We skipped the wet winter of 2019/20 by travelling south for three months. Surfing in Sri Lanka, trekking in Tasmania, sightseeing in Singapore and immersing ourselves in India were all great fun. However we were determined that the whole trip should not be a solely touristic experience; our children wanted to meet other kids, and we were keen to get involved in life somewhere, rather than just spectate.
We enjoyed various home- and farmstays but a real highlight was a stay on a farm in Australia. Finding the Gleneden Family Farm online was exciting – their ethical stance was impressive, their regenerative holistic farming techniques sounded intriguing and their children were almost the same ages as ours. We were slightly amazed that they agreed to have us come and stay, particularly during an extreme drought, but we hoped that our smallholding (& PR) experience might come in useful.
Fiona welcomed us with a tour of the farmyard and settled us into the charming guest cottage: a converted dairy with gorgeous views over the creek and very comfy beds. The farm regularly hosts interns and Wwoofers and in the future this would make an ideal B&B cottage for those not so eager to get their hands dirty.
Dirty hands was what we were here for, however, so we were pleased to start by going to feed the pigs, a ten minute walk across the farm.
On our way to Gleneden we’d seen the effects of the drought: fields turned into dustbowls, few animals around, dry river beds and signs notifying emergency water restrictions: 80l per person per day.
While Gleneden still looks beautiful, the drought – now well into its second year, is presenting a range of challenges. A recent rainshower has put a little muddy water in the bottom of the creek, but it’s not flowing.
What should be lush green pastures are mostly bare fields struggling to keep a little grass alive, and mature trees are suffering as a result of the stress. This in turn puts pressure on farmers who have to work harder to look after the animals, ensuring all have fresh water, enough food, and shade from the sun.
However, Fiona and Rohan are not letting this stop them develop a multi-faceted business on their farm – with eco-camping, farm tours, bushcraft displays and a new venture into meat sales via a Community Supported Agriculture subscription scheme.
As well as being the farmer, Fiona’s husband Rohan is a bullock driver – running one of only two teams of oxen in Queensland.
The farm is home to a wide selection of livestock from bullocks, cows, sheep and pigs to chickens, geese and ponies. This means it looks lovely, as well as creating opportunities for mutually beneficial systems – compost creation, in-situ land fertilisation and fruitful vegetable production.
The principle of holistic farming means that decisions are taken in a way which considers all the possible impacts – whether on the land, the animals, the family or the wider community.
By farming regeneratively Rohan and Fiona aim to put back more than they take out – we are all used to the idea of sustainability but that presupposes that things are in a sustainable state – and that they remain in the same state. By focussing on the soil health (Fiona is an ecologist, which helps), plant health is improved; healthy plants help with water retention as well as feeding the animals who are kept naturally, in free-range conditions that most farmed animals can only dream about.
There was a lot to take in, but we were up at 6.30am to help feed the pigs again, bring hay to the sheep and goats, let out and feed chickens and watch Rohan milk the cow, before a well earned breakfast. It gets really hot here in the summer so work needs to start early.
Next we tried (and tore) our hands at ‘barking’ – stripping the bark off a felled tree so that it could be made into a fence post. It was a miracle we survived the axe-swinging and crowbar-prising as we tore the bark off the tree, not least as it was all done on a steep hillside.
As the week raced by we settled into the routine on the farm, helping collect eggs, water and weed the garden and move animals around. We even tried to add some value with our communications experience.
The children enjoyed having new friends to play with: no TV, lots of imagination and endless space to explore. For us, Gleneden was a much needed pause in our travels during which we learned more than we ever could while being in constant motion. We loved meeting Rohan and Fiona who are great company and who by living their principles show, rather than tell us, a better way of going about things. We’ve got an understanding of different ways of farming, some of the principles of doing business ethically, and Rohan and Fiona have helped us think about what we’re going to do when we get home – something endless travelling doesn’t actually allow for.
Now we will keep our fingers crossed for a good dose of rain.
A few weeks after we left, the rain came – to everyone’s delight.
Find out more and sign up for Rohan’s entertaining newsletter at Gleneden’s website
Follow the farm on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/glenedenfamilyfarm/