Creative in the Countryside: Black Barn Farm
Today we hear from Jade and Charlie at Black Barn Farm, a place where fair food, farming and business collide to create something truly unique; prepare to be inspired.
Nicola: I’d love for you to start by telling us more about Black Barn Farm, who you are and what it is you do?
Jade: Our farming communities are decaying, threatening our nation’s food security. We have lower seed and soil biodiversity, higher suicide rates among farmers, longer paths to market, lower profits to growers, obesity/health issues, higher levels of food waste yet higher levels of food scarcity, and more disconnection from our food and to our rural communities than ever before. Yet we ALL eat and have the ability to consider food choices and how they impact our health, farmers and rural communities. By farming in a regenerative way we can have the most impact of all on the health of our soil, community and selves.
Both Charlie (my husband) and I were fortunate to enjoy country childhoods. We both grew up on small farms with parents who revelled in producing their own food.
I was especially fortunate to live in a very rich fertile part of our State where both Winters and Summers are relatively mild. My parents grew virtually all their own food, used permaculture principles as their guide and bartered for things we couldn’t make or grow ourselves. They strived for intentional simplicity and while it made us feel like the ‘weird hippy kids’ it sowed deep seeds and I yearned to have my hands in the dirt even in my teens.
When Charlie and I planted our first real veggie garden, we watched as the small scale apple and pear growers bulldozed their three/four/five-generation apple farming heritage into the ground because there was no one to take over the farms, and no one wanted to buy the land with trees on it. This broke our heart and made us want to reinstate the growing practices in our own area.
We spent ten years researching small scale farm models which incorporated direct paths to market, opportunities to connect with our eaters and were diverse enough to minimise the vagaries of mother nature. Those ten years allowed us to search for the right property and save enough money to buy it. We have been on our 20 acre property in Stanley, Black Barn Farm, for two and a half years and in that time have begun our educational workshop programme with open days, grafting days, community lunches, and educational lectures with schools and universities.
We have undertaken our irrigation infrastructure and soil regeneration programme both of which are key to allowing us to plant the 1500, mixed variety, orchard trees - grafted on site over the past two Septembers as well as the 2kms worth of cane berries, which are all lined up for planting this Winter.
Our plan is to open the orchard in January 2020 as a pick-your-own orchard which offers 6 months of harvest and workshops/events to really engage people with the excitement and delight of growing your own food. We want to bring celebration back into people's association with food and reignite their love for it. Unless you love something, you will not fight for it and unless you understand it, you cannot value it, and if you don’t value it you willingly waste it.
Our business has six diverse aims:
EAT - cafe on site all supplied from the kitchen garden
LEARN - 12 annual workshops and open days
STAY - on-farm accommodation
GROW - nursery selling all varieties that we have in our pick your own orchard including the understory plantings (due to open in August)
PICK - pick-your-own seasonal fruit and vegetables available from late Nov - late May every year. (due to open in Jan 2020)
CONSULT - the banner under which we both undertake an enormous amount of community connection and education.
We now share this story all over Australia so other community food enterprises can be inspired to have a go at creating their own community which values food.
We’ve also launched ‘co-op living’ – 12 events annually, teaching people to reconnect to their food and to each other. We have movie screenings, community pot luck dinners, morning tea gatherings and workshops in things such as fermentation, grafting, compost creation, sourdough making and seed saving.
We have driven the collaboration of 14 government agencies to come together to create a local food strategy in our region.
And finally last year we launched "Greener Grass Camps", which is a school camp programme which connects kids to their food in a really fun, interactive, hands on way.
Nicola: Can you tell me about the Black Barn Farm Orchard philosophy and why it is so important to you?
Jade: We feel strongly that food is a sacred, celebrated wonder, not a low cost, easily wasted commodity. Because of this philosophy, we are determined to create a space which people are drawn to for connection, learning, belonging and respect for the people and place. Our Black Barn will be the physical building which connects people to place and place to food production.
From a food growing perspective, we believe healthy, nutrient dense food comes from trees and plants which are grown in super healthy soil and this takes time, biomass, biodiversity and carefully managed disturbance to the ground.
We are a permaculture based horticulture operation which emulates patterns in nature to holistically and sustainably integrates the physical and social needs of people and the ecosystem.
We use permaculture principles in all our growing which means we don't use synthetic chemicals ever, rather we use compost, mulch, worm juice and home made teas to encourage good microbial rich biodiverse soils which support healthy plant growth. We mimic the natural growing system wherever we can with lots of woodsy under-material, inter-plantings and never over-plant which allows the plants to breath and minimise fungus growth. We have a very diverse orchard and vegetable garden which minimises pest management and although its not a problem yet, we anticipate we will need to net our berries to protect against birds.
