Aug 052013
 

I first visited this farm when I was 19 in 1979. Shortly thereafter my friend who owned the farm was killed in a car accident. The parents offered me the chance to buy the property and I jumped at the chance.

The farm was back blocks of the conventional farming area, and it was considered scrub country. It wasn’t valued for any purpose, because it was too steep for cattle and totally vegetated. I jumped at the opportunity because to me it had value.

I finished my horticulture degree, left Sydney and my girlfriend, and moved to the land. I lived in a tent for a year.

Then I went back to the city to earn money to invest in the farm. At this point I met Kerrie, my future wife. We used to drive up on Friday night after work, which took 7 hours before the highway was built. We drove up the old pacific highway.

No one had ever lived there. We were the first to live on this farm. We’d spend the weekend, just experiencing the land.

We made the commitment to move to the land in 1981 with a tent and a suitcase. We lived in tents for two years, going to town every 2-3 weeks. We had no TV, no radio, no electricity. We cooked on an open fire. All this time we just believed in this land. We weren’t even sure what day it was. Sometimes we’d go to town and wonder why all the shops were shut. It was Sunday.

When it would rain sometimes for two weeks, eventually everything would be wet. A subtropical rainforest environment meant everything is always rotting.

We slowly cleared areas for a vegetable garden and a shed. We had no machinery, we did it all by hand. We had a progression of tents – finally one with a wooden floor! We built the first one-room pole shed with secondhand windows. We used a copper pot for hot water and an outdoor bathroom. That was where we lived when Kerrie gave birth to Sarah and Tristan. I started building a house. It’s a pristine environment, with fantastic wildlife, but we were worried about the safety of the children with snakes and so forth so we wanted them safely in a house.

Without lighting, we were only able to work when the sun was up. It sounds hard, but it was fantastic. We had a lot of quality time raising the kids, growing our own vegetables and chickens. It was tough, but some of the best times of my life.

So after two or three years living in the shed, we were able to move into the house.

Suddenly in the house, it was incredible having so much room. We had a floor off the ground! No more spider webs and leeches. Eventually we got a generator and a television and solar power. But the house still didn’t have an indoor bathroom. The house was built without power, so it’s all hardwood with tongue and groove flooring, and weatherboards and joists were all cut with a handsaw. All the nails and screws were set in holes drilled by hand.

When we moved in there were no external walls on the top floor, so we used tarps for the walls, and the storms would come in.

The next stage of the house incorporated a bathroom and we had Keiran and Simon and built more bedrooms for the kids. But at that point we had power so I could use power tools to build.

We started experimenting with fruit trees for sustainable farming. This was about 1987. We let the weeds come into the orchards and used them as humus. We never used any chemicals. I had been into permaculture for so long, there was never any intention of using chemicals.

We weren’t sure what to focus our agricultural project on. We didn’t know what would be suitable for the area. No one was doing anything.

The other farms were conventional, doing dairy and potato. So we were pioneers. Everyone laughed at us and said that we would never be able to do anything with this land because it was too steep and couldn’t be cleared. My intention wasn’t to clear the land. I wanted to farm other products that weren’t being established at the time there.

We were encouraged by hippy culture, and the other farmers were community-minded. They laugh at us, but they were supportive. We knew the traditional farmers were conditioned. They didn’t know about permaculture. We were a new generation, coming with a different awareness and exposure to different ideas.

They did respect us for being pioneers, which is their history too.

We tried citrus, oranges, mandarines, lemons, grapefruit. We tried stone fruit, plums, peaches, apricots, cherries. We tried kiwifruit. We experimented a lot. There weren’t biological controls for the borers, the fruit flies, and we didn’t want to use chemicals.

In about 1997 after 10 years of experimentation we decided to focus on the macadamias, which were less impacted by pests, weather, and animals. It takes 10 to 15 years for a macadamia tree to start producing at a commercial level. At that point we got the land ceritifed organic.

Finally we found what worked on this beautiful land.

Initially we didn’t have the infrastructure to process the nuts ourselves so we paid someone else to process them as certified organic. Then the processor didn’t want to handle small batches like ours. They would only take 7 tons or more. We would have to pool our nuts with other farms. For us that was absolutely defeating the purpose of what we were doing. All of our intention was to hand harvest and use sustainable farming techniques. So we bit the bullet and borrowed money to set up our own processing infrastructure. It cost us $100,000 initially and we’ve had to spend that much again just to be able to sell our nuts in our own name.

We started selling initially to one company that bought all our nut kernels. and they chocolate coated them. About 5 years ago, one of my friends who has a farm up there, he said your nuts are great, you should be value adding yourself, and he gave me that encouragement. So we started coming to markets with macadamias and macadamia butters. We started a the nearby markets, but I realized I needed to present the product to the demographic of appreciation and population. Ariana from Eveleigh markets approached me and invited me to the markets, because they want an integrity market of farmers only. To make it viable for my drive I do two markets each weekend, two weekends a month.

We still sell some wholesale to about 50 shops, but everything has our label on it. We’ve evolved from just doing kernel and butters, we do chocolate coating working with the company we formerly sold to. They’re an organic company, so we wanted to collaborate with them. We started to do honey roasting. All the ingredients are certified organic.

Now we grow organic garlic in the areas of the farm too cold for the macadamias. And now we are starting with honey, the bees are using the macadamia flowers, eucalyptus, in the rainforest there are 400 different trees, clover and other legumes. When it rains a lot we have to go out and feed the bees to keep them alive.

We’ve been asked to export our product, but we want to support the domestic market, so we don’t want to export. That’s for monetary gain for the premiums, but Australians lose out on quality products in australia.

It’s been a fantastic journey so far with lots of adventures.

We love to meet people at the markets who appreciate what we do.

Hand n Hoe Organics