Simone Jelley worked as an advertising photographer for Queensland Newspapers until 2013, when she and all the others in her department were made redundant in a matter of days.
It was her husband Dave – who Simone lovingly refers to as her ‘enabler of dreams’ – who suggested that she take some time off to have some fun with a newly discovered passion for gardening. ‘It quickly became an obsession, totally consuming my world and with it, forged an incredible driving force with fierce momentum of its own’, says Simone. Soon she sought out the strangest, rarest and most unusual plants to grow, and by 2014 Simone was ‘farming’ their Macleay Island block in Moreton Bay, and two other neighbouring properties. In 2015 she signed her first farm lease on adjoining Lamb Island, and her second shortly after.
But despite a lifelong love of flowers, Simone’s ‘down the rabbit hole’ moment started with a weed. ‘I discovered that the “weed” I had been fighting in my garden was Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica), an ancient Ayervedic herb and being researched for therapeutic benefits’, she says. This discovery prompted Simone to research the edibility of everything, and armed with this knowledge, she began to build leaf mixes and edible flower products that led her to selling directly to some of the best fine dining chefs in the country, as well as locals and wholesale providers.
Just a couple of years after she had started ‘playing around’ in the garden, Simone was winning national produce awards! In 2016 she won the Delicious Produce Awards National Gold Medals, a title she held again in 2017, and was a Queensland State winner in 2018. ‘Getting around producing world class produce to the best chefs at a large scale, with limited water, transient labour force and challenging climatic conditions was all the “apprenticeship” needed to be learned quickly’, she says.
In 2017, Simone and Dave hit a fork in the road after running out of water and closing down the farm lease. ‘A connection was made to a “co-investor” group who offered to ‘house’ Pretty Produce on their land in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales’, tells Simone. ‘Over six months I transported every last one of my plants, tools, seeds and processing equipment to the farm. By early 2018, they had shut the gates, kept all my IP (I managed to save my precious seeds) and then proceeded to start their own edible flower business’.
This completely gutted Simone. But after a lot of deep thinking, she realised that she was still in love with farming, and wanted to give it another crack. It was Dave, again, who discussed the option of selling up his dream home –which he built with his own hands – to start looking for their own farm for the future of Pretty Produce.
After a year of exploration, Simone and Dave found the new site on the fringes of Lamington National Park in South East Queensland, positioned on the Canungra Creek. The way Simone describes it sounds like a dream. ‘We have platypus, eagles, turtles, fish, frogs and wallabies. Mist rises and rolls, ebbs and flows along the ridges most of the year so it feels like we too are cocooned inside the rainforest. Cool nights, hot days. Perfect growing conditions for edible flowers. I feel so very humble to be given a chance to be a caring steward of this Yugambeh peoples’ Country’ she says.
It’s here that Simone and Dave have found their sanctuary for Pretty Produce. As a passionate advocate for chemical free agriculture, Simone believes wholeheartedly in looking for regenerative and non-harmful solutions when it comes to food production, and considers it her responsibility to lead by example. ‘I hope that our little farm is like an ark and an oasis to all wildlife that come to seek harbour. I hope that this message from someone actually doing it, practising it, proving that it can indeed work will inspire a new generation of like minded farmers and growers who can also build arks in the agricultural landscape’, she says.
Simone recognises the therapeutic beauty of the farm and its surrounds, and hopes to share it with others. In future she’d like to welcome visitors through Destination Scenic Rim Farm Trial days, and explore the healing properties of flowers in creative projects that bring agriculture into a therapeutic framework. She also wants to offer online portals that provide daily access to the flower farm for those of us cooped up in the city.
Despite the challenges Simone, Dave and Pretty Produce have faced in the last few years, Simone describes ‘the overriding essence of joy, love, wonder and creativity’ as the metaphorical four corners of their farm. And at the heart of it all, Pretty Produce is built on the love and support of this husband and wife duo.
‘Dave is the reason I could have achieved so much. He is not a flower farmer. Yet he literally moves heaven and earth to make my dreams blossom into reality’.