Yesterday our delivery of local organic goods arrived from a farm down the road filled with what’s good right now: sone corn, kale, lots of apples, that kind of thing. Thought you might like to have a look around their farm…this article was originally published in the autumn edition of BEVERLEY last year.
It was a picture perfect autumn afternoon when I visited Moonacres farm, a local organic fruit and vegetable farm run by local School Dad and farmer Phil Lavers down in Wildes Meadow in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Like all best laid plans when it comes to working from home, I ended up having not one but two children with me for the tour and chat, and we spent the afternoon in the glorious sunshine, plucking, naming, photographing and of course putting out the odd fight and kissing a few bruised knees from the girls.
We have been lucky enough to have been receiving a weekly mixed box of goodness from Phil’s wife who runs Dhimbalee a boxed organic delivery service from their farm gate to our local surrounds for the past few months. We decided to let Lisa choose what we get each week – letting nature and what’s good determine what’s in our box. It’s been a wonderful exercise in eating beautiful, organic produce, and of course pushing me out of my comfort zone in using different varieties of stuff I would never normally buy for our weekly meals. While organic produce may never be the prettiest, or the most uniform, the taste, longevity and quality of the goods has been second to none and I’ll find it difficult to go back now that we’ve had a taste of the good stuff.
As a young boy Phil had the joy of living on a hobby farm with his own family which he said was “an unbelievably good place for a 13 year old boy do whatever it was I wasn’t to do”. His father suffered a heart attack and the farm was eventually handed over the bank which made Phil vow then and there that if he ever had the money, he would buy a farm. Years later, Phil was a banker living with his family in Tokyo, working long hours “I wasn’t getting on that well with my wife and my family because I was working all the time. I realised that there was something wrong with the picture, of being there, but not really being there, and I thought that something had to give.” After returning back to Australia with his family he purchased Moonacres in 1998 and spent several years working on transforming what was a run down old cattle farm into the nutrient rich organic farm that it is today.
The first forays into farming for this ex banker were by no means successful. “We started with spuds, planting about 18 acres which was a complete and utter disaster. We planted in the wrong soil, which was very wet, we spent more in diesel pulling them out than we did selling them.” It was there that he made 2 rules which he has stuck with over the past 6 years “You don’t grow it until you’ve sold it. And if you’re going to make a mistake, make a small one.” The memories of hand digging out each spud from the ground has made him much more cautious and do a lot more research into new crops, and of course working very hard to sell what they grow.
Moonacres produce are now sold by Phil personally at 12 markets per month in Sydney, which brings in about 60% of their income as well as through the boxed organic delivery service Dhimbalee, and through the wholesale market if there is a glut of something they need to get rid of, and a new exciting area that Phil is just starting to focus on: working directly with chefs for their restaurants. He now deals with a handful of chefs who prepare and plan their menus around what Phil has to deliver that week and even has some of them trawling through seed catalogues and exotic Italian cookbooks working on new crops that could be grown. This is a particularly exciting area for Lavers to work on – he gets to experiment and ends up with a product that people love, the chefs get to create new innovative food that they wouldn’t be able to access normally and of course the consumer is the ultimate winner who gets to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Phil loves the connections made with people in the city when selling the produce at Farmers Markets. “I love it. People there really crave what we have to offer, which is fresh food, harvested yesterday, sold today. You can’t get that anywhere else. You’re giving people good food, that’s been well grown. There’s a genuineness there which is lacking from where they normally buy food from.” He thinks that there is a growing number of people who are sick of the industrial style growing of food that they have been getting and are searching and they are excited about what they do at Moonacres. “There’s a certain realness to that that people want to be part of, even if it’s just buying a bunch of kale, they are involved and enjoy that aspect of the food chain and they are hugely supportive of what we do.”
The same goes for the farming methods he employs and the importance to him of organic farming. “The way in which the environment is being destroyed for food is terrible. The earth’s gonna keep going, whether we’re here or not, you’ve got to do the right thing: respect the soil, respect the environment, learn how to work with nature and not against it. It’s a question of what’s wrong and right. It’s just what I do.” There’s no herbicides or insecticides used in organic farming at Moonacres, the crops are weeded by hand, and all nutrition for the plants are composted from organic materials. There’s also another side of organic farming often overlooked: the record keeping overlaying the entire process that shows that each plant in the ground has been kept organic the entire way and has a paper trail to reflect it. As we walked through some of the crops there were a huge amount of sorrell that had been destroyed by some wallabies that got a taste for it…the new trialed crops, the older more established crops, some successful, others not, the regeneration of the soil the record keeping and the hard manual labour that goes with it: this is organic farming.
Having made the move for our own family, albeit on a much smaller scale, and knowing the importance of the move to me and our own family, I asked Phil about the difference of his life now, to what it was before. Choking back the tears he said “On a personal level the best part is that I get to have dinner with my family every night. Nothing else matters other than that.” And knowing exactly what he meant, and having a piece of Moonacres produce on our own dinner table at night, well, I feel very lucky indeed.
Dhimbalee organic produce delivers locally to the Southern Highlands.
Moonacres produce can be found at the following Farmers Markets:
Every Wednesday and Saturday at EQ Village Markets – 8am-2pm
2nd Saturday of the month at North Sydney Markets – 8am-12noon Miller St, between council chambers and Stanton Library
2nd Sunday of the month at Robertson School of Arts Hall, Robertson NSW, 8am-2pm
3rd Saturday of the Month at North Sydney Produce Market, 8am-12noon, Miller St, between council chambers and Stanton Library
4th Saturday of the Month, Moss Vale Farmers Markets, Moss Vale Showground 8am-12noon