Meet our farmers
the beanstalk organic food
Meet some of our farmers by clicking the links down below.
Location and growing conditions:
Tilligerry Organic Produce is situated in Salt Ash, Port Stephens (40 mins away from Newcastle centre). The farm is situated on the Tomago Sand beds on 60 feet of sand that lies on top of bedrock. Terry has had to add huge amounts of manure and compost to make this block of land suitable for growing his nurtured vegetables. He also grows citrus and has beautiful ducks and chickens proudly guarded by two Alpacas.
Why organic agriculture?
'I just love doing this'. Terry has always worked on farms. He's been on flower farms, cucumber farms, lettuce farms and even water 'farms'.
When working on a flower farm Terry was severely poisoned by the chemicals that were commonly sprayed on the flowers. The chemicals affected his breathing and muscle use. It took him 2-3 years to fully rehabilitate.
After this episode Terry moved away from flower farming. He recalls gardening as a child with his mother who never used chemicals, where there was no risk of poisoning. He decided to try gardening organically and started off with a 2x2m patch that kept on growing. Eventually he established a vegetable garden 10x20 m and loved it. 'Walking outside and picking a meal is pretty good!'
He slowly began to change over to Greenpatch organic seeds, discarding the conventional Yates seeds. After joining the seed savers group he started to reproduce seeds for them. Hunter Organic Growers Society and Greenpatch became interested in buying seeds from him. At this point Terry realised that having his own organic farm was financially viable.
After realising the long period between paydays if you're only growing seed, Terry started to put vegetables for eating in the ground. Terry is committed and passionate about organic growing. He and his wife now run a successful organic farm that distributes to over 12 wholesalers and cafes. 'I couldn't do this without my wife's help. It's just amazing how much work that I notice she does'.
Challenges on the farm:
Terry felt that it was easier to sell produce if the farm was certified organic. There was a lot of scepticism by customers when he wasn't certified as to whether or not he was being truthful.
While the farm does suffer from attacks of stink bugs, fruit fly and Xmas beetles (to name a few), the diversity of the crops means that pests have little opportunity to take hold and wipe out the farm as they often do on mono-cropping style farms.
The issue of too much and too little water is a constant concern for Terry. The farm is situated on the Tomago Sand beds on 60feet of sand lying on top of impermeable rock. This means that whenever it rains it's as if the farm is floating on water. During the cooler part of the year they then need to raise the soil beds so that the plants don't become waterlogged. An upside of this is that Terry hardly needs to irrigate at this time of year because the plant roots have a good supply of water. In the hotter months however the water table becomes very low and the high drainage ability of sand means keeping up the water is very difficult. It is made easier by mulch and compost. Terry started off watering twice a day, and since adding good amounts of both only needs to water once every two days.
The mainstream consumer attitude that organics is too expensive is also a constant challenge for Terry. He feels that on small farms it is very difficult to keep costs down, as the work is so labour intensive. 'If larger farms take into account fuel, equipment and environmental costs, the cost to the consumer would be much higher than me'
Future for the organic industry in the Hunter region?
'The Hunter Valley has been supportive of my produce'. Terry is in high demand. He has however been disappointed by customers who, he believes, are fuelled by their own business gains and choose to pay unfair prices to farmers to cut cost, not taking into account the real cost of growing top quality organic produce.
He feels that for organic principles to work properly, the organic industry should stick to small farming situations.
There are many hurdlesto overcome for a farmer, especially an organic farmer, who are at the mercy of Mother Nature. The only way forward is if there is co-operation between the farmers and the consumers.
Agricultural irrigators are also put at the bottom of the list for water supply in times of drought. Terry feels that this is because it's easy and sometimes financially cheaper (in the very immediate term) to get crops from overseas.
The real cost of food:
'Gone are the days when consumers pay the real cost for food. If you put in the hourly rate on labour, food would be too expensive. Buying organic brings you close to paying for the 'real'cost of food'.
Terry feels that Australians as a whole take food for granted giving little energy and resources to agriculture. 'People are happy to buy 'no-name' food but who would think of putting 'no-name' oil in their car?'
Buying local also means that greenhouse gases are decreased and local money stays in the local region.
Advice to potential organic farmers:
RESEARCH! find the best soil profile you can, especially as water issues are likely to get worse. Also make sure you read the fine print of the certifying body's regulations. They have become more and more complicated and filled with red tape as they continue to move away from small farms to cater for the larger businesses.
Michael Champion runs Champion’s Mountain Organics.
Location and produce grown