I think Lismore saved us in a lot of ways not just financially. Because at the time, when we became organic we were it. You know, we were up the end of the road here isolated, organic and I know that a lot of people just thought we were bloody crazy really. Those times were a lot, you know, over 20 years ago organics were almost frowned upon – you were a bit of an outcast. So to find a marketplace in Lismore where everyone was so accepting and loved us and other people were there like-minded we were at home, we were amongst friends. We had farmers that we’d meet with every week and talk about stuff; it was such an important thing. So from there I suppose we just, yeah, I don’t know if we would have survived if we hadn’t have gone to Lismore.
There was advice, there was sharing , sharing of problems, and things, you know with the other farmers, ideas that had worked. The other important thing I suppose was when we became organic, just a couple of years after we became organic, we’d met Dave Forrest and Dave was doing the organic TAFE courses. And Dave [Forrest] started bringing students out here to check out our coffee plantation so I’ve had a long standing relationship with Dave for, must be close to 20 years now and we’ve had thousands of his students come through here and through that and with like Dave’s knowledge and just knowing him for that long if I ever had a problem with anything he was always like “oh you could use this or that or I’ll look into that for you” so we’ve, you know, we’ve always hosted his students and he’s always helped us out with any problems that we’ve had. And then I also got quite involved with Troppo, once I got down there I got into that group and then I was president of Troppo for 2 years but I just, that was a great time, I enjoyed that working with those guys but I had the travel component, that was the biggest problem to travel down there for meetings, was another trip to Lismore so that kind of wore thin a bit.
And then, by chance we ended up meeting a few other organic growers in this area because as time went on we started to get some on the Tweed and other people that were interested so a mate of mine down the other side of Tyalgum at the time said “Oh maybe we could start up our own group”. so John Morganlow and Dave Wilkinson and myself got together and we’d talked it over with Dave about ways to go and I kind of really wanted to start a sub branch of Troppo but the other guys wanted to do their own thing because they wanted to attract funding and different stuff and probably control it I’m not sure
So they started the Wollumbin Organic Farmers Coop and we had meetings in the Murwillumbah Services Club and had quite a few people turn up and we got that up off the ground and it’s quite ironic because it didn’t last long – 18 months maybe. But the change that it created was enormous through really funny channels because at the time there was DIPNAR, the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and (pause) Water Resources or whatever it was – DIPNAR they called it.
They were doing irrigation courses at the time and they said if we could get enough people together we could run a course so they ran one in Uki for us because with the formation of this group we had the numbers straight away so we had this course and that was great. And then I saw the power in that and I said to the guys “well, we could get Dave Forrest to run the course up here at the TAFE if we’ve got the numbers”. So I went and talked to Dave at the markets down there and he said “if you can get me 12 I’ll come up and I’ll run the course at Murwillumbah”. So I put the word out and we got our 12 and that course ran in Murwillumbah, I’m pretty sure it ran for over 10 years. And some of us went for a number of years and did more and more modules because we kept the numbers together and that was an extremely exciting time because even though the Wollumbin Organic Farmers Coop collapsed not long after, it achieved this grouping together of some of the serious organic farmers in this Tweed Valley and we ran this course and it was so exciting because, for 3 years I think it was or maybe more, we met there and just sat down and talked about ideas and shared all the problems and what not and then Dave would run the classes well and I think that kind of took us from being struggling organic farmers to having all these tools and ways of getting through it. And then 3 of us actually last year that were from the original group went all the way through to our Diplomas in Horticulture through the beginnings of that course.
So that was pretty amazing, yeah. Where that took us… Yeah, so for this little group that no-one knows about and didn’t last long it had these amazing implications. And then from that came a few other projects with Dave was like the vegetable, the soil health care card that Dave developed with some of the growers and I think Soil Care and that down in Lismore, Dave came up with the idea that we could do a vegetable growers one on the Tweed and he pulled in a few of us from those original TAFE courses like the farmers and some of the conventional guys from Kingscliff and then we sat down and kind of remodelled the soil health care card to a vegetable growers one and then we did the best management practices guidelines as well. That was quite good and then that kind of went on you know his relationships with soil care and what we’d done up here sort of developed into some Landcare farm walks and then the Maarten Stapper Field Day the other day and it kind of all just keeps going on I suppose, those networks. I think that’s what we’re seeing now is that we’re really getting into this era where all these old hands, like, that have been around for a long time, are starting to pool together and share resources and it’s sort of becoming quite powerful really, you know, the changes that we can create.
It is, it is attracting, not as much as we’d like but it is exciting I mean my neighbour rocked up to the talk the other day with Maarten Stapper, he’d heard it on the radio and he’s been to a couple of farm walks and he’s quite open to some of the ideas. You know over time I think, I think to be successful and be around for so many years eventually people just go “well, I’d really like to know what those guys are doing up there” and I think time gives you credibility because we’ve become a business now that’s ,you know, been running for so long and employing local people and you know quite high numbers of people for our area, an area where the agricultural industry has been run down and farms are getting smaller and employment opportunities are dropping off.