One of Australia’s great organic pioneers passed away late 2013. Megan Cramb commemorates Don McFarlane’s achievements and his tireless work to spread the message about the benefits of organics.
Don McFarlane, former director on the Australian Organic board, was respected throughout the organic world for his enthusiasm, passion and dedication in sharing organic agriculture with anyone who was fortunate to meet him. Born in 1927, Don began his career as a farmer after the Second World War, leaving Gatton College to work on the family farm. He matriculated at 22 in agriculture and veterinary science via correspondence and at 26 married his wife Glenys. They raised six children.
Don’s son Stephen McFarlane says winning the Nuffield Farming Scholarship in 1962 prompted Don to convert to organic agriculture. During an intensive farm study tour to the United Kingdom as part of the scholarship, he was introduced to a number of well-known agriculturalists and organic farmers and he returned “pretty much converted”.
Don became a leader of biological farm tours to the United States and through promoting the practices of Sally Fallon, Joel Salatin, Jerry Brunetti and outstanding practitioners of organic farming and sustainable agriculture in Australia.
“I think making people aware of the possibilities of organic farming and the organic movement was his strong suit and a number of people were encouraged to start organic farming because of him. Over the years he probably took about a thousand people to visit organic farms. They mainly went to the United States but they also went on one to New Zealand and Tasmania. The biggest tour he ever took had two buses with 78 people,” Stephen says.
Don was elected to the board of Australian Organic (then Biological Farmers of Australia) as one of seven directors in 1991 and remained on the board for 12 years. Fellow director Dennis O’Leary of United Organic Meats remembers how Don took advantage of each opportunity to share the message of organics, at a time when the industry had to be promoted at a grassroots level.
“Don was quite happy to chat to anyone who would listen; he was so genuine in what he did. One night after one of our meetings, an SBS news crew was in the area and he went straight to them to talk,” Dennis says.
“A lot of people hadn’t heard about the organic industry and that’s how he spread the word. No matter what the product was, he didn’t want to see any chemical residues that would affect people’s health.”
In 2006, at 79, Don received an Organic Federation of Australia Lifetime Achievement Award for his efforts in promoting the industry. Stephen says Don continued to promote organic agriculture even throughout his later years by making trips to Brisbane’s Northey Street City Farm organic market where he interacted with consumers and sold books from the United States on issues that concerned him.
“He was always concerned about the quality of food and how the average person doesn’t get the right information about what’s in their food. He was fairly concerned about genetic modification and believed that if food is refined in any way, it’s not as good. He did sell books but it was more the interaction that he enjoyed during his time there,” Stephen says.
Don is survived by his children, David, Elspeth, Stephen, Fraser, Andrew and Cameron. Both Stephen and Fraser continue to work on the family farm where they grow organic grain and cattle.