As we hoped might happen, we were happily directed to our first unplanned farm-stay at a little place called “Ruffy”, about 2 hours north of Melbourne.
Thanks to Chris from Green Onions, who told Michael about one of their suppliers, saying if you want to see farms, you should definitely see that one – they grow the best peaches. And he didn’t just mean for the area, or last season – he meant the best. Ever.
So Chris gave us their contact details and Michael put in a call. After lots of discussion about good practices for farming and living today, and much reassurance that Michael was indeed not trying to sell them something, we were invited along for a visit and to pitch our tent for a while. An invitation to ‘Ruff it’.
Driving into the area reveals beautiful horse stud flats and hilly green pastures. The farm – Mill Springs Farm – belongs to Adrian and Valda Martin, who come from a long line or farmers and orchardists on both sides. Valda welcomes us in for a good old country cup of tea before heading up to the orchard to meet Adrian and having a look around.
The farm’s main produce is bio-dynamically grown fruit – think beautiful stone fruit, quinces, apples and boysenberries. They also grow olives for oil, sheep for meat, have free range laying hens and are delving into grain.
Everything on the farm is grown biodynamically. specifically to the demeter standard of biodynamics which, analagous to the off shoot of dialects from a common language, holds a particular way of applying the biodynamic principles Rudolf Steiner indicated nearly 100 years ago. The Martins have been using this method for about 20 years now.
Here is a little excerpt from the biodynamic manual Adrian gave us to read:
The [demeter bio-dynamic] system is not simply a replacement of synthetic chemicals and artificial fertilisers with ‘organic’ substitutes. Instead the farmer must learn to think and work biologically.
When I asked why they chose biodynamics, different answers emerge. Valda says it’s because they had seen the effects of chemical use and therefore looked for something different to the conventional practice. Adrian says it’s because of the simplicity – it is how people used to farm before industrialisation. He likes the fact you can do it yourself without relying too heavily on technology or buying inputs.
Oh, and the fact that it works – they are steadfast and serious in explaining the unmistakably good results they have seen in things like:
- product quality & taste (evidenced by the religious-like patronage they receive)
- farm recovery times after harsh conditions – (they seem to be the first to spring back to life, probably owing to next on the list:)
- soil quality & life and
- decreased water requirements – (several reasons but one stand out for me was that trees are grown such that they source water and nutrients as needed from healthy soil, rather than the traditional overfeeding of fertiliser which results in a thirsty tree and more water consumption)
As well as taking the time out to chat with us, the Martins very kindly offer us more than we could have hoped for in the way of facilities, including some land to perch on for a few days. It is a beautiful place to stay – with trees, life and birdsong rounding it out.
I really enjoyed the way things unfolded there: Michael and I each found something to help with; Emma flowed between farm activities and contented alone time and we got to know the family a little more through tea, chooks and conversations.
Chris described Adrian as just one of the most genuine people you will meet, I wholeheartedly agree. What a good old fashioned country farmer – quiet, but kind to the core, and full of common-sense wisdom. Valda, his wife of several decades, is quick to point out that Adrian doesn’t go on a lot about things (skyting, as they call it), and is overly humble about his level of knowledge. He obviously makes up for it with his openness – all you need do is ask him a question.
Valda is remarkable in her own right. Generous with a no-nonsense attitude and sharp as a tack. She uses her passion for needle & thread to bolster several charity projects, including hospital and prison projects for support and rehabilitation. As we look at her lifetime of crafting and contributions I realise just how much traditional arts and crafts can be a vehicle for healing, purpose and community.
Like most farmers, they work hard – and mother nature throws a spanner in the works regularly. So why do they choose this difficult life? And why is there such a renewed interest in joining them? My own suspicion is because it’s an honest profession which provides a real and tangible connection to the world we live in. For Adrian, it seems there is a satisfaction and purpose inherent in growing things for others. He says he gets pleasure from growing the best fruit possible. And he has no plans to leave – intent on continuing until his body gives up.
I don’t think the market will have any problem with that either – apparently demand is always growing and, uncharacteristically, Adrian offers up his opinion on why: he puts it down to the young mothers of Melbourne searching out better food for their children. That’s heartening – I would love to see demand for responsibly farmed food become the social norm. Here’s hoping…
This experience left me feeling incredibly grateful. Firstly, as you might expect, grateful for seeing their example in farming – Adrian certainly made a good case for skipping ‘organic’ all together and going straight to biodynamics. But surprisingly, even more grateful for having just met them and their family – it instilled in me something that Michael already had a healthy faith for – the good nature of people. I felt like they were good people trying to do good things. And they met us as strangers, showing great generosity and openness. Thank you!
Happy Farming. Happy Eating.