Market gardening in a Woonona backyard
In 2010, Sarah and Ben Anderson sold their home, packed their bags and – with two young children in tow – set off to travel the world. After ten months working their way across farms and orchards, they returned to the Illawarra with a clear plan of action.
“Even though I had a background in retail in the organic food sector, and Ben had 20 years’ experience in environmental education, it wasn’t until our trip that the penny really dropped,” says Sarah. “We worked at so many places where people grew their own food; they planted it, picked it, prepared it and ate it. And that’s what we wanted to come home and do, not just for us but for our community, too.”
Housing an impressive 4,000 square metres in the middle of the Woonona suburbs, Popes Produce is now a bustling market garden run from Sarah and Ben’s backyard, selling everything from rockmelon and pumpkins to marigolds and calendula. Despite its natural roots, Popes Produce has taken a more modern approach when it comes to farming.
“I’m a Google grower,” laughs Sarah. “I’ve found so many peers and mentors online whom I’ve been able to ask for advice. As I don’t have that in my immediate network, to be able to connect with people who have been doing this for a lot longer than I have is so valuable.”
Sarah also harnesses the power of social media to help grow and educate her client base, which ranges from wholesale to direct customers.
“I’ll happy snap to show people how to cook with the seasons,” explains Sarah. “I make weekly vegetable boxes and depending on the time of the year – shallots, kales, rhubarbs in winter and zucchinis, tomatoes and crunchy salad mixes in summer – and share photos of what I’m cooking in the kitchen. Being so local means people can have produce picked and plated within six hours, and isn’t that just a magical thing.”