I remember the deflated feeling that hit me after the local Organic Certification agent came to visit our farm back in 2009. After finally moving into our new found rundown and rustic paradise our unbridled enthusiasm literally runneth over. All the plans and ideas that had been excitedly hatched during our suburban dinner parties, from perfected chook shed designs, hot water composting systems to even growing our own fish! They all now finally had a chance to come to life. Everything was an opportunity and the biggest issue we faced was simply how to schedule which environmentally conscious, soul-fulfilling task would get priority over the many others.
After we bought the farm, organic farming/growing to us was not a commercial consideration but an obvious by-product of the numerous books and documentaries we had consumed in our suburban holding pattern. We could wax lyrical on all the incredible harm that herbicides and pesticides inflict on the land and humanity. Now we had the actual guy who could literally set our up Organic Certification and finally get the wheels in motion. We were poised on the precipice of our Organic farming/gardening enterprise that would finally free humanity from the clutches of Monsanto et al!
Now, we didn’t have a lot of money. After we had built the missing walls, fixed the obligatory leaking roof and got the power on, finances were looking patchy at best. So the news from our weathered 'Organic' man that ‘you can’t make a dollar selling organic produce’ was cause for a moment of pause. I, of course, dismissed his statement as the errant ramblings of a man who had spent too much time in the sun. Jaded by the good life, as it were. I chose to ignore his stooped stature, the soiled hands and shuffling gait.
All the hallmarks of a tough life and most importantly... of experience.
I stutteringly asked for clarification and he further unpacked his statement. ‘I’ve been in this game for thirty years and I have never seen anyone make a living yet’. My shoulders dropped. A strange feeling of dread (or reality) came over me. ‘Oh, we're not in it for the money’ I chided. As if to make a further stand against the capitalist system that our move to Tassie had already ratified. He paused and looked at me straight in the eye and said ‘well that’s a good thing then, isn’t it’. The statement and the stare were straight from some forgotten Spaghetti Western and it left me shaken but my resolve was undiminished.
Of course, his prophetic tale of woe, as we chose to see it, didn’t stop us from pursuing any and all of our farm life dreams but as I look back now I know that he was undoubtedly right. We have tried many ‘enterprises’ to connect our love of life on the land and the need to pay the mortgage and school fees. We have searched for that elusive 'perfect' farm based business. Something with relatively low entry and management cost, that could produce a modest but consistent return and didn’t require too much back-breaking work. In reality, we have endued eye-watering entry and management costs, little or no return and it has all pretty much been... back breaking. And kinda fun. Kinda.
Perhaps this is why so many Gen-xer’s have no interest in continuing the farming tradition of prior generations. Even at micro and small scales the numbers just don’t add up. If I had a dollar for the hours and hours of research I had given the problem I wouldn’t need to keep searching.
The question still stood some seven years later after our farm life dreams have since been filed to the ‘been there done that’ University of Life. So as I again lie awake again safely tucked under my doona from that Tassie night cold my brain churns… ‘How can we use our farm to make enough money for the family to earn a simple living?’
I know it’s a question that many people are asking. The ones like us who picked up the abandoned farm for what they thought was a steal only to find the reasons they sit silently decaying are many and complicated.
Can we make them work again? Can we do it and be the stewards of the environment we need to be? Can we teach ourselves and the younger generation the important skills needed to manage a farm profitably, sustainably and with a community focus? Can we grow the things that will help rebuild human health?
The questions keep coming. It is our hope over the next weeks/ months/ years we can start saying ‘Yes’ to at least some and hopefully all of them one day. The answer, we believe comes in the way of a plant that has been in service to mankind for Millennia. It is a plant that has fed us through famines, it has helped us discover new worlds and during the great war, it was the tie that bound us.
Maybe this time it will be that plant that heals us and the world.
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