Swapping their inner city lives for an 18 hectare agricultural property perched high above of shores of Gerringong, Fiona and Adam Walmsley of Buena Vista Farm understand firsthand that making a tree change is no easy feat. Now producing a range of free-range meat, chemical-free vegetables and wholefoods including raw honey, fresh bread and fermented sauerkraut, theirs is a true success story.
We sat down with Fiona and Adam, as featured in The Illawarra Cookbook, and asked their advice for those considering becoming a local food producer in their region.
Be prepared to take a risk
FW: “There is never a sensible time to start. At no point, if you think about it in a systematic and logical way, is it ever going to make perfect sense to jump out of a sensible city job into a risky, agricultural venture in a new community. You’ve just got to find the courage to say, ‘you know what? I think this is going to work. And, if it doesn’t, at least I’ll eat well in the process’. Everybody will have a different scenario, and their own challenges. But every example has a solution to it – you just have to find out what fits your model best.”
Make sure its a passion project
AW: “We had a couple of clear goals. We wanted to live on the farm, and we both wanted to be able to derive income from it. That, straight away, had us invested with the financial pragmatism of it, needing to find a way to earn a living and feed the family. In saying that, we had to work out what we had passion and energy for. We tried some things, and they didn’t float our boat, and others that we really felt positively about. If you’re going to work at something seven days a week, you need to like it.”
Grow your own market
AW: “When we first started here, there were weekend markets, but they were changing location each week. It can be really disruptive as producers. So Fiona joined a committee, and got the Kiama Farmers’ Markets up and running, which is on a weekday, for three hours in the afternoon. We found that it started to change buying behaviour in the region, that people would come to the markets first and see what was available, and then top up their produce from the supermarket. That’s made a big difference for us in terms of efficiency of time, freeing up the weekends to run workshops and other initiatives that are important to diversifying our business.”
Take people along for the journey
AW: “Fiona started blogging long before we made the move, and was telling the story of our transition. That built up quite a loyal readership, and translated into other avenues, like the Facebook page. It was important for building our customer base, and for creating a dialogue. We told people when a fox has eaten all our chickens, or when we’d broken water pipes, or when we harvested an amazing crop. People really enjoy hearing about these stories.”