What. An. Inspiration. Joel Salatin’s course was an intriguing mix of motivational speaking and useful facts, all designed to make you want to jump out of your chair and start farming not tomorrow, or even later today, but in the next 10 minutes. Joel gave us the benefit of over 40 years of experimentation and observation over the course of 3 days, and it was brilliant.
I know people tend to see what they want, but in Joel I saw the true son of an accountant. He can give you the cost of every chicken, half of beef, leg of pork or egg leaving his farm. He puts a price on his time and can quote you exactly how much time he puts into every part of his farm, and knows where the “leaks” are. He can tell you what store-bought lumber costs, and how much he saves by cutting his own. It was an impressive thing to watch.
But more than that, he gave us the belief that we can be profitable as a farming venture. You see, we didn’t really believe, it. Not deep down. Instead I have been carrying around lots of baggage from my history, all those years talking to farmers whose kids don’t want to farm, who say there is no money in it. The most I was hoping for was to not have to do too much “off farm work” to keep us afloat. But Joel convinced us that with a scientific business approach and by embracing niche polyculture (instead of industrial monoculture) we could not only be profitable, but with hard work we could earn white-collar salaries. It is not often you hear that from a farmer!
The other interesting thing about Joel’s approach is that it is management intensive. He is a meticulous observer and recorder of information, but he is doing stuff like moving all his chickens and cows once a day. Most farmers would have cardiac arrest at the thought of an intensive approach like that, but in his course he showed how it works.
The other key thing we learned is that we may need to be located a little closer to town than we first imagined. To utilise the benefits of a direct-marketing approach like Joel’s we should be within half an hour of a town with at least 25,000 people. There aren’t many of these in Tassie! This puts the mockers on my dreams of a remote paradise, but we will search for somewhere that walks the line between solitude and saleability.
So what we learned in that 3 days was immense. I can’t even begin to sum it up, but our greatest gain was certainly motivation and inspiration.
|The beautiful Kiama, south of Sydney, where the course was held.|
Since the course we spent some time with my sister and my niece, who seems to get cuter by the day, before hitting Melbourne for the ferry over to Tasmania. Fortunately for me, the ride was as smooth as a veal cutlet.
We have now spent the last couple weeks travelling about Tasmania. We have been hanging with Todd, a fellow diver we met in Chu’uk (Truk Lagoon) and another friend. We were doing some touristy stuff before beginning the WWOOFing and farm hunt in earnest.
|See? She just keeps getting cuter (but appears to be dumbfounded here!)|
We visited the Museum of Old And New Art (MONA) and it was, well, I guess the word is interesting? There was some stuff I liked, some stuff I hated, and I certainly in parts I felt like my entry fee was supporting the lifestyles of some seriously twisted individuals. The Lark Distillery in Hobart was more my style, with some excellent single malts being produced there, and a useful source for anyone in Tassie looking for the more obscure Scottish drams unavailable elsewhere.
We also hiked the Organ Pipes trail on Mt Wellington, and checked out the great views over Hobart. I recommend it to anyone visiting the city.
|Todd checking out the organ pipes on Mt Wellington|
Following this we visited Port Arthur, home of the notorious convict settlement and the tragic 1996 massacre. It was a great day and a really fascinating insight into an aspect of Australian history that I didn’t know a heck of a lot about. The conditions that the prisoners’ and the soldiers faced were incredibly tough, and the sentences for those sent here even tougher. We spent a day here but it could have been two and we still wouldn’t have scratched the surface of the experience.
|The old church at the atmospheric Port Arthur|
After our history lesson we went in search of more nature and so we hiked to Cape Raoul south of Port Arthur. It was a fantastic walk that we took nice and slow over the course of 6 hours. There were myriad beautiful outlooks over cliffs and the southern ocean. At the end of the cape there were amazing dolorite columns jutting out above the sea, with a colony of elephant seals at the bottom. These columns were similar to the “organ pipes” up on Mount Wellington, but on a much grander scale with the waves coming up from the Antarctic to crash into them. On the walk back we saw a couple of black tiger snakes on the trail, getting some sun late on a cool day. It was pretty freaky for me as someone who hates the snakes but useful practice in managing my phobia. We also saw a pademelon (think wallaby-possum hybrid cuteness), which was kind enough to hang out for Todd for a couple of photos.
|Cape Raoul, with Todd atop the dororite columns.|
After relocating ourselves up to the Freycinet peninsular on the east coast of Tasmania, we went to check out some of the little/fairy/blue penguins coming ashore and breeding. They were really cool little guys, and it is amazing to think of each of them bombing around the southern ocean on their own, coming ashore occasionally. They have had a stonking breeding season with the warmer water experienced this year, with some pairs having two clutches of chicks over the course of the summer. Fluffy scenes.
We spent a day paddling sea kayaks around Coles Bay, finding a secluded little section of beach to pull up the kayaks, have lunch and play a little Frisbee. Life really doesn’t get much better than a glassy day, a kayak, your own beach, a little lunch and then (after getting back) a scallop pie and a Cooper’s Pale Ale in the sun. True heaven.
I think Cor said it best: “I could live like this. Wait a minute - I am!”
The siren call of the Freycinet peninsula and Wineglass Bay led to an interesting decision to do a couple of nights hiking and camping out in the wilderness. I say interesting because the most that Todd had ever travelled from a car to camp was 200 yards, but he didn’t mention this to us and we proceeded to undertake an ambitious 6-hour hike into Cook’s Bay on the peninsula, carrying 3 days’ worth of food. By the time we got there he was most relieved to be off his feet and into the ice-cool waters of the bay.
That night commenced the first instalment of “the Possum Wars”. Unfortunately some idiots have been feeding the wildlife down in Freycinet on account of these critters being so cute. The downside of this is apparent at 2 am when one discovers a possum sitting on your backpack inside the tent vestibule, having eaten its way through the lid and one of the shoulder straps in its search for food.
The Possum Wars culminated at Wineglass Bay on the second night with Todd standing under a tree at 3 am futilely throwing sticks at a possum in the upper branches. In his words: “That possum took my sunglasses!” I had to tell him that I had in fact moved his sunglasses earlier in the night in my own instalment of the Possum Wars revolving around the location of our rubbish bag. Cue much hysterical laughter by all except old man Emmons who still wanted to shake his fist at the treed possum.
Possum wars notwithstanding, we did have some close encounters with Bennett’s wallabies, and the views that greeted us every morning from our tents were sensational. All agreed it was a very special place.
|Hanging with the locals.|
So now after many kilometres, 5 dozen fresh oysters, 3 kg of mussels, 1 kg of scallops, countless scallop pies (really!), tonnes of cheese, a bottle of gin and lots of beers, the Salamanca markets, 4 separate hikes, some sea kayaking, and just a little Star Wars geek talk (does anyone else know what an IG-88 droid looks like? Todd does) we have waved goodbye to our travel companions and are making our way forward on our own. We may continue to do the touristy Tasmania, or we may jump into the WWOOFing. Either way we will keep you all posted!
|And beware giant car-wrecking kangaroos!|