PUGF 2019

PUGF 2019 saw us incubate 22 new farmers across five pop up garlic farms across Melbourne and surrounds. The sites included:

Seaford at the ‘Downs Estate Community Garden’ where Robyn, Rod, Tessa and Kylie are planning to use the course as a pathway to expand and explore the possibility of a market garden onsite.

Silvertine farm at ‘Yarra Valley Eccos’ where Andrew, Tess, Michelle and Bridget have joined forces Bio Dynamic farmers Josh and Tobias for their garlic growing adventure.

Collingwood Children’s Farm boasts a new farmer dream line up featuring Cassie, Ben, Bree and Kaitlyn who are squeezing in their 80m2 of collectively grown garlic behind the pig pens.

‘Flora of Vic’ Keilor where Tom and his dog Panda, are joined by Melanie, Susie, Marion and Kylie with an expansive plot just behind the native grass farm, along the banks of the Maribyrnong river.

‘Marg and Johns Sheep Farm’ Cardinia. Thanks to the generosity hard and work from the ‘Sustain Network’ Brett, Lindy, Ajak and Queyea have been able to take up sponsored course positions at our newest site!

A big cheers to Ryan Decoite our Program Administrator for PUGF 2019 !

Farmer Incubator & Young Farmers Connect research partnership!

ASPIRING FARMER SURVEY                   BEGINNING/ NEXT GEN FARMER SURVEY

garlic harvest 2019
It can be hard to keep your eyes open when you’re this stoked to be harvesting an epic haul of garlic with new and old friends!

We at Farmer Incubator have long dreamed of establishing a collaborative farming model here in Oz.  Thankfully, there are many successful and well developed examples of Incubator Co-farms and other similar co-farming models in the US, UK and other locations around the world for us to connect with and learn from.   Now, thanks to funding from both the William Buckland Foundation and Ripe for Change (an initiative of Sustainable Table), we have begun research into the current opportunities and barriers facing  aspiring and next generation farmers for the very purpose of establishing an Incubation Co-farm here in Oz!  This model aims to both create opportunities and offer support for new and next gen farmers to help in overcoming the barriers that prevent more young people from getting onto land.

In addition, our research involves developing a Report and Community Tool Kit which will be made publicly available.  With these resources, we aim to provide some valuable and much needed insight, detailed context and examples for organisations and communities across Australia who are (or would like to be) working to support and enable our next generation of farmers.

The specifics vary greatly but just to clarify, an Incubator Co-farm offers participation in a land based, multi-grower project that provides technical assistance and training along with mentorship and access to networks, supporting farmers in getting onto land.

If you identify as either an aspiring or next gen farmer, we would love your help in shaping this model, to ensure that it is best positioned and designed to meet your needs (and those who follow in your footsteps!)

For the purpose of our research, a next gen farmer is someone is currently or has previously managed a farm (your own or someone else’s) for a period of 10 years or less, as opposed to an aspiring farmer who may well be farming, but is not managing a farm or is not yet farming, but aspires to.  

We have designed two surveys – one for aspiring farmers and one for next gen farmers.  We would greatly appreciate it if you are able to fill out the most relevant to you.  If you don’t identify as an aspiring or next gen farmer but happen to love fresh, locally grown food and want to see more of it, please spread the word about this much needed project and enable the growth of a more secure, local food future.

Please check out our project brief below for a little more information about our research, and why your contribution is so important.  Let’s grow future farmers!

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Feature Farmer: Ant (Tellurian Fruit Gardens)

Ant harvesting cherries

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.

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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.

TFG Spring flowering in the orchard

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.

images courtesy of Ant.

Feature Farmer : Paul (Thriving Foods Farm)

 

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 !

Images courtesy of @Thrivingfoodsfarm instagram.

