Mary Valley farm small but intensive

FRESH: Elaine Bradley with some of the greens used in Mary Valley Country Harvest fresh produce boxes.
FRESH: Elaine Bradley with some of the greens used in Mary Valley Country Harvest fresh produce boxes.

In the continuing series of 'know your local farmer' we take a look at what is happening on a small scale farm.

BETTER known for her work with revitalising agriculture in the Mary Valley Elaine Bradley is also a small farmer or very intensive gardener in her own right.

Elaine along with husband Steve Burgess and young family moved to the steep Dagun property 22 years ago from Western Australia.

The property established in 1905 had grown various small crops, bananas, pineapples and still had an area of remnant riparian rainforest along a gully.

The gully was retained and about two thirds of the property is currently under a conservation agreement.

Farming sustainably was the aim, and with both Elaine and Steve having some degree of farming experience a range of small crops was grown while they sorted out just what to do.

Elaine said that they were selling produce in the local area and it was a valuable learning experience in marketing what you grow.

"I did a year long TAFE Cert 111 course in organic agriculture," she said. "Along with 30 other people who owned some land that they would be able to farm."

Elaine said that the course taught the easy stuff like how to grow the crops, but was very short on information in how to sell the crops.

"Growing is easy, selling is the hard part," she said. "In an effort to help with marketing, a small group started Dagun Markets using the people who attended the Cert111 course as suppliers."

The timing was good as the Rattler was just starting.

At this point in the talk with Elaine, Steve came along for his 'two bobs' worth and this included the opinion that 'get big or get out' does not work in the Valley.

"It is important to determine the scale of growing," he said. "We still have not worked it out and maybe never will."

"Farming is a lot of desperation and sheer bloody-mindness, not to give in but to keep trying things that may work."

When possible Elaine and Steve employ a young, but has to be enthusiastic, post school person to work and gain practical intense, small farming experience for themselves.

A lot has been written about the Traveston Dam fiasco and this virtually stopped all farming in that region of the Valley.

When a survey conducted after the dam was stopped indicated that agriculture was the choice of what to do in the Valley, Elaine applied for and received a Churchill Fellowship to see what places in the United States were doing to revitalise small farm areas. This led to the markets restarting and the establishment of Mary Valley Country Harvest Cooperative.

Elaine and Steve's garden is made up of a number of 25 m long x 1m wide raised beds across the slope.

"We grow about 30 or 40 different crops," she said. "Some we can value add, but you have to be a bit ahead of the public wanting new crops."

"TV cooking shows are a good guide to what is going to be the next popular thing."

Topics:  mary valley rural

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