FARMER JAMES CLIFTON IS FOLLOWING IN HIS FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS — BUT IN A DIFFERENT WAY.
James and Sarah Clifton show us around their mixed farm at the foot of Weddin Mountains in central NSW.
JAMES AND SARAH CLIFTON LIVE west of Grenfell at the foot of the Weddin Mountains in central NSW with their brood of four — Phoebe, 12, Kate, 11, Henry, nine, and four-year-old Emma — and a menagerie of horses and dogs. This is cropping and livestock country — it’s where James grew up and, like his father before him, he runs a mixed farm, growing a range of winter crops, including wheat, canola, barley, oats, lupins and chickpeas, as well as raising lambs and producing wool. Like most farming couples, James and Sarah share the load of their business equally. Although, it may be James who’s out in the paddock more, with Sarah juggling the finances, day-to-day operations and children’s pony club commitments. But apparently there are more hours in the week for other activities. Sarah — with her friend Gabrielle Capra of Art of Espresso in Young — started Breakfast Table in Grenfell, a quarterly market held in various locations that’s designed to show off the town, its makers and producers. The couple also runs the self-contained Wheatfield Cottage farmhouse as accommodation for rent. Back when James started out his farming life, he thought that the future lay in growth and achieving underlying efficiencies, but going through a decade-long drought and the challenges presented by expansion taught him otherwise. It was a timely question from Sarah — “Why don’t we eat what we grow?” — that set the couple off in a new direction, selling their food direct from the farm to consumers. “We reckoned that we were doing a pretty good job of producing food and were getting pretty good prices, but that was it,” says James. “There’s no differentiation.” Sarah believed the time was right for a change. “People’s perceptions around food have changed,” she says. “They’re connecting more with where their food comes from. We figured, if we enjoy eating our own food, others will too.” The couple talked about the proposed new direction for a long time before taking the plunge. They needed to weigh up all the pros and cons, as well as work out how it would be done. The lamb proved straightforward and is handled by Gary’s Gourmet Meats in nearby Young. Stone grinding the farm’s wheat was an experimental process that, with the help of a Skippy Grain Mill, delivers nutty, just-ground wheat from farm to kitchen within 24 hours. The desire to sell rolled oats is there, too, but the equipment needed to de-hull the grain isn’t. More experimentation follows as the couple grows their produce list. When James returns from the city after a delivery run — to Sydney, Canberra and the NSW Southern Highlands — it is with a spring in his step. “I come back from Sydney on a high,” he says. “It’s the connection with people who are eating the food you grow and their thanks and enthusiasm. They love it.”