When I married my husband, Bruce, he was a cattle grazier but he had a dream of growing organic vegetables. I was a single mother, struggling to achieve my own dream of living simply in the bush. I wanted to grow my own vegetables but didn't know where to start. When Bruce came along with his horticultural diploma and the idea of becoming organic farmers, I was excited.
"People need good quality food," Bruce asserted. "Organic growing is the healthiest and best way to farm."
Bruce wanted to supply organic produce particularly for those with chronic health problems and those who needed superior nutrition to boost their immune systems. He had knowledge and some experience, and I had a vision of developing a website to market directly to the public. Together, we made plans and invested our time and money into making it happen.
It didn't quite turn out that way. The thrill of having a small business wore off quickly. The paperwork, fees and more paperwork required for organic certification gave me much stress. It was challenging to compete with the bigger growers who had mechanised farming operations and labourers to harvest quickly. Finding reliable organic seed to grow commercial crops became a desperate search. We realised our idea of selling directly to the public is still a long way in the future, if at all. Our range of produce is not diverse enough to supply customers. The winter frosts prevent us growing many vegetables in the cooler months. Slowly, we've accepted our limitations and know we will never make a grand living out of our farm. Like all farmers, we are at the mercy of the elements. Too much rain, too much heat, early frosts and damaging winds have all done their best to ruin our crops. Ducks, mice and bugs noticed our patch of green delicacies and invaded our paddock. I discovered that organic farming meant not only monitoring the
health of the plants through soil and leaf tests but also a lot of hard work! Instead of applying a chemical herbicide to control weeds, we adjust soil composition with many bucketloads of fertilisers and minerals. The weeds that still persist are attacked manually with hoes and gloved hands.
But we have had our high points. We are part of a small group who order organic produce from the coast. We have met caring people through this group--people we probably would not have met otherwise. To supplement our weekly orders, those of us with gardens and beehives bring items to sell between us. Our new friends have given high praise for excess vegetables we've brought for sale. This personal feedback encourages us, something we don't get from selling to wholesale markets or businesses in the city. One couple forgot to renew their order and were left without vegetables for the week. Although our local shops provide a vast array of produce, Marg has chronic fatigue and a chemical sensitivity that prevents her from buying conventionally grown fruit and vegetables. She was desperate for what we could offer to tide her over until the next week. We invited her out to choose what she wanted from our paddock. With a box of supplies, Marg left happy. "Thanks for the food," Marg and her partner told me a few weeks later. "You kept us from starving." Even backbreaking jobs of weeding and harvesting have their advantages. Bending down among the bushes gives me an intimate view of the ecosystem we foster. Superb fairy-wrens dart in and out between the bushes, while tiny green and brown froglets hop across shaded leaves. Lady beetles munch on aphids and spiders weave webs among the greenery. Growing vegetables in the middle of eucalypt forests under a clear blue sky, free from pollution and the clamouring noises of the city is more rewarding than other occupations I could have chosen. There's satisfaction in knowing that we are enhancing the soil system, instead of damaging it. In years to come, when we have packed up and moved on to other projects, we know that cattle and kangaroos can return to graze safely on healthy, fertile pasture. It's also reassuring that people who buy our produce can benefit from pure food. We feel privileged to take care of the garden God has placed us in. So don't get tired of doing what is good. Don't get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time. Galatians 6:9. Susan Johnstone lives near Stanthorpe, Queensland, where she is a mother, farmer and compulsive writer.