The Earlwood Farmers go to Milkwood Farm

The weekend began with a trip to Newnes in the Wolgan valley. We shared a campground with kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, goannas, ducks, magpies, crows and one very bold satin bower bird. We bathed by skinny dipping in the Wolgan river and hiked to a disused rail tunnel that is now full of glow worms.

All this was on the way to our two-day ‘Starting an Organic Market Garden’  course at Milkwood Permaculture Farm. Milkwood is working farm on a magical property in the hills somewhere south east of Mudgee. We arrived on a stormy Friday evening ready to meet people, build a community and learn amazing things. At Milkwood we camped near a garden full of produce, wild blackberry brambles, huge gum trees and transportable structures housing chickens and geese. We cleaned up in a rocket powered shower and spent the days in an incredible short course that helped us get serious about the future of Earlwood Farm.

It is difficult to summarise our experience quickly because in two days we went through every aspect of building a small market garden, from permaculture 101 and seed cultivation to harvesting and selling produce at a farmer’s market. We also learned about impact of ancient geological history on contemporary soil quality in the spectrum from high fertility (basaltic) to low fertility (rhyolitic) soil. We learned some handy maxims such as the three pillars of permaculture (“earth care, people care and fair share”), a neat one that helps you rethink how you approach fertilising your garden (“feed the soil, not the plants”) and another that encourages you think more holistically about your garden (“the garden is an organism”). We learned that organic market gardening requires more labour from management (smiley face) and that organic permaculture gardening is a life practice (much like the work of an artisan, the farmer should constantly be refining her craft and asking herself if she can do it differently and/or better). We learned that everything from the position of the sun, the direction of the prevailing wind, the average rainfall and temperature to the quality of the seed and soil and the amount of attention you pay to the nuances of each plant’s behaviour affects the quality of your produce. We ate tasty food that was the fruit of such mindful labour, mostly (if not all) grown in the Milkwood market garden and all prepared onsite by Rose. We camped out in a storm on the first night, charged by the electricity in the air we were ready for two days of study which was an incredible communal experience and we left completely invigorated and ready to return to Earlwood and begin seriously planning our own farm.

The main takeaway for us, beyond all the amazing tips and tricks for getting your garden to grow, was that we needed to become clearer about our goals and what we actually want to achieve on the Farm and then plan our work with these goals in mind. As the last post demonstrated we have proceeded in pretty much the opposite manner so far. Our “farming” has been entirely ad hoc, with much excitement and only minor success. These activities have been great for making space in our lives for the labour involved in starting an urban farm in the front and backyards of our rented house, but much more planning and labour is needed if we want to really begin to provide food for ourselves and some for market. The other takeaway was that community is essential. This farming business requires community and the help of others. On this front we think we are doing alright, with community as the foundational idea of the farm – sharing living and inviting our friends to working bees. This has had a flow on effect and we keep getting given worm farms and planter boxes and plants from friends all over Sydney.

On the way home from Milkwood we stopped into Kandos for the final day of Cementa_13 and saw Pia van Gelder perform at the golf club, camped by a lake surrounded by more blackberry brambles, we were awoken at sunrise by the dulcet tones of Liam Benson singing Video Games by Lana del Ray on an island in the middle of the lake (which I’d never heard before but it haunted by dream so significantly I [Jen] had it stuck in my head for the next week!), we bathed in the lake and wandered the streets of Kandos looking at works by many artists including Jacqueline Drinkall and Connie Anthes. We were also utterly duped into thinking Kandos was an ecotopia by Ian Millis’s fake tourism poster spruiking the former-cement town, not as the slightly creepy time capsule that it feels like, but rather as a world leader in sustainable technology and eduction.

We were almost sad to return to home. But our malaise was thwarted by the promise of yurts. The following week we engaged in a 3 day creative development lab for the Yurt Empire at 107 Projects. The lab was as invigorating as the course at Milkwood and also is supported by Milkwood! So stay tuned for more on the Yurt Empire project and more on the developments of Earlwood Farm and, excitingly, for news of our return trip to Milkwood over Easter with the other members of the Yurt Empire for the second development and Yurt building intensive!