This month marks one whole year of operating Hand to Ground; our small-scale, regenerative, family farm business. And what a year it was for us - so many things done for the first time, research gathered, mistakes made, successes celebrated, relationships built. It was daunting to step out and make a go of farming full-time for a livelihood. We are told the first two to five years are the most difficult for a new business, and without the support and encouragement of friends and family, as well as mentoring through the Government's NEIS program - we likely wouldn't have kept going.
But there is nothing so rewarding as hearing how much a customer's children enjoyed (and devoured) their roast chicken, or seeing golden yolked eggs crack into the breakfast pan, or have neighbours lend a hand to unload bags of grain - as falling into a clean, warm bed after a long day out in the elements, to see with your bare eyes the landscape refreshed from a cycle of hens scratching and fertilising the ground...
So a summary of operations -
- We started the year with two warré beehives in operation. We harvested our first batch of about 9 kilos of raw cold pressed honey in March.We sold all our strained honey, and rendered the beeswax for soap and candle making and cooking. Sadly after a very dry Autumn and cold Winter we found we had lost one of our hives, the other appeared slow and weak and the colony absconded before we had to chance to re-Queen! At the same time in the early Spring we gained four other colonies - two from abandoned hives on a friends' property, and two as wild swarms - one caught onto of our water tank and one caught in a friend's backyard. Despite a very short and hot Spring, all four hives are going well, though building their stores very slowly.
- In February we welcomed 300 day-old layer chicks to our custom built wooden brooding houses. Once big enough, they moved into their beautiful "egg mobile" hen house built atop a caravan trailer - which provides shelter at night, a cool place to lay eggs in the day, and can easily be towed across the pasture. In June they began to lay eggs - about 180-210 each day - which we collect, clean and pack by hand. We began delivering our pastured eggs to cafes, restaurants and a green grocer in nearby towns. We added a further 50 point of lay hens in Spring, and encountered a great chicken faux pas - that you don't ever just join two flocks of hens together without giving them some time to get used to each other (with a barrier or some kind) - otherwise the pecking order is disturbed and you experience a swift drop in egg production! We acquired two roosters to help keep the peace, and slowly got back to normal production.
- In Autumn we brooded our first batch of meat chickens. The 300 day-old broiler chicks actually arrived the afternoon of our baby boy Beren's birth! We learnt a lot in the weeks that followed about brooding broiler chickens, our local climate and how to keep our birds healthy and thriving despite extreme temperature fluctuations and prowling foxes! In late Winter we began brooding our next batch of meat chickens, ready for processing in late Spring and early Summer. We began suppling local cafes and restaurants with our tasty birds, as well as running a pre-order and pick-up system with our fabulous local green grocer Watts' Fresh in Kyneton. We also bought a refrigerated trailer - and with the meat safety inspector's tick of approval - were able to start transporting our chickens to our local farmers markets.
- We attended a total of 12 farmers markets with Emily's gluten free baked goods and seasonal preserves. Her French-style baked custards "canéles" and sourdough bread were especially popular. She also ran her first gluten free bread making workshop in October - hosted by our dear friends at A Plot in Common - It was a great success and she will be holding another workshop in February.
- Alex was fortunate enough to see the great farmer, writer and agricultural activist - Joel Salatin speak three times this year! He attended a Jonai Farm's Grow Your Ethics workshop, and was also part of a Deep Winter gathering of like-minded people to discuss the future of small scale sustainable and ethical agriculture and food sovereignty. We are optimistic that with continued public interest, political pressure and support from local communities - fair food and farming systems will continue to grow in Australia.
We are so thankful for the support from our local community - our families, new friends (and old), big-hearted neighbours, chefs and restauranteurs, grocers, mums and dads - who care about what they eat and where it comes from. We do feel enormously blessed that we are still in operation - that we have access to land and water and opportunity to share what we raise with those around us.
As we look forward to our second year we hope to keep learning from our mistakes, build on our successes, problem solve, persevere - and above all to to keep our faith in the Earth's remarkable abilities to heal and regenerate itself, in the joy of wholesome work, in the goodness of fresh food, in a better future for our kids...
Thank you for joining us!