Nicola: I'd love to hear more about the nursery and your future plans?
Jade: Each year we have grafted and taken cuttings (and will continue to do so) for 600 mixed species trees (peaches, pears, cherries, persimmons, figs, currants, apples and crabbe apples). We have also grown 1000 understory plants each year (marjoram, coriander, garlic, tagasaste, marigold, chilves, Cow-pea, Clover, Siberian Pea-shrub, Amarynth, Zinnia, Comfrey, Borage. These are for the orchard rows and mimic the natural eco-system but provide a diversity of attributes such as nitrogen for the soil, natural growing or decomposing mulch, insect attraction for pollination support.
We deliver a workshop around this (which has sold out within days for three years running so we will continue this until demand fades) and then we plant into our nursery area for 12 months. Because many of the varieties we are growing are hard to find heritage varieties, they are much sought after and because our growing practices are ethical, we have found there is a strong growing market to support this.
Nicola: I’d love to hear more about the workshops and events that you run? Can you tell me more about whom they are for and what it is you wish to teach others?
Jade: The audience is very dependent on the particular workshop. But to generalise, those who are attracted to Black Barn Farm are those with a deep yearning desire to connect to other like minded, simple living folk. They are seeking skills to mimic our production approach, they are looking for ideas to build their own community, they are looking for support to grow their own food.
In the coming 6 months we are offering a wider range of events including:
- Introduction to Permaculture (in conjunction with a permaculture education expert)
- Mid Winter Wassail Ceremony (invited guests)
- Mid Winter Orchard planting (invited only)
- Mid Winter Heritage Tree Sale and orchard tour
We love our events because it gives life to what can otherwise be a little lonely and isolating existence on the farm. Sharing our journey and our knowledge is something we both reap a great deal of satisfaction from.
Nicola: Your work and life is obviously inspired by nature. Can you tell me why nature is so important to you, and how it influences the work you do?
Jade: Biofilia is a concept which is integral in each and every one of us, however I have a very high need for connection to the outside, natural world. I was fortunate to spend vast blocks of time as a child literally living in the elements. My dad was an artist and we spent a great deal of time on camp with him while he painted or locked outside the house during the day while he painted in the Studio. We also grew all our own food so our deep rhythmic understanding of the seasons, the influence of weather, the connection to the cyclical nature of each year was bedded down very early and both my brother and I have continued this pattern of living with our children now entrenched in annual growing, preparing/readying, eating, storing, valuing the food we grow as a direct descendant from the type of weather we have experienced that season.
Our way of life is simple, predominantly outdoors and extends from the boundaries of our farm to the roadsides where foraged foods are found, the nearby bushland where we wander for bushwalks, the also nearby pine forests where we hunt for mushrooms, the not too far away mountains where we escape to on especially warm days, the abundant rivers we swim in weekly , our own dam which we frequent every day while its warm, the haybales we scramble on, the bird book which each of us reaches for even if we know the name of the bird we just spotted, the wood we grow and cut for our warmth, the hay we grow to feed the stock and the remaining straw we use to mulch our vegetable beds.
Our year here is very much defined but the distinct seasons, and our daily patterns are endlessly evolving so there is rarely time for any day to become mundane.
Charlie: Nature is the most important thing in everyone's life, it's just that most don't realise or appreciate it. Irrespective of who we are, the level of importance nature has for each of us is a matter of fact not personal interpretation. Nature provides the means for each of us to exist, it literally provides the air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat and regulates the atmosphere we are dependent on. Modern society has been able to obscure this fact to our increasingly urban population, however each person sitting in an apartment is still reliant on each of those ecosystem services to deliver the means required for their existence, even if the urbanite can't see, smell, hear or taste the very ecosystem or piece of nature that provides those essential services.
Nature is the largest influencer of our work at Black Barn Farm, we seek to understand the pattern of relationships that exists in a natural forest so we can design a similar package of processes and patterns within our orchard system.
Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?
Jade: Start where you are, with what you've got and be willing to make mistakes - some of your most magnificent discoveries will be through adversity, trial and error. Further to this, don’t be afraid to follow your instinct...even if it differs from what your spoken ‘goal’ is.
We have had a very clear long term plan for more than 20 years and while the path has meandered here and there as I’ve followed my instinct, made mistakes and been surprised by outcomes, it has never wavered from the end goal which we are lucky enough to be united on.
In response to what your community needs: collaborative efforts are incredibly powerful and from little things big things grow, so do your research and just start! Sow that seed and watch it grow.
Also, you can only move as fast as the community you are working within, so be sure to really understand their "WHY" so you can speak to it and bring more people on the journey with you.