We’ve heard the term paddock to plate so much in the past 10 years that’s it’s almost become cliche, but has the move away from the supermarket giants towards local regenerative farming been successful enough to survive in the long term?
Over the last 10 years or more Australians have seen a growing number of local weekly farmers markets on the rise and an ever increasing number of first generation growers and producers selling quality bio-dynamic and organic seasonal goods straight to your door, cancelling out many of the large supermarket chains.
The move away from the supermarket towards regenerate farming is undeniable with more and more small farms offering produce to the public on-line, delivered, or even involving a scenic trip out to the farm once a week to pick up orders.
Regenerative farming is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on increasing biodiversity, enhancing ecosystems, improving the water cycle, and strengthening the vitality and health of farm soil. Practices focus on recycling farm waste, permaculture, restoration ecology and holistic management. As soil improves, input requirements lessen and crop yields increase due to more resilient soil.
Just an hour north of Sydney in NSW’s Central Coast there are a substantial number of small farming business’s that seem to be making regenerative farming into a successful business harnessing the philosophy of giving back to the land by leaving it in a better state than you found it. Offering everything from local honey, grass fed meats, eggs, seasonal fruit and veg, dairy, breads, jams, pickles, seeds, micro greens as well as handmade made soaps and other naturally made products. These farmers seem to have it covered with an ever expanding range of produce to suit.
One first generation farmer I had the pleasure of speaking to was Shannon Kelly from Full Circle Farm. Kelly manages a family owned and run business in Jiliby just an hour north of Sydney. The Kelly’s have been operating their farm for 5 years and now employ 4 full time staff along with himself and his wife Kylie.
Prior to Full Circle both Shannon and Kylie were employed in ‘office jobs’ with little to no experience in this type of farming.
Having two young children at the time I asked Kelly what compelled him to start operating a farm and why did he chose this way of farming as opposed to conventional farming that includes the use of pesticides and other man made chemicals ‘I fell in love with the notion that we don’t need to destroy our planet and treat animals poorly to have a healthy food system. In fact the opposite I found to be true. I wanted to produce food for my community that respected the animal, giving it a good life, living in its natural environment, doing what it loves to do. I wanted to produce food and leave the land in better condition than when I found it. And I wanted to produce food that was nutritionally better for our customers with no chemicals used at all. The more I also learnt about our food system, the fragility of it and how they treated farmers, the more I wanted to pursue a small-scale farm that sells straight to families’
Having started a business only a few years young and then to have to face a world wide pandemic I wanted to know how he was received by his customers and what effects did Covid-19 crisis have on his growing business ‘Saying the pandemic was an eye-opener is an understatement. In our line of work, it was astounding to see how fragile the big supermarkets could be….. in a matter of just a few days. It highlighted the fact that a more decentralised food system where consumers know their farmer and how their food is grown would have greater stability in uncertain times. Our business is home deliveries straight to customer’s houses so we did quite well through the pandemic. Our other farming friends who produced for restaurants; not so well. It was sad to see a lot of great farms doing it tough based off of let’s say ‘interesting at best’ lockdown measures.
I guess the main thing we have learnt from the last two years is that we need to think outside of the box in regards to an economy and food system that is not so entwined with an authoritarian government.
The big question for me was, is this type of farming sustainable or is it just a fad for some? ‘Regenerative agriculture has lots going for it, simply because it makes sense and works. Unfortunately, along with other current trendy words, it has been politicised. We need to stick to the basics and forget the bull. Farm in a way that mimics nature, set up farming systems that has the animal expressing its natural proclivity, farm to heal land, not mine it and produce food with little to zero nasties such as chemicals, antibiotics and other drugs. Sell straight to families that ‘get it’. Expand, scale, but never forfeit your integrity.’
Shannons simple back to basic farming values, honest approach and conviction of self were admirable and something that would certainly stand the test of time.