Words Karen Locke Photos Honey Atkinson
Where GROW FARM FORAGE, Gerringong, NEW SOUTH WALES
It’s the people we meet that make this ‘side project’ of ours so worthwhile. From small scale farmers to radical homemakers – whoever or however they describe themselves – people from different walks of life and with vastly different backgrounds that share a common desire to make the world a better place. While they all acknowledge that their cause may seem hopeless at times, their determination to ‘be the change’ and refusal to give up is a constant source of inspiration for us.
Linda Machon from Grow Farm Forage is absolutely one of those people. She may be small in stature, but the light within her shines as bright and as big as the sun. Late last year Honey and I spent a wonderful day with her, wandering around her impressive market garden, musing about the troubles of the world, chatting and sharing her hopes for the future.
While family illness has meant that Linda had to give up her market garden earlier this year, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share her story, and in particular her insights into farm-share arrangements.
When we visited Linda she had been farming and toiling in her market garden at Buena Vista Farm in Gerringong, NSW for about 18 months.
For those of you familiar with Buena Vista, it will need little introduction, for it’s a property that’s hard to forget! The small, 18-acre organic farm by the sea is well known for their on-farm cooking school and workshops. From the old farmhouse perched atop the hillside, lush green pastures undulate gently downwards to a rocky shoreline and cliffs that meet a hazy ocean. I’m sure we weren’t the first visitors to stand gaping at the view on arrival.
A short stroll from the homestead and past a scattering of sheds and buildings, you walk through thick brush, ‘secret garden’ style, and come out into the sunlight to meet the gorgeous market garden which occupies a quarter acre of the farm’s red volcanic soil.
‘It wasn’t much more than a weed patch when I arrived,’ says Linda. ‘A very small portion of it had been used but it wasn’t really being run as a garden.’
‘I surprised myself with how well I did because I had no experience really …a couple of courses here and there, and a little bit of WWOOFing experience, but not much time spent actually running a garden,’ Linda smiles.
Linda has a fascinating, diverse background and throughout her career has worked as a chef, a veterinary nurse, in animal husbandry and retail organics, before finding herself making a living as a market gardener.
‘I’d been in hospitality and the organic food industry for a long time and I’d always wanted to be on the other end – the producing end of food. I was really more interested in working with livestock and I’d been working with pastured poultry for a couple of years when an opportunity came up through my contacts at Milkwood Permaculture.’
Adam and Fiona Walmsley from Buena Vista Farm were looking for a market gardener to operate as a plug-in enterprise, so Linda travelled down to meet them. ‘We realised that we were a good fit. It was a great opportunity to share farm on someone else’s land and create what they wanted – a market garden – which was the perfect addition to what they already had going on.’
‘I’d never been a market gardener; I was flying blind. I’m terrible at planning and I pretty much just made it up as I went along. There wasn’t one spreadsheet going on! I don’t think I was particularly good at the business side of things. I figured I’d get to that, it was really more about learning as quickly as possible about what worked, what didn’t, what I was capable of and what was going to break me.’
‘It was probably quite a unique share-farming model in that I lived on farm, I co-existed with the farm, and we had an amazing symbiotic, mutually beneficial arrangement. They were too busy to run a market garden themselves and by having me there they got help with the on-farm chores, and a supply of fresh food for their family and the farm workshops. In return I had on-site accommodation, and land that I couldn’t have afforded without going into huge debt.’
‘I think people underestimate the value that share farming can add to an existing farm or business. Not only does it mean having help and collaborating on projects and at different busy times or events during the year, it also adds value to your current offering. It would mean, for example, that customers could buy a box of produce from the same place that they’re buying their meat or their eggs.’
Linda’s story is not only inspiring, it’s testament to what can be achieved and how you can completely change your life. After all, it was only a few years earlier that Linda had been living and working in bustling Sydney. After deciding that she ‘just didn’t want to live in that lifestyle anymore’, she sold her small flat and made her great escape.
‘It was a really liberating decision. I’d taken out a crazy no-deposit home loan 10 years ago to buy the flat and then preceded to go into more debt than I’d ever had in my life. When I sold it I made enough money to pay out the loan, pay off my car and my credit card and I left Sydney completely debt free.’
‘Several years later and I’m still debt free, because I don’t have a credit card anymore and I refuse to ever have one again. Cutting up the credit cards was the best thing I ever did because it’s forced me to live within my means and to think about everything I buy – I have to really want it because I have to save for it. It’s been a very cleansing experience.’
‘My ultimate dream is to have a small flock of sheep, and to co-exist with a market garden, specialising in greens, roots, herbs and flowers. And I’d love to have a small meat and wool flock. That’s my dream farm. It will happen, I’m pretty focused on that.’
We have absolutely no doubt that it will happen Linda, and we can’t wait to come visit when it does!
Due to an illness in the family, Linda regretfully had to leave her market garden at Buena Vista Farm. She's currently living in Sydney but plans to return to farming when the time is right to do so.
Fiona and Adam from Buena Vista tell us that they are fortunate to have the 'utterly marvellous' Emmy King as their new market gardener at the farm.