By Kirra Grimes
A YOUNG Cape Paterson couple is celebrating a successful first year in business after filling a gap in the market for locally grown organic vegetables.
Emma and Michael Burness chucked in their city jobs 10 years ago to make the seachange to Cape – where Emma had spent her childhood and Michael’s parents owned a block of land, complete with an established orchard, and plenty of room for something more.
Educating themselves using free resources found on the internet, Emma and Michael got to work planting more fruit trees on the property, as well as introducing a wide variety of vegetable crops.
They built a greenhouse and garden beds, set up an irrigation system, got some chooks to help improve the health of the soil, and tested the waters by wholesaling their produce to a small number of businesses.
By January 2019, they were ready to open a farm gate shop to retail customers for the first time, trading under the name ‘Goshen Country,’ inspired by the concept of a place of comfort and plenty.
They’ve since built a loyal following, largely through word of mouth and social media advertising, with customers happy to make the trip out to the farm for the freshness and chemical-free promise of its products.
Things have been going so well that Emma and Michael plan to expand the business in 2020, upping their production to meet the demand from the wholesale market, as well as exploring more options for retail customers.
But getting to this point hasn’t been without its challenges, and plenty of lessons learned through trial and error.
A recent example was the devastating loss of all their outdoor crops last winter, when the rain came earlier than expected and didn’t drain well from low-lying plots.
There’s also been the fights against harmful bugs and relentless weeds, where creative solutions and good old-fashioned hard work have come to the defence, instead of pesticides.
Going into their second year, Emma and Michael won’t be taking any chances when winter comes around. They’ll be planting all their winter crops in the greenhouse or in raised garden beds, rather than directly into the soil to potentially become inundated and rot.
Both Emma and Michael will remain hands-on in every aspect of the operation, on a full-time basis, with no plans to take on any extra help for at least the next few years.
They say it’s been a great decision to move from Melbourne to start a business and a family in Bass Coast and they’re happy to see the community getting on board the small-scale organic farming philosophy.
“Organic farming is still a bit niche but people are becoming more and more aware of chemicals in food and trying to live a ‘low tox’ sort of life,” Emma said.
“We’ve got a great customer base, and I think what they like is that if we run out of something in the shop, we can just go out and pick it. Otherwise, everything we sell has been harvested that morning, so it’s that fresh.”
Michael loves the buzz of seeing all the hard work pay off at harvest time.
“Going organic is hard because sometimes it feels like all we do is weed, but that’s just part of it; and when you get to harvest time and everything’s worked out, it’s a pretty good feeling,” he said.
Of diving into their own business, Michael and Emma encouraged others to “just go for it” and “try to do everything yourself,” rather than employing staff, to keep costs down.
“We’ve had a few people come and see us in our age bracket wanting to do something similar, and it makes sense with such good rainfall in this area,” Emma said.
“You can go in with zero experience if you’re willing to do the research – it’s pretty much all there on the internet; you can collect all the information and make it work for yourself,” Michael said.
The biggest challenge in establishing even a small-scale farming business is the “huge” set up cost, Emma said.
“We were fortunate Mikey’s parents let us use their land without having to buy it. If we’d had to go out and purchase a farm, that would’ve been a much bigger gamble,” she said.
“But you still put a lot of money in at the start to get it up and running. We’re still putting money into things like building more garden beds. It’ll be nice when we’re finished setting it all up and can relax a little bit; but it’s a long-term project, nothing happens overnight,” she said.