Strolling through the lush green grass on his farm in the Hunter Valley, Simon Carroll cuts an impressive figure. Clad in work gear and a wide-brimmed Akubra, a large brood of chickens follows behind his ankles, ‘Pied-piper’ style, while two Maremma dogs watch on nearby.
His young daughters, five-year-old Mia and three-year-old Asta, skip around in the long grass, trying to pick out their favourite hens, and ‘helping’ their father with his chores.
Simon and his partner Kelly Eaton are one of a growing number of small-scale farmers blazing a new, albeit bumpy trail, rejecting industrial scale agriculture in favour of small, personalised farming practices. The family rears meat chickens and laying hens at their 80-acre property, Little Hill Farm.
They take a multi-faceted approach to farming, selling their pasture-raised meat and eggs directly to local restaurants and stores, and at farmers markets. They also sell raw honey from their hives, and vegetables from their small market garden.
‘Farming is so fickle’, says Simon, ‘if something goes wrong with one batch of chickens, or one crop of vegetables, then that’s your income for weeks and weeks. So it makes sense to have more than one source of income, to not have all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.’
Both Simon and Kelly were raised in the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie region of NSW. Though neither grew up in farming families, the two share an impressive work ethic and a willingness to learn and trial almost anything. Driving them both is a desire to produce ethical food without the use of chemicals, and with great care for the land and the welfare of their animals.
‘I suffer from a lot of allergies to preservatives and artificial flavours, so I’ve always had an interest in eating wholefoods grown free from chemicals,’ says Kelly. ‘I was a vegetarian for a long time, and when we first met, Simon pretended to be a vegetarian to get on my good side,’ she laughs. Years later, the pair started eating meat again, and began raising their own animals, because they didn’t want to eat meat that hadn’t been ethically raised.
While living in the suburbs and working full-time jobs, the young couple started raising meat birds, pigs and growing their own vegetables, all within their suburban garden – around a third of an acre. When their daughter, Mia, was born, the pair became even more committed to self sufficiency. The dream of producing real food for a living became all consuming.
Almost four years since moving to Little Hill Farm, the family has become well-respected for their quality produce. So much so that their pasture raised chicken was awarded a State Winner title in this year’s Delicious Produce Awards.
‘It took a lot of work to get here’ says Simon, ‘lots of juggling of our finances, and living with my parents for a time to save enough money to buy the property.’
After spending the whole first year researching, building pens, animal shelters and other infrastructure, Simon is proud to have created a family home that is completely off-grid.
‘We’ve really had to learn everything from scratch. It’s hard work, and it can be exhausting, but it’s worth it because I get to spend time with my kids every day, and be heavily involved in their lives – they make great little farm hands too!’