Posted by: Alicia Phillips | July 6, 2013

Avocados and Mushrooms and Flowers, Oh My!!

I’ve just had the most amazing 10 days!  I worked for a couple who own a farm that organically grows avocados, mushrooms, flowers,and other various vegetables. I lived in their home with them, ate my meals with them, watched the news with them and shared the workload on the farm with them.

Jean, Alan, and Angus

Jean, Alan, and Angus

Their farm is very much off the tourist track. About 90 minutes north of Sydney by train to the nearest town and then another 25 minutes in a car to the farm. I have really enjoyed seeing this side of Australia. The side that most people don’t get to or care enough to experience. Small town Australia.

Where I was

Where I was

Alan and Jean are amazing hosts. Their house is warm and inviting and as soon as I walked in I felt comfortable and right at home. Many of the nights I was there, over a bottle or two of wine, they shared their stories with me. They are both remarkable people.  Jean is from South Africa and Alan is from Scotland. They met in Africa and made their way to Australia to start a farm. They have had wwoofers for the past 7 years and had some CRAZY stories to tell me about some of the characters they have had work for them. Jean said that they stay adventurous by having wwoofers stay with them and sharing in their adventures.  It was so easy to talk to the two of them and we had many conversations about life and love and religion and the history and future of Australia.

The Farm

The Farm

I worked mostly with Alan during the day, doing the chores around the farm. Pulling weeds, or planting vegetables, clearing brush and starting a fire, or just organizing the shed. Alan is a hoot and was always making jokes or telling some historical facts about something, he is a huge history buff and if full of intersting tod bits of information.

Spiders!

Spiders!

One of my favorite nights was when we went to the local golf club to eat dinner and watch the rugby league game between NSW and QLD. The club was super small with a bar area in one room and a restaurant in the other. We had the special, steak and chips, then went over to the bar side to watch the game. Being an American I wasnt sure what was going on so the rules and penalties were explained to me. It was cool to be sitting in that tiny country club, drinking a victoria bitter, cheering on our team, surrounded by drunk Australians but feeling more at home than I have in a long time!

Another day they took me on a day trip to go see Barrenjoey lighthouse outside of Palm beach. It was beautiful, we took a ferry to get out there, then took the 2 hour hike to the top, and finished the day with an Aussie burger at the local RSL club. What a treat!

Barrenjoy Lighthouse

Barrenjoy Lighthouse

The Farm

 Avocados!

Avocados!!

Avocados!!

Did you know they grew on trees? I sure didn’t! There are about 80 Haas avocado trees on this farm. And each tree has hundreds of avocados on them! Unfortunately I came just before they were ripe enough to pick. Jean said they wouldn’t be ready for another week or two. Come to think of it, maybe it was a good thing they weren’t ripe yet- because I would have eaten my weight in avocados everyday! Jean says she can tell that the avocados are close to being ready because the dogs will go into the trees and eat the ones that have fallen to the ground! Did I mention these dogs are obese?

These trees are overflowing with them! How many can you count here??

These trees are overflowing with them! How many can you count here??

Mushrooms!

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

They grow a variety called Swiss brown at the farm. They are trying to grow shiitake but its difficult. These shrooms are delicious fresh and accompanied every meal as either a pizza topper, a omlette topper, in stir fry, or just as a side dish.  I never realized what a process it is to grow mushrooms. You have to buy the spores, clone them, grow them in different mediums, and just hope they survive and don’t get any diseases. Everything has to be sterile and if it isnt then the mushrooms become contaminated and you have to start all over again!

Boxing up the mushrooms

Boxing up the mushrooms

Flowers!

Jonquils

Jonquils

Snails in the flowers

They grow two varieties of jonquils, Early chia and grand monarch. I spent an entire day picking these to sell in bunches at the market. I had a hard time at first because you’re not supposed to pick the stems that have already flowered, it’s already to late by then. You have pick the ones that are still buds so they will bloom for the customer. Makes sense, huh? They are such beautiful flowers and smell so delicious, they have quickly made it near to the top of my favorite flowers.

Buckets of Jonquils!

Buckets of Jonquils!

Vegetable Garden!

Snow peas

Snow peas

I spent two days in the garden planting Kale, pulling old snow pea plants and expanding a strawberry patch. After not eating strawberries for two years in Fiji, I ate all the strawberries I could! Working in the garden reminded me of working in the garden when I was a kid. It reminded me of how much I enjoy it and now I will have to start a garden when I move to Little Rock!

Strawberry patch

Strawberry patch

What is so special about this farm is that everything is grown organically and have biodynamic influences. Most everyone has heard of the word Organic before, but do you really know what it means? It means there are no manufactured pesticides or fertilizers used whatsoever. I asked Jean how she kept pests away from her plants and she said she keeps the plants healthy by keeping the soil healthy. If the plant has healthy soil then it is have the nutrients and minerals to fight off the pests on its own. She keeps the soil healthy by crop rotation,  fertilizing with manure, and composting. She makes a compost tea from old organic matter (old food, tea bags, coffee grains, egg shells, old leaves and grass cuttings, etc.) that she mixes with water to supplement the soil.

They also use a few biodynamic farming techniques. Biodynamic farming is kind of related to organic farming but is kind of off in a branch of its own. It emphasizes a sustainable approach to farming from a holistic point of view and has some pretty interesting concepts. The most basic ones they follow on the farm is field preparations, which are “potions” designed to keep the soil, air, and compost healthy. These potions have interesting backgrounds, some come from cow manure that has been stuffed into a horn and buried during a certain month pointing a certain way and dug up when the spring comes. It’s all about the transfer of energy. Another big part of it is planting by the lunar phases of the moon. There is a certain time of the lunar cycle when it is best to plant, weed, fertilize, and harvest the plants. It may sound silly but a lot of farmers swear by it and see a real difference in their crops.    Google it, it’s interesting.

10 days on the farm flew by and by the end I found myself wishing I didnt have to go! I hope to continue wwoofing in the future and highly suggest it to any traveler that wants to see a diferent side of the country they are visiting.

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Responses

  1. Very interesting. When you visit Fiji I hope you’ll share some avocado and mushroom growing tips with me.

  2. Love reading your blog! I’m a PCV right now in Namibia – and will be finished in May 2015. And now, after reading about your COS trip, I’m getting a little excited for mine! So, did you work on this farm through WWOOF?

    • Hey! Definitely do a COS trip! It’s worth it and is a nice cushion for culture shock when you return to the states!
      I did WWOOF on that avocado farm. Wonderful experience. 10 days with a wonderful couple in a very un-touristy part of Australia. I saw a different side of it.

      Where are you wanting to travel?

      • Hey Alicia – ha! I want to travel everywhere lol. But WWOOF is definitely on my radar, as well as Southeast Asia. Your COS trip is definitely inspiring and I’m sure it was an amazing experience. How’s everything going in the States now?


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