It’s a glorious Summer’s day on Baranbali Farm in the South-East Queensland hinterland, and a week of much-anticipated rain has left the countryside fresh and vibrant.
Baranbali, an 80-acre mixed arable farm, is home to a herd of Murray Grey cattle, rare breed Wessex Saddleback pigs, a flock of Suffolk sheep and a gaggle of rare breed poultry …plus of course, current stewards Yvonne and David Ellis and their three young children.
A desire to give their children a similar upbringing to their own led Yvonne and David to this idyllic part of the country around 15 years ago now. While they had purchased the property several years before, it wasn’t until they became parents that their priorities changed, and the farm began to really take shape. ‘Both David and I grew up on farms,’ explains Yvonne. ‘I was raised on a dairy farm in Ireland and David on a similar farm in Tasmania. When the children came along we were very keen to emulate that childhood experience for them.’
And what an enviable childhood it is, surrounded by rolling green pastures and almost every farm animal imaginable. ‘The children have been in the thick of it from a very early age, and have a unique understanding of where their food comes from and what it takes to produce it,’ adds Yvonne. ‘They’re all able to grow, cook and make, and have their own little jobs around the farm. They understand that what comes from the earth goes back to the earth and that it’s all one big cycle.’
The family embrace that philosophy in all areas, growing their own vegetables, feeding leftover scraps to the chickens and pigs, and seed saving. They also have a much-loved Jersey herd that plays an integral role on the farm, providing them with milk and nutrient-rich manure. ‘For us, it’s about that old-fashioned idea of self-sufficiency that I grew up with in Ireland. I take great pride in being able to say that 80% of what’s on our kitchen table has been grown here,’ says Yvonne. ‘It’s all about having the land and healthy animals working together in balance.’
The family also strive to reduce outside farm inputs by growing a variety of seasonal grasses and herbages, making their own silage and planting rye crops in the winter for animal feed.
One of the main reasons Yvonne and David chose to farm animals was borne from their desire to know where their meat came from and how it was grown. ‘The best way we could be 100% accountable for that meat we eat, was to grow it ourselves and be responsible for the animals from beginning to end,’ says Yvonne. ‘We practice low-stress animal handling methods here and the health and happiness of our animals is of paramount importance.’
The family share a love for all animals and the land, and champion ethical and sustainable farm practices in every way they can. ‘We’re working hard on improving the soil health and regenerating the land. We’re also working with Land for Wildlife to re-tree the property to provide shade for the animals, habitat for native wildlife and to help retain moisture in the soil. It’s all about trying to bring the farm back into balance.’
While the family does well through their farm gate shop every Friday afternoon, and attending the local farmers market once-a-month, David continues to work off-farm a few days a week to supplement their income. ‘At this point in time, it’s necessary so that we can afford all the costs of infrastructure and regeneration. We’re still quite a way from both of us being able to earn a living from the farm. We will make it, but we’re not there yet.’
Yvonne works seven days a week on the farm and when she’s not caring for the animals she can be found in the kitchen, often with the children as her helpers. ‘I love making food from what we have right here and I just love that sense that you get of being a part of something bigger and more real than just mass consumerism. Even though we’re always busy it’s a calmer, slower way to live.’
‘The Irish seem to have this innate need to feed people, to share our abundance with others. It’s a beautiful thing and I want my children to take that as my legacy. Life isn’t about the best pair of shoes, or the most expensive this or that. It’s about sharing what you have and time spent together well. That’s what life is about.’
Will Work For Food is a creative partnership between writer Karen Locke photographer Honey Atkinson, who are working to elevate the importance of sustainable, ethically produced food. Find out more on their blog Willworkforfood.com.au.