Kurrafalls, a free range life

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About 10kms from our farm there’s a property called Kurrafalls and it’s home to Lisa Darley, Quenten Jones and their kids Will (9) and Darcy (5). Across the farm’s 303 rolling acres they run free range and much loved chickens (layer and meat chooks), cows and Dorper sheep, and at their front gate is the loveliest farm stall I’ve ever seen.

So named because of the many Kurrajong trees that dot its paddocks and the waterfall (currently in full fall thanks to all the rain we’ve had recently) – this really is one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s practically on our doorstep!

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A couple of weeks ago the kids and I visited Kurrafalls, and spent an afternoon walking in thigh-high pasture, collecting eggs, meeting friendly dorper rams and generally having a lovely time.

And because I was too busy taking photos, trying to keep Tom from the top of the waterfall and generally being in love with this place, I didn’t take a single note while there. So Lisa kindly agreed to answer my many questions that evening via email. She also sent us home in the car with a slice each of her favourite frittata recipe, which my kids both proclaimed to be far better than any frittata I’ve ever made – harrumph. But they were right, it is delicious…(recipe below).

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Quentin and Lisa – you guys are fairly new to the farming life. Can you tell me what brought you to Kurrafalls farm and a little of your backgrounds before moving to Orange?

We moved back to Orange in late 2011; we just got tired of the constant treadmill of life in Sydney, and after realising we could run our Sydney business from here we made the move.

A builder by trade, Quenten was born and raised in Mudgee and moved to Sydney where he started and ran a building company for many years. After seeing an opportunity through his own customer base he started a self-storage company called Cheapa Self Storage. This quickly expanded and he stopped building. We now have five facilities on the Northern Beaches in Sydney and we manage the entire operation online from here, Quenten travels to Sydney every 2 weeks to stay on top of things.

I grew up on an orchard at Nashdale and we also had sheep and cattle. Like most kids way back then I had to leave Orange to attend uni. I began a sales and marketing career straight after uni and worked for over 20 years for agricultural chemical companies including Ciba Geigy, Novartis and Pfizer. My favourite role was my last corporate role which was at Pfizer Animal Health. As the National Marketing Manager for Livestock products (drenches, vaccines, antibiotics etc), I spent many years here working with fabulous colleagues and customers including farmers and vets. I was able to travel extensively across Australia visiting farms and communities, and even though I loved this role it became very obvious to me that many of the conditions we farm animals under in Australia create disease and environmental problems which then have to be treated or addressed. This didn’t sit so well with me and I always wanted to try farming a different way.

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So why the move? What were your reasons behind this ‘tree change’

I (Lisa), had a yearning to come back “home” and to raise our children on a farm like I had been. We also wanted to be part of a community and raise our kids the way we had been raised – so at a small country school, running wild on a farm, being a part of lots of little communities whether it be school, work, neighbours. Quenten’s grandparents were sheep and cropping farmers at Gulgong, he spent a large part of his childhood there and he really wanted to get back to a farm to raise the kids as well..

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And how did you come to decide on the farming mix you now have here – layer chickens, meat chickens, Dorper sheep and cattle?

We wanted to grow produce naturally and ethically so a free range pastured operation was the only way to go. Our key priority is the welfare and humane treatment of our animals so we didn’t want to use chemicals or any unsustainable farming practices. And we wanted to supply our local community with wholesome, healthy clean green food. We really wanted to connect with our “eaters”.

We found it has been relatively easy and inexpensive to start up and to upscale. But we are very lucky as Quenten is extremely practical and handy! His building background means there is literally nothing that he can’t build, engineer, plumb or fix! He has made or adapted everything we use, including all the chicken shelters and our caravans. And many of the materials we have used have been recycled or repurposed like our brooder for the meat chickens. They arrive as day old chicks and they need a very warm and dry environment. Quenten repurposed the back of an old dairy cooler truck to become the perfect brooder.

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What’s the plan for your business – do you think you’ll concentrate more on the chickens going forward or a mixed operation?

We’ll operate a mixed operation. The chickens have been relatively quick to get off the ground but the sheep and cattle of course take longer and we anticipate we will begin to sell pastured lamb and beef within the next 12 months. We’ll also keep harvesting and selling our olive oil. I also make natural body products and herbal balms using our oil.

