Words Karen Locke Photos Honey Atkinson
Where BRIGHTSIDE PRODUCE, Captains Flat, NEW SOUTH WALES
During our ACT road trip late last year, we spent an overcast day with Emily Yarra and Michael Kobier from Brightside Produce, following them around their hillside market garden, listening intently as they told us the story of how they found themselves here, growing food in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.
This hard-working pair are gutsy, spirited and have braved their bumpy, much-less travelled path with a steely determination. Despite only being on the land for two years, and having to overcome less-than-ideal growing conditions, their market garden is thriving.
During our interview Emily was refreshingly open about the multitude of challenges they face as small scale farmers, but was also quick to point out that it's this business model that allows them to fulfil their dream of living and working on the land...
In the Southern Tablelands of rural New South Wales, nestled between the beautiful Tinderry Mountains to the West and Tallaganda State Forest to the East, sits a little market garden with a million dollar view.
Emily Yarra (31) and Michael Kobier (33) run Brightside Produce, a small but thriving farm providing seasonal, chemical free produce to discerning chefs and families throughout the Canberra region.
The young couple purchased the property only two years ago, and have worked tirelessly since then to create a business capable of supporting themselves and their bubbly 10-month-old son Felix.
Wandering the paths of their garden we’re serenaded by birds and the rumbling of thunder clouds circling the mountains all around us, threatening to drench us with what Emily refers to as ‘money that falls from the sky.’
While their property spans 128 acres, the market garden sites snuggly on just a quarter acre of land on a small plateau.
Standing at the garden gate the view before us almost seems painted by an artist’s brush. Vegetables grow in near perfect rows in various heights and differing shades of green and red, while rows of flowering Queen Anne’s Lace and Coriander gone to seed are alive with hundreds of bees.
While the weather during our visit was mild, Emily is quick to point out that the farm is situated 950 metres above sea level in a mountainous, cool-temperate climate that can be unpredictable and provide extremely difficult growing conditions.
Both Emily and Michael grew up nearby and chose the property for it’s proximity to family. ‘I guess we didn’t have much experience or know what we should be looking for in a block of land. This was the first property we looked at and we just thought it was beautiful. Everybody was telling us we were crazy to try and grow out here, so ever since then we’ve just been determined to prove them wrong,’ laughs Emily.
While they both started out on very different career paths - Emily studied law at the Australian National University and Michael worked as a sheet metal apprentice - the couple’s interest in farming grew during their time travelling around North America and Europe, volunteering on organic farms.
'I think our time overseas, working on different farms and staying in small communities that were really off-beat, showed us that there is another way to live. You don’t have to choose a 9-5 job and a big mortgage. You can still live a full, healthy, happy life by choosing another path.'
Upon their return to Australia Emily worked as a Stephanie Alexander kitchen garden teacher at a local school while the couple took care of her ageing grandparents and set about growing their own food in an ample backyard patch.
‘I think running the garden at the school, doing permaculture courses, and growing in the backyard at my Grandpa’s was what fuelled my love of growing vegetables. And then later on, working on a nearby organic farm really helped us to learn all those scaling up techniques and little efficiencies that you need to know in order to make money from farming.’
The couple are well known locally for supplying heirloom vegetables such as radishes, lettuce, asian greens and baby turnips to restaurants in the Canberra region, as well as weekly boxes of vegetables to families throughout the area.
‘We also started attending a local farmer’s market recently though its taking me a while to get my head around the huge output of energy involved. I spend weeks growing, watering and caring for plants, then early on the morning of the market I spend six hours picking and I wash and bag several kilos of salad, and then I drive into town with a screaming baby because I got him at the wrong point in his nap cycle, and when I get there I dress the table and put out the bunting and you’d think that would be enough, but it’s really just the beginning. Then you have to put on your apron and tell your story and be the quaint little farmer and try to win people over. Sometimes it can feel almost insulting to have to work that hard and then still have to put out my peacock tail and parade around to get people to buy my lettuce!’
‘Selling to restaurants and selling box subscriptions is a different process because we only pick to order. But with the markets it’s like this roulette - you think maybe I’ll sell 40 bunches of radishes and so you pick that many, but you might only sell half of them.’
The young couple have big plans for their little piece of paradise and are working towards farming regeneratively on the entire block.
‘We’re managing our business and the property using holistic management principles and going forward are looking at the potential for perennial crops and rotational grazing of animals.’