By: S Haslam
It’s hard to think of a project more emblematic of modern Byron than The Farm. Situated right at the gateway to town, the old flower farm, earmarked for a West Byron-like housing estate, was physically saved by a couple with a vision. The concept was of a place that supported wellbeing by using sustainable, organic food-growing practices as well as a strong intention to create and connect to community.
Tom and Emma Lane were the purchasers who had the fortitude to leave the city with their family and create the life they had imagined. Now there is a book that tells the story of how The Farm came to be. The account of this new Byron icon is not just about that property itself; it is a larger narrative of the type of sea-changers whose aim is to contribute positively to our community and continue the legacy of earlier environmentally and ethically conscious migrants to the Shire.
But ‘People think The Farm is just about us,’ Emma told The Echo last week, ‘but it’s more like an old-fashioned village. We’d never written a book before, but in the process we revisited our childhood experiences, our family heritage, and I understand The Farm more now as a symbol of how we used to live.’
Tom agrees. ‘For me it brought up memories of how my mother told me she lived, and how her parents and grandparents lived. What we emailed to the publishers reflected the last 4–5 years, but also way back before then. It’s not just about us, it’s about them, back in the past, how they all came together to create a village and the sense of community.’
Research for the book has uncovered surprising parallels between the share-farming use of the land in the 1860s, by its then-owner William Flick, and its current arrangement of the ‘growers collective’ where the farmers own their own business. The survival of real farming is incredibly important to the Lanes. ‘We had to try a number of models before coming up with one that works for our community,’ say the Lanes. The reader can discover how the mixed-use farming project, along with the element of the Three Blue Ducks eatery, is a financially sustainable model in an era where anything apart from broadscale corporate farming can be forced to operate at subsistence level.
The Lanes’ hope is that their approach to farming may create a ripple effect, ‘inspiring others to think outside the square and look at new and innovative ways to make farming interesting and something for younger generations to aspire to’. In fact, the eight-acre market garden ‘incubates’ young farmers by providing them with free use of equipment such as tractors and irrigation apparatus for a period to get them started. In the book there are beautiful and vignettes that give insights into the motivation and journey of the producers from the young startups to the older hands. It is also full of practical advice on setups and models and also features tips that the home gardener can use.
There is a very handy section on local foraging for native foods and seaweeds as well as a lot of useful how-to explanations on composting, companion planting, and understanding concepts such as food miles. Additionally there is advice on attracting and keeping bees, farm regeneration, how to dry flowers and herbs and then conduct a smudging ritual.
For others the highlight may be the food that is featured in recipes and fabulous pictures that make you want to scoop the dishes off the page! You can discover how to make the Bread Social sourdough bread, macadamia nut butter, or shake up a new cocktail. Contributions for recipes come from our region’s chefs, Lane family favourites, and the food producers themselves. Kombu Cody, the seaweed forager, contributes a recipe for a Japanese shabu-shabu stew made with kelp and ogo-nori seaweed taught to him by an eighth dan Hansi swordsman.
If there is a word that seems to underlie the successful strategies outlined in the book it is perhaps collaboration; the Lanes’ farming is not just one family working in the fields. They have collaborated with architects, prospective farmers, non-profit groups, restaurateurs and even the local brewer Stone & Wood (the used yeast liquids are used in the compost). They have joined with a psychologist to install ‘gratitude benches’ in the macadamia grove at The Farm, with the idea of helping people counter stress and anxiety and tap into the innate sense of happiness we all have more easily, in the midst of nature’s bounty.
On Sunday 5 August at 9am the Lanes will be launching their book at the Byron Writers Festival with the godfather of sustainable farming in the US, Michael Ableman, an experience they clearly find uncomfortable. ‘We’re not expert writers,’ says Emma. ‘We’ve just told our experience in a colloquial way, so we’re honoured to be amongst the gifted writers, but it’s a bit daunting.’
‘We’re like teenagers,’ says Tom. ‘We’re definitely out of our comfort zone onstage, but if we want to create a ripple effect by our example we have to put ourselves out there.’
More info: Sunday 5 August 9am Yellow Brick Road Pavilion – Byron Writers Festival byronwritersfestival.com