Feature Farmer: Buttons

Farmer ‘Buttons’ has recently started up her own micro-mushroom farm in her Brunswick East backyard. Producing up to 20 plus kg of oyster mushrooms a week, ‘The Mushroomery’ is delivering vibrant and fresh produce to local cafes and ‘Joes Market Garden’ Saturday farm gate.
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‘Buttons’ is a budding young Melbourne farmer who, after completing her Permaculture Design Course at CERES in 2016, has embarked on a life-changing journey of eating seasonally and growing just about everything possible (now including mushrooms) to meet her own needs.
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Buttons took us through the complicated and intricate process of growing 6 variations of delicious mushrooms in a backyard environment. Grown on organic rye and straw and housed in a grow chamber made from salvaged building materials, this mushy farm is a great example of profitable small scale urban agriculture.
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Check out The Mushroomery on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/themushroomery/
or buy direct from CERES Joes Market Garden Saturday farm gate stall

Feature Farmer : Chloe Fox (Somerset Heritage Produce)

For anyone who wonders whether they’ve  got the inkling to farm, having a chat to this legend will leave you in no doubt. She’s a doer in the truest sense of the word, leading by example and leaving the naysayers to their own devices.  Simultaneously pragmatist and philosopher, Chloe personifies The New Farmer,  keeping it real, with genuine humility all the while managing to do it all with a spring in her step and an all-knowing grin. Her take on life is an infectious one, and cripes, can she grow some bloody good veg.

Having completed the Pop Up Farmer program in 2016, Chloe transitioned to Somerset Heritage Produce pretty soon after and now, a year on, is in the midst of taking over as the owner of the business. We had a chat with Chloe about where it all started and what she’s up to now:

 

What got you interested in FI in the first place?

I was looking for ways to get more practical farming experience while living in the city and working.  The garlic program was a great fit.

What were the highlights for you?

Making connections within the farming and food community and working alongside amazing and inspiring people with a passion for food and growing. Gaining the confidence of growing a crop through a long season through to harvest and then taking it to market.

Any surprises?

I was out weeding one afternoon when a seemingly friendly galah flew over to inspect. He posed for a few photos and flew away.  A minute later he swooped down and attacked.  I fought him off with weeding implements but ultimately hid in the car.  He then started trying to break in to the car and I decided to call it a day.  I realised when I got home that I was wearing a pink and grey shirt and he though I was a big galah.

What have you been up to since?

The experience and connections I gained through Farmer Incubator led to me working full time as a farmer at Somerset Heritage Produce growing beautiful produce and selling to restaurants and people at farmers markets.  We are currently in planning for me to take over the business.  It’s hard and dirty work but I’ve never been happier.

Whats your philosophy in farming?

Work hard but always take the time to appreciate the (literal and figurative) fruits of your labour.  Extra time spent planning and doing a job well saves so much time in the long run.

 

What advice would you give young or new farmers?
Talk to everyone and get experience working and woofing as much as you can.  Don’t be intimidated, the farming community is one of the most welcoming and sharing places you will ever encounter, we love sharing knowledge, food and good times.

 

What’s your favorite veg and why?

It changes constantly.  Right now I think it’s celery, we’re getting close to harvest and organically grown fresh celery is a revelation to anyone who has only tasted store bought or conventional. At the height of summer the romance of perfect tomatoes almost makes you forget how much work they are.  I love watching kohlrabi grow because they feel like little spaceships landed in the garden.  I could go on and will probably have a new favourite vegetable tomorrow.

Spoke & Spade Urban Farm Tour

Weathering the weather warnings, intrepid investigators of urban farming were treated to a great tour of Spoke and Spade, urban farm run by Sim Hanscamp last month in Heidelberg.  Now featuring on a recent episode of Gardening Australia, the ‘rental’ farm (how many farms aren’t rental we ask young farmers!?) we got the low-down on how Sim manages to crank out a commercial quantity of vegetables from his rented suburban block, selling them at places such as the University of Melbourne Farmers Market and now through his Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Spoke and Spade Farm tour phone-10

After the thorough and thoroughly entertaining tour we settled into a lovely lunch and then some long chats and discussions about how Sim and others get into farming and how others can do the same.

Spoke and Spade Farm tour phone-15

Spoke and Spade Farm tour phone-18

If you’re interested in farming and want to check out how other farmers get stuck into it, come along on one of our other farm tours.  Sign up to our newsletter and follow our social media feeds to keep in touch. One day we might want to come and visit you and find out how you did it.

Spoke and Spade Farm tour

Oh and Sim left us with his Top Six Tips on getting started in farming:

sim's top 6 tips

Feature Farmer : Will & Emma (Pig & Earth Farm)

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Located on the Quarry Hill Farm in Dja Dja Wurrung land, near Kingston, Victoria Pig & Earth Farm is doing great work with pigs, amongst a few other things.  We interviewed Will and Emma earlier this month to get their story.

