We were struck with a few dry years, because we had the 10 years or whatever it was really dry, and we were getting into some of that and the trees were suffering a bit and then we suffered a profit squeeze again and I remember having conversations with Tanya about having to work off farm again like if it came to it and then we got down to that point was, what are we going to do? And then I came up with this idea – twenty years, probably twenty years before that point, my neighbour who’d sold out next door used to grow a lot of sweet potatoes and when he left he gave my brother a whole heap of sweet potato cartons and they sat in the shed for 20 years and every time I looked at these sweet potato cartons I’d think “ah, jeez you know we should do that one day” because my neighbour had paid off about half of his farm on sweet potatoes many years before. And I thought, I often used to think, we could grow sweet potatoes and then when the crunch came I said to Tanya “why don’t we just try and plant some sweet potatoes and if it doesn’t work I’ll go away and work again, and you stay at home with the kids and I’ll just go because we can earn good money down there”. So we did.
We were so broke I didn’t even have money to fence the sweet potato patch and the wallabies were getting in there. I had this old hail net that someone had given me and I had dragged up in a trailer from the Snowy Mountains all the way home and I went around and pulled out all these old fence posts that were still on the farm and bashed them in again and put this hail net up around this quarter acre of sweet potatoes and they grew really well. I kept the wallabies out and then someone said to me “where are you going to sell them?” I said “I don’t know, I just want to grow them, I’ll work that out when we get them” and then Tanya had heard one morning that the Lismore Organic Markets had been opened for 5 or 6 months and they were asking for more stall holders and had a bit of radio publicity on and when I came home she said “I think we should go to the Lismore Organic Markets and sell the sweet potatoes and we can take some coffee along and see how we go”. So we did that, we went down there and for 3 hours at the markets we’d earned $280 cash. This is like 12 years ago. And I had never received money before straight away for a product so we were pretty excited by that.
It was it was huge, it was huge. So that led into, well I continued to do that market until last year, so that was I think 11 years I ended up doing that market. That’s a big drive – you get much more used to it than I sort of am having just driven there today. I did it once a week for 11 years and then one morning I woke up and just went ‘I think I’ve had enough of this’. And then, and then I just had to stop, I just said “I don’t want to do it anymore”. But in the meantime 3 or 4 years maybe, roughly we’d started doing the Miami market as well, Tanya was doing that on Sundays and we were able to drop that.
It’s a certified organic, everyone’s certified organic there. Probably about, I think we started that half way in between doing the one at Lismore… 7 years ago.
It kind of took on a life of its own because we were, the first thing we did, well we brought the coffee and then we kind of realised we had this kind of market place so the idea was born that if you could plug in another crop, like to the system you had, and every time you plugged in something that you could multiply it out. So we kept doing the mail order for the coffee and on the mail order list we’d put on like lemon myrtle and all these lemon myrtle tea and then we started doing jams at the markets so we thought we could mail order the jams as well and so we did that. So, but then we kind of were going so well at the market and the coffee was still going downhill like it was the health of the trees were getting worse.
Then we started to grow more and more crops and when we worked out what we were getting at the market for the other crops compared to coffee it was kind of like a no-brainer, like we’ve just got to pull out, we’ve got to stop. Which was difficult at the time because we had put a lot of years, probably 13 or 14 years into the coffee, all the machinery, the knowledge but the money wasn’t in it. So we just went that way, more and more vegetables and just developing a market through the feedback with local markets, that feedback you get you can see instantly what works and what doesn’t, what sells and what people want and we just seemed to have the natural ability to be able to market ourselves and our produce.
Lismore Market is what saved us I think because if it wasn’t for there, I’d have been off working and then God knows, you know, once that starts, that cycle. So, and through the Lismore market and the shops that we gained along the way on the journey and supplying those shops some of which we still sell to today like Byron Bay Santos, Mullumbimby Santos, Goanna Bakery, you know all that stuff we still do now and the connections. That’s the other thing, the important connections with the guys in Troppo and the relationships we’ve built up there through the markets over all those years… Dave Forrest, Dave Robey and all those guys.
[Organic certification] has got more difficult but at the same time it needs to be because it’s human nature that there’s always bad eggs and if we don’t have stringent rules we’re not going to catch a lot of these people. And you’ll never catch everyone. There’s a lot of fear base around that. I have people say ‘how do we know that guy is certified and how do we know that he’s doing the right thing?’ and I say ‘well how do you know that conventional guy is doing the right thing?’ He’s got to have a chemical user’s licence and he’s only allowed to use a certain amount of sprays and he’s got to make sure there’s no wind drift. At the end of the day how do we know that anyone in life is really who they say they are or doing the right thing? We don’t, but with certain rules and in society we’ve got rules and laws and with organics if we’re not certified we don’t have any checks and balances. At the end of the day we’re strong believers in the certification program and we don’t like all the hoops we have to jump through and the bookwork but we believe it’s worth it and that gives us our credibility and it give us our checks and balances and at the end of the day I say to people “ if you’re not sure about what someone’s doing give them a call and ask to come out and see it for themselves” and our bottom line is that anyone’s welcome at any time to come out to our farm to have a look at what we’re doing. And I think that’s better than any certification program anyway.