market garden following organic principles. Although it may have started off as being a 100% permaculture farm, the importance and priority of being able to supply freshly picked veg and eggs to boxes and markets has meant that the farm now utilises the tractor more. Paul takes a lot of inspiration from Linda Woodrow’s book ‘The permaculture home garden’, from which the chicken coop was envisioned.The farm’s flock of chickens live in up-cycled buses which have been entirely gutted with a mesh floor, allowing them to excrete directly onto the garden beds ! He is a busy, busy farmer and we are grateful that he managed to squeeze in this phone call in on the drive home from a weekend market.
How did you start farming? By accident.
Paul was travelling around India, and found himself in Auroville working on organic farms. At that time he was an accountant by trade and was on a bit of a career break after finding the limits of physically being in an office building and feeling enclosed in a small space daily. His interest in permaculture farms grew and so he began growing in the backyard of his share house in Sydney, starting with around 100-200 seedlings. It didn’t take too long after that when Paul decided he needed a bigger space, and moved his operation to a 1 acre paddock which he leased in Liverpool, Sydney. At this time he applied for the NEIS program, which provides small start-up business support both through mentorship and finances.
In farming, leased land in a big issue, as well as water security.
Paul’s farm in Sydney was on leased property, but his current farm Thriving Foods Farm is not. Paul explains that when you lease land, you are dependant on the good will of the landlord, and you’re lucky if they are easy to work with. A good relationship with the landlord is crucial if you want to grow and have a successful business. Simply providing basic amenities for people that depend on you such as your family, your workers and volunteers may require installing a new shed or another kitchen. Out in the field, you may find that you need to change the irrigation system which would be quite an investment. As a small scale farmer, you rely on that flexibility, and that there isn’t too much rebuttal from the landlord on these decisions. When the lease ends is another issue, it could be just a year or two, it’s hard to plan for.
But where there are hardships, there are also great rewards. What is the most rewarding thing about farming?
There is joy in the process of being able to raise a seed into a healthy mature plant. There is double joy when you offer your produce to customers at the market, perhaps they are trying something new, and they return the following weeks really positive and energised !
Paul believes the diversity in the veggie universe is staggering. The more intimate and deeper the relationship you have with growing a particular vegetable the more rewarding it becomes. And you can see it at the market, some farmers are good at growing one thing, and another farmer will have something else that they grow really well.
What is your advice for young farmers?
If you have any inkling of growing something, just get out there ! It is beautiful way to surround yourself. Farming requires patience, and success always moves around. It is generally quite challenging to take the first step, but there are awesome initiatives like Pop-Up Garlic Farmers that you can join, or get involved with the community garden. And if you fail, then try and try again.
Thriving Foods Farm can be found weekly at the Coburg Farmer’s market, as well as Eltham and Alphington markets every Saturday and Sunday. Also during semester, they will be at the Melbourne Uni market every Wednesday in Carlton. Paul reckons they have amazing hot food and a lot of potential as a great fresh produce market as well !