What farming do you do and where and how long have you been doing this?

Along with my partner Emma, we farm livestock on 40 acres in the Central Highlands of Victoria. We run a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with 15 members, focusing mostly on pork and a small amount of lamb. We’ve been running the CSA for about 6 months now, after purchasing this property a year ago with the help from family. We had previously share-farmed on two separate properties over an 18 months’ period.

How did you get into farming and why?

I fell into farming a little bit by accident, I was studying Fine Arts at uni when I got a job on a local farm, after falling in love with the work, I dropped out of the course and was working full time within about a year. I loved the nature of the work; the problem solving, the diversity of the tasks, the connection you develop to a place, providing food for your community, it just made sense to me, every other job seemed to pale in significance to what you could achieve farming.

What’s your philosophy in farming? 

My overall philosophy to farming is to improve the environment and to build community. I try to farm in a sustainable and ethical way. Whether that be feeding the pigs waste stream foods, or trying to allow for the animals to express themselves as naturally as possible.

But farming to me can be about both improving the organic matter of your soil, and building a resilient community. I think a lot of the problems that we’re facing as a society have to do with the fact that most of us live in cities now. It’s hard to be connected to the land or to each other when you live in the city, and so I’m interested in trying to build that connection through a CSA model.

What advice would you give young or new farmers? 

My advice would be to move to the country! We need more young people in rural towns, and you’re more likely to gain experiences and meet other farmers if you do.

My other advice is don’t give up. It can be crazy hard trying to start out and find a way in farming, but it the end the only reason other people succeed is because they don’t give up. Also as an aside, I think young people wanting to get into farming should be especially careful of unpaid internships and volunteering. Although these things can be useful experiences to have, I think too many young people are having their labour exploited for the sake of ‘farm experience’.

What are your long-term plans in farming?/What’s up next for your farm?

My long term plans for farming are to just keep farming. I want to diversify what we sell and maybe one day have a whole-diet CSA. There’s so much to learn, and I’m constantly making mistakes, so it’d be nice if one day it felt like I had everything together, but I don’t know if that can ever happen for a farmer.

Cultivating a Garlic Farmer

By Georgia Savage

I was born in the city, pretty much in the middle of Melbourne, far far away from the green fields of agriculture. I went to a school where farming was never presented as an genuine career option, and it was a time before kitchen gardens were something found in a school.

Despite this, two years ago I finally discovered the pure joy of growing food. Of digging into the earth and gently placing a cobweb of roots into a suitably sized hole. Of carefully nurturing that plant through shooting green leaves and flowering vegetables until in my hands was a zucchini, a tomato, an ear of corn. I was hooked, and I wanted to learn more about growing food, I wanted to learn how to grow enough to feed others – I wanted to become a farmer.

That’s a big statement for a city slicker that is based on a romantic notion of beautiful sunrises, connectedness with nature and fluffy, yellow, tweeting chicks. I needed to test this craving I had to return to land – well, to go there in the first place really.

It was at this time, riding on my bike down Canning St, I noticed a small sign asking me ‘Did I want to become a garlic farmer?’ I didn’t much like garlic, but the farming part certainly appealed to me. Here was a new program, for people exactly like me, who wanted an opportunity to try growing food on a larger scale. I figured not liking garlic might give me an advantage as I could safely avoid inadvertently eating all my hard work and potential income.

With barely another thought, I signed up to the Pop Up Garlic Farmer program run by Farmer Incubator!

The program began in March with a workshop, and the next 9 months followed in a haze of familiarising myself with farm tools, weeding through endless amounts of stinging nettles and building my sun tan the honest, hardworking kind of way. I learnt about soil science and garlic varieties, I leant what terms like ‘cultivating’ and ‘breaking pasture’ actually mean. I laughed and shared time with my fellow farmers, and I grew a healthy 500 bulbs of garlic.

In December we harvested our crop, which I have shared amongst family and liberally used in my cooking (now a garlic convert!). I have developed the confidence and some assurance in my genuine interest and ability in farming to pursue it further. If you think you might have it in you too, but you want to test the waters with a fun and rewarding experience, get involved in the program in 2016. I’ll be there as one the facilitators and we can work on our tans together!