Hear from Christina in Episode 1 of our ‘Australian Farmers’ podcast as she shares how COVID-19 impacted her farm business, what she enjoys most about farming and the best way to cook kale!
I think that having a good relationship with the farmer who grows your food is just as important as the one you have with your doctor, dentist, mechanic or barista! After all, we eat 3 times a day (or more) so it makes sense to me to know where your food is coming from.
The relationships we have with our customers are definitely one of the most rewarding parts of this farming life. We do 14 farmers markets every weekend and that’s our main outlet for selling produce.
But back in March, when Covid-19 shut all of them down almost overnight, our customers almost immediately self-organised.
They formed a WhatsApp group to collect orders and make it easy for us. They lobbied us to start doing vegetable boxes for pick up and they never stopped supporting us. That just meant the world.
As a family, my Mum (Rita), Dad (George) and now myself have been farming organic vegetables and herbs here in the Sydney Basin for almost 20 years. We grow over 62 acres which might not sound like a lot, but our land is very productive.
For example, we sell approximately one thousand bunches of kale every week! And that’s just one variety.
We have a lot of customers that come to us for health reasons. They’re looking for some of the medicinal herbs we grow; dandelions, thistles, coriander root, horseradish, plus we have lots of heirloom varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes.
And because we grow organically and often heirloom varieties, they really appreciate the nutrient and flavour rich quality of our veggies. Also, we pick on Fridays and go to markets on Saturdays and they really appreciate that fresh, direct-from-the-farm aspect too.
They’re happy so I’m happy!
What do I love most about this farming life? Aside from the satisfaction of knowing how much our customers appreciate what we do, I love the peace and quiet of being out here on the farm.
I went into farming to grow vegetables, and although I love to see all our friends at the markets and talk to customers, there’s something about being out here every day, often on my own and getting to see the sun rise and set on your work.
It’s just a beautiful place to be.
I also really love working with my family, I know lots of people don’t, but for me, it’s so rewarding being able to figure things out, to progress and challenge each other.
Yes we argue, but we always figure it out and listen to each other and then look out across the farm and say, ‘hey this is what we achieved last year and we did it as a family’.
I also really love being organic. This kind of farming is super challenging in terms of weed control, disease and bugs but it makes us always be proactive and stay on our toes. We’re constantly thinking, one, two, three years ahead. And we are always, always working to support our soil health.
All of this adds a level of complexity to farming that I really love. And it also means that when we do produce a really beautiful organically-certified crop, you just feel so good about it!
We didn’t come to organic farming like most people. My Mum Rita, had emigrated from rural China where she had worked as a nurse. Her first job in Sydney was working as a Chinese translator for the local council, supporting Chinese market gardeners in the Sydney Basin.
Around this time she met my Dad. He is Scottish and was working in the area as a tractor mechanic. They eventually got together, started farming and started a family.
A few decades and one certified organic business ‘Rita’s Farm’ later; we feel really proud of what we have achieved together.
There’s such a rich history of farming in this area, and we are literally on the fringes of, almost inside the city of Sydney. Most people have no idea how much we grow here.
There are a lot of people having debates about residential versus agricultural land in the Sydney Basin. But my take on it is that it’s good to have balance; people living and farming in proximity to each other is the way it’s meant to be!
I love that we can grow so close to our customers, how often can you say that you are cooking with produce that comes from 20 minutes away!
Speaking of cooking, when we’re not growing food, we’re definitely cooking and eating it together.
Mum cooks a lot of different foods. With her background in health and nursing, she her emphasis on cooking has always been really simple, about letting the flavour and nutrients in our vegetables take centre stage.
We’re always eating very healthy foods – sometimes I crave a pizza but mostly it’s all good! Just this morning for example I was feeling a bit stressed and tired (Fridays are a big day of picking and packing for the weekend markets) so she dug up some fresh ginger from the farm and made me ginger fried rice for breakfast because, as she says, ‘ginger is good for stress and for women, and you are both’.
Probably my favourite of all the things we grow here though is kale. I grow a lot of it so I’d want to like it!
The trick with kale is to double cook it. Most people find it a bit bitter, chewy and not all that delicious but if you chop up a big bunch, steam it first then stir fry with a little butter, garlic, salt and lemon juice or soy sauce it’s so so delicious.
What we always say to our market customers is to keep it simple. Get comfortable with some basic cooking techniques and stick with them.