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What do you love about the farming life, what have been some of the most rewarding moments so far?

We just love the farm and we love putting in a hard day’s work and seeing the results of our labour. Plus, it’s just such a beautiful place to live!  We love the end of that day, wherever we are on the farm, we can see the sun setting and it’s different every single day.

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We are also really pleased that we have been able to produce free range pastured meat chickens for our local customers. Our meat chickens are pastured (because they live on grass and eat grass) AND they are free range (not all pastured meat chickens are free range).  Many pastured chickens being grown in Australia are actually contained in a 10ft x 12 ft cage which is moved around each day onto fresh pasture but each chicken cannot move around outside of the confines of this cage. Because animal welfare is our key driver, we were certain we would only grow meat chickens if we could do it without this cage and we have shown it is possible. Many many people told us it couldn’t be done, but our meat chickens wander around and forage during the day and put themselves to bed at night just like laying chickens. They also like to perch so we give them sticks and logs to perch on at night. We have found this really rewarding.

Also really rewarding are all our firsts – our first olive harvest, the first taste of our first olive oil, our first egg, our first lamb, our first sale, passing our first audit, getting our first chickens. We also find sharing our farm, its animals and beautiful natural features such as the waterfall with other people very rewarding.

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And the most challenging?

The learning curve and the loss of spontaneous trips away!  The basic chicken tasks need attention at least twice a day every single day, and of course there are the long hours and jobs that absolutely must be done daily no matter how late it is or if you’re having a bad day.

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What do the kids think of it all?

I asked Will this question, and he said “I just reckon it’s all amazing, it’s really big, pretty, calm and nice here. And the animals make it even better”. Darcy loves everything and is really relishing showing us she can do some of the jobs on her own. Sometimes we have to juggle spending time with the kids and the jobs that have to be done. But generally the kids come along and end up finding good old fashioned things to do like climbing trees. With an endless list of jobs from egg collecting and packing to feeding there are many pocket money opportunities to be had.

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You said you’ve learnt everything along the way, via trial and error, have you had any mentors or extra help along the way to help learn all these new skills?

Many people will have heard of Joel Salatin. His books first inspired us and then we went to one of his seminars in February 2015. To hear and see him in person is very motivating. We then went to see him again when he returned to Australia and held an on farm weekends at Taranaki Farm in Victoria. We are both always reading relevant material. We also use social media a lot to follow what other people are doing, get new ideas and to connect with other likeminded farmers.

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And that farm gate stall – it’s so beautiful – Quenten you built that right? What kind of produce will you sell there throughout the year.

Quenten is the ultimate doo-er!! If he thinks of an idea or I have an idea he has it completely done yesterday. He has absolutely no fear of risk. I mentioned to him that I had been talking to another farmer about her farm stall and then the next day Quenten got up went to the shed and had it entirely built in one day! We’ll sell our eggs, oil, my body products and seasonal fruit and veges in the stall.

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Lisa you are working hard to create a really lovely, supportive community through Facebook and Instagram – have you found this to be a big part of growing your business? What does social media mean for your sales and marketing?

Yes I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Instagram. It does require a really consistent effort but the rewards are amazing; I was also was able to find out very quickly what the demographics of our market were which allowed me to refine our marketing message and advertising. I also love seeing the pictures posted by wonderful customers, seeing what have cooked with our produce is so exciting for us! I am just finishing building a website but so far we have managed to build a good market on social media and word of mouth alone. So social media has been a vital part of our business.

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So how and where can people find your produce? Are direct sales the plan going forward? Are farmers markets on the plan?

At the moment we deliver right to the homes or workplaces of our customers. I communicate with all the customers and collate weekly orders via Facebook or texts. So people can order by sending me a Facebook message, calling (0424 163 086) or emailing me.  One day (very soon I hope) I’ll have our website ready and people can order and pay online. Our only retail outlet for our eggs is the wonderful M&J’s butchery in Orange. My Mum has been buying meat from Michael for over 30 years so it’s a really lovely personal connection.

We have been doing Blayney Farmers Markets since its first market in 2015. It’s a really lovely community and we have regular customers there mainly for our olive oil.

Ironically our first disappointment was a not getting into the Orange Farmers Markets last year – they rejected our application as they already have too many farmers with olive oil, eggs and chicken. But the silver lining was that it rallied me into completely re-evaluating our marketing plan and we changed our direction to start delivering direct to our customers which has been a great success and has helped us achieve a big dream which is to have a deep connection with our “eaters”.  Many have now become really lovely friends and they give us amazing feedback regularly which is fantastic.

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And who inspires you and your work? Any other wonderful farmers, thinkers, colleagues you can share with us?

Tammi Jonas from Jonai Farms – We met Tammi and her family at their free range pig farm in 2015. They have managed to completely control their paddock to plate experience; they now have an on farm butchery and Tammi trained to become a meatsmith. She inspired us to go beyond the basic requirements for our egg and meat packing room. We built it so we could pack our own meat.

Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance – Their mission is to educate and advocate on our nation’s food future, they are a collaboration of organisations and individuals working together towards a food system in which people have the opportunity to choose, create and manage their food supply from paddock to plate.

SAGE Farmers Markets and their awesome manager Kate Raymond – A really awesome weekly farmers market who allow all local farmers to sell their produce regardless of how many competing produce groups are there. I believe this approach encourage great innovation and creativity which is better for all. For instance at certain times of the year they have 8 blueberry growers there but they all offer something different .

Deep Winter Agrarians is a loose affiliation of Australian farming friends who gather together in the deep of winter to share stories, solidarity, potluck dinner, seeds and cider! It is a participatory event run by farmers for farmers.

Peter Andrews and his natural sequencing farming methods.

Allan Savory and all things holistic farming.

Glenn Morris from Figtree Organic Farms

Sommerlads Poultry – We’d desperately love to be grow Sommerlad chickens!!

Southhampton Homestead – pastured chickens and ducks from WA.

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Can you name me some of your favourite farmers/cooks/people to follow on social media? Who is telling their story really well online do you think (aside from you!)

Milking Yard Farm
Thefarmhousepantry
Thefarmerslarder
Aplotincommon

And what would be your dream collaboration or project involving the farm going forward?

We want to run regular open days so our customers can come and see how everything we are doing here is healthier for the animals, the land and the eaters. We’d also love to collaborate with other local farms to do the farm walks as you suggested! Our next big project we would like to embark on is a market garden but we need to increase our water supply capacity first.

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What are some of your family’s favourite ways you to cook and share your produce?

Really simply! We especially love dippy eggs and Darcy has mastered the perfect scrambled eggs. We use our olive oil on absolutely everything. We love a beautiful roast chicken with butter and herbs pushed under the skin and massaged with our olive oil! I have been experimenting with cured eggs which are fascinating.

Lisa’s Frittata

2 medium (400g) sebago potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
70g pancetta, chopped
100g baby spinach
200g red grape tomatoes, halved
1 red capsicum, chopped
8 eggs
1/2 cup thickened cream
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated tasty cheese
1/4 cup fetta cheese

Method
1.       Preheat oven to 200°C. Lightly grease a 5cm-deep, 26cm x 16.5cm (base) ovenproof dish. Pierce each potato 4 times with a bamboo skewer. Place in a heatproof, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high (100%) for 4 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool. Thinly slice.
2.       Meanwhile, heat oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add onion. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add pancetta. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes or until onion is tender and pancetta golden. Add spinach. Cook for 1 minute or until spinach is just wilted.
3.       Combine onion mixture, tomatoes and capsicum in a bowl. Arrange half the potato, in a single layer, over prepared dish. Top with half the onion mixture. Repeat with remaining potato and onion mixture.
4.       Whisk eggs and cream in a bowl. Gently pour egg mixture over vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with parmesan and tasty cheese. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until egg mixture is set and top golden. Stand for 5 minutes.

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Contacts

You can text Lisa at – 0424 163 086

Email her here – quentenandlisa (at) bigpond.com

Visit their farm stall – 505 Bowan Park Rd, Lidster, NSW 2800

Connect with them on  Facebook and Instagram.

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