What do you do?
I am developing a small farming business, with my partner Kirsti, which grows good food for our community. We aim to do that in an environmentally, socially and financially sustainable way. My personal aim is to regenerate this twenty-six hectare property into a farm that will be multigenerational in its viability. Whether I can achieve that or not remains to be seen, but I’m going to give it a good crack.
What inspired you to leave the city and give farming a go?
Even though we enjoyed a lot of aspects of living in the city, the reality of remaining there meant we’d both be working six days a week, and in the process of thinking about an alternative, somehow we ended up here. We had no plan; it evolved as we learnt more and it’s still evolving. There are probably still more tragedies than there should be, but we’re getting closer and learning every day.
What do you love about it?
Every day I would give you a different answer: I love the honesty of the work; I love the commute; I love being responsible for the consequences of my own actions, and looking to myself and at myself for the solutions; I love that I’ve honed my observation skills so that I have an awareness of this land; I love the food and that’s a primary motivation in my life – I love good food; I love the learning, the immersion, the activity, the simplicity, and so much more. But it’s not all love and light. Honestly, some days I just want to go and get a job.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
That humans are difficult; the weather is difficult; seeds want to grow; bugs eat poor produce; we get sick from eating poor produce; wallabies suck; and autumn is the most beautiful time. The biggest garden I ever had before was a few pots of herbs on a balcony, so my new perspective on scale was a lesson. I’ve had a very chequered work history, so I’ve not had to learn many skills. I still need to know more; but I am curious, and I am amazed at how many disciplines a good farmer needs to be across to make a living from soil.
What is the most important aspect of market gardening for you?
Hands down: the soil.
Who has had the greatest influence on you and how you do things?
Through books: Eliot Coleman, Peter Bennett and George Henderson. In real life, my original (and very patient with my newbie questions) mentors Joyce Wilkie and Mike Plane. After that, everyone I know who has a farm or garden. Lately Bruce Davison has been freaking me out with soil biology.
What is your connection with the SAGE* community garden?
I was part of the founding team, and I’m currently honoured to be the President. SAGE is more than a community garden; it’s a massive project and an amazing organisation. I’m constantly surprised by what is achieved.
What inspired you to start up the prize-winning Moruya farmers market, and what makes it so successful?
If we are to have any hope of creating resilient, healthy communities and viable local food systems, then we farmers need to sell our produce direct to consumers; and consumers need fresh, nutritionallydense produce, that is grown by members of their own community. If we are to provide a real alternative to the current retail model, then consumers need farmers markets to have authenticity, integrity and diversity. The customers need to be able to get all their fresh food from the market, and that’s what we strive for.
What advice would you give to other people wanting to start out as market gardeners?
Identify your market – market gardening is a business proposition. It is different from self-sufficiency in that you need a regular supply of stuff that your market wants to buy. You need to plan and schedule. You need to be efficient in time and effort. You need to be a gardener, a project manager, an administrator and a marketer. Start small with few customers and build it up. Get good at making decisions on the run. Be prepared for bad weather. Look after your soil.
Can you sustain your family on farming alone?
Neither of us has had an off-farm paid job for the past two financial years. We pay all our bills; our kids go to school, the dentist, wear shoes and eat well. We take holidays, albeit simple ones. We haven’t got retirement savings as yet, and if the car blew up we’d struggle for a bit; but I don’t think we’ve realised the potential of our farm yet.
Fraser Bayley and Kirsti Wilkinson run Old Mill Road Bio Farm and Training in Moruya and sell their produce at the Moruya Farmers Market. For more information see oldmillroad.com.au
*SAGE is Sustainable Agriculture & Gardening Eurobodalla. For further information see www.sageproject.org.au/