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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: Arriving in the Northern Rivers | Moving in | Changing land-use | Dairying | Farm work | Markets | Off-farm income | Expansion | Succession | Organic farming | Bush Regeneration

Organic farming

I wasn’t going to use any chemicals in the farming system even though I had been trained in agriculture, even before my training I was, I got trained because I was interested in being an organic farmer and working without chemicals is one part of that, so and at the time, well, I had seen the ravages of the previous attempts with large machinery and not having any money for that…I didn’t really think that was going to be a viable way to go either and I wanted to use the livestock as much as possible so I started off fencing the perimeter which I did, and then fencing internally so that there was paddocks that the stock could be confined to and I gradually went through the paddocks over a few years to get to that point.

In the region I knew of organic growing groups from the early 70s when I became involved with those groups but it wasn’t until the early 1980s I found a group in this region. Communications at that time were very different to what they are now and you basically had to bump into somebody somewhere and a lot of those connections actually came through some of the community focal points such as the Terania Creek protests and the development of The Channon Market – a couple of focal activities where you actually could bump into people of a similar mindset.

And where we are now, the Lismore Organic Markets, they’re similar. So I was fairly much focussed on the task at hand anyway. And the milk distribution that I was doing at the time, I had already started up with the Fundamental Foods that was started by some of those people from The Channon in Lismore. It was down in Conway Street at the time and I used to take my milk in old wine flagons into them. People like Dailan Pugh, who put that together and then Santos Trading Company in Mullumbimby when we moved over to Federal they’d changed the old Sunflower Cafe which was put together in that town by alternative people from the Main Arm area and that was moving from just being a cafe to a wholefoods and changed its name to Santos Trading Company. I started selling there. But really I didn’t hang around in town very much, normally I’d be dropping off and picking up hay or grain or something for the stock and heading home. Buying a new pair of pliers or something.

From the late 1980s the farming groups like Tweed Richmond Organic Producers Organisation, of which I was a foundation member, were actually more of a group of people that had moved to this district to actually farm organically in the region and so we had that focus in the broader region, but there was still that proportion of people that actually were looking to maintain agriculture and productivity that do it in a new a improved way. So that group was able then to be able to speak more broadly to anyone that was interested, including existing farmers, new farmers and people that come to the district that might be interested in taking up some farming and at the same time with the TAFE side of things.

In May 1991 I was teaching Organic Farming Course through TAFE – official commission to teach that with the name Organic Farming. That had been a bit of a struggle because after I had come into TAFE, within 12 months, the Head of School who was absent at the interview said “how did this guy ever get into our system and let’s get him out”. During that time there was actually… got 50% of students, particularly in the production horticulture area, asking about organic farming, so that was a strong impetus to be able to then look for something that was not being done as part of another course or under another heading to actually say ‘well this is an organic farming course’. That was quite successful and TAFE actually gave it accreditation state-wide in 1993 and it’s had various incarnations and sort of developments over time to the point now where we offer a Diploma in Organic Production.

Outside TAFE there was these groups like Troppo, but in their own regions working through community and adult education centres that were starting to pop up in particular. That had been the case in this region as well. A fellow, name of Pastor Roy Harrison actually was running organic farming courses with the community education centre in Alstonville but this was the step into commercial production and then many of those courses were.

An organic farm is a farm. You don’t need anything new there’s government infrastructure there to facilitate on farm and off farm training that benefits to the employer in terms of employing a trainee are there for you as much as they are for the chemical farmer down the road. You no longer the secondary inhabitant of the farming community in fact more and more you are being recognised that potentially the way that everybody has to go as fast as possible.

Particularly over the last eight years with another land care group called Soil Care we’ve made that…. where a lot of the problem has been in the past that is most farmers are frightened of the word organic or the tools in chemical farming systems are not allowed in organic farming systems. Organic is “I can’t go there, everything I do is not allowed”. But what we term now biological farming doesn’t have the word organic in is straight away so they’re like “oh I am interested”. A lot of farmers if they believe, or find out how to manage in another way, they’ll take the other way. They’re not that many of them that are so entrenched that they can’t live without using chemicals. Most of them if there’s another way to do something and you get the result you want then they can learn how to do that and they do it. And then that will be definitely a benefit, in terms of it will be a benefit to them, a benefit to the environment and then if we can actually get that back to the point where a proportion of those say well in terms of market place recognition or I now feel empowered I’m not afraid of organic it can go the whole way. A number have been doing that. I think that is really a rolling ball that’s getting a lot of its own momentum. And 12:53 where that momentum is able to carry through with …there are problems they’re seeing that big a picture they’re saying oh we can get through those problems. Instead of saying oh that didn’t work we’ll go back to what we were doing. There’s actually enough solid behind it that they say oh maybe we’ve got to find the way to solve that problem rather than say it can’t be done.

So that’s very positive and what it means is that farmers are more resilient, they don’t get hit when the oil prices go up and urea spikes. Their bottom line is not blown out of all proportion for instance and their soil resource increases so it actually less reliant on those inputs from out of the farm and less problems with diseases and pests you know a whole lot of things come to them which help their ability to stay on the land as a viable operation.

On our own land and of working with hundreds of farmers through TAFE and through Soil Care so all of those things and the broader community is benefitting because water and air quality is improved they’ve actually got access to better quality food without the things they don’t need in it and more of the things that they do need in it so progression over time from the farmers not knowing and the marketplace not knowing what organic farming is and the community not knowing what organic farming is to the point where it’s becoming the norm within the community to have an increasing percentage of farmers leaning to these techniques and consumers thinking it out. There’s definitely been a progression over time that I’ve experienced and in part…

The opportunity to be part of that change has been a great satisfaction in terms of validating the things that we’ve done on the farm and off the farm over that time. You can look back and think well that was you know not, my life is not over, but that was a good life to have had.

A lot of it is to do with providing the opportunity for the children to maintain and increase involvement there but also just in terms of the farm itself to work out ways of increasing the natural…..the balance of natural environment in the farming systems. I’m not afraid of weeds so but I don’t particularly hate them I see them as plants that are fulfilling a function at the time but I would like to actually have areas of the property that we’ve worked on with regeneration that I’d love to expand that , to have the time and resources to expand that. And there’s certainly plenty more farming to be done in terms of managing the crops that are there on an ongoing basis so getting that balance between getting a greater opportunity to develop the farm as a part of the natural environment itself and where it’s not suitable to farm then let’s try and get it back to the pristine environment before anyone started farming here.

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