Terrewah Farm #producingthegoods

Kirsty in the sweet potato patch.
Kirsty in the sweet potato patch.

Each week, we will bring our readers a primary producer on the South Coast in our feature ‘Producing The Goods’. By doing this, we hope consumers find it easier to source locally grown produce across the region.

This week we spoke with Kirsty Hambrook at Kangaroo Valley’s Terrewah Farm.

What do you produce, grow or breed?

At Terrewah Farm we believe strongly in biodiversity (and have become accustomed to very little sleep). We have a mixed market garden which grows between 50-60 different varieties of vegetables and herbs each season. 

We also have an orchard of around 70 temperate and sub-tropical fruit trees (30 different varieties) and a berry orchard with half a dozen varieties of berry fruits.  

We have strawberry guavas, passionfruits and edible lilly pillys that line the perimeter of our one acre fruit and vegetable patch and we have a windbreak planting that will one day yield edible bamboo shoots.

Because market gardening isn't a big enough job on its own, we also run a flock of around 60 dorper sheep, 130 pastured laying hens and a handful of dexter cows to supply the farmhouse with meat and milk.

Along with our own produce we also provide a platform for other local growers to sell their wares. We have a mobile cool room that is licenced for meat transport and storage so we buy and sell local beef and pork from other farmers in the Valley. 

We also buy and sell fruit and vegetables from backyard growers and other commercial operators that don't have their own established market. Using our collective resources we're able to supply an amazing range of fresh, local and mostly organic produce for families and restaurants in Kangaroo Valley.  We have a very co-operative approach to feeding our community.

How long have you been in operation?

We started growing vegetables here on the farm four years ago, although the patch back then was about a quarter of what it is now.  We then quickly added the cows, hens and sheep and just last winter added the fruiting trees and vines.

We haven't really paused long enough to reflect on our successes yet. We're still in the head down, bum up, paddle really hard phase.

Kirsty Hambrook

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced?

Farming is a challenge full stop. We came to farming with no experience and no training, so it's been a massive learning curve. 

We had to learn absolutely everything from scratch, the hard way. Kangaroo Valley has also just had the driest nine months in living memory, which was a bit stressful for a rookie farmer. If it wasn't for a kindly neighbour with an unused dam we may have been in serious trouble. 

But overall, our biggest ongoing challenge is the wind.  We're in a bit of a wind tunnel here in the western reaches of Kangaroo Valley. The westerlies are a killer and our property is very wind exposed. Establishing wind breaks is one of our major challenges.

What have been your biggest successes?

We haven't really paused long enough to reflect on our successes yet. We're still in the head down, bum up, paddle really hard phase. 

Any successes we've had thus far have been incremental: Our pasture has visibly improved over the last four years with organic soil amendments and careful grazing management along with soil aeration and the sowing of deep rooted perennial and leguminous pasture species; We've managed to establish a base of loyal customers that buy our produce every week and I think that slowly but surely we're making headway in the promotion of a local food economy.

Why did you choose this path/how did you get into primary production?

I think farming has always been in my heart, though it took me 35-years to get there. 

I am passionate about health, in particular the food I eat and the impact its production has on our earth. I'm one of those people that want to "be the change" and I figured that if I wanted fresh, seasonal, nutrient dense, organic food that was eaten where it was grown and didn't destroy the planet, then I should just go out there and make it happen. And I'm just as passionate about providing the same opportunities for my entire community. 

It's my goal to provide simple, fresh, clean, seasonal food for my own small community, allowing everyone a deeper connection with the seasons, a knowledge of where their food comes from and the ability to see it in action. Sounds like utopia to me! 

What are the long-term goals for your business?

Our planned business model consists of three parts: Food production, which is already well underway; tourism, which involves welcoming visitors and developing an immersive 'slow food holiday' experience for guests; and education, consisting of a series of workshops and classes to share the skills we have learned along the way. 

For now, we're focusing on the building phase, getting the second and third parts of our business up and running, after that it will be a process of continual development, improving the soil, the pasture, and the productivity of our farm.  I'd like to see the number of weekly customers eventually triple and for us to help put Kangaroo Valley on the map as a clean food destination.

How many hours a week do you work?  

If the sun is up, I'm working, and sometimes when the sun is down too. 

It's 70 plus hours per week for me at the moment, but with luck and good management that should ease up once we're finished this initial building phase.

How many people do you employ?

My husband and I work full time on the farm plus we employ one part-time market gardener, accept wwoofers year round and hire casual workers to fill any gaps.

Has technology changed the way you work and how have you embraced it?

Most of what we do here at Terrewah Farm is very low tech. 

The market garden is run almost exclusively on human sweat and hand tools. We have a small compact tractor for jobs outside the garden, but prefer to hire local operators for anything that requires large machinery or specialised equipment. 

On a scale as small as ours it doesn't make sense to invest in expensive technology. Having said that though, one of the best additions to our operation has been the online shopfront provided by the Open Food Network.

It's a fantastic platform for small scale producers to interface with their customers. It gives us a professional edge without the cost.

Where can people buy your product?

We sell directly to customers in Kangaroo Valley and surrounds through a weekly online shopping platform. 

The link to the online shop can be accessed via our website http://www.terrewahfarm.com.au/harvest.html or by going through the Open Food Network www.openfoodnetwork.org.au/terrewah-farm/shop

We're also at the Kangaroo Valley Farmer's markets on the second Sunday of the month and you can visit us by appointment at the farm. Email harvest@terrewahfarm.com.au for more info.

Find out about more primary producers across the region: