Kate Washington of Vive knew she had a big decision to make before she accepted the 2105 Young Farmers Scholarship grant.
As she weighed up the realities of small-scale farming, the sort that involves long, physically demanding hours, irregular income, and limited resources to do the job profitably; she took a deep breath, and decided to follow her dream.
It set Kate on a career path that’s changed her life – and what she hopes, is contributing to sustaining and valuing the traditional methods that support our precious food systems.
Having already invested her own money into irrigation, seedlings, seed and compost, the scholarship assisted Kate to take the next step towards growth as it covered costs for business insurance, key hand tools, water bills as well as improving irrigation.
“The grant allowed me to operate at a scale that could turn my market garden into a viable business.” Kate explains. “This has been achieved” and in less than one year “I now have reasonable part time income because I was able to expand and grow more food crops.”
“I’ve developed an efficient irrigation system and mulching helps to reduce evaporation. I grow crops that aren’t water greedy – such spinach, chard, French breakfast radishes, zucchinis and potatoes. Watermelons actually improve their sugar content through water stress, making them beautifully sweet and flavoursome.”
A typical week for Kate involves one full day of harvesting and two full days of labour which includes weeding, clearing crops, preparing beds, fertilising, planting, building infrastructure such as more than 100 meters of hand dug irrigation and a shed.
Kate’s farm is located on a picturesque block that was once a vineyard in the heart of McLaren Vale’s farming district. The block is very small, about three quarters of an acre.
“Because I don’t have a lot of land I have to find ways to draw an income more regularly. I’m working towards increasing my supply of baby vegetables because they allow me to continually rotate my crops. I’ve also found that baby vegetables are in high demand from my customers. I’m experimenting with heirloom, purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, baby kiplfler and dutch crème potatoes and smooth skin beetroot.” Kate explains. Especially popular are the French breakfast radishes “they always sell out.”
Under the scholarship program “I was mentored by Annemarie Brookman who was fantastic because she gave me the confidence to develop my own crop plan and other farm management systems. It’s vital to get the diversity of crops and rotational planting right at the beginning because it helps with the biodiversity of the block. A planned and effective system confuses the pests and reduces the amount of soil born diseases, and from an organic perspective there is less need for sprays. Sometimes sprays are necessary so I use organic based sprays such as garlic spray, which I make myself.”