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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

Go to: Coming to the Northern Rivers | Market changes | Education: SoilCare and TAFE | Soil Health | Community | Land-use and the future of farming |

Education: SoilCare and TAFE

Once you start working with nature you start learning a lot and when we moved onto this farm I went to TAFE immediately to learn how to be a farmer, although I was born and raised on a farm, but this type of horticulture I didn’t know much about and I very quickly learned that the soil on our farm was degraded. We couldn’t find earthworms anywhere and that was a wonderful journey to understand why the soil was degraded and to discover that conventional management practises on farm were not good for soil biology. That I think, probably, was at least ten years I worked to try to understand what was happening in the soil and because I couldn’t get answers and what I wanted from industry, our industry or the government, we started our Landcare group. Through our Landcare group we were able to get government funding to look at soil health on farms.

Because I struggled so much I think with almost nowhere to go, not knowing who to trust even, now I really feel for the farmers who are just starting out and they’re starting that journey so my whole thing is to make that easy and I don’t know why but maybe just because it’s just a passion. That’s the only way I can describe it. I suppose there are several things at play. The local TAFE… so people will find TAFE when they’re looking for information and TAFE directs them toward SoilCare events and things, so that is one way. I suppose just because we, we advertise our workshops and events that people hear about it and people are interested now. Soil health is timely and the Federal Government is putting more and more money into soil health and that allows us to have workshops and events and people read about them, hear about them, farmers talk to each other and I just think that we’re offering something that people want and we have a very good partnership with TAFE.

Is that your main source of information and advice these days through SoilCare and bringing in experts in different things and … ?

I think it’s bringing in experts and identifying resources of good information. But we also have supported research, so we have, SoilCare has, worked with CSIRO, NSW DPI, so we, get resources in different areas and wherever it is we’ll try to get it.

Yeah you’re not in that position of having to kind of …. Just look for what other people are doing anymore you’re actually actively…

No, we’re sort of the trend setters in that way, other people are coming to us, if we find a speaker, usually the next year other people are getting that speaker. It’s a bit of a responsibility I have to say because once people trust you to offer them something useful, there’s a lot of pressure to continue that so we have to be very careful that anyone we invite is going to give our members and the community useful information and not waste their time. So a lot of research, a lot of googling goes on before we even consider inviting someone and we often, if possible, send someone to meet the people and hear them in action before we invite them. We’ve sent people to Hawaii, we’ve sent people to the US, to conferences and within Australia we send people to a conference to see if there’s anyone there that would be useful. [We do this] Because it’s important and no one wants their time wasted. And bad information is not just bad information, bad information can set your farm way back so it’s serious it’s not just like going to a bad movie and going well that wasn’t any good. You get some bad information that you put into practise on your farm….

SoilCare’s got a lot of plans for more courses, taking everything to the next step. We’re looking at how we can build skills so one of the next courses we’re doing, we’re looking at teaching farmers to take their ground cover or their tree roots and be able to ah…dissect them, stain them and look for different types of fungi, beneficial fungi, that are very, very useful like the mycorrhizal fungi that are very important. So it’s picking up the skills and always still trying to help the people that are new to it. We just received funding from a private foundation through Landcare Australia to do more courses and also to do a video of our Soil Health Card so we have a film producer who’s looking at how we’re going to do that. So that’s something that we’ll be having happening fairly soon which is good.

‘Cause it’s quite straight forward when you see Dave Forrest demonstrate it but it’s not necessarily, you know, you sort of need that, ideally, you sort of need that demonstration.

Well this is something that can go out to all TAFEs in the country and to all Landcare groups because not everyone has a Dave.

No unfortunately we can’t clone him…yet.

Yeah exactly, and none of us are getting any younger so yeah that’s something that we’re doing soon is the video which will be free on the website and it’ll be available on DVD as well. We’re bringing people from the States and more people from around Australia to speak for workshops between now and next June we’ve got something like seven workshops to do so it’s going to be a really busy year so we’re talking to one person in the States now and I’m talking to another soil expert from Adelaide right now and when they’re coming and um… yeah it will be a lot happening.

It sounds like an enormous workload.

Yeah it’s a snowball you know, going downhill and getting bigger and bigger and going faster and faster, you can’t stop it.

Does it help to have more people involved in the organisation or is it more just …you know, it’s exploding anyway, there’s no real way to manage it?

Well we’re hoping that with our setting up of the structure for the organisation that that will allow us to skill more people in the jobs we need done.

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