Belinda and Neil Fortune turned their passion for food and seasonal eating into a living when they started their own market garden in the Byron hinterland five years ago.
The couple had been living in Canada for ten years (Neil was born there) when Belinda’s parents bought a 42-acre property in Fernleigh so her dad could ‘dabble’ with cows. This left plenty of space for a market garden and that was the perfect lure to bring their daughter home.
Belinda says, at the time, she was working in an office job in a university in Canada. ‘It was there that we developed a real love for local seasonal food. It’s quite different in Canada because in the winter months they have to rely on California for fresh produce, so the people are really focused on local seasonal food when it’s around’.
Belinda says they would visit local farms and they grew food in their own backyard. ‘Neil grew up with a substantial garden. He’s also done forestry work and landscaping, so it’s not that far removed for him to be outdoors and loving it.’
When Belinda’s parents offered the couple the use of the land, they jumped at the opportunity, launching themselves into reading and researching about small-scale market gardening so that when they hit the hinterland farm they would be ready to grow.
‘It’s a huge leap from reading and researching about farming to actually doing it,’ says Belinda. ‘But it’s not rocket science, you just need to jump in and keep going. We made a lot of mistakes along the way, but we also learnt a lot that way. And farming, in particular, is about constant learning – you learn to observe and go with the seasons.’
After about 12 months, Belinda and Neil were successfully growing a range of seasonal crops and started at the local farmers markets, as Red Earth Farmers. And they haven’t looked back since.
‘I love it and that’s why I do it,’ says Belinda. ‘I love being outdoors, the challenges and rewards it brings, and the fact that things are always changing.’
Today, Belinda and Neil grow all their produce from seed, including salad mixes, herbs, zucchinis, tomatoes, radishes, watermelon, beetroot, carrots and turnips. You can find them at the Red Earth Farmers stall every Thursday 7–11am at Byron Farmers Market at the Cavanbah Centre, and on Saturdays at the Bangalow Farmers Market 8–11am in the Bangalow Hotel car park.