Making an organic oasis in the suburbs

FRUITFUL: Digging the permaculture vibe at Purple Pear Farm.
FRUITFUL: Digging the permaculture vibe at Purple Pear Farm.

Years ago when I first heard about an innovative permaculture property starting in suburban Maitland, near Rutherford, I was a bit baffled. In my mind it was zoned only grey roofs and project homes, not the place for a green oasis spilling over with organic edibles. And yet it’s in part this juxtaposition that makes Purple Pear Farm and Education Centre truly pioneering.

Owners Kate Beveridge and Mark Brown moved to the area from Dungog a decade ago. At the time, they were market gardening in Dungog, and helped establish a community garden. The move was prompted by a desire to be closer to the clientele for their organic produce.

“We decided that we should come to Maitland and grow the food where it’s being eaten,” Mark says.

Mark and Kate bought a 14 acre property 10 years ago, with the dream of it becoming not just a small-scale organic farm, but a showpiece and education centre for biodynamics, permaculture and sustainable living. Their story brings to mind the British comedy The Good Life, where Barbara and Tom give up corporate life to try their hand at subsistence farming on their quarter acre plot. Like Tom and Barbara, Kate and Mark’s life revolves around food. Feeding the immediate household is one thing, but making a living by selling it in this era is another. Purple Pear provides about 25 subscribers with a weekly organic vegetable box under a Community Supported Agriculture system, whereby the families commit to sourcing their fresh food from the farm so that the farmers can plan how much to plant each season with the assurance of it having a market. 

It’s the in-between seasons – like now – that can get a bit tricky, Mark says. The farm is still picking eggplant and capsicum from summer, as well as snake beans, Asian greens, kale and shallots. The brassicas are all in, ready for winter. However, rather than relying on annual crops, Mark is keen to try new ideas such as perennial crops. Mark is also looking to add nutritious weeds to the basket.

“Purslane carried us through the heat wave. We put recipes in the boxes and explained the nutritional benefits and how to prepare them,” he says.

The farm has diversified its income through education such as permaculture design, compost making and courses in food preservation, sour dough bread, cheese and yoghurt making. Kate’s passion for working with kids has led to sustainable living programs for schools and the new mums and bubs tours, which give children a chance to feed and cuddle guinea pigs, ponies, cows, ducks, pigs and chickens.

To celebrate International Permaculture day, Permaculture Hunter is welcoming people to join them on a field trip to Purple Pear on May 14. For more information see the Permaculture Hunter Facebook group.

For more information see the Permaculture Hunter Facebook group.

Claire Dunn is the author of My Year Without Matches. Contact her at claire@naturesapprentice.com.au