Farmer Ant is the owner of Tellurian Fruit Gardens – a 4ha Certified Organic orchard of diverse fruit trees in the small central highlands town of Harcourt. The orchard is part of the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op, where members (including market gardeners Gung Hoe Growers, micro dairy Sellars Farmhouse Creamery, Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery and online business Grow Great Fruit) are navigating a collective path through the challenges of land access, farm succession and the high cost, risky business of making that break into farming. Despite having no experience on farms only a few short years ago, Ant took to the road to work and volunteer on small scale farms before embarking on a 6 month internship with the previous owners of the orchard, (formerly Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens), Katie and Hugh Finlay. Ant has just completed his first 12 months at the reigns with continued mentorship and volunteer labour from the FInlays along the way which, in his words, “really helped me succeed in my first year, despite my lack of experience”.
We were lucky enough to get a bit more insight into what led Ant to this point, and why he farms, as well as the benefits of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model:
What first got you into farming and why?
I’ve always had a passion for being in and working with nature and an introduction to Permaculture while travelling overseas served as a catalyst for me to dive deeper into the realm of farming. When I glimpsed the abhorrent practices of the industrial farming model, including the negative impacts on biodiversity and climate change, I was adamant that I wanted to take no part in that, meaning I didn’t want to eat food that came from these systems. I wanted to truely understand the source of my food and I think a part of me wanted to prove that food could be grown sustainably. That’s when I started working on farms and learning more about agroecology. I discovered a community of excellent farmers that were practicing sustainable, ethical and even regenerative farming.
A wintery white rainbow in the orchard at Tellurian Fruit Gardens
What sort of mentoring have you had along the way and how did you connect with these people?
Each of the farms I worked or volunteered on over the few years prior to arriving at the Co-op were my mentors. They all opened their homes to me and facilitated my ‘learning by doing’. They answered my continuous questions, gave me short informal lessons, inferred their knowledge of farming and food sovereignty and set me loose on their properties! All with different styles (and different farming enterprises) I gained so much from each these experiences, not least of which is a community of inspiring farmer friends.
The first property, I found by Googling ‘permaculture internship’. The second, I met at a grassroots event for farmers and allies, Deep Winter Agrarians. Henceforth, was by word of mouth and through social connections.
Ant’s spring time orchard in flower
What are your long term plans in farming?
Having only just finished a year running a farming business, I’m so focused on chasing my tail in the present that I honestly haven’t thought that far ahead. When I think of what my future should look like, I imagine that I’d love to own my own property (maybe collectively) and farm in a way that helps to reverse climate change and is ethical, regenerative and resilient. I’d like to build time into my farm life for collectivising and food sovereignty activism.
I know you there are lots of ways to buy your fruit. What made you decide to go down the CSA path alongside the pick your own and farm shop routes?
The CSA was the only new element I added to the business when taking over from Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens. I am passionate about food sovereignty and CSA is one of the best ways to start transforming the food system. It’s a radically different way to connect eaters with their food. It offers benefits to eaters (e.g. education; participation in the food system), farmers (risk sharing, reliable market for produce) and the local community (strengthened local economies; resilient ‘foodsheds’). It’s win, win, win! I couldn’t resist.
Now that I am post CSA season one, I can also say that one of the biggest benefits was the direct connection with my community. I was able to express my struggles and triumphs, and I received many messages of support and gratitude. These were well received whilst in the thick of my first season!
Do you have any advice for new or aspiring farmers?
If you learn by doing, like me, hit the road and seek experiences on some of the small-medium scale farms across Australia. There are so many producers out there who are farming in creative and inspiring ways. Many of them are willing to share their knowledge and ‘grow the growers’.
What’s your favourite fruit and why?
I can’t decide! I think I have a new favourite each week of the harvest season. Some of my top picks are ‘Wiggins’ white peaches for their fragrance and incredible flavour, ‘Merchant’ cherries because, well, cherries, and ‘Goldrich’ apricots because of the way their flavour changes from sour to rich sweetness.