Remember life before corona virus? We interviewed Mark Brown from PA Professional member Purple Pear Farm in Anambah NSW back in early March. Read his take on moving on from the drought, the role of community gardens and the importance of permaculture education for all ages.
Tell me about yourself!
I, Mark Brown, am privileged to manage the farm at Purple Pear and to work with Kate Beveridge to bring a model of Permaculture to people looking to ensure their future and that of their families. Our slogan of “Permaculture in Action” comes from a deep ethical perspective driven by Kate towards following the Permaculture Ethic.
I did my PDC with Bill Mollison back in the mid 1990’s at Tyalgum and have since been involved in the Local Permaculture Hunter Group as well as teaching the PDC with Faith Thomas in Dungog, and running a few Community Gardens in the Hunter Valley. Kate and I have been offering the PDC since our move to Anambah in 2006 when we also set about designing the Mandala Market Garden and developing the property as a model for small scale farming along permaculture principles. We were fortunate in the establishment of our property given the work Kate had done previously in tree planting in particular.
What was your first interaction with permaculture?
My first contact with Permaculture would be not dissimilar to many in that it was the Global Gardener series on the ABC. I think “In Grave Danger of Falling Fruit” was a specific aha moment and though it was several years till I got my act together, I decided then to look further into this crazy new way to do living.
What’s happening at Purple Pear Farm? Paint me a picture of what it looks like around now!
Purple Pear Farm has just started out from a very trying period. Over the last couple of years we have failed to get the rains we rely on and the winters have had severe frosts that we rarely if ever get. In our normally warm temperate climate we can expect winter rains and one or two light frosts but these have failed us in recent years. Summer storms and showers in Spring and Autumn round out the water needs in a reliable year. Recent good rains have bought new life to very tired gardens, trees and pasture. Plants we were able to nurse through the big dry are now producing with great potential in Capsicum and Eggplant as well as a return in Kale and some of the greens that persist such as Rocket. We are blessed also by the “weeds” such as Fat Hen and Purslane that provide a nutritious addition to meals even in the dry times.
Our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has dwindled over this period with a group of subscribers who have been with us for many years supporting us through a difficult time of low to no production and now are able to once again enjoy the bounty of the Mandala Market Garden. Weed dominance in this period of regrowth has been a challenge though we are up to such a challenge with many opportunities to make biodynamic compost from the rampant biomass.
What made you move to Maitland from Dungog? Were there any big adjustments that had to be made to your practices?
We started market gardening outside Dungog while I was supervising the Community Garden there. We were renting a beautiful garden on a property owned by Helen Graham and we found after a while that much of the food we grew was going to Maitland and most specifically the Steiner School there. We thought we could cut down food miles by growing the food on the current farm owned by Kate and run as a horse property at Anambah. The move facilitated the establishment of the Mandala Garden inspired by Linda Woodrow and her book “The Permaculture Home Garden” Going from a garden inspired by Elliot Coleman to the Mandalas was a great experience and I was keen to let the chickens do so much more of the work especially seeing as they seemed to enjoy it. It was difficult at first to get an orientation in the garden but soon we became used to the curves and the only real difficulty was finding the food on pick day for the CSA.
How has the drought affected you? What practices have you implemented to try and mitigate its effects?
The drought has been long and difficult. Feeding livestock has been such a hit on savings and keeping chickens and other vulnerable animals such as Guinea pigs alive in soaring temperatures meant huge attention to their needs. Lack of rain water has meant the cessation of production in the mandalas and gardening was confined to wicking beds. We continue to improve the water holding capacity of the soil and earthworks have seen swales and dams built to assist in holding water as high in the landscape as possible. We have also changed the types of crops we grow – such as swapping from our original “Purple King” bean for snake beans to better handle the change in weather conditions. We also include information to our subscribers on how to use some of the “weeds” we now include in the CSA shares.
Purple Pear Farm offers allotments for members of the community to grow their own food independently. What do you think of this system, is it successful?
The allotments have offered several people the opportunity to grow food in a cooperative arrangement. People working together is such a worthwhile way to share excesses and information and seeds. Several plots are taken by the Supported Employment Group MaiWel and two groups come on several days each week to grow food and take it to prepare while enjoying the open air and animal contact. Just getting hands into dirt seems to be a worthwhile activity and the benefits ensure they continue to come regularly to look after their plots. We have another young man who comes three days a week to garden and to do other work on the farm on the NDIS. Others have used the space to grow for a small CSA combining with other urban plots and a young single mum supplements her groceries with fresh food from the allotments. The drought has been hard on these participants and many have dropped out. There are now plots available. There are such possibilities for the scheme to work brilliantly given reasonable seasons.
Purple Pear Farm offers activities for kids and school groups. Why is this important? What do you want them to get out of visiting the farm?
Our tours for school groups, TAFE student and University students as well have become an important part of what we do here on the farm. From preschool and year 1 and 2 to year 9 and 11 all gain such a great insight into curriculum items from Paddock to Plate and studies on Local Food and sustainable agriculture. Regionalism and bio regions are popular aspects of tours for the older students. More and more University Students in Social Geography and sustainability are getting involved in our tours. We are keen to work with teachers to ensure the participants get the content they are seeking in line with their studies. The birthday parties continue to be popular with kids and word of mouth works a treat too!
What does 2020 have in store for Purple Pear Farm? Are there any exciting new things that are happening that we should know about?
The exciting new development for 2020 is the introduction of PDC Exchange at the farm. We are keen to support this initiative that allows people to complete their PDC through volunteering at a variety of permaculture sites (or just the one) with no up front cost but with working in exchange for the educational opportunity. We hope this provides access to this vital information for a wider group while providing relief from labour for us as we get older. It is done in a similar format to our internship with teaching in homesteading type skills as well as the permaculture curriculum but more flexible and not requiring a 10 week commitment. We are hoping for a succession to allow some young person to operate the Market Garden and CSA while allowing us to lead tours and workshops.
More time for cheese making and working with my bees would be nice too!
Check out Purple Pear Farm’s website for more information!