Category Archives: 2015

October, 2015

Leni Teng definitely has a way with plants – a nurturing, positive, practical and clearly successful way to grow vegetables and herbs. High energy and passion seem to benefit the plants she propagates with her husband, Paul, and family of four young children at Willow Grove.

Their five acres of organically grown vegetables & seedlings are sold through farmers markets and at the farm gate. Six years ago, when looking for an income from working at home, Leni began germinating vegetable seedlings for sale at markets. Any plants left over from the markets were planted out in paddocks and grown for sale as mature vegetables.

Leni stated that, years on, the demand for organic produce is so great, they can’t keep up. They grow up to 60,000 plants per annum, all sewn by hand. A seed saving strategy is practised, where seeds are dried for the future.

Their rich Gippsland soil is nourished with home made compost, fish emulsion, worm casings and a special compost brew. Wheat is grown as a manure crop prior to pumpkins and potatoes being planted.

90% of the weeding of paddocks is also by hand, based on a view that the impact of machines creates disharmony for plants. Mulched hay and animal manures are used to minimise weeds. Plants are monitored for indications as to needs for lime, nitrogen and other nutrients.

In the hot house, Lena’s domain, and where all seedlings are started, music is played for both plants and workers, mainly classical, soft music. Outside, Paul does the paddock work by tractor. However, when it comes to planting out the seedlings in rows, the whole family works together.

Their own food garden is close to the house for accessibility, with self sufficiency and independence being important living principles for the family.

Outlets for their special produce include Yarragon market, fruit shops and greengrocers in Melbourne via a wholesale co-operative, Baw Baw Food hub and Christies at Traralgon. Further, by arrangement Leni provides a soil and planting consultancy for private gardens.

September, 2015

Have you ever driven a tractor down memory lane?

This was the feeling of several WOF farming women when they recently visited Community College Gippsland (CCG). Located on the edge of farmland at the back of West Gippsland Hospital, the attractive, treed campus has links to the region’s education, agriculture and culture.

Twenty years ago, the campus offered mainly courses to rural folk. One course focussed on tractor maintenance and safe operation. Along with other studies such as calving management some WOF members valued their guided, practical learning experiences.

Now, in 2015, the campus is over forty years old. Various organisations have provided education from the site. The learning now offered by CCG has been expanded to include not only agriculture and horticulture, but equine studies, business, aged care training, beauty, hairdressing, information technology and a special, select entry senior secondary course. As a ‘RTO’, registered training organisation, CCG delivers a wide variety of programmes.

Its current student population attends one of three campuses – Warragul, Pakenham and Leongatha. Some students are there for a career change, with the oldest student being 72 y.o., followed by a number of keen adult learners in their fifties and sixties.

On the agricultural side, the twenty acre property grazes a small herd of red Angus cattle, using an impressively safe stock yard system. Hot houses with a climate controlled atmosphere maximise plant propagation training. Some fruit trees give opportunities for pruning demonstrations.

CCG impresses with its student and community focussed staff and courses. Short courses can be tailored on demand. The Warragul campus is a regional asset, as are students who move on with practical skills. WOF West Gippsland members are proud of their past and present association with the college.

August, 2015

Potatoes, often called ‘humble’ but certainly an essential source of food nutrients, were the focus of this farm visit. Along with onions and sheep, grown for fleece and the fat lamb market, as well as agri-tourism, potatoes on the Murphy Farms at Thorpdale are part of a large scale farming success. The diversity of activities reflects a keenness to maximise climate, soil type and market demands.

The Murphy families of Thorpdale are expert potato growers. Val Murphy explained that of the 250 known varieties, they grow up to five, with Golden Delight and Sebago being staples.

WOF members heard how a small dairy made the transition over the decades to this significant enterprise. The acreage grew as neighbouring farms were opportunistically purchased. Apart from the two Murphy families there are also permanent and casual employees. The farm, as it expanded, has contributed to the local economy through work opportunities. Cultivation, planting, irrigating, harvesting, sorting and grading keep quite a team of people busy throughout the year.

Machinery demands a full time mechanic; sheep require a full time stockman and plenty of kelpies! Every ute seemed to have a dog on the back!

For potatoes, the busiest time for harvest and market preparation is January to June. Onions, mainly brown but some Spanish red, are harvested over February and March, stored in large sheds until the potato harvest is complete, then bagged and sold largely through local merchants who supply supermarkets. When onions and potatoes leave the property they mainly go to wholesale markets in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

The sheep are first cross Merino-Southdown-Dorsets, protected from foxes by a number of alpacas. The impressive 3 stand shearing shed was designed Murphy Farms, and built by Phil and Val’s son, Leigh Constructions, with cypress timber felled on the farm. Contract teams come in annually for the shearing. By contrast with the vegetable produce, the fat lambs are sold directly by the Murphys through local farmers markets.

Val was keen to ensure that the WOF visitors left with bags full of onions and potatoes, and with sound advice about storage. Val is an accomplished communicator, with her popular ‘potato tours’ attracting groups from afar.

July, 2015

An insatiable love of gardening, a concern about food miles and a passion for local: just some of the drivers behind a food hub founded in Korumburra. WOFWG members learned so much from their July visit to this community enterprise.

Grow Lightly Connect is a not-for-profit company benefitting the local community. It was established through the vision and skills of Gil and Meredith Freeman, formerly teachers from Melbourne. Their retirement to the country led to their becoming leaders in the practical application of the principles of organic horticulture and the reduction of food miles. They believe in the importance of fresh, seasonal food being available locally, with minimal environmental costs to produce. They also value assisting the local economy.

The South Gippsland Shire has given support with the lease of a central building at a reasonable rental. Philanthropic foundations have helped fund amenities to improve the centre. Now this is a hub for the collection, packaging and distribution of excess fruit and vegetables grown in the area. Grow Lightly is always on the lookout for growers in southern Gippsland who will be able to supply foods. To date there are about fifty such growers on the books. All food donated or sourced wholesale is grown within 80 km from Korumburra.

There is a simple motto of Clean, Fresh, Local. Further, hub members share a view that organically produced food should not be elitist and thus should be as affordable as possible.

For a fixed price per bag, purchasers receive a seasonal mix of food items, sourced from local organic growers and small scale producers. Up to forty bags per week are packed by volunteers. Thereafter there is a clever network to ensure delivery of the bags at maximum freshness.

Apart from the vegie bags and on site sale of seasonal produce the hub is expanding into workshops, newsletters and an effective website. The Freeman’s original vision now includes ideas for more innovations.

Some WOF members felt that the Grow Lightly food hub is a model which other Gippsland communities could follow.

April, 2015

WOFWG members met in April to see and hear from Gippsland dairy farmers, the Bramley family, and share farmer Wijbren de Boer. It is a tale of commitment, innovation and growth in an important rural industry.

With a science and mathematics degree Geoff Bramley taught for 30 years, at the same time, moving in 1982 to 142 acres of dairy country in Nar Nar Goon. Geoff’s dual milking and school life began with eighty cows. The herd grew so another 67 acres were soon added. Currently the farm covers 320 acres with a further 220 acres being leased.

An original dairy shed was improved to a 16 aside herringbone, with a final upgrade in 2003 to a 50 unit rotary dairy. This caters for up to 300 cows. The unit has automated feeders and cup removers. Additional improvements, for cow and handler alike, include automatic drafting gates, and computer reading of electronic ear tags for individualised rations.

Geoff added a long concrete feed pad in 2008 to hold one hundred and fifty cows. In 2014 another feed pad was built. In wet times, cows are fed silage, potato and citrus pulp, lucerne and grass hay on these pads, keeping animals and machinery from damaging paddocks.

350 cows are milked daily with calving occurring year round. AI (artificial insemination) is practised, with semen sexed to conceive heifers. AI is also used for genetic improvement of the herd. The farm achieves sufficient heifer birth rates for the 20% needed annually for herd replacement.

Wijbren de Boer and his family recently began share farming with Geoff. Wybren was born in Holland, dairied in Canada then in Australia. In 2014 when the Bramleys needed a new share farmer, Wybren joined them. He brought along his herd of stud Jerseys and some cross breeds, adding them to the Bramley Friesians.

Geoff is passionate about encouraging investment in the dairy industry and its workers’ future. He emphasised that farming needs to be sustainable for farmers, animals and the land. With herd size and quality in mind, and with clear production goals, Geoff also balances the support needed for workers in his enterprise. Coupled with an efficient, innovative shed and safe facilities this farm presents as a notable model of sustainable dairying.

 

February, 2015

Revisiting popular farming enterprises is a satisfying way to see progress with owners’ dreams. And so it was when WOF members re-inspected the new racing venue at Tynong.

Members were welcomed back in February to view the construction of the relocated Pakenham Racing Club racecourse. At the first visit, in a colder, wetter time of the year, there were no buildings, no gardens laid out and lanes of mud. Not so this time. Over 600 acres has been transformed into an attractive, functional sporting ground, complete with a wetlands area for irrigation and wildlife.

The racecourse is now out of the suburbs. There is a definite country feel about the location and the spacious surrounds. This exciting facility is due for completion in time for a grand opening. This will take place with a festive race day on Thursday 26 March. Several WOF members have already booked to attend the gala event.

While the grounds were very much a construction site on the first WOF visit, this time there was dense turf growing on the course. Contractors were installing white safety rails around the 2400m long turf track. It was a rare chance to stand on the very site, where in the near future, winning horses will pound past the post.

Within the perimeter of the turf track is a shorter track with a synthetic surface. This aims to ensure that race days scheduled in inclement weather can proceed and are not abandoned due to track conditions.

An impressively designed and constructed under-cover area, holding 142 horses in secure stalls, has been used since July 2014. Within this massive shed are facilities for farriery, veterinary care, pathology sampling, saddling up and strapping down. Daily pre-dawn training sees this building alive with determined trainers, strappers, jockeys and fit thoroughbreds.

Event manger, Ms Hayley Conn, explained the race programme planned for the current and future seasons, including proposed night races on a Thursday. Maintaining good relations with the community is another role for Ms Conn. A special pre-opening inspection is set for local residents.