We’ve got about 6 acres that we can grow on and currently running 4 acres and we probably grow what we used to grow on 6 acres on the 4 acres, maybe even less. If you are farming less, then you can look after it better and more the way you want, so therefore if things get better care and are better looked after they grow better and the main input for us has been compost you know, large amounts of compost have changed our soil structure so much that the nutrition and the way the soil behaves has become a lot more farmer friendly and the biology in the soil’s so much better like, so but that’s the basic fundamental of what we try and do is improve soil health and then if we improve soil health that will improve the health of the plants and then from that we end up with a better product because the soil structure is better which in turn gives us vegetables that keep better in people’s refrigerators and people want to come back because they taste so good and they keep so well and then ultimately we should end up with much healthier people because they’re eating balanced food and then people become hooked because they’re feeling better and healthier and we’re really enjoying the whole being in touch with the people who eat our food and it’s not some feel good fuzzy you know experience – we are actually building relationships with people and we’ve know these people for many years and you know it’s really exciting and it’s nice to like you have pregnant mothers come and buy things and then you see their little babies are born and you watch their children grow up and you know that they’ve been eating your product, your food and that’s really nice and that’s what it gets down to. You look at young people growing up and they’re actually growing from the health out of your soils, your farm is building their body mass and that’s pretty amazing isn’t it?
So that’s what happens, then organics becomes this pathway where it’s not all about money. And then your mind opens up and you read more and once you establish those links between healthy soils, healthy plants, healthy people and then you start to look at, food is nutrient export basically, so if you have a farm and it’s a closed entity, or an entity I should say, then you start to look at what you bring onto the farm and what you export off the farm and then you start to look at is that balanced and how can we make that balanced and then you go further and look at societies and that’s why that we’re so happy to use Tryton Compost apart from the freight component like eventually I’d like to get it closer but the idea to tie up nutrient cycles and take the waste products from cities and towns and put it back onto the land to grow vegetables and then feed it back to people we’ve actually closed a cycle up there and I think that’s the future. So you start to look at all those other issues then.
We’ve been using the Tryton Compost for, it must be probably 8 or 9 years I’d say now. Yep, and their product’s improved immensely in that time. They’ve got better at what they do and they’ve eliminated a hell of a lot of the plastic. There was so much plastic in there originally. And I remember at the time I used to say to people “it’s so important to keep using their product you know like I know there’s plastic in it but we have to recycle this stuff and they’ll get better like the more we support them the more they’ll be able to do a better job and get a better product” and they’ve proven over time like their stuff is, it’s so uniform. We’ve been buying it for years and it’s guaranteed as far as I’m concerned I put that on top of the soil, I put seedlings in it and they go. In the early days you know it was a little bit inconsistent and a lot more plastic and Leo’s done a fantastic job down there.
They’ve done a fantastic job. And Tweed’s getting quite interested in that now and Sebastian Garcia, the Sustainability Officer, is really keen to get a project running on the Tweed for that and that would cut down our freight.
I’ve returned to the books looking at cover crops and green manure crops and like their ways of producing organic matter on the farm and breaking weed cycles and kind of looking at how we can lessen the input because the cheap compost that we’re getting now is not going to be around forever with peat oil and all those problems. The price is going to go up. At the moment it’s cheap and I’m happy to build soils really quickly while we can but I think like Tryton Compost would be best to use all around Lismore in the future, that’s where we need to head. But we’ve got to take all the little steps in between first you know. But eventually humanity’s going to have to face, you know, using their recycled products right on their doorstep. That’s the future and I’m starting to feel really strong about our humanure and our human waste like it really needs to be put back onto at least cow feed and you know you have to recycle that as well because the amount of nutrient – it’s huge.
It’s so huge and the volumes are so massive and it’s ending up in places where we can never retrieve that nutrient. And we can’t keep doing that as a society, we have to close up all the nutrient cycles and that’s one that we’re not even beginning to face. We are struggling coming to terms with just the green waste.
Maybe cutting back the composting and doing more green manuring and utilising more land which we can do now. See, when we first started we only had a small piece of land and the nutrition on that land was not really that good. We felt like we couldn’t really spare any of it just to grow a green manure crop. So we thought ‘well, we’ll buy compost’ because I didn’t want to spend all this time making compost either because we use so much.
[We’ve been using] Probably 500 cubic metres a year which is a lot on that small an area. And that equates to about 100 cubic metres per acre. I’m sorry to work in acres, or 250 cube per hectare per annum and now we’ve got over 13% in some of our paddocks, over 13% organic mattercation exchange of over 30 probably 35 and the figures are pretty amazing for what the soils become so quickly.
A lot of people, like a lot’s been said about compost and people know it’s good but if you put on quite a lot of compost and then put in a crop of sweet potatoes or something that sits there for like a long time, like a crop that lasts for 6 or 7 months when you… so if you put a lot of compost on and plough it and plant that crop and then leave it alone to do its thing and then you come back and dig it up after 6 or 7 months you will not believe how that soil structure’s changed and the amount of life that’s in that soil. And it really shocked me to think that, and I suppose that’s what’s so exciting because you hear about soil deterioration and how we’re wrecking the soil and doing so much damage, but what surprised me was how quickly we can turn it around. I couldn’t believe what happened the first time we put a large amount of compost on and left it for that long, I could not believe the structural changes and how quickly that occurred.
The rainfall penetrates better so there’s less erosion and the soil aggregates stick together better so that washes away less. It’s huge. In a big rain event we used to lose a lot of soil and now we just lose a little bit. Like I don’t think you can reach no erosion.
It’s probably 10% of what it was and that’s huge. And I’ve become that passionate about organics and the things that can happen. Like I said to a group here the other day, it’s almost like a big part of the world’s problems are nutritional and diseases and the whole carbon issue, you get to a point where you go ‘well if you were looking for one solution to a lot of these problems organic farming and biological farming and looking after the soil has an effect on all those things’.
And that’s exciting because we look at all these problems and it’s kind of overwhelming but you can just go ‘well let’s just not worry about that and let’s concentrate on organic farming’ and you know you are fixing so many of these problems so it’s like it’s a breath of fresh air to have something so simple, such a simple solution, that you can work on and know that you are doing so much good.
We’d be really keen to continue with the educational side of stuff and act as a hub for things. Like the other day with Maarten Stapper, we’d love to act as a kind of hub for guest speakers and field days and ideas. The way we have for the last 20 years but do more and more of that sort of thing. And one of the ideas that we have is for an educational centre on the farm – this is one of things that we will be pushing forward and when we look at some of the overseas models like, Joel Salitan’s model comes to mind first, but the whole idea of internships and apprenticeships and actually teaching future farmers, people who have a burning passion to want to farm. That’s really where we would like to head.
Rachel and Michelle were so inspired that they came out and said to us “we want to be part of it” and they are – they live here now and they’re part of what we are doing and building that dream with us and we get emails all the time from people with you know, that they want to be part of it and I think that’s what’s going to happen, because the more and more people see what’s happening when you go down that road like it’s nothing that we’ve done but we’ve put in to place life principles that work and create better, healthier food and I think, like I said, once you realise that you are addressing so many problems by having a lifestyle like that, I think more and more people are going to jump on board. And it’s not just all about the money; you’re feeling good that you’ve really made a difference. And not just feeling good about it, but you are really making a difference. And I think people are just going to be lining up all over the place everywhere on farms and industries – industry is probably not a good word – but farms that farm that way.
I’d like to think that we are well into a movement that’s been quite small and is about to take off because it will gather a lot of momentum.