Decades before ‘regenerative farming’ and ‘carbon sequestration’ became popular in local farming circles, Bob and Liz Gray were practising these increasingly important farming methods.
When the couple, now in their 70s, first moved to the area 42 years ago, they bought a degraded property with depleted soils. Today their 60 acre property in Goonengerry is a thriving natural habitat that is home to threatened species and healthy carbon-rich soil – all done without the use of synthetic chemical inputs.
‘When we bought our property it was very typical of others in the region – with very acidic soil, scant remnant trees and infested with camphor laurels,’ says Bob. ‘Over the years we have improved the property enormously. One third has been completely rehabilitated into habitat for threatened species – both flora and fauna.’
Liz says it’s always been one of their priorities to channel some of the farm returns back into the property to improve biodiversity.
Today the farm is virtually free of camphor laurels and the carbon levels in the soil are higher than regular tests can measure. A pretty impressive feat for two former Melburnians with no farming experience.
‘Having come from the city, we were looking for a different way of living – one that was close to nature and the environment,’ says Liz.
They have certainly done that. The intrepid couple grow organic ginger, garlic, spuds and tropical flowers – among many other things – and their focus has always been on organic methods.
‘We were determined to farm without the use of chemicals,’ says Bob. ‘While the cost of chemicals themselves is prohibitive, it’s also the cost to the environment and the local food chain that you need to consider. By using organic farming methods you’re working with the natural order of things.’
While the Grays used to send their flowers and produce to the wholesale markets in Melbourne and Brisbane, for the past 18 years they have been solely selling at Byron Farmers Market. In fact, the couple were founding members of the market.
‘The farmers market has been vital to us continuing on the farm,’ says Bob. ‘When we were wholesaling, we were paying for freight, cartoning and distribution at the other end via an agent. It meant not a lot of money was coming back to us.
‘So it was sink or swim for us when the farmers market started. Since then, we’ve really managed to get ahead, and it means we have surplus money to put back into the property.’
The greatest reward? Not only do Bob and Liz now have a loyal following of local who flock to their stall every Thursday morning for their freshly harvested flowers and produce, but today their farm is a natural haven.
‘We have birds breeding in our trees and koalas grunting away in our corridors. It’s a lifetime of hard work, but it has been worth it.’
Byron Farmers Market is held every Thursday 7–11am at the Cavanbah Centre, and is open New Year’s Eve, as usual.