It’s a Friday and Tim and Deri-Anne Wyatt have been up since 3am to deliver vegetables to Melbourne chefs and organic shops. When they returned from the city they caught up on some office paperwork and then they were back in the paddocks to help their small staff organise their day and get ready for Saturday’s farmers’ market.
It’s sunny but cool – a typical autumn day in this part of Central Victoria. Angelica Organic Farm is a highly productive two-hectare property near Daylesford, 90 minutes from Melbourne. It crams a lot in for its size, producing up to 30 different certified organic vegetables, including garlic, potatoes, beetroots, carrots, tomatoes, salad greens, fennel, cauliflower, broccoli and zucchini.
Seeds of success
The Wyatts started farming 10 years ago with a vegetable, tomato and herb market garden, specialising in garlic. Tim is a chef by trade – with a bit of building maintenance thrown in – but they were both keen to farm so they took the leap, starting with a very small patch, some seeds and a poly tunnel. Twelve months down the track they’d outgrown the farm and looked for something bigger that could provide them with a living.
Now they’re award-winning farmers – gold medal recipients at the ABC delicious. Produce Awards in 2010, medallists in 2014 and finalists in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Tim says, “We like having the connection with the land. I’ve always grown vegetables wherever I’ve lived. I read a lot about biodynamics, organics and some permaculture, and have always grown organically.
“Farming is what I want to do. It’s what I love. I love having my hands in the dirt, seeing things grow, and showing off produce and selling to people knowing that it’s clean and good for them. We’re doing it for the planet, ourselves and the community.”
Tim and Deri-Anne also sell at Melbourne farmers’ markets each Saturday, which means they can work up to 80 hours a week.
They consider themselves soil farmers rather than vegetable farmers and try to reduce their inputs. “If you look after your soil and rotate vegetables, use green manures, apply compost, test soil regularly and learn to understand what you’re looking at so you know what you need to put in, it helps to eliminate a lot of the inputs you need to bring onto the farm,” Tim says.
As their enterprise gets bigger, he admits it’s harder to grow the vegetables exactly as they would like on the current property because there’s a lot of demand on the available space. Any certified organic vegetable farmer will tell you weeding is a significant job and it’s no different on Angelica Organic Farm. Keeping on top of weeds is mostly a manual task, however, they also consider weeds to be valuable nutrient recyclers. If you use them as ‘green manure’ before they set seed and spread, weeds help to bring nutrients from deep in the soil to the surface.
Certified organic boosts sales
Certified with Australian Certified Organic, the Wyatts’ business is independently audited on site every year to make sure it adheres to the strict requirements in the Australian Certified Organic Standard. They don’t use GM seed or synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. They are also required to maintain biodiversity for wildlife on the farm.
“Being certified organic is a big deal for us, especially having the Australian Certified Organic Bud logo; it’s so well recognised nowadays. Our sales wouldn’t be as great if we just said we were ‘chemical free’,” says Tim.
Certification gives them a form of authentication. Deri-Anne says some of their customers know them and understand how they farm but a lot of customers they deal with now, and those they will sell to in the future, don’t.
She says, “It’s the only way you can define yourself. It defines that we’re growing food authentically without any toxic synthetic inputs and distinguishes us from other growers.”
The price is right
The Wyatts are comfortable with their prices, which can sometimes be the same as supermarkets’, and overall they don’t believe their produce is expensive.
Tim says, “There’s a perception that organic is much dearer. Sure you can go to a green grocer and buy conventional potatoes for one dollar a kilo, but you’ve got to understand what’s been done to them to get them down to that price – and is the farmer making money or just covering their costs? Is it really that sustainable to buy potatoes at one dollar a kilo?”
Big – but don’t overdo it
“Farming has been a struggle,” says Tim. “We’ve been a bit naive and thought we could do this and do that. We build and get better but to make a decent living and to have the staff (one full time and two part time), that’s just enough for now.
“We don’t want to get too big, especially with the way we do things. When you overstretch yourself, that’s when you always have problems with consistency and quality.”
Within five years, they’d like to be on a 20-hectare property with some animals but still with a focus on vegetables. A bigger farm would allow them to do more frequent crop rotations – particularly to rest large areas of soil to improve soil health – and would reduce the pressures of having to replant straightaway.
The Wyatts are keen tweeters. Deri-Anne, who is also vice president of the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association, is on Twitter daily to connect with other growers and customers. For them, it’s a useful way of getting important and helpful information. “It’s also quite isolating being a farmer. Even though there’s a thriving town nearby, day to day it’s isolating in terms of contact, so Twitter has been good for my spirits at times – for a sense of connectedness and community,” Deri-Anne says.
You can find Angelica Organic Farm’s delicious produce at farmers’ markets at Carlton, Collingwood Children’s Farm, Boroondara Hawthorn and Slow Food Melbourne’s Abbotsford farmers’ market. Or send Deri-Anne a tweet @angelicaorganic
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