Running down a dream

I must have been about ten years old when I declared my dream to the assembled extended family that I was going to be a farmer when I grew up. “Oh you’ll never have enough money to own a farm”, said one great uncle amid the muffled laughter to my response. We certainly had no agricultural ‘assets’ within the extended family, and at the time the common perception of ‘a farm’ was a few thousand acres, so in one sense Uncle Bill was probably right. But where had this idea come from – who in there right mind would want to go into farming unless you’d been born into it? And the immediate answer is that I’ve no real idea as to where this came from.

Like most (?) white Australian children growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, we’d been lucky to have less restriction on what we could do and where we could go. Living in a cul-de-sac that backed onto bushland in Sydney’s suburban northwest was great – days spent exploring, tree climbing, yabbying – and being very active through the Scouting movement led to a heightened environmental awareness that certainly continues to this day. We had long time family friends who were farmers, and we’d spend a couple of long weekends each year either chasing sheep at Tarana east of Bathurst, or picking apples in an orchard at Orange.

I suppose the biggest influence came from my grandfather Frank, who had a day job of Secretary to the Lord Mayor of Sydney, and relaxed by growing vegetables for his family. His neat beds produced a range of vegetables, and we’d always leave Nana and Pa’s place with a huge bunch of fresh silverbeet. Since moving here and setting up our enterprise, I’ve discovered that Pa also kept chickens, namely Rhode Island Red bantams – Mum was quite surprised to see some here one day and that twigged her memory. However my path to agriculture was rather drawn out and prolonged.

After completing my secondary schooling, I spent a decade, the 80’s no less, working in sales and marketing in the music industry, having a good time and learning a lot about people, marketing and publicity. After this I returned to my original passion and studied horticulture and landscape design, a city farmer if you will, and proceeded to grow a lawn mowing franchise into a landscaping business. Overtime this occurred and after 12 years operating in Sydney, a move to the Southern Highlands would whet my appetite for country living. It was at this time that Therese and I met. Little did we know the course our lives would take together.

Numerous qualities are required to undertake an enterprise like this, one being an adventurous spirit, and this is the part of our story that attracts the most attention – who in their right mind ups and leaves the city to start farming at the ripe old age of 46? I’d witnessed my parents do something similar when in their mid-40’s they sold their chemist business and Sydney property and moved to Surfers paradise to commence successfully operating a management rights business. That worked out well for them – what could go wrong!

It was October 2006 when matters received a giant boot up the bum – Therese and I were watching David Suzuki present a lecture in Wollongong on sustainability when just before he left the stage, in a rather raised tone, he implored the audience to ‘eat organic food’. We turned to each other and realized that if we wanted to pursue this dream, we needed to do it now rather than someday, one day down the track.

We committed to spending one weekend a month out of Sydney exploring potential areas to move to, and set some general parameters in that we wanted to be no more than 4 hours away from Sydney and within an hour of the ocean. We had also met another couple at this time who were also very keen to do exactly the same thing, so we teamed up. Time was spent attending agricultural shows including the Mudgee Small Farm Field Days, Tocal Field Days and Hawkesbury Field Days, copies of The Land were devoured, seed catalogues were ordered, and hours were spent pawing through information on the Internet. Any spare time was filled immersing ourselves in all things farming. The Mid North Coast was proving appealing, notably through the help that the Mid North Coast Organics Group provided with their open days and farm visits. Research was also drawing us towards Port Macquarie as a center given its population size, location and associated infrastructure.

Now is an opportune moment to acknowledge the four people involved in this endeavor and the considerable time they had spent undertaking rigorous personal development through programs offered by Landmark Education. Lyndon and Beth Blok, and Therese and I, had met through the courses and had a wealth of training allowing us to create how our future would look using the principles that Landmark provided – in short, anything is possible. We did spend many a Sunday afternoon meeting and planning.

Around March 2007 Therese and I found ourselves wandering along the real estate windows of Port Macquarie on a Sunday afternoon eating an early dinner of fish and chips before the drive back to Sydney. We’d spent the day at Alan Parker’s organic farm out at Rolland’s Plains as part of a Mid North Coast Organics open day. We were a little despondent as time was marching on, we were taking all these actions and yet nothing was turning up. And then there it was – a 22 acre property with a four bedroom house close to a river and priced accordingly. Looks like we’ll be back here at Easter to have a look at this! In the interim, time was spent looking at climate data for Wauchope, employment opportunities were sourced, and in general the activity level was moved to a higher gear.

Easter rolled around and we inspected the property. It was a little further out from town than we’d envisaged, but the house was perfect given two adult couples needed to live in it, even if it was a little worn around the edges – compared to others we’d seen this was a palace. The additional infrastructure was great, the aspect was perfect – an east facing slightly sloping outlook with protection from the south and west – and possibly most importantly, it had been used as a hobby farm with horses for the last 15 years, so chemical and fertilizer use had been kept to a minimum. Wonderful.

Then we took the walk down to the river. This agent did his job well.

Running down a dream

Often referred to as ‘the money shot’. The Pappinbarra River at Hollisdale as we saw it in April 2007

In the space of an hour we’d fallen in love with this piece of paradise. Surely Lyndon and Beth would love it too, and we’d be able to arrange finance, and coordinate all the other obstacles that seemed to be in the way.

Anyway we’d found a most suitable place, now all we had to do was make it work!

Runnin’ Down a Dream – Tom Petty

Near River Produce - Real food direct from our farm located on the NSW Mid North Coast