I used to manage a certified organic research and development farm just outside of Byron Bay, NSW. It was called ReGenesis. We created our own soil on the farm by collecting kitchen waste from the local pubs and restaurants in the area using a small garbage truck. Using various composting methods we converted the waste into nutrient rich soil and grew fruit and vegetables to sell back to the restaurants. It was a full recycling loop. We created the second-best composted soil or humus in NSW. Humus is broken-down organic plant material.
Organic farming is all about increasing the biology in the soil. Soil bacteria and worms etc, all contribute to soil health and fertility. Adding livestock to the farm can increase soil health. Cattle lick the grass before biting it off, thereby adding their own bacteria to the soil as well as fertiliser in the form of urine and faeces. Life in the soil contributes to plant health. Plant health then transfers to human health.
We created food on the farm without the use of chemicals. The orchards were where I devoted most of my energy. Three thousand citrus trees kept me occupied as well as a variety of mixed orchards. Fruit trees and bushes were dotted all over the farm so that workers could pick and eat food as they were working.
The closer we do things to how mother nature works, the less work we have to put in ourselves. And so we tried to make the farm as self-sufficient as possible. Adding fish to the dams, or aquaculture, was beneficial to the farm as the fish fertilised the water before we pumped it out to the orchards or fruit and vegetable gardens.
Forests and orchards
Farm forestry is the practice of planting trees with the intention of harvesting them when they reach maturity. Trees such as cedar were planted on the ReGenesis farm so they could be accessed when it was time to harvest. Bush regeneration (replacement of native species) was carried out on less accessible areas. Bush regeneration was done on the property to encourage wildlife back, reduce land degradation, and restore the higher ground and creek lines to their original state.
Livestock such as miniature cattle were introduced to the farm forestry project to fertilise the trees, mow the grass, and twere then sold on as beef. Miniature cattle (dexters) were chosen as their smaller size reduced soil impact.
Ingredients for composting included stable and chicken manure, sawdust, woodchips and water weed. Our best compost was hand turned using only pitchforks, and we sold it to a plant nursery as seed starter.
Pitchforking is the old-fashioned way of turning compost piles. As the plant material is pitchforked from one pile to another, the compost pile is turned inside out so that the hotter material in the middle cools off, and the outside plant matter is exposed to heat and accelerated bacteria action hastens the composting process. Eventually a turning machine was bought that could be operated with a tractor. It increased the amount of material we could turn, but lowered the quality of the finished product. We continued to pitchfork for our finest finished product, but the machinery certainly made our work easier.
On an organic farm, labour is the most expensive cost, so travelling backpackers could stay at the farm in exchange for work. The Japanese were by far the best workers. A Japanese girl even stayed on to marry one of the market gardeners. We teased the new couple to have children so the rest of us could spend more time at the beach. The ReGenesis project was financed by an American lady with a huge heart and a substantial inheritance.
I started working at the farm as a labourer, brush cutting or mowing grass and weeds in the citrus orchards. I eventually took over the job as farm manager once the position became available.
It was a beautiful place to work. The property was situated halfway between Mullumbimby and Byron Bay on the NSW north coast. The Byron Bay lighthouse was visible from the fields as you worked, and after a full days labour, a swim in the ocean was only ten minutes away.
Every person who worked on the ReGenesis project loved what they were doing. A vibe of excitement and energy existed. It was a privilege to work there.