A Life Among the Organics with Kirsti & Fraser


A LIFE AMONG THE ORGANICS

Fraser Bayley & Kirsti Wilkinson

By Ian Browne Shamrock News

You may well recognise Fraser and Kirsti from their many appearances on the SBS series River Cottage Australia. In the Woolooware region, I went right through my schooling years with Fraser Bayley. He was intelligent, well-liked and down-to-earth. An even brighter spark, I came to know his beautiful girlfriend Kirsti Wilkinson in later years. She too sprung from the sandy soils of the Cronulla-Woolooware region. This healthy, nature loving duo, raised a jovial brood down in the southern NSW town of Moruya, from an organic veggie farm known as Old Mill Road BioFarm. I interviewed Fraser and Kirsti about their time on River Cottage Australia and a life lived well on the fertile South Coast. “We live in a beautiful part of the world where taking responsibility for your own food supply is completely achievable.”

How long have you lived in the Moruya region?

We moved down here in Sep 2002. I based myself here and worked away on jobs. Kirsti still had her own Sports Therapy business in the Shire and came down every couple of weeks.

Did you grow vegetables organically from the get go?

No. Our motivation to grow was our enjoyment of good food. We found it hard to find good fresh veg in our local town at that time. We just made the assumption that perhaps it was because the rural people grew their own, and there was no demand to stock good food in the shops. And with that ‘epiphany’ we started with a little backyard patch and a few chooks. Not having ever had a garden in our independent lives, this was a steep learning curve. Once we had started though we found we enjoyed it. We liked improving our knowledge and technique, and in seeking out that kind of info on the internet, at the library, in books or from other growers. We soon realised how broken our food system is, how degraded our land has become, and once you go there it’s difficult for us to stick our heads in the sand. We wanted to do something about it. We thought that the simplest way was to just grow good food and to try and assist colleagues to do the same, and then provide that good food to our community.

Describe your relationship to the host of SBS’s River Cottage Australia -Paul West- and how you both came to be part of the popular television series.

My Old Nan introduced me to the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall UK version of River Cottage. She said I’d like him as we were doing the same kind of thing. Nan also lived in that part of the world for a while and enjoyed pointing out places she knew or had been. Anyway, someone from the production company got in touch and asked if I knew anyone who could host an Oz version. I forwarded a few names and left it at that. Later I’d heard that Tilba was to be the site for the show and it was going ahead. From there I spoke with some of the RC team from time to time, helping them find produce, and the people behind the produce. One of the crew came over one day and we were talking about fish, Australian Bass in particular. Then we got on to seafood and talked mussels. On my first appearance on the show, which was the first time I met Paul, we went diving for mussels. Paul’s a genuine bloke. What you see on TV is no act, he’s a really good communicator, a top chef who understands the issues around food production in our country. And the dad jokes are real, he’s got heaps of wince inducing one liners.

Describe a moment on the show that you enjoyed most:

Fraser: There’s no particular moment. The actual process of making TV is not that much fun. The crew and Paul were a great bunch though and I liked making those social connections with people with shared interests. I saw a bit where Paul and maybe Hugh made an Australian Salmon sashimi in nasturtium leaves. I tried it. Super simple and tasty. Now my favourite way to eat a fish that most people throw back.

Kirsti: We don’t have a TV so we haven’t seen much of the show. The bits we have seen we enjoy because we know the people, if we don’t yet know them we look forward to meeting them. People like ‘Old French Jean’. The kids like the cooking, especially the simple stuff that Paul does out in the field, and that the food in the cooking has an origin they can identify.

How has partaking on the series changed the way you do business on the property Old Mill Road BioFarm?

It hasn’t really. The show has put a bit of a spotlight on the area and definitely increased awareness of what is going on around here in the way of small scale food production. The way of life that comes with it, and the fact that we live in a beautiful part of the world where taking responsibility for your own food supply is completely achievable.

Kirsti, what has been the most enriching and fulfilling part of being a mother on a south coast rural property?

We have two children 15 months apart. It was pretty challenging when they were younger, I wanted to be a mother but I also wanted to be a farmer. Mothering won out and I stepped back from fulltime farming for the early years. Living on a property has so many benefits for a young family. They can make all the noise they want and not disturb neighbours. Drum kit, motorbikes, fishing, bike riding, etc.

I think the most fulfilling part of mothering for me has been watching the kids foster our love of growing vegetables. They may not enjoy eating all of them, but they understand how to grow vegetables. They have watched us grow the veg, season after season, and listened to us talk with other farmers at the market about what worked and what didn’t.

Fraser, what has your relationship with the local indigenous folk opened your eyes to?

I’ve only very recently made small connections with our Local Aboriginal Lands Council and a couple of Walbunga elders. The Walbunga were and still are skilled fishers, and have lived for as long as they’ve been here from the plentiful (but dwindling) coastal food larder. I hosted a panel discussion recently and it included one of the elder fishermen, and a couple of old white farmers, all three in their 70’s-80’s. Once the discussion warmed up and these typically reserved and shy people got talking, it was almost emotional to listen to them reminiscing about old times, who they worked for, who they remembered, recalling times when they all played a role in this small town, a tough community. There were jokes and laughter and it was beautiful. In this small rural backwater they had to work together. When I speak with Lee-Anne up the LALC it’s clear that community, and working together, is where it’s at. And that’s where we’re at. Working together. What form that takes is yet to reveal itself. I’d encourage anyone, anywhere, to go over to the Local Lands Council mob and just introduce yourself. Ask if there’s anything you can do. Listen and wait. Be patient. Make a cup of tea. Listen.

Kirsti, describe what you cherish most about the friends you have made while living in the Moruya region.

When we moved here in 2002, we only knew Fraser’s nan. No one else!

I found it really difficult to work on the farm and not see anyone all week. I’m a very social person and like a good chat with friends. Anyway, we didn’t know anyone then, but we soon met like-minded people and it went from there. It takes about two years to find the good ones though.

After having kids, we were kind of forced to go out more and I realised lots of women were in the same position as us with no family around to help. We started having informal kid swaps during the week, so we could work. Now the kids are 10 and 11 it’s much easier, they are pretty self-reliant. My local friends have great gardens and can cook really well. Better than eating out and it’s mostly real food from people we know. It’s great to work a day outside and then visit friends, or have friends over and eat well. It makes for a good way of life.

I do meet up socially with lots of women producers around the area. Bakers, dairy farmers, market gardeners, beef growers, fermenters. We bounce ideas around and just generally support each other’s efforts. It’s a top spot to be a woman farmer at the moment. There’s so much support from the immediate community, along with a growing ‘small farmer community’ on social media.

Fraser, what does your belief in living harmoniously with the environment bring to your business, and what are the benefits your customers reap?

Longevity. If we look after what we’ve got here, we (us, and whoever comes after us, the future “we”) will still be producing good food for decades. We’ve all got to have a much longer vision, longer than our lifetime. Our customers eat well. And that’s gold. When you get people waving you down in the street and telling you how their kids only eat our carrots, and what meal they made with our spinach, and how delicious it was, it takes the way of life we’ve chosen to another level.

Has there been a crop that just wouldn’t yield, and what did you do to overcome this?

We talk to other growers. We ask the farmer connections we’ve made through social media or we read the books on the shelf. Sometimes we just consider not growing it, and then figure out if there’s something we can grow better, something that we can replace it with. Some things like peppers are the nut we haven’t yet cracked, but we still persist, and that’s just all about getting better and continuing to learn.

Are you both hooked on living organically in Moruya? What will Old Mill Road BioFarm- look, smell & feel like- in years to come?

We’ll be here for a long while yet. There’s many opportunities even on a small farm like ours. Vertical integration and complementary enterprises where the surplus yield from one aspect feeds the input requirement of the other. A simple example might be where poultry for eggs provide fertility for the veg, the wonky, split, or just excess veg, goes to supplement the feed ration for the poultry, and as part of the crop rotation further supplementary feed can be grown. Once you start putting your mind to that closing of energy loops, then enterprises of a scale that could support a wage, while having no detrimental impact on other farm enterprise but actually enhancing those enterprises, can be considered. Mushrooms, apiary, fish farming, pork, beef, poultry integration, nut trees, grain growing, on site butchery and commercial kitchens, could all be possible.

It’s all about good food. And that goes to the crux. How fulfilling it is to share good food with good company, and we all do it, whether you’re poor, or ridiculously wealthy. Almost all cultures have this ritual as core to their structure.

Ian Browne......"check out my living Off The Grid in the Northern Rivers" https://independent.academia.edu/IanBrowne

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