Stanley is well known for a few things, including the occasional sprinkling of snow in the winter and its fruit orchards. Now, add regenerative farming to the list.
- Stanley once had more than 30 family-owned apple orchards — now there are just three
- Black Barn Farm has been running for six years and has more than 120 varieties of apples
- The farm will need at least a decade before it can take its first full yield
It may have started as a gold mining town in the 1850s, but Stanley, in Victoria’s north-east, soon became a hotspot for horticulture, with locals growing apples, pears, cherries, chestnuts, walnuts and berries.
At its peak there were more than 30 family-owned orchards in the area, but now there are only a handful.
Tucked away down a dirt road is Black Barn Farm, one of just three apple orchards still in the area.
The juvenile apple orchard is owned and operated by Jade Miles and her husband Charlie Showers.
They purchased their 7-hectare farm six years ago with the plan to have a pick-your-own offering of apples and berries farmed with regenerative practices.
“The lifestylers are lovely, what’s heartbreaking in that there is no longer a food system that supports small scale family-owned farms.”
Ms Miles said when she and her husband noticed that trend in their early 20s, they began to question the bigger picture.
“Why is the next generation not coming into the farmer practices that multiple generations before them have enjoyed?” she said.
“It set us off on a path of what alternative food systems can look like.”
Swell of farmers focused on sustainability
Ms Miles said Black Barn Farm wasn’t the first to adopt this farming practice, however regenerative farming wasn’t common amongst orchardists.
“We’re not foundation layers by any stretch but I certainly feel like there is a swell coming in behind us and that’s really exciting.”
Their farm is a permaculture-based horticultural operation that doesn’t use any chemicals.
As orchardists, Ms Miles said the reality was that it would take at least a decade before they could take a full yield.
The couple has lived in the region for more than 20 years, however had to save up before they could start the farm.
Ms Miles said there were many obstacles that stopped people from going into farming, with the first being the price of land.
Six years in, the couple are both working full-time in the farm and doing other work on the side to help pay for the start-up infrastructure costs.
“We took our first yield this year, but with over 1000 trees in the ground, the fruit we picked this year was still not enough to keep our family going for a full 12 months.”
Appetite for knowledge
Black Barn Farm produces more than 120 varieties of apples as well as pears, olives, quinces and berries.
It also hosts school groups visits and horticulture workshops that sell out within a day.
Ms Miles said there was a growing desire for upskilling and knowledge around food production.
“I have to say it’s probably stronger in women, but maybe that’s because I’m a woman facilitating them,” she said.
Ms Miles is also the national manager of the Sustainable Table Invest Fund and said the global pandemic had really shone a light on food production, particularly in light of climate change.
“We actually don’t have the ability to sustain it,” she says, noting that larger food systems were unsustainable.
She said climate change wasn’t hurting Australians’ hip pockets — yet.
“But seas levels are rising, financial systems are fracturing and mental health is reaching crisis point.
“We’re in a position where we need to make some serious decisions about what the next two decades look like.”
Although she would like to see more small-scale farms like Black Barn Farm in the future, Ms Miles said there was plenty of work to do before that could happen.
“They see it as something that’s heartbreaking and rural communities are struggling because of it.”