As many of you already know, I have decided to not renew my lease when it expires at the end of this financial year. It was a big decision that I considered over many months while trying to weigh up the pros and cons and unravel the conflicting emotions.
I do love big change – things that upheave my life and push me once again out of my comfort zone and into a place of growth and learning. My appetite for the unknown didn’t make the decision any easier but what was very clear was that I found myself unhappy and a big part of that discontent was a lack of balance.
Another thing that I tend to do is throw myself into the deep end. I have a fervent passion for farming and food sovereignty because I see its power to create the kind of change that I think we need in order to reverse massive environmental and social injustice. So, despite my lack of experience in both farming in general and as an orchardist, I threw myself headlong into Tellurian Fruit Gardens (TFG). It and the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC – the collective endeavour I took on with the other farmers co-located here) was the fuel for my food sovereignty fire.
Thanks to a whole bunch of outstanding farmers who shared their knowledge with me, I had learned the basic principles of agroecology and food sovereignty. I certainly felt some doubt but with such an excellent opportunity being presented (along with some generous mentors) I jumped in.
I can’t understate the incredible support I received from Katie and Hugh Finlay along the way too. If it wasn’t for them passing on as much of their hard-earned knowledge as I could soak up, I would never have been able to take the plunge. They sacrificed their time and personal space in order to provide the best possible chance for me to succeed.
The fire and excitement I felt when I began here drove me to work as hard as I could in order to simultaneously manage TFG as well as my roles in HOFC, Castlemaine Farmers Market and the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. I felt a sense of immediacy to act on the opportunities available through TFG and HOFC. Through agroecology and solidarity economies I felt we could tackle some of the things that our government refuses to address (I suppose that’s what Liberalism seeks right? Pity I don’t run a multi-national corporation).
Ultimately though, my overzealous approach left me burned-out. I had consumed my life with farming at the cost of some of the other things that I value. I forgot to temper the fire with rest and recovery, underestimating the value of ‘time off’ (internalised Capitalism anyone?). To complicate matters, we can throw a dash of existential angst and a sprinkle of exhaustion-fuelled nihilism onto the flames.
Once I made it through the heat of last season I knew I had to make some changes, lest my passion be fully extinguished. I removed some trees, simplified my business model, stepped back from some volunteer roles and implemented an internship program. Sam, the successful applicant, was a pleasure to work beside and he played a big role in helping me maintain my sanity this season. Looking toward my future here, I had more ideas of how to make it more sustainable but there’s more to the story.
Layered on top of the mental health quagmire I was experiencing as a result of over-working, is the intersection of Tellurian Fruit Gardens and HOFC (as well as some personal stuff I won’t go into here). Working as a member of a collective towards a shared goal was yet another aspect of this farm that I had little experience with.
As a co-op we put in many hours of work into aligning our values and defining our ‘why’. Then, with the tools at hand, we put our best effort toward building the ‘how’. Whilst simultaneously creating our own enterprises, we forged a path through the unknown to build from scratch what we now know as HOFC.
Prompted by some inter-personal dissonance toward the end of last season, we realised that our decision-making and conflict resolution processes were lacking so we dove into many hours of discussion attempting to clarify and redefine our collective vision. Ironically, when we once again found ourselves at a place of unity, we had arrived at a fork in the road. It seemed there was two divergent visions for the future of the co-op and I felt that my energy was best placed in chasing some of the ideals that HOFC, at least for now, will not be seeking to implement.
Conveniently this realisation has timed perfectly with our option to renew our three-year leases. Being a part of the food movement brings me joy and I still aspire towards my farming utopia. I think with a few changes it is entirely possible to build resilience into my role as orchardist here but our ill-matched ideas for the co-op coupled with the symptoms of burn-out lead me to decide to end this chapter.
At this stage I have no solid plan beyond taking a fair chunk of time off. I like the idea of exploring some new paths and circling back to farming in time and perhaps working in other food system related roles in the meantime.
I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been offered and I’m proud of both Tellurian Fruit Gardens and of the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op. I am excited for my own future and for what comes next here at HOFC and in the orchard (keep an eye out for the incoming lessees). I am so grateful for the community the surrounds me and I feel hope that it continues to grow toward a resilient and equitable future.
Viva la via campesina.