If you’re a regular visitor to Byron Farmers Market then chances are you’ve seen Tom Carey wandering around in his iconic bushman’s hat. Tom has been the market manager for more than five years, and in that time his passion for both the market and farming has not waned.
This might be owed to the fact that he has an affinity with the farmers at the market. You see, as well as being the market manager, Tom is also a farmer with over 30 year’s experience in agriculture.
‘I had always wanted to be farmer, since I was knee-high,’ he says. ‘I went jackerooing at Gundagai straight after I left school and after that I got an overseer’s job on a sheep and cattle station in the Southern Tablelands near Crookwell, where I was based for five years.’
Tom was later offered the job of his dreams – managing a 20,000 acre sheep and cattle station in the Southern Tablelands stocked with 40,000 sheep and 1500 cows. ‘It was mountain country, so involved a lot of horse work, which I love.’
So what brought him to the Northern Rivers?
‘I had a young family and it was very isolating where we were living – we were an hour’s drive from anywhere. My wife had family up here and we really wanted to have our own farm. This region is not only a beautiful area, but it’s also a really productive area with high rainfall* and fertile soil, so it was an obvious choice.’
Tom and his family upped and moved north 15 years ago, buying an old dairy farm in The Channon, where they now grow passionfruit and run cattle.
‘The place we bought had horticultural potential as it had been growing bananas and avocados for many years, as well as running cows, but it had been let go. We thought we could do something with it and we decided on passionfruit as we already had family in the region growing passionfruit. And because I wasn’t from a horticultural background, it made sense.’
Tom admits the jump from sheep and cattle to passionfruit was rather large, but one that has proven successful.
‘It still is a learning curve,’ he says. ‘However, there are a lot of things in farming that are similar as far as operating pumps, tractors, and fencing go. But the leap between livestock and horticulture was reasonably high. We’ve been really lucky to have family as a great support.’
When the opportunity to run the Byron Farmers Market came up, just over five years ago, Tom jumped at it.
‘We were selling fruit at local farmers markets and I thought it would be a really interesting role to take on for a number of reasons. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get off the farm one day a week, because I spend a lot of time on the farm by myself, as many farmers do.
‘That social aspect of the market is hugely important and beneficial. It’s a chance for farmers to get away from their farm and connect with the community. It’s also a chance to chat with other farmers about any similar issues you might be going through at the time. It’s a community within a community and I nearly always feel refreshed after market day.’
Byron Farmers Market is held Thursdays 7–11am at the Cavanbah Centre and Bangalow Farmers Market is held Saturdays 7–11am behind the Bangalow Pub.
* Have we had enough rain yet Tom?
– TGL Ed.