Watermelon juice is dripping down my chin, and my hands are covered in it. Beside a creek on a country road, I’m tucking into a giant slice of sweet seedless melon and don’t care how messy I’m getting. The melon has come from a roadside stall, with “honesty box” for payment…and after a few days in farming country I’m even more convinced that there’s no better way to go food shopping.
South-east Queensland’s Lockyer Valley is the food bowl of the region I live in, and is only an hour’s drive from Brisbane. The melons are just one example of the fresh fruit and vegetables grown in the rich black fertile soil of this part of Australia, but still I’m surprised when farmer Rob Bauer tells me that 100 semi-trailers of produce are on these roads each day, feeding the rest of the nation. That represents about 110,000 tonnes of fresh vegetables.
Taking a look around the area with Rob, who is the fourth of five generations of his family on this land, I can count lettuce, broccoli, carrots, pumpkins, figs and tomatoes among the crops I can recognise.
The Bauer family has been farming in the Mt Sylvia area of the Lockyer Valley since 1885, and returned to organic and biodynamic growing methods about 30 years ago. “We only sell top quality certified organic produce and we only sell what we grow,” says Rob, as he plunges into a pumpkin patch to find just the right one for me to take home. “Everything is straight from the farm.”
The Bauers’ 405 hectares (1000 acres) of land is all chemical-free; about half of it is devoted to growing certified organic vegetables, and certified organic beef cattle graze on the steeper half of the farm.
“I started growing organically more than 30 years ago, after seeing too many of my neighbours dying in their 50s and 60s of cancer and leukaemia,” says Rob. “I started to think about how the Aboriginal people lived here and ate from the land – our farms are all on Blackfellow Creek -and about how my grandparents and great-grandparents farmed here. And I decided to make a change.” Bauers Organic Farm was born, and it’s now Queensland’s largest producer of certified organic veges.
Rob’s grandparents built a beautiful old Queenslander house on the property in about 1900, a home now lived in by one of Rob’s sons and his family.
It’s wonderful to see the irrigation systems at work in the late afternoon, and as storm clouds gather above us, we’re reminded of some of the hardships farmers endure to bring their produce to our tables. The Lockyer Valley, which sits at the foot of the Great Dividing Range, suffered a decade of drought before being hit with two catastrophic floods in 2011 and 2013. The beautiful villages of the region have recovered, but with a storm warning on the day we visit, the locals are visibly nervous.
Before heading home, we stop at another roadside stall, this time a much larger enterprise than the watermelon stand. The Forest Hill Farm Stall is in a large tin shed on the edge of the market garden owned by Fiona and Tony Anand, who began selling direct to passers-by in 2002 from “a box on the side of the road”. Now, we are greeted by an array of crates filled with radishes, lemons, pumpkins, potatoes, corn and more.
Forest Hill Farm Stall also stocks other local food product, including honey, jams, pickles and chutneys, and apple juice and cider vinegar from the nearby Stanthorpe region.
There’s a lot to see in the Lockyer Valley, and over the next few weeks I’ll be writing more about the creative foodies who work the land in this fertile corner of the world. As for that pumpkin…when I got it home and cooked it up, it tasted as good as it looked!
A Glass Half Full travelled to the Lockyer Valley as a guest of Brisbane Marketing.