The Transparent Farmer…….sustainable, small-scale agriculture..

“A triple line approach is not something you’d normally hear in the farming world, but this young husband and wife team have developed a system which may one day change the way the future farms.”

Jamie Durie

“A triple line approach is not something you’d normally hear in the farming world, but this young husband and wife team have developed a system which may one day change the way the future farms.” – JAMIE DURIE

James Gerald’s has an IT and marketing background and spent many years in the corporate world developing and managing large scale marketing platforms and loyalty systems for retailers throughout Asia.  His wife, Katie has a graphic design degree but worked in early childhood education at her mother’s international kindergartens in Thailand.

Both Katie and James have lived in Europe and Asia for many years and been exposed to a wide range of food cultures and developed a keen interest in the stories behind food, how it was grown or made and the people behind the products.  This love of food led them to start dreaming of being producers themselves one day.

“We have always been concerned about issues such as sustainability, reducing food miles and buying locally.  While there is nothing new about these issues, because of our business backgrounds we are very interested in bringing a level of sophistication and action to create solutions to these problems. That way we can encourage more people to get involved and enjoy the benefits of a sustainable and local food system.

We were fortunate enough to find a beautiful 105-acre property in Tyalgum in northern NSW, so when the opportunity arose this was our chance to apply our passion and knowledge to something we feel strongly about, namely sustainable small-scale agriculture.  We started developing the farm infrastructure in August 2017 and our first crops were planted in February this year.” – James & Katie

What is the Green Cauldron Farm all about?

Green Cauldron Farm has been established as a research and development hub to realise our goal of showcasing our own produce and products. In addition, we aim to support and promote local farmers and producers in our area as well. Eventually we hope to replicate this model in other areas around Australia.

We are more than just producers because our farm philosophy is behind everything we do.  While not everything we produce will be grown on our farm it’s important that we have an intrinsic knowledge of all the horticultural and production processes so we can adapt and utilise them in other ways for the benefit of everyone who is part of the food production chain.

We want to educate, encourage and inspire people to understand the importance of sustainable agriculture and hopefully convince some to join the emerging new generation of small-scale farmers.

Why do you think it’s so important to have a decentralised food system?

We believe a decentralized food system is the best way to produce food in the future as it uses less energy, provides better food security, and the produce has better nutritional value.

Agriculture today is a very sophisticated and highly technical industry, but because of its scale it often misses some of the benefits of smaller scale and decentralised production.

For example, produce from smaller farms is usually sold locally, reducing the amount of food miles they travel. Practices such as smaller spaces between growing rows (because we don’t use tractors in our beds) means fewer weeds, higher yields and no reliance on harmful chemicals.

We want to show people that they should not only buy in-season food from local producers as much as possible but learn some of the practices of small-scale farming so they can generate their own local food systems at their homes and communities as well.

While some may argue that large centralized farming practices have their place in our society, we believe there is room for everyone to be a small-scale farmer, to some degree, and benefit from the outcomes on many levels.

Do you think most farmers in Australia are open to transitioning into more sustainable farming practices, and regenerative agriculture?  If not, why?

We think it’s about educating everyone about the different farming systems and the inherit benefits and risks associated with each system.  As we learn more about the importance of soil health and how our current chemical- dependent agricultural paradigm is unsustainable we will see a transition to more regenerative practices.  The lure of the current farming paradigm is that it’s a well thought out and predictable system.  The inputs are well defined and, for the most part, so are the outputs.  The challenge for us is to translate small-scale regenerative practices into successful and repeatable business models that farmers can adopt with confidence.  That is the main focus on our farm.  We want to develop the tools and practices to show how sustainable and regenerative agriculture can be both good for the environment and for the bottom line!

Most farmers are multi-generational and are passionate about what they produce, so any practice that allows them to create better outcomes will always be of interest to them.  We are slowly seeing farming in western cultures become more sustainable with large-scale organic and free-range farms becoming more widespread.

Many years ago, the market wasn’t aware or didn’t value these types of products, but now they do, so farmers will continue to adapt to meet these demands.  We see a bright future ahead for sustainable agriculture.

With all the doom and gloom in the press about the drought and how our poor farmers are suffering, do you think people will be discouraged from getting into even small-scale farming?

Farming is difficult but it is also very rewarding so there will always be interest in food production. Also, food is a constant – we always need it, but changes in climatic conditions will always vary, even more so with issues surrounding climate change.  Our goal is to try to reduce the risks associated with farming.   We want to prove to those who might be considering a career (or passionate hobby) in farming that there are proven business models that will lead to successful outcomes.  We have shown that through good farm planning and regenerative agricultural practices, we can start to mitigate the risks that climate change presents.  We plan to use appropriate technologies and information from our data collection activities to create resilient systems to help farmers better manage the ever-changing environment. 

We believe the main advantage of being a small-scale farm is flexibility and the ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment.  If the environment (both climate and market) is constantly changing, then the farm that can adapt to these changes will be the farm that survives and thrives!

What is your vision for the future and what would you like to achieve?

We’re passionate about teaching people that they can engage in sustainable food production with limited land and sometimes limited resources and thereby transform the current agricultural paradigm into a more decentralised and collaborative structure.

Our vision is to make practices such as organic regenerative farming and other sustainable methods accessible enough to be attractive to both new and seasoned farmers at the micro-scale (urban farming) all the way up to larger commercial farms.

It is important that the models we develop not only consider the financial profitability as well as the social and environmental profitability.  Our “triple bottom line” approach ensures we create farms that are truly sustainable.

Katie and James Gerald

Through smart use of technology and communication tools, small scale farmers are in a position to set prices to reflect the individual character and origin of their food. This is something large farmers cannot do even though people are increasingly willing to pay for regional authenticity of their food.  By creating strong brands around local produce we are able to “de-commodify” the produce we grow and create added value for consumers.  Our customers, from the market shopper to the executive chef, want to know where their food comes from and who has grown it and are willing to pay more for that knowledge and transparency.  We believe strongly in “transparency farming!”

If you could get one message out there to everyone, what would it be?

We have one message:  The future is in food innovation.

Firstly, we need to innovate in the way we grow and market the food we produce.  For example, we grew flowers to provide an integrated pest management (IPM) solution for our other crops, but this quickly turned into a business supplying edible flowers to restaurants and caterers. We saw an opportunity and pursued it, which has now become BLOOM Edible Flowers.  We also employ a whole host of innovative tools and methods on the farm to increase yield and improve efficiency.

Secondly, we need to innovate to build resiliency. This is especially true during the tougher times or when things (usually weather) go wrong.  Value adding is the main innovative strategy for building resilience. We reduce food waste and utilise unsellable foods, such as cosmetically imperfect produce that buyers don’t want, and we turn them into products such as kimchi, jams and pickles. 

Thirdly, we need be innovative in the way we communicate information to the market. A switch to a more sustainable and organically based food system will be a social change as much as an environmental one. Through using social media and by producing interesting content we can engage with a wider audience and begin to educate the public about the need for change.

We still have a way to go but altering the perception of food can be achieved through better information, better education and creatinga wave of behavioural change to help propel this movement.