From 1980, for two years I grew small crops for Sydney Wholesale Market. There were basically very low to no markets locally for produce and we would put it on the train from Lismore or Bangalow.
There were special carriages for the produce to go down to the markets. So it worked really quite well. You had to have a share in the BGF because they owned the rights on transporting and it was basically for the banana growers to transport their produce to the markets. You had to be a shareholder, it was a one dollar shareholding you had to be able to utilise that service so I had that and you could meet the train basically or have it down there ready for loading on the train at a particular time so it worked in fairly well, normally in the late afternoon they wanted to load. It travelled overnight and arrived in Sydney hopefully for the next morning’s market if there were no hold ups along the way.
The money was always appreciated but to actually have a market was the first step that you had to have. It was, particularly at that time, relatively small but significant in terms of dollars in.
But [I was] definitely looking to secure some farm income and the prices at the wholesale markets – 10 kilos of zucchinis for $2 was quite common. I was cleaning out one of my files not that long ago and some of the receipts were there and it brought back memories of times when there was real shortage of supply – you’d get $8 a box and it was really a good thing to receive!
When I first started off basically there was never a local market of any worth, there was no local markets in terms they didn’t start until this was the first local farmer’s market in the year 2000 so this was well before that. You could sell a few punnets before that but not enough to be worthwhile growing the crops. But what I’d done is send firstly to Brisbane and I found a little niche there and I went to expand on that by 1994. So I had more area than I had planted in between the macadamias to manage the macadamias for weeds and to have something productive there while they come into bearing. So I expanded through that block.
So it was a way of shading out the grass and having something productive at the same time. So to do that in the areas that were planted we needed to have a certain amount of that crop and also I wanted to have productivity and income since we’d spent all the money we had building a house we needed more.
In terms of those things what happened in Brisbane, the niche that was there, the agents didn’t want any more, they just wanted that little niche that suited them so I searched around in Sydney and found an agent down there. As soon as I found an agent in Sydney the agent in Brisbane didn’t want any.
It’s a small world and they are quite jealous and fickle agents. I don’t know, I’d ring him up and this was a great agent the guy in Brisbane, he was a really good agent and without him I would have never been able to get the business up and running. I still don’t understand it. I’d ring him up at the start of the next season and say “well Ross, crops are coming on” and he goes “Ahh, don’t think we can use them”. OK.
So, I rang him up for a couple of years at the start of the season, same story. I had a few agents in Sydney and you’d send them some samples and things but they didn’t even know what they were and so ‘oh, no way mate, not interested in them, have you got any real ones?’ which is the European raspberry. ‘No, I haven’t got any real ones I’ve only got these native ones’. I started to get a bit sick of this. ‘You don’t want them, you will want them. What is it about them that you don’t want’? Oh well, they are different basically. ‘So you will want them, give me a run with them and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work’. Agents don’t want to have to sell anything. If they’ve got to sell anything well they don’t want it. They want something to go past their stall, in and out without having to do anything and they keep the money. That’s what they want.
So I had to get it to that particular point so I did do quite a bit of leg work, firstly with people that were in the bush foods industry, then just with chefs that just wanted something different and I established a marketplace where his needs were met and so were mine. It had quite a few agronomic issues in terms of transport because they had mixed loads from up here and that means there’s all different temperature regimes and the transport company just sticks it somewhere in the middle and hopes everybody’s happy. So it took me a few years to actually understand what was happening there and to actually solve that problem.
Within a few years Sue decided it was time to retire from teaching and wanted to do all the things she hadn’t really done and in particular decided she wanted to be a peasant vegetable farmer selling at the local markets. So, you have to support that and so between all the things there’s still that impetus to have all of that long indirect input.
Day to day and All those things and imposts on going away and those things but there is …over the last ten years that has enabled, with the growth of, this being the first farmer’s market in the region and the others subsequently, there’s a lot more opportunity to do that. While Sue started doing four markets we’ve now backed off to two.
The two markets are good, there’s a lot more social interaction during the markets and it’s sort of fits in with intensifying the property and those sort of things and that’s the reason why we started up the ginger production we were wanted to try and have something in that was a lot of input but not consistently 366 days a year so that when Sue finally….the shine wears off either her or the idea of all the work that got crops that still sort of fit in with that social format of being able to go to the markets and with a range of these products but without that huge commitment that many of the crops, small crops do have. So we’ll see what happens. (laughs)
I get my hands in the dirt and compost gardening I’ve always had a home garden the whole time which has been very productive but in terms of the group and these other farmers and things looking to fill gaps in the market place that other people don’t feel they can do and show if I can do it you can probably do it as well. Then they sort of get confidence and start to grow those things or I don’t mind sort of gives me a reason to come in and be part of the community and the farming organisation that supports it all. So there’s always been value in that but then Sue’s taken it to another level in terms of just the consistency of that and wanting to do it all year and going through the focus of trying to grow …of growing everything possible and then thinking oh well maybe should only be growing some things and getting those efficiencies and watching that learning curve in her.
We have a range of processed things but Sue has always been the main person doing those, but now expanding into vegetables so maintaining that connection and expanding on that connection.