Growing resources for the future

Written by Kerrie Alexander

When you meet a couple that base their farming business on good morals, ethics, honesty and sustainability you know that what you have come to see is going to be special.

John and Heidi are the founders of Virtue Farm in Booral where they have lived in their little piece of paradise for the past 24 years.

The two city slickers moved to the Fraser Coast more than 25 years ago in search of a more peaceful lifestyle where they could live a life of sustainability, leave a low carbon footprint and work with the community to create a better world.

A place where they can work with nature, not against it!

They found all that and more on their 33-acre property overlooking the magnificent K’gari (Fraser Island) in Booral.

The two originally only owned just over an acre with a classic Queenslander home but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to purchase the back 33 acres when it went up for auction a few years later.
It was all part of their long-term plan to expand from a backyard vegetable patch to a small, family owned and operated business establishing a diverse permaculture farm, incorporating a market garden and food forest.

Everything grown is produced sustainably and free from chemicals.

The land includes 27 acres of remnant forest which can never be developed and has been registered with Land for Wildlife.

The forest is an oasis for bird life, koalas, echidnas, and a mob of about 40 kangaroos who have made themselves quite at home on the family’s acreage.

“When we turned up at the auction, we were the only ones there and the owner wanted it sold, so we made an offer and got it,” John said.

“Everything just lined up for us. We have sat on our back verandah looking at that block for so many years and already had ideas and plans in place of what to do with it if we did own it.

“We bought it predominately because we wanted to stop the bush from being developed,” Heidi added.

“We don’t want to sit here looking at houses and we don’t want the bush to be destroyed.

“It’s part of the Koala corridor and we want to preserve that.”

About six acres of land zoned rural was able to be cleared to make way for the vegetable patch, food forest and a council approved area for self-sustained caravans and vehicle campers to pull up, rest and enjoy the spectacular island views.

The couple have planted over 150 fruit trees with stone fruit, apples, lots of citrus fruits, macadamia nits, lemon myrtle, a range of cherry trees, paw paw, mangoes, avocados, and so much more.

In the vegetable patch there’s broccoli, silverbeet, celery, cabbage and everything else in between including lots of perennial greens and unknown and unusual plants that grow all year round.

There’s also 25 native beehives that were saved from the Northern River floods and re-homed by the Billion Bees Foundation.

“We sell our produce at the farm gate when people contact us or everyday with our campers,” Heidi said.

“It is community based so people know what we’re doing and they know we have fresh produce here.”

However, the growing is only a small part of what John and Heidi are trying to achieve.

Their hope is that by using the land as a building block for sustainability they can continue to spread the word through education, partnerships and homestays with the campers, volunteers and AirBnB guests staying on the ground floor of their home.

Heidi picks a small amount of sample produce each day to take around to the campers.

They choose and pay for only what they need so there’s no waste.

“We just want to share what we do here,” John said.

“The campers wander around the property and go through the veggie patch and food forest, and it’s just a matter of having a chat to them and providing them with some easy options to be sustainable.

“We provide them with compost bins and a Containers for Change recycling bin at the gate.”

The two would also love to see the Fraser Coast community become part of the solution by finding a way to re-purpose goods rather than only thinking that everything has a one-time use.

A few ways they are achieving this is by being a member of several local swap and sell Facebook pages where food and plant swaps are the norm, even if it is for the chooks or the pigs.

Local tree loppers know they can always drop woodchip in the back paddock to be used as mulch and to build soil, bins are left with neighbours who have horses to fill with manure, and old bricks and pavers local residents no longer want are turned into garden walls.

They use repurposed strawberry punnets that the community kindly donates to Replenish Refill – the zero-waste store on Torquay Rd, Pialba.

Gluts of fruits and vegetables are turned into jams, jellies, pickles, pesto and chutney.

“That’s all part of the model,” John said.

“As you develop you must find ways to use up what you have. We’re coming to a stage where we need to think about our rubbish because we’re generating so much of it.

“So many things are designed for single purpose use, and we can’t continue like that.

“We feed our chooks and we have other community members who have chickens and pigs so nothing goes to waste.

“The permaculture belief is that it’s important to share.”

John and Heidi both believe that if they can get anyone to grow even one thing, they have achieved a small step to making the world a better place.

“It’s just the future. Look at our backyard. It feels so natural to be like this. You get a good feeling,” John said.

“It’s a sense of happiness. It’s just different to sit at the dining room table with your friends and family and you’re eating food that has come from your back yard.”

John said anyone can start growing it’s just a matter of finding what suits you and your space.

“We found a permaculture model that suited us… it was something we could manage on weekends,” John said.

“We’ve been doing that for 15 years now. We knew we could build the soil, because there’s no soil here, so it’s just been trial and error to see what works.

“Anyone who wants to start can do it.

“Even if you live in a unit, you can just grow some herbs and think more sustainable.”

To find out more, visit the Virtue Farm Facebook page or website at virtuefarm